The Swiss chapter Wikimedia CH celebrates its 10th anniversary
Today is special! Wikimedia CH is celebrating its birthday!
A decade of free knowledge has now been reached in Switzerland and we can't wait to see what comes next.
Thank you to all the people who participated in the association's journey.
In order to celebrate the event, we asked Patrick Kenel (founding member and president from 2013 to 1st June 2016) and Ilario Valdelli (founding member and community liaison for the Italian speaking community) to provide us testimonials of their experiences taking us through memory lane. Happy reading.
The first steps of the association, a testimonal by Ilario Valdelli
Wikimedia CH was born during a cloudy day at the table of a restaurant in Olten's train station, on the 14th May 2006.
Back then, the few Wikipedians in Switzerland were a bunch of enthusiastic people who knew they were partaking in a project that was revolutionizing the web. Yet, little did they know, what would happen next. The popularity of the movement grew, but there was no structure in place to centralize it. A series of messages, which originated from a group of German Wikipedians, were sent to some of the French and Italian discussion pages on Wikipedia. We set up a meeting in a fortuitous place without any pretense. I remember well how much the managers of the restaurant were annoyed that we arrived with a group without having made an actual reservation. As it happens, this atypical group of people were able to sit at a table and prepare the birth of Wikimedia CH! However, our negotiation to set up a Wikimedia banner proved to be unsuccessful.
I was part of the group and I joined with great enthusiasm, having founded Wikimedia Italy on the 17th June 2005.
The main difficulty was (and stil today remains) the choice of the language to communicate in during that meeting. We immediately decided to use English because the birth of the association was subject to the approval of the Wikimedia Foundation and it made sense to choose a neutral language over the three official national ones.
All the preparation for the meeting was done online. The discussions, the creation of the bylaws, the exchange of views and applications. I remember that the members of the group suggested that I should candidate for the Presidency of the association. It was a great surprise and a privilege.
I remember being nervous when I went to Olten because I was about to meet in person people I had only exchanged with online. The choice of language was a source of anxiety because I did not know how to address my questions. I sat at the table with strangers and I was almost afraid to engage the conversation and ask for their names. I was able to identify the people with whom I had participated to write the bylaws and I was able to put a face on their usernames. I remember Michael Bimmler, who had been very active in all the work as a talented teenager. When we sat down at that table, Christian Seidl, who spoke all national languages and who had received the chairmanship started to discuss the bylaws. He was also a candidate to the board. We proceeded with the vote for the bylaws which passed. We moved on to the presentation of the candidates for the board and we established a founding rule for the success of the association. It was decided that it would be essential to have all the language areas represented on the board. An important practice that has remained intact up until today.
I remember that when I proceeded with my candidacy speech, I expressed the desire to be a President that acted as a guide and a support for the people around him to express their talent and not to be one of those rigid and bossy leaders. When we proceeded with the election of the board, we used the traditional pen and paper. All the people who were candidates got elected.
Having not been able to put up our banner in the restaurant as we there was a little tension with the managers, we decided to immortalize the day by taking a picture close to the Aare river, swollen by the rains. The clouds had thinned out and we were lucky enough to enjoy a ray of sun. After saying farewell to everyone, I went home to Lugano full of optimism.
Retrospectively, 2006, was an important year. Wikimedia CH was one of the first chapters recognized by the Wikimedia Foundation. As a chapter, we attended a meeting in Frankfurt to discuss the new Wikimedia Foundation arrangement. At that time, there was no staff, no employees, just a board. Indeed, the Wikimedia Foundation was but a small organization based in Florida that managed several servers. We discussed what the Wikimedia Foundation should become as an organization.
For many years, Wikimedia CH was the only multilingual chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation. The only one that had a perspective on managing several official languages. To date, this language specificity for the association remains an incredible source of diversity that contributes to it being unique.
Following that incredible year, I withdrew as president of Wikimedia CH during the General Assembly in Lucerne because I had a lot going on with my job. Michael Bimmler then became the President of the chapter at only 16 years old.
I have to admit that participating to the birth of the association was an exciting and extraordinary adventure and I am looking forward to what the future entails.
A history of 10 years of dissemination of free knowledge in Switzerland by Patrick Kenel
Since I have witnessed the first 10 years of Wikimedia CH, I invite you on a walk through some episodes of the past decade. It can easily be split into three almost equal parts:
Following a Wikipedian meeting in Zurich in 2005 the founding of a Swiss Wikimedia chapter was prepared. The domain ch.wikimedia.org was in use for the necessary steps until the official founding assembly on 14 May 2006 in Olten, attended by 12 founding members. The wiki was changed afterwards to wikimedia.ch. I wasn’t elected to the first Board but became one of two auditors.
The Wikimedia Foundation issued a Chapter Agreement thereby recognizing Wikimedia CH as seventh chapter. Zurich was chosen as official seat. In 2007, WMCH was recognized as a charity by the canton of Zurich. Since then, all donations are tax-deductible all over Switzerland.
In June 2006 the association conducted a Wikipedia Day at ETH Zürich in the presence of computer scientist Bertrand Meyer. He had been the victim of a hoax on Wikipedia a few months before. I was present at all three Wikipedia Days in Zurich, Lugano and Bern (2007) plus at the OpenExpo in Bern (2007). These events proved that Wikipedia was getting attention in society and were the first activities of our chapter.
Press contacts were established in all three linguistic areas: Nando Stöcklin (de), Frédéric Schütz (fr), and Ilario Valdelli (it). They were answering media requests regarding Wikipedia and invited to take part at conferences. Nando handed over his role as press contact to me in 2011.
Manuel Schneider, another founding member, played an important part in the hosting and development of Wikimedia CH’s ICT and is still an active person in the Wikimedia movement.
In 2008 I got fascinated by the fact that one of the first Wikimanias would be held in Alexandria, Egypt, inside a big library complex reflecting antique heritage. The conference with a few hundred participants from abroad was carried out well. For me, this was also a perfect occasion to get to know the Wikimedia movement better. At that time there were few chapters and Sue Gardner has only just started her tenure as ED at the WMF.
Our association changed when the German-speaking founding crew with president Michael Bimmler and treasurer Robin Schwab stepped down in 2009. It was replaced by people of the French-speaking community with Mourad Ben Abdallah as new president. I took over the secretary position and was elected to the Board a year later. The German-speaking community met regularly at a meetup in Zurich, but its participation in the life of the association was shrinking.
For one year, Gion Hosang, a member from the Romansh-speaking area was even sitting on the Board. Nevertheless, the Romansh Wikipedia remains very small and without a stable community.
Frédéric Schütz and treasurer Ram Maheswaran spent much time dealing with administrative tasks. Wikimedia CH was accepted to remain a payment processor when most chapters lost their role in the annual fundraising campaign. More money was raised year after year. Most donations were transferred to the WMF, whereas the association had only a limited number of activities.
One of these activities was the photo contest Wiki Loves Monuments, first held in 2011 and repeated in successive years. In 2013, the jury of the international contest awarded the first prize to a railway picture from Switzerland.
Some photographers, mainly in Romandie, were actively supported with funds as well. The result of their passion was a growing numbers of sports and other pictures on Commons from 2009 on.
The site wikimedia.ch was a wiki until well into that period. In 2011 a proper website was launched, and members were given access to the new Members-wiki.
I didn’t go to Wikimania until 2012 but discovered that there would be an annual convention for the German-speaking countries as well. I keep attending the WikiCon since 2011 with pleasure.
Wikimedia CH was involved in the TAO project between 2010 and 2012. Its aim was to increase the participation of elderly people online. I took over the project lead and worked with the Bern School of Applied Sciences and Seniorweb for a short period. However, the project didn’t bring enough value to the association and the Wikimedia projects. Working under the constraints of a research team was therefore not the right way to achieve a better structure.
On the other side of the age spectrum, WMCH began to support Wikimini, an online encyclopedia for children in French.
At the same time when Wikimedia CH withdrew from TAO its professionalization began all the more. It was started by hiring a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) as first real employee. We met Chantal Ebongué because of TAO. She stayed with us for one year in 2012/13 and found a small office place to work.
From 2012, a Wikimedia CH sign was hanging at the door of a house in the old town of Lausanne, beneath the cathedral. In January 2015 the office had to move to a new address. It was used too little and given up recently.
Membership figures grew along with the fundraising. At times, WMCH had around 400 members, most of them supporters that aren’t active on the Wikimedia projects.
The period was marked by FDC applications and annual plans according to metrics of the WMF grantmaking and community engagement team. Three WMF staff came over from San Francisco for a visit in 2013.
Wikimedia CH was involved in the creation of a Wikimedia Chapters Association in 2012/13 and even proposed to host it in Geneva. The experiment which aimed to counterbalance centralistic tensions at the WMF failed, resulting in a Chapters dialogue initiative proposed by Wikimedia Deutschland (2014).
The Wikimedia Hackathon 2014 in Zurich was the first international event organized by WMCH. It gathered plenty of developers, including Lila Tretikov, then the new ED of the WMF. The Wikimedia Conference 2015, however, couldn’t take place in Zurich.
GLAM projects were a means to invest and to attract money, among them: the herbarium in Lausanne, the Laboratorio di Storia delle Alpi in Mendrisio, the Federal Archives and the National Library with two Wikipedians in Residence, and other libraries in Zurich, Solothurn, Lausanne and Basel.
WMCH and other chapters sent Kiwix to prison and to Africa. The goal was to bring offline access to Wikipedia and free knowledge in general to those who can’t use the Internet. Kiwix plugs and ZIM files on USB keys now complement WMF programs like Wikipedia Zero which runs on mobile phones.
Further educational activities were introduced as well throughout the country, for example some Wikipermanences in Romandie and a Wikipedia-Atelier in Bern.
The volunteer Board members were working with staff from three linguistic areas. This collaboration went mostly well. The two groups met variously and both established their own frequent meeting cycles.
Wikimedia CH was the only chapter with two directors for a while: Anh Chung as CAO and Charles Andrès as CSO, responsible for the programs of the association. Both left the country within a few months, and things had to be thought over. For a transition period the Board was in charge of operational management again. In early 2016 a new Executive Director was found in the person of Jenny Ebermann.
Wikimedia CH has so far supported the creation of 71’950 files with over a million page views on Wikimedia Commons, one of the significant achievements to be proud of. In contrast to this, the history of our association remains poorly covered in images. Entire years are missing under this category.
Please help to fill the voids, so that we will have something to look back on the 20th birthday!
We would like to thank Patrick and Ilario for reminiscing and sharing how the association started and what it accomplished over those years.
We also want to thank you all. Indeed, the association would not be what it is today without your implication as a member and/or a contributor to the Wikimedia movement. Sharing free knowledge and making information freely accessible matters which is why we will carry on promoting it locally and across borders with your fantastic help and support.
Should you wish to become a member of the association, please register via this link.
Check out our website to see what's coming up next.
Once again the Wikimedia CH team thanks you for your support. Should you wish to get in touch with us, please email email@example.com.