Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two more stars fall

I need to post soon on the trip to Bamako, but wanted to quickly note two more sudden departures: Guido Sohne and Steve Cisler.

On return from Bamako I heard that Guido Sohne died suddenly earlier this month in Nairobi. Guido was from Ghana and an IT specialist. I did not know him well but we had corresponded occasionally on various items and networked on LinkedIn (which he first invited me and many others to join about 5 years ago) and Facebook. He was age 34, but had already left a mark. Some postings about him were made on the BytesforAll_Readers list. Very sad that he had to go so soon.

Steve Cisler also passed away this month in San Jose, California. I had even less contact with him, and that a while back when I was first getting interested in the links between L10n and what we now call ICT4D. He was known for, among other things his work on community networking. I only today learned, thanks to Kelly Morris on Togo-L, that Steve had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo a decade before my service there. Some folks who knew him have posted comments and retrospectives: CommunityNetworking2008’s Weblog, Wired, Culture Hacks, Tingilinde, The Real Paul Jones, Paul's Web Space 2.0, BytesforAll_Readers, and others.

May their memories continue to inspire us...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Closing the Xhosa Wikipedia?

A proposal to close the Xhosa Wikipedia has been made, and for some of us it raises some questions about how the Wikimedia Foundation deals with less-resourced languages, such as those in Africa. The bottom line here is really why there is little participation in African language editions of Wikipedia, and what the most appropriate course of action is - closing and eventually deleting, or finding ways to connect with communities that can work on them.

It is worth remembering that Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, expressed its vision in this way: "The fundamental idea of Wikipedia is to create and give away a freely licensed encyclopaedia in every language of the world." What does/should this vision mean in terms of how African language content and communities are developed?

The Xhosa language (called isiXhosa in the language itself) is spoken by about 7-8 million people and is one of South Africa's official languages. In theory, it would seem like one of the African languages most likely to succeed on Wikipedia, so the questions the proposal for closure raise are quite pointed. Personally I think that there is a marketing issue here - but clearly the reasons for lack of connection need to be examined thoroughly. It's not just as simple as "there is no interest."

Meetings in recent weeks

Over the last few weeks I've had some interesting meetings in which topics related to African languages have been raised, but that I haven't gotten around to reporting here, including several at the University of Pennsylvania, the new National Museum of Language, the Center for Applied Linguistics, ACTFL (the dedication of their new office), and with Mrs. Ntombenhle Nkosi, CEO of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB). Will travel tonight to Bamako for meetings with ACALAN and other organizations there.