Friday, 22 August 2014

More about Wikimania 2014, London

Lakeside at the Barbican

I am squashing two days of Wikimania into this blog post, because by this time the events and experiences have merged and blurred because there were so many of them. It was also the weekend, and  being awake, up and about, talking to people, exercising my brain and learning before 11am was quite challenging to the constitution.

Saturday started well with a session of learning to edit. I am not a very proficient Wikipedia editor and the few little articles I have written have been produced with technical help from people better at it than me. Time for me to get this sorted, I decided, so I joined the workshop being run by user Rexx. He was very good, and now I actually have a user page and some more confidence to write something entirely under my own steam. Because I am a librarian, not to mention an author of an academic paper or two, I thought it best to find out more about the latest version of Creative Commons licensing (4.0). I heard two talks on that, both from "The horses mouth", people actively involved in the development and writing the licenses. CC 4.0 is more eclectic, it encompasses the laws of many countries and the wording has become clearer. It is also easier to make attributions to licensed work.

I managed to catch most of Jack Andraka's presentation, I missed the start because I was deep in conversation with a member of the public at the Wikimedia UK stall. Jack is the young man that had an idea of how to develop a test for pancreatic cancer because he had read some science articles that were available for any member of the public to read  through Open Access. Jack was a very engaging young man and a very confident speaker. The surprising thing about him, though, was that he considered himself very ordinary and that young people in America are engaged in inventing new things. He looks up to friend of his who has built a nuclear reactor in his parent's garage. This made me think that there is something very wrong in the British educational system. perhaps we do not have enough faith in the intelligence and creativity of young people?

The high point of Saturday, however, came in the evening when there was a mini version of the Edinburgh Fringe, but in London, with a Wikipedia themed comedy night. The performers were not just excellent comedians, but academics, including Dan Schreiber, a QI writer, Simon Singh, writer and mathematician, Dr Steve Cross of University College London and  others so funny that I have forgotten their names. I found this entertainment particularly interesting because the other half and I attended a stand up comedy workshop earlier in the year, when I started writing a few stand up minutes about being an information scientist. Steve Cross set up academic stand up comedy (called Bright Club), to help spread public engagement with science.
The "Sculpture Court", a peaceful courtyard in the middle of the Barbican just right for blogging

Sunday started with the media, Bill Thompson of the BBC talking about the rise of social media and citizen journalism, although he started with a phrase suitable for the Wikipedia themed comedy night "Freedom's just another word for something left to edit". Bill explained that professional journalists used to be the people who wrote the first draft of history, but now people using social media, twitter, blogs, etc, have taken their place. This means that professional journalist now have to be in advance of the bloggers, making the 0th draft of history, A new model of journalism is emerging, a sort of collaborative joint account of the world's events. He compared the concepts and premise of the BBC as being similar to Wikipedia, there is no advertising and education is a major remit of both. Both serve the public interest and he stated that he considers the BBC archive of broadcast programmes being part of the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) community. The speech seemed to flow from one concept to another, but I think Bill's overall meaning was that the BBC is concerned with the free and open flow of knowledge, be it journalistic reporting over events, or of more educative and cultural programmes; science documentaries, well scripted drama's, promenade concerts, etc. and this is what Wikipedia is also concerned with.

The final  talk that I attended on Sunday was one about the worth of  face to face editing sessions. This was a panel discussion that appeared to be lead by a Wikimedia Foundation researcher who had found a great deal of difficulty getting Wikipedia editing trainers to report the sessions that they gave and to evaluate the impact of the sessions. Money is being spent on these sessions and it seems that most of the people who attend these sessions do not go on to becoming an editor, so is it worth doing? Some of the trained trainers in the room made the point that at least some more articles had been written or improved, which is always a bonus, that at least people know how to edit, and gaining more long term editors is not necessarily the point of doing the training. Other individuals said that they often show people how to edit Wikipedia in a less formal surroundings, because someone has noticed what they are doing on their laptops and want to know what to do. I used the analogy that the discussion was like educated people in the 6th century saying that they do not know why they bother to train boys to use quills and vellum to write and illustrate because few of them end up being monks and writing a decent illustrated manuscript. Meaning that it is the stimulation of literacy is important and that knowing how to do something does not mean that someone wants to do it all the time, or to a high degree of proficiency.

So, what I think about the conference as whole? I thought that the community village was a great opportunity to find out what is going on in different parts of the world, with Wikipedia chapters and with open access organisations as a whole. I thought the discussions interesting and thought provoking, and being the sort of person who considers that information and knowledge should be as free as the air that we breathe I felt inspired by the people who are fighting hard to make it that way. I also found it exciting that it was a gathering of people from all over the world who had come together peacefully with a common interest and made me hope that even in troubled times World Peace may just be a possibility.

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