MARATHON EF­FORT GIVES THE UAE ITS PROPER PLACE ON WIKIPEDIA

▶ A team of vol­un­teers is work­ing to make sure the go-to en­cy­clo­pe­dia for in­ter­net users has a pic­ture of the Emi­rates that re­flects its his­tory and di­ver­sity, writes Melissa Gronlund

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Con­tin­ued from page 27

Imag­ine you want to look at a pic­ture of the old souq in Abu Dhabi. Or find in­for­ma­tion about the 18th-cen­tury Ras Al Khaimah poet Salma. Or find out what year the UK with­drew from the UAE. Chances are you’d end up on Wikipedia, but you’d only be in luck for one of those three queries. (The UK left in 1971, right be­fore the fed­er­a­tion of the emi­rates.)

The UAE is un­der-rep­re­sented on Wikipedia com­pared to other coun­tries of its size, and on April 1 of this year, a group of vol­un­teer Wikipedia ed­i­tors launched the Wiki Loves Emi­rates cam­paign to drum up im­ages for the UAE’s Wikipedia pages.

The leader of the cam­paign is Saqib Qayyum, a 28-year-old Pak­istani who di­vides his time be­tween Dubai, where his fam­ily is based, and his work with an oil com­pany in Rus­sia. Qayyum has helped to over­see the Pak­istani con­tri­bu­tion to the Wiki Loves Mon­u­ments cam­paign, through which 2,200 im­ages of Pak­istani mon­u­ments were added. At the start of May, Abu Dhabi is host­ing its first Wiki edita-thon, ad­dress­ing #Wik­iGap – the fact that there are four times more pages about men than women – and en­sur­ing UAE women are as rep­re­sented as UAE men.

Con­tribut­ing to Wikipedia en masse has be­come a means of grass­roots ac­tivism

Wikipedia is fa­mous among in­ter­net en­ti­ties – depend­ing on how you look at it. It is ei­ther in the global top five of the most vis­ited pages or among the top 10 – for the way it has held on to the com­mit­ment to free in­for­ma­tion and crowd-sourced knowl­edge that marked the early days of the web. They’ve re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to make money (Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, is known as the only in­ter­net non-bil­lion­aire) and have fo­cused on non-profit ini­tia­tives such as Wiki­me­dia that help grow the com­mu­nity of re­searchers.

As Face­book’s ethos of con­nect­ing the world has come un­der scru­tiny, Wikipedia’s model of be­ing po­liced by vol­un­teers – whether con­trib­u­tors, factcheck­ers or ed­i­tors – has con­tin­ued to func­tion re­mark­ably well. (Per­haps in­evitably, the most com­pre­hen­sive in­for­ma­tion source on Wikipedia’s re­li­a­bil­ity is on Wikipedia it­self.)

At the same time, its con­tent re­flects the bi­ases – or, more ba­si­cally, in­ter­ests – of its con­trib­u­tors. Ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, most vol­un­teers are men, ei­ther in their mid-20s or re­tired, while women make up be­tween 10 and 20 per cent. Al­though the re­la­tion be­tween the gen­der of the writer and the sub­ject is not di­rect, this might be an­other rea­son you will not be able to find in­for­ma­tion on the Ras Al Khaimah poet Salma, daugh­ter of Al Ma­jedi bin Dha­her.

Wikipedia also tends to skew to­wards power cen­tres: peo­ple from English-speak­ing coun­tries are the most rep­re­sented, along­side those from west­ern Europe, and then a smat­ter­ing of en­gaged coun­tries, such as Rus­sia, In­dia, Brazil, the Philip­pines and Le­banon.

In keep­ing with the demo­cratic spirit of Wikipedia, over the past few years groups have been host­ing edit­ing marathons to re­dress gaps and im­bal­ances in cov­er­age, of­ten all-day and even all-night af­fairs, fu­elled by cof­fee and ca­ma­raderie, when vol­un­teers come to­gether to en­ter ne­glected fig­ures, move­ments, and facts into the in­ter­net’s con­scious­ness. The long­est took place in 2016 at the Museo Soumaya in Mex­ico City, where Wiki­me­dia Mex­ico and mu­seum vol­un­teers added in­for­ma­tion about artists to Span­ish-lan­guage Wikipedia for 72 hours solid. This was cer­ti­fied as a Guin­ness World Record.

As in other forms of grass­roots ac­tivism, the events foster a sense of so­cial sol­i­dar­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity. The US or­gan­i­sa­tion Art + Fem­i­nism’s fifth an­nual Wikipedia marathon, held this year at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York, in­volved free child­care. Many events, such as Black Life Mat­ters, or­gan­ised by the Schom­burg Cen­tre for Re­search in Black Cul­ture, in New York, also teach vol­un­teers edit­ing and dig­i­tal lit­er­acy.

Other marathons have emerged as part of mu­se­ums’ ed­u­ca­tional out­reach com­po­nents. The mul­ti­part, multi-venue ex­hi­bi­tion and re­search project Pa­cific Stan­dard Time, funded by the Getty in Los Angeles to look at LA’s art his­tory, hosted a marathon in Novem­ber 2017 to in­crease the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Latin Amer­i­can film­mak­ers on Wikipedia. In essence, these are a fast-paced, crowd-sourced ver­sion of the global re­dress­ing of cul­tural his­tory that has been tak­ing place since the 1960s, when post­colo­nial­ism, fem­i­nism, and other ad­vo­cates be­gan to chal­lenge the priv­i­lege of west­ern white males. In May, a marathon for #Wik­iGap comes to the UAE, in an ini­tia­tive of Wiki­me­dia – the non-profit arm that over­sees Wikipedia and its af­fil­i­ates – and the Swedish Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs. On In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, March 8, Swedish em­bassies held Wiki marathons, in which vol­un­teers cre­ated and edited pages on key women from each coun­try. Abu Dhabi’s will run in early with the sup­port of UN Women – the UN’s gen­der-equal­ity task force – and Abu Dhabi’s Gen­eral Women’s Union. So far, Swe­den’s #Wik­iGap ini­tia­tive has edited 2420 ar­ti­cles and added about 450.

Qayyum has been a vol­un­teer edi­tor of Wikipedia since 2012. He has edited more than 1,000 pages on Pak­istani politi­cians, and has won four schol­ar­ships from Wiki­me­dia. “I try to spend two to three – some­times four – hours a day” on Wikipedia, he says. “It has be­come part of my life. If I don’t do Wikipedia one day, it feels like some­thing is miss­ing.”

Qayyum is mar­ried with a child and says that his wife asks why he spends so much time on the en­cy­clo­pe­dia web­site. “Some­times she asks, yes. But Wikipedia pro­vides free, un­bi­ased in­for­ma­tion to every­one,” he says, in a spirit of ex­pla­na­tion (he might have noted my sym­pa­thies with his wife). “It feels good when you con­trib­ute to an in­sti­tu­tion that gives knowl­edge to so many peo­ple around the world and doesn’t ask for any­thing back.”

Now two weeks in, the Wiki Loves Emi­rates cam­paign has col­lected al­most 700 pho­to­graphs: im­ages of tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture, the sea, cityscapes (par­tic­u­larly by night), sand dunes and the oc­ca­sional oil rig. Qayyum notes, how­ever, that some of these will have to be re­turned be­cause of a statute called “free­dom of panorama,” by which im­ages of mod­ern build­ings – which for the UAE means most struc­tures, in­clud­ing such iconic ones as the Burj Khal­ifa, the Burj Al Arab and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – are sub­ject to copy­right, al­though they are in public space.

Free­dom of panorama is a lit­tle-known and lit­tle un­der­stood re­stric­tion on im­age us­age. It rests on the fact that in sit­u­a­tions where a struc­ture’s ar­chi­tec­ture or de­sign is still un­der copy­right, it is il­le­gal to pub­lish im­ages of it with­out ex­press per­mis­sion from the owner. In France, for ex­am­ple, where there is no free­dom of panorama, this means one can­not pub­lish im­ages of the Eif­fel Tower at night. Al­though the ar­chi­tec­ture of the build­ing is in the public do­main, as Wales wrote in a 2015 ar­ti­cle in the

Guardian, the “il­lu­mi­na­tion of the Eif­fel Tower is con­sid­ered to be a sep­a­rate artis­tic in­stal­la­tion”.

Most pho­tog­ra­phers, so­cial me­dia users and even me­dia out­lets take and post im­ages of mod­ern build­ings in the UAE with­out run­ning afoul of the law. But Wikipedia has strin­gent rules to ac­cept only im­ages that have been taken by the user, ones for which there is a free li­cence or for which per­mis­sion has been se­cured.

This mat­ters be­cause Wikipedia has emerged as the go-to en­cy­clo­pe­dia for most in­ter­net users, mean­ing the copy­right dis­tinc­tion greatly af­fects the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the coun­try. For, say, the Burj Al Arab to be legally pic­tured, per­mis­sion would have to be se­cured from the le­gal team of the Jumeirah Group – hardly an easy task for an ev­ery­day punter.

Al­though many of the im­ages will be taken down at the end of the cam­paign, you can catch them on the UAE Wiki­me­dia page for the mean­time, or you can sign up to con­trib­ute. The #Wik­iGap Abu Dhabi edit-athon will take place in early May at the Gen­eral Women’s Union in Abu Dhabi. The Wiki Loves Emi­rates cam­paign runs un­til April 30

Wiki­me­dia Com­mons / Ar­tur Malinowski

Im­ages up­loaded to Wiki Loves Emi­rates: the dhow out­side Dubai Mu­seum at Al Fahidi Fort, main, and Al Badiyah Mosque in Fu­jairah, be­low, the old­est known place of worship in the coun­try, be­low

Ray­mond Su­tanto

The #Wik­iGap edit-a-thon in Yo­gyakarta, Java, In­done­sia last month

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