Wikimedia’s Katherine Maher on Freeing Knowledge in the MENA

Lara Bitar (L) in conversation with Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher in Masaha, Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, April 24, 2017. (SMEX/Jad Shokor)

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Monday, April 24, 2017 — Committed to nurturing open knowledge in Lebanon, Social Media Exchange (SMEX) invited Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, to discuss the power of collaborative open knowledge projects. The talk, moderated by Lara Bitar, SMEX’s editorial director, focused on sharing ideas to grow the free knowledge community in Lebanon and the wider region. Journalists, researchers, and information activists participated in the exchange in SMEX’s new hub, Masaha, a space for digital freedoms and open culture.

Wikipedia, a Wikimedia Foundation project, is a vast information and knowledge repository that anyone can write and edit. Sixteen years after its establishment, the encyclopedia is now “a free knowledge ecosystem,” Maher noted. “Our vision is to have the sum of all the world’s knowledge,” she added, explaining that the Foundation actively works on countering systemic bias by supporting underrepresented perspectives and demographic groups.

The Arabic Wikipedia, for example, lags behind other Wikipedias in content relative to the size of the Arabic-speaking population. Despite having 1,200,000 registered users as of March 2017, only half a million articles have been written, Bitar said, asking Maher to share her experience with the Arabic-speaking Wikipedian community.

“If you see something wrong [or missing] on Wikipedia, fix it,” that’s Maher’s simple motto for involvement. Encouraging the audience to join the community of open knowledge and education advocates, she spoke of the Arabic-speaking community’s upcoming conference WikiArabia as a way to grow the content on the Arabic Wikipedia.

WikiArabia 2017 will be the third annual meeting of participants from the Arab region, to be held in Cairo in October. The conference advances a participatory approach to improving the exchange of transparent information and the accuracy of Wiki pages online. Maher also spoke of ongoing collaborations aimed at improving and increasing Arabic content. These include partnerships with universities, such as Birzeit University in Palestine and Cairo University in Egypt, where educators and students contribute to Wikimedia projects in an academic setting.

SMEX — a creator of several open knowledge initiatives in the region such as NetHawwal, an online learning platform, and Tasharuk, a collaborative knowledge base for netizens — wrapped up the conversation by inviting audience members to engage with the organization in similar projects.

We left feeling inspired by the meetups we saw in Ramallah and Baghdad. An open knowledge editathon or hackathon is on the horizon, stay in touch to learn the details.

You can watch the video below

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