The tech savvy tourist in Kerala


Beaches, paddy fields, backwaters, the quintessential kettuvallams (rice barges) and waterfront toddy shops, Alappuzha in Kerala, India has it all that the tour brochure promises.

Alappuzha (About this sound pronunciation, also known as Alleppey, is a city in Alappuzha District of Kerala state of southern India.It is the administrative headquarters of Alappuzha District.This town is considered to be the oldest planned town in this region and the lighthouse built on the coast of the town is the first of its kind along the Laccadive Sea coast (reference encyclopaedia of Kerala in Malayalam language)
What it also has – and what is, perhaps, not as extensively documented for the internet generation traveller – is a fascinating history. Its centuries-old international trade connections, early links with the rise of Christianity and political turbulence of the 1940s all make Alappuzha a historian’s haunt.

A group of Malayalis on the internet is digitising these slices of history on to Wikipedia in what could be a first for an Indian city. The Malayalam Wikipedians, as part of the world-wide Quick Response (QR) Pedia initiative, have commenced groundwork on an ambitious project where information on about 150 locations of prominence in Alappuzha will be collected and digitised as QR codes into boards to be placed at the locations.

A visitor can use the QR code reader on his or her smartphone to read the code and through the internet, be directed to the Wikipedia entry – in English and Malayalam – on the location, complete with leading routes and geo-codes. The visitor can also capture the QR code on the board in a photograph and download it on to a computer with an internet connection; the code will lead the user to the Wikipedia entry.

The project took shape during the Wiki Sangamotsavam, a meet-up of Wikipedia users in Kerala and other states, held from December 21 to 23 in Alappuzha. The host city was chosen for the pilot project. “Though the QR Pedia project was launched in London in 2011, this is the first time information on an Indian city is being digitised into QR codes.

Locations with historical relevance, old churches, the city’s sea bridge, the canals and boat jetty, popular boat race venues, important pockets in Kuttanad and even the more recent constructions including local administration offices will be covered in the project,” T K Sujith, a Malayalam Wikipedian and general convenor of the Sangamotsavam, told
Deccan Herald.

The Alappuzha light-house is the first location the project has covered. Sujith said of the locations identified for the project, only about 12 have existing Wikipedia pages. The group is set to form a committee of historians and prominent citizens of the district that will research, generate and monitor

content on the identified locations. A team of photographers has already lined up an array of pictures for the year-long project.

The initiative involves extensive research and stringent checks on authenticity of content but the project coordinators said they were ready for the challenge. “We want to generate information that apart from helping tourists caters to history enthusiasts, resea­rchers and students.

The project costs are being worked out – the early estimate is of about Rs 2,500 per board; so we are looking at close to Rs four lakh for a start. It’s not an expensive proposition because apart from the coding and installation of the boards, this is a volunteer project,” Sujith said. Funds from the office of Alappuzha MLA and former minister T M Thomas Isaac will be used for the project.

The Malayalam Wikipedians are looking at assistance from the local administrators and promoters of the Heritage Alappuzha project to take the initiative forward. A tie-up with the state’s Department of Tourism is also on the cards.

The big challenge, however, will be in ensuring the authenticity of content. “The team is compiling articles from various sources that come with assured standards. Tourism department websites, travelogues and content from eminent travel writers and publications will be used as reference material for the entries.

Once the content is uploaded, there will be constant monitoring as well,” Sujith said. Malayalam Wikipedians is a group that in over 10 years has expanded through outreach programmes; there are about 50,000 registered users of Wikipedia’s Malayalam version, close to 400 of them “active”. The Malayalam Wikipedia has close to 34,000 articles across topics. Languages, including Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, have made significant advances in terms of the number of Wikipedia articles but the group co-ordinators claim on the basis of “page depth” or detailing, Malayalam is one of the frontrunners.

The Sangamotsavam hosted about 200 Wikipedia users from Kerala and close to 20 users in other lang­uages including Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi. As a part of the QR code project, the content editors are also exploring possibilities of articles in other Indian and global languages. “These are possibilities for the future. A compilation of these Wik­ipedia entries could also double as a comprehensive book on the history of Alappuzha,” Sujith said.