Gearing up for Wikimania 2013: The ninth annual Wikimania conference will open in just over a week at the Jockey Club Auditorium, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Wikimania is for people worldwide who have an interest in Wikimedia Foundation projects. It features presentations and discussions on those projects, on free knowledge and content, and on related social and technical issues.
The ninth annual Wikimania conference will open in just over a week at the Jockey Club Auditorium, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Wikimania is for people worldwide who have an interest in Wikimedia Foundation projects. It features presentations and discussions on those projects, on free knowledge and content, and on related social and technical issues. Attendance at the first three conferences—in Frankfurt, Germany; Cambridge, US; and Taipei, Taiwan—ranged from 380 to 440. This rose to 500–650 for Alexandria, Egypt; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Gdansk, Poland; to 720 in Haifa, Israel in 2011; and then nearly doubled to around 1400 for Washington DC last year with relatively easy access for many Americans.
The organisers told the Signpost they expect a thousand people to attend, including volunteers, journalists, and VIPs. There has been significant media interest, says the team's Deryck Chan: "Of interest to Signpost readers are two recent feature pieces in the South China Morning Post, the main English-language newspaper of Hong Kong: there was a front-page article on Wikimania two weeks ago, focusing on the gender gap, and a detailed piece just came out on Monday." The committee has also received significant media interest in covering Wikimania itself. The preparatory meetup in July, he says, "was attended by journalists from three news agencies ... Press pass registration has been open for a few weeks and we're having a good turnout of journalist registrations."
Several attendees at a previous conference complained to the Signpost that Internet connectivity was poor from venues and hotels. We asked Deryck Chan whether Wi-Fi access will be satisfactory: "Yes. We're grateful that [Polytechnic University] is aware of the heavy use of internet by Wikimania and is deploying additional network hardware to ensure good wi-fi coverage at the lecture halls and meeting rooms. For the HKBU dorms [the primary accommodations], wi-fi tickets are arranged for all Wikimania guests. Our hotel recommendations are also chosen partly based on their ability to provide internet connections to guests." Nevertheless, he warned visitors to expect slower connections to Wikimedia projects than are typical in some countries: "The physical distance between Hong Kong and Wikimedia's server clusters means that higher latency and slower speed are inevitable."
There will be numerous events, most of which will confront attendees with a choice of eight parallel sessions, structured into themes such as GLAM, tech, education, community, analysis, and workshops on a variety of themes. This does raise issues of organisation, given that attendance will be divided so many ways and timings will need to be strict so people can plan their moves across themes during each block of parallel sessions. There appears to be no uniform timing for questions at the end of sessions; many presentations assume a structure of 25-minute presentations followed by only 5 minutes for questions. The "lightning talks" column, which stretches through most of Friday and Saturday, was almost empty at the time of publication.
Sunday will open with a keynote by WMF executive director Sue Gardner, followed by a Q&A with the board of trustees. A tribute to Gardner's formative six-year stewardship of the foundation will be one of the highlights of this plenary session. Later sessions on Sunday will include those on paid editing (sure to be controversial), the difficulties of verifying indigenous knowledge on the Wikipedias; the severe challenges of giving people in parts of Africa access to WMF projects, taking quality images with cheap cameras (sure to be a winner), WikiTV, and the much-neglected challenges of script for the many non-roman languages, exemplified in the Javanese Wikipedia. Activating Africa will be a major theme on Sunday afternoon.
The financial model
There are three sources of funding for Wikimania: (i) WMF grants, scholarships, and other cash and in-kind contributions; (ii) cash and in-kind external sponsorship for the event, from both public organisations and private companies; and (iii) the costs of travel and accommodation that are borne by most attendees. Getting the tension right between these three sources involves juggling several needs: paying for a large international conference, garnering sufficient attendance to make it worthwhile, and avoiding any risk of conflict of interest in accepting funds from sponsors. For the movement as a whole, an additional question may be the extent to which donors' funds should subsidise the event.
Wikimania 2013's main page is cluttered with the logos of up to a dozen sponsors and partners; some are government organisations, some NGOs, and some private companies. Ask.com, for example, is a "diamond sponsor" (~US$41,000, going by the budget for Hong Kong's successful bid last year), Google is a "gold sponsor" ($19,000—three gold sponsors were claimed in the bid), wikiHow is a silver sponsor ($10,000—seven were claimed), and Dot.Asia is named as "co-host". These sponsors appear to be not inconsistent with the aims of the movement, although the websites of some displays link to too many other sites for us to follow up.
The Signpost put to the organising team that the actual details of sponsors' financial and in-kind support are unavailable on-wiki (despite the presentation of the budget in the bid). We asked (i) who is giving what cash and in-kind, (ii) whether the benefits remain as they were expressed in the bid (VIP tickets, naming rights, ads in the program, in situ logo displays, slideshows, and other promotional items), and (iii) whether the expected revenues in the bid have changed. The organising team declined to comment on these questions, saying that "a detailed financial report for the WMF will be prepared after the end of Wikimania."
We asked Garfield Byrd, the WMF's chief of finance and administration, to discuss whether the Foundation's allocation of funding is on the basis that it alone is insufficient to hold a successful event—i.e. that cash and in-kind funding from sponsors and other entities is now built into the financial model of Wikimania.
The model for Wikimania was that the Wikimedia Foundation will provide a grant (currently budgeted at $150,000 for the event and $150,000 for scholarships) and the balance of funding for Wikimania will come from sponsorships. For Wikimania 2012 and Wikimania 2013, this model has not worked as planned and so the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia Community needs to review its funding commitments to Wikimania to ensure a successful event. For Wikimania 2012 and Wikimania 2013 sponsorships did not and have not provided the level of funding expected and the Wikimedia Foundation has provided additional funding.
This $300,000 funding excludes the cost of transport and accommodation for what appear to be at least 70 people, including WMF employees and nine out of ten members of the volunteer Affiliations Committee. Going by a squabble on Meta in April ("$40,000 Hong Kong junket"; see Signpostcoverage)—in which the per-capita cost to the WMF of each Affcom member's trip is apparently about $4000—the transport and accommodation bill alone could approach an additional $300,000. This figure does not count the in-kind cost of salaries during the trip for WMF personnel, nor the additional $17,000 in funding for the WikiSym OpenSym Conference to be held on the first day of Wikimania; this amount—US$15,000 of a $24,000 bill for lunches and coffee, plus $2000 for "volunteer" assistance—was approved as part of the WMF grants scheme. This was despite complaints that WikiSym had not followed through on its agreement that no paper arising from the conference would be published in restricted-access journals run by such companies as Elsevier and Springer, something of an irony given the goals of WikiSym (see related Signpostcoverage).
We also asked Garfield Byrd whether the Foundation regards the ethics and practical considerations of sponsorship to be irrelevant to its continuing opposition to the acceptance of advertising on WMF sites. He told us that the corporate sponsorships have become part of the funding model for Wikimanias—something that in his view is entirely different from advertising on WMF sites—and that "it is up to the Wikimedia Community to decide if sponsorships are the best model going forward to fund Wikimania."
Would the WMF be uncomfortable if Wikimania organisers accepted sponsorship from a tobacco retailer, or a corporation that employs dubious practices? "As Wikimania is a Wikimedia Community event, it is up to the Wikimedia Community to decide which types of sponsors it does or does not want for Wikimania. The Wikimedia Foundation always encourages the organizers of any Wikimania to use good judgement when accepting sponsorships so that they are consistent with the values of the Wikimedia Movement. Sponsorships, both cash and in-kind, are to be used for the benefit of Wikimania and for charitable purposes."
He offered this further point: "The Wikimedia Foundation is open to a conversation on the best way to fund Wikimania. It is up to the Wikimedia Community to set the standards by which this event takes place and the Wikimedia Foundation will be a partner in ensuring a successful Wikimania. As with any Community event, funding models will change over time."
Editor's note: the author is a member of the Grant Advisory Committee, but was inactive at the time of the Wikisym application in February.
Aircel partners Wikimedia Foundation to offer free mobile Wikipedia access: The Business Standard was among the first of many Indian news outlets to report on the new Wikipedia Zero partnership with Indian telecom operator Aircel. India has 867 million mobile phone subscribers; Aircel accounts for 60 million of those, who will be able to access the English, Hindi and Tamil Wikipedias free of charge, along with those for 17 other Indian languages. Aircel is majority-owned by Malaysian billionaire Ananda Krishnan's Maxis Communications and has recently been in the news due to a government probe into alleged irregularities surrounding its acquisition by Maxis. See also last week's Signpostcoverage, which focused more on Wikipedia Zero and its importance within the WMF.
Edit-a-thon to improve coverage of women scientists: The Cambridge Newsreported on an edit-a-thon designed to improve Wikipedia's coverage of women scientists. The event was one of a series organised by the Medical Research Council, The Royal Society and Wikimedia UK.
Museum Welcomes Wikipedia Editors: The New York Timesreported on another edit-a-thon co-sponsored by Wikipedia and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, again the latest in a series of such events.
Riley Cooper's Wikipedia page was updated accordingly after racist comment: Larry Brown Sports reported on vandalism to Riley Cooper following a racist comment the American football player made on camera.
The murder of Stephen Lawrence and the strange case of the missing Wikipedia entries: Sean Thomas, blogger for The Telegraph, wrote an entry on what he perceived as anti-white bias in Wikipedia's coverage of racially-motivated violence.
Wikipedia boom in Marathi, Malayalam, and other desi languages: The Times of Indiacovered a study that showed a marked increase in popularity and editors for various Indian languages.
Wikipedians say no to Jimmy's 'buggy' WYSIWYG editor: The Register's Andrew Orlowski reported on the current controversy surrounding the VisualEditor. Orlowski, who is a noted critic of Wikipedia and whose reporting was the subject of a Signpost article in December 2012 ("The Register swings at the Wikimedia movement's finances, and misses"), inaccurately described the prime mover behind the VisualEditor as being Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and seems to believe that there are easy, 'off-the-shelf, open-source' alternatives. His comments on the VisualEditor, though, were accurate, in that it was met with a massive rejection from the German Wikipedia community, and appears to be meeting the same fate at the hands of English-language Wikipedians. See also this week's op-ed from WMF Deputy Director Erik Möller on the virtues of the VisualEditor and where the Foundation is attempting to go with it.
Chief Revenue Officer steps down: The Wikimedia Foundation's Zack Exley will be leaving his position as Chief Revenue Officer, though he will remain with the organization on a part-time basis. Sue Gardner, the executive director of the WMF, said that the amount of money raised by the Foundation had tripled to US$56 million in the last three years, and Exley is "the single person most responsible for funding the growth of resources for the global movement."
Foundation elections postscript: Risker, a member of the committee that oversaw this year's WMF elections (see Signpostcoverage), has published a post mortem of what she sees as deficient aspects of the process and organization.
Wikivoyage logo: Voting for the new Wikivoyage logo, as mandated by the WMF after a cease-and-desist letter from the World Trade Organization, is open.
Listen to Wikipedia: A "visual and audio illustration of live editing activity on Wikipedia" is now online.
Chapters association begins a 'quest for a cool name': The chapters association—which is attempting to be a central organization of the various local chapters scattered around the world (though principally in Europe)—has decided to embark on an odyssey to change its name, after a recent vote decided to admit thematic organizations as full members and (in chair Markus Glaser's words) "give user groups a voice". Suggestions may be added or viewed on Meta.