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Blog memes in translation

I discovered today that my post Templatology, an essay was partially translated, commented-on and adapted to the situation of the Spanish Wikipedia, by Drini: Templatología (versión eswiki). Even the screenshots are of the Spanish Wikipedia! Now that’s nice. :)

That we can have this kind of “cross-stream” communication between the different flavours of Planet Wikimedia (currently ar, en, de, pl, pt, ru and zh) is really lovely. (…eh! there is no Spanish one yet. Is there only Drini, then?)

The idea of learning from one another (as in the various wiki communities), while widely agreed to be a good one, is not often seen in practice. It has not worked well on meta or mailing lists. I wonder if it has a chance in the blogosphere? It will likely suffer from the same problem as in other venues – bilingual people have better things to do than constantly translate for lazy bloody monolinguals! :)

Wiki borrowing, on the other hand, is widespread (userboxes are like a virulent virus — Template:Userbox lists no less than eight interwiki links (and likely more that are unlinked exist). The concept gets borrowed, but I wonder if fall-out from the original conflict is absorbed, dully repeated, or not even an issue. Probably all three situations exist, for different kinds of borrowing.

Translation is such a fascinating practice. I wonder if sometimes skilled bilingual speakers get tired of being treated as translation engines. I suppose they can stick to a monolingual community if it is too annoying.

At its worst, the task of translation can be dull and mechanical — I have seen known mistakes faithfully transcribed, rather than corrected in the original (and yes, on a wiki!) — but at its best it is a seamless, creative and thoughtful work of art, no less effort than creating the original and sometimes, maybe more effort. For functional type text that I usually deal with (help texts), it tends closer to the mechanical than creative.

One of my favourite things about Wikimedia Commons is that it is multilingual — or rather, tries to be. It is really a joyful thing when you create a help text, for example, and notice translations spring up from unknown souls, unbidden. It is a small thing that usually no one asked the writer to do, and usually no one thanked them when it was complete. To see such a red link turn blue reminds me that I am part of a diverse world-wide community committed to the Wikimedia mission. Such reminders are heartening and make it easier to assess petty and unimportant issues for what they are.

If you are bilingual and are interested in regularly, or irregularly, summarising or translating content from one of the non-English Wikimedia planets, please leave a comment or contact me – I would love to help set up a blog for that, or have such posts on my own blog.

26 March, 2008 • , ,

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CaFeConf 2007; unacademic knowledge

CaFeConf 2007 is just finished, and WMF had no less than Wikimedia Argentina’s Patricio Lorente representing. CaFeConf 2007 is the 6th conference of open/free software and GNU/Linux and is held each year in Buenos Aires (at least, as far as I can tell from Google’s translation of the Spanish Wikipedia article – any volunteers for translating it to English? :)).

Patricio’s slides are licensed under the GFDL and there is also video although the sound quality in particular is not too great. I believe his talk about the problems wiki communities face as they grow in size, but since I don’t understand Spanish I can’t tell you the nuances of it.

I was lucky enough to have Patricio attend my Wikimania talk. Lucky, because Patricio is a true believer, passionate and enthusiastic, and interested in the kinds of problems I mentioned in my talk. (And a lovely chap to boot.)

One of the last slides from his talk says this:

Recordar, todo el tiempo, que son
los novatos quienes llegan con
contenido nuevo en su equipaje.
La megalólopis Wikipedia debe
poder recibirlos con la calidez y
comprensión propia de la pequeña
aldea.

Or, as rendered by Google Translate:

Remember, all the time, which are
Novices who arrive with
New content in his luggage.
The encyclopedia should megalólopis
Able to receive them with warmth and
Own understanding of the small
Village.

I suppose this is a poetic restating of WP:BITE, which is just as well, because it never hurts to be reminded why exactly biting newcomers is bad (not just because others are watching). (If you can speak Spanish I’d love to know a more natural translation.)

I did an interview this morning on a friendly morning talk show, your basic “what is Wikipedia, how do you know it’s reliable, WikiScanner/Captain Smirk" deal. At one point they commented on my job title (computational linguist) and said something like, “I suppose that helps with all the wiki stuff.” And I remembered no… Wikipedia is not just for the geeks and the technically literate. Two million articles, big deal. If we really want to accurately represent “the sum of all human knowledge” we need input from all humans, not just the ones who understands 1s and 0s.

I mentioned farming and parenting as two fields that we need more input on. I have a farmer friend and I know he knows a ton of things that are poorly represented in Wikipedia, if at all. Farmers are generally out farming, rather than watching morning TV with a laptop in hand, no surprise there. But I guess in the future there will be more conflict between “knowledge” and “stuff without sources”. The ever-increasing crackdown on the need for citations and reliable sources should make the showdown necessary. Because it is no secret that science and the arts and academia have not studied everything that makes up people’s lives, even in a western country like Australia.

Do I sound anti-sources? I’m not. For a good many topics a reliable sources crackdown is the only way to go. But when otherwise uncontroversial, useful articles get deleted as “non-notable” because there are no possible sources because academia hasn’t come to it yet, I think we are not applying the fifth pillar quite often enough.

If there is no conflict, it could only mean the sources brigade had a victory and the keepers of “unacademic knowledge” left early, defeated. I would consider that a loss.

23 October, 2007 • , ,

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