Raju Narisetti interview: ‘Wikipedia is building trust with transparency’


Within hours of the shooting in Texas, the Wikipedia page of the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde had seen 765 edits  from 154 different contributors and was overseen by 103 page-watchers who ensure only accurate information is published. This ability to offer “reliable information”, especially in critical times, is for Raju Narisetti, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, the “significant opportunity” for Wikipedia in countries like India.

India is also a challenge “because of the languages”, he said. “Most people don’t realise it, but close to 80-plus per cent of articles on Wikipedia are not in English. And among the 300 languages, Hindi is about number 55 in terms of its ranking, followed by Tamil and Telugu. On the number of articles, Hindi is like close to 150,000 articles, Tamil is about 130,000 articles and Telugu is getting to be about 100,000,” Narisetti elaborates on why it is a significant opportunity for a non-profit like Wikipedia, which has a 2030 strategic roadmap to help every person on the planet to access free knowledge and information.

Narisetti, who has been associated with The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal after starting his career as a journalist in India, say many people in India are unaware of history, arts, politics and science. “So we are particularly targeting younger Indians, not the typical Gen Z, with a campaign #KnowWithWiki.”


And India is already an important part of Wikipedia in more ways than one. Narisetti says Indians have visited Wikipedia pages 750 million times in the just past month. “Also while we focus on Indian languages, on Wikipedia, Indians are the second-largest English language contributors… and that’s a pretty amazing number.”

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In fact, India has 65,000 Wikipedia contributors, which is about 20 per cent of all contributors on the platform. And Indians have also backed Wikipedia fundraisers wholeheartedly. “When we last did a fundraising campaign in India, 500,000 Indians contributed,” he says, adding that this accounted for about 7 per cent of their global donors.

Explained | Why is Wikipedia seeking donations from its users?

“As a non-profit foundation, we believe that India is an opportunity and in some ways a challenge, because of the languages… and how do we as a non-profit cut through the clutter?“

Wikipedia has over the years started offering content in about 300 languages, many of them from India. Much of the uptake has been due to awareness campaigns in places like India. Narisetti underlined the role of what Wikipedia calls Project Tiger, aimed at getting more Indian languages on board and training volunteers.

“Unlike many other countries, India is mobile-centric… you can’t tell people to go to a desktop or laptop and edit. So that became a constraint. So we actually partnered with Jio and made sure it (editing) was built into the app itself… We enabled people to edit Wikipedia on the phone, which is a big breakthrough in a country like India, and so that has contributed to the significant growth in languages,” he said, adding this is also the answer to why Wikipedia raises money.

Narisetti explained Wikipedia could get into about 15 more Indian languages, but the “key is to make sure you can get 2,000 articles and, more importantly, 50-100 volunteers… That’s when it starts snowballing.”

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This is why Wikipedia is investing a lot of energy to create these user groups and communities and enable them by giving them the tools. “More than 75% of the money we raise globally goes to two things. One is to give money back to the volunteer community so they can launch a new language. Two is about half of it goes to the infrastructure. You need to have databases and put it on the cloud and make sure it’s reliable,” he said. Although a lot of the money is raised in the more developed Western markets, most of it is actually flowing into the south, where the growth will come in languages and users.

On creating content that has demand, Narisetti clarified that, unlike Facebook or TikTok, Wikipedia does not have a central command to take these calls. “We are creating technology like bots to translate certain critical information. So automatically you have a base layer in a new language. But most of the directions in which our language Wiki goes is often up to the community.”

The building block of Wikipedia, Narisetti said, has always been this idea of neutrality, which is built on its transparency, unlike present-day media. “So the basic building block of a platform where there are 350 edits a minute is that everything is public, everything is recorded, and everything can be seen. I think you’re trying to build trust,” he explained.

However, he accepted that this does not mean there are no mistakes. “What people don’t realise is literally in under five minutes that has been fixed by people who are watching that page. So that to me is how trust is built.”

While Wikipedia is open to endowments from billionaires, especially in markets like India, Narisetti said the focus remains on individual donors to keep the platform running. “But honestly, the best thing you can do for Wikipedia is to read it…”

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