Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh
With more than 3.5 million articles in English language, Wikipedia is now the world’s most popular Internet encyclopedia, a collaboration of volunteers from around the globe.
Since its launch five years ago the Khmer Wikipedia [km.wikipedia.org], has sought to provide a similar service. It has more than 5,500 registered users who work on translating content from English to Khmer language. Khmer Wikipedia now has more than 24,00 articles and counting, thanks to people with a passion for making knowledge more open and free.
I emailed Oum Vantharith, one of the contributors, who’s currently in Seoul, to learn more about how about the site and its challenges and how the web-based collaboration works.
How does collaboration work now, and how will it expand in the future?
In term of stats, we have more than 5,500 registered users (we don’t know the demographics) but I believe most of them are Cambodians either in the Kingdom or studying/living abroad; some are other cross/inter-wiki users. For the administrators, there are 10 of us. For the articles, we have more than 2,400. So as of now, Khmer Wikipedia is ranked 161st among 279 languages.
How do you work from Seoul?
I’m here to do my Masters of Public Policy in economic development. I will start my course this September after I finish my one-year Korean language course. Basically, I don’t have a fixed schedule for working on Khmer Wikipedia and its sister projects. But I just take some of my free time during weekends to write/edit articles, welcoming/guiding new users, overseeing the recent changes and seeing if there is any vandalism. During weekdays, I just have a peek to see if anything needs my attention. I can say I visit Khmer Wikipedia homepage at least once a day. If not, my day is not complete.
What are the challenges facing you and other contributors?
There are many challenges we are facing. Some has been overcome, some still exist and a few new ones are coming our way.
There’s a lack of interpersonal communication among the admin team because we live far away from one another. No face-to-face meet-ups to discuss thoroughly and do planning.
There is no physical body of the Khmer Wikipedia community, so we don’t have planning, or a to-do list. We are still somehow not organized and well planned.
With Khmer Unicode, there is a lack of unified standard or there is more than one standard. Typing, for example: with or without a space, and/or an invisible space.
For the Khmer language, we mainly base it on Samdech Choun Nath’s Khmer dictionary. But still there are some issues with spelling, like in foreign-loaned words, or technical words.
There remains a low awareness of Wikipedia as well as Khmer Wikipedia, so we don’t have a bigger body of contributors like Thai and Vietnamese projects.
For Wikipedia’s how-to guide, there’s a lack of a how-to guide or introduction. And though we have a basic intro, new users just don’t read and work on the article right away, thus causing non-standardized articles.
What do you think Wikipedia Khmer can contribute to Cambodia and the people?
I have a heart for Wikipedia! When I’m in need of knowledge or information, I always turn to Wikipedia, and 99 percent of the time, I get what I wanted. This has always encouraged me to help promote Wikipedia and build our Khmer Wikipedia, as I believe this project will significantly and positively contribute to the Cambodian people. It can promote Khmer language and the use of Khmer Unicode font. It can build a resource of information and knowledge in our Khmer language on the Internet; thus it will not be limited to textbooks. Plus the knowledge itself is in a searchable database. It can bridge together fellow Cambodians who don’t have adequate proficiency in English language and include them in a wealth of resources of knowledge in our mother tongue. And lastly, it promotes volunteerism, collaboration and skills with like-minded people across the globe.
How did Wikipedia Khmer get started? Who initiated it and kept pushing it?
I came onboard with Khmer Wikipedia in July 2006 as a registered user. Then I was contacted by a senior Wikipedian who at that time oversaw and helped build the Khmer Wikipedia project. His username is Jose77. I was working on Khmer localization of the interface. He gave me lists of words, and then I translated and posted to him back. [you can see on my userpage talk here – http://km.wikipedia.org/wiki/ការពិភាក្សារបស់អ្នកប្រើប្រាស់:វ័ណថារិទ្ធ]. Now Jose77 has retired as a Wikipedia editor.
I was off and on with Khmer Wikipedia, so I just maintained my status as a registered user. But I have been doing behind-the-scene work on TranslateWiki [http://translatewiki.net/wiki/Main_Page] to do Khmer localization on the interface from August 2008.
In July 2009 I was promoted as an administrator and system operator for Khmer Wikipedia. Since then I started getting involved more on the content, overseeing the entries, guiding new users and deleting useless or inappropriate entries.
Now we have four wiki projects in Khmer language: Khmer Wikipedia, the main project; Khmer Wiktionary; Khmer Wikibooks; and Khmer Wikisource, which just recently started, so there are many things to do.