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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1 comment so far

  1. Thilak on

    Well Mr. Bhadani, It’s quite interesting to see seniors like you who pave roads for kids and younger generations to follow. I’ve personally met you during the WikiCamp and I’m quite shocked by your enthusiasm and charisma towards Wikis.


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