Cape Town Wikimania, and some Wikidata observations

The 2018 Wikimania was held in Cape Town from July 18 to July 22.

Wikimania is the annual conference of the Wikimedia Foundation, the foundation supporting Wikipedia and other hosted projects, such as Wikimedia Commons, WikiVoyage, Wikidata and Wiktionary.

I’ve never been to a Wikimania before – the closest I came was almost going to Taipei in 2007, and leading the Cape Town bid in 2008, which I’m very grateful ended up second to Alexandria.

Wikimania session

It was the best conference I’ve attended, and according to a few anecdotes, the best Wikimania for some of the regular participants as well. It was hosted in the Cape Sun in the central city. The entire hotel was booked, with a second nearby hotel for some of the overflow, so most of the attendees were right there, and had easy access to various tourist activities. For some participants, it was their first visit to Cape Town, South Africa, or even Africa, and judging from the stream of photos on videos on some of the channels, people were enjoyed the experience of visiting a new place.

The wifi was excellent, surpassing many other, even commercial, conferences I’ve attended before. Food was great, and the masterstroke of serving lunch from 10am to 4pm meant lunch fitted into everyone’s schedule. And yes, if you arrived at 4pm, there was still ample food.

Another huge benefit was that, to my knowledge, everyone that wanted a visa got one. The last few Wikimanias have seen delegates, even on full scholarships, not able to attend after experiencing visa hassles. Last years Wikimania in Canada was particularly disastrous in this regard. The local organisers put effort into ensuring visa applications proceeeded smoothly, and of course South Africa, being a poorer country, is far more welcoming of visitors than most previous hosts.

There was some talk of making visa accessibility a priority criteria for upcoming Wikimanias, so we could see a number of new locations on the schedule in future. While attending in a location such as the USA is great for attracting lots of people already involved, the Wikimedia projects need to grow beyond their traditional strongholds. About a quarter (by my visual reckoning) of attendees were at their first Wikimania, so Wikimania Cape Town certainly helped reach a whole new audience.

I didn’t want the conference to end. I was torn between attending multiple great sessions, meeting lots of new people, and the role I took on for the event, tweeting up a storm for the Wikimedia South Africa Twitter account, which felt like a fulltime job at times, with tweets pouring in from multiple sessions at once. Wikimedia South Africa also signed up lots of new members.

I was happy I got time to make progress on helping integrate Wikidata into the Siswati and Xitsonga Wikipedias in particular (and if I can find people to work with for the other South African languages, will help there as well).

Wikipedia has always been unstructured data, and Wikidata corrects that by structuring the data, making it much easier to use across projects. Before using Wikidata, updates had to be done on each individual Wikipedia language edition.

For example, in mid-July, the latest South African population estimate was released. At the time of writing, Wikidata and the English Wikipedia have the updated figure, 57,725,600. The German Wikipedia has the figure from 2017, 56,521,900. The French Wikipedia states the figure from 2016, 55,653,654. The Sotho and Afrikaans Wikipedias give 54,956,900, the 2015 estimate. Xhosa and Northern Sotho go back to 2013, giving 52,981,991. Zulu goes even further back, to 2011, with the census figure of 50,586,757.

Swati, thanks to Wikidata, gives the 2018 figure. It’s a huge boost for everyone, with content needing only to be updated in only one location, and filtering through to all language editions.

However, there are downsides.

Installing the templates require admin permissions. I am not an administrator on any Wikipedias, and some of the smaller South African language Wikipedias don’t have any admins at all, so installing them needs a helpful person with rights. Luckily it’s a once-off task, and Wikimania was a great place to find help – thanks to User:Theklan, from the Basque Wikipedia, for his assistance.

But there are other downsides. Firstly, of course the templates themselves will need to be translated (you may have seen some of the terms in the Tsonga and Swati Wikipedia templates are still in English). This is inevitable, whatever method is used, and is also a once-off task, but what makes it tricky is that its’s unlikely an inexperienced user will know where to translate them. Translations can be done on either Wikidata, on the template, or on both, and without personally showing someone how and where to do this, it’s unlikely an editor will discover this by themselves

Once the templates are translated, the results may need to be translated as well.

Editing Wikipedia is supposed to be as simple as clicking the Edit button. It was in the early days, but now with nested templates within templates, or with templates pulling in data from an entirely different project, it’s not nearly so simple anymore. The English Wikipedia has built up a great deal of complexity, all with good reason (to remove needless repetition), but it can be difficult to make a change, even for experienced editors. Introducing Wikidata introduces similar complexity to smaller Wikipedias, where there can be little expertise to overcome obstacles.

There is no simple link to click, so a user has to navigate to Wikidata, find the correct term themselves, and then navigate the slightly more difficult Wikidata interface, in order to edit a value. I don’t see this happening easily.

The next downside is customisation, which is very limited. The format of the numbers, which fields are shown, which order, are all not possible or easy to customise. There’s no easy way to hide fields that are still in English, or fields that the language community decides are not necessary in their edition.

Making things even more tricky are that there are different implementations of Wikidata templates. I attended a workshop demonstrating something I really needed, but the demonstrated solution was not available in the implementation I’m using.

Still, overall using Wikidata is extremely positive for the Wikimedia projects, and hopefully with some attention to simplicity in actually making edits, they can live up to their potential.

Thanks to everyone involved for making Wikimania Cape Town a great success, and leaving us inspired as we build a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Zulu Wikipedia reaches 1000 articles

Just in time for Wikimania, the Zulu Wikipedia has reached the 1000 article milestone. Congratulations to user Njabulo19 who created the 1000th article. Njabulo19 started editing actively in 2017 and has continued into 2018, and has paid particular attention to article categories.

isiZulu 1000

Well done Zulu Wikipedia community for having reached 4 figures – wishing you speedy progress to 5 figures!

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Better than the Beatles

I’m not sure I’m going to sleep tonight.

I’ve discovered a classic album, one of those new discoveries that sears itself into your consciousness, leaving you forever changed. Kurt Cobain listed this as his fifth favorite album of all time. Frank Zappa apparently called them better than the Beatles. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of them before.

I introduce The Shaggs, with their influential 1969 album, Philosophy of the World.

The Shaggs

Musician Cub Koda writes: “There’s an innocence to these songs and their performances that’s both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them … being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one.”

Not all reviews were as appreciative. “Like a lobotomized Trapp Family Singers, the Shaggs warble earnest greeting-card lyrics (…) in happy, hapless quasi-unison along ostensible lines of melody while strumming their tinny guitars like someone worrying a zipper. The drummer pounds gamely to the call of a different muse, as if she had to guess which song they were playing – and missed every time.” went a 1980 Rolling Stone review.

A later Rolling Stone review takes it further: “It may stand as the worst album ever recorded.” and the New Yorker called the album “hauntingly bad”.

If you think that’s hyperbole, track 4, My Pal Foot Foot, takes the album to a new level.

The visionary band was formed and promoted thanks to a palm reading given to Austin Wiggins that claimed his daughters would form a popular band. He withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments, and arranged lessons for them.

Enjoy.

Image from Wikipedia

June 2018 African language Wikipedia update, 50 000 articles for Afrikaans

African language map

There are only 19 days to go until Wikimania in Cape Town, so it’s a good time to look at the state of the African language Wikipedias again, as always based on the imperfect metric of number of articles.

The following tables show the number of articles for each language on a particular date, as well as the percentage growth between the most recent two dates.

African Language Wikipedias

Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +
Malagasy 79,329 82,799 84,634 84,996 0.43%
Afrikaans 35,856 42,732 46,824 50,275 7.37%
Swahili 29,127 34,613 37,443 42,773 14.23%
Yoruba 31,068 31,483 31,577 31,672 0.30%
Egyptian Arabic 14,192 15,959 17,138 18,605 8.56%
Amharic 12,950 13,279 13,789 14,286 3.60%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,605 7,823 8,050 2.90%
Somali 3,446 4,322 4,727 4,898 3.62%
Shona 2,321 2,638 2,851 3,630 27.32%
Lingala 2,062 2,777 2,915 3,023 3.70%
Kabyle 2,296 2,847 2,887 2,844 -1.49%
Hausa 1,345 1,400 1,525 1,856 21.70%
Kinyarwanda 1,780 1,799 1,810 1,823 0.72%
Kikuyu 1,349 1,357 0.59%
Igbo 1,019 1,284 1,384 1,320 -4.62%
Kongo 1,173 1,176 1,179 0.26%
Wolof 1,023 1,058 1,157 1,166 0.78%
Luganda 1,082 1,153 1,162 0.78%
Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +

The Malagasy Wikipedia still leads by number of articles, but most of the articles were bot-created. 95% of all edits on that Wikipedia were made by bots, the fourth highest of any Wikipedia, indicating that there’s not much of an actual human community.

Shona, Hausa and Swahili saw good growth, with Swahili particularly impressive coming off a high base. Congratulations too to Afrikaans for reaching the 50,000 article milestone, a target they had set themselves to achieve before Wikimania.

Egyptian Arabic, Lingala, Amharic, Somali and Northern Sotho all saw moderate growth.

Otherwise, the other African languages are mostly static, with Yoruba having barely moved since 2013 (and 79% of all edits made by bots).

Igbo and Kabyle have actually shrunk, which is possible due to the cleaning up and removing non-notable articles.

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +
Afrikaans 35,856 42,732 46,824 50,275 7.37%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,605 7,823 8,050 2.90%
Zulu 683 777 942 959 1.80%
Xhosa 356 576 708 738 4.24%
Tswana 503 615 639 641 0.31%
Tsonga 266 390 526 562 6.84%
Sotho 223 341 523 539 3.05%
Swati 410 419 432 439 1.62%
Venda 151 238 256 256 0.00%
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12 12 0.00%
Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +

Onto the South African languages. In spite of being far ahead in terms of number of articles, Afrikaans is also growing at by far the fastest rate, even off this high base. It wouldn’t take much to get, say Ndebele to grow quickly – just the addition of one new article would see its percentage growth outstrip Afrikaans, but sadly it’s been static since its early days in the Incubator (the Incubator being a staging area until a project can show it has enough to survive as a stable project).

Tsonga has been growing steadily. User:Thuvack, who was previously president of Wikimedia South Africa, but now works for the Wikimedia Foundation, has personally created 293 of them, the most recent being in April.

Xhosa, Sotho and Northern Sotho have seen moderate growth, while there’s some life in Zulu and Swati. Tswana, Venda and Ndebele have all been static recently.

User:Aliwal2012 continues to be a standout contributor in a number of South African languages, in particular Afrikaans, Northern Sotho and Sotho, and has edits in most of the South African languages.

With so many African languages still in the startup stages, one to two regular editors can make a huge difference. All it takes is clicking “Edit” and getting started.

With Wikimania coming to sub-Saharan Africa for the first time, it’s a great opportunity to meet and interact with others in the project. The preconference to Wikimania starts in Cape Town on July 18, and the main event starts on July 20. There’s still time to register!

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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Cape Town wiki meetup with Wikimedia Foundation’s Asaf Bartov

Cape Town was very lucky to host Wikimedia Foundation’s Senior Program Officer Asaf Bartov at the end of his Africa tour. We held a meetup, and it proved particularly inspiring to those attending.

Asaf spoke about Wikidata, discussed projects using the data, and demonstrated a number of tools that were new to most of us, such as https://query.wikidata.org, which uses the SPARQL query language to query Wikidata content.

Cape Town Wiki Meetup May 2018

Wikidata adds structure to the content which makes pulling out all kinds of related information possible. Wikipedia data is fairly unstructured. Numerous categories exist, so if you’re looking for, say, a list of South African politicians, there’s both a list page and a category page. However, if you want something more detailed, such as a list of South African politicians that have a father that was a politician, without lots of manual slogging, Wikipedia alone won’t be much help. That’s where https://query.wikidata.org comes in, and once familiar with SPARQL, such questions are easy to answer.

Even more exciting to me was Quarry. Years ago I remember toying with the idea of downloading a Wikipedia database dump, but at the time the massive download would probably have ground South Africa’s internet to a halt. Quarry is an interface for running SQL queries directly on the Wikimedia Foundation’s backend MariaDB databases. The bar to getting something useful is a little higher than on https://query.wikidata.org, as to use it effectively requires getting to know the data structure, but since access is direct, it’s a tremendously powerful tool to extract almost anything you want.

The easiest way to get started is to take someone else’s query and modify it. For example, here is a query listing pages from the Afrikaans Wikipedia that don’t have an Afrikaans label on Wikidata, which I forked from Asaf’s demo run during the meetup: https://quarry.wmflabs.org/query/27283

I can already see myself diving in and automating and expanding the (semi) regular African language updates I do, or getting automatic notifications of activity in some of the small South African language Wikipedias.

And if those listed above are not enough, Asaf has a tool section on his user page listing yet more wonderful tools you’ve probably never heard of.

Thanks Asaf for taking the initiative to pay a visit to some of the African Wikimedia communities, and leaving a trail of inspiration in your wake.

Black Panther

Tonight was the opening night of Black Panther. It’s been getting heavy publicity for being the first of eighteen Marvel superhero films to feature a black lead, and features a predominantly black cast.

For some this is just tokenism, an attempt to find a new angle to sell yet more movie tickets. So was there more to it than this? Mild spoilers ahead.

All I can say is, you should have been there.

It started with a mostly black audience (unusual in the southern suburbs of Cape Town), many dressed up for the event.

From the first appearance of Black Panther, in a trailer, the crowd was shouting and cheering. As the first isiXhosa words were heard, the crowd again broke into prolonged cheering and applause.

The script was great and hit all the right notes. The audience howled at “Great, another broken white boy for us to fix.”, and perhaps the line with the wildest audience reaction was, “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” From then on, every time that character spoke out of turn, the crowd shouted him down with cries of “Colonizer!”, and the movie was an interactive experience with the crowd shouting out encouragement and quips all the way through.

Later, when the “colonizer” was forced to stop talking by the guard’s gorilla grunting, the crowd was again shouting in encouragement, with years of racist monkey chanting being reversed to shut up the white guy.

I am certain the EFF will be co-opting some of the themes next time they want to make a symblolic statement in parliament. Who needs miner’s hats and red overalls when you have gorilla chants?

As the movie ended, the crowd broke into applause, with some getting up and dancing. The cinema stayed full for well after the credits started, and the cleaning staff had their hands full getting things ready in time for the next show.

The audience left, breaking into song, dance and gorilla chanting, and many of the the crowd waiting for the next show had cellphones filming the audience reaction.

It’s a euphoric time in Southern Africa, with Mugabe and Zuma both being booted out recently. Both tried to talk the talk, but steered their countries in exactly the opposite direction of the utopian Wakanda featured in the movie. Black Panther came at the perfect time in this part of the world. Someone commented that you could almost feel centuries of oppression being lifted.

Quite a feat for just another superhero movie.

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Videos from Bearet.

Patreon meltdown

Patreon just made one of those decisions that look good when explained to investors in the boardroom, but are utterly suicidal when rolled out.

Patreon image

They changed their fee structure, so that instead of the finance fees being charged to creators, they are now charged to patrons. The motivation is sound. Previously, the actual amount paid to a creator was not clear. The patron is charged whatever they pledged. Patreon takes 5%. And then whatever finance charges there were would be passed on to the creators. Patreon saved fees by only charging the patron once, for all of their pledges. So a single $1 pledge would see a chunk taken taken off, but if the patron makes, say, 10 $1 pledges, the fees would be relatively lower.

All of this means that creators were never sure what their income would be. Patrons would change other pledges, and this would affect the amount the creators made. All in all, a bit messy.

After the change, finance charges will be added to the patron’s account. So a single pledge of $1 will now have finance fees added on top of it. What really makes the whole idea a disaster is that the full finance charges are added on to EACH $1 pledge. For those making multiple small pledges, it’s a noticeable increase.

I am still following all the threads, but it appears Patreon are doing this, not to gouge extra money for themselves (by keeping the savings on the finance fees when they batch them), but so that creators no longer get ripped off, with patrons pledging money, getting access to various tiers of rewards that many creators offer, and then cancelling their pledge before it goes off.

I can see the motivation. But the result is that far more of my donations would go towards finance charges. I’m happy to support artists. I’m happy to support Patreon as a platform. But if there’s anyone I would not like to be offering needless money to, it’s multinational financial institutions.

The results have obviously come as a surprise to Patreon – huge numbers of pledges being cancelled, especially those, like myself, that make multiple small pledges, and now see more of this being gouged by a middleman.

Many artists are alarmed, reporting on disappearing patrons, anxious as they see incomes they’ve worked hard to build now under threat, disappointed that Patreon would do something like this.

In March 2015, I started a series 30 Artists in 30 Days, experimenting with Patreon. It was fairly new to me then, and I loved the concept, the ability to support artists almost directly, with the actual artist receiving most of the donations.

It’s sad to see Patreon going the other way, and to see artists losing out.

I had consolidated some of the list since March 2015, but after this recent announcement will cancel most, if not all, of my pledges. I like to see my donations being well-used.

But I’d still like to support many of the artists.

I’m probably not the average patron. I support multiple creators for small amounts simply to support them in their art. Many artists have complicated tiers offering all sorts of rewards. I understand why they do that, and I’m sure most people like to feel they are getting something extra for their support. I am just happy to contribute something to reward artists that I appreciate. I listen to their music on SoundCloud, watch videos on Youtube, all for free. In this way I can give a little bit back. I don’t particularly care that I get to listen to their new release a few days earlier, or have an opportunity to appear on their album.

So what are the alternatives? There are many Patreon-like platforms, but one that appeals is Liberapay. They’re a non-profit organization, and the code is entirely open source. They don’t take a cut of the pledges.

That’s right. Nothing. 0%.

So that leaves just the payment processing fees. These look a little higher than Patreon’s, at least for credit cards, but overall the cut is still far lower, and payments are batched like Patreon’s used to be. There’s also the advantage for artists of free withdrawals to a bank account in the Single Euro Payments Area. So overall, a far higher percentage of the donation goes to the artist.

With no commission, how does Liberapay sustain itself? Liberapay relies on donations, and one can support the Liberapay project through the Liberapay platform. I still have concerns about sustainability, as Liberapay currently earns very little, but hopefully it can build itself up to be sustainable.

Liberapay logo

Liberapay is not Patreon. It’s missing many features, has an interface that could be greatly improved, and is also set up as a donations platform, rather than one to provide rewards and tiers. So it may not appeal to all artists. But it’s open-source, meaning that you anyone can contribute to the development of the project.

It’s a distressing time for many artists as they lose substantial numbers of small-scale supporters.

But as I said, I’d still like to support some of the artists. So here’s my commitment. To any artists that I used to support on Patreon, if you come across to Liberapay, I’ll match my old pledge to you there.

Hope to see you on Liberapay!

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September 2017 African language Wikipedia update

African language map

It’s time to look at the state of the African language Wikipedias again, as always based on the imperfect metric of number of articles.

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017
Malagasy 3,806 45,361 79,329 82,799 84,634
Afrikaans 17,002 26,752 35,856 42,732 46,824
Swahili 21,244 25,265 29,127 34,613 37,443
Yoruba 12,174 30,585 31,068 31,483 31,577
Egyptian Arabic   10,379 14,192 15,959 17,138
Amharic 6,738 12,360 12,950 13,279 13,789
Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 7,605 7,823
Somali 1,639 2,757 3,446 4,322 4,727
Lingala 1,394 2,025 2,062 2,777 2,915
Kabyle   1,503 2,296 2,847 2,887
Shona   1,421 2,321 2,638 2,851
Kinyarwanda   1,817 1,780 1,799 1,810
Hausa 1,345 1,400 1,525
Igbo 1,019 1,284 1,384
Kikuyu 1,349
Kongo 1,173 1,176
Wolof 1,116 1,161 1,023 1,058 1,157
Luganda 1,082 1,153

This is the 2nd update in a row that gets to welcome a new language to the thousand article mark – congratulations Kikuyu which has now joined the list, and is already hot on the tail of Igbo.

I know some of the Afrikaans Wikipedia editors have been a bit disappointed by the slowing pace of growth as they move towards 50,000 articles. But, to put it in perspective, the 2013 Global Brittanica had about 40,000 articles, so there are less and less obvious gaps in content. Afrikaans is also one of the highest quality Wikipedias for its size – there’s a focus by many editors on the quality of articles rather than just the numbers. And they shouldn’t be too disappointed by the pace – Afrikaans is still the fastest growing African-language Wikipedia, catching up to Malagasy, which has the most articles.

It’s interesting that Afrikaans is getting more media attention, but still has to deal with concerns such as but anyone can edit it, how can we trust it?, the kind of thing the English Wikipedia has long moved on from. A definite focus area for us as the Wikimedia South Africa chapter.

Swahili continues to grow steadily, and Egyptian Arabic as well, and the other languages continue to grow slowly.

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017
Afrikaans 20,042 26,754 35,856 42,732 46,824
Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 7,605 7,823
Zulu 256 579 683 777 942
Xhosa 125 148 356 576 708
Tswana 240 495 503 615 639
Tsonga 192 240 266 390 526
Sotho 132 188 223 341 523
Swati 359 364 410 419 432
Venda 193 204 151 238 256
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12

Looking at the South African languages in particular, besides Afrikaans, Northern Sotho has returned to a more natural growth compared to the spurt of the previous period. User:Aliwal2012 continues to be the standout contributor there, having now created 3,228 pages.

Growth in the Zulu Wikipedia has picked up slightly, with a few relatively new editors contributing the majority of recent additions.

Two other languages have also seen an uptick. Tsonga has leapfrogged Swati, mainly thanks to User:Thuvack, who’s on track to make 2017 his record year for Tsonga contributions.

Sotho has also passed Swati, with User:Aliwal2012 active there as well.

So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t edited before, don’t be afraid that you’ll find the syntax difficult – be bold, and there’ll always be someone to ask for help. All it takes is clicking that “Edit” link and getting started. With just a few edits a week and you could be making a noticeable difference to one of the African language Wikipedias!

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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November 2016 African language Wikipedia update

The March update was positive, so let’s see how the various African-language Wikipedias have progressed since then. As always, this measures the number of articles, which is an imperfect metric, but it’s interesting to follow the trends.

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 5/3/2016 24/11/2016
Malagasy 3,806 45,361 79,329 81,240 82,799
Afrikaans 17,002 26,752 35,856 39,065 42,732
Swahili 21,244 25,265 29,127 32,565 34,613
Yoruba 12,174 30,585 31,068 31,172 31,483
Egyptian Arabic   10,379 14,192 14,839 15,959
Amharic 6,738 12,360 12,950 13,031 13,279
Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 2,830 7,605
Somali 1,639 2,757 3,446 3,878 4,322
Kabyle   1,503 2,296 2,643 2,847
Lingala 1,394 2,025 2,062 2,131 2,777
Shona   1,421 2,321 2,459 2,638
Kinyarwanda   1,817 1,780 1,785 1,799
Hausa 1,345 1,360 1,400
Igbo 1,019 1,112 1,284
Kongo 1,122 1,173
Luganda 1,082
Wolof 1,116 1,161 1,023 1,044 1,058

Afrikaans continues to grow the steadily, and recently celebrated its 15th birthday. The quality of articles is high, and it’s starting to get more media attention. Which also means dealing with the kind of responses that the English Wikipedia has moved on from, such as but anyone can edit it, how can we trust it. It’s good to see the solid Afrikaans community continuing their impressive work.

Afrikaans Wikipedia's 15th birthday
The Afrikaans Wikipedia’s 15th birthday celebration in Cape Town

There’s a new edition to the 1000 club this time. Welcome Luganda, leapfrogging Wolof, which has mostly stalled since achieving the milestone

Most of the languages have continued to grow as per their previous tends, but yet again Northern Sotho is an exception, and showed the fastet growth over this period. Why is it doing so well? The overused Margaret Mead quote Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. perhaps? It’s disputed whether she actually said it, but moving on, just how small are we talking about? In the case of Northern Sotho, there are two main champions. User:Mohau, who has single-handedly created a whopping 4916 of them, and User:Aliwal2012, who I mentioned in the March update, has created 2958 articles. These two editors are an inspiration!

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 5/3/2016 24/11/2016
Afrikaans 20,042 26,754 35,856 39,065 42,732
Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 2,830 7,605
Zulu 256 579 683 742 777
Tswana 240 495 503 538 615
Xhosa 125 148 356 473 576
Swati 359 364 410 412 419
Tsonga 192 240 266 352 390
Sotho 132 188 223 299 341
Venda 193 204 151 228 238
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12

Besides Afrikaans and Northern Sotho, none of the languages are showing substantial progress, but all are showing signs of life, except for Ndebele, which has stalled in the incubator. As South Africa’s smallest official language, it most reflects the struggles of many of South Africa’s languages, which while official on paper, receive little to no real support.

But there’s no need to wait for others. Hopefully the Northern Sotho example has inspired you. All it takes is sitting down and editing!

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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Bumbling round Bergen

Norway is not a welcoming country. Not when the bottled water is on sale for R60, or the quotes for the taxi from Oslo airport to the city centre start at R2400. I can also splurge on a fancy limo for R14000. Maybe choosing the cheap flight and arriving in Oslo after midnight wasn’t such a good idea after all.

I finally make it to my accommodation. Having failed to find a couchsurfer (another reason not to arrive after midnight), I look away as I hand over my credit card. Punch in my pin and hope my transaction doesn’t send the rand into freefall again. With impeccable timing, the finance minister has been charged with fraud, sending the currency plummeting 3.5% the day before. With the Euro, I can neatly pretend R1 equals 1 Euro (it’s actually 15 to 1), and everything looks a bargain. In Norway, that trick doesn’t work, as it’s about 2 to 1, and prices still seem outrageous even without doubling.

The person at the counter asks me if I want bedding. “Er, bedding?” I ask. Yes, the hotel room comes without bedding. OK, the place is a bit of a dive, but it doesn’t include bedding? “Er, yes, I suppose…” That’s a further R92, thanks to the infernal machine showing me the price in rands.

There was a review saying the place looked like a mental asylum. Online reviews, eh, always exaggerating.

The place looks like a mental asylum. The lift doesn’t work, and I find myself staggering up I forget how many flights of stairs, and in a long corridor, white walls, no windows, with poky doors. I expect to see bars on them, but am too tired to look. I find my room, am too tired to even put on the duvet cover, and collapse down to sleep.

A good lesson in why “order by price, lowest first” isn’t always a good idea when choosing accommodation.

What I looked like after arriving in Oslo
I wish I looked as good as this after arriving in Oslo

I plan to stay in Oslo one or two days, and then catch the train to Bergen. I even have a couchsurfer from later in the evening after he gets back from work. Which means I get to check out, and wander around the city hauling my bags around. I came to Europe for work, and politely made sure I had a clean pair of underpants for every day, but now I’m tempted to burn the lot so that I can travel light.

I wander through the botanical gardens. It’s autumn, and everything looks like I did the night before. I carry on to the train station. There are lots of beggars. I wonder about the viability of setting up a proxy beggar, and sending the daily earnings back home. Probably eradicate poverty in Cape Town.

Looking online before, there are regular trains from Oslo to Bergen. I come across the train station, and decide to buy a ticket there. It turns out there’s a train strike, with limited trains and most of them full. The only option in my timeframe is the very next one, leaving in about an hour. I quickly message my couchsurfer, book accommodation for Bergen (again, I have a couchsurfer, but not for the next two nights) and settle down to enjoy the ride.

Each time I travel, I fantasise about meeting some gorgeous stranger. It doesn’t help that a friend did just this on a flight to Cape Town, ended up showing her around the whole week, and is now married to her.

On the 12-hour overnight flight to Amsterdam, I was seated next to a gorgeous stranger. Who promptly went to sleep. She woke up about 2am, just as I was hoping to fall asleep myself. She started rummaging around for her iphone. This went on the whole night, and it didn’t help that she got up about 6 or 7 times too (I was in the middle seat, she by the window). After a miserable sleepless night, she finally accused me of stealing her iphone and demanded to search my bags. I let her search my bag (all the while hoping it hadn’t slipped into my shoe or something). She didn’t find it. She wanted me to ask the equally grumpy, sleepless passenger next to me whether he’d taken it. I decided to rather ask him to get up, so that we could both get out of her way and she could search for her iphone properly. The stewards came to see what was happening.

“Is this yours?” the passenger behind helpfully asked, showing her the iphone that had slipped to the seat behind.

Happily she got her iphone back. Unhappily I was more of a wreck than usual on arrival. No, we’re not getting married.

The train from Bergen to Olso is apparently one of the most beautiful train trips in the world. I sit down next to a gorgeous stranger. But she has the window seat and is blocking my view. Soon the seat in front is free, and I move there to look at the view. Just as we start ascending, and I start to see snow on the hills, the gloom descends, and I can’t see anything. Thanks to the late departure, most of the trip will be overnight, and I’ll miss the views. I move back to the gorgeous stranger. She likes the pictures of Cape Town. She gets off at the next stop.

I arrive in Bergen. It’s late again. At least the place I’m staying at is walkable from the station.

It’s a self-service checkin. Enter your booking code. Enter your credit card. Aargh, not again, can’t the machines here stop showing me the price in Rands! I punch in the pin. The machine spits out my keycard, and flashes out a whole bunch of information. I’m tired, I want to go sleep. Wait, my room number?! Was it 420? 402? I enter the keycard in the main doors. Red light. A note pasted to the door says “you may have to enter your card a few times before getting a green light). I enter it again. Red light. And again. About 15 times later I’m starting to get a wild look in my eyes and am wondering how strong the door is. Luckily I’m saved from a night in Bergen prison by someone else coming in, telling me I need to remove the card quickly, rather than wait for the light.

At least the lift works, and room 402 turns out to be correct. But disaster, what’s the wifi password!? Perhaps that was also on the bunch of info I didn’t read. I really must stop arriving late at night as a zombie. I go downstairs to find someone. Except I can’t get downstairs because I can’t find the lift. I remember coming through a door into a passage, but which door? There are lots, and they all look the same! At least everything is not all white this time. I try a few, all locked. Eventually I find the stairs, find someone who can give me the wifi password, and, concentrating carefully to remember my room number, the wifi password and where I came in, make it back, and settle in for the night.

I can’t sleep, with the infernal racket the fridge is making. I get up to switch it off.

The next morning I awaken, looking up at the hills surrounding this beautiful town. A deep, contented breath as I feel relaxed at last. And step into a huge puddle formed from the fridge defrosting onto the floor. Shortly after I get a reminder about the work I promised to finish up after Amsterdam, and haven’t got around to yet. The hills call to me as the day passes, distractedly punching the keyboard.

My couchsurfer cancels. I get to extend my stay, and hand over my credit card again. I start to get worried about my cards getting blocked before I’ve even bought my return ticket to Amsterdam. I look at flight tickets. I find the cheapest ticket, one I’d briefly researched before. Click book. Wait! There’s an 11-hour stopover somewhere. I may as well walk. What about direct flights? Oh god, no. I feel like crawling into a ball and whimpering when I see the price.

It rains 240 days a year in Bergen, and once set an impressive record of 85 days of rain in a row. My kind of town.

And then there’s the fjords. I sit down to write some landscape love poetry.


Ah, the fjords

A good start, a little rusty, but I can feel this coming back to me.

The beautiful fjords, bellisimo, belle

Or is it bellisima and beau? What gender is a fjord anyway? Hmm, this isn’t really poetry, is it. I’ll skip the poetry.

Anyway, Slartibartfast deserves his award for the fjords. If you get a chance, go see some!