¡Viva Wikimanía! proclaims the slogan for Wikimania 2009, the annual conference for WIkipedia contributors. The fifth event was hosted in Buenos Aires at the end of August, when hundreds of people descended on the Argentine capital from all over the world.
Three hundred and thirty million people use Wikipedia every month, making it the world’s most frequently used online knowledge resource, and the Argentine conference gave those who contribute to the huge undertaking a chance to meet face-to-face and interact at a deeper level – breaking bread, enjoying conversations, listening to each other and even taking tango lessons. The attendees ranged from users, editors, volunteers, foundation staff and board members, who all share the common goals of free exchange of information and bringing the world’s knowledge to everyone.
In the same theme of shared work and social responsibility, most of the conference guests stayed at the Hotel Bauen nearby on Avenida Callao. This worker co-operative hotel is one of the few reclaimed service-industry businesses from the 2001 financial collapse.
The ideals of the free software movement mirror those of open content enthusiasts, both holding the free flow of knowledge as their main goal. There are open copyright licenses for software, articles and images. And the Wikimedia projects themselves recently switched to a Creative Commons “attribution share alike” licence, allowing anyone to reuse the text of the articles as long as they credit Wikipedia, and the resulting work is shared under the same licencing.
This year’s meeting focused on strategic planning, bringing in outside consultants to get a feel of the community membership and ask for proposals. Consultants Jelly Helm and Eugene Kim are working with the Wikimedia Foundation to help bring shape to the community proposals and put forward a coherent message for the future. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation, and Michael Snow, chair of the foundation, have written an open letter to the community asking for help, guidance, input and more on the wiki.
The three-day conference was held in the San Martin Cultural Centre and the Alvear Theatre. Keynote speakers included Wales himself, the controversial free-software evangelist Richard Stallman and Sue Gardner, the executive director of Wikimedia Foundation. The days were filled with technical and sociological talks, case studies taking stock of where the various Wikimedia projects are, and proposals for where to go from here. Many of the abstracts and videos can be seen on the wikimania 2009 website. Many new statistics were presented as well as the news that Wikimedia Foundation had just received a US$2m two-year grant from the Omidyar Network, based in the Bay Area of California.
On day two, Wales spoke about “The State of the Wiki” in his keynote address. He provided statistics about the user base for Wikimedia, asking, “What next?” and “Where to from here?”
The latter was a particularly topical theme, as world wide, there are over 100,000 active contributors to Wikimedia, who between them have contributed to the 13 million articles in 271 different languages. However, this tremendous growth has come to a perceived plateau. As the organisation grows there are worries that the project will become more “maintenance” oriented instead of “creation” oriented, and will get bogged down in administrative procedures.
Managing the “organic” style and growth is not easy and fraught with various conflicting values. There are doubts that there are enough users to sustain the quality people have come to expect. The community appears homogenous when looking at certain statistics. More than 80% are both male and childless, more than 60% do not have a partner and finally, more than 50% are between the ages of 18-30: single men without children. The organisation is examining how to be more inclusive. How do they make the project more accessible to people who feel it is too difficult to use? How do they reach out to communities whose languages are not well supported, but have a fledgling user base?
The local Wikimedia Foundation Argentina chapter has 52 members and is headed by Patricio Lorente – an instructor at Universidad de La Plata in the province of Buenos Aires. Lorente was pleased with how the event unfolded. “Wikimania 2009 was a great experience, we were able to meet with wikimedians from all over the world to share experiences, to get to know each other and to plan the future.”
Lorente explains that local members focus on improving and increasing Spanish language articles. The Spanish language version of Wikipedia just passed 500,000 articles, and he speculates that a million articles will be reached by the end of 2011. But he adds: “It is hard to say because nowadays Wikipedia is more focused on quality than on quantity, that is to say: more attention is being given on improving articles than on creating new ones.”
Here they are trying to broaden Wikipedia’s reach and get articles written in languages of indigenous tribes here in Argentina: Quechua, Wichi, Mapuzungun, and others. As well, Lorente says they “want to build a stronger relationship with the educational sector, and help to organise local chapters in the countries of South America.”
If you want to get out from behind the computer and meet fellow wiki enthusiasts, join the group on facebook and meet AFK (away from keyboard). In May, a group of 20 wiki enthusiasts gathered and descended on La Plata’s Natural History Museum – taking pictures, notes and interviewing curators to help augment articles about the Patagonian giant sloth, dinosaurs, and minerals and species native to Latin America, among others. The event followed in the spirit of similar events in New York, Washington DC and London.
The Wikimedia projects allow anyone to make an edit and improve articles by adding text or freely licensed images. Everyone is encouraged not just to read Wikipedia, but to improve it as they can. So if you see a spelling mistake, fix it. If you see something that is factually wrong, fix it. If you know a source that isn’t cited that will help strengthen the article, include it. If you come across an article that is a “stub”, i.e. doesn’t have much written information, do some research and fill it out. If an article doesn’t exist and you feel it should, create it. See if you make it past the rapid-on-the-trigger delete process.