Idea and motivation
The original idea about Wiki Expedition Dimitrovgrad - Dragoman 2015 was conceived during Wikimania 2015 in Mexico by Filip (SR) and Vassia (BG). The initiative came from Serbian side, since Serbian Wikimedians already made in 2014 a cross-border Wiki expedition with Hungarian Wikimedians, and were eager to try it in a new direction and with new partners.
Some of the initial parameters of the expedition were in Mexico: period, place and tentative number of participants.
- Period: End of September - beginning of October, taking into consideration the possible need for Wikimedia Serbia to apply for PEG funding in case the one allocated in their annual budget is not enough;
- Place: Border region between Serbia and Bulgaria around "Kalotina" Checkpoint along the European route E80. Logistically, this was considered to be the most suitable location for such first cross-border expedition, being well accessible from both Serbian, and Bulgarian side.
- Tentative number of participants: About 15 projected participants, about 10 from Serbia, and about 5 from Bulgaria. This number was determined in accordance with (1) the available budget of Wikimedia Serbia, (2) the expected number of interested participants from both sides.
The actual project organization was run by Ivana (SR) and Vassia (BG). Several were the important aspects that had to be taken into consideration: precise period of the wiki expedition, procedure for selection of participants, programme of the wiki expedition with selecting the sites for attending, accommodation.
- Period: Taking several considerations into account, the period 2-4 October (Friday-Sunday) was selected. This had to be chosen as early as possible (beginning of September), in order to give potential participants clarity allowing them to make their plans. That was also needed for securing accommodation for 15 people in both towns: Dimitrovgrad in Serbia, and Dragoman in Bulgaria.
- Procedure for selection of participants: Due to local specifics, the two communities had different procedures for selecting the participants. Serbian participants, who were more numerous, had to apply by filling in a questionnaire, and being selected (Bulgarian organizer was not involved in the selection process). Bulgarian participants, who were less in number, simply notified their desire to take part in the expedition in a discussion on the Village Pump. One of the participants proposed to drive the rest participants in his own car, which was the most reasonable option given the number of 4-5 people who demonstrated interest. After a point, the particular organizational discussions were moved to more flexible private channels. There was one editor, initially willing to come to the meeting from North Bulgaria, but eventually announced that he cannot attend. The total number of participants on Bulgarian side were five: Maya, Vassia, Spasimir, Plamen and Salle.
- Accommodation: Ivana organized accommodation in the hotel in Dimitrovgrad for the first night, and Vassia contacted the Dragoman hotel for the second. In both hotels, the accommodation was to be paid by Wikimedia Serbia. An unfortunate turn of the events in Dragoman (none of our fault) resulted in missing the accommodation there, and we had to immediately reschedule the sightseeing programme, so that we have both nights spent in Dimitrovgrad. This still allowed us to organize a real cross-border expedition, as we spent Day 2 (3 October) completely on Bulgarian side, but brought about problems caused by wasting extra time at both sides of the Checkpoint.
- Programme of the Wiki Expedition: Participants in Bulgaria were asked to take active part in selecting the places for sightseeing during the Wiki Expedition (they also suggested 2 monasteries for visiting on Serbian side, too). After discussions, the shortlisted places for visiting were: the small town of Dragoman, the relatively low Chepan Mountain (with a stone cross, remnants from a Thracian sanctuary and a medieval church atop), as well as the Dragoman Marsh ecological centre. In the latter, we secured guides from the "Balkani" Wildlife Society, which Bulgarian Wikimedians have an active collaboration since spring 2015. We were concerned with the fact that most of the activities on Serbian side were indoor (gallery, library/museum, church, monasteries), while the Bulgarian side mostly could offer outdoor activities. Hopefully, we were really lucky with a wonderful, sunny, warm and dry period. :)
- Day 1. Serbia: Pirot and Dimitrovgrad
- Trip to Serbia
- Pirot Fortress
- Dimitrovgrad library with museum exhibition
- Dimitrovgrad art gallery
- Dimitrovgrad church
- Day 2. Bulgaria: Dragoman and the locality
- Dragoman central square
- Dragoman church
- Dragoman community centre with museum exhibition
- Dragoman marsh and Centre for turtoise reproduction
- Chepan Mountain
- Day 3. Serbia: Poganovo and Jerma
- Poganovo Monastery
- Gorge of Jerma River
- Wrap-up session
- Trip to Bulgaria (Bulgarian group) | Sukovo Monastery (Serbian group)
Outputs and outcomes
The predefined results from the expedition were collecting of illustrative content from the visited sites, and articles about the cross-border region written in the two language versions of Wikipedia. The participants have listed a total number of 25 new articles, 12 in BG WP and 13 in SR WP (see the table below). The participants were not limited to writing only about their neighbours, thus both BG WP got enriched with articles about BG topics, and SR - about SR topics. Moreover, in several of the cases, writing an article first in the mother language became the trampoline for having it written in the neighbours' one.
A total number of about 1200 photos were uploaded for the three days of the expedition. However, very few of them were uploaded during the expedition itself, due to the low connectivity in the hotel. This explains also the relatively low number of written articles. Many new specific categories got created like: c:Category:Dragoman 1925 community centre, c:Category:Dragoman Monastery, c:Category:Church of St. Stephen in Dragoman, c:Category:Detko Petrov Library, Dimitrovgrad, among others.
|... about Bulgaria||... about Serbia|
|What Bulgarians wrote ...||
|What Serbians wrote ...||
What is most precious in the Wiki Expedition was the fact that for the Bulgarian Wikimedians it was the first experience of this sort, and all participants reported how delighted were they for being able to take part in such a Wikimedian community event. It was both relaxing, and exciting: meeting new people, doing things together, discussing ideas for future collaborations, exchanging wiki experience.
From the Bulgarian side, we shared about two BG WP projects which could be easily adopted in SR WP: Project "Birthdays" for writing articles for encyclopaedically notable people born on the day, and the personal article writing challenge 100wikidays. It is noteworthy that in the weeks after the end of the Expedition, at least 2 Serbian Wikipedians have started the 100wikidays, one attendant, Jovana, and another editor, who was not among the participants, but got challenged, too, Marko.
One of the important outcomes (which mostly took place in the days after the return, when many people were uploading their images), was related to sharing experience in using some of the developed tools. During the upload sessions in Dimitrovgrad there was a demonstration to interested users how to use the tool for multiple files upload. A special subpage of the expedition was created by Vassia and expanded several times with new useful software tools (some of these tools, like CatScan and GLAMorous, were first heard during the "Learning Day" in the pre-conference programme of Wikimania 2015, and transferred to other users). Another outcome was that three participants were granted the file-mover user right on Wikimedia Commons: Miljan and Mickey from SR, and Спасимир from BG. This was reported by all to be especially handy, since all users are bulk uploaders and editors in Commons.
Given that it was the second event of this kind for Wikimedia Serbia, and only first for the Wikimedians of Bulgaria, it ran surprisingly smoothly. However, several different lessons stemming from this Wiki Expedition were formulated at the wrap-up session, and will be hopefully learnt before the next similar project.
- Transport and logistics
- As of Summer 2010, Bulgarian citizens are able to travel to Serbia without international passports, just personal ID cards. Serbians need passport to enter Bulgaria. The fact that Bulgaria is member of EU and its external border requires border control between the two countries, which is often slow (especially in the period of the Expedition, which coincided with a large migrants wave from Syria causing problems at the borders of many EU countries and increased border control). Crossing the border was especially troublesome for the colleagues from Serbia, who were travelling with a rented bus, rather than private vehicles, and had to wait on the much slower bus line. Since the SR bus and the BG car were travelling together, this led to delays of the whole group, and limited our time for sightseeing.
- Different ideas about the logistics in future arose as a result of this experience. One of the ideas was that next time we can all consider coming by cars, because in any case cars are processed more quickly than buses. In the application form, we can add the optional question whether the applicant is a driver and can provide their own car for the trip. Another idea involved the organization of two expeditions per year in the near-border regions, one on the Serbian, another on the Bulgarian side, thus avoiding multiple border crossings and wasting too much time for travelling.
- Future locations worthy of exploring in wiki expeditions are: Vidin (BG)- Zajchar (SR) to the north, and Tran (BG) - Bosilegrad (SR) to the south.
- Accommodation and internet connectivity
- We had some negative experience with the internet connectivity in the hotel and in the places for dining. Low connectivity is generally understandable here, since Dimitrovgrad is a very small town in the periphery of the country, with only one hotel, and a place being more often a chosen for transit stops rather than for final destination (this is what makes is actually interesting for wiki expeditions, the fact that it is not well known and covered in both Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons). Low connectivity was generally not a too big issue, since many people contributed with their articles in the days after the end of the expedition, but some momentum was lost. For the future, however, securing a good internet connection should be a specific criterion when selecting not only the hotel, but also maybe the destination of the wiki expedition.
- An idea proposed by Jovana (SR) was to concentrate our next wiki expeditions in some bigger towns with more options for accommodation and infrastructure. This circumstance is actually very important, as the reason for our failure to secure accommodation on the Bulgarian side, was also due to the fact that the Dragoman is also a very small town in the periphery with only one functioning hotel and practically no choice available and no competition.
- Mixing and communication
- It was specifically one of the notes, which the Serbian organizer Ivana made in the wrap-up session, that we need to do more mixing, to exchange more experience, and sharing more good stories. As working languages, we used our native Bulgarian and Serbian, relying on English in about half of the cases. Probably the reason was that it was the very first time both groups were meeting, and in a subsequent meeting things will look much more relaxed. We faced some different cultural stereotypes which may have also contributed, too (like smoking on the table). Another possible reason is that we travelled with the transportation we had come with, which of course next time can be alternated.