I’m a Wikimedian: My experience on WMCON 2015 in Berlin.

PREAMBLE

I don’t remember the first article I’ve ever edited on Wikipedia, but I do remember that it was in 2011 when I edited something on the English Wikipedia and it was deleted in a lightning speed. Well out of “curiosity” I eventually created my account and I’ve learned some 1 or 3 things or let’s say “tricks” on editing since then.

The Wikimedia Chapters conference 2015 is the first I have ever attended since joining the movement. I must point out that there were a lot of things that happened at the conference that one can write about but on this article I will try and give an overview of my experience and what I’ve gained at the conference.

Well for those who don’t know what a Wikimedia Chapters Conference (WMCON) is, I can in short describe it as an annual meeting of all Wikimedia organizations (Wikimedia chapters, thematic organizations, user groups, and the Wikimedia Foundation), as well as other committees to discuss the future of the Wikimedia movement in terms of collaboration, structures and organizational development.

THE PEOPLE

Back in 2011 when I first created my Wikipedia account, I saw this as an easy thing to do but on the other hand as a confusing Matrix virtual world where one is encouraged to contribute but at the same time discouraged by the complexities and the tonnes of information on the site. I didn’t even know what a chapter/ user-group or even what Wikimedia was and what it stood for. Let alone that I could meet an actual person behind a user-name. It was indeed not a user-friendly environment for a newbie to come in and contribute, there were a lot of sharks waiting to bite one.

This was however in contrast from my on-line experience when I got to meet the people behind the user-names, the old hands of Wikipedia at the Berlin conference, who were so open and friendly and were willing to help in any challenge that one faced in their usergroup or chapter and even share ideas of how to go about solving problems one encounters in their region. It was indeed an inverse experience between the on-line and off-line. I really enjoyed the humility and the comradeship of the colleagues at the conference. Connecting one on one, Identifying the same challenges, exchanging ideas and creating friendships was one of my highlights at the conference.

BERLIN CITY

I’m South African and I went to the chapter’s conference representing the Wikimedia South African Chapter. We have a number of projects currently running in the South African Chapter, 13 in all and one of the projects I’m busy with is the Joburgpedia which aims to increase Wikipedia coverage of iconic buildings around Johannesburg with historic and heritage importance. GLAM institutions have played a huge role in the success of this project.

When we talk of old buildings in Johannesburg we are actually referring to buildings constructed around 100 to 150 years ago. That’s nothing compared to Berlin. The city is old, I mean ancient! When they talk of old they mean double, even triple an average old South African building. This was very interesting to me.

The public transport in Berlin is efficient. Too efficient for me, after landing at the airport I discovered that my luggage was missing and after sorting out the luggage issue I got lost while making my way to the hotel, this was also compounded by the language barrier. I however met some helpful Germans who walked me through the map and I finally got to my hotel checked-in and the conference after I asked one of the participants to come fetch me at the hotel.

Standing next to the iconic brandenburg gate.
Standing next to the iconic brandenburg gate.

THE CONFERENCE

The conference was running from the 15th to the 17th of May, however the pre-conference started two days earlier. I arrived on the 14th and managed to attend all the conference days. The program had a lot of workshops that took place simultaneously and participants had to choose and prioritize according to their interests and importance.

The registration and welcoming team from Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE) was awesome. We had a warm-up session, this was an ice breaker where we all gathered in one room and walked randomly to form groups of 4s with other Wikimedians  we’ve never met before, we were then asked introduce ourselves, talk about what we expect from the conference, milestones in the past 42 month and the biggest challenge we’ve faced from our respective organizations.

Since it was my first time at the conference, I chose the “Introduction for Newcomers” workshop. Several speakers from the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) were present here.  However the whole exercise ( presentation) was about introducing the first time attendees of the conference to the history of Wikimedia, where it is currently, giving examples of projects that were initiated as a result of the conference, the future of the chapters conference and the Wikimedia movement as a whole. Several questions were asked including conceiving and execution of projects by the foundation, if the leadership style of Wikimedia is from top to-down or bottom-up etc. And although long and not exactly concise but answers given were satisfactory.

The “Independent Fund-raising Experiences” was one of the interesting workshops I’ve attended in that the speaker didn’t act like she knew or had all the answers. It was a conversational talk where we were all discussing and sharing ideas of  who are the right donors for us, how to raise funds from independent donors, and challenges that we faced with donors, why are donors important, donors who want to fund Wikimedia project with ulterior motives! We also shared our experiences of “when we had to say no to donors”. And every participant was sharing their experience from their country.

The ” Board Governance” was another eye opening talk I’ve attended, some of the salient points I’ve picked up were openness to other board members, don’t be an island but share and ask where you don’t know or understand, let others know your strong points and weakness to better assist you, honesty was also one thing that was discussed and one last thing that I thought was important was the importance of collective effort where the discussions were around doing things to achieve for the chapter/user-group not for oneself. A lot of ideas and insights were also shared here.

Candy table from all over the world brought by participants to the conference.
Candy table from all over the world brought by participants to the conference.

One of the things I always find daunting is writing of a wiki report, so it made sense for me to attend the ” Reporting and Storytelling”  workshop. The first thing that was discussed was the difference between writing an APG report and a PEG report. The salient point here was that as much as your reporting must be storytelling, it must also be succinct, accurate and specific, it also must leave no room for ambiguity on the part of the reader, reports are not there to impede or bind one but they are intended to give the Foundation and other interested people information about your activities and financial records since this is an open source. A good written report will in turn create trust, good record and reputation from the movement and donors as such.

I also attended the “Lila’s Talk”. Lila Tretikov is an executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. Well the talk really was not so much different from the “Introduction to Newcomers” workshop. To me it was an extension of that workshop, just that it was going much more into detail about global metrics of what the Foundation has achieve thus far, projects that the foundation is engaged in, where is the Foundation headed etc. A number of question were raised on the workshop and several spokes persons from the Foundation tried to answer as best as they could. One of the question entailed the interest of the Foundation regarding the Global South another was about organizational structure and the tonnes of information which makes it very difficult for newbies and wikimedians to communicate and discourage them from editing. I thought their responds were satisfactory.

Lila's Talk.
Lila’s Talk.

“Lightning Talks” were a five minutes presentation about any wiki related matter one wanted to talk about. There were several presentations from speakers doing different things from different chapters and user-groups all over the world. After seeing the presentation from the Wiki LGBT and that the category on South African LGBT was empty I decided to start contributing on that project. ” The aim really is not to promote being gay and lesbian, but it is simply making people aware and understand about LGBT by writing as much information as we can” the LGBT representative said.

The workshop about ” Global Metrics Tutorial”  I didn’t find it satisfactory, the presenter was sort of like rushing and I did not capture some of the points, there were also lots of questions that were raised but were never answered adequately. I also had a number of question especially around reporting and global metrics, but I guess I can still find help from the community on-line.

CONCLUSION

Attending the conference was eye opening, it also gives one a sense of direction and introduces one to a support structure other than the one they have in their country and on-line. Meeting people in person gets one to form lasting ties and you become less formal whenever you need to ask for help or share an idea. You also learn from mistakes some colleagues went through, like the intense discussion I had with the guys from India about how they ran their writing competition and the challenges they faced.  Altogether I really gained a lot from the WMCON 2015. I’m looking forward to implement all the knowledge and ideas going forward.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Life, the Book.”

It’s so funny that this reminds me of the last funeral I’ve been to. We all knew that the person being buried was a notorious womanizer but every speaker spoke good of him. There was only one line on his obituary that highlighted that he left 8 kids ( no mention that they all have different mothers). I digress.

My life is dynamic, It’s changing all the time, I’m spontaneous, I don’t really have a 5 or 10 year plan, I can’t assure you where I shall be or be doing next year this time exactly. I lead an open and a bohemian lifestyle and everything I do is important,

So for me, it does not matter who writes my biography really. as long as they will tell nothing but the truth.