Wikimania 2010

Free Knowledge in the City of Freedom. Staying out until dawn was not uncommon.

I am writing wrote this on the plane back from my first Wikimania. Wow! An amazing experience!

First off, I couldn’t have written my ROFLCon blog post if I had been to Wikimania already. What is true of the social dynamic of Wikipedia meetups for (mainly) the English Wikipedia community–that we tend to be on the introverted side, and it takes a while for people to open up–doesn’t translate to the international scope and scale of Wikimania. Wikimedians there were warm and friendly from the get-go. Maybe it takes a critical mass of sociality before introverts start to open up, rather than merely time. So bigger is better.

Organizationally, things were modestly chaotic. For the most part this was fine. The one real fail was that many attendees were unexpectedly kicked out of their dorms early, and I heard that a group of them ended up spending one night in a public park.

It’s really a shame that Wikimania hasn’t been held in North America since Wikimania 2005 in Boston. That was before the real upswing of Wikipedia’s popularity, and the majority of active American and Canadian Wikimedians have never had a chance since they joined to attend a nearby Wikimania.

Filmakers Scott Glosserman and Nic Hill with Jimmy Wales

One of the highlights of the conference was the premiere of Truth in Numbers?, a documentary about Wikipedia that’s been about 5 years in the making. It’ll be released publicly later this year. Reactions from Wikipedians were mixed and complicated, although during the screening itself it felt like a very positive reaction. The film gives a lot of focus to some shallow or misleading lines of criticism, and on an intellectual level, it comes off as largely anti-Wikipedia, contrasting the reasonable-sounding arguments of mature critics with the naive optimism of youthful Wikipedians. (For the most part, the critics’ arguments are easily answered, but the counter-arguments are a little more sophisticated than what can be explained well in a documentary aimed at an audience with little Wikipedia background.) Emotionally, though, I felt that Wikipedia–or rather, the Wikipedians–win in a landslide.

The Truth in Numbers? filmmakers also plan on releasing all the used and unused footage–full interviews with Wikipedians from around the world as well as important critics and supporters–so that others can re-edit and re-purpose it. There are many stories that could have been told in Truth in Numbers? I think the film is emotionally satisfying and it’s strong by the standards of the documentary genre.  Comparing it with other documentaries about weird communities, it’s far better than, say, Revolution OS, but not quite to the level Darkon or Spellbound.  I’m excited to see what else might come of it. A film intended to tell the history of Wikipedia would be quite different, and a film about the politics and values and philosophy of the Wikimedia movement would be different yet again. Hopefully the licensing of the extra footage will be free enough that the Wikimedia community can actually use it.

It was so great meeting many of the people I’ve known only online.  Really, Wikimedians are the awesome-est people in the world.  A whole year is too long until Wikimania 2011 in Haifa, Israel.  Hopefully I’ll be able to make it to Wiki-Conference New York in August to hold me over; last year’s was great, and this year’s should be even better.

Open Space discussion on Strategy

I took a few pictures, which seem to have been well received.  They’re all on Wikimedia Commons, too, along with 1000 others.  As a default, I didn’t add names for anyone but Wikimedia board and staff, since many Wikimedians may not like having named pics publicly available.  But let me know and I’ll add your name to your pic, if you like.

27 thoughts on “Wikimania 2010

  1. Pingback: New city, new job - ragesoss

  2. Gregory Kohs

    Sage, I think one of the main reasons why there hasn’t been a North American Wikimania in so long is that the Foundation is deathly afraid that I’ll show up.

    Reply
      1. Gregory Kohs

        Well, it’s either that or the fact that Jimbo and Sue and Erik want the ability to travel to fun, new, and exotic places, all on the Foundation’s dime. What fun would it be for them schlepping their bags off to Kansas City?

        Reply
  3. Peter Damian (banned editor)

    You say “The film gives a lot of focus to some shallow or misleading lines of criticism, and on an intellectual level, it comes off as largely anti-Wikipedia, contrasting the reasonable-sounding arguments of mature critics with the naive optimism of youthful Wikipedians. ”

    Are you saying that the shallow or misleading criticism is the same as the “reasonable-sounding arguments of mature critics”.

    Can you say what you think the critics’ arguments are? What are the sophisticated counter-arguments? My criticism of Wikipedia is that while it handles the exact sciences pretty well, it is a mess when it comes to the humanities subjects (I am a humanities PhD). It also gives undue weight to popular subjects as opposed to more, er, encyclopedic ones.

    Reply
    1. sage Post author

      The chief critic is Andrew Keen, if that gives you an idea of the intellectual tenor. Probably there’s nothing in the film that isn’t discussed in more detail in [[Criticism of Wikipedia]].

      By reasonable-sounding, I mean reasonable in tone and made by respectable-looking people. For example, I was really surprised to see Cade Metz on screen; he pulls off the “hard-boiled reporter” look perfectly, and you’d never know that his stock-in-trade for covering Wikipedia is tabloid half-truths and rumors just from watching those clips.

      You are, of course, right that the humanities are a great challenge for Wikipedia. And as for popular subjects, yes, they get much more attention on Wikipedia by virtue of being popular. Neither of those things mean (as people like Keen argue) that amateurs are simply unsuitable encyclopedia contributors or that Wikipedia is worthless or on-the-whole harmful.

      Reply
      1. Gregory Kohs

        When rumors turn out to be true (can you point to a single Cade Metz “rumor” that has ultimately proved false?), that’s simply good reporting, Sage. You are finding difficult to critique your employer, and that’s to be understood. However, casting undocumented aspersions at a journalist like Metz is rather unbecoming. Please, do point to one of Metz’ “rumor” items that has turned out to be unfounded.

        Reply
        1. sage Post author

          I think we’ve reached the point in this conversation where we have irreconcilable viewpoints. From my perspective, pretty much everything Metz has written about Wikipedia represents a wildly distorted view of reality.

          Reply
          1. Gregory Kohs

            It may be that Cade Metz reports only on the dark underbelly of Wikipedia, which I agree is a bias in his writing. But, it’s not that anything he has ever reported on has been a “half-truth” or a “rumor”, as you’ve characterized it here. Your readers deserve to judge for themselves, even if you are strangely bent on defaming Metz’ reputation as a journalist, regardless of the facts as shown before you:

            http://tinyurl.com/Cade-Metz-Wikipedia

            Reply
            1. sage Post author

              Certainly, people should judge for themselves. The same is true for the film, of course.

              By the way, the website I initially linked was not the official one, it looks like. There are already some full interviews up, and more are supposed to be released gradually, at http://truthinnumbersthemovie.com/

              Reply
  4. Peter Damian (banned editor)

    >>You are, of course, right that the humanities are a great challenge for Wikipedia.

    Thank you, though I think ‘mess’ is more accurate than ‘challenge’.

    >>The chief critic is Andrew Keen, if that gives you an idea of the intellectual tenor.

    I saw other names on the trailer – Susan Jacoby, Chomsky – these are weighty names.

    I know little of Keen’s work, though I shall order ‘Cult of the Amateur’.

    >>And as for popular subjects, yes, they get much more attention on Wikipedia by virtue of being popular.

    That’s rather damning. Popular subjects are those which everyone knows about. If you are searching for knowledge, it’s the subjects that people know little about which are important. It’s rather like having an encyclopedia that is meant to be about exciting and exotic places, but in fact all the contributors are from Surbiton, so all the articles are about Surbiton (US readers: ‘Bakersville’ or ‘Minneapolis’).

    >>Neither of those things mean (as people like Keen argue) that amateurs are simply unsuitable encyclopedia contributors

    Well ‘amateur’ means ‘lover’, but if you mean ‘non expert’, as I suspect he does’, then he is absolutely right. When it comes to my specialist subject, it is very poorly represented on Wikipedia. People how know nothing about my subject are definitely unsuitable as contributors. I don’t mind if they don’t contribute. However when they insist upon including their strange and eccentric opinions I find it very tiresome (this is the main reason I am banned – I have very little patience with these types).

    Reply
    1. sage Post author

      Yes, Wikipedia isn’t the place for people who are unwilling to suffer fools. That’s not a good thing, per se, but it’s also the only way the world gets any better: when people who aren’t fools engage with people who are, and try to help them find that bit of enlightenment. That Wikipedia recapitulates so many of the failings of the broader culture is also the reason why Wikipedia is such a great opportunity to work toward a better culture.

      Reply
      1. Peter Damian (banned editor)

        The world can also get better when the fools pay for tuition of some sort and are awarded a degree if they are capable enough. Then the teacher gets paid. Sorry, I like teaching but I prefer to get paid for it. Actually I would do it for free if it were not so painful. But it is. Contributing to Wikipedia is like paying good money for giving your knowledge away.

        On ‘failing the broader culture’, well, universities have existed since the Middle Ages and they are still the best place to get a good education. Forget Wikipedia, please.

        Reply
  5. Marqoz

    Well, ragesoss, aren’t you a little bit too focused on Americans. I had an impression that Wikimedia is a global endeavour.

    Reply
    1. sage Post author

      Wikimedia being a global endeavour doesn’t preclude holding Wikimania in North America every so often. Wikimania is for the editors, and a large portion of editors are from the U.S. and Canada. Most of them have never gotten a chance to attend a Wikimania, because they’ve all been very far away since 2005.

      Reply
  6. sage Post author

    Note: this post and its comments are the subject of an article in The Register, “Reg hack gives forth in Wikipedia doco“.

    To re-iterate in case it wasn’t clear, I think Truth in Numbers? gives a quite positive view of Wikipedia overall, in spite of fairly uncritical treatment of some of the basic arguments made by Wikipedia critics. I really hope the film does well and is seen widely, and I think a lot of other Wikipedians felt the same way.

    Reply
    1. Peter Damian (banned editor)

      The main criticisms are

      1. That a list of facts is not the same as a fact.

      2. That by some magic having anyone able to edit something makes it somehow better.

      3. That people in real life can get hurt by Wikipedia.

      Answers to these criticisms please!

      Reply
        1. Peter Damian (banned editor)

          >>Wikipedia’s virtues far outweigh its faults, in my view

          But please give arguments. The page you linked to, where you say ‘Wikipedians have debated to death’ these issues, does not discuss any of the points I have been raising. Specifically, Wikipedia is a mass of trivia. The exact sciences are pretty good, I agree. The ‘soft sciences’, particularly the humanities, are a complete wreck. How do you get from ‘complete wreck’ to ‘virtues outweigh faults’? Have you looked at some of the articles I have been talking about, here and in my blog?

          Sorry to bang on about this.

          Reply
          1. sage Post author

            Peter, I’m not interested in having this argument. It was interesting to me 4 years ago when I started, but all the points you raise are minor variations on common lines of criticism.

            Wikipedia has problems, and I (along with a lot of other Wikipedians) am interested in fixing or ameliorating them. But debating with people who want to see the whole project fail or view it as a hopeless endeavor is a waste of time.

            Reply

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