Page last updated at 09:46 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 10:46 UK

Spreading the wiki footprint

Copies of Encyclopaedia Britannica on a shelf
Wikipedia has become as popular as a hard back encyclopaedia
Egypt's second largest city Alexandria, has just played host to the annual meeting of the Wikimedia foundation, the non-profit organisation that is responsible for the phenomenon that is Wikipedia.

One of the main aims of this event is to increase the number of articles available in Arabic.

Mohamed Ibrahim, a recent architecture graduate from Alexandria University, pushed hard for Wikimania 2008 to be held in Egypt.

But the fact that Egypt has strong censorship laws and takes a tough lines on bloggers, one of whom was recently sent to prison for three years for comments posted on a blog, made it a controversial host.

Users are not used to talking in Arabic as it's written down, so they feel that they cannot contribute to Wikipedia
Mohamed Ibrahim

"I think we have the right to develop and to make freedom of expression on a larger scale", said Mohamed Ibrahim on the BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

There are currently only 64,000 articles in Arabic on Wikipedia compared to 2.5 million in English.

"Users are not used to talking in Arabic as it's written down, so they feel that they cannot contribute," said Mr Ibrahim.

People from various Arabic regions do contribute to the English Wikipedia site while in Morocco and Algeria, they use the French site.

"The problem that we are facing here is that the Arabic community is more familiar with forums like Facebook and they don't know how to interact with something new like Wikipedia.

"They can see a difference right away when they enter the site but they just consume it, they don't know how to contribute," said Mr Ibrahim.

Posting lies

Maybe when they know it is editable, they may start to vandalise it
Mohamed Ibrahim

While the English version of Wikipedia has been hit by the problem of people editing entries without permission, so far the Arabic version of Wikipedia is relatively untouched by vandalism.

"Maybe when they know it is editable, they may start to vandalise it", said Mr Ibrahim.

Posting lies

Some of the false entries have included quite malicious information about people.

"It continues to be one of the bigger problems for Wikipedia", said Digital Planet's Bill Thomson.

One of the solutions that has been touted at the event is having 'checkers'.

"It sounds elaborate if you are use to the idea of Wikipedia being a place where you turn up, you make a change and that change is instantly visible to everyone.

"But it may well be one way of letting naive Wikipedia users understand that the stuff they are looking at has been changed by someone but may not yet have gone through a quality control process, whilst allowing those who are more familiar with the online encyclopaedia to just carry on working to it," said Mr Thompson.

"The idea of flagging up changes that are made by people who are either new or anonymous users, so that they are not instantly visible or so that they are marked in some way is a reasonable way to take things forward", he added.


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