My Report of Wikimania 2014 reviews my experiences of the Wikimania conference and related activities. I received a scholarship from Wikimedia UK to help pay for my attendance and this report has been completed as a requirement for receiving such assistance.
This report was completed on 29 August 2014 and has been retained here for historical interest.
I was an early observer of the events which led up-to Wikimania 2014 being hosted in London, including London's bid to host Wikimania 2013. However, I personally decided to give my backing to the winning Hong Kong bid, as I thought it was stronger overall and that a Wikimania in East Asia was needed before another one in Europe.
The London bid team didn't give-up and a bid to host Wikimania 2014 in London was later submitted. I wasn't directly involved with the bid team, though I did give the bid team my personal backing and I occasionally helped out with editing bid pages, answering questions, and other onwiki tasks. I also helped out with keeping the competing Arusha bid pages clean and tidy, but this resulted in me being accused of deliberately sabotaging the Arusha bid to help London win! Fortunately, this accusation was later withdrawn and soon after the Wikimania jury decided to award Wikimania 2014 to London. It was regretful though that this contest was held in a climate of hostility which wasn't previously present and so had caught me off guard. Furthermore, the jury and other observers repeatedly expressed disappointment at the lack of significant competition for hosting Wikimania 2014 – London was seen to have won "by default". Nevertheless, Wikimania 2014 was coming to London and one fact was very clear – many UK Wikimedians were going to have their work cut out for the next twelve months, and if things went well, the early problems would become irrelevant.
My first direct involvement with the organization of Wikimania 2014 involved helping to maintain the conference wiki – I was made a local sysop and translation administrator for this purpose. My activities included improving and updating information pages, answering requests for help, preparing and updating page translations, and dealing with spammers and vandals.
I also became involved with Wikimania 2014 offwiki through my regular attendance of London meetups. At one meetup, I met Edward Saperia and discussed how preparations were going. He was even kind enough to buy me a drink, though this came with the condition that I attended Wikimania! Later on, Harry Mitchell encouraged me to be part of the team of volunteers ("red shirts") which would keep the conference running smoothly. I accepted, believing UK Wikimedians had a responsibility to ensure a London Wikimania was a success.
I served on the Scholarship Committee for Wikimania 2013 and I decided to do so again for Wikimania 2014. The committee's role is to decide how best to distribute a finite budget provided by the Wikimedia Foundation for scholarships, which help a select number of Wikimedians attend Wikimania from all over the world by paying for their accommodation, registration, and travel expenses. This role involves the committee determining the selection process and criteria for determining scholarship recipients as fairly as possible.
I was heavily involved in the re-drafting of the selection process in order to make the process clearer and more transparent to applicants. I led the re-drafting of the criteria, whose changes included making the purpose of phase one much clearer, changing the scale of phase two scores from 0-4 to 0-10 to increase flexibility, and expanding the descriptions for each of the phase two criteria so it was clear for all what they covered. I also created a reviewer's guide, upon the request of Ellie Young, to help all members of the committee through the reviewing process. However, I was never completely satisfied with the contents.
The process of reviewing scholarships took up much of my time in early 2014, but despite the hard work of myself and the rest of the committee, we overran our originally planned date to release the final results of early April, with this ultimately being pushed back to 1 May. Unfortunately, the rush to get final decisions out as quickly as possible resulted in mistakes being made, and I felt the final result was not as good as it could have been. This feeling was compounded by the poor reception of the final decisions from a large number of individuals, which occasionally escalated into outright abuse being directed at myself and other members of the Scholarship Committee. However, regardless of our personal opinions, we defended the process and results under the principles of collective responsibility.
I attempted to organize a meetup during Wikimania to discuss the scholarships process, though I regretfully had to cancel it as I was unable to book a room, many of those who wished to attend couldn't, and not all the scholarship information or data was yet available. Siko Bouterse has however kindly agreed to hold virtual meetups to discuss the scholarships process at a later date.
Due to my membership of the Scholarship Committee, I was disqualified from getting a Wikimedia Foundation funded scholarship, due to a potential conflict of interest. However, because Wikimedia UK were selecting scholarships independently of the Scholarship Committee and allowing direct applications, I was allowed to apply for one from them and was successful. The scholarship covered the cost of my accommodation, registration, and travel costs.
Volunteer drinks event
My first visit to the Barbican Centre was on Sunday 6 July 2014, for a scheduled volunteer drinks event. I had never visited this part of London before and I was excited to find out where all the "magic" was going to happen. The event allowed me to talk to fellow Wikimedians about their expectations for Wikimania and to become familiar with other volunteers. Later on, Edward Saperia and Fabian Tompsett provided a group tour of the Barbican Centre. It was vital for volunteers to know the layout of the venue so they could get to places quickly and help out attendees who didn't know where to go or had lost their way. My first impressions were that the venue was a "rabbit warren" and that memorizing the layout was going to be very hard, but the conference was still over four weeks away at that point, so I had plenty of time to learn.
Volunteer orientation event
On Sunday 3 August, I returned to the Barbican Centre for an afternoon volunteer orientation session. At this event, I confirmed that I would be acting as a "runner" – meaning that I would do whatever task needed doing, rather than working for a specific team. I ambitiously signed-up to help out all day for five days straight – these being both hackathon days and all three conference days.
During the group session, each volunteer had to introduce themselves and say something "interesting" about them. To my surprise, almost none of the volunteers were Wikimedians but the group was still very diverse with people coming to help from all walks of life. In light of this, I said one "interesting" point about me was being a Wikimedian and a presenter at the 2011 Wikimania. I even enthusiastically mentioned that I contributed to Eurovision related articles – a fact which the other volunteers found amusing.
The session then moved into the revealing of the red t-shirts which volunteers were going to wear, as well as a health and safety briefing, which was pleasing to hear as I had expressed concern previously that this matter was not being properly addressed. The session then concluded with another tour of the venue, which by the end I could say that I knew my way around the venue with confidence.
Train the trainers course
Katie Chan was kind enough to offer me a place on a Wikimedia UK funded train the trainers course, which ran over two days on Monday 4 August and Tuesday 5 August, just before Wikimania. I signed-up for the course, though I unfortunately could not attend due to illness. I hope to be able to participate in another such course in the future.
Fortunately, I was well enough to make the trip to London so I could check-in to Travelodge City Road Hotel for Tuesday night, which is where I stayed for the duration of Wikimania. The hotel provided satisfactory accommodation, good food, and it was within ten minutes walk of the Barbican Centre – very convenient!
Wednesday 6 August
For the first hackathon day on Wednesday 6 August, I determined that my services weren't really needed, so I cancelled my volunteering shifts and devoted the day to getting my bearings and preparing for the upcoming days which were going to be significantly busier.
Thursday 7 August
The second hackathon day on Thursday 7 August would see the arrival of most attendees for the opening ceremony of the main conference. Given the level of traffic expected and my lack of interest in the hackathon, I was happy to help out as needed. I was assigned to assist with the distribution of free t-shirts, goodie bags and notebooks for conference attendees. This was a simple task which I found highly rewarding – I was pleased to help people in any way I could whether that be helping a disabled person collect their items, helping people pick an appropriate t-shirt size (though I was mindful that this can be a sensitive subject), or giving advice on whether to pick the blue or red bag!
My work was always made easier by the Barbican staff, who were always on hand to help and who were very friendly and knowledgeable. I felt this was generally the case with other volunteers too, though I sometimes sensed that the first duty of the "red shirts", keeping conference attendees happy and safe, was occasionally made subservient to what should have been lesser priorities. For example, ensuring that the t-shirts and notebooks are "perfectly" laid out was not necessary and such efforts frequently got in the way of my attempts to serve attendees. In another case, I was disappointed to be told to "get out of here" when I attempted to register some attendees who had been delayed and arrived late. Registration was officially closed, but I considered this irrelevant, as customer service ends when it is no longer needed – not at some arbitrary time in the evening. I believe that spending a few minutes registering late attendees and getting their t-shirt and goodie bags organized would have been very much appreciated over telling them to "come back tomorrow".
Regardless of the difficulties, I was very pleased to have helped out and to have gotten to attend the opening ceremony. I particularly enjoyed the speech by Salil Shetty, both as a Wikimedian and as a member of Amnesty International. I also found the speech by Lila Tretikov to be inspiring; she improved my confidence in the Wikimedia Foundation and their efforts to protect the Wikimedia projects and its editors. I did get to talk to her shortly before the ceremony began, though at that point I didn't know who she was!
Friday 8 August
The first conference day of Friday 8 August was not a great success for me personally as my illness re-emerged. I decided that the best course of action in the circumstances was to cancel my shifts and to spend the day resting and to do my best to be able to participate in the remaining two conference days.
Saturday 9 August
On Saturday 9 August, I was onsite early in the morning to see how the conference was going before most participants arrived for the day's events. I was initially assigned to help out with registration, but when it became apparent by services weren't needed there, I was re-assigned to be the host of the Fountain Room sessions all the way to lunchtime.
As a "runner", I had received no training on hosting sessions and I was required to rely on written instructions and my intuition. The situation briefly became tense when I discovered that the speaker for the first talk, "OpenStreetMap - what is it and what does it mean for Wikimedians", hadn't turned up for the start time of 09:30. Fortunately the speaker for second talk, "Wikimedia and OpenStreetMap: History, Current Status, and Challenges", was available and it was decided to proceed with the second talk while waiting for the first speaker to arrive. Fortunately, he did eventually arrive and both talks were delivered as planned (aside from them being in the wrong order), and we finished only about seven minutes late for the morning break. As a host I didn't get to choose which talks I attended, but after listening to both talks I learnt that OpenStreetMap was not a standalone free content map, but a geographical database which could be utilised by many different Wikimedia projects. The potential of OpenStreetMap really intrigued me, and having now learnt how to edit it, I believe I could contribute to it in the future.
After the break, the Fountain Room was host to a further three talks, these being "The WMF's Free Software Advocacy Group and how you can help", "Open Source Hygiene: Getting the Details Right", and "Submissions/Creative Commons 4.0: Everything You Wanted to Know, and Probably More". These talks were all delivered as planned, though I had cut short the question and answer sessions to keep everything running to time. I was very interested to learn about how Creative Commons licences had changed from 3.0 to 4.0, as I was already planning on transitioning my own content from the 3.0 to the 4.0 license.
I was off duty for the rest of the afternoon, which allowed me to watch three presentations in Frobisher 123 that took my interest.
- The first talk was a thought provoking presentation titled "Informed but unempowered", which pointed out that Wikimedia projects shouldn't just inform people, it should empower them to contribute to it, and it was quite depressing to see that we are failing on the latter.
- The second talk was titled "Why we need to pay people to create free knowledge", and as the title suggests, was about how paying people to edit or do other activities could sometimes be helpful to Wikimedia projects. To me personally, he was preaching to the converted, since it was already my belief that while the movement is and should be underpinned by voluntary work, paid activity is sometimes justified. The brief question and answer period after the presentation indicated that there were sceptics, but overall, his presentation only re-enforced my pre-existing views.
- The third talk covered "Internet skills and the gender gap", which is an already much discussed topic at Wikimania and elsewhere, but I felt this presentation brought some interesting new insights to the issue. The study covered in this session seemed to indicate that the causes of the gender gap are complicated and so will the solutions, and that supposedly simple remedies like banishing Wikipe-tan won't work. In fact, this study seemed to indicate that there is as much an income gap as a gender gap – a positive correlation was found in the United States between income levels and the likelihood of contributing to Wikipedia.
The final session of the day was the Wikimedia UK 2014 Annual General Meeting. I found a lot of it to be rather boring, but it was still an educational experience and I was pleased to have finally gotten to attend an annual general meeting (AGM) in person.
The AGM was soon followed by the LGBT Meetup, which was very enjoyable. We started by introducing ourselves, which included a round of applause when I said I came out earlier in the year; my face might have gone red! We then discussed in detail the issues affecting LGBT Wikimedians, and agreed on a name for a new user group – Wikimedia LGBT+ User Group, which would casually be known as Wikimedia LGBT+.
After dinner, myself, Tom Morris, Fæ, Jason, Deror, and several others, travelled on the London Underground to the Retro Bar, a gay bar in Strand to have a chat and a few drinks. Later on, we walked to Soho to get a better taste of the "gay nightlife" of London and saw various local sites including the Oscar Wilde monument and the Admiral Duncan pub. While the one pub we visited, the Comptons of Soho, wasn't to my taste, it was still a very enjoyable and a very educational evening, as I had not had a chance to visit that part of London previously.
Sunday 10 August
Unfortunately my poor health caught-up with me again on Sunday and I couldn't attend the morning sessions. I was however well enough by the afternoon to recover something I left in the Fountain Room and to attend the closing ceremony.
This closing ceremony featured the "State of the Wiki" address by Jimmy Wales, to which I found the overall theme, kindness, to be appealing. This was then followed by the announcement of who was to be the Wikipedian of the Year, as chosen by Jimmy. While I thought that the late Ihor Kostenko was a highly worthy winner of this award, I also welcomed the announcement that future winners would be a community decision, as Jimmy is just one man in a very large community. Later on, the winner of the 2014 UK Wikimedian of the Year award was declared. My nomination of Harry Mitchell, was regrettably unsuccessful.
Finally, a presentation was held on Wikimania 2015 which will be held in an impressive library, in Mexico City, Mexico. I was naturally pleased that the presentation video advertised Mexico City as "gay friendly"! Though, I couldn't help but wonder whether this was subtle reference to the Monastir bid to host the same conference, which answered questions about the safety of LGBT persons by saying that "local culture" would make an LGBT Meetup there infeasible – a position which myself, and apparently the jury, found to be unacceptable.
After the evening meal and some further socializing, the conference soon started winding down, and I left the Barbican Centre for the last time that year.
While I was disappointed to have not done everything I wanted to do that week, I returned home with the satisfaction that I had taken part in Wikimania for the first time since 2011, and that I had done my bit to help deliver a successful conference. I was pleased to have met lots of new people, and caught-up with some old ones!
It looks like Wikimania 2014 gave me back the "Wikimania bug", since I'm already making plans to participate again next year. It's unlikely that I will volunteer again to help run the conference directly, as people already based in Mexico City would be more suitable for that role. However, I do intend to submit at least one talk to be considered for the programme. Perhaps I could make my own contribution to the "kindness debate"?