Between study sessions, Ziyad Alsufyani manages to make a few edits. He is a medical student at Taif University in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia, and he’s been editing the Arabic Wikipedia since 2009. This is his final year of study. But even as he nears a major professional milestone he remains committed to public knowledge.
“I know that despite our warnings that all diseases should managed by licensed doctors, still people depend on Wikipedia articles about their symptoms and diseases,” Ziyad says. “I think we have the responsibility to improve our medical content since it has a direct effect on our readers.”
Among the community of Arabic language contributors, Ziyad holds special responsibilities. He is a “sysop”, which allows him to perform administrative tasks like deleting redundant pages and blocking antagonistic users. He says it can be difficult to explain his role to those outside the movement. “[I decided] to participate in this project…when I [found out] things were controlled by the community itself,” he says. “When I explain that to people, they do not believe me and start asking how a community can manage such an encyclopedia. Even when I explain my role…they introduce me as the ‘CEO’.”
Professionally, Ziyard is interested in various parts of the medical field, including internal medicine, immunology, and endocrinology. But it’s not just medicine Ziyad contributes to. He’s written on everything from recent archaeological discoveries to ophthalmology to birth control methods. One collaboration with the WikiProject Med user group is now nominated for “featured” status on the Arabic Wikipedia.
“My interest is in science in general, not medicine only,” he says.
I believe that the sum of all human knowledge cannot be achieved if we work from a single part of the world…We should encourage all parts of the world to participate.
Contributing to the Wikipedia movement has opened doors offline for Ziyad too. He recently applied for a scholarship to attend a summer course in Chicago, and mentioned Wikipedia during his interview.
“I think that one of the main reasons that I'm in Chicago and meeting you, is Wikipedia,” he explained to the medical school’s Vice Dean.
Locally, he’s been involved with “Wikipedia Clubs” at universities across Saudi Arabia. These are programs where students can earn marks for their volunteering efforts improving Wikipedia articles. “Last year, the Wikipedia Club at Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University [in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital] aimed to create articles about world cities, while this year they decided to work on medical articles,” he explains. “I'm in continuous contact with them and I wish them best of luck.”
Ziyad believes Wikipedia is very much a global effort. “I believe that the sum of all human knowledge cannot be achieved if we work from a single part of the world, or even from several countries,” he says. “We should encourage all parts of the world to participate.”