Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Clarification about WFSOE and English and Indan Language Wikipedias

Comment - a little too long so posting here - to a blog post:

First of all, a big thanks for publicizing the Wikipedia For Schools Offline Edition (WFSOE) project. I can't say I started any of it, but I did my best to push it including talking about it, setting up a wiki page for co-ordination among volunteers, contacting the wikipedia community to troubleshoot as I was having problems and directly contacting the developers to try and take the software forward including getting some critical bugs fixed by now.

I would have greatly appreciated it if the author had also posted the link to the main wiki page mentioned in the community email that he is taking inspiration from, as a reference for readers: http://education.wikia.com/wiki/Wikipedia_For_Schools_Offline_Edition or http://tinyurl/WFSOE

As a side thought and for a different audience (my relatives who are not on the net), I'd requested the developers and got made ZIM files of wikipedia in the 3 Indian languages I speak - Hindi, Marathi, Gujrati. (Ref: http://sourceforge.net/tracker/?func=detail&aid=3170337&group_id=175508&atid=873518) These, with the English 45000+ articles wikipedia dump, are all stored on my portable HDD which I've used to install WFSOE. Unlike what the more well-off folks like to believe, most computers in schools out there don't have working DVD drives or any optical drives at all, and the WFSOE is 2.8 GBs in size, making any CD impossible. (I never quoted a CD myself - an HT article simplified DVD/USB to CD obviously for its layman readers and this blog post seems to have followed suit despite the facts)

USB drive is the best option, though I'd love to get my hands on one with a read-only switch to avoid all the viruses I've encountered on target PCs so far!

In the email I shared with wikipedia community prior to my talk at GNUnify in Pune, I hence mentioned that I also have these English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujrati dumps in case anybody wants to copy these over, in the spirit of sharing that wikipedians are known for. That email was also marked to several of my contacts in Pune (who really has the the time to write customized emails on the same topic for every group of friends these days, huh??) who I assure you do not happen to be school children at all though at one time they most definitely were as was I, and so the GNUnify event was a common place where we could meet up and swap wikpedia dumps!

How that got intertwined with WFSOE is beyond me. Even the wiki-page I set up that describes WFSOE in detail doesn't have anything of the sort on it. I think any person will know right off the bat that those bigger english and indian-language dumps are definitely not meant for use by school children. Why in the world would an NGO spend several months creating the WFSOE otherwise? Whoever would even think about handing the full versions out to kids (or claim that anyone would start a well publicized open initiative to do something so lewd!) would have to be retarded if not criminally careless. So I have no idea how the author connected those dots and even took it forward (and how!) without bothering to check the facts first.

But there is one inter-mixing regarding not kids but their guardians, that shone a light of optimism so bright it made my day-

Where I demonstrated the WFSOE to school teachers/principal, I also showed them the much bigger english one as a possible fallback for the staff in case an article they want isn't there on WFSOE (at present it's pretty sparse and I eagerly await a newer version, seeing that the ZIM format occupies around 1 GB lesser than the original WFSOE, hence making room for over double the number of articles!), and along with that loaded the Hindi and Marathi wikipedias to show them for real that Wikipedia is present in Indian languages as well - a fact they were never aware of.

So then, the staff naturally kept a copy of whatever I had on a staff-access-only computer, from where they'd take it all to their own homes and neighborhoods and to other schools. These things are released for free distribution and any adult has full right to store a copy. The teachers at the schools are MUCH more concerned about the content going to the students than any of us will ever be so I trust their responsibility more than I can trust any self-proclaimed guardian. Besides, I'm not a pessimist and neither is Wikipedia.

Anyways, upon operating the Marathi wikpedia offline, saying that they were impressed would be an understatement. Unwittingly I'd brought them the world's largest electronic offline collection of easily searchable (that engine's a feat of computer engineering - lightning fast and catches everything!) and instantly accessible (almost no lag time even on slower PCs) Marathi language articles loaded with images, inter-links and great formatting that is completely free of cost and without any strings attached. Even more so for the Hindi one twice its size!

Those of us who are regularly on the internet don't realize it so soon, but to the people seeing it and experiencing it for the first time, this was something amazing. There has never been anything like this seen before. They were at it like moths to a flame, and when they reached the article on Shivaji, the response was ecstatic! They then searched for their respective hometowns and on not finding sufficient info somewhere, they immediately told us they want to update it on Wikipedia the next time they get their hands on the internet! This all happened in a village in Raigad district, Maharashtra. Suddenly, by just giving an offline version, we had created potential future Wikipedia Marathi contributors - not some geeks in a metro but teachers in a village! On why they wanted to edit, they told us in a matter-of-fact manner they were grateful to Wikipedia for giving so much content for free and so they felt impelled to give back and make it even better.

Anyways, I digress. We duly told them that these english-full, hindi, marathi versions can be used by them but the WFSOE is meant for school kids. Before us they were themselves sure of that!

So if the blog post I'm long-commenting on is concerned about the impending social catastrophe arising from adult-content wikipedia offline versions (yeah, like it's porno-pedia or something!) being distributed to innocent school children, I'm afraid the author has been blogging up the wrong tree here and my apologies that a mis-read email wasted the author's precious time, though after a review I honestly can't find anything wrong with it. (The email. The blog post - let's not say more!)

Actually, come to think of it, it would make an awesome Indian news channel story -
आज की सनसनी खेज़ खबर! विकिपीडिया ने बाटा विज्ञान के बहाने मासूम बच्चों को अडुल्ट कंटेंट वाली CD ! कौन हैं यह दरिंदे? आखिर क्या चाहते हैं येह लोग ?? क्या इसमें हो सकता है विदेशी हात? देखते रहिये, बकवास खबरें!


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