Tell us a bit about Mervat beside Wikipedians world – where and how do you live, what you do in your free time?
I live in Amman, Jordan. A freelance BA/Technical Writer. Currently working with the WMF Trust & Safety team as a UCoC Outreach Facilitator. Besides editing wikipedia, in my spare time, I read. I also like gardening and shopping
And now – tell us your story about Wikipedia? How it all started?
My real start was a bit funny; as the first article I ever created was about Gargamel (the character in Smurfs); When I attended the movie in the cinema in 2012, I wanted to check the bio of the actor; I found a comprehensive article about the character in English, but in Arabic, it was just a red link in the article of the movie; I had thought then, let me give it a try and create the article, I liked the idea of adding articles, so continued to add more since then. Before creating an account, I used to fix mistakes I found in the articles I used to read on a daily basis. Now, I have more than 1699 articles in Arabic, about 10 in English.
Which is your favourite wikipedian project?
3) Commons, in order
How do you contribute more often?
I am an active community member; I managed some initiatives such as editathons, contests, and workshops. I managed more than 5 editing contests, and participated as a jury member in almost all editing contests that were done in Arabic Wikipedia and other languages too. I am also an admin and a bureaucrat, but I can say, I enjoy editing and creating content more than anything else.
What is your motivation to be part of the wiki movement?
Each one of us must have searched for information in any topic, whether for school homeworks, or to learn new things and know details about different knowledge areas; many times, we were not able to find what we looked for; books were not easily available, and visiting libraries is not always easy, specially for people who don’t live in cities.
I believe that everyone has the right to access knowledge as easily as possible. As others volunteered their time and efforts to provide free knowledge to us, we have to be generous too by donating our time and effort to participate in spreading knowledge. For me, Wikipedia is the most appropriate platform for that. it’s one of the best sources and will continue to be. By time, it becomes a passion and even a life-style.
Your greetings to the wiki people who will read this interview 🙂
Dear Readers; thank you for taking the time to read my interview; hoping that what I mentioned would encourage you to participate and continue participating the way that fits you; participation in the wiki movement can be in different ways, even if you don’t want or cannot be an editor for any reason, you can read. Be one of us, and come join; make your mark.
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!