Africa: A 'Wikipedia' of Cheap Tech to Get a Facelift

A Wikipedia-style site that gets people to upload information on sustainable technologies and has received more than 50 million page views since its launch in 2006 is going through a raft of changes aimed at improving it further.

The site, called Appropedia, is built on open-source wiki software and allows information to be shared on technologies that could help improve lives in the developing world.

"We focus on sustainable technologies and how to use them in resource-poor settings," says Lonny Grafman, founder and president of Appropedia.

As is the case with Wikipedia, anyone can edit Appropedia pages that currently hold close to 6,000 articles on topics including agriculture, energy, water and transport.

Appropedia has also collaborated with the WHO to host a catalogue of medical devices for use in poor countries. The Global Health Medical Device Compendium was developed by students at the University of Michigan, United States.

The catalogue now contains more than 200 medical devices, which can be searched using categories such as a disease name, location and what stage of research and commercialisation the technology is at.

Appropedia is now teaming up with a UK-based international development charity, Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UK), to host projects from an annual technology challenge that EWB-UK organises for university students. Information on the winning technologies will be curated and uploaded on Appropedia by EWB-UK after the winners are announced in June.

"Students aiming to enter the competitions in the future will be able to see what has been done before," adds Grafman.

The upgrades to the site aim to make it easier to upload and search for information on such development technologies.

Appropedia is also in the process of merging with Ekopedia, a multilingual wiki site focused on environmental technologies. Grafman says it would help Appropedia tap into non-English speaking communities: "We are doing this so that anybody can edit [Appropedia] and for anybody to edit it, it has to be available in their language."

Appropedia plans to link pages in different languages in a similar way to Wikipedia.

"If you have a page with a counterpart in another language, there's a side bar that links to it," explains Grafman.

Joseph Reagle, fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, United States, and author of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia, says: "The wiki format is a powerful one and is serving Appropedia well. Appropedia is using the same software and the same underlying policies as Wikipedia."

Though it is much smaller than Wikipedia, he says, that is a strength because it is "not as political as some of the debates of Wikipedia can be".

He says Appropedia "has as good a chance of succeeding as other small wiki projects I have seen because it has a significant number of contributors and support from a number of institutions".

Link to Appropedia

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