Young chapter shows experience beyond its years
- Update, October 2012: this piece provides a basic timeline and covers the major speeches made during the conference. Individual sessions may be viewed on Youtube.
Nearly 1400 Wikimedians and others from 87 countries descended on the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C., for Wikimania 2012.
Wikimania is the annual conference for anyone interested in Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia. This year marked the eighth straight year it has been held; the first Wikimania was in Frankfurt (Germany), with subsequent conferences as far apart as Taipei in Taiwan, Alexandria in Egypt, and Buenos Aires in Argentina. The 2012 conference was held July 12–15 on the campus of George Washington University, using their Lisner Auditorium and Marvin Center, with optional sessions organized before and after those dates.
Wikimania unofficially started with a series of events aimed mainly at international visitors – "Wikimania Takes Manhattan". Organized by the Wikimedia New York City chapter, the initiative was very well attended and received. The social activities, tours, and dinners coordinated during this time allowed international visitors, who were flying in at relatively high expense, to enjoy more time in the United States rather than flying in for just the few days of the conference. After the four-hour bus trip to bring these participants to DC, on July 9 before the main conference, a hackathon designed for beginner programmers and an unconference hosted by the Ada Initiative (focusing on women's participation in Wikimedia projects) were held. July 11 saw the Google Opening Reception, attended by 700 people, and a meeting of the Wikimedia Chapters Association, an initiative to improve inter-chapter links, was held (see this week's related Special report).
Opening keynote and plenary
Mary Gardiner gave the opening keynote; frustrations with the clicker used to move between Powerpoint slides were a comedic and continual theme in Lisner Auditorium speeches.
The opening keynote was given by Mary Gardiner, a co-founder of the Ada Initiative, which seeks to improve female participation in the free-culture movement and related areas. She was the first woman to deliver a keynote at a Wikimania conference. The talk was neutrally received by conference attendees, many of whom felt that the speech had beneficial ideas but left many undeveloped. Her main advice to Wikipedians looking to improve the treatment of editors in general was to "shut up and listen", rather than continue a practice or behavior which the other editor cannot stand.
Jimmy Wales then came on the stage to give the now-annual "State of the Wiki". He began with the same basic premise of Gardiner's speech – diversity – but took a different tack, emphasizing the need to "rexamine our priorities" and cover all topics, even if they are pure pop culture, because if the Wikimedia movement does not cover it, the people will go somewhere else.
He used the speech to highlight what he sees as one of the the greatest opportunities awaiting the Wikimedia movement: Africa. Internet use in the continent is exploding; for example, while only 0.1% of the Nigerian population used the internet in 2000, 29% had access in 2010. Bandwidth is seeing a similar boost. Yet Wales noted that stereotypes, like those where farmers use donated mobile phones to assist in farming, are inadvertently perpetuated in the Western world with little basis in fact. In reality, the top sites visited by those in African countries include Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia – broadly similar to those in the West. Calling this the "ongoing march of technology", Wales noted that these new editors, in a process of "normalization", may not speak the traditional English or French mixture common in former colonies of Western European countries.
Continuing a tradition from last year, along with extending the theme in his speech, Wales gave a "Jimbo Award" to the Yoruba Wikipedia's Demmy, who used bot-assisted article creation to boost the site's article count to 29,000. Through this and other initiatives, Demmy increased the editor base from essentially himself to at least four active editors. Wales announced that he would give Demmy, who at the time of the speech had no idea he had won anything, US$5000. Last, in something he "dreamed up last night", Wales also awarded "Staffer of the Year" to two Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) employees: the English Wikipedia's community liaison Moonriddengirl (aka Mdennis (WMF)) and the WMF's senior designer Brandon Harris.
Jimmy Wales gave speeches at the Google Reception (pictured)
and on the first day of the conference.
Year in review
Sue Gardner's speech focused on the year before ("what we did") and what is planned for the year ahead ("what we will do"). She reported that Wikimedia sites have seen a 25% increase in readers from the previous year, from 400 to 500 million, and remarked on the success of foundation initiatives like Wikipedia Zero, which will enable free mobile access to Wikipedia in developing countries, and the Teahouse, which aims to provide a welcoming experience for new users. She pointed out that the new upload wizard on Commons contributed to a 27% increase in uploaded images, and she commended Wiki Loves Monuments for a visible spike in the number of image uploads in September 2011.
Moving to the future, Gardner said that editor retention is "our single biggest challenge." While more editors have been retained over the past year, slowing the rate of departure, the overall numbers are still in the red. The WMF has assisted in this area, she said, including the emailing of lapsed editors with an invitation to return, but this is primarily an area where possibilities of forging change lie with the communities. Of the WMF's core goals for goals for 2015, three are currently on a successful track:
- Readership is up
- Quantity is up
- Quality is up
- Participation, primarily measured in the number of editors, is down
- Diversity, including women and the 'Global South', has not changed
Gardner moved into a discussion of "where we are failing" – primarily in participation (as efforts in diversity continue). She listed:
- Poor usability, of which the greatest barrier is wikitext;
- Lack of discoverability;
- Warnings and reversions, which are much increased over 2006;
- A lack of support and coaching, as opposed to the one-on-one coaching luxury of earlier days;
- Policy cruft, which presents yet another hurdle to new users.
She sees specific divisions in these, where the first two bullets are the WMF's responsibility and the last three are the communities' responsibility. Her answers to these challenges were no surprise:
The Visual editor
will translate wikitext (right)
into plain text (left)
- Better usability, in the form of the visual editor, notifications, ease of attainment of a customized experience (see related Signpost coverage)
- Better discoverability
- Kinder warnings and reversions
- More interactions expressing support, e.g. with WikiLove
- Policy simplification
Her comments on what the WMF will be attempting to do in the first two areas, however, were unexpected: "your job is to support the WMF and let it make these changes."
The 2012–13 plan will broadly follow these lines, with the visual editor, for example, planned for deployment in December 2012. There will also be efforts to allow editing from the mobile site and an emphasis on improved site performance, such as quicker loading times.
Gardner ended her speech with the recognition that editors, when given a choice between the WMF, volunteers, Wikimedia chapters, and themselves, will tend to rate the latter last. She partially attributed this to the fundraising banners, which presents the featured editors as perfect, such that other editors feel a lower self-worth. She attempted to counter this by saying all editors are "heroic and altruistic" and "the work you are doing is changing the world."
David Ferriero giving the closing plenary
The Archivist of the United States and head of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), David Ferriero, gave an extremely well-received speech at the close of the regular conference. He called himself a "huge fan of Wikipedia", but the challenge is that most GLAM institutions (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) are still wary of the "radical" notion of Wikipedia. With changing technologies, Ferriero said that the online world is "changing the way [GLAMs] think about archival work." The biggest challenge in this new world is visibility, so he stated that GLAMs need to be "aware of where the people are."
This thought process, along with President Barack Obama's commitment "to an unprecedented level of openness in government", is what led Ferriero to Wikipedia and other popular online sites upon his appointment by the United States Senate in 2009. He quickly ran through the history of NARA's involvement with Wikipedia, including the appointment of a Wikipedian-in-Residence (Dominic McDevit-Parks), and quoted a blogger who attended Wikipedia's tenth anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C.: "If Wikipedia is good enough for the Archivist of the United States, maybe it should be good enough for you."
Ferriero emphasized the benefits NARA has received from its association with Wikipedia, including the Wikipedia article about Desegregation of the United States Marine Corps, which was inspired by one of NARA's "Today's Documents" and has been viewed four million times (as opposed to 17 million hits on NARA's website in the entire calendar year), and the inclusion of four NARA images in USS Arizona (BB-39). These images were digitized on request, featured on the main page on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and viewed more than 150,000 times in just two days (editor's note: the author of this Signpost article significantly contributed to the latter).
Ferriero closed his speech with three parting thoughts: while Wikipedia is still suspect in GLAM eyes, the only way to overcome this is to keep working to improve; a call for international attendees to assist their country's archivists; and a restating of the blogger's quote: "if Wikipedia is good enough for the Archivist of the United States ...".
Wikimania gave editors the chance to socialize in person, something remarked very highly upon by attendees.
Despite the Wikimedia DC chapter's incorporation after they were awarded the bid, and even with an unprecedented number (1400) of conference attendees — the previous two Wikimanias, held in Gdańsk (Poland) and Haifa (Israel), were attended by fewer than 1100 people combined – Wikimania 2012 was a complete success, with attendees' reaction to the conference coming out as ecstatic and laudatory.
While a few of the most popular sessions held in smaller rooms were crowded, quick planning by conference organizers, who had estimated that there would be 1000 attendees – rather than the actual 1400 – avoided any major issues. The largest problem was in a presentation on Jimmy Wales' transition from "benevolent dictator to royal monarch to spokesman", when a presenter unexpectedly illustrated a slide on the Wales vs. Wikimedia Commons pornography debate in 2009 (see previous Signpost coverage), in violation of the conference's "Friendly Space Policy".
James Hare, the coordinator of Wikimania 2012, believes that "the greatest metric of Wikimania's success is the number of connections people made during the conference. ... needless to say, many were made." Peter.C praised it, saying "Wikimania was great as I was able to work together with other Wikipedians to discuss what works, what doesn't, and what we should do going into the future." Risker was enthusiastic about the WMF employees in attendance: "I had the opportunity to talk with about 30 WMF staff over the course of the conference, and every one of [them] impressed me with [their] openness, enthusiasm, and genuine interest in working with the larger community. I learned a lot this past week from a lot of really wonderful Wikimedians." Others commented on the strange feeling of meeting online friends in the flesh, and whether their mental image of them matched the actual person. Brandon Harris, the WMF's senior designer, said "I feel that this was the best Wikimania I've attended. It was exciting to put faces to names and directly hear the voices of the editor community. I think we're on the cusp of something great now."
- Editor's note, April 2013: This article was altered to correct the mistaken impression that Jimmy Wales had previously given US$5000 to Demmy of the Yoruban Wikipedia as part of his eponymous award.
Taking the group photo required everyone to be very close together.
- "Tech talks at Wikimania amid news of a mixed June," Signpost, 16 July 2012.
- "WMF enacts reforms," Signpost, 16 July 2012.
- "Wikimania 2012 tackles diversity issues," Wikinews, 14 July 2012.
- WWB, "My Wikitinerary: Day 1 at Wikimania DC," The Wikipedian, 12 July 2012
- WWB, "Wikitinerary: Day 2."
- WWB, "Wikitinerary: Day 3."
- Wikipedia Weekly, Wikimania epidodes.
- Official Wikimania 2012 Twitter account.
- Twitter hashtag #Wikimania.
- Category:Wikimania 2012 on the Wikimedia Commons.