[Foundation-l] Wikimania 2008 and reflecting on what Wikimania is all about

Phoebe Ayers phoebe.ayers at gmail.com
Fri Aug 18 04:59:47 UTC 2006

On 8/17/06, Austin Hair <adhair at gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm personally of the opinion that Wikimania should remain very much a
> community event, and in fact bring it back to something closer to a
> retreat than anything else.

One of the biggest questions -- problems? opportunities? -- planning
the program this year was that the question of "what Wikimania is" was
and is largely unanswered (we came up with a working definition, which
is reflected in the CfP; perhaps another definition was carried in by
participants in Wikimania '05). One of my biggest regrets with the
program this year was that there were not more community
(Wikimedia)-centered presentations and events; in fact, not that many
(comparatively) were submitted -- despite the advertising on the
projects that we did do -- and we had to push for more. This is only
one part of the community atmosphere at the conference, of course --
the lack of community space at the physical venue is an unrelated
question that none of us anticipated well enough.

But don't forget that this is an inclusive and fluid community, and
what counts as part of that 'community' is subject to interpretation.
Is research about wikis relevant? Is a presentation by lawyers on laws
that absolutely affect the continued operations of the projects? Is
talking about free culture, generically, at a gathering of people who
are intimately involved in the biggest free culture project in the
world relevant? What about education? Reference publishing? It seems
to me that to restrict the conference to a very literal set of topics
revolving around Wikimedia/pedia would in turn lessen the value of the
conference, and lessen the potential chance for new and great ideas to
come out of it that would benefit the projects. Let's not be insular,
as a community. Not everyone who has good and relevant ideas has
worked their way through editing, mailing lists, Foundation business,
etc. and become a Wikip/media "community member" according to some
entirely vague set of criteria which seem to come down to "I recognize
their username." Honestly, folks, I think it's fair to say that none
of you knew who I was before I came to Wikimania the first time; I
certainly wasn't a "person who counted" in the Foundation or even
Wikipedia.... and for better or worse, without attending Wikimania '05
I certainly wouldn't have been as heavily involved in Wikimania '06 as
I was.

If Wikimania is determined to be *simply* a social gathering -- or
simply a policy-making and direction-setting gathering for the
projects and the Foundation -- then that is another question, and if
so, next year let's not waste time and energy inviting the Larry
Lessigs of the world, since they are surely not community members in
that sense (unless he actually edits, of course).

On a practical level: I agree that restricting day admissions, or
having just one day that's open to day registration, is a good idea,
and I agree with Austin about aiming towards a "retreat" feel.
Probably having more topical preconferences besides just hacking days
is also a good idea. There's been talk about something similar for
social science research/wiki research; having a full day just to talk
about Foundation issues in an open but not-entirely-public forum would
also be useful. Finally, of course there must be more international
visitors; this is a goal that no one who helped organize disagrees
with, and we all would have liked to have done better. For those of
you playing along at home, we did hand out a few dozen scholarships to
people from all over the world -- fairly remarkable for a non-profit
organization and a non-profit conference that just started real
planning 9 months in advance. And I think the final count on the
countries that attendees were from was just under 100? Whatever it
was, next year and the years after should strive to be even more
internationally diverse, whether that means linguistically,
culturally, geographically, or otherwise. (Although, having the
conference in a particular area does mean -- and should mean -- that
more people from that area show up in that particular year; otherwise,
why move the conference at all? We'll just have it in St. Pete's every

What else? What *is* Wikimania? As Delphine says, 2006 was only the
second conference, and there's no reason the tone of the event can't
change radically for next year.


phoebe s. ayers

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