Wikipedia needs Africa
Wikipedia, the world’s most used online encyclopedia, has become a reference point on any number of subjects for a global audience with 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors each month. Throughout its 16 years of operation, Wikipedia’s abiding ambition has been to be the platform on which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.
Unfortunately, due to a range of reasons, the African continent remains the least covered collective of cultures, histories, ideas and languages on Wikipedia.
Despite the work of WikiAfrica and Wikimedia groups across the continent, as a geographical region, Africa has the fewest Wikipedia contributors per capita of any other region. In 2016, an estimated 25% of the African population has access to the internet (source). More than half a billion people across Africa now subscribe to mobile services. BY 2020, the number is expected to have reached 725 million people.
Further, despite the cost of data, recorded data traffic has grew more than 50% in 2015 (source). As more people across the continent access the internet via mobile technology, it becomes increasingly important for Africans to take advantage of platforms where Africa’s contemporary issues, its history, people and initiatives may be freely published for universal access.
Wikipedia currently offers the following access to information:
- number of languages covered: 293
- number of words: 27 billion
- number of articles all together: 40 million (5.3 million in English Wikipedia)
- number of unique visitors: 500 million visitors
- number of pageviews (per month): 15 to 20 billion
- it is currently ranked as the 7th most used website in the world.
The Africa Gap
The combination of a variety of issues – access to technology and internet, systemic bias, power imbalance in the geographies of knowledge, etc. – all combine to make a definite gap when it comes to information, knowledge and perspectives that relate to Africa.
The African gap exists both with regards to contributors and content. The contributor gap is the result of a lack of culture to the internet, that has profound implications. More complex is the contributing gap. In most cases, it has been very little documented in academic research.
Here are a few elements that illustrate the problem.
More edits originate from Hong Kong each quarter than from the entire continent of Africa over the same period.
Much of this statement can be explained by Internet population (i.e. the total number of Internet users in a country). However, even accounting for generally low Internet populations, most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa still fall below their expected number of edits (source).
There are, on average, 100 times more geotagged articles on France than in Africa.
A geotagged article is one attached to geographical coordinate. Typically a building. According to Graham and Foster (source) :
The visual above shows the absolute number of within-region-edits (both anonymous and registered) to geolocated articles in the English-language Wikipedia, by world region. In terms of raw numbers, North America and Europe drastically outnumber the remaining world regions. Conversely, Latin America, MENA, and Sub-Saharan Africa all commit only a very small number of within-region-edits. What this means is that even a relatively small number of edits flowing into those regions from outside (i.e. allochthonous contributions) could easily drown out local voice from places like Sub-Saharan Africa: something we undoubtedly see happening.
Only 25% of edits to subjects about the Sub-Saharan region come from within that region.
A research project investigated the topic by looking at the proportion of edits made from within a region to Wikipedia articles.
On the vertical axis of the figure we can see a clear division between regions that are largely able to define themselves and regions that are largely defined by others.
According to Graham, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East & North Africa, Latin America & Caribbean receive comparatively few edits from within their territories (around 25 %). Europe, Oceania and North America on the other hand receive primarily edits from within (around 75 %). Asia is edited from within and from outside to almost equal degrees. In other words, there are significant parts of the world in which a majority of content is not locally generated.
More details per country may be found here. It actually suggest that Sub-Saharan Africa figures are boosted by relatively high numbers for South Africa, Uganda, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. Sub-Saharan Africa’s figures would be even lower without the effects of those five countries.
Sub-Saharan Africa has 67% of its committed edits made within its own region. Even when editors from Sub-Saharan Africa spend most of their edits within region, their small numbers mean that most content still comes from elsewhere.
Other interesting links to explore
- Wiki Loves Women: Mind the Gap
- The Geography of Wikipedia Edits
- Systemic bias in coverage on Wikipedia