Wikipedia brings Wikimania conference to HK in 2013

Popular encyclopedia looks to clinch more Asian support at Wikimania, but admits low prospects for mainland due to censorship

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 6:51pm

The creators of Wikipedia are looking to expand their Asian network of contributors through the annual Wikimania conference, which takes place in Hong Kong next year. But the mainland remains a low priority because of internet censorship.

Asaf Bartov, an official from Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the free online encyclopedia, said that while he expected Chinese Wikipedia to grow substantially over the next few years, the group was focusing on "easier" places such as India.

Beijing banned Wikipedia in 2005 and again in 2007 after its founder refused to comply with censorship of politically sensitive entries.

"We're happy the ban was lifted [in 2008]," Bartov said in a recent trip to Hong Kong to promote Wikimania. "Some pages are [still] blocked, but I have to stress that it's not blocked by us."

Wikipedia's Chinese version, the 11th largest portal, with 510,000 articles, is mostly edited in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Bartov estimates around 50,000 edits are made in Hong Kong, compared to just 40,000 edits on the mainland.

"There's difficulty getting organised [on the mainland] because meetings are still strictly controlled by the Communist Party," said Jeromy-Yu Chan, president of Wikimedia's Hong Kong chapter, which has around 40 active, university-age members and some 200 contributors.

Wikipedia relies on thousands of volunteers around the globe to create, fact-check and correct encyclopedia entries.

Chan said the lacklustre growth in China might be due to the launch of similar encyclopedias by popular search engines like Baidu and Hudong.

Still, Chan and Bartov hope that the Wikimania next August will give mainland "Wikipedians" and others from Asia a chance to meet and organise. Bartov encourages Hongkongers who are new to Wikipedia to participate.

"There will be introductory sessions in Chinese and English, where people can learn how to take part, how to upload photos [and] copy edit," Bartov said.

"Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our vision. It implies that knowledge cannot be only in English, but includes smaller languages," he added.

Topics popular with Hongkongers are current affairs and TVB dramas, according to Chan.

Chinese-language articles are viewed an average of 342,000 times per hour worldwide. An article on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square and the subsequent crackdown on June 4, 1989, was viewed 18,000 times on September 20.

Certain pages with sensitive content, however, have official firewalls in place to block views from mainland users.

The Wikimedia Foundation employs 140 people to help run 12 non-profit information-sharing projects, including Wikipedia.

The content of all these sites is managed by a global network of volunteers. In 2005, Wikipedia had around 350,000 volunteers.

Next year's conference in Hong Kong is expected to draw around 1,000 participants - fewer than the 1,500 at this year's event in Washington.

The last Wikimania conference held in Asia was in 2007 in Taipei.

[An earlier version of this story misidentified the president of Wikimedia's Hong Kong chapter as Jeromy Yu. His name is Jeromy-Yu Chan.]