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Gearing up for Wikimania 2013

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By Tony1 and The ed17
The Wikimania 2013 organising team at the July 2013 Hong Kong Wikimedia meetup

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.

Wikimania 2013 will be held 7–11 August, and a related Facebook page and Twitter account are already active. Although the English Wikipedia article on Wikimania clearly announces the "Wikimedia Foundation" as the organiser, in fact a dedicated organising team is in charge of the event, arranged by the Hong Kong chapter, which owns copyright on the official logo.

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."


Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the venue for Wikimania 2013
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.

Of the individual sessions, we can mention only a few. Wednesday and Thursday will be "pre-conference" days; they will include an Education Program Pre-conference, a Multimedia Roundtable for "exploring a range of solutions for providing a richer media experience" on WMF sites, a "meet and greet" for the European Union Free Knowledge Advocacy Group, and a three-hour welcome party on the Thursday evening.

Friday will kick off with an opening ceremony that will include addresses by the Hong Kong government's chief information officer and a plenary by Jimmy Wales ("The State of the Wiki", no doubt a pun on the US president's annual State of the Union address to congress). After morning coffee, among the sessions will be those on Wikipedia and Internet regulation in Mainland China, product management at the WMF, approaches to evaluating GLAM collaborations, and editor surveys. The afternoon will feature topics such as Science GLAM, the future of Wiki Loves Monuments, the multilingual Commons crisis, and movement-wide elections and referenda.

Saturday will start with a keynote by Hong-Kong-based entrepreneur and IT advocate Charles Mok. Morning topics will include the rebirth of Wikivoyage as a WMF project, the global south challenge for the WMF, the technical development of new admin tools, and a panel session on open access for academic research. Four major afternoon themes will be women and diversity, legal strategy (with WMF general counsel Geoff Brigham), languages and translation, and Imagine Wikipedia in 2022.

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., 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.

Garfield Byrd, WMF chief of finance and administration
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 Signpost coverage)—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 Signpost coverage).

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.

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  • I wonder if too, the article on the missing Gavin Hopley murder is actually a self fulfilling prophesy much as the article suggests the deletion was. After all, the fact that there is an article from a reputable source discussing the murder so long after could in fact show ongoing notability of the event. Miyagawa (talk) 17:30, 2 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Wikimania advertising

The Wikimania page looks once more like something from Formula One. I'd rather Wikimania stayed faithful to what is usually claimed to be part of the essential spirit of Wikipedia: No advertising. No government funding. Some of these sponsorship deals (2012 page) are very much from a different world than Wikipedia. Example quote:

  • Diamond level: $40,000
  • Our three Diamond sponsors will receive the naming rights to the attendee party, opening night reception, or the Unconference. Diamond sponsors will also receive:
  • Large banner and acknowledgement during sponsored event.
  • 5 VIP tickets and full conference passes
  • Full-page ad in the program
  • Name & logo prominent on conference website and slideshow prior to the start of plenary sessions
  • Promotional items in attendee bag
  • Other considerations negotiable

Naming rights for attendee parties ("Come to the party!") and the like are the sorts of sponsorship terms you'd expect for a PGA Golf Tournament, not from a volunteer-driven encyclopedia claiming to offer the public neutral articles on these selfsame sponsors. (For reference, $40,000 is less than 0.1% of the WMF's annual revenue.) Andreas JN466 17:56, 2 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I share some of Jayen466's concerns on sponsorship. --NaBUru38 (talk) 12:48, 3 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
If you're going to have an expensive annual conference like Wikimania, the money needs to come from somewhere. A fair chunk of the funding has apparently come from sponsors this year, but sponsors don't usually hand out bags of money "for free". For what it's worth, I don't think that the amount of advertising sponsorship is excessive at all. Lankiveil (speak to me) 08:22, 4 August 2013 (UTC).[reply]
The way I read the article, the WMF funds most of the conference anyway, and advertisers at most "top up" the funding. The Foundation took something like $50 million this year in revenue. It's well within the Foundation's means to pay for Wikimania outright, rather than turning it into a billboard. Andreas JN466 12:37, 5 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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