New Wikimedia Fellow

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I’m pleased to announce Achal Prabhala as our latest Wikimedia Foundation fellow.
Achal is a writer and researcher in Bangalore who has participated as a volunteer in the Wikimedia movement in India and globally for years, and as a member of the Foundation’s advisory board.
Achal will be conducting field research in rural South Africa and India with Wikipedians and non-Wikipedians across three languages to explore ways to compensate for the gap in published/printed sources in many local languages.
From Achal:

Even if every single person in the south with Internet access wanted to become an active editor on Wikipedia, there is still a problem that we are going to run up against. It’s a problem that bedevils everyone working in local languages in Asia and Africa, and it’s something we have no control over: the lack of published scholarly resources in these languages.
For Wikipedias in languages of the south, citations are not difficult to find when the articles being added are translations. However, since we all want the sphere of knowledge to be universally expanded – and not merely transferred from the north to the south – we are forced to confront two specific problems with finding citations for important local subject matter: (i) Published resources may simply not exist. (ii) Even when published scholarly resources exist, they may be limited or inaccessible and thus effectively rendered invisible to Wikipedians.
To put it another way, it’s possible that the sum of published scholarly work from Europe is somewhat close to the sum of ‘European’ knowledge, and that the sum of accessible, published scholarly work in many Asian and African languages is nowhere close to the corresponding body of knowledge that circulates among speakers of those languages.
Despite these problems, Tamil Wikipedia has about 25,000 articles, Malayalam Wikipedia has about 15,000, and Northern Sotho Wikipedia has about 600. In all these language Wikipedias, there are articles – especially when concerning subjects that are specific to a particular people or place where the language is spoken – which lack citations, because there are simply no or not enough published resources to refer to.
The scope of the project is to investigate how one might compensate for the lack of traditional citations; how an alternative means of citation may be constructed; and how this may be feasibly and easily deployed – and improved – by Wikipedians in the future.

I’m looking forward to seeing fascinating and useful results from Achal’s project.
— Zack Exley, Chief Community Officer

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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Achal, >> the lack of published scholarly resources in these languages. >> especially when concerning subjects that are specific to a particular people or place where the language is spoken Actually for languages like Tamil and Malayalam, these resources exist offline for humanities subjects – the shortage is in hard sciences. For local subjects there is a surplus of published sources (The examples cited – Tamil and Malayalam have thriving print and newspaper industries). The problem lies in bringing the content online. There is no equivalent of Gbooks/Jstor for these languages and the newspapers and magazines are behind paywalls. I… Read more »

Have you thought of talking to the Oral historians? They have experience with this issue and may be able to help by sharing it.

Original work may need to be commissioned. Local wikimedia chapters should partner with state governments (in India especially) where so much of money is wasted by ‘language/culture’ departments in useless projects. We must form partnerships with these departments to commission original work. A lot of local language works are lying in old British-time Central libraries and can be used.

Hmm, does Achal still serve on the Advisory Board? If so, I’m not sure about the exact nature of the Advisory Board’s role, but it seems like it might be a conflict of interest to serve on the Advisory Board and also be a paid staff member.

@Ganesh (#4): I was wondering the same thing and it appears that others were too. There’s a thread answering this question on the foundation-l mailing list that you can read on Gmane: “Questions about new Fellow”. The general consensus in the thread is that no, there isn’t a conflict of interest because the Advisory Board is just a body that “advises” the Foundation, just as every community member does. There are no other perks or anything that come with being on the Advisory Board, so it’s not a conflict of interest.

“it seems like it might be a conflict of interest to serve on the Advisory Board and also be a paid staff member.” The Advisory Board is basically specialist volunteers who’ve signed up to be bothered about stuff if the Board of Trustees – who actually supervise Wikimedia – wants help with something. It’s not a “board” with actual power, like the Board of Trustees. So as a staff member, it’s now his job to be bothered about stuff instead of volunteering to be bothered about stuff, so his staff duties are pretty much a superset of his volunteer ones… Read more »