When Vikram and I shook on building samosapedia.com after a boisterous lapse into the kind of Bangalore patois so typical of the average South Indian porki, we honestly didn’t think it would get the kind of attention it has been getting, delusions of grandeur notwithstanding. Of course, the whole team is delighted by it. CNN, the Economist blog, the Wall Street Journal blog, The Huffington Post, and The Times of India have covered it, along with a few other online and offline publications. And given that I recently wrote a small exposé about the foundational three Ms behind the idea, it’s high time Samosapedia got some airtime on my own blog.
I spend a substantial amount of time either thinking about or working on Samosapedia, which is not surprising for any co-founder. Software alone is not really what keeps me busy. The very smart Braxton, who joined us because he loves the concept, stewards the code (Ruby on Rails straddling Heroku) really well, and puts up with our proclivity to IST with humor, which cemented our bond. The big questions to me include the editorial oversight needed to build the world’s largest cultural dictionary.
Let’s first touch very briefly on the imperfection of calling it The Definitive Guide to South Asian Lingo, since in choosing to call it that, we reveal something about ourselves as editors. One of the most priceless reactions we got to the term “South Asian” was “Aren’t South Asians Filipinos?” It turns out the term “South Asian” causes a small modicum of irritation and confusion. Other observations were that we shouldn’t use the term South Asian at all, but instead say “desi” or “Indian.” On this one, we’re sticking to our guns. There are enough commonalities linguistically and culturally, and enough radical differences, for us to be geographically inclusive on the site. The term “South Asia” may come from a taxonomy generated outside South Asia itself, but we can’t find a better, more inclusive term that matches our aspiration for a giant cultural dictionary. We’re ceasing to worry about labels. The existing one has been well received so far — thanks to our users, we have over 6000 entries now, and we’re going to keep on growing.
What becomes interesting is that sometimes, definitions aren’t merely objective. We don’t really want them to be objective, which is why we allow for multiple entries for a given term. Take for example entries like the one for the Jan Lokpal Bill, which as of this writing, still features prominently in popular press in India. One user’s idealism may test another user’s opinion on the whole approach taken by the bill, with the result being controversy. We welcome it — the lingo we’re collectively cataloging is multifarious, and controversy is the by product of engaged users. By that same token, one user’s humor may offend another. Here, we’ll traipse as lightly as possible, because we want to allow maximum self-expression, liberating language and encouraging our users to be creative and playful. Soon enough, we’ll also want to have users help with moderating words. It’s not just a dictionary we’re building here, but a community, responsible for its own editorial oversight, without the founders being gatekeepers.
Samosapedia has rapidly become a small anthology of South Asian writing, and makes people laugh, bringing delight and nostalgia (nostalgindia?). I am really excited about it, and about all the things we’re going to do with it in the future.