The annual Wikimania conference will be held in Alexandria next year, taking the event to its fourth continent in as many years of existence. The decision was not without controversy afterward, however, as it met with vocal objections over the Egyptian government's human rights record, particularly with respect to issues of sexual orientation.
The choice of Alexandria was announced Tuesday, 9 October, by Wikimedia Foundation volunteer coordinator Cary Bass. Bass served as a neutral moderator for the jury that made the selection, picking Alexandria over bids from Atlanta and Cape Town. Additional bids from London, Toronto, and Karlsruhe, Germany, had withdrawn prior to voting.
Unlike prior years, in which panel members simply voted for one of the competing bids, this year's selection was determined based on a point system. The bids were rated based on twelve criteria, with each member having 60 points to award in each category. Points within a category could be distributed between multiple bids, depending on how the jury member felt they stacked up relative to each other.
Criteria considered included funding for the event, the location itself, the venue, accommodation for conference-goers, availability of Internet access, social areas, travel costs, local laws, press, the organizing team, rotating Wikimania between geographic regions, and ease of obtaining travel visas. Overall, Alexandria finished with 3026 points, Atlanta with 2419, and Cape Town with 2003. The Atlanta bid was hurt by the difficulty of obtaining visas for the United States, along with the rotation issue, as it was going against two African bids when Wikimania came to the US only last year. Cape Town, rated the most attractive bid for visas, generally scored lower in other categories and was particularly weak for the availability of accommodations.
With the Bibliotheca Alexandrina offering its facilities to host the conference free of charge, and the symbolic tie to the historical Library of Alexandria, the winning bid scored highly on categories related to location and finances. Its lowest rating was in the category "local laws", though not as low as Atlanta and Cape Town's worst scores, and several people objected that information about Egyptian government policies had been disregarded. David Strauss declared, "I'm offended that the desire to have Wikimania hop around the globe... trumps the egregious history Egypt has with LGBT and other civil rights". In response, Jimmy Wales pledged that he would devote his address at the conference to the subject of "Free knowledge and human rights". Further debate followed about whether bids should be awarded or withheld as a political statement, and the extent to which any of these concerns might directly affect visitors attending Wikimania.
In a change from previous selections, where the bidding process for next year started after the latest conference, Wikimedia is trying to plan further ahead. Bidding for Wikimania 2009 is already open, and a decision is supposed to be coming in the near future.
Cary Bass encouraged groups who bid or considered bidding for Wikimania 2008 to pursue the chance to host Wikimania 2009. The organizers of the Toronto bid, in withdrawing from the competition, indicated that they would be redirecting their efforts toward a 2009 bid. The experience may prove helpful, as Alexandria was a finalist last year in the bidding that awarded Wikimania 2007 to Taipei.
Another consideration is the value attached to rotating the event between different continents, a subject of some previous debate after Taipei beat out two European bids along with Alexandria. This could convey a built-in advantage to bids for Wikimania 2009 from South America or Australia, of which a potential Buenos Aires bid has one of the most developed pages so far. The effort is running concurrently with the formation of an Argentinian local chapter of Wikimedia; this year's Wikimania was organized to a large extent by people also involved in the creation of a Taiwan chapter.