KUALA LUMPUR: It’s an old saying that knowledge means power and information is liberating. This is certainly the case for those who grew up with the internet and online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.
Offering free access of knowledge to the masses, the success of Wikipedia, in particular, relied on the open-source movement harnessing the expertise and efforts of volunteers.
Aspiring teacher Taufik Rosman, 24, is one of the many capeless heroes who committed years of his life to contributing articles to the Malay-language edition of Wikipedia.
Coming from a family of teachers, it is perhaps no surprise that he was drawn to this line of work.
Using his school library computer, he logged on for the very first time at age 13 and realised there weren’t many entries on the Malay-language edition of Wiktionary – the dictionary counterpart to Wikipedia.
So, he resolved to fix this by adding Malay words to the site.
Last month, Taufik was recognised for his commitment to spreading knowledge on Malaysian culture through this year’s Wikimedian of the Year award, held in Singapore.
The award highlights the major achievements of Wikipedia editors and contributors to other Wikimedia projects – Wiktionary, WikiCommons, and Wikipedia – from across the world.
Established in 2011 by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, Taufik is the first Malaysian to have bagged the award.
The Universiti Sains Malaysia graduate described the win as an “overwhelming” experience.
“Usually, what I translate is related to culture, both Malaysian and cultures from abroad. I’ve translated articles on Japanese and Maori culture among others, in the past,” said Taufik, adding that he has always been a fan of Wikipedia’s accessible nature.
There may be some misconceptions regarding the site’s reliability, but Taufik said the English-language edition of Wikipedia was difficult to tamper with, especially for newcomers.
Entries to the site are typically vetted for the subject’s notability and verifiability, and monitored by moderators like Taufik, who is based in Sabah. Such entries are also expected to cite multiple sources and use neutral wording.
“Most people have been told that Wikipedia is unreliable, and I mean, it is. You cannot cite Wikipedia but all Wikipedia articles have sources and citations – which you can find at the bottom of the article,” he said, adding that if a particular article had many references, the article was reliable.
He said that while there aren’t many volunteers like himself in the country, he said he was driven by his desire to equip Malaysians with knowledge.
Being involved in the Wikimedia projects means that in his free time, Taufik volunteers to conduct workshops and events at universities across the country.
Here he teaches students how to make entries and educates them on the necessity for the so-called free knowledge movement, in order to combat misinformation.
Currently, Taufik is working on documenting Malaysia’s various indigenous languages in East Malaysia and among the 18 Orang Asli groups.
“In the last one or two years, I’ve been heavily involved in preserving these languages. I’ve travelled to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu to work on this.
“Next month, we’re trying to go to Kelantan to document the language of a tribe that’s expected to have their language extinct in 20 years’ time,” said Taufik, referring to the Mendriq language which is spoken by the last 600 tribespeople there.
On that note, he called on fellow Malaysians to consider contributing their own knowledge about the country and the world around them to the site.
“I guess I can say each one of us knows something about the world. If we all could gather in one place to add this knowledge online, it would make information about our country Malaysia more accessible.
“Not every one of us knows everything. Millions of people visit Wikipedia every single day, but there are only about a hundred people editing every month,” he said, while encouraging everyone to contribute.
For instance, the Malay Wikipedia has only about 300,000 articles, compared to Indonesia’s 659,004 articles.
“I would love to see the Malaysian public having this culture of free knowledge. Having people share knowledge with one another is quite beneficial because it shows that Malaysians care about providing knowledge for free and making it accessible,” he said.