Wikimania 2007 wrap-up

Yes yes, I know this already happened months ago … I’m just sometimes very very slooow to get around to putting things on my blog.

Wikimania 2007 wrap-up: constructive criticism, random comments, and a few photos.

Firstly, if you get a chance to go to Wikimania, then you really should go – you’ll have a really great time. I have only been to this one, but the Taipei organisers were amazing – they were very friendly, amazingly helpful, and the facilities with the lecture rooms being so close to the accommodation and so close to the dining areas and all with an ATM and convenience store nearby, was just superb, and all the touches (e.g. the power cables everywhere) were just great, and the other attendees were lots of fun.

Eric recently wrote a good summary of Wikimania, and towards the end invited some constructive criticism. Well, here are my thoughts on a few things that would have made an amazingly good conference even better, although most of this overlaps with wishlist comments that other people have made:

  • Double-sided name badges, so that you can always read someone’s name. I lost count of the number of times I flipped over someone’s name badge, or they flipped over mine.
  • More wireless microphones so that panels and getting audience input is easier.
  • Maybe try some Meraki mesh routers for wireless networking, as per Gerard M’s suggestion.
  • Include a notepad and pen in the conference bag so that people can take old-school notes.
  • A survey form, to gather feedback at the end of the conference. Example questions: Which talks did people like the most? What things worked well at the conference? What things didn’t work so well? What or who would you like to see at Wikimania?
  • Improve the online video experience for people who can’t be there. (Walter raised this point previously):
    • Background: No matter where you hold Wikimania, it’s a given that large numbers of people will not be able to attend. Now, I must point out that other volunteer-run conferences (like linux.conf.au) have the exact same problem with videos – their volunteers record videos with the best of intentions of putting of them online, neatly labeled by talk, in an open format. During the conference there’s no time to do this though, because there are fires that have to put out, talks to attend, people to meet, parties to go to – so post-processing and uploading the videos gets pushed back to “later”. Then the conference ends, the attendees go home, and the volunteers who have worked their-asses-off start to think about reconnecting with their friends / family / work, with the best of intentions of doing it some time later. But after a few weeks, it hasn’t happened, and it probably never will. It doesn’t really work, and the only time I’ve seen it done really well was at http://mirror.linux.org.au/linux.conf.au/2007/video/ , but that required an amazing and probably unreasonable amount of work from the organizers, and even then not all of the videos were labeled with obvious names.
    • So my suggestion is this: Take some of the money that would normally go towards getting people to the conference (e.g. $1000 or $2000 would probably fly 2 or 3 people to the conference), and instead put that towards paying A/V non-wikipedians to do all the post-processing and labeling and uploading of videos, as soon as possible after the videos are recorded, and give them part of the money only after it’s done. That way, sure, you get slightly fewer people attending which sucks a bit, but suddenly many more people can participate, even if they cannot physically be there, which more than makes up for it.

And now some random comments:

  • The “Truth in Numbers” documentary from Nic Hill will finish filming short after the end of Wikimania 2007. He showed a preview at the party (held at the end of the second day). The audience had been chatting for a while, and had quite a few beers, and so was getting a bit vocal. So what was interesting is that when the video was show, people would cheer or boo, depending on who or what was being shown. They booed at the bit about Chinese Internet censorship – as did I. They also booed at Larry Sanger when there was a clip with a quote from him. Now, I have never met the guy, but I do think he’s getting a bit of a raw deal. What he was saying was intelligent, his point was valid, and I for one am glad that Citizendium exists. Currently I don’t use it, but the fact it exists at all as a competitor is a good thing. So please, cut the guy some slack.
  • Location of the next or future Wikimanias. (Note: Alexandria was picked for 2008 recently, so some of this stuff is now out of date!) Of course there’s a bidding process for selecting this, but people love to speculate and make wild guesses about locations. And why not, as a bit of pointless fun? So here were some of the places bandied about as possibilities for next or future years:
    • Alexandria: This would be close to Europe, be convenient for the Middle East and accessible to members of the Arabic & Hebrew Wikipedias. However it would be hot.
    • Australia: People said to the Australians “when are you guys going to host this?” I said “but the weather in Australia in August sucks! It’s cold, and it can be rainy.” But paradoxically, this just made people even keener – 2006 and 2007 were really hot, so a cool / cold location actually confers brownie points (Average temperature range shown here – 9 to 17 degrees Celsius average in August) … And whilst I would love to have Wikimania in Australia, having seen it first-hand, the effort involved in running and organising this is just huge! All the organisers of this have been absolutely amazing, and I look at what they have done and think “wow, that’s a metric tonne of work … dunno if I could handle that!” Brianna L seemed to have had similar concerns. So the current plan is give it some time, and to bid for Wikimania in 2010, and if we get it (and hopefully even if we don’t) to have a local Australian + NZ Wikimania in 2009 (probably in Canberra) to give us some practice and to put to some faces to names, and to get together in a way that is hard to in a large country.
    • South America: Gets you southern hemisphere + cool, plus sounds like they have an enthusiastic bid team.
    • London: Covers Europe, is accessible from the US, has a strong community. (Possible downside: expensive). But, as a bonus, the devs could have the Hacking Days at Rob Church’s flat / house. Just rock up. Uninvited. No more excuses from him about not turning up – just take it to him. :-)
    • Helsinki was also mentioned.
    • Bidding for the next Wikimania: Will probably have bids for the next 2 or maybe 3 in quicker succession (maybe two months or so apart) – so 2008, 2009, and maybe 2010 will possibly be bid for within the next 6 months. Benefit of that is that people can plan and organise sponsors; also allows people to learn.
  • The breakfasts were in a dining hall, held from 7:00 to 8:30 AM. And between 8:20 AM and 8:29 AM a large number of Wikipedians would arrive (including myself, usually at 8:29), just scraping in before the cut-off, no doubt to the annoyance of the kitchen staff. Definite Wikipedian <–> slacker correlation somewhere in there. Or maybe that’s just me :-)
  • Laptop fashion: Most popular laptops brands among Wikimania attendees were by far and away both Apple laptops & IBM ThinkPads. Having stickers for Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Firefox, Wikimania, and so forth stuck to the lid also brought bonus points, and a conundrum for the Apple owners: Do you add stickers, thus potentially ruining the sleek white plastic or polished metal exterior, but conferring status points? And if yes, do you cover the glowing Apple logo? Oh, these must be difficult and vexing questions indeed! :-)
  • Speaking of laptops, man, I wish I had bought a laptop in Taiwan. Shops were selling IBM / Lenovo X61 ThinkPad laptops (1 Gig RAM, 120 Gig HDD, Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 Santa Rosa processor, nice slim form factor) for TWD$38,000, which is equivalent to AUD$1330. I checked the price for the same model when I got back to Australia, and it’s locally around AUD$3100 (i.e. it was only 42% of the price in Taiwan). For that difference, I could quite happily learn to ignore the Chinese meta-characters on the keyboard.
  • Tip for people planning on attending Wikimania: take lots of business cards. I took about 15 (which I thought would be plenty), but actually about 30 would have been the right number.

And lastly a few photos:

Wikipedians buying fruit at the night markets:
Wikipedians buying fruit at the night markets

Whacky Taiwanese zoo sign: “It’s okay to wave at the Panda Bear, but riding him like a racehorse will make him sad.”
Whacky Taiwanese zoo sign: “It’s okay to wave at the Panda Bear, but riding him like a racehorse will make him sad.”

Yuri being pandered, after falling asleep in a massage chair.
Yuri being pandered, after falling asleep in a massage chair.

Lodewijk takes the Starbucks versus Starbucks-imitator challenge. Starbucks won.
Lodewijk takes the Starbucks versus Starbucks-imitator challenge.

Chaos as people tore the wiki ball apart. Sadly, nobody burst out of the ball.
Chaos as people tore the wiki ball apart. Sadly, nobody burst out of the ball.

Delphine and Cormac jokingly go head-to-head: Taiwanese toys at 50 paces!
Delphine and Cormac go head-to-head: Taiwanese toys at 50 paces!

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