(I've had this draft for months in my box, posting it now that we're
trying to evaluate Wikimania, past and future- Michael's post is old,
but I found it and still find it very much spot on)
First, thank you Michael for this post, I believe it captures the
essence of the issues surrounding Wikimania and the yearly bid.
I will try and comment on a few points, based on my past Wikimania
experience, both as an organizer (volunteer and professional) and an
attendee (normal and staff of the Wikimedia Foundation). This is not
an official email, it tries and summarizes my personal thoughts on
what Wikimania is and where it might go, in order to trigger more
On Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 7:57 AM, Michael Snow <wikipedia(a)verizon.net> wrote:
Since that is not yet forthcoming, I'd like to
refocus the discussion on
the concept of Wikimania in general, since it seems to produce so much
debate. As an idea, Wikimania is being pulled in too many directions,
and it cannot be all things to all people. Supposing we have a consensus
that in the most basic sense it's a good idea (do we have that?), what
can we make of this idea? What kind of event should it be? What values
do we prioritize - intimacy, mass appeal, accessibility, outreach,
infrastructure, culture? Others that I haven't listed? If we care about
diversity, what is that? When we consider costs, whose costs do we mean?
How do we balance the competing considerations?
I think Wikimania is a good idea, yes. Nothing in the Wikimania
threads, old or new, even in the most "flamewar" or "trolllike" ones
has suggested that there isn't a consensus about the fact that it is a
good idea, at least not to me.
The values of Wikimania, as I saw them develop over the last four
years, have a definite touch of intimacy, no matter how much press and
good word to the outside come out of it. It's first and foremost a
place and time for people working on the Wikimedia projects to work
together face to face. Then it is a place and time where those same
people can invite and work with like minded people to share and engage
in that wiki-driven life, with the hope that these people will help
achieve Wikimedia's goals, but also serve as advocates of our cause in
the "outside world".
Currently the conference is planned for roughly 400 people. So far I'm
not aware of any location having difficulty attracting attendees. The
argument for catering to the highest concentrations of contributors
would be more appealing if coupled with the idea that it makes sense to
accommodate more people. But expanding Wikimania would change other
dynamics of accessibility - the type of facility used, individual costs
and overall conference expenses, the character of the event. At least so
far, nobody has been presenting this as a vision for Wikimania's future.
I have been, over the past 4 years, one of the strongest advocates of
keeping Wikimania small. As the community of active contributors
(whether on the wikis or on the outside) grows, of course, we should
keep the growth relative. But I have never been sure, and still am not
sure, that Wikimania is a broad reaching event to bring onboard many
many new contributors. I see it more as a place where people who are
in the projects or gravitate around them can work together to set up
strategies to get more people and the right people involved. Trying
too broad a participation would, in my view, dilute the purpose of
Another consideration is that admission fees have
consciously been kept
low. Otherwise Wikimania doesn't make Wikimedia contributors a priority
- at least, not the kind of contributors I gather everyone is referring
to here. For any location most people already face costs related to
attendance, it's simply impossible to physically bring Wikimania to
everyone. Realistically, for any one person, Wikimania may be close
enough for you to come at minimal cost once or twice in your lifetime.
Some people may have to use a broad interpretation of "minimal" for even
I cannot stress enough how true this is. While I am sympathetic to the
people who have been, 4 years in a row, "far away from Wikimania", I
don't think Wikimania's location will ever gather everyone's support.
One year it's gonna be too far, the second it's gonna be too politic,
the third it's gonna be too cold, the fourth it's gonna be too...
And frankly, I believe it is good so. If Wikimania managed to gather
everyone's approval, I think that it would be boring ;-).
Geographic proximity only goes so far in any case.
Talking about Europe
and North America may sound as if that still leaves a vast range of
options. In the first place, this would be more persuasive if we saw a
larger number of cities bidding. When it's just one from each, the
chances of producing a bid superior to a highly-motivated team from,
say, South America are not exactly overwhelming. Furthermore, even if
this was the very highest consideration, it's not exactly neutral
between those. The varying population distributions and distances,
especially for North America, would have obvious logical consequences.
Basically, we should prefer any bid from the European core (defined by
London on the west, Rome on the south, Berlin or Rome on the east,
Berlin or Amsterdam on the north); the east coast of North America would
be a secondary option (maybe we could disqualify Europe every third
year); by comparison, the odds for the rest of North America would be
decidedly inferior (after ten or so years, we might make it to Chicago
or Los Angeles).
Wikimania could be bigger or smaller, reach the developing world or only
the already-developed, more expensive or less so, rotated widely or
narrowly. Leaving aside the security concerns specific to Alexandria,
the choice of options would have the following undesirable consequences,
depending on which course is taken:
*Complaints that the event is impersonal, lacks a sense of community, or
is merely a stage-managed public relations show
*After a cycle or two, it seems to be pretty much just the same group of
people getting together every few years
*Objections that the amount being spent is a poor use of foundation
funds (depending on how it works out, this would be about either the
size of the event or the travel costs incurred by the foundation itself,
making distance from San Francisco a factor)
*Inability to accommodate anyone beyond the local audience, thus being
hardly different from a random meetup and failing to reflect the diverse
character of Wikimedia participants
*Rumors and misperceptions of unfairness in timing of when registration
is opened or how tickets are allocated
*Outrage over high admission charges, resembling more closely a
I would like to understand what vision people have for Wikimania, and
see how their vision would deal with all of these issues. So far I have
heard only complaints and rebuttals, nobody offering their own vision
(on this list, at least). I fear an end result of the fights over this
would be to either abandon the idea of Wikimania, or simply to hold it
in the Moscone Center every year like Macworld. Before we get there,
let's hear some better alternatives.
So...Michael, I left all your post for others to comment. But as I
wrote elsewhere, and on a personal note, I'll write in another thread
the Wikimania of my dreams.
NB. This gmail address is used for mailing lists. Personal emails sent
to this address will probably get lost.