Friday, July 27, 2012

I was there! Wikimania 2012

Since Wikimania 2012 in Washington DC was only about five miles away, and I've been devoting far too many hours a week to editing (and even more discussing contentious edits) - how could I miss it??

FYI, the Wikimedia Foundation actually has a bunch of projects you can explore linked at the
Wikimedia Foundation website including Wicktionary, Wikisource, Wikibooks, WikiCommons, Wikiquotes, etc.

Since I often go to big meetings and conferences after having noisily pushed some agenda or other, it was fun to go pretty much anonymously. Though I still managed to stir up a little trouble. Here are a few observations.

Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales spoke during the plenary. He commented on the January 2012 Wikipedia “black out” protest where Wikipedia shut down for a whole 24 hours to protest onerous laws against copyright violations that governments and private parties could use to crush free speech on the internet. He memorably said “"When I go and visit government officials now, they’re a little bit afraid." Of course, Wikipedia doesn’t intend to become the lobbying arm of the anarchist movement, so governments don’t have to be overly afraid. On the other hand, they don't censor the tens of thousands of libertarian/anarchist/decentralist related articles either, as long as they follow general Wikipedia policies.

Evidently the State Department was not afraid, because it collaborated with Wikipedia on a simultaneous conference focusing on "Collaborative knowledge and the use of wikis in the public sector." Just as long as they don't try to confiscate Wikipedia and its sister projects as "public goods."

Speaking of which, waiting for the plenary, I was joking in my usually raucous manner with a DC Wikipedian about State Department involvement, asking “Does this mean they are NOT going to prosecute Julian Assange and WikiLeaks any more?” We laughed uproariously. The first person to ask a question during Q&A was sitting one empty seat over from me. She announced she worked for the State Department and her colleagues were all over the conference. Hmmm, was big sister giving us a warning to be careful of such effrontery?

Wikipedia’s "Gender Gap" project was recognized by inviting Mary Gardiner of The ADA Initiative, a group “dedicated to increasing the participation and status of women in open technology and culture, which includes open source software, Wikipedia and other open data, and open social media. “ Yoo Ha! She repeated the statement of many powerless people trying to influence culture and politics: “Nothing about us without us.”

I wonder if she’d agree that means we must work for the very creation - or re-creation - of our political system from scratch, with women’s voices actually counting. She said it would take a 20-30% critical mass of women involved in Wiki activities before women don’t feel like token women. So now I know how many women have to be in our secessionist organizing groups!!

Of course it’s not as clear what the religious/ethnic/racial/sex orientation/etc. percentage should be for everyone to feel represented in a group when those minorities are so much smaller than 53% of the population (whatever that population might be, depending on the country or region). But the more diverse a locality, and the more representative it is of various groups, the less small minorities have to worry about representation - except of course for the general principle that representation in it itself is an easily corrupted process which tends to attract self-serving apparatchiks.

Oh, what was I wearing? My gray, red and white dress replete with playing cards - with a big “joker” on the back. Someone asked “Are you a gambler?” and I said “No, I’m only addicted to Wikipedia.”

I stayed around for the poorly attended press conference where someone (Wales?) made the very savvy point about copyright law that when the owners of the copyright (like various old TV shows and movies) won’t make the material available for consumers who want it to buy it (and perhaps he mentioned affordable price), consumers will just steal it. How much does it cost to set up a web site and download each program when you have millions of users? Ask NetFlix at $8 a month. (See this archive news link for 2012 stories about the conference.)

There were dozens of workshops and if you want to see them all go to the Wikimania 2012 Schedule.

Wikipedia is trying to come up with a more user friendly interface like Facebook or Twitter so you don’t have to learn their version of html to edit it. WikiGuru Brandon Harris gave an interesting talk on how WikiTechs intend to make Wikimedia projects a “more dynamic experience.” Including alerts from all the Wikiprojects one works on on the same page - weee, more free work for us volunteers to keep track of.

German Wikimedia was the only country group with its own booth. I figured I’d ask them directly about the urban legend I’d heard that Germans are so bureaucratic they even have to register their toasters. I’d already joked about it at a couple DC Wikipedia events so I figured I better “verify” my facts, since an internet search did not. They were surprised, saying they never heard of such a thing and that they do not even have to register their computers. Either that was a very old law that was repealed or just someone’s fabrication I fell for.

Friday I wore my black GOT LIBERTY? t-shirt, which was quite popular. I was disappointed that the Polish presenter of the talk “WikisourceLeaks - How Wikisource Can Play a Supporting Role in the Public Policy Discussion” did not show. Hope the State Department didn’t keep him out of the country! Actually the description of the discussion was pretty tame saying Wikisource is a “useful tool to re-use public information published by the public authorities.” I’ve contributed some published government documents on the government’s massacre of the Branch Davidians to Wiksource myself. I do have to wonder what WikiSource editors would do if people started dumping Wikileaks documents onto their servers? Or even a bunch of leaked material - probably delete it as copyrighted or proprietary - or “self-published original research.” Got a discussion going on Wikisource about that. What fun.

I then traveled over to “Wiki, Women and Museums” which to my dismay featured discussions of Israeli museums. I have a feeling most Israeli museums distort history to justify Israel’s land grabbing expansionist policies, human rights abuses, aggressive Israel lobbies in a number of countries, etc. I always say that Palestinians are the only people who are lied about more than women. Don’t get me started. I was on my best behavior and only wore a low key “fashion kefiyah” around my waist.

A fun session discussion was “How awful arguments are killing Wikipedia.” Discussed were bad logic and especially emotionally hysterical “pissing war” fights. (The sort of thing some of my edits seem to engender.) It was a panel with some rowdy long time editors discussing what someone described as the IRON LAW OF OLIGARCHY. They agreed there wasn’t much written policy in the first few years of Wikipedia's existence, but by 2005 editors went crazing creating “nomalized rules instead of using common sense.” They opined it’s hard to get rid of rules and they hurt "newbie" editors. (Of course, I just recently argued on a Wikipedia policy page for keeping three explicit rules, so who am I to talk??)

Maybe Wikipedia needs a Sunshine Law that every year all rules (and their often lengthy explanations) go up for vote and those that don’t get some minimum number get trashed. But then we’d have to read them all!

One presenter described a study of editors' motivations which showed that in order of popularity they were: personal fulfillment, uncontrollable compulsion, agreement with the core educational mission and altruism. That's about the order of my motivation, as well.

Saturday was the Wikipedia Women’s Lunch, so I wore my “I survived FIVE thousand years of patriarchal hierarchies” t-shirt. It showed up loud and proud in the group photo.

But first I went to the “How to Motivate Older People to do Wikipedia” workshop. Of course, the target audience for most of us wanting to bring in "Seniors" (like me, boo hoo) is people older than 50 who already know how to use the computer and need something to do during their coming years of retirement. (At least til the welfare state collapses and they have to start selling their possessions on street corners.) They presented tips on how to help Seniors learn to contribute who don’t even know how to use a mouse. Number one rule: patience.

Wikipedia Women’s Lunch was great. Twice as many women showed as last year and 120 of us got up and said three words about ourselves, which actually averaged about 10. I said to great hoots of laughter: “I only need two words: CASTRATE PATRIARCHY!!” Oh, I’m such a naughty Gandhian. But the boys know I just mean it metaphorically.

CASTRATE THE STATE. Such magnificent alliteration.
Later I attended presentations on Wikihow where women editors actually are a majority, mostly because of its much friendlier user interface and community. I got the great idea of putting up some of my articles on how to organize grass roots secession groups - and they already have lots of regular articles on how to do protests. After that I caught the presentation on the WikiWomen Camp recently held in Buenos Aires and had a conversation about how crazy the "Fathers' Rights" group members can be. (While some fathers are screwed by the system in a variety of ways, others react with violent patriarchal fury to legal rulings that prevent them from completely controlling their women and children.)

Before you knew it, there we were at the closing ceremony with the Chief Archivist of the United States David Ferriero speaking. He shared a memorable quote from scholar (and 1950s quiz show cheat) Charles Van Doren who once said: “Because the world is radically new, the ideal encyclopedia should be radical, too.” A very cool description of Wikipedia and all the other projects.

Ferriero mentioned that the National Archives actually archive tweets, doubtless the more notable ones. He said that because technology changes so fast, last year's records may not be readable by this year’s technology. A frightening thought for those of us who religiously archive our stuff.

The funniest, saddest, most hair-tearing moment of his talk was when, after admitting he was amazed that he ended up in the position of Chief Archivist (inferring President Obama had appointed him), he read a long quote from Obama on transparency and openness!! I couldn’t have been the only one among the more radical Wikipedians clenching their teeth not to yell out “What about Bradley Manning and Julian Assange!” Or “Then why does Obama classify everything??”

Finally, the group of Hong Kong Wikipedians - 100% male - organizing Wikimania 2013 got up and talked about their plans. Now that should be interesting, since Hong Kong, formerly controlled by Britain (no, I never call it “Great”) is now controlled by State Capitalist/Communist China, though with a less oppressive hand than the rest of China. At some point some speaker said China IS getting better about letting people read what’s on Wikipedia and elsewhere. So Wikimania 2013 will be a challenge to their transparency and openness.

Final group picture. I’m undetectable in the back row of the big Wikipedia picture below, where I was taking pictures of the crowd. As we left the photo shoot the guys in red t'shirts on the right started chanting in real gungho macho style "USA! USA!" Ever the trouble maker I called out "Down with Imperialism!" There's only so much I can put up with in the name of encyclopedic neutrality!!!

Mary Gardiner and frontal group pics from Wikicommons.

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