Wikimania 2015 – random thoughts and observations

Random thoughts from Wikimania, 2015 edition (2013, 2014):

"Wikimania 2015 Reception at Laboratorio Arte Alameda - 02" by Jarek Tuszynski,  under CC BY 4.0
Wikimania 2015 Reception at Laboratorio Arte Alameda – 02” by Jarek Tuszynski, under CC BY 4.0
  • Dancing: After five Wikimedia events (not counting WMF all-hands) I was finally dragged onto the dance floor on the last night. I’ll never be Garfield, but I had fun anyway. The amazing setting did not hurt.
  • Our hosts: The conference was excellently organized and run. I’ve never had Mexico City high on my list of “places I must see” but it moved up many spots after this trip.
  • First timers: I always enjoy talking to people who have never been to Wikimania before. They almost always seem to have enjoyed it, but of course the ones I talk to are typically the ones who are more outgoing and better equipped to enjoy things. I do hope we’re also being welcome to people who don’t already know folks, or who aren’t as outgoing.
  • Luis von Ahn: Good to chat briefly with my long-ago classmate. I thought the Q&A section of his talk was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. There were both good questions and interesting answers, which is more rare than it should be.
  • Keynotes: I’d love to have one keynote slot each year for a contributor to talk about their work within the movement. Finding the right person would be a challenge, of course, as could language barriers, but it seems like it should be doable.
  • US English: I was corrected on my Americanisms and the occasional complexity of my sentence structure. It was a good reminder that even for fairly sophisticated speakers of English as a second language, California-English is not terribly clear. This is especially true when spoken. Verbose slides can help, which is a shame, since I usually prefer minimal slides. I will try to work on that in the future, and see how we can help other WMFers do the same.
  • Mobile: Really hope someday we can figure out how to make the schedule legible on a mobile device :) Good reminder we’ve got a long way to go there.
  • Community engagement: I enjoyed my departments “engage with” session, but I think next year we need to make it more interactive—probably with something like an introduction/overview followed by a World Cafe-style discussion. One thing we did right was to take questions on written cards. This helped indicate what the most important topics were (when questions were repeated), avoided the problem of lecture-by-question, and opened the floor to people who might otherwise be intimidated because of language barriers or personality. Our booth was also excellent and I’m excited to see some of the stories that came out of it.
  • Technology and culture: After talking about how we’d used cards to change the atmosphere of a talk, someone deliberately provoked me: shouldn’t we address on-wiki cultural issues the same way, by changing the “technology” used for discussion? I agree that technology can help improve things, and we should think about it more than we do (e.g.) but ultimately it can only be part of the solution – our most difficult problems will definitely require work on culture as well as interfaces. (Surprisingly, my 2009 post on this topic holds up pretty well.)
  • Who is this for? I’ve always felt there was some tension around whether the conference is for “us” or for the public, but never had language for it. An older gentleman who I spoke with for a while finally gave me the right term: is it an annual meeting or is it a public conference? Nothing I saw here changed my position, which is that it is more annual meeting than public conference, at least until we get much better at turning new users into long-term users.
  • Esino Lario looks like it will be a lot of fun. I strongly support the organizing committee’s decision to focus less on brief talks and more on longer, more interactive conversations. That is clearly the best use of our limited time together. I’m also excited that they’re looking into blind submissions (which I suggested in my Wikimania post from last year).
  • Being an exec: I saw exactly one regular talk that was not by my department, though I did have lots and lots of conversations. I’m still not sure how I feel about this tradeoff, but I know it will become even harder if we truly do transition to a model with more workshops/conversations and fewer lectures, since those will be both more valuable and more time-consuming/less flexible.
  • Some day: I wrote most of this post in the Mexico City airport, and saw that there are flights from there to La Habana. I hope someday we can do a Wikimania there.

5 thoughts on “Wikimania 2015 – random thoughts and observations”

  1. From afar Wikimania seems to have evolved into an annual meeting of execs and functionaries. It has nothing to do with the volunteer community anymore and you should stop marketing it for this audience.

    Look at the schedule, the topics, the talks: Is there anything addressed at volunteers? Are there even fields of interest for the volunteers? No, it’s board, execs and chapters. Wikimania might be a good and necessary event for them, but something got lost, that was still alive at the very first few Wikimanias, the coming together of volunteers from different projects, languages, and cultures all over the world, talking among each other about their issues. Since then Wikimania has been hijacked by the San Francisco and chapter staff and remodeled into their own meeting.

    But we need a volunteer gathering. So you, as head of Community engagement need to fight back. Let’s ban all employees of the Foundation and the chapters from Wikimania with the exception of the C-level people who really need the experience of mingling with the volunteer community and of course your department of Community engagement guys and gals.

    If the crowd who hijacked our Wikimania want their own meeting, they should have it be all means. But it must not be called Wikimania. That one was our meeting and should become ours again.

  2. Dancing: For the last five years, Wikimania has been one of the less-than-ten times a year that I dance. Much less than ten. This basically means that social events related to Wikipedia are close to being the only social events that I actually enjoy as such and at which I don’t feel out of place.

    Keynotes: Finding the right person would be a challenge, of course, *as could language barriers* – Oh, I would SO love to see somebody just coming on the stage and speaking their mind in Arabic, or Russian, or Hungarian, or Malay. And having an interpreter typing a translation to be projected to the audience. It’s totally possible, professionally and socially and technically. Next Wikimanias need the guts to do it.

    US English: Yes, US English, and California English, and Bay Area English, and even Wikimedia Foundation English – all of these exist and frequently they aren’t understood by listeners. Plenty of people who come to Wikimania don’t know *any* kind of English very well to begin with, let alone internal Wikimedia Foundation. This should be either completely avoided, or carefully explained.

    Community engagement: Let me just say that the word pair “Community engagement” is itself an example of Wikimedia Foundation English. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend your talk, so it’s possible that you explained there well.

    Who is this for? is it an annual meeting or is it a public conference?: Currently is *is* an annual meeting. Definitely. Doubtlessly. That’s what it is. I see the same people year after year. Wonderful people, people who are my friends, people whom I am very happy to see. It must be admitted that these are people who either consider Wikimania their annual vacation destinaion and can fund it themselves, or can get the funding from WMF or from their chapter (which is not to say that they don’t deserve it). Not all the participants are like that, but a lot are. It’s also an event that journalists love to photograph (Jimmy!). But I’m really not sure about the “public conference” part. It probably isn’t. If it is, it’s very weakly so. And I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing – it makes more sense to me to have local conferences for the public in each country (or state, or province) that can afford it (and the WMF should help places that are having a hard time with it). Wikimedia Israel is doing it very well every summer with the “Wiki Academy” – it’s a confusing name, because it’s more for public than for academics, but the important part is that it’s definitely not just a wikipedians’ meetup. Wikimedia Russia probably does it well with its annual conferences, too, although I never attended one myself (I did attend the Wiki-Sabantuy in Ufa, which was something like that for the Bashkortostan region of the RF, and it was very good). To sum things up – Wikimania is an annual meeting of the international Wikipedians community, and it’s OK that it’s like that, although it must make sure that it refreshes its diversity, but that is true about the commnity at large, not just about Wikimania.

    Some day […] I hope someday we can do a Wikimania there: True, and let me please add Teheran to the list. Persian Wikimedians are amazing.

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