WikiConference North America was held online on Friday-Sunday, October 8-10, 2021.
WikiConference North America (WCNA) is the annual conference for Wikimedians in North America, including Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. WCNA 2021 was the 8th such conference, and the second time it was held online. Building on 2020’s successful virtual event, in 2021 we wanted to expand and improve the virtual experience. Attendees of WCNA include new and experienced Wikimedians editing Wikimedia projects in several languages, and GLAM and cultural institution professionals, educators, and technologists. The program for the conference was designed to share information, educate and inspire these varied attendees. Many WCNA attendees do not regularly attend any other large Wikimedia conference.
The conference organizers committed early to certain goals:
- (a) making the event inclusive by arranging captions or audio interpretation across languages; this would be new to the WCNA conferences,
- (b) presenting a theme of global-and-local frames implemented in several ways,
- (c) supporting local events and being able to sponsor attendees who needed funding to make time or get equipment to attend, and
- (d) offering workshops and training for both new and experienced editors, not just one-to-many broadcasts of presentations.
Outcomes and impact
Over the course of October 8-10, 2021, over 65 sessions were streamed across two presentation tracks, and other virtual rooms for meetings and edit-a-thons. The two presentation tracks had live audio interpretation (translation) so attendees could hear them in either English or Spanish. These tracks were livestreamed to YouTube in both languages. There were three invited presentations, two in English and one in Spanish. In addition, there was a special Friday night trivia broadcast prepared by Annie Rauwerda, creator of the popular Twitter, Instagram and TikTok feeds called @depthsofwikipedia.
266 people logged into the conference site over the course of the weekend to attend and participate. Others watched on YouTube. Attendee reported positive experiences overall in a sample of survey evaluations afterward and anecdotal comments. The technology for the conference was a combination of a paid platform (Hopin) plus volunteer efforts to run the streams to YouTube and moderate sessions behind the scenes. We built on the lessons from the 2020 WCNA and the 2021 virtual Wikimania conference. The program and technology ran pretty smoothly, with no major technical problems.
- Did your event have any impact that you did not expect, positive or negative?
We developed good relation between US and Mexican planners. We committed to making interpretation work and it did work well.
The Friendly Space (Safe Space) preparation and activity was extensive, and new to most of us. It worked out well.
Costs in the end were higher than planned; we had trouble finding the right platform and tools, and spent almost nothing until we committed fully to the platforms and tools for the conference in the last week.
- Please tell us about the top 2-3 innovative (new to you and your community) or things you tried this conference.
Live English-Spanish interpretation. This was difficult and relatively expensive but it worked well and was a big win for our goal to broaden cooperation and participation. We practiced by supporting the Wikimedians of the Caribbean's WikiCari festival with interpretation in September, with English-to-Spanish only, using different software and translators than we eventually chose for the conference.
Use of Hopin and Kudo software. With these, we had enough control for friendly-space purposes, and users had enough control to toggle between English and Spanish audio.
- Were there any significant changes from the initial grant proposal?
Yes. We filed the grant proposal early, as required, before we knew the full environment. We did not yet know how to arrange translation and protect a friendly space in an online conference, and we had planned to have many local events. For the platform, we had thought we would use Zoom, but for a multi-track conference with audio interpretation we found it necessary to switch to Hopin+Kudo. We also planned to give scholarships and awards, but in the end did not. Partly because of covid, partly from exhaustion, and partly because of lack of community interest, we did not follow up on these items.
- What do you think will be the long term impact of this conference?
We have shown that we can run a large scale virtual conference with live English-Spanish interpretation. We know more about the possible tools and the necessary budget. Attendees gave the conference high marks overall in reviews.
It has been proposed to extend this design covering a larger region including all the Spanish-speaking regions of the Americas. We may try that for 2023.
- Do your best to estimate the number of attendees in your event that have never attended any Wikimedia event before. How were you able to support and engage this group?
Of the 266 people who logged into our conference platform, 189 (71%) were using an email address that was not used for WikiConference North America 2019 or 2020. Some must have attended prior years under a different email, but many were first-time WikiConference North America attendees.
During registration, users were able to identify any organizations they represent or are a part of. Roughly 80 identified with non-Wikimedia organizations.
Given these numbers, we estimate that at least 50 people had never attended a Wikimedia event before. Our program included diverse content covering many aspects of the Wikimedia movement. We tried our best to send out communications on how to use our event platforms. Organizers were available at all times of the event to assist. There were some tricky aspects, but these attendees did not need much understanding of Wikimedia to participate.
- Do your best to estimate the number of participants who have been involved in Wikimedia activities for more than 5 years. How were you able to support and engage this group?
Based on those we recognized, perhaps 60. Most found the conference platform usable and could get to most talks. We invited them with Wikipedia banners and email broadcasts and through our organizations. Several gave talks. We invite them to give lightning talks which did not require a lengthy application/acceptance process.
Learning and next steps
Conferences and events do not always go according to plan! Please use this section considering the perspective of what future event organizers within our movement organizing a similar style conference can learn. Make sure to include lessons around work with external/ internal partners; your communication efforts; your work with the community and volunteers etc.
- What would you do differently next time and why? Please share with us if there's anything you wouldn't do or something future organizers should avoid.
We have more information about the conference platforms, how to use them, and what they cost. We know more about friendly-space policy and practice. We asked many questions of our audience, and could ask fewer questions in our planning next time, e.g. we had planned to try to offer translation to French, but there was never a clear interest from participants in this.
Not many people come to conference evening events after a full day online at the conference. They may be tired from the full day, or busy with other obligations. We may be wise to schedule only short and special events in the evening.
- Was there any non-financial support that the Wikimedia Foundation could have provided that would have better supported you in achieving your goals?
Yes. It would help us to hold future events if WMF Events could scale up the services it offers, so as to offer some prearranged subscriptions to platforms and services, hopefully some of them committed to open source. We were short on time and skills to evaluate these platforms and did not have bargaining power to negotiate for our one event. There would be knowledge gains and economies from scope and scale since WMF and its affiliates hold events every week around the world.
- What would you recommend on a local and/or regional level as the best next step to leverage your success and momentum? (Please consider potential new allies and partners; internal wiki collaborations; future projects etc. We don't expect you to necessarily do those, we are only looking for more ideas from your own perspective.)
We can continue these conferences, perhaps with partner organizations such as the Wikimedia chapters elsewhere in the Americas, GLAM institutions, universities, OpenStreetMap, MisInfoCon, Credibility Coalition, Hacks/Hackers, EFF, and Creative Commons. Working with different partner organizations, we can increase our visibility and expand the scope of what we can do and what we can learn.
- Does your organizing team / affiliate / user group have any plans to follow up with your attendees in the future or support efforts related to the outcomes of this conference within your community?
We surveyed attendees on their experience. Our Telegram channel continues with some activity. We have had annual conferences and may continue them.
- Please add any 3 operational recommendations for future events organizers.
Choosing a conference platform can be a difficult matter. There are several translation platforms; we investigated a couple, emphasized reliability. and went with a high-end option. In the near future it should be feasible to use the other more affordable ones.
The friendly/safe space team must be large. There need to be designated attendees at each scheduled sessions. They have to pay attention and be able to call in help if they see a problem, but this is not an onerous task. Use Telegram or Slack to be in touch during the conference. Our internal document describing our practices (not the policy itself which is online) seems to be a good model for others to use.
Don't fill all hours of the day and evening. People get tired and will want time off to rest or handle other things.
This section describes the grant's use of funds
First we show our actual expenses in the table. Because the event changed so much after the grant was approved, matching the original proposal to the final expenses is more complicated; we show that comparison next.
|Expense||Cost in USD||Notes|
|Hopin||$10,000||Main conference software platform|
|Kudo||$9,047||Live interpretation software platform|
|Tlatolli Ollin||$6,635||Interpreters for the conference (en ⇔ es)|
|Clevercast||$304.72||Live interpretation software platform used for the WikiCari festival, as practice|
|Amtrad||$931.75||Interpreters at WikiCari (en ⇒ es)|
|Zoom||$121.51||Experimental conference platform|
|WMMX picnic||$294.73||Picnic in Mexico City|
|WMNY picnic||$371.73||Picnic in New York City|
- Budget table
The next table compares budgeted to actual expenses. Our original budget, set by a grant from WMF, totaled $US 24,508. Our actual expenses exceeded this by 13%. Savings from previous years, donations, and t-shirt sales made up the difference.
The effort to scale up for over 200 registrants and English/Spanish interpretation raised our costs over other conferences. We made decisions late in the process to scale up, getting Hopin's "business plan" (which lasts a year and includes some support), and the high-end Kudo software service to integrate interpreters. These raised costs but we needed to have a solid platform for interpretation, and this seemed necessary. It worked. Now we have a year-long subscription to Hopin which our component organizations can use again. (Indeed we have used it for two events since the main conference: Meta Day and EMWCon).
Both planned costs and expenditures are shown in USD with notes if they were converted from Mexican pesos or euros.
|Number||Category||Item description||Units for item||Number and cost per unit||Budgeted cost||Actual expenditure||Notes|
|1||Registration||Eventbrite||membership/subscription||1||$200||$0||We used Pretix|
|2||Platform||Spatial.chat||membership/subscription||1||$500||$0||We used Work Adventure as an evening social space|
|3||Platform||Hopin, Streamyard, and Zoom||WCNA membership/subscription||1||$750+$90=$840||$10,121.51||We used Hopin which included Streamyard, after an experiment with Zoom conferencing (actual: US$10K+$121.51)|
|4||Platform||Streamyard||membership/subscription||1||$90||$0||Included in Hopin subscription|
|5||Awards||10 x $50||$500||$0||No awards given|
|6||Wiknic / video hubs||Packages of supplies and reimbursement for small in-person hybrid picnic events and video recording on model of w:Wiknic||10 x $500||$5,000||$666.46||NYC and Mexico City picnics; nothing actually shipped; includes conversation from Mex pesos|
|7||Banners||3 x $200||$600||$0||Did not make physical banners|
|8||Accessibility||Reimbursement for child care||10 x $50||$500||$0||We did not invite applications for this in the end|
|9||Accessibility||Reimbursement for Internet access/bandwidth||10 x $25||$250||$0||We did not invite applications for this in the end|
|10||Accessibility||Translation/interpretation software (Spanish/English)||Software from Kudo, and experiment with Clevercast||8 hours/day x $40/hr x 2 ppl for three days||$1,920||$9,351.72||Kudo software platform to support live staff translators with an interface controlled by attendees in Hopin. We experimented with Clevercast software in advance. Clevercast's bill was in euros.|
|11||Accessibility||Translation (French)||8 hours/day x $40/hr x 2 ppl for three days||$1,920||$0||We asked around but did not hear of any interest in French interpretation|
|12||Accessibility||Translation (additional languages)||20 hours x $40/hr||$800||$0||No other translation/interpretation implemented|
|13||Accessibility||Transcription service||Translators from Tlatolli and experiment with Amtrad||$500||$7566.75||Translators from Tlatolli ($6635) and experiment with Amtrad ($931.75). Tlatolli and Amtrade invoices were originally in Mexican pesos.|
|14||Accessibility||Program technician for trilingual broadcasting using Zoom||60 hours x $60||$3,600||$0||Volunteer organizer expert plus designated staff pro included in Kudo service|
|15||General||Event planning||75 hours x $40||$3,000||$21.30||Publicity: mailchimp|
|16||General||Branding, design, and marketing||30 hours x $25||$750||$0||Icons, banners, materials|
|17||General||Post-event video production, introducing/framing the recordings||30 hours x $30||$900||$0|
|18||General||Financial and banking fees||$500||$0|
|19||General||Subtotal of all above||$22,280||$0|
- Summary of funding
- Total project budget (from your approved grant submission): $24,508
- Total amount requested from WMF (from your approved grant submission): $24,508
- Total amount spent on this project (from the table above): $27,423.02
- Total amount of WMF grant funds spent on this project: $24,508
- Are there additional sources of revenue that funded any part of this project? List them.
- WMNY funded its local picnic.
- WCNA had savings from previous years, sales of t-shirts, and small donations, which covered the rest.
- Remaining funds
- Are there any grant funds remaining? No.
Evaluations by attendees
We distributed survey questions to attendees after the conference and received 35 responses. Participants were invited to rate the overall experience from 0 to 10; 80% (28) of participants rated their experiences highly, between 8 and 10.
We also asked participants to rate the conference platforms. The main platform, Hopin, received 71% (25) high responses between 8 and 10. A number of attendees had difficulty and expressed frustration with it. We also asked about their experience with the live audio interpretation; 14 said they used it, and of theose 12 said it worked well. We invited specific comments about difficulties or matters of special interest, and there were a variety of interesting answers. Most responses were generally positive and informative, and worth reflecting on for next time.
We also asked participants to state something valuable they learned about at the conference. Responses included:
- Learning about new community organizations
- WikiEdu initiatives
- Connections with other Wikimedians working on similar projects
- Misinformation on Wikipedia
- Indigenous representation
- Wikimedia Foundation legal work
- Hosting edit-a-thons
- Education best-practices and outreach
Is there anything else you want to share about the conference or event?
The core organizers had attended the conference in the past and had compatible visions and goals. In addition to past WCNA organizers, new organizers were recruited and joined the team. Organizers met weekly, and a few volunteers joined for the conference itself to help moderate sessions. The many volunteers for this year's conference are listed here.
Technologies, platforms, suppliers
Many software platforms and services were involved in planning and executing the conference. We had experience with some of these, and learned from other virtual events.
|Hopin||A virtual conference hosting platform that uses Streamyard to stream presentations, with logged in attendees able to chat during talks and go to breakout rooms||Used as the main attendee platform||paid|
|Kudo||Software that creates a virtual translation room that the translators could log into to control input/output||Used for translation. Hopin had a way to plug in Kudo already||paid|
|YouTube||Used for live streaming talks in English and Spanish||Streams were produced for the two streams plus the translations of those streams||free (WCNA account)|
|OBS||free/libre software for live streaming to YouTube||Streams from Hopin were recorded in OBS by distributed volunteers on their laptops, and then sent to YouTube, which enabled streaming post-translation||free|
|Zoom||Video meeting platform||Used for participatory events (edit-a-thons, editona, vaccine workshop, and training workshops)||free (individual accounts)|
|Tlatolli||live translators||This is the translation/interpretation group used previously by Wikimania 2015 in Mexico City. They were very helpful in planning meetings and selecting the software for interpreters for this conference||paid|
|Etherpad||Easily editable pages||Used for participatory notes during sessions||free|
|Work Adventure||Free/libre platform for live interaction and discussion||Used for after hours social space||free|
|Menti||Trivia contest platform||Used for live participatory trivia game during the Depths of Wikipedia session|
|Slack||chat platform||Used for organizer and behind the scenes/day of communication||free|
|Telegram||chat platform||Used for general and attendee chat||free|
|Pretix||registration / ticketing platform||Used for registration||free|
|MailChimp||mass mailing system||Used for attendee communication and advertisement to previous attendees||paid|
Many videos of talks are on YouTube. We have some audio/video files we could make available on YouTube and on Commons.
Sessions and spaces
Our program had over 65 planned sessions; see the Schedule online. Most of the program was selected from submitted abstracts which we combined into a sheet and collected support/oppose votes from WCNA organizers and past organizers and attendees until there was enough information to decide. We accepted most submissions, and asked for revisions to a few, and turned a few down in the end. Aside from these submissions, there were unconference and lightning talk slots which were self-nominated and in practice accepted immediately.
- Red and Blue stages: These were broadcast presentations, from StreamYard. The audience was not visible and could not speak. Often the presenters showed slides or a browser tab/screen. These were recorded by Hopin and interpreted between English/Spanish, and generally shown live on YouTube. A moderator was present backstage to help speakers share their screens and help with Q&A from the audience. We have attendance figures by room on this chart.
- Pre-scheduled sessions: Those in our "Green track", or breakout track, were generally not recorded. They did not have language translation/interpretation. The people attending could choose to be visible generally, unless there was a pre-designated moderator deciding.
- Edit-a-thons, lightning talks, and unconference sessions - Open chat, mostly "sessions" on Hopin; a couple were Zoom meetings
- Expo: We had a few prepared YouTube videos. Attendance was light but it meant people could see some presentations before or after the scheduled time.
The schedule incorporated breaks and five-minute pauses which helped with switching presentations and making sure that the behind-the-scenes technology ran smoothly. Moderators used the Hopin chat to alert attendees of upcoming events, to remind them to post questions and comments, and to give reminders about the safe space team and policy.
There were three keynote talks for the conference: "Breaking the gender gap on Wikipedia / Rompiendo la brecha de género en Wikipedia" (Carmen Alcázar, from Wikimedia México); "Trust and Knowledge on the Global | Local | Glocal Level" (Connie Moon Sehat, from the Credibility Coalition and Hacks/Hackers); and "New Maps for an Inclusive Wikipedia: Strategies to Counter Systemic Bias" (Carwil Bjork-James, English Wikipedia and Vanderbilt University).
Over 300 registered, including duplicates and people who did not actually attend. 266 logged in to our Hopin event at some point. The peak attendance at one time was 92 people, early on Friday afternoon, possibly when Carmen Alcázar was giving her invited talk. This chart shows attendance by time over the course of the conference. Attendance never dropped to zero after hours because there was no need to log out. There was activity on Thursday evening because we invited attendees for a social/test time on the platform.
- We had participation from outside the U.S. of 45-95 people, based on Hopin's estimates. They cannot always tell where people logged in from. See the chart by country.
- Three edit-a-thons on the conference program were held on Zoom, not Hopin. These had perhaps 20 participants overall.
- English/Spanish interpretation: In about half of the sessions, those on Hopin's "stages" (our red and blue tracks), attendees could click for interpretation and select a language, English or Spanish. It went well overall, with some glitches. The systems are complicated. The Hopin software has a plugin for the Kudo software which created virtual interpretation rooms, where interpreters could control for example whether they were speaking into an English channel or a Spanish channel -- they had to switch depending on the speaker's language. The interpreters were near Mexico City on their own computers mostly working from home.
- Friendly/safe space matters: A team went over training materials in advance. The team revised the safe space policy from Wikimania 2021 for this conference and wrote up a document of what our practices would be during the conference. We think the resulting policy statement and the practices document are worth reusing for future events. Volunteers signed up for shifts and sessions. Every session had a safe space monitor who listened and watched the chat, and knew the main language of the presentation. Members of this team stayed in touch with one another during the conference by direct messages. Morale was good and we covered the sessions well.
Registrants were provided the opportunity to identify an organization they represent or are associated with. We saw registrants from many different Wikimedia affiliates and informal groups; educational institutions; GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums); and other mission-related organizations and allies. 18% of registrants did not actually attend, so not all of the following organizations had representatives actually attending the conference.
We had in-person events on Sunday afternoon in New York City and in Mexico City. A parallel picnic was held in San Diego. Our grant anticipated having more local events. There was less interest than anticipated, and we did not push the point; there was interest in the online event, and caution about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.