[Foundation-l] Executive Director Trip Report: Stockholm, London, Dubai, Delhi

Sue Gardner sgardner at wikimedia.org
Tue Jan 25 03:01:08 UTC 2011

Hey folks,

As you may know, whenever I travel internationally I write up a trip
report afterwards for the board and staff of the Wikimedia Foundation.
I also publish it to foundation-l.

Between November 20 and December 6, I did a pretty considerable stint
of travel: to Stockholm, London, Dubai and Delhi, accompanied by my
assistant James Owen everywhere except Delhi. The trip report
describing that is below. There's also a little description of my
holiday following the work trip, in northern India. That wasn't
official Wikimedia business, but I wrote up some notes on it for the
board, just for fun, and I've kept them intact here.

Please note I write these documents pretty quickly, and I don't do any
rigorous fact-checking: they're just intended to be quick captures of
my experiences and impressions. That means that any errors and
omissions here are mine. So for people like Lennart, Liam, etc.: if
I've made mistakes here please forgive me, and please don't hesitate
to correct the record :-)

I think I've got an IRC chat coming up this Thursday, January 27. (It
was originally scheduled for Friday, but it's likely going to end up
shifted to Thursday: James will publicize the date & time once it's
finalized.) If you've got questions/comments/thoughts, please feel
free to comment on this list, or come to my IRC chat. Please also feel
free to forward this report to other lists that might find it



Trip Report

Summary: Between November 20 and December 6, I visited Stockholm,
London, Dubai and Delhi. James was with me in Stockholm, London and
Dubai. During the trip, I spoke at three conferences, was interviewed
by 16 journalists, and met with about 50 Wikimedians as well as a few
supporters and friends at cultural institutions, and I interviewed
candidates for the Wikimedia Program Director for India. Afterwards I
went on three weeks holiday in India, including a 10-day silent
Vipassana meditation retreat in Karnal, north of Delhi. The trip had
multiple overlapping goals -- to advance awareness of Wikipedia
(particularly during our fundraising season) and to encourage people
to try editing, as well as to support chapters and find out a little
more about the challenges and opportunities faced by editors in the
Middle East. On the whole, the trip was successful and we’ll probably
aim to do similar ones in future, building on lessons learned this

Stockholm (November 21-26)

I was interviewed by IDG Sweden, CIO Magazine Sweden, Computer Sweden
magazine, the Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå news agency and the PR officer
at the National Library. (See media links at the end of this

The night before the Academy, I had dinner with Erlend and Ulf of
Wikimedia Norway, as well Fluff, Lennart, Jan, Lars, Holger, David,
Kristoffer, Bellgt, and Axel of Wikimedia Sweden.

I did the keynote at the Swedish chapter's third annual Wikipedia
Academy, held in Stockholm. Only about 20 people attended that day,
which was disappointing for both me and the chapter.  (Apparently for
a week or so prior to the conference, the sign-up pages had been
displaying as “full,” which the organizers thought might’ve depressed
attendance.)  I gather attendance was much better the second day, a
Saturday. At the conference I met a number of new-to-me Wikipedians,
including 15-year-old editor Leo (User Calandrella on the Swedish,
English, German, Norwegian and Spanish WPs, as well as Commons,
Wikinews and Wiktionary) and a half-dozen others. Also met Kjell
Nilsson, the head of international relations for the National Library
(conference venue), who is retiring soon and looking for a project,
and who both Lennart and I tried to persuade to run for the Swedish
chapter board. (Wikimedia Sweden is eager to recruit board members,
and Kjell might be a terrific addition: he is smart and energetic;
attended Liam’s GLAM conference in Amsterdam and loved it, and is
knowledgeable about copyright and open access.)

London (November 27- December 1)

I did the keynote at Liam Wyatt's GLAM wiki event at the British
Museum. I am guessing turnout was 100+ people. Attendees included
several dozen Wikimedians as well as people from many UK cultural
institutions including the Victoria & Albert, the Tate, the National
Portrait Gallery and the British Library. I met a half-dozen new-to-me
Wikimedians, including a 12-year-old editor named Peter, and saw folks
I’ve known a long time like Jimmy, Liam Wyatt, Joseph Seddon, Mike
Peel, James Forrester, WereSpielChequers, Filceolaire, Geni and

In London, I was interviewed by the BBC, the Daily Telegraph
newspaper, the Times of London newspaper, and Wired magazine UK.  (See
media links at the end of this document.)

Dubai (December 1- 5)

I spoke at TED-x Dubai, where the attendees had lots of love for
Wikipedia. TED-x Dubai was very slickly executed: excellent branding,
professionally managed, terrific audio/visual. Attendees seemed to be
pretty typical for TED -- young and middle-aged people who work in
media, technology, art and design.  James arranged to have a local
Wikipedian, Saqib, invited to attend for free with us.

I was interviewed by the Middle Eastern version of Esquire, the Gulf
Today newspaper, the National newspaper, and Dubai Eye Radio.  (See
media links at the end of this document.)

Had a meet-up in the hotel with five local Wikipedians, none of them
Emirate citizens. This was the first-ever face-to-face meeting of
editors in Dubai. They were: User: Mayooranathan, an architect and the
father of the Tamil Wikpedia, User: Hibayathullah of the Tamil
Wikpedia, User: Saqib Qayyum of the English and Urdu Wikipedias,
User:vicharam of the Malayalam Wikipedia, and User:Orionist of the
English, Arabic, German and French Wikipedias and Wikimedia Commons.

Delhi (December 6)

In Delhi, I met with two candidates for the India National Program
Director position. A few days earlier, a larger slate of candidates
had been interviewed by Barry Newstead, board member Bishakha Datta
and advisory board member Achal Prabhala.

Some observations:


Both conferences were interesting. By themselves they wouldn’t have
justified the time and expense of the travel, but in combination with
the media interviews and other work, I think it made sense to do them.
A couple of impressions:

I’m always happy to support the chapters by speaking at their events,
and it’s useful for me to meet Wikimedians who are new to me, to put
names to faces of people I’ve met only online, and to meet again with
people I already know well. There’s always value in me speaking
face-to-face with Wikimedians who I wouldn’t otherwise get to talk
with. I particularly enjoyed meeting a couple of younger Wikimedians,
both in Stockholm and London.

It’s always interesting to get a sense of how Wikipedia is being
received/understood in different parts of the world. Wikipedia has
always seemed to me best-loved and most-accepted in Germany: that
impression’s been supported by a study Frank Schulenburg showed me a
few years ago, that showed Wikipedia’s credibility among the general
population is highest in Germany (among about a dozen countries
surveyed, IIRC). Based on what I saw in Stockholm and London, I’d say
that Wikipedia is reasonably well-understood in both countries. In
London I was particularly pleased to see the reception Wikipedia
seemed to be getting from cultural institutions. Liam Wyatt (and
others) have worked really hard to develop productive relationships
with the UK culture sector, and I’d say that work is paying off: the
people I spoke with seemed open and engaged with trying to figure out
how to work well with Wikipedia and Commons. I also got positive
feedback from people in Stockholm who had attended Liam’s earlier GLAM
conference in Amsterdam.

I was particularly interested to see the talk given by Tom Morgan of
the National Portrait Gallery. A fast recap: In July 2009, the
National Portrait Gallery sent a demand letter to a Wikimedia Commons
admin, saying that he had breached their copyright by downloading
thousands of high-resolution reproductions of public domain paintings
from the NPG site. Our view was that the images are public domain
under U.S. law.  We connected the admin with legal support from the
EFF, and separately opened up a dialogue between the NPG and several
Wikimedians with experience forming partnerships with cultural
institutions, including Liam Wyatt, Mathias Schindler and James
Forrester. Our goal was to get the immediate issue resolved or tabled,
and have a better, more forward-looking conversation with the Gallery.
Given that backstory, I was extremely keen to see how Tom would
characterize what had happened, and what the NPG’s stance towards
Wikipedia is today. I was pleased to myself finally meet Tom, and I
thought his talk was a model of careful grace and good humour.  The
Wikimedia Foundation has a lot of sympathy with cultural institutions
like the NPG: we share similar values and goals, and we are unhappy
about the financial pressures they face. I was very pleased to see Tom
engage openly about the challenges and opportunities that face
institutions like the NPG working with us, and I thought the
discussion that followed was equally open and solutions-seeking.


Moka Pantages arranged media interviews for the trip, and on the whole
I think we were able to successfully reach lots of people with our
basic messages: that Wikipedia is operated by a non-profit that needs
donations to continue its work; that Wikipedia is a serious-minded
mission-driven educational venture; that we welcome new editors and
want people to join us in helping to make Wikipedia better.

A few additional impressions regarding the media:

* It was easy to get good coverage in Stockholm. Good stories, lots of interest.

* London was much more difficult: the journalists were less interested
in us, more skeptical, and likelier to raise ‘tough’ subjects like
Wikileaks. (To be fair to them, at the time the US cable leak story
was getting wall-to-wall coverage, and it would’ve been irresponsible
for them not to have asked us about it. It was just bad timing.)

* Getting coverage was very easy in Dubai, and the coverage we got was
across-the-board positive and friendly. I assume that’s because most
English-language journalists in the UAE are Western ex-pats, and they
are happy to get interviews with visitors to the UAE who they wouldn’t
normally have access to.

* I deliberately didn’t do any media in India because I was only
working there for one day before going on holiday, but our prior
experience shows that it’s easy to get coverage there too, and the
coverage is generally positive.


This was the Wikimedia Foundation’s first foray into the Middle East
[1], and I accepted the speaking engagement at TED-x Dubai
deliberately to get us some experience in that part of the world. It
was useful: I’m glad we did it. Here’s some detail on that:

Background: Less than a third of the people who live in the UAE are
citizens -- the remainder are guest workers. Although Arabic is the
official language, English is the only language in common use among
everyone I met.  James and I met lots of expats, mostly from other
Middle Eastern countries, India, Sri Lanka, the UK, Australia and
Canada. The editors we met edit in multiple languages, including
Tamil, Urdu, Malayalam, Hindi, English, German, French and Arabic.
Their colleagues are dispersed throughout the world, not clustered in
the UAE or even necessarily the Middle East and India. A few are
loosely connected with other Wikipedians we know -- e.g., Sundar,

Our meet-up was small and it would be a mistake to draw firm
conclusions from it. Nonetheless, here is some of what the attendees
told us:

We already know that the local-language Wikipedias are, in many cases,
disproportionately edited by ex-pats -- people who have left the
country or region where their language is used. This was confirmed.
User: Mayooranathan told us that about 50-60% of the Tamil Wikipedia’s
~100 active editors are living outside India -- in for example the
UAE, Canada, Germany, Norway, Australia, Japan and the United States.
He says they edit in Tamil primarily because they love their language
and are proud of it. He says Tamil is a language known mostly for, and
best at, poetry and literature. It’s not at all currently threatened
or in dwindling use, but Mayooranathan says nonetheless Tamil speakers
worry about its longterm survival. He says Tamil editors have
difficulty creating articles about science and technology, because
many newer terms have no Tamil equivalents. He would like to see more
science students encouraged to edit in Tamil. He also told me that the
Google Translate project is going reasonably well -- they’ve had some
difficulties, but he says the Google team has been responsive and is
engaging actively with them. (He contrasts that to the experience of
the Hindi Wikipedia, where he says there have been lots more problems
-- basically, flawed translations being dumped into the Hindi
Wikipedia, with no editors actively improving them.)

In general, the editors we spoke with agree that “students are the
best hunting grounds” for new Wikipedia editors. The people we met
with ranged in age from mid-twenties to probably fifty-ish, and told
me that ex-pat editors are normally older than average Wikipedians,
because by definition they’ve typically graduated from school and
launched their careers. They seem to be very receptive to the idea of
mentoring/coaching new editors as they start arriving.

My impression is that one of the drivers to edit for these Wikipedians
is their personal circumstances. They are living outside their birth
countries, away from their extended families, so they likely have
fewer familial calls on their time than they otherwise might, and
therefore more leisure time to edit. They want to maintain a
connection to their home culture, and editing Wikipedia is a way to do
that. They are using technology to keep in touch with home, and
editing Wikipedia is a fairly natural extension of that. Etc.

Editing is harder for UAE editors than for editors working in the
west, for a variety of reasons. The “input device” problems seem to be
gradually being addressed: the Malayalam Wikipedians have created a
tool that makes it easier to edit in Malayalam, and this tool has now
been adapted for and implemented upon the Tamil Wikipedia and
Wikinews, and is currently being adapted for Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit
and Bhojpuri. Nonetheless, although it is getting easier, editing
Wikipedia in these languages is difficult.

The most serious impediment to editing cited by the UAE editors
though, is IP blocking. The editors we met told us their IPs are
blocked from Wikipedia editing roughly 50% of the time. This is a
seriously frustrating impediment, because they lose session data and
need to start over. User: Mayooranathan advised the others to just
reboot their computers to get a new IP.  User:Orionist advised the
others to use the secure server.

The UAE editors expressed a desire for WYSIWYG editing.

Apparently there is a new book about the Malayalam Wikipedia, on sale
now in India. I tried to pick up a copy while in India but couldn’t
find it: if Bishakha or anyone else runs across it, I would love a

James and I gave out the annual report, the “bookshelf” how to edit
brochure, and buttons and stickers. I think the annual report was what
they found most interesting -- they seemed particularly interested in
the ‘world traffic map’ and other boilerplate information --
presumably because they don’t normally have access to a high-level
view (statistics etc.). If that’s consistent with what other people
find in their use of the annual report, I think we should consider
tilting its emphasis slightly away from ‘what happened this past year’
and more towards evergreen information.  Most annual reports are
published by non-profit orgs whose work is fairly well-understood, and
their purpose is to use persuasive language/stories to convince people
to support their new/current activities. Given that Wikipedia is still
not particularly well understood by people (including many of our own
editors), we might want to shift our annual report to be less oriented
towards persuasion/stories/what’s-new, and more oriented towards
general information. We could do that by standardizing the most
important charts and just updating them each year, plus adding a
smaller amount of topical information.

The concerns that editors raised with us ran the gamut. Some share
common concerns with all Wikimedians -- about copyright, the role of
Commons, usability, and so forth. Not surprisingly though, they are
additionally particularly worried about the challenges associated with
building a small-language Wikipedia -- how to attract new editors, how
to grow articles, and so forth. They are also worried about

They seem to have no strong desire to form a chapter, which makes
sense given that they don't work mainly with the people in their
geographic location. All of them spoke English, but for them it is a
second or third/fourth language -- they aren't necessarily able to
talk really easily and fluently with each other, and they don’t
necessarily have a lot of common concerns or goals. They do seem to
have some, though. One example that cropped up: they want to get
clarification on the copyright status of public buildings in the UAE.
I gather their understanding is that images of public buildings are by
definition copyrighted in the UAE, and they feel an official
organization would help to persuade officials to clarify this for
them: they are finding it difficult to get clarification as individual
volunteers. Some suggested they’d be interested in seeing a Middle
East (or Middle East + Egypt) chapter set up to address that kind of
issue. If such a chapter were created, they believe Dubai or Cairo
would be the only possible home locations for it.

Additionally, I want to make an observation related to TED-x Dubai. At
TED-x Dubai, I gave my standard talk, in which I describe how
Wikipedia works and talk about its impact, including giving examples
of readers whose lives have been significantly changed by access to
Wikipedia. The explicit premise of the talk is that everyone deserves
access to the information they believe will help them better
understand their world, and I use stories to support that which
include references to an Israeli Wikipedian and a gay Wikipedian. I’d
considered using different examples for the UAE audience, but decided
not to. The audience reaction was interesting: there was a small
kerfluffle of about 30 tweets criticizing the talk as culturally
insensitive (particularly the homosexuality reference), and afterwards
people told me they found it ‘challenging,’ ‘brave’ and ‘provocative.’
I found this a bit dismaying, particularly because I’d chosen my words
carefully to try to avoid offence. I don’t subscribe to the school of
thought that says Wikipedia’s an Enlightenment product that can’t
thrive in non-Western cultures, but I’d say following my talk in
Dubai, my view shifted just a notch or two closer to it.

[1] To be clear -- I’m sure that Jimmy personally has some Middle
Eastern experience, but the Wikimedia Foundation as an institution
does not.


And finally, my holiday …....

First, I was delighted that the Wikimedia Foundation’s in good shape,
enabling me to take my first long vacation in three years. I was happy
to go away knowing everything was in good hands :-)

I chose to vacation to India because it’s a strategic priority for the
Wikimedia Foundation, and I wanted to get a little more exposure to
the country and its people.  (I’ve been to the south before --Chennai,
Thiruvananthapuram and Bangalore-- but never the north.)

To that end, I spent four days in each of Delhi and Mumbai, plus I
participated in a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Karnal, just
north of Delhi. Mumbai included a Dharavi tour, from the woman who
conducts them for Omidyar Network: she was great and I definitely
recommend the tour if you ever have the opportunity. I’m really
grateful to the people who helped me with advice and connections while
I was planning the trip: Bishakha, Achal, and Surya Mantha and Jayant
Sinha of Omidyar Network.

I will leave you with a couple of impressions from the retreat:

My retreat was staged by what I’d characterize as the McDonald’s of
Buddhist meditation retreats: the India-based Dhamma Institute. It
offers a retreat experience that’s cheap, convenient and consistent.
There are several hundred courses annually across India and around the
world -- they’re managed on a kind of franchise model, with the agenda
and basic parameters and standards set centrally.

In general, describing my experience I would borrow from Daniel
Kahneman who distinguishes between the remembering self and the
experiencing self: I’ll say that although I am extremely pleased I did
the course, I was mostly unhappy while I did it. Which is fine: it was
good for me :-)

If you’re considering a Dhamma retreat, it might be worth knowing that
1) you will probably lose some weight, because the food sucks and
there isn’t much of it; 2) it isn’t really conducive to thinking
broadly and reflectively: it is more about developing the ability to
maintain focus for hours at a time. Also 3) sitting unmoving for 14
hours a day is incredibly physically painful!  On the upside, you do
come away more disciplined, defragged, and feeling oddly refreshed.
And the ‘silent’ aspect is heaven for introverts: chatting is banned!
So is eye contact! Yay!

I will say that I laughed out loud watching the other participants in
the retreat struggle to maintain discipline. It was pretty easy for
me, since only one other female participant spoke English, and she was
super-disciplined. But the Hindi-speaking women starting chatting in
our residence on about Day 7, and on Day 8 I came across one of them
sitting under a tree, eating what looked like a muffin (!). On Day 9,
women were openly sharing snacks with each other, and when I came out
of the meditation hall in the afternoon, I stumbled across a lady
surreptitiously smoking a cigarette, LOL.

In closing, I want to thank everyone who helped me plan and carry out
a pretty complicated trip. My deepest thanks of course go to James,
who was --of course!-- invaluable. Thanks also to Moka for handling
the media piece, and Bishakha, Achal, Surya and Jayant for helping me
plan my holiday :-)

Appendix: some media links (this is just a partial list: just the
stuff I caught, or ComCom did)

(“She lets users shape the Wikipedia approach”)

(“Wikipedia lives on people’s generosity”)

(“Wikipedia calls for women”)

(“Wikipedia calls for women”)

(“Wikipedia calls for women”)

http://www.kb.se/aktuellt/nyheter/2010/Wikipedia-pa-KB-/ (“Wikipedia
at the National Library”)




(Pod-Cast 2010-12-05)

Sue Gardner
Executive Director
Wikimedia Foundation

415 839 6885 office
415 816 9967 cell

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