Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
November 9th, 2008



Friday night (San Francisco time), northern Vietnam’s wiki addicts got together to discuss – what else? – wikis at the inaugural Wiki Day in Hanoi.

Inside the inaugural Wiki Day.

Inside the inaugural Wiki Day. Courtesy: Trần Xuân Trường, Nguyễn Phan Kiên, NHHP.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it: at the last minute, my professor caught wind of my plans to take a plane to Vietnam instead of taking a midterm. :^P So instead of being able to finally meet my co-conspirators in the wiki revolution face to face, I settled for writing a talk for an attendee to read. In between studying for a midterm and completing a problem set, I managed to crank out what sounded (on paper) like a coherent essay on Wikipedia’s principles, how we foster a community, and what we do about vandals. Hopefully it wasn’t too awkward. Word has it that the meetup overall was a success.

I hadn’t realized how big a deal wikis have become in Vietnam, but apparently the event has received coverage in the country’s major newspapers, and a few national TV networks were on-scene as well. If I knew the mainstream press was coming, I would’ve probably switched into car salesman mode and pushed Wikipedia’s benefits more than discussing the challenges ahead of us as a community. But it’s not like we have anything to hide, what with an Edit button atop every page.

The Vietnamese Wikipedia community doesn’t have official recognition with a Wikimedia Foundation chapter of its own, and it has yet to really spread to other Wikimedia projects like Wiktionary and Wikibooks. We haven’t won any awards like the Italian community or put on a Wikimania conference like the Taiwanese. But still, it’s awesome how far things have progressed since late 2003, when we were just a ragtag group of geeks starting into computer screens, developing carpal tunnel by writing too much.

Along the way, I learned a new language – I only knew a few words of Vietnamese before joining Wikipedia – we’ve written on topics that’ve never been written about in our language; and we’ve changed the way people think about learning. You can, on your own time, enrich your understanding of the world around you. At least for those with Internet access, the excuse of not having the money or patience is gone. (Reaching those without Internet access is an open problem.)

What makes Wikipedia (and any other wiki) is that we’re not just a community. We’re a community making something useful: in our case, a website synonymous these days with “encyclopedia”. In making decisions at Wikipedia – such as determining how strict we enforce a rule on notability – the overriding challenge is balancing the needs of the community versus the needs of the encyclopedia.

I’m pretty sure what kept me contributing to Wikipedia all these years, even as the offline world called, was the knowledge that the project depends on each individual to keep it afloat. Especially when there weren’t many administrators and other dedicated contributors around, others would have to shoulder more work if I simply packed up and left. I wouldn’t’ve particularly cared, except that I’d already built up a good working relationship with so many in the community. Meetups, like the one on Friday, ensure that “the community” isn’t just a nebulous group of someone-or-others, but rather your friends.

In treating everyone as equals – with mostly the same editing rights, but more importantly with equal authority in arguments – we the wiki community think of everyone as trusted friends. That’s a really great statement about humanity.


  1. Just as I feared, the Vietnamese press again botched up and referred to the Vietnamese-language Wikipedia as "Vietnam Wikipedia".