Interview with Mr.Gangadhar Bhadani, India’s most prolific wikipedian [Part 2]

This is part 2 of our interview with Mr.Bhadani. You can read part 1 here.

Me: Do events like wikicamp really help in growing and improving wikipedia? (apart from creating a buzz and creating an awareness amongst the masses)

GB: One becomes a wikipedian immediately on doing first edit with a user account or even anonymously. If one continues, the commitment to wikipedia also continues to grow, and a sense of bondage develops. Events like wikicamp certainly create a buzz and awareness – and, at the same time, such events also kindle a desire in the participants and persons who read or hear about the event, to express their creativity. For many reasons, like time constraints and other priorities of life, all may not jump on the wikipedia bandwagon immediately though over a period of time such events should bring to wikipedia new editors, new energy, and new insights, and definitely expand base of wikipedians in the long term. Around 300 people, participating in a full day event like wikicamp surely leaves impressions within, and when the opportune time comes, the impressions will get converted into actions and edits to wikipedia and wikias.

Me: Do you see wikipedia/wikia taking a lion’s share of search market, even overtaking established search engines like Google? After all these days, it is very common to see top 10 search results of Google containing 2-3 wikipedia entries, for almost any search term.

GB: This is a rather difficult question, and I am not fully competent to project the future scenario. Still, I’ll try to guess. As reproduced in Search Wikia, Jimmy Wales, in December 2006, said “Search is part of the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet. And, it is currently broken. Why is it broken? It is broken for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability, lack of transparency.” He declared confidently: “here, we will change all that.”

The thought of creating a “platform for the development of a new free/open source search engine with user-editable search results” has been engaging the attention of many involved with the open source movement. Wikia Search is a step forward in this direction. In my opinion, Jimmy Wales is trying to combine the strength of collaborative talent of a community of volunteers by providing them necessary resources to create a full-scale crawling system on the web – this search engine will be more transparent and accountable compared to the ones in existence now. Reports suggest that Wikia Search (the name may be changed!), the new open-source search engine, is “due out in the fourth quarter of this year” (2007). It will have a new collaborative engine, and initially it is aiming to corner about five per cent of the internet search market from the likes of Google and Yahoo. In fact, its Beta version is already operational and probably being tested and under improvements by a select team of professionals and users – though I am not sure of the exact stage of its development.

I do believe that Jimmy Wales and his team(s) are capable of creating miracles. I am highly optimistic that a paradigm shift will surely take place in the internet search market.

Me: There has been lots of talk on funding wikipedia. Some people like Jason Calacanis are of the opinion that wikipedia should allow ads on the site and generate money, which can then be used to make it even better. What are your thoughts on this subject?

GB: Many times doubts have arisen about the funding model of wikipedia. It has consistently remained in top ten of the most visited sites on the web and recently monetizing its potentials has attracted many comments and discussion. In my opinion, wikipedia is working fine with its present model of funding, that is, seeking donations to run the show. I am not sure of the reaction of thousands of core (and countless others) contributors to wikipedia if (a big if indeed!) wikipedia endeavors to imitate other commercial sites. I do feel that people who are volunteering at wikipedia are not driven by monetary gains. Generating money by ads and using the same to better wikipedia may not work as it appears to look and sound, it may de-stabilize the community of wikipedians which may be reflected in the quality of contributions. Moreover, hiring talent (if the money is used for it) will compromise one of the core values of wikipedia – an encyclopedia which anyone can edit. I think that there is no plan to use wikipedia like a commercial site.

Me: The most amazing thing about the Wikipedia model is that its volunteers don’t get any material gains, still they are doing amazing work. Do you think that the same principle can be applied to other, broader issues? Like creating courseware for schools etc.

GB: Yes, countless volunteers at wikipedia do not get any material gains for working as a wikipedian. I think the sense of social bondage and working together is an inherent quality of human beings. The history of human civilization reveals that only by working together for a particular goal (or goals) humans have moved forward. The only difference with wikipedia’s community of volunteers is that they work in the digital medium on the web, and so their efforts have become highly visible to all those who can access the internet. If you see around, I think even in real life communities – say, a village or a colony in a town or an apartment complex in a metro town – people work together to build something for the common benefit or for benefit of others. I am trying to drive the message that it has been the innate quality of human beings to associate with each other for accomplishing a common mission. As such, under proper leadership and given the required visibility, people will surely come forward to work voluntarily to resolve the issues like improving education, or any other similar missions.

Me: What advice would you give a novice wikipedian?

GB: This is a little bit complicated but I would try to share my thoughts. As soon as you do your first edit to wikipedia, you become part of an online community, and you are expected to display etiquette and manners which you would expect in real life – during real social interaction. I do accept that you shall find a lot of bickering but real wikipedians follow a policy of utmost civility. This is one of the cardinal principles of wikipedia. A novice wikipedian should build her/his reputation by working seriously (may be slowly) to build the project, an online encyclopedia. Once, you work your way by contributing positively and interacting nicely, you will discover that there are innumerable other wikipedians who will find it exciting to work with you.

Me: Any other comments / message you would like to add for our readers?

GB: I distinctly remember reading two books – Future Shock, in early 1970s and the Third Wave, in early 1980s, both authored by Alwin Toffler . The scenario presented in the Third Wave is unfolding magnificently now. For instance, ‘eclipsing of monetary wealth by knowledge and information as the primary determinant of power and its distribution’, is taking shape or ‘the eclipsing of manufacturing and manufacturing goods by knowledge-production and information-processing as the primary economic activity’ is gradually becoming more and more visible. The Wikipedia movement is a beautiful example of such a shift – people have come closer to make knowledge freely available. We should participate in this movement – even a small contribution is sufficient. The same applies to Wikia wikis, and probably to many other wikis where you, me, and everyone can share our knowledge and experience. Online communities have become a reality – the global village has truly emerged and is getting fine tuned. The web has made the national boundaries meaningless, the virtual reality is on the ascendancy. Let us come closer to build these digital communities more focussed and meaningful in the context of the real life. Wikipedia movement has lightened the path of collaboration on a large scale – let us replicate the wikipedia experience in building Wikia wiki online communities focused on particular topics and issues, as also other online communities for the benefit of the human society. The third wave has emerged – let us be part of the same. Thank you!

It was a wonderful experience interviewing Mr.Bhadani. Thank you sir, for patiently answering my questions and sharing your thoughts.

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Interview with Mr.Gangadhar Bhadani, India’s most prolific wikipedian [Part 1]

Mr.Bhadani with Jimmy Wales. Photo by Mr. Ashwin Murali, at WikiCamp chennai

Mr.Gangadhar Bhadani is India’s best known wikipedian. I feel very fortunate to get a chance to interview him. This is the first part of the interview. We can all learn so much from him. Enjoy the interview.

Me: For those readers who may not know you, could you please introduce yourself?

Mr.Gangadhar Bhadani: I am Gangadhar Bhadani, in mid-50s, from Ranchi (Jharkhand state). I’ve been working with Bank of India, since February 1974 (starting at 24 Bhadhani in 1974years of age, with dreams in my eyes, see the picture attached !!!). Most people of my age know only one organization – job hopping was rare and generally not attempted those days !!! My employment with Bank of India has been really exciting and I have always enjoyed being a banker, contributing to customers’ delight and building relationships beyond banking. I have worked in a number of supervisory capacities and my employment has given me great opportunities to move to different parts of India. I have worked in 9 states of India at many locations – from Mumbai to Madras, from Patna to Pondicherry with sojourns in between in many places including Taljhari (a tribal village in Jharkhand) and Trivandrum.

Me: When and how did you start contributing to wikipedia/wikia?

GB: It was an accident. I was googling and wikipedia cropped up – I landed there and for one day I explored the site creating two user names which I never used actively. I registered with the user name Bhadani (my surname) on 24th March, 2005. The Business Line in its issue of 26th February, 2007, has articulated my association with wikipedia in these words:

“What started off as `mere browsing’ while he was ill and holed up at home in 2005 is now a passion. He has, so far, contributed 500 articles to Wikipedia and is an administrator for three communities in Wikia.”

I registered with Wikia (different from Wikipedia though initiated by Jimmy Wales – Wikimedia founder – as a for-profit organization) months before I actively started contributing to the same from October, 2006. This happened after I returned from a meeting of Indian Wikipedians in Bangalore where Jimmy Wales, the man behind the Wikipedia movement was also present. I soon discovered the kick of contributing to Wikia wikis. Like all wikis, it too turned out to be highly addictive habit! For last nine months, my contributions to Wikia wikis have covered many interesting and diverse areas like travel, finance, do it yourself, my motherland (India), diabetes and autism. I look forward to contributing to many more Wikia wikis – right now, there are more than 2,700 Wikia wikis and everyone would find a wikia wiki of one’s choice, or one may request for free hosting of a new one of one’s choice. History shall repeat itself: I do believe that Wikia shall repeat the Wikipedia performance despite the fact that the former is a for-profit entity- large Wikia wikis and vibrant communities have already emerged at many Wikia wikis. People shall come to Wikia wikis to share their thoughts and experiences which may not fit to be incorporated in an encyclopedia like wikipedia.

Since September, 2005 (within six months of my becoming a wikipedian), I was upgraded by the wikipedia community to become one of the administrators. Currently, I am also an administrator of four Wikia Communities – World, Finance, DIY, and India.

Me: On an average, how much time do you spend for wikipedia?

GB: This is a closely guarded secret 🙂 as my wife will become jealous to learn the time spent by me in the company of wikipedia and wikias. Just kidding 🙂 My rendezvous with wikipedia began when I was on leave, and my wikipedia entry was like the proverbial love at first sight. On a number of occasions, I have continuously edited for almost 10 to 12 hours – mostly on Sundays and Holidays. However, generally, I spend a couple of late evening hours (say, on an average 3 hours per day) on most of the days editing Wikipedia or Wikia wikis or both. In fact, I had always remained a voracious reader, and used to consume a lot of books. Now, I am using a part of my reading time to edit wikipedia and wikias.

Me: What kind of topics do you normally contribute articles to?

GB: When I look behind to my contributions to wikipedia for last 27 months, I find that I have contributed to more than 500 articles on a variety of topics: geography, history, book reviews, biographies, Hindu mythology, banking and finance. I have remained a restless editor jumping from topic to topic without concentrating on select articles and upgrading the same to the status of Featured Article (FA), that is, among the best ones in wikipedia. Everyday, one such article gets promoted to FA status and gets featured on the main page of wikipedia. I do feel that despite being having around 50,000 edits to wikipedia and despite being called the most prolific wikipedian in India by Jimmy Wales, I have just begun my work here and I have miles to go! I have also contributed very actively for few months to Simple English Wikipedia and created a number of new pages there too.

Me: What motivates you to spend so much time and effort contributing to wikipedia?

GB: I can not identify the exact motives for being a wikipedia volunteer. For me it is perhaps a combination of factors – by contributing to wikipedia, I utilize my free time in a productive manner; it is exciting to be part of one of the largest, resilient and vibrant online community which has taken shape in the human history; the recognition which the community gives me is really satisfying; I get exposed to many new things which I would not have known had I not come across wikipedia.

Me: How good is India’s contribution to wikipedia?

GB: India’s contribution to wikipedia is really remarkable. Jimmy Wales’ three visits to India within a year indicate the high regard which he has for wikipedians – both present and potential wikipedians – in India. Everyone knows the potentials of India as a super Knowledge Process Powerhouse. Undoubtedly, the number of wikipedians located in India or Indian wikipedians located elsewhere in the world are rather less compared to countries like the USA. Canada, the UK, and Australia, but Indian wikipedian community is a robust one and it is expanding. In fact, the world wikipedia community has recognized this and there are many Indian wikipedians who have been endowed with administrative tools to manage wikipedia. One of the administrators is also a wikipedia bureaucrat – there are only 11 other active wikipedia bureaucrats in whole world.

To be continued….

mGinger – advertising comes to mobile phones

mGinger

mGinger is an innovative way for advertisers to reach their customers through mobile phones. Before you say “oh no, not ads in my mobile too”, listen to this, they actually pay you to receive ads in your mobile. Here’s how it works

  1. You sign up with them providing your mobile number and specifying your interests – the list is quite comprehensive, including books, apparels, computers, sports, travel etc (check the screen shot below). mGinger Categories
  2. You specify how many ads you would like to receive per day (maximum 10) and at what time you would like to receive them.
  3. They pay you 20 paise for every ad you receive and read.

They also have a referral program and this is where it gets more interesting. If you refer your friends, you get paid 10 paise for every ad they read and 5 paise for every ad their friends (your friends’ friends) read. They are in beta now, signing up people to receive ads. Launch date hasn’t been mentioned in the site, the FAQ says “Advertisers would get interested to send ads out to you only when they find significant number of people on the network”. They’re in the process of building the network. Its a good idea (at least on paper), we have to applaud them for coming up with such a simple and neat idea. That said, I’m wondering what kind of numbers (number of people in the network reading ads) they’ll need to attract big advertisers. Advertisers won’t be interested in a few hundreds or few thousands of people, they’ll expect big numbers before they open up their marketing budgets. The website design is clean and its very easy to navigate the site. You can easily keep track of your earnings and referrals. There’s a calculator right on the home page which you can use to estimate how much money you can make. Why it might work:

  • Almost everyone and his dog has mobile phone these days, so the market is huge.
  • If you receive 10 ads per day, its Rs.60 per month. You can dismiss it as a joke, but if you refer 10 of your friends and each one in turn refers five of his/her friends, you make Rs.1,110 per month (check the screen shot below). Now, that is some money, right? So it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to build a sizable network in a few months.
    mGinger Calculator
  • The user has full control of what ads (s)he would like to receive, how many and at what time. This is less intrusive than those irritating TV ads which are everywhere, all the time. Also, you can change preferences and even cancel the service, at any time.
  • Since the user chooses what ads (s)he would like to receive, its better targeted than other media.
  • It is difficult to accurately measure the reach of television and print ads, all we have is the circulation and subscription numbers. mGinger, on the other hand, can generate detailed reports based on demographics, gender, age, education, salary etc. This information is gold, as far as the advertisers are concerned.

What could be the challenges:

  • How can mGinger make sure that I actually read my ads?
  • It might be fun at the beginning, but people might soon get tired of receiving ten ads a day. Keeping up the interest level might be a challenge.

Some suggestions:

  • I think they’re planning to send out only text ads at this time. These days lots of mobile phones support flash, how about collecting handset information during sign up and sending flash ads, just to make the process of reading ads more interesting?
  • How about giving incentives like games, ring tones etc? something like for every 50 ads I read, I’ll be eligible for receiving a free ring tone or a game.
  • They could directly sign up with mobile operators and offer free SMS or talktime – something like for every 50 ads I read, I receive 5 minutes of free talk time or something similar (instead of cash?).
  • If they can strike “exclusive” deals with local shops (city specific – like big bazaar in bangalore, for example), that would be a great hook to draw more users.

Overall, I think its a good idea. I’m just curious to see how well mGinger does. You can sign up here (as my friend) or you can directly sign up here.

A look at two “digg” style Indian sites

Recently I came across two delightfully named “digg” style Indian sites – DealMaadi and TechPakoda. Lets have a look at them.

DealMaadi:

DealMaadi

DealMaadi helps shoppers to find the best deals across various cities in India. Registration is free and you can post deals and vote on the best deals once you become a member. The category list is exhaustive, including cameras, laptops, jewelry, software, travel etc. The site is very easy to understand and navigate. Looks like they check every deal submitted, as there is a “unpublished” tab and the FAQ says

“We check every posted deal to avoid such situations. Since to err is human, please flag us here and we will act to ensure only the clean and genuine deals are part of the system.”

which is good to know and explains why I didn’t see any spam on the site (frankly, I expected to see some). Though the idea itself is not original, it is smart of Rajiv Renganathan (who created the site) to apply it to a very niche and useful topic – shopping. We all like to save some cash while shopping, so the site should see some good traffic.

And yes, the site has the regular features – RSS feeds (for popular, new and all deals), tag clouds etc. I couldn’t see any ads at the site, but I assume that would be the way to monetize it in future.

Some suggestions:

1. How about adding “Expiry date” when submitting deals? (obviously they won’t show up on the site after they expire)

2. City specific RSS feeds, at least for the metros?

Its a very useful site. Have a look, and happy shopping 🙂

TechPakoda:

TechPakoda

Thats an interesting name 🙂

TechPakoda is for Indian techies, aggregating news primarily on the tech scene in India. There is nothing new to say about how the site works, it is similar to Digg and DealMaadi. While browsing through the first few pages of the popular stories section, most (not all) of the stories submitted were relevant. Thats good because the site depends on its users to flag irrelevant content.

Most of the links in the “Most Voted” page were good reads and I spent a good deal of time going through them. You can put JavaScript code in your blog (or site) and allow your users to directly submit links to TP. I couldn’t figure out the difference between “Latest News” and “Upcoming News”. There are huge banner ads and also Adsense, so their monetization strategy is clear.

Digg style sites for niche topics is a good idea, as they are more relevant than a site trying to cater to all subjects. Reminds me of that excellent site DZone.