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Wikimania 2014—what will it cost?

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By The ed17
One of many logos for Wikimania 2014, set against a background of the London skyline

Last May, James Forrester announced to the world that London had been awarded the 2014 Wikimania conference. Functioning as the Wikimedia movement's annual conference, it is separate from the chapter-focused Wikimedia Conference. The first Wikimania conference took place in 2005 in Frankfurt, with 380 attendees. London, the tenth, in August, is expected to attract 1500. With Wikimania ambition, attention, and attendance rising significantly over the last nine years, how have this year's monetary costs come to be?


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The London organizers had a head start on 2014 after a failed attempt for 2013, as they were able to reuse much of their previous bid's content and formatting. It also discouraged potential competitors from bidding. Still, the first plan put to the selection committee overseeing the bidding process was extremely large, featuring an £804,500 budget. Initial estimates in the proposal pegged the attendance at 8,000 (with 6,000 coming in a "public track", the manifestation of a "Wikifest" aimed at non-Wikimedians), when the largest Wikimania to date had been about 1400 in Washington, D.C. (2012).

Other estimates seemed to go even higher, to 10,000, though conference director Ed Saperia told the Signpost that "the 10,000 figure was actually 'delegate-days' rather than delegates. ~3000 delegate * 3 days = ~10,000 delegate days. And the venue can comfortably hold that many, though of course I can't guarantee how many tickets we'll sell." The exact planned total is murky, but in a March 2013 question and answer session with committee member James Hare, Saperia said that there would only be "4000-4500 people in the venue at any one point." However, these numbers were privately derided; we previously asked an individual familiar with the organizing team's preparations (but very critical of how they handled them) about these projected numbers. They told us that they had "seen absolutely no evidence that that figure is anything close to realistic" and commented that "the main auditorium [cannot hold] that many people, so there would be a thousand people milling around outside during Jimmy's address".

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales endorsed the London bid early on; this video was released in February 2013

Revenue was pegged at £860,000, with £500,000 from corporate sponsorships, £300,000 from the Wikifest ("6000 [2000 daily passes per day] at £50 each"; more on what happened to the Wikifest is below), and £60,000 from the registration fees for Wikimedia movement attendees.

The selection committee forced the London team to sharply reduce their budget. Serious consideration was given to re-opening the bidding process to different cities who could provide a less "costly and complicated [conference with a] simpler core budget and lower-cost options for attendees." Hare wrote to the Signpost that "their original proposal was sweeping in scope, calling for a huge outreach component attracting 10,000 people over the duration of the conference. We had doubts about the feasibility of such a proposal, so we asked them to produce a more realistic budget in the event they did not hit their revenue targets."

The London organizers responded by offering three separate budgets: "core", "basic", and "luxury". They were awarded the conference on the basis of the first, with projected revenues of £214,000: £99,000 from the WMF, £85,000 from sponsorships, and £30,000 from 1500 registrations. Costs would be £211,882, including a projected £40,000 for the Barbican Centre.

Since then, the Wikimania team has faced several recent troubles, including being two months late in deciding what programs to include, registration payments being accepted only via credit cards, and problems with the official hotel. Ellie Young, the WMF's conference coordinator working with the organizers, responded to these issues: according to her, being late is "not uncommon for large events like these, and it doesn't appear to have deterred people from registering", and PayPal is now being accepted for the registration costs.

Budget questions

The Barbican Centre has been the conference's planned venue from the beginning, but the projected costs for it have ballooned over the same time period.

Furthermore, the plans and costs of the conference have changed greatly from the "core" budget and certainly from the grand initial proposal. The Wikifest, which was a separate conference in the same venue geared towards non-Wikimedians and initially intended to be on the same scale as Wikimania, has been whittled down to a series of keynote speakers. Stevie Benton of Wikimedia UK (WMUK) wrote to us in May that the two are "one and the same", and that the "themes" in this Wikimania "are also focused on outreach beyond the existing Wikimedian community", though without clarifying where the focus would manifest itself, as at the time of his comments, the conference's programme had not been released. In a similar vein, Saperia stated that "we are still having a two-in-one conference, but of course it won't be billed as that; to do so would undermine the whole point of trying to do a more inclusive, outreach focused event."

Young and Garfield Byrd, the Chief of Finance and Administration at the WMF, told the Signpost that the total budget for Wikimania 2014 is around $500,000. This includes the cost of the Barbican Centre, which jumped from £40,000 ($61,000) in the initial proposal to £120,000 ($205,000), though it started even lower; when asked about it in the March 2013 Q&A with Hare, Saperia replied:

By "at cost", Saperia was planning for a total venue expenditure of £20,000/$34,000, though one person with knowledge about the preparations wrote us that it was "absurd" to think that could ever happen. While it's not clear what caused the price to increase, Saperia told us that the center is now "being generous in return so we're getting more staff and space than we expected, allowing us to make savings elsewhere." In essence, it is a matter of necessity: they are locked into spending 40% of the budget on the Barbican, so they are attempting to host as many events as possible there to slash costs elsewhere. An example of this could come from what was going to be the closing party at Tate Modern, an event highlighted and emphasized in a presentation given at Wikimania 2013, but canceled due to what Saperia said were "complications" in using the building.

Future Wikimanias may turn out to be less expensive: according to Wikimania 2015 organizer and president of Wikimedia Mexico Ivan Martínez, the WMF directed them to have a budget that was as close to $300,000 as possible.

What about revenue? According to Young and Byrd, the London Wikimania will receive an outlay of around $300,000 from the Wikimedia Foundation. This is $200,000 higher than Wikimania 2011 in Haifa, Israel, though that conference had only 650 attendees. However, it compares very favorably to Wikimania 2012, which cost $554,422.51 and was held in Washington, D.C., another expensive city.

An additional $200,000 is being raised from the five corporate sponsors: Google,, Wikihow, MathWorks, and Tupperware. While the bid listed 22 possible companies and organizations, and only one of them (Google) signed on, Young chided us for focusing on the dichotomy: "it is a very difficult conference to promote to corporate sponsors." For its part, Wikimedia UK will be spending £38,500 from its reserves for "printed materials, merchandising, and to pay for three temporary members of staff to help with the conference", according to Benton.

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The bottom line, however, is whether the conference will be ready for its debut in a month. Praising the organizing team and WMUK, Young assured us that it will be:

Still waiting on Wikimania 2013's budget

In a recurring postscript, the financial report from Wikimania 2013—due last August, or eleven months ago—has still not been released. Byrd advised us in April that the WMF had received the required documents from Hong Kong, and they are now waiting for the final audit cost before publishing them.

Something hampering the London organizers, and possibly those of the 2015 Mexico City event, is that previous budgets still remain opaque to the public, with limited information on expenditures and income (if both are even listed). James Hare wrote us that "It does frustrate me that Wikimania has not been standardized enough ... but I think it's going to gradually get better and you can never be too perfect at predicting the cost of something like a conference, given the economic inefficiencies of event planning at this scale." Such missing materials can create a "systemic incompetence stemming from a lack of rigorous documentation for most of the conference's existence".

This article was edited after publication to clarify the introduction and add the expense total for Wikimania 2012.
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We are attending 2014 Wikimania, our first Wikimania ever. We took the decision because it is in London, to where we can go for a reasonable budget. So when we learned that it would take place in the Barbican -my wife is the only person I know that loves that place, and that's one of the pluses of WM14- we started preparations. First of all I needed to secure that I could take holidays in August, what means negotiations with my work colleagues (that was last December). That secured, I tried to find the official hotel, but none was listed (as of February/March). We wouldn't take risks so we made our own reservations (which proved to be a wise step, as things have gone). Then we tried to register and pay. We tried to guess how, and as no information about 2014's procedure was available, we took Hong Kong as a proxy: so we would probably need to pay by Paypal and guessed that the price would be twice Hong Kong's (just in case). We put money on Paypal (remmember that it can take up to a month for Paypal to collect money from our accounts). Then we found that payment would be by credit card (that's much more convinient for us!). We ended up with some hundreds of euros on a paypal account we didn't need (the money was well spent later, that's another story). At this point I calculated that WM14 was some six weeks late compared with WM13. I was almost right, as the article says it's two months. I still have my oldest son asking me if the programme has been completed.

All those may seem just little problems, but I when I go to an event like Wikimania, I have to organize carefully. I need to know things in advance. I need to coordinate my work, my family, my transportation, my payments, my accomodation. We are four people travelling. We need to know times, amounts, places, etc. I have no doubts that WM14 will be very successfull.

B25es (talk) 06:11, 13 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]

>'... "core", "basic", and "luxury". They were awarded the conference on the basis of the former...'
"Former" means "previous (of two options)". So which was it? Core or basic? The statement is ambiguous. Kaldari (talk) 06:46, 13 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
This edit is correct. Thanks, Kaldari. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 14:10, 13 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
£38.5 spent by WMUK from their reserves for "printed materials, merchandising, and to pay for three temporary members of staff to help with the conference"? That's value for money ;) Surely a typo. - Sitush (talk) 07:46, 13 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Caught the same - I guess a K is missing? effeietsanders 09:09, 13 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, I do think that the three staff members would object to that amount of pay. ;-) Corrected to £38,500. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 14:10, 13 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
B25es, much the same here. I was also under the mistaken assumption that the Wikimania would offer a good bit of scientific papers about Wiki-projects. Instead there are all sorts of How-To sessions for beginners, it seems to me. Seeing the program now, I probably would not have gone, but I had to book the hotel and my flight before the program was available. If I would have wanted to have my university pay for my attendance, I would have needed all this information much, much earlier. I understand many people had trouble with getting visas in time, as there was no clear information. I personally do not agree that it is a good idea to combine an internal conference and an outreach action. Separation of concerns is an important precept, not only in computing. WiseWoman (talk) 20:48, 13 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • I won't comment on the article iself, but I'll just say to anyone thinking of coming to Wikimania: don't let concerns over budgets or politics get in the way—we are assembling an excellent team of volunteers, who will make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. You won't notice anything amiss. HJ Mitchell | Penny for your thoughts? 21:03, 13 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • Interesting piece; I also won't comment beyond agreeing with Harry above, but " have this year's monetary costs come to be?" is jarringly unidiomatic. Don't make us miss Tony1 too much. Wiki CRUK John (talk) 10:52, 14 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • While Haifa's headline figure (2011) may have been about 650, by the end of WikiMania I believe that the total registration was almost exactly 1000. All the best: Rich Farmbrough18:18, 14 July 2014 (UTC).
  • Why focus just on the budget, yet not on the organising team? I'm sure this group of former City financial workers with zero editing experience are well placed to cater for the interests of the volunteer community. SFB 21:03, 14 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • I will be going. Meeting those you work with on Wikipedia in real life is a great experience. London is a great location as it is 1) easy to get to 2) doesn't require visa's for much of the world. Doc James (talk · contribs · email) (if I write on your page reply on mine) 07:28, 15 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • From my recent experiences in organising international conferences, $500,000 is really cheap for a three day event for 3,000 people ($166 each!), and especially one being held in the middle of a major city. Great work to the organisers! Even modest conferences can be really expensive, and I don't think that it's at all fair to describe a budget of of £804,500 as being "extremely large": it's less than what a similar-sized and not lavish academic or government conference would cost - I expect to pay much more than $US 166 to register for an academic conference, and have actually paid more to attend lunches! Obviously costs should be kept down to the sensible minimum, but conferences are intrinsically costly and if the figures quoted here are correct the organisers have done a great job. Nick-D (talk) 08:34, 15 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]
or by adding the Category:Wikipedians attending Wikimania manually. :) --user.js (talk) 00:27, 16 July 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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