The potential potency of a wiki as a tool for Change and Activism
- Potency & Latency
- Wiki - a simple yet revolutionary concept
- Wikipedia: the only non-profit amongst commercial internet giants
- I love wikipedia… despite its obvious flaws
- Another wiki, one with an agenda
- # BringBackOurGirls wiki
- What to use the wiki for and how can it help?
- What about time commitment?
Potency & Latency
A wiki actively supported by a small/medium community could become a very potent tool for activism.
po·tent adjective \ˈpō-tənt\
1 : having or wielding force, authority, or influence : powerful
2 : achieving or bringing about a particular result : effective
This powerful tool is however not used to its full potential, if at all.
po·ten·tial noun \pə-ˈten(t)-shəl\
1 : a chance or possibility that something will happen or exist in the future.
2 : a quality that something has that can be developed to make it better.
I see this latent potential very clearly in my own mind. However most people are not aware of the tremendous potency that a collaboratively edited wiki can have for activism and for change. It is the purpose of this blog entry to explain how an apparently very ordinary (some might even say passé) technology could become a powerful tool to promote humanitarian causes and bring about much needed change in our world.
Wiki - a simple yet revolutionary concept
When I first heard about wikis &emdash; some 14~15 years ago &emdash; I immediately fell in love with the concept. A wiki is simply an article without a single, definite author. Instead, it is collaboratively edited by a group of people, a community.
A wiki negates the ego. What matters is the end result, not who laboured to bring it about.
The concept is diametrically opposed to that of blogs or of a twitter channel where the personality of an individual is the centrepiece. Bloggers' primary concern might be how many comments they will get on their blog, how many page views, etc. Individuals on twitter will care about the number of followers, of retweets, etc.
A wiki encourages the abnegation of the self; a wiki-editor works simply for the benefit of the community. Editors get no or little recognition. The perfection of an individual article and the common good are all that matters. Wikis are the antidote to rampant individualism.
Despite its geeky-sounding name, a wiki is, in accordance to its formal definition, easy to edit. Anyone capable of editing a text document (or of using twitter!) is perfectly capable of contributing to a wiki. No excuse. The work flow is a little different but it can easily be learned given a minimum amount of good will and time.
Wikipedia: the only non-profit amongst commercial internet giants
It is not by chance that the only non-commercial web site among the top-ten web sites (or even the top 20 or more) is a wiki. Depending on sources, wikipedia.org is ranked 5th or 6th by traffic of all web sites on the internet. The only web sites that consistently rank higher than wikipedia are internet giants: Google, Facebook, Youtube and Yahoo. Some sources put baidu.com, a Chinese-language search engine intermittently ahead of wikipedia.
In terms of traffic, Wikipedia comes way ahead of twitter and many other commercial giants.
Wikipedia is competing amongst giants. Yet, is is owned by a non-profit organization. It never carried any paid advertising. It solely owes its strength and survival to countless anonymous supporters and wiki-editors worldwide: they are the unsung heroes who have contributed the entirety of the Free Encyclopedia's content. They also support the wikipedia foundation and keep the whole structure afloat with donations.
This is the power &emdash; not potential but fully realised &emdash; of a dedicated community of selfless individuals working for a common good: the provision of a universal encyclopedia freely available to all.
I love wikipedia… despite its obvious flaws
I have come to rely on wikipedia for almost any topic that catches my interest. I consult it literally every day, throughout the day. On my KDE desktop, I have a handy keyboard shortcut that I constantly use. With very few key strokes, without having to reach out for my computer mouse, I can spawn a new browser window which will directly open on the wikipedia article that I want to read. Typing "wp:KDE" is enough to launch my browser which will directly open the wikipedia article on KDE. No painstaking browsing necessary. I can reach the most up to date information on almost any topic within 5 seconds!
As I read an article, I know I am benefiting from countless man-hours of selfless contributions by dedicated editors. I am benefiting from the best that their collective effort could achieve.
Wikipedia articles are very informative, usually well-researched and present a nice overview on any single topic.
Yet, it has its flaws, including some well-known limitations. Some flaws are intrinsic to any wikis while some other are specifically due to some wikipedia policies.
Amongst its many flaws, is its obvious North-American bias. It is almost ridiculous the amount of details in which each single US TV show, each US major or even minor media personality is being covered. For obvious reasons, we do not have the same amount of coverage for any African country and probably not even for the whole African continent as a whole!
I remember once, many years ago, I created a new wikipedia article for a Japanese movie that had been a huge hit in Asia. A simple yet very touching movie about the fate of a family dog after an earthquake in Japan. Very soon however, the barely emerging article was nominated for quick deletion because it was "not notable enough", i.e. the well-meaning Western (probably North American) wikipedia editor had not heard about it. For him, notability in the whole of Asia didn't amount to much. Fortunately, more experienced editors weighed in favour of maintaining the article.
Much more shockingly and much closer to our current concerns is one comment on the Talk page of the wikipedia article about the 2014 Chibok kidnapping. On the 23rd of April, the article was barely a stub. One editor seemed to disagree with the creation of the article. He wrote:
I strongly suggest that you read "What Wikipedia is not#Wikipedia is not a newspaper". It is not at all clear to me that this is any more than one ephemeral news item, no more significant than millions of other news items.
A very shocking statement by an experienced wikipedia editor! And yet, it did not surprise me. This was the kind of topic where I knew wikipedia is at its weakest.
That wikipedia article barely grew for the following 7~10 days, but when the Chibok girls story at last made the headlines, there was a flurry of activity on the article which suddenly became more detailed in its coverage.
Another wiki, one with an agenda
Although Wikipedia is a wiki and a very popular one, it is completely the wrong medium for activism. It is regimented by a series of community-approved rules which include such strictly enforced guidelines as:
- Neutral point of view.
- No original research.
- Dubious rules regarding notability (with, as we have seen above, a very strong US bias).
So, what we need is
a strong wiki with a positive agenda;
a wiki with a very strong pro-humanitarian point of view;
a wiki where original research is the rule rather than something forbidden;
a wiki where lack of notability is good reason to cover the topic even more (See the Forgotten Ones project);
a wiki where fleeting information can be permanently stored.
I'll blog another day about the proper use (and mostly the misuse) of Twitter.
Twitter is a social network. It's great to meet people, but it is so completely wrong for any kind of serious activism. Tweets quickly fall off the timeline and get easily forgotten. The signal to noise ration is very poor.
In other words, the major strengths of a wiki correspond to the major flaws of a social network like Twitter. The two are complementary to each other.
# BringBackOurGirls wiki
This site combines the strength of both personal blogs and community-edited wikis.
The wiki in this site has been in existence long before the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls. The Forgotten Ones project hosted here was started in January 2014. When I heard the story of 234 forgotten schoolgirls whose fate was completely ignored by the mainstream media, it is only naturally that I used the existing framework to cover it.
Each single # BringBackOurGirls rally has its own wiki page which rally participants can use to make a permanent record of their contribution to the movement. See for example all the pictures posted on this wiki page for the London Rally at the Nigerian Embassy.
Look at the current breadth of the # BringBackOurGirls wiki. It has all been achieved with a very small team of volunteers. A few were active for a short while and have since moved on. Only one or two (e.g. @UncannyVal) have remained and persistently helped a little bit every day.
Imagine what could be achieved with a team twice as big, 3 times, 4 times… 10 times as big. 10 times a very small team is still a very small team, but the details and the pertinence in which each topic is covered would improve 10-fold.
What to use the wiki for and how can it help?
I end this blog entry on the most important point of all: what can we use this wiki for and how can it help the # BringBackOurGirls movement?
Actually, there is no single valid answer to that question. That's the whole point: a wiki is a collaborative effort. Thus a wiki becomes whatever a given community makes of it. You may think of uses that I hadn't considered. If nobody contributes, the wiki will fail to achieve its potential. If on the other hand there is a popular effort to make the best use of it, its potential to enable change will flourish.
However, here is my attempted answer to the above question:
- News coverage: in the early days when lack of media coverage was a primary concern, it was easy to collect all news articles on the topic. See the relevant section.
- Listing of rallies and other # BringBackOurGirls events: a special plugin was exceptionally developed to help keep track of the numerous rallies being held world wide. As explained above, each rally has a wiki page which can be used by the rally participants for their own purposes.
- Understanding the underlying issues: not only do we have to bring the Chibok girls back, but we also need to prevent such crimes from occurring again. We can use the wiki to develop a collective understanding of the root causes.
- Charities: use the wiki to list the charities. A wiki page can be created for each charity where we can detail such relevant information as: what is their area of expertise? Are they active in Nigeria, especially in the Northern part? etc.
- Long term solutions: progressively develop an understanding of possible long term solutions and document them. Thereafter, charities, individuals and even policy makers can consult the page and promote and implement some of the ideas exposed therein.
- Action points: if we want to be part of the long term solution, we need to take action accordingly. But how? Where? What is exactly required? What will be the intended effects? The answers to all of these questions can be neatly documented.
- Build on each other's work: that's the more important and inherent strength of a wiki. Not one single individual is supposed to know everything. But every single one of us can contribute a little something to develop further the work done by previous editors.
The wiki can be used to explore specific topics such as but not limited to:
- Girls education. It is unacceptable that girls were abducted just because they wanted to take an exam!
- Women's Rights. Men and women must work together in mutual respect.
- Social inequalities: extreme poverty feeds violent extremist movements. A global, long-lasting solution must include solving the root causes of long-standing social inequalities.
- Government corruption: it is present in every country, and it is endemic in Nigeria. We must document it, denounce it and find ways to fight it.
- Religion: we must promote interfaith dialogue and fight wrong-headed radical and extreme interpretations.
- Etc. There are so many facets to the story of the Chibok girls abductions. Use the wiki to document any specific area you believe must be addressed.
Check the actual existing wiki. See what has already been done, what could be improved, what information you could research and contribute and how it all could help bring about change.
What about time commitment?
That's the best part: every little bit helps. You can contribute as little as a 30~40 minute session once or twice a week and make a positive difference to the overall project. If you encourage others to do the same, the whole wiki will suddenly become alive and will be an important tool used to promote and actually implement much needed changes in our society, in Nigeria and elsewhere.