A trip to Wikimania is like making a movie: preproduction and postproduction take much longer than the 'action' itself. I have no reason to complain after such a great voyage. But booking the flight and hotels, also figuring out what to see, general travel preparations, application for a Wikimedia Nederland scholarship, poster for the Wikimania poster session etc. costs quite some time.
This 'diary' documents some of my impressions of the country (or countries) I visited, and what I learned at Wikimania. It can be only a small selection of the many opportunities of such a large event — a small, personal und imperfect account.
Feel free to correct my language and linking. It's a wiki.
WOW Air is a new airline from Iceland with stopovers in Reykjavík (or rather Keflavík). Was it a good idea to choose the flight that has a stopover of 16 hours in Iceland? Three days I deemed to be too long, taking away time and budget for Canada. For the flight back, I chose the one with only one hour stopover. But what to do in 16 hours?
Too long to stay in the airport, but I also was afraid that it was too little time to take a hotel room — getting there, checking in etc. So around midnight I took the bus to Reykjavík being prepared for a long wake period, with my flight to Toronto going at 15.30h. If necessary, you can always stay at night at an American fast food franchise and sip a coffee, right?
Reykjavík with its 120,000 inhabitants has an inner city that remined me of a small town in the Netherlands, such as Winterswijk or Doetinchem. At midnight some pubs were still open at the Tryggvatagata, a 500 meter strip that constitutes the heart of the entertainment district of town. Shortly after, everything was closed. Everything. In the capital of a country.
Just one place was open: a 24/7 shop that welcomes guests in languages such as Spanish, German and Chinese (and warns shoplifters in languages such as Polish and Lithuanian). I considered buying a cup of coffee, but not only the lack of chairs felt uninviting: the two young men running the place at night were obviously fans of a music style that I would classify as 'Viking Metal'.
It never became totally dark in that Icelandic summer night: some sun light always survived at the border of the Faxa Bay. Still, at three o'clock on a park bench you must be a huge Scandinavia fan to keep up the spirit. Strolling through town I found out that the first shop to open was a bakery — at 7.00h.
Iceland is in general an expensive country, like Switzerland. I had a larger sandwich with a 'capucchino' (a coffee with some cream on it) at the bakery, which cost 1360 crowns: roughly 15 euro. A hamburger can cost 15-20 euros without beverage or side dish. It is easy to understand why the story about a tourist, who stole a lamb from a farm for BBQ, is so popular.
At a more lively hour I went back to the 'neighbourhood of the Gods', with street names like 'Odinsgata' and even a Café Loki, which certainly was established before the Marvel movies made that Nordic god of deception famous again. On the other side of the street the Hallgrimmskirkja towered the neighbourhood, like a Christian counterweight. It was at this Icelandic expressionist church that I started to make short video logs, or vlogs, for the people at home and in Canada.
Maybe I live too long in the Netherlands, but the admission fee for the church tower led me to make a small comparison (1 euro = 1.17 US dollar = 1.48 Canadian dollar):
|Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík||8 euros||ca. 65m||12 cents per meter; lift and stairs|
|CN Tower, Toronto||25 euros||342m||7 cents per meter; restaurant, glass floor, exhibition|
|Cathedral, Cologne||4 euros||ca. 100m||4 cents per meter; no lift, only stairs|
I left Reykjavík in the early afternoon for my next flight. All in all, it was great to make use of the occasion to see Iceland for relatively few money. But a stopover of, say, only eight hours had been okay too.
Because of the Icelandic stop the flight to Toronto took me only six hours instead of nine. At WOW Air, you have to pay for literally everything on board, even for water: a small can for 3 euros. But the food on airlines is omittable anyway, and the plane fare was hard to beat.
Toronto is a kind of smaller New York, somewhat better organized and a mixture of typical North American and more European elements. A friend from Montréal would later explain to me that Canada is made up of the same population segments as the USA but in very different proportions. For example, while the 'the land of the free and the home of the brave' attracted many smaller Protestant denominatios, British North America remained a mainly Anglican and Catholic country. Those state / Pope controlled churches had a certain temperating effect on society as a whole.
Shattered over sky scraper dominated downtown, some 19th century buildings remained. The people of Toronto were negligent for the most time of this kind of past, an actor at Fort York complained to me. The Fort is a relatively small ensemble of historical buildings wedged in between city highways. A peticular gem is Mackenzie House, the former residence of a radical politician and printer. The Distillery is a former industrial complex and now artisan centre at the eastern end of the 'Old Town', a district that generally doesn't look much different from the rest of the modern city.
Sometimes it is fun just to discover a new town on your own. Still, I was very happy to attend the Esperanto club of Toronto one evening. Another day I met Wikipedians from Germany and Belgium who arrived at my last full day there, making me suddenly the 'local expert'.
The Greyhound bus line got me from Toronto to Ottawa where I was about to stay two nights. Esperanto friends had warned me of the unpleasant ride with many crazy people on the bus, and nothing interesting to see along the street. But I wonder if the view from the train (much more expensive) had been more interesting, and I found the ride generally quite pleasant. Luckily I wasn't in a hurry, so the two hour delay at the beginning created no problem.
Next to me sat a student from a South East Asian country. His experiences in Canada were largely positive, he didn't feel rejected by society. He did indeed notice that the ethnic groups tend to stick together. Also, he explained that in his home country he could never express openly his negative opinion about the corrupt government and the Islamic religion — a foreshadowing for me of Wikimania with its reports of Wikipedians in difficult countries.
My hostel in Ottawa was much nicer than the one in Toronto, and comparably close to downtown. I hardly needed any public transport in Toronto, Ottawa or Montréal. Ottawa was on my itinerary because of the Canadian Museum of History and Parliament Hill. The museum reminded me a little bit of the history museum in Hong Kong, because of the size and large exhibitions. I especially liked the childrens' section with its 'streets' and small houses representing different countries.
The admission to the parliament buildings was free but you needed tickets, which cost me one and a half hour standing in line. But it was worth it for a fan of constitutional history like me. One of the two buildings visited originates from the 1860s, the other one from the 1920s, actually two favorite historical periods of mine.
In the evening in Montréal, I already saw some Wikipedians at the Grey Nuns Residence that belongs to a university. In a supermarket I met a German Wikipedian and compared the different ways how Wikimedia organizations subsidize Wikimania participants. Later I heard that more than 40 procent of visa requests (mainly from African and Asian countries) were refused by the Canadian government, making the movement look less diverse on Wikimania as it actually is.
A Wikimania takes three days on a weekend. For many foreigners it would be too short to come from afar. Therefore, nowadays a Wikimania is preceded by two extra days. Some participants attend the traditional Hack-a-thon, an 'open space' for software experts. The Wikimedia Foundation offers 'learning days' about the works and proceedings in the organizational part of the movement.
This time, the participants had a third choice: the Wikimedians of Mexico, Canada and the USA proudly presented a 'Wikiconference North America'. It replaced earlier US conferences. Imagine a diverse programme of lectures, discussion groups and visits to educational institutions. The location was the same as for Wikimania, the Sheraton Centre of the same-named hotel.
Andrew Lih, the spiritus rector of the conference, said at the opening on thursday (= the second day of the preconference) that the WMF was generous. Thanks to the preconference frame the North Americans had hardly any extra costs at all — the attendants came for Wikimania anyway. Ivan and Salvador from Mexico reported about Wikimania 2015 and the longest 'editathon' ever held (90 hours), Rosie presented her project 'Gender diversity mapping'.
Benoît Rochon, chair of Wikimedia Canada, presented a new encyclopedia in an indiginous language: the Atikamekw project. The Wikimedians first had to win the trust of the chief. The project itself worked with pupils. As young people are not accustomed to write in this language, a woman with the necessary proficience explained it. The project thus became also a bridge between generations. The Wikimanians reported one peticular limitation: some knowledge of the Atikamekw people is secret, for example about certain plants. It was not allowed to share it on Wikipedia.
The North American Conference started on wednesday morning with visits to museums and libraries. I chose the trip to the library of the McGill university, one of the most important universities of the country. The library welcomed us with documents from the printing history of Canada.
Another visit led us to a rather special and specialized library: the Bibliotheca Osleriana. Mister Osler was a Canadian physian of the 19th century who donated his book collection to the university. The rather small room from the 1970s is also a kind of mausoleum, the friendly director explained to us: the urn with Osler's ash was placed behind the relief with the founder's portrait. The rare items of the collection showed how topics from medicine were presented in earlier times.
On our way back to the Sheraton Centre we saw the 'Balade pour la Paix' on Sherbrooke Street. This self-proclaimed 'open-air museum' is a part of the 375th anniversary of Montréal and features art works from many parts of the world, for example a smaller copy of the two panda bears 'He he, xie xie' (the original is in Shanghai).
At the end of the day, I was happy to attend short presentations of WMF staff members in a kind of 'speed dating' setting. Chuck Rustof of the legal team explained that he closely follows the developments e.g. in the European Union with regard to law with effects to the ability of putting content online. The WMF can theoretically be sued from everywhere in the world. But it tries that only US law applies in cases in which the WMF is involveld.
The 'survey guy', as he presented himself, had advice about how to conduct a survey, for example if you want to evaluate a conference. The main question to yourself must always be: what do we need the information for. Only then you have a good starting point for the questions in the survey.
Sati Houston talked about resources. She is not the one you gives you Foundation money, but she can tell you whom to speak about a grant idea. What to report after a completed project? It depends on your own goals, and your metrics. It is okay if you cannot capture your results in a number – the WMF encourages storytelling. You have organized a conference: the number of attendants is not that super important but what the conference meant for them. You went to Wikimania and later gave a talk at home about your experience. It is not important to how many people you spoke at Wikimania, but maybe you spoke a museum person and can describe how that helped you. Don't report about something that is not relevant to you, don't write an extensive diary with literally everything you did.
'Afrocrowd' is the name of a Wikipedia related initiative in the USA. They are proud that, since 2015, they have always organized at least one Afrocrowd event every month. In the North American conference there were quite a few sessions about the initiative and its activities. (I noticed that the Afrocrowders mean the African Americans when they say 'community'.)
Wymie came via Afrocrowd to Wikipedia. She was engaged in 'language advocacy' in the Haitian community in the USA. This means that she encourages Haitians to think more positively about Haitian Creole. On Haiti, especially the older and powerful people prefer to speak French, and French is mostly used at schools. Many Haitians want it this way for their children, with regard to being successful in life. But they have no emotional bond to French.
In her courses she presents Haitian Creole Wikipedia. They are usually not about writing new articles, but to look at existing ones and correct them by language. Our discussion at the table turned finally to other Wikipedias with similar problems, e.g. Kerry mentioned the Welsh language Wikipedia. Nearly ten years ago, I studied small Wikipedias myself and started a handbook on German Wikipedia.
The Wiki Ed(ucation) Foundation is an organization independant from the Wikimedia Foundation. A collaborator explained how they worked on the basis of an informational competence model. The first step to a new article on Wikipedia, they said, is to determine the extend of information needed. An article should have an appropriate length but not be lost in details. The next step, 'access the needed information effectively and efficiently' means going to the library. Etc.
According to them, they first lacked the scientific background for their work. Now they work on the basis of this model by Zach McDowell. The results of a survey backs their new approach, they say: students invest more time in Wikipedia assignments than in other tasks at the university. The students are happier with their work and experience 'a value in transferrable skills'.
I have always been a little bit sceptic about some educational initiatives in the movement. Students' feedback has to be seen also in the context of politeness. Especially I think negatively about Wikipedia volunteers that are told that they promote Wikipedia, while in reality hardly never a student stays with Wikipedia after the assignment. (I don't know about the Wiki Education Foundation's policies and practices at the moment.) The people who do the actual work teaching Wikipedia deserve a decent pay.
The opening of Wikimania 2017 gathered the whole crowd for the first time. In general, I found it not very spectacular or inspiring. A member of the city's magistrate gave a polished introduction, with the notice that his Wikipedia article needed some updates. Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder, had a conversation with Gabriella Coleman, moderated by Evan Prodromou.
The 'conversation' was already a good example of the overall USA dominance over this Wikimania. Three people from the USA, albeit two living in Montréal, talking mainly about US topics. Their examples, the intellectuals they quoted, their perspectice and approach – it was difficult to follow if you don't know the US media and the US discource well. A Briton told me that he lost interest already in the first third of this platitudinous 'conversation'.
Colemans expertise in online communities did not really shine through. Maybe this was the fault of American number three, the moderator. Interestingly enough, Evan Prodromou was the founder of Wikitravel. He sold that website to a company and triggered by this to the 'fork' (leaving) of the people who then created Wikivoyage. Since 2012, Wikivoyage is a Wikimedia wiki. One of its main activists, Stefan Fussan, also attended Wikimania. As far as I could find out, both did not meet.
I understand that key note speakers come mainly to talk about their good work. But later, a ACLU representant used her key note for pure advertisement for her organization. The speech was obviously directed to the US Americans in the audience only, to win some more members. The rest of the audience didn't count.
The one moment of the inauguration that really touched the participants was dedicated to Bassel Khartabil. Katherine Maher, the WMF director, asked some friends ot this executed Syrian online activist on the stage. To his legacy belongs a replica of an ancient pillar from Palmyra, created with a 3D printer. The original was destroyed by Daesh (ISIS).
In the first Wikimania session that I went to, Melody and Gregory of the WMF explained the organization's communication strategy. Public relations means to them the practice of communication to different audiences. They want their message to be meaningful, clear and authentic. It's about a story: people like a narrative structure. Think of journalists who receive many press releases every day. The WMF duo had a small but challenging task for the attendants of the session: 'How does Wikipedia work?'
Think of a child as your audience. Consider that most people don't understand words such as 'encyclopedia', and that the word 'editor' can have so many meanings. Gregory: 'Our terms have not always a meaning to the rest of the world.' American Football metaphors ('getting the touchdown') may not work in Brasil. For the 15th anniversary of Wikipedia, the WMF had a press release talking about events on six continents. But to some in the world, this includes Antarctica, to others not.
Greg's and Mel's session reminded me again of the challenge to talk about Wikipedia issues. For our childrens' encyclopedia, Klexikon, I will reconsider the slogan we have nowadays: 'Where children look it up.' Do children really know the expression 'to look something up' (in an encyclopedia)?
Representing Wikimedia values in international organisations
John Weizmann from Wikimedia Deutschland and Dimitri Dimitar (known to many as 'Dimi from Brussels') had a presentation mainly about lobbying at the European Union. They warned us that rules, applying to our content, are not only written in copyright laws and other documents where you would suspect them. An example is the trade agreement between the European Union and the South American Mercosur, now in making. Art. 2.4 might have an effect on our work. Similarily, the 'Uruguay round agreement act' in the USA made the Wikimedia movement delete thousands of pictures on Wikimedia Commons.
There are many government meetings, including informal ones. To non governmental organizations such as the WMF or the Wikimedia movement, it is difficult to travel to all those places. International treaties are quite a different challenge than national lawmaking: they are based on a different kind of power games.
Dimi would in a later session explain to a member of the audience why some countries in Europe have a rather conservative view on copyright. It has partially to do with a concept of national security in a way. In France, cultural issues are important, politicians are very proud of their cultural heritage and literature. They see that the Internet means a lot of money, and a large percentage goes to US companies (Google, Facebook etc.). 'You may agree or disagree, but that is their perspective.'
The Wikipedia Killer Game
In the evening I had booked a room for my 'Wikipedia Killer Game'. This simulation game explores the challenges a possible competitor might create for Wikipedia. Imagine a ficticious non profit organization, the 'Happy Foundation'. It rejects the harassment on Wikipedia and tries to establish a new wiki encyclopedia. The new encyclopedia, Happypedia, keeps many of the Wikipedia principles but alters some of them. For this endeavour, the Happy Foundation is willing to invest quite some money.
In the simulation game, the Happy Foundation was represented by one group. Another group formed a Wikimedia Foundation committee that had the task to meet the 'attack' with a reform of Wikipedia. Both groups had 30 minutes to come up with a pitch and a budget: they had a certain amount of 'money units' to invest in different fields of activity, such as 'technology/software', 'external communications', 'rule enforcement' etc.
Both groups were invited to question the other group's pitch and budget. This was the most interesting part, as it lead to the real topic of the game. The members of the first group asked how the WMF group wants to address harassment effectively: the group had not accolacted any money for 'rule enforcement'. The WMF answered that it did not want to take control over the community: 'The community must become aware about harassmanet. People do not realise that they harass. It is only necessary to push the community more, and introduce a better system to report harassment.'
'And if that does not work? It's about personality problems. Education doesn't help with that. And if you create tools for harassment reporting, how to handle the reports?' I asked the game players about the opinion of the community. Would it accept strict rule enforcement, e.g. in a referendum? The players answered that the Wikipedians certainly would not accept that, fearing a loss of control.
Languages and software
C. Scott Ananian explained about the difficulties of having several scripts within one wiki. A script is for example the set of characters for a peticular language. Serbian is a language with two scripts: some readers prefer Latin letters, others Cyrillic ones. Chinese characters exist in a 'traditional', often more complicated version, but also in the 'simplified' script. A similar example are Urdu and Hindi: both languages have the same linguistic base, but Urdu is popular among Muslims and Hindi among Hindus. Even in English you have several varieties, think of 'lift' in British English and 'elevator' in American English.
Scott: 'Fighting over orthography is part of the fun' on wikis. But these issues can make editing harder. If you have several scripts within one and the same wiki, you may write directly in the wikitext with a specific script. Or you have an annotation service that tells the software which text you want to have in a specific script. Scott reports about progress in making the Visual Editor ready for variations in script. It would be great if in future you could edit simply in your preferred variant, without caring about script conversion.
Scott confesses that tools cannot solve all problems. But he tries to give a wider range of options with technology. As he mentioned a political component in discussions about different scripts, Amir from the WMF Language Committee made some remarks. People in small Wikipedias usually don't discuss about politics but about language history. Wikipedia in general is not the place to create new linguistic entitites or variants of existing languages. Actually, I thought, in the past there were British encyclopedias, in British English and from a British point of view; and American ones. At the end, it's the collaborators who decide what they want. It is one of the most important sociolinguistic questions about Wikipedia, whether two varieties can live within the same wiki or have to be dealt with seperately.
John and Sebastian from Wikimedia Sverige presented 'Wikispeech'. It is an open source speech tool that works within the browser. Wikispeech reads Wikipedia texts for people who have difficulties with reading, for example blind people or slow readers. The two men from Sweden demonstrated the recent advancement of 'Wikispeech' with an impressive 'dummy' version in English, Swedish and Arabic.
As it suits for a wiki, the audience can edit the transscription, the way 'Wikispeech' pronounces specific words. You can choose certain language varieties, the voice, the speed of speech and so on. For the future the project wants to collect more speech data and also implement 'Wikispeech' for more languages.
Introducing the Visual Editor to German Wikipedia
User:Cirdan from the German Wikipedia looked back at how a software tool was introduced, the Visual Editor. With the Visual Editor, you can edit a Wikipedia page more or less the same way you use a text processing program such as Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer.
In 2013, the Visual Editor was still in 'beta' status, not quite ready to release it. The WMF needed test users to find the bugs, the problems still to solve. The main issue was the formatting: when you saved an edit to a page in Visual Editor, the wikitext source code was often screwed up. The Visual Editor was slow in loading and editing pages, and it was only available on some browsers.
Until then, you could only use the VE if you made a change in the preferences of your Wikipedia account. Now, the WMF wanted to make everybody a tester. The simple message: we have so many bugs that we need many people to test. Noawadays, Cirdan ackknowledged, the reporting and communication on WMF platforms such as Phabricator are much better. It was nice to see such a dramatic change.
In 2016, when the VE was much improved and implemented in many language versions of Wikipedia, user:Gnom started a discussion on Facebook. He received a lot of support for his 'Visual Editor Appreciation Society'. Many of the participants were not member of chapters but community members busy with outreach work. The key success factors for implementing the VE were:
- Reach out for experienced, respected and well-connected editors. The people involved knew each other in person.
- The Facebook group made it easier to start an informal discussion, compared to Wikipedia. But later the group moved to Wikipedia in order not to make it look like a conspiracy.
- Nothing changed for the existing user accounts. Even a single click in the preferences seemed to be too much work. So the VE was implemented in a way that only new accounts were affected.
- A Meinungsbild on German Wikipedia, a kind of Request for Comments, was the basis for the formal acceptance of the VE. The texts for the Meinungsbild were short und easy to understand. The message was: 'nothing will change for you', as user:Gnom (in the audience) explained.
The WMF people were on board but had expressed their scepticism. They were afraid that a negative vote could block the VE on German Wikipedia for years. But finally, 80 procent of the voters said yes to the VE implementation. On the 15th birthday of German Wikipedia, in March 2016, the VE was activated for new user accounts.
James Forrester (also in the audience) was the WMF lead program manager of the VE then. The WMF did not want to roll out the VE only for a part of the editors because that can be confusing. Also: every account that deviates from standard means one more row of code. Every pageview of users with an old account is a tiny bit slower because of the extra rule.
How to survive wikistress?
Asaf Bartov, a longtime Wikipedian and WMF staff member, introduced this session with a purely theoretical question: imagine a presenter who accidently deleted all his slides two hours before presentation. He came back several times on this 'highly hypothetical' situation, but neverless kept the attention of the audience for his 'Wikistress: survival guide'.
Stress is a biological reaction to imbalance. You do too much, you do not attend priorities, you are acting in conflict with values, you feel a lack of control. Wikistress is stress in connection with a wiki. General advice on dealing with stress applies also for wikis, such as:
- Don't catastrophize into the future: how important is the incidence experienced on Wikipedia for my life?
- You have choices: exit, voice, loyalty. You can leave Wikipedia once and for all ('rage quitting'), or take a wiki vacation. Voice: use the talk page or call for policy reform, conflict resolution etc. Loyalty: what are Wikimedians loyal to? Other editors, the content, the readers, core values? Whatever works for you: the more loyal you are, the less likely you will leave vorever. If you experience stress, think about loyalty.
- Distinguish between things you can control and those you cannot. 'Letting go' helps you to focus on the important things.
- Observe yourself. Stress is physiological.
- Reward yourself with something. 'When Wikipedia gets very stressful for me, I sometimes permit myself to spend 2 hours (or more) for a computer game, hey, don't judge me.'
A very special plenary session: the speech of an Internet activist from an Arab country. No pictures, no videos, no life tweeting, no taking of notes: we were warned via the online programme, via people at the entrance of the hall and via the introduction. It would be very negative for the person in question if face and name could be connected.
As taking pictures is nearly something natural to me, I put my camera in my bag and sat on my hands. The presentation partially affirmed what we already read in newspapers about the political situation in the Middle East and North Africa. But it was a special moment to hear from this person what it means to live and work under these circumstances.
Copyright in Australia
According to Liam Wyatt, English Wikipedia uses the word 'fair use' in a very peticular way. In law there are much more options for fair use of copyrighted content. Wikipedia, most of the time, does not like fair use very much. We find it cheating, diminishing the principles of open content. In Australia, the copyright industries dislike it because they want a more protective copyright. So, both sides oppose fair use but for different reasons.
In Australia the term is 'fair dealing'. There are only a few fey specific exceptions that make fair use legal. Most people ignore the law, though. Liam pointed out that the educational sector does not enjoy the exceptions that are known in other countries. The school sector pays a lot of money for the use of publically available works, e.g. Google Maps. They pay to a specific agency. This is legal but immoral, Liam thinks.
That is the background for a campaign of the Wikimedia movement in Australia in order to inform the public. We based the campaign on a 20 year history of initiatives, often by government sponsored organisations, and its arguments. The community response for the 'Australian Digital Alliance' was very supportive. The message was: 'You Austrialins don't have fair use but you already behave as if.' Now the Wikimedians wait for the reaction of the government.
Wikipedia and Education User Group
Lunch time is work time: a new user group met for lunch at 12.30h. Vahid Masrour steered the discussions along the topics lined out online before: advocacy, securing resources, what role for the User group with regard to the chapters. For example, Vahid said, he never heard about methods of assessing quality measures. It would be great if we could facilitate spaces where to talk about tools like that.
Frank Schulenburg of the Wiki Education Foundation got the impression that many people in the Wikimedia movement are not aware of the impact what education is doing. A newsletter for the user group might be good for the members. But we should think about ways to get the news out within the whole movement, more efficiently. I myself added that people are not interested in press releases and success stories of educational projects, they would be more willing to read contributions with a more journalistic quality.
Vahid gave me the occasion for a short talk about the Klexikon. This wiki encyclopedia reaches out to a new target group, children from six twelve. At the moment it exists only in German but we would be happy to see the concept applied in outher languages.
The member of the user group understood the peticular value of a childrens' encyclopedia from their point of view: you can talk to different institutions than with Wikipedia, for example elementary schools and educational institutions that educate future teachers etc. One afternoon is rather short to let students write a Wikipedia article, but that is very possible with the Klexikon. The interesting challenge in case of the Klexikon is to write for a target group you yourself are not a part of. Breaking down information for children is exactly a skill needed by future teachers.
Strategy for the Wikimedia movement
Towards the end of the conference I attended two of several sessions about the Wikimedia movement strategy, a process that is going on for months. A preliminary result of those months, with many Wikimedia volunteers and experts heard, is a paper called 'Direction'.
After introduction the Wikimedia staff members formed groups and invited participants to share thoughts and experiences personally. I spoke to a collaborator of Wikimedia France who listened to my grievances about the first 'challenge' presented to the Wikimedians. The statement criticises that our way to write an encyclopedia today is a 'western encyclopedia model' with 'western-centric norms' that does not work in other cultures. According to a WMF report,
- 'Wikipedia should play an active role in preserving knowledge, both with an eye toward audience (whose knowledge are we prioritizing?), local relevance, oral and non-written traditions, and the inclusive growth of languages in the Global South without script. [...] Improving verifiability and quality of Wikipedia should not sacrifice undocumented local knowledge, especially that with an oral tradition.'
To me, as a historian by craft, this is absolute horror. The scientific approach of Wikipedia, with its insisting on scholarly literature, is the necessary basis for the reliabitity and reputation of Wikipedia. To me, this is not something 'western-centric' but universal, in the same way as the human rights are not a 'western thing' (as so many dictators all over the world claim), but universal, and in the same way evidence-based medicine is to preferred above quacks and witch doctors (from whatever continent).
In the conversation with the collaborator of Wikimedia France, I heard that the preservation of 'oral and non-written traditions' could become a task of a new wiki outside Wikipedia. Even then, I wonder whether that is a genuine task of the Wikimedia movement, whether a wiki is the best tool for preserving static (unchanging) content, and what to think of possible political or religious extremism in those 'traditions'. But if these 'oral and non-written traditions' remain outside Wikipedia, and are merely a collection of 'primary sources' for scholars, my most important concern is met.
I already heard other people complaining about the 'Direction' paper, because it is vague and little of use for strategic decisions. My concerns are the following:
- The paper does not explain what the 'movement' and the 'community' are, and how they relate to each other. Nobody expects scientific decisions, but without clarity about that it is impossible to understand what the movement is and what it wants to be.
- The paper praises the 'diversity of the people in our communities.' These people write articles, or develop software, donate money, remix artwork etc. 'Some are just very curious people.' This is a perfect description of the diverse people I want to attract to our Wikimedia Conferenie Nederland, as a platform for the entire movement and likeminded people, and those who may want to join Wikimedia Nederland. But as a description of a 'community' (of Wikipedia?), this does not work. 'Community will be more broadly defined to include many forms of contributors, from editors to donors to organizers.' What will the community of long term productive volunteers think of that?
- The paper tries to be as inclusive as possible. That sounds nice but forces me to ask: is absolutely everybody welcome? Like paid editors, trolls and propagandists? Is it enough to be 'very curious' and of 'good faith' to become a part of the 'community' or the 'movement'? To define a movement and a community, you have to say directly or indirectly who is not a part.
- 'Every human being [...] has innate capacity to participate in its creation, curation, and sharing. That is non-negotiable.' And indeed, Wikipedia calls itself the 'encyclopedia that everyone can edit'. The praxis on Wikipedia shows otherwise: we see a lot of new editors who lack the competence (or the loyalty to Wikipedia rules) to make meaningful contributions. This is a dilemma that should be addressed in one way or the other in the 'Direction' paper.
- 'As we include other forms of free knowledge, we will aim for these projects [read: 'wikis', ZvD] to be as succesful of Wikipedia.' This would be a tremendous change of strategy in the movement. At least this is not the current policy, there are no Wikisource community managers and Wikiversity educators hired by WMF and chapters.
One possible approach to define communities and movement is the distinction between 'societies' (Gesellschaft) and 'communities' (Gemeinschaft) by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies. A community is like a village, it has an overviewable size, it is good in bonding and giving people the feeling that they are at home. A society is like a larger city, it consists of several communities, it provides diversity and flexibility, and it is good at bridging (between the different groups of inhabitants).
The most active and self-conscious people active on a wiki are the 'community' or 'core community'. Some people feel more at home in a different community, centered around a topic or activity, such as the 'GLAM' activists or the outreach or education people. The Afrocrowd is a good example for such a community. All those communities, and individuals active in one or several communities, together form the Wikimedia movement. They share at least some basic ideas about how content should be like.
Other people are not part of the Wikimedia movement, but maybe partners or part of a larger 'movement of open content', with its many communities. Some people do not share these basic ideas or are mainly interested in other goals or their personal gain. That is not evil by itself, but, if necessary, a movement must be able to show resilience to protect its own interests.
End of Wikimania 2017
As usual, Jimmy Wales was the main person of the final plenary session. He provided us with a much needed overview of the last year in the Wikimedia movement. Pictures. User group from Turkey. Block in Turkey. 'We all should stay in contact with them and give our support.' Milestones, e.g. 1 million page edits in German Wikivoyage. Memoriam for Wikipedians who are no longer with us. (Applause — I asked myself wether that is appropriate, but it seemed to fill in a need for showing an emotional response.) Bassel Khartabil. 'A moment to think about our efforts.'
Felix Nartey could not come to Wikimania, because of visa problems. Jimmy Wales skyped, earlier, with him in order to tell him that he was chosen the Wikipedian of the year 2017. We saw his recorded joy on the big screen.
Wikimania 2018 will be hosted by the Wikimedians of South Africa. Some of them welcomed the (potential) future participants in the audience from the stage. A promotional video included some footage of Victor Grigas' 2014 short movie about Sinenjongo High School.
The same Victor then made a group picture with a fish eye lens, as an earlier attempt the day before failed largely because of a sudden shower of rain. Wikimania 2017 ended.
But not yet! The final gathering led us to a former train station, now convention hall. In spite of the terrible noise (music), some conversations were possible and also an arcade game. A table football match taught me two important lessons. First, my skills from working at an Internet company 15 years ago seem to be lost forever. Second, the WMF developers of the Visual Editor are excellent at the game. Very telling.
Having hardly seen anything of Montréal during the preconference and Wikimania, my private, self paid time in Canada started again on Monday. Walking through Old Montréal to the river, passing along the Habitat 67 complex, dining with local Esperanto friends (mostly immigrants from Europe and the US), nice weather... no reason to spend time in another library or museum.
And on the last day in the 'City of Saints', I did went to a museum, and even an art museum! The Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal had lured me with a modern view back on the Expo 67.
'Title girl' of the special exhibition was an artist who had found a scrap book from her parents: they had visited the Expo in Montréal 50 years ago, in their honeymoon. The artist dressed in a Expo 67 style hostess uniform, and recorded a more melancholic version of the Expo's official song, Un jour, un jour. It remained in my head across the Atlantic Ocean and during my stopover in Iceland. Only one hour this time.