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WikiConference report

WikiConference North America 2023 in Toronto recap: Pics, tales and videos

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By Lane Rasberry
group photo of WikiConference North America

WikiConference North America 2023 was held in Toronto from 9-12 November 2023. Here we share outcomes of this event including newly published videos and photos, the archived conference website and program, and share some attendee reflections on its significance.

Background

WikiConference North America 2023 featured three days of programming

WikiConference Toronto was the 10th annual WikiConference North America and the first in-person conference since 2019 in Boston before the COVID-19 pandemic. Wikimedia volunteers organize the conference for other volunteers, and the invited programming includes whatever issues seem most important to the volunteer community. The format of the conference is to have a day of "culture crawl", which are trips to local museums and sites of Wikipedian interest, followed by two days of presentations and workshops. The conference counted 440 attendees. Funding for about 80 scholarships to attend came from the Wikimedia Foundation, which has a practice of sponsoring diversity in participation. Wikipedia's friend Craig Newmark, who supports aspects of Wikipedia including contributor safety and the fact-checking of the content itself, also funded parts of the conference, as did the nonprofit organizations Hacks/Hackers, which promotes community journalism, and Credibility Coalition, which is concerned with increasing accuracy in popular media.

As the conference changes city with every iteration, local people wherever it is held are always a large portion of the attendees, and the most likely to attend as inexperienced Wikimedia editors. Organizations which have completed a Wikimedia project in the last year use the event to share results, so attendees from universities, museums, and other knowledge centers are always present. Wikimedia functionaries attend the event to have in-person discussions on topics which are challenging to address in wiki talk page posts or virtually otherwise. This conference was the first in-person meetup of the English Wikipedia Functionaries User Group. Members of other Wikimedia movement affiliates were in attendance, but of more general interest to the North American Region, the North American Hub Research Project surveyed attendees and presented focus-group findings which included intent to better support Wikimedia contributors who are not members of a Wikimedia community organization.

Every event is also someone's first event, and some new attendees are experienced Wikimedia contributors. New attendees unfailingly remark and wonder that they have followed the discussion topics online, but did not anticipate how it would feel to talk face-to-face with their virtual collaborators whom they meet in person for the first time.

It is common knowledge among Wikimedia organizers that transparency is a value of our community. WikiConference North America organizers practice this transparency with the budgets of Wikimedia community events. The conference team identifies themselves on Meta-Wiki. They approach the Wikimedia Foundation meta:Grants:Conference program to submit a funding request for the conference. Interpret the budget for yourself, but at a glance, it requests US$110,000 total, of which $50,000 is for travel scholarships, $22,000 is catering, $12,000 reserves the conference venue, and $11,000 pays for language interpretation and translation services. The final report closes out the grant with accounting updates and a narrative of the event impact.

Programming

The conference program is the best published description of the conference topics which framed conversation at the event. Any summary of the conference would be subjective, but many conference attendees remarked that many of the presentations – regardless of how they were described in the program – veered into discussion and bewilderment of how suddenly artificial intelligence is changing Wikimedia activities (though this was already a topic at Wikimania 2015, see prior Signpost coverage – eds.). Topics discussed included users submitting AI text to Wikipedia, generating AI images for Commons, summarizing long talk page discussions with AI, the state of Wikimedia tools developed with AI features, and especially, what Wikipedia's place might be in a future where more readers interact directly with an AI rather than browse our encyclopedia.

The bravest, most welcome, and most celebrated conference attendees are those who come to report and recruit collaborators for community projects. These kinds of projects are often the most original in scope, surface new social and ethical issues in knowledge sharing, and have a precedent of bringing new engaged editors to Wikimedia projects. Examples of these include "An Alternative to the Pushpin Map in the Neighbourhood Infobox", "Indigenous Artists and Wikidata", "WP:WELW Women Electronic Literature Writers Project editathon or round table". Again, reading the presentation titles in the conference program is a reflection of the interests of the time.

Wikimedia governance was continually discussed. Our Wikimedia Movement Strategy gives recommendations for how to achieve our goals. Everyone has their own way of discussing what Movement Strategy means to them. One perspective is that it concerns money, including US$17 million in grants to community projects out of the Wikimedia Foundation's US$154 million revenue as noted in the latest reports for each.

Bomb threat

The Signpost previously covered a bomb threat targeting the conference. Discussing harassment, terrorism, and threats against Wikipedia editors is difficult online, but easier in person. This bomb threat took hours out of everyone's conference while the bomb squad searched the building. Those hours were costly, and that was in addition pondering the unnerving reality that editing Wikipedia greatly increases one's likelihood of attracting stalking and harassment. There was no bomb. The threat was a hoax to waste time and scare people.

Efforts to address Gender bias on Wikipedia or develop LGBT and Wikipedia are routine targets, but also vulnerable are those who edit content on any controversy in Wikipedia, which can include any topic. The Signpost previously reported that the international Wikimania conference in Singapore in 2023, protestors came to the event to protest the availability of gender-neutral toilets. Previously at WikiConferences, the 2016 WikiConference in San Diego included a yelling protestor who ran around until security was able to physically remove them, and the 2014 WikiConference in New York City included someone who communicated their objection to the event by pooping on the floor. Typical conferences and gatherings do not attract such hostility, and these generalized attacks are in addition to the personal attacks against attendees which they often keep private, and which they often assume is a rare occurrence rather than the systemic problem it is.

In their own words

Toronto Public Library interior

User:Bluerasberry invited attendees to the conference to come to the video room and share whatever brief message about Wikimedia projects anyone would like to record. See them and hear their own words.

Presentations

Commons:Category:WikiConference North America 2023 presentations

Images

group photo
main presentation area
traveling to the conference by Wiki-Train

The Signpost is the newsletter that anyone can edit. If anyone identifies additional subjects of in-focus pictures in Commons:Category:People at WikiConference North America 2023, then please edit this gallery to include them.

Further reading

Credits

WikiConference is for volunteers and by volunteers. Thanks to all attendees, to speakers, and to the organizers.

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Great recap! Nice to see the gallery. Thanks! Crunchydillpickle🥒 (talk) 19:21, 25 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]

I agree. I enjoyed the video interviews. I'm looking forward to attending WikiConference 2024. Finger's crossed! Ckoerner (talk) 21:48, 25 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]

Minor correction: We were all well back in the building well before 11:45 ... since it was Remembrance Day in Canada, I very much recall observing the usual moment of silence at the 11th hour. Daniel Case (talk) 04:27, 27 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]

A great conference, lots of excellent discussions and well organized. Thanks to the many good volunteers who put it together. The wait during the unexpected delay actually gave attendees a lot of extra conference time to further meet and discuss, not the best way to mix and mingle but some good things were accomplished during the time-out. Randy Kryn (talk) 13:19, 27 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]





       

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