Logo of the Malayalam conference (English version)

Of the 20 Indic language Wikipedia projects, the Malayalam Wikipedia (ml.wikipedia.org) is one of the most vibrant. With about 35 million Malayalam speakers, it is the biggest Indic language community with over 100 Wikipedians. The latest feather in their cap is the recently concluded WikiSangamolsavam conference on April 28-29, 2012. WikiSangamolsavam, a two day event organized in the city of Kollam, was the first Indic language Wikipedia conference ever and witnessed over 100 participants from different parts of the state and country.

A veteran Malayalam Wikipedian, Viswa Prabha, recalls, “Every year, many editors from Malayalam Wikimedia Community attend Wikimania, the annual conference of Wikimedians. Inspired by the activities at Wikimania a few active Malayalam Wikimedians though of planning a similar conference in Kerala.” Many Malayalam Wikimedians also participated in WikiConference, 2011 Mumbai, after which the idea of organizing a conference was put forward in mailing lists, Facebook group, and other discussion forums. Since Wikimedians from Kollam took up the initiative the venue was chosen as Kollam.

Over 30 Malayalee Wikipedians were involved in different stages of organizing the conference like managing the venue, food, accommodation, financial resources, registration etc. What was proposed as an idea in 2009 took 3 years to materialize, but rightfully so into a wonderful experience! “The event celebrated the achievements of the Malayalam community, planned new projects as a community and welcomed more Malayalees to the community. E-malayalam, free and open knowledge, copyright and cyber-freedom were the highlights of the conference this year”, said Kannan Shanmugam, a teacher based in Kollam.

Takeaways from the conference? As Netha Hussain, a medical student and Wikipedian points out, “The high point for me was the parallel Wiki Vidyarthi Sagaman (Wiki students’ meet) where school students were taught to edit Wikipedia. Among the 100+ participants of the conference, a few new editors got valuable insights about Wikiprojects from the paper presentations and discussions during the conference. The existing editors got to meet their friends/fellow Wikimedians whom they had only known online. The paper presentations and discussions brought up new ideas that could be worked upon in the future to enrich ml-Wikipedia’s content. At a larger level, partnerships were explored with IT@School (a government initiative) and Wiki activities were highlighted in the local as well as national media.”

Students at the WikisangamolsavamBarry Newstead, Chief Global development officer at the Wikimedia Foundation who also attended the conference, wrote in his blog post, “What was encouraging about my visit was that I saw that this isn’t some naive dream…The Malayalam community served as a real inspiration. Over the past 4 years, they have built a passionate community that has expanded their Wikipedia from 5,700 to 23,000 articles.”

The journey hardly rests at the conference. In the week immediately after the conference, there were meet-ups in 3 different towns – Thrissur, Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram.  Also, community members have been working on initiatives around GLAM and education – and have collaboratively developed proposals for both. Preliminary meetings have already started with a number of museums and a proposal has been submitted to the Keralam – Museum of History and Heritage. Discussions have been initiated with the IT@Schools department of the Kerala government and a formal proposal to introduce Wikipedia as a teaching and learning tool in the 7th – 8th standard will be submitted shortly.

As Shiju Alex, Indic language consultant for Wikimedia Foundation articulates, “These are people who contribute to Wikipedia to share free knowledge but also to keep traditions alive and preserve the language they love. This movement requires young and old, teachers, doctors, engineers, linguists, researchers, writers, bloggers, lawyers, photographers and students. I hope what has started with the conference infuses new enthusiasm in the community and takes it to new heights!”

Noopur Raval, Consultant (Communications), India Program, Wikimedia Foundation