News and notes
"Beautifully smooth" Wikimania with few hitches
Attendees after the closing session of Wikimania 2013.
About a thousand Wikimedians journeyed to Hong Kong this week for the annual Wikimania conference, the annual gathering of the Wikimedia movement. Wikimania, which has been held since 2005, serves as the principal physical meetup for Wikimedians around the world. This year marked the first Wikimania in East Asia since 2007, when it was held in nearby Taiwan. Locations since then have been in the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.
Wikimania 2013 was planned by Wikimedia Hong Kong and held in Hong Kong's Polytechnic University. While it was nominally only three days long, it was preceded by a two-day pre-conference where the Chapters Association imploded (and is now "on life support", according to one Wikimedian), the Education Program held a successful planning session, and developers met to discuss their projects and strenuously avoid using the term "hacking" (see Signpost coverage).
- Opening speeches, Makoto Okamoto
Conference-goers attending the opening day were treated to a traditional Chinese dragon dance before being welcomed by Hong Kong's Chief Information Officer Daniel Lai in his opening keynote. A notable address was given by Makoto Okamoto, who explored an area many Wikimedians had never heard of, especially given the near-total lack of interaction from Japan with the wider movement. Okamoto was a key figure in founding saveMLAK, an ongoing effort to document damage to Japanese museums, libraries, archives, and Japan's great "kominkan" cultural centers. The saveMLAK site was formed in April 2011 from the merger of four websites, each of which had covered one of these four topics. Three languages are used: English, Japanese, and Chinese. Each page is supposed to include a fact sheet about the location, a list of damage, and its operational status, along with information for victims, supporters, institutions, and various ways of how outside individual can assist.
saveMLAK has 300,000 total edits, 30,000 pages, and 300 editors. Looking at these statistics, 80% of the articles were created by bots—more than the Swedish Wikipedia, which the Signpost reported on in June. Of the editors, 38 edited more than 100 times, and 90% had previous experience with MediaWiki-based sites.
- Jimmy Wales
Jimmy Wales' traditional "State of the Wiki" address focused on journalism in the context of global relations and Edward Snowden's revelations (see this week's Signpost special report). Items relevant to the Wikimedia movement came at the beginning of his speech, where he highlighted the milestones reached in the past year; there are now 28 million articles and 286 language editions, of which 120 have more than ten thousand articles, 46 have more than a hundred thousand, and eight have more than a million. Those eight are a doubling of the four million-article club a year ago, with the addition of the Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish Wikipedias. Wales also covered the election of the new chair of the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees, Jan-Bart de Vreede.
Wales awarded his annual "Wikipedian of the Year" award to Rémi Mathis, the chair of Wikimedia France and, until April 2012, a volunteer administrator on the French Wikipedia. Mathis was called into the offices of France's interior intelligence service, DCRI, to delete an article that allegedly contained classified information (see Signpost coverage).
The topic in question is a military radio station in south-central France. It was and still is unclear just what parts of the original article were classified, given that it in large part followed a publicly available video (made with full cooperation of the French Air Force), and DCRI refused to give the Wikimedia Foundation any indication as to what was problematic. In any case, the article, after being restored by a Swiss administrator, became a textbook example of the Streisand effect, where attempting to censor an item leads to it getting far more publicity than it would have otherwise.
Just last week, the DCRI refused to answer a question about the Wikipedia debacle from a French Assembly member.
- Charles Mok
Mok's keynote, titled "One Internet, Two Systems: Internet in China and Hong Kong", examined the differences between mainland China's censorship and Hong Kong's unfiltered web
Charles Mok, an Internet entrepreneur and holder of Hong Kong's Information Technology legislative seat, used his keynote speech on the second day to speak about China's relationship with the Internet. More Chinese people use the Internet than one might think; out of 2.7 billion Internet users in the world, just over 20% (or 591 million) of them are Chinese. That staggering number is at just 44.1% penetration, and is nearly double the United States' entire population. There are also 461 million mobile users.
These numbers come with a caveat, in that regular Chinese citizens outside of Hong Kong and Macau face Internet censorship. Mok examined how this censorship has changed in recent years, from heavyhanded blocking to subtle methods that can emulate a 404 error. The Chinese government is also less concerned about blocking every single offending website. Mok theorized that they realize that some information must get through to sate the public's demand for it, so they concentrate on stopping the largest problems before they go viral. Should this fail, they have a well-oiled system of message control and downplaying sensitive news to fall back upon.
Mok stated that new regulations are coming into effect that will make it more difficult for Chinese citizens to freely post their opinions. The Chinese government will begin implementing a real-name policy in June 2014, where contributors to online forums will be forced to register with their real names. There are also new Internet privacy regulations coming that were announced in April 2013, though the notion of such rules when the government is also pursuing content monitoring and mandatory reporting of state secrets is a rather unsettling prospect.
Currently, it is possible to skirt the edge of the firewall and get your messages across. Animated GIFs, which cannot be blocked by an automated text search, are commonly used alongside coining new, unique terms to describe a nominally filtered politician or incident.
This can be juxtaposed against the unfiltered Internet in Hong Kong, which is relatively legally free. There are freedom of communication and privacy laws, which are tempered by a broad provision that bans accessing a computer with a criminal or dishonest intent. This law has snared offenders ranging from hacking, cyber attacks, putting out fake government press releases, and under-the-skirt photographs of women. Also of interest are Hong Kong's Internet statistics, which show that there is 229% mobile penetration, also known as many people having second, third, and even fourth phones.
Mok believes that there are several positive directions in which Hong Kong's Internet law is evolving: there is a movement to protect the rights of parodies, satires, and derivative works, and the government is releasing a transparency report that reveals the extent of its user data and content removal requests. Mok stated that the "public has a right to know how government actions affect their privacy and free flow of information."
- Sue Gardner
Sue Gardner's closing plenary focused on four major areas: editor engagement, grantmaking, VisualEditor, and mobiles.
Gardner envisions that Wikimedia sites will be more welcoming and friendly to new editors. To this end, the Foundation has redesigned the landing page on which new users land when they register. Such a simple move yielded 2% more editors, from 20 to 22%. While Gardner acknowledged that this was a small increase, she noted that it was an equally small change that, in hard numbers, has resulted in 2600 additional new editors per month on the English Wikipedia.
Gardner also briefly mentioned Flow in this category, which will revolutionize how talk pages work on Wikimedia projects. In the words of Brandon Harris, from an earlier presentation, Flow will be a modern discussion system that will be a "controlled, flexible workflow engine" allowing data to come to the user, rather than needing to find it. The current designs, according to him, are an "anti-pattern for the [Wikimedia] mission" with their colon indents, tilde signatures, and requirement to edit source code. Gardner remarked on much the same issues: "sometimes people don't even realize that someone is talking to them."
Next up was grantmaking. The Wikimedia Foundation's new grantmaking system, which was described by Gardner as a "massive leap forward", is composed in large part by the Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC). This was formed by a Foundation board resolution at Wikimania 2012 and launched last August. In the 2012–13 fiscal year, the FDC gave recommendations as to how US$5.65 million should be distributed to applicants. 95% of the resulting awards went to the global north (a majority of that going to Wikimedias Germany, France, UK, and Switzerland). Now that the infrastructure has been formed and tested, Gardner is hopeful that they will be able to give a sharper focus on the effectiveness of the money. This will be important, given that the FDC will give recommendations on up to US$8 million in 2013–2014.
On the VisualEditor, which was certainly the most controversial topic in her speech among English-language Wikipedians, Gardner made the case for an improved version of it by saying that people are "deterred by wikisyntax." She backed this up with a 2009 video of "ideally we would have wanted as editors"—i.e. those with a college education or extensive life experience. These people were asked to click the edit button, and their responses were recorded (56:05 in the public video) The first reaction was "nahhhhh", while another remarked that she felt "kinda stupid!"
Gardner's last listed topic was mobile. The Foundation's plan, which focused on reading in 2011–12 and uploading in 2012–13, is now concentrating on editing in 2013–14. Mobile Wikimedia readers have increased faster than the global web's benchmark since they started focusing on them, and in the first week mobile editing was enabled, 3014 editors used it. Gardner held this, alongside its accompanying 1% higher revert rate, as a success, especially because more than half were made by new people.
Also of relevance to mobile is Wikipedia Zero, the Foundation's initiative to give free access to Wikipedia to people in developing countries through partnerships with local phone companies (see related Signpost coverage). Gardner said that "we don't want to be written by people in rich countries for people in poor countries."
Gardner closed her speech by looking back on her tenure at the Foundation, which will end at some point in this year. When she joined, the Foundation and its projects were "shaky" and "often the butt of jokes", particularly from academics (her words). She does not believe that is true anymore: the Global Education Program is engaging students and professors all around the world, and students in South Africa are begging their telecom companies to offer Wikipedia Zero. Gardner will be leaving at a point where she can look at the movement and say "you're safe". However, she does not feel she can do the same thing for the rest of the Internet, and she wants "to make sure that the Internet does not become a commercialized wasteland." She closed by declaring that she would "always be [the movement's] friend and supporter" before receiving a standing ovation.
Wikimedian attendees thought that the conference was a qualified success. Many praised the prime organization of the conference, and the over 300 volunteers who came to assist—a total far more than previous conferences—were icing on the proverbial cake. Board trustee Sj called it a "beautifully smooth Wikimania", while the Wikimania-l mailing list was quickly filled with comments like "a wonderful conference", "great", "special", and "wonderful."
The only major issues observed by the Signpost both occurred outside of the conference itself—at both the Sky100 welcome and Shek O Beach closing party, food and alcohol ran out. This cannot be fully attributed to poor planning; at the welcome party, far more people attended the welcome party than indicated with RSVPs, and at the closing party, several regular beachgoers joined the Wikimania party. At the very least, the quality of the food at the welcome party was highly praised.
Aside from those minor hiccups, the conference was very well-done. Michael Jahn wrote:
||... it really is us attendees who are grateful for all your work. I've been able to fully concentrate on presentations and meeting inspiring people from all over the world. Whenever that works and you don't need to worry about details, then you know that the conference organizers did a great job. And you did.
The annual group photograph featured nearly all of the one thousand attendees.
With Wikimedia 2013 nearly over, the organizers of Wikimania 2014 (in London) showed attendees what to expect next year.
- Featured article milestone: The English Wikipedia's number of featured articles has passed 4000, meaning that one in every 1,070 articles are featured.
- Toronto edit-a-thon: The Royal Ontario Museum is hosting an edit-a-thon on 16 August.
- OpenStreetMap birthday: OpenStreetMap, the site that community-maps the world, has turned nine years old.
- Open licenses for Indian educational content: Shashi Tharoor has announced that the country's National Repository of Open Education Resources will be released under a commercially acceptable Creative Commons license. This will prevent the repository from being protected for 60 years under India's copyright law.
- Participate in Wiki Loves Monuments: Volunteers are needed for the annual Wiki Loves Monuments project, which aims to upload images of historical places and buildings to the Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia Takes America, with much of the same goals, will coincide with this event. According to the instructions, interested readers in the US should look at your local area's NRHP listings and organize a photo hunt to take pictures of any missed places. Questions can be asked on organizer James Hare's talk page. Those outside the US can participate on Commons.