This is a brief report from the FLOSS Conference in South Africa that
Erik and I attended this week. A more detailed version is on Meta at
so please read that one instead if you have time.
I was invited to give a presentation about the Wikimedia projects at
the international "Free/Libre and Open Source Software" (FLOSS) and
Free Knowledge workshop in Pretoria, South Africa. Erik was given the
opportunity to hold a workshop there about wiki technology. The byline
for the conference was "Knowledge for all, Education for all", so the
Wikimedia projects fitted in perfectly.
The first day was made up of formal presentations. A list of these is
on Meta. My talk was part of a "Digital Commons" panel. Much of the
second day was divided into two workshops, including Erik's. The theme
of Free Knowledge Communities was discussed on day 3, and there were
many areas in which Wikimedia projects could collaborate with existing
initiatives, and new ideas for using Wikimedia content:
* Spoken Wikipedia by cell phone. Many areas of Africa have high
cell phone coverage with access to SMS. Teemu Leinonen of the
University of Art and Design Helsinki is working on a project to allow
a user to send an SMS with the article title to a phone number. A few
seconds later, they get a call on their cell phone with a (usually
machine-generated) spoken version of the article they requested.
* Wikipedia in schools. Static HTML dumps on DVD, offline
applications that allow editing, and update feeds like rsync to
maintain offline copies, were all requested by people working on
getting Wikipedia into schools. Where people were interested in print
projects, they wanted to focus on printing out particular topics,
rather than having a copy of the entire encyclopedia.
* Wiktionary. There is a need for a repository of legal
terminology in the 11 official languages of South Africa since courts
often rely on untrained interpreters who need a reference guide for
dealing with unfamiliar terminology from any of the languages they
were not native speakers of.
* Wikibooks/Wikiversity/E-learning. With the price of textbooks
much higher in South Africa than in developed countriesfree textbooks
are of extreme importance, and Wikibooks could provide the content
needed for initiatives to deliver this. We discussed our existing and
potential future projects at length and talked to proponents of
various e-learning initiatives.
Again, see http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Conference_reports/FLOSS%2C_South_Africa_2005
for details on any of these issues.
On the evening of the third day, the first African meetup as held in
"Cafe 41". Four Wikipedians from South Africa participated: Laurens,
Alias, Renier Maritz and Andy Rabagliati. Renier's wife also joined
us, along with some people from the conference. We discussed ways to
promote the Afrikaans Wikipedia, methods to distribute Wikipedia to
Africa, localization of the interface, and possibilities for
Several upcoming conferences were mentioned as being of possible
interest to Wikimedia. Most notable of these are WSIS
(<http://www.itu.int/wsis/>;), which I believe Jimmy and Yann may be
attending, and the World Conference on Computers in Education
(<http://www.sbs.co.za/wcce2005/>;), for which no Wikimedia attendance
is currently planned.
Unfortunately, we did not see much of South Africa beyond the
conference centre. Nevertheless, the visit was very productive and led
to many new contacts and insights. We aim to follow up on the
discussions, and turn some of the ideas above into reality soon.