By RONALD S. LIM
Knowledge is power, and withholding it is as effective a weapon in keeping people subdued as guns and gold. It is no wonder that during the years of Spanish occupation, friars refused to teach Spanish to Filipinos who instead learned the local dialects, effectively keeping the people in the dark. It was only through the European-educated illustrados that the wheels towards the Philippine revolution slowly began to turn.
More than a hundred years later, publisher Gaspar Vibal of textbook giant Vibal Publishing is engineering a knowledge revolution of his own with the launching of WikiPilipinas, an online, free content encyclopedia on the Philippines that is written collaboratively by Philippine volunteers around the world to build the largest Philippine knowledgebase.
MAKING IT PINOY
As its name suggests, WikiPilipinas is modeled on popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, and was first conceived in February of 2007 as an open content management system that could be edited by volunteers of its sister site, Filipiniana.net, an online research portal that houses the most comprehensive collection of Filipino-related documents that are in the public domain. While WikiPilipinas features the standard encyclopedic entries in history, culture, sports, politics, and other knowledge areas, it will also have some very significant differences from Wikipedia.
“Our conception is different from the conception of Jim Wales of Wikipedia. We’ve taken the same technology, but we’ve put a Filipino spin on it and made it unique,” explains Vibal. “You can come here and all the knowledge of the Philippines are put into 12 portals. When you go into a main portal, you bookmark that page on the Internet and make that your main avenue of information.”
The 12 knowledge portals are: People and society; culture and arts; media and entertainment; sports and leisure; history; economy and business; government and politics; geography and travel; religion and beliefs; science and technology; Philippine communities; and Philippine Internet directory.
WikiPilipinas also features a who’s who of prominent and ordinary Filipinos; a directory of schools, corporations, government institutions and more; an almanac of records and data on the Philippines; and community portals designed for specific communities like Tsinoys, Filipino-Americans, Hispano-Filipinos, Moros, indigenous people, and other similar groups.
Another thing that sets WikiPilipinas apart from its predecessor is its decision to not just be an online encyclopedia dedicated only to the academe. As such, some articles may take on a decidely subjective tone.
“WikiPilipinas is a universalist encyclopedia, it is not a prescriptive one,” explains Vibal. “If you feel that your mother is worthy of a biography, then put it up. The only thing we require from our contributors is to back up their articles with references.’’
NO NEUTRAL POV
“We don’t believe in neutral points of view. Everything we write comes from the prism of our minds, and that is influenced by your culture, your family, and education. But we do believe in balanced presentation. Write what you think, but be prepared for the other side’s counter-argument. It is going to be a balancing act between entertainment and scholarly content.”
To make sure that articles remain as balanced as possible, WikiPilipinas has safety measures in place. The site has administrators with special powers to enforce good behavior, and a judicial committee which considers the few situations remaining unsolved and decides on withdrawal or restriction of editing privileges or other punishments when needed.
So far, these changes have worked for WikiPilipinas. Once it went online last Independence Day, the site has grown in leaps and bound. On July 1, the fledgling encyclopedia reached 20,000 articles, and on July 17, it reached 25,000 articles. WikiPilipinas now has 33,000 articles, outpacing the wiki sites of Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Thailand, Iran, Greece and Norway.
KNOWLEDGE FOR ALL
Vibal says that one of the most exciting aspects of the WikiPilipinas project is that it democratizes knowledge for every Filipino, making it available to anyone with an Internet connection and giving them the power to shape the information that they receive. As with Wikipedia, all the articles are freely contributed to the project, and are also made freely distributable and reproducible to the public.
“WikiPilipinas is open to anyone, so long as they have enabled internet access or mobile phone,” says Vibal. “But what’s more exciting is the fact that every wiki is built on the concept of participatory content development. Everybody is free to collect all this information, and on the website you can see the different communiites that can take over for you and develop. It’s open and no one is restricting access. You can have a 10-year-old updating Pinoy Big Brother articles. This is a phenomenon where a child can have the same platform as an academic scholar who has done 10-years of research on Juan Luna.”
On a deeper, social note, Vibal says that this “knowledge revolution” can be as important as the Philippine Revolution more than a hundred years ago.
“Filipinos have always been content to read on stuff written about them by foreigners. Now it is no longer true. The normal tao now has access to publishing.Why must we be content with articles about the Philippines written by foreigners in Wikipedia?” he says. “That is the challenge to all of us. If you like reading about yourself as regurgitated by how foreigners regard you, then do it. But we understand ourselves better than the person who interprets us outside of the country. The dominance of knowledge does not belong to the western world. Because of the internet and this technology, Filipinos have equal power. All you need to do is write.”