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The Kiswahili Wikipedia Challenge

The deadline for the Kiswahili Wikipedia Challenge (sponsored by Google) ends tomorrow. The challenge, which lasted for a few months, offers prizes to people for creating Wikipedia articles in Kiswahili or translating English Wikipedia articles into Kiswahili.

The program is a very interesting type of outreach by Google. Not only is Google offering Wikipedia a high degree of visibility (both in terms of promoting the challenge itself and in the ultimate search rankings of the created articles [which will undoubtedly be at the top of the first page of any search]), but they are also offering prizes, and most interestingly have offered training seminars at three universities in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Google is clearly using its influence in a positive manner here, and the net outcome will likely be a greater degree of accessible information in Kiswahili. Currently the Kiswahili Wikipedia has only slightly more articles than the Low Saxon version and slightly less than the Belarusian edition. So, the move benefits seekers of information, it benefits Wikipedia, and it should not be forgotten that it also benefits Google.

As I pointed out in my recent presentation at the Wikiwars conference (and forthcoming book chapter on the topic), most Wikipedia articles are highly ranked in Google (see similar analyses here and here) and there are likely calculated reasons behind these specific orderings. Google benefits from making Wikipedia articles highly visible in two ways. First, most Wikipedia articles are a highly useful source of information and therefore satisfy the information needs of the searcher (a task that any search engine has to fulfil in order to stay popular). Second, Wikipedia articles are always non-commercial. They offer information that wouldn’t necessarily be published by a for-profit source. As such, commercial pages on the same topic are pushed down in the rankings and businesses are more incentivized to purchase space in sponsored results (the primary way in which Google makes money). Therefore, Google’s Wikipedia Challenge is ultimately undoubtedly a positive move for all concerned, but is also clearly a way to help some of the East African versions of Google move towards a sustainable business plan.

See also:

New York Times article on the challenge.