How did the relationship between you and Wikipedia start? At the beginning I met Bachounda, who manages the Wikimedia community in Algeria, through my photography club, we often organize events around photography where the Wiki Loves Africa competitions or Wiki loves monuments are represented with exhibitions. Our relationship quickly becomes friendly, and we work together to ensure that our projects are linked, I quickly become a jury for these contests and here I am participating in my first community meeting in Tunis in 2018, WikiIndaba!!
And how about you a photography? I decided to become a professional photographer in 2010, I left my job and I created a photography club with friends, then I trained, participated in competitions, internships, workshops and I became a trainer in this field, event organizer, I also worked with the national and international press, I was head of photo workshop for 3 years in Algiers and often asked to be a jury in competitions or represent brands known in the photo field. I most consider myself as an artist, loving meeting people and telling their stories through my work. Two years ago, I started F-EYE Agency which is my own photo services agency, we mainly offer training, but also shootings, event covers…
What do you do most as a volunteer on Wikipedia? As a photographer, I contribute mainly on Commons, but above all, I set up projects linking photography to Wikimedia, in fact in 2018 I created the WikiNomad project that I realize the same year with the help of a grant that I ask from the foundation, it is about organizing a discovery expedition with contributors, going to explore a region in Algeria and coming back with lots of articles, photos on different subjects, gastronomy, flora and fauna, geography, music…
What are the languages you contribute in, as you speak a few? As I said before, I contribute more in image, so in a universal language, I speak French and English, Algerian Arabic is my mother tongue, and I start to learn Spanish but I confess not being a big contributor in articles.
Is Wikipedia popular among your community? Wikipedia is very popular in Algeria, it is even a reference, it is most of the time, the first site on search engines. The problem, as raised during our conference in Tunis is the contribution, the concept of volunteering is not so popular with us, at least in the field of written contributions (articles, correction…) it is precisely on this problematic that I looked into when writing WikiNomad which offers contributors an opportunity to travel, discover their country, but in return, they write articles, take photos and upload them.
Your greeting to all the people, who will read this interview? I would like to sincerely thank Justine for this interview, it really honors me, the whole WikiDZ community who accompanied me and encouraged me to join the movement, Bachounda, Reda, Ahmed… But also all the friends whom I knew during the meetings, Anès, Emna, Zeineb, Farah, Shola, Alex, Felix and the others. All this to tell readers that my experience in the community seems to me to be a real human adventure.
Wow, I started back in 2004. I don’t recall exactly what motivated me to start. I remember the amazing feeling to be able to write articles with other people as a team. I don’t know everything but together we can cover a vast array of knowledge. Some know what to write, some know how to format the text and how to illustrate, and so on; in the end we produce something better than what anyone would have done alone. Everyone bring a little drop but together we make an ocean!
This is really exciting and also addictive. 16 year later, I still enjoy it a lot, even more maybe.
Now you do much more Wikidata – tell us about this „love“ a bit more 🙂
I do love Wikidata. This is a fantastic project, the multilingual aspect and the pure logic of data are very appealing to me. You can focus on the essence of information and then make things around it.
Wikidata is multilingual, you have the power of a wiki but multiplied by 400+ languages!
There is also a lot of tools to help edition and correction of Wikidata data. With the query service in SPARQL, you can make lists or check the quality of the data to locate the area to improve. With OpenRefine you can import in batch data from external sources to create new items or improve existing one.
I work on a lot of different data but especially around data about monuments and heritage sites, it’s very important to have a dataset complete and updated. It’s useful for Wikipedia articles and also for Wiki Loves Monuments, the annual international photographic competition to take pictures of monuments each September.
Your favorite Wiki projects and the once you are involved most?
Wikisource is my favourite Wikimedia projects. I mostly transcribe texts but there is also curation, organisation of books around a same subject to ease the reader navigation. Transcription is turning an image into a text, it is very important as text offer many opportunities, it makes the document easier to read, to search (with ctrl+f or with more elaborate text mining tool), to make it more discoverable for external search engine or to export and transfer to other devices (mobile phone, tablet and e-reader).
Already million of books has been transcribed, enough to read for a long time and for every taste.
Wikisource has also a very special pace and ambiance. It’s more quiet, almost zen; after doing mind-consuming tasks on Wikipedia I love come to „relax“ on Wikisource.
Not a Wikimedia project but I also love the “#100wikidays” is a personal challenge. The goal is to create an article each and every day. I finished it 2 times already and I’m currently doing it for the third time. I do translation from English to French of articles about Irish Women (doing my part to close the gender gap) with the help of Rebecca O’Neill, who is also doing the #100wikidays on the same article but in English a few days earlier. Again, a good example of how people can work together. My objective this year is to more than 100 days, maybe 1000 days, who knows?
What is special about French community among the wikipedians?
The french-speaking community is quite diverse, French is spoken all around the globe. The Wikimedian French community is strong and mostly nice. Like everywhere, there is troll and less kind people but I think that overall this is a good and friendly community. Some people can be stubborn and at first say „no“ to new things or tools but even if the community resist a bit at first, on the long run, a lot of new tools are adopted. For instance, it took time but now Wikidata is strongly interconnected to the French Wikipedia or Wikisource and it’s a win-win.
Your invite for the people who still do not contribute?
Just try it yourself! You don’t have to start big or to commit to edit every day, every little bit is welcome. There is so much to do on Wikimedia projects I’m sure you’ll find something you will enjoy.
And don’t forget to have fun, Wiki is serious but also seriously fun 😉
How you did discover Wikipedia and became wikipedian?
I have discovered Wikipedia as most of humans: By Googling subjects that I did not know much about and started to get the same page “Wikipedia” in most of my results. This was the situation for many years, where I was approaching Wikipedia as any classical encyclopedia: You read the information and go back to your life. In fact, I have always been interested in encyclopedias and used to read many of them when I was young (back to when we did not have internet and TV was not broadcasting at night). But all these books or CDs presented the characteristic that they were not editable and were written by experts and professors: They are here to be read and used in our research and studies. This was the main reason why I approached Wikipedia the same way, until the day I found a mistake in article and found out that I could actually edit and correct. I did it, it worked, and I was hooked!
In 2013, I created my account and became more and more active as I discovered the importance of writing about subjects from my region, that other people want to know about but cannot find information on the Internet. Working alone (and online) is a part of the Wikimedian life, so I sought to meet other people participating in this effort, and went to my first conference, which was WikiArabia 2015 in Monastir, Tunisia. By attending, I learned about the existence of WMF, the different projects and communities. In October 2015, motivated by what we learned, we founded Wikimedia Morocco User group (that will organize WikiArabia 2019 in Marrakesh). Since then I am balancing between online and offline work. It is a difficult and challenging exercise, but I believe in the importance of both in our work for a world where knowledge is free.
In which languages do you contribute most and on which topics / areas, if such?
I contribute mostly in the Arabic language because of the lack of information available in this language, even if it is one of the biggest in the world. There is in fact a challenging situation in our countries related to the fact that many contributors write in foreign languages such as French or English as most of the sources and references are available in them. I believe that as Africans, our duty is to empower our languages and to give it the importance it deserves. If you are not going to write in your language and your local context, nobody will write about it, especially if your region is not in a power position on the global level.
I write occasionally in foreign languages such as English, French, Spanish and Swedish when I feel that it can be relevant, especially on our local content or people. I do not have a specific area of contribution as I can prioritize my work depending on the situation, but I do always try to identify areas lacking articles and enrich them as much as I can. Examples of areas I worked on are traditional Moroccan singers or historical events that might not been present on Internet.
Tell us more about Wikipedian projects / communities in the Arab world and how Wikipedia is accepted and developed in your region?
The Arabic speaking world is not a homogenous entity as it counts 22 countries spread from Mauritania to Iraq and Comoros. This heterogeneity means that different regions have reached different levels of maturity. While some areas have User Groups (6 currently: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Levant, Morocco, Tunisia) and have a number of regular activities, we will barely find active members in other countries. In general, Arabic Wikipedia is rich and has a big depth in comparison with the number of articles, but the fact that it is a language spoken brings several challenges, especially when opinions are different about a given subject.
However, it is also a big advantage to speak the same language. Whenever a successful project happens in one of these countries, all the others can quickly learn from it. An example is the Wiki MOOC project from our colleagues in Algeria that was followed by more than 10.000 people in the world. Community members are in general helpful and guide each other towards answers or solutions (the Wiki Spirit), so being a member of a big community is very enriching. My hope is that this community grows even bigger especially in countries where there are few contributors due to several reasons.
You are volunteer and how do you attract / invite more people to follow you?
This is a challenging question!
To be honest with you, one of the difficulties we have in our region is to attract volunteers for obvious reasons. Volunteering is not a priority when people have other important issues going on in their lives and need to secure some necessities. Sometimes, being a volunteer is seen as a luxury: Luxury of having time, of having mood, and of having knowledge, because it is not obvious for all!
In our volunteering work, advocacy is a central part first to raise awareness about Wikimedia, and second to enlarge the community with new members. Despite the challenges that I mentioned earlier, there are different strategies to attract new volunteers. One of them is to target subjects that they love: Encouraging people to write about their neighborhood, city, region, language, preferred football club or singer are all very good hooks to tempt young and less young people to participate in the Wikimedia projects. In short, try to find out what a person loves and tell them that they can write about it with one condition: That the information is correct and has sources!
Your favourite Wiki project?
I do not really rank Wikimedia projects because each of them has a specific role and way of use, and they do all complete each other. However, I must admit that I am more active in some more than others. I find it for example simple to upload important pictures on commons, during different travels or visits, especially when articles do already exist. The same applies to Wikidata, where I can very quickly add information or translate different titles. Both as fast and efficient!
I am most active in Wikipedia, as I feel that it is at the heart of the movement, and that the other projects roam around it, but it takes sometimes a considerable amount of time to write a well-sourced article. The reward comes later when you see the number of people reading these articles, and that you feel that you have contributed with your small drop in the infinite ocean of knowledge!