The potential potency of a wiki as a tool for Change and Activism


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, 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, 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.

Issues related to this page:

ProjectSummaryStatusPriorityCategoryLast updatedAssigned to
websiteExplain complementarity with regard to wikipediaactivenormalfeature request49 weeks 4 daysaugustin


Long term solution

It is a good idea for the BBOG movement not to end with the return of the girls,rather it should go further by proffering possible solution to the root cause of the matter with the sole aim of preventing future occurrence. How to achieved this? Its a good start you share with others ideas,so the best people to help you are actually Nigerians living in Nigeria. That is not in any way to declare orther sources irrelevant. The problem in Nigeria especially Northern Nigeria has been long and became more intensified in 1999 with the coming of democracy! All this problems(ethnicity,tribalism,resource control,religion,politics,etc)all sum up together and gave birth to this Boko Haram! Note that in Nigeria,the media don't report the exact facts. So inputs from Nigerians will help you a lot in Your noble quest to provide solution in preventing future occurrence. So do not relent in pleading with more Nigerians for their contribution. There is a national conference going on now in Abuja where representatives from all the country's geo_politcal zones converge to speak out what their problems are and what they really want. I have promise to help and that I will.

Input from Nigerian people

Thank you Innocent002.

I personally very much welcome input from Nigerian people. You obviously know the situation in your country much better than I do.

Let's use the wiki to collect accurate information. What we have right now is a bit of a mess. But with the help of Nigerian people, we can develop it and improve it to present accurate facts. Then a long term solution will develop in our collective minds that you can implement in your country.

I am French and I do not like the neo-imperialistic nature of the "help" from former colonial powers like France and UK (and USA). If western charities can help in Nigeria, then good. If we can empower Nigerian charities, even better!

I am at your service.

Input from Nigerians and Long Term solutions

The efforts being made on this wiki (thanks to Augustin and the other volunteers here) are remarkable. #BringBackOurGirls (the hashtag and the activism around it) has made a resounding statement both in Nigeria and globally.

For those in the affected areas, a very pressing need is how to end Boko Haram and to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Nigerians share a set of common frustrations regarding efforts towards long term solutions to this situation. Some of the principal challenges include:

  1. Insincerity on the side of the government in fighting the insurgency. Yes, numerous speculations abound as to this worrisome attitude of the government towards fighting Boko Haram, but that is besides the point. The real worry is, the government takes careful steps to misinform the world about the seriousness of the insurgency, or its many victims. Where such attempts fail, they resort to blatant intimidation and calculated actions to disrupt all activist’ efforts towards ending Boko Haram. But we know better. Bringing back the girls is a very minor component of the problem. Daily, entire villages here are being wiped out, inhabitants killed, houses burnt, etc. Our government is economical with the truth regarding casualty figures. Indeed, it entire Boko Haram massacres in the rural areas often go unreported. Thus one of the cardinal hurdles is: How do you deal with a government which is not sincere in fighting Boko Haram?
  2. Being targeted by Boko Haram: The insurgents have frequently targeted vocal individuals who condemn their activities openly. Targeted assassinations are frequent. This is another of the problems faced by Nigerians, especially those who reside in North Eastern Nigeria. Now, for fear of their lives and their families, such people (who could contribute a great deal to the movement to #BringBackOurGirls and end Boko Haram understandably choose to remain silent. Thus the question is: What can we do to make more people speak up and contribute to this great course?
  3. A near total absence of Charities to support victims of the insurgency. We have heard of a few charities that state their commitments towards the #BringBackOurGirls and ending Boko Haram or supporting the victims. But the question is, are they truly effective? What results have they achieved? Are they present in the areas where they are most needed? How do they help? The near absence of proof of the effectiveness of such charities makes in difficult to organize Nigerians and ask them to help.
  4. Infrastructural problems: While a handful number of Nigerians resident in these affected areas can afford electricity and internet connectivity to update the world on the situation on ground, we need to understand that these are a small minority, and they are the busiest lots (bankers, business people, etc) The rest cannot afford prolonged time on-line to update the world about matters on ground. The question is, how then do you enable these people to join the on-line movements? Note also that Nigerians depend primarily on internet connections provided by GSM providers. Now the worst affected areas are under a state of emergency, and GSM services are often switched off for weeks. How do we get their voices?

I stated a few of the challenges faced by Nigerians towards participating in the efforts to find lasting solutions to the situation. I am optimistic that these will not prevent the efforts to end Boko Haram and #BringBackOurGirls. I simply want to bring to light a few challenges I understand as the impediments to Nigerians participating as they should in the various movements to find a solution to this situation.

Yes, The Forgotten Ones project is here to help find solutions to these questions, because this project is asking the right questions. So in this reply, I simply added a few more questions. Hopefully, we will reason and debate this together, and find the solutions together.

Thank you Augustin for this wonderful post.

1- the government & fighting the insurgency

Coommark, regarding your first point.
I do not have ready answers. I have documented what I could in the following wiki pages:
Corruption within Nigerian government
Reactions by the Nigerian authorities to the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping