Members of the Wikimedians of the UAE Users Group have led a 500% increase in the number of Arabic Wikipedia pages about literature. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Wikimedians of the UAE, the users from the country who contribute content to online encylopaedia Wikipedia, are making a significant difference in knowledge sharing in the Arab world and beyond. But just who are they and how do they go about their task?

The Wikimedians of the UAE User Group runs under the Emirates Literature Foundation (ELF) and has led a whopping 500 per cent increase in the number of Arabic Wikipedia pages about literature.

Wikipedia is the world’s largest multilingual free-content encyclopaedia written by users collaboratively. Wikimedia is much more than just Wikipedia with the Wikimedia Foundation being a non-profit organisation that runs numerous Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia. The UAE Users Group aims to enrich the Arab content across the Wikimedia Foundation projects.

Isobel Abulhoul (first from left) and Maryana Iskander (second from left) interact with Emirati officials during the WikiArabia Conference at Mohammed Bin Rashid Library in Dubai Image Credit: Gulf News

Isobel Abulhoul, CEO of Emirates Literature Foundation, told Gulf News that much effort has gone into uploading content about literature on Wikipedia, whether it is about authors or books or any other relevant content in Arabic, ever since the formation of the UAE group in 2021. The just concluded WikiArabia Conference at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library in Dubai acted as a catalyst for increasing the Arabic content across all Wikimedia platforms.

“The number of articles has increased by 500 per cent. So it’s a huge amount that is being managed by the Wikimedia group in the UAE,” said Abulhoul.

The group has also done a lot of outsourcing in terms of outreach with the education sector.

“We’ve been training in all major universities so that they are aware of how to become a Wikimedian, how to upload articles, how to get them approved etc. This is an ongoing activity that we have been doing year-round and the combination of the success we have had in articles plus our education programme is why the Wikimedia Foundation permitted us to host the WikiArabia Conference 2022,” Abulhoul pointed out.

Why is it important?

Speaking about the importance of the initiative and why the ELF is supporting it, Abulhoul said: “If you think about the Arabic language, it’s one of the six languages that have been recognised as the United Nations’ official languages, and as you know, has become a very important language.

“More than 300 million people globally speak Arabic and we owe it to them and they deserve to have an equal opportunity in terms of the content that is available in Arabic so that they don’t have to always look to English or French or to another language when they find their mother tongue there. So again, this has been the driving force behind the Emirates Literature Foundation pushing forward this incredible initiative.”

How misinformation is fought

Dania Droubi, director of Education and Support Services at ELF and head of Activities of Wikimedians of the UAE Users Hub, said the group has been growing daily because more and more users want to become a part of it.

Asked how the group ensures that misinformation is not uploaded on Wikipedia entries, she said: “Those who want to become a part of it [the group] have to undergo training. They have to understand the responsibilities of what they’re doing and contributing to the whole Wiki Arabia project and the articles going out. We have a set of rules and regulations in place to ensure any misinformation is sifted out.”

The UAE User Group is one of 143 global Wikimedia user groups that work to empower and engage people to develop well-sourced free knowledge and use Wikimedia projects, like Wikipedia, to share this knowledge with the world.

Droubi said the group is very active, especially in initiating and implementing local partnerships to increase the number of contributors to Wikimedia projects.

“They created an ambitious goal of increasing the number of Arabic Wikipedia pages about literature, and so far they have seen a 500 percent increase in less than two years. They’ve done a lot in a short time. The work they are doing to increase representation of the region’s history and culture on Wikimedia projects in the Arabic language is deeply important to our goal of ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to free knowledge,” she added.

The last WikiArabia Conference was held virtually in Algeria during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This was the first one post that time where people came together and there was visible excitement and buzz with all of the Wiki user groups from across the Arab world and beyond who attended it…When you bring everyone together, the key decision-makers can guide their own Wikimedia groups, in all of the countries across the Arab world,” said Abulhoul.

“It’s important that they are given a chance to voice their opinions. It is important they have a chance to shape the future of Wiki Arabia and that’s why this conference is incredibly important, and we are so honoured that this is the first time it’s been held in the Gulf region, in the UAE,” she added.

Members of the group who met reinforced their knowledge about how to localise Wikimedia’s software features into Arabic. Students learnt basics of editing on Wikipedia and participants were introduced to the foundation’s growth project package of features and tools to encourage newcomers to edit on Wikipedia.

Maryana Iskander, who is the CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation, also addressed questions from the Arabic Wikimedians’ community.