Wikimania 2010 recap

OK, now it’s time for Wikimania 2010 summary. I’ve been thinking a lot on the best way to concentrate my thoughts in a short way. I think the best one is this: whenever I attend a conference/meeting, and I have real difficulties to decide which session to attend (because all of them are terrific) is a good signal. Well, every minute I spent in Wikimania 2010, I felt like that. “Mmmm, look at this one….but wait! I wanted to attend that one, as well… Oh no! Strategy Plan at the same time I’m giving one of my talks … What the heck!”.

I admit it was pretty easy that this occurred to me, because: a) this was my first Wikimania; b) I gave too many talks (3!), thus missing other interesting slots and c) I wasn’t ready for the really active ambient of Wikimania. But, let’s go on with some futher details, since I have some “mixed feelings” about certain points.

In the first place, some words for the organizing team. I think  they didn’t do a bad job, since the size of the conference demands a lot of energy. Honestly, many people were dubious the week before about it, since there was

certain organizational mess with some issues (schedule, registration, wifi connectivity…). Granted, some issues  must be improved for next editions  (vanishing wifi, and accommodation for many colleagues on Sunday). But the conference itself went on really well, the venue was excellent and they were really helpful, so thank you Marcin and the rest of the organizational team for your hard work. I only miss my Wikimania bag. I didn’t get one because I registered on Friday 9 evening, (I was busy all the day in WikiSym 2010 :-/).

Wikimania 2010

Wikimania 2010 in Gdánsk, Poland.

Something quickly attracted my attention: there were virtually no “general sessions” or “keynotes”, besides Sue’s and Jimmy’s. This leaves a lot of room for parallel tracks, but it also makes you rack your brain to decide which talk you should go to in the next slot. Attendees were quite friendly in general, and I had the opportunity of meeting a lot of interesting people (WMF staff, community members, researchers and consultants), most of them for the first time (unfortunately, Jimmy wasn’t among them, since it was terribly difficult to approach him at any time). Support from Wikimedia Deutschland (special thanks to Daniel Kinzler and Pavel Richter) was awesome, like it was impressive the feedback from the audience after the presentation of latest results of the flagged revisions study. However, I could also see that there were many different groups, and people merged together only up to some extent. No surprise, though, since this is a conference for community members, and it’s natural that you tend to spend more time with your long-time mates. I was also really happy with the interest attracted by the summary of research works on Wikipedia (with Mako and Jodie Schneider) and the subsequent panel on research ethics in Wikimedia communities.

The Wikipedia Strategy plan was, obviously, one of the core issues along the conference, as well as presentations and discussion on how to improve relationships between local chapters and wikipedia communities (most popular talk in the program). Finally, the WMF role in this Strategy Plan seems to focus on 3 main areas (alternatively, you can also have a look at the movement priorities):

  • Improving WMF technical infrastructure to answer the constantly increasing demands of a growing number of readers.
  • Strengthen, grow and increase diversity of the community of editors, something I specially applaud since it has been one of my main requests since long time ago.
  • Catalyse impact on geographical areas of interest and key (mobile) technologies to empower WMF projects outreach and penetration significant portions of their target audience

This will involve some big challenges. In my opinion, the most difficult one will be to increase WMF staff at a rapid pace, fast enough to tackle all these priorities, while maintaining at the same time internal coordination in good shape. Community hiring could be a very smart move in this regard to provide additional capillarity to their actions.

The worldwide premiere of the movie “Truth in numbers: The Wikipedia Story” also deserves some lines. The film has been produced with ~500K$ from private donors and it aims to offer an informative introduction to the Wikipedia project with an accessible language for the general public. I really like the way they mixed praise and critics (including self-criticism) and how they stress the tireless work undertaken to increase awareness of the project in numerous countries and remote regions around the world, sometimes facing very difficult conditions [sorry, but you’ll have to wait until October 2010 to learn more details on this!]. However, I don’t like at all the common baseline built to present most of the critics against Wikipedia.  Almost all invited speakers rising concerns and negative comments were scholars, holding extensive academic experience and (curiously) some sort of “hostility” to digital media. Sorry but 1) I don’t think they’re
representative of the whole group of critics and, inversely, there are many scholars with more positive opinions about Wikipedia (I only remember Ed Chi showing up, right now); 2) given the current need to advocate for use and contribution to Wikipedia from the academic world, to fill in specific knowledge niches, I don’t think this approach makes a real benefit as for the image of Wikipedia among this audience; 3) the good point of surprising all these speakers with the good quality of their own biographies in Wikipedia should have been highlighted much before, closing this line perhaps to let some room for other different points of view. I’d like to hear sociologists, journalists, tech practitioners, industry executives… Some showed up just briefly. Please, wait patiently for the final version to be aired, so that you can build your own point of view.

Some people told me that the big party was good, but too far away from Gdańsk downtown and the way back was not very funny. I was partly thankful, since I was really shattered that night after too may endless days of work that week. After that, Jimmy’s talk was really good, presenting some refreshing videos that displayed nearby stories of wikimedians around the world, with emphasis on mid-size Wikipedias (one of the main targets for the next 5-year period). On top of this, Spain won the World Cup that Sunday (July 11, 2010) and despite of the fact that we couldn’t gather together to watch it, it was an amazing experience to feel the ambient in Gdańsk downtown that night.

OK, maybe a bit long, but there were many things to comment in this post. Looking forward to a great Wikimania 2011 in Haifa, next year!