Saturday, 9 August 2014

Wikimania 2014, now in London

Can you imagine a tropical paradise in the centre of a Metropolis, a place of exotic plants, water and laptops?... Laptops? what are they doing there? Well, that is the scene that I have just encountered at the Conservatory of  the Barbican Centre in London at Wikimania, the phenomena that is the annual global celebration of the Wikipedia community.

It started Friday and I am attending as a Wikimedia UK volunteer, helping out at the Community Village where there are stalls from the various Wikimedia chapters from over the world. I will be sending out a few blogs about the event over the next few days. The opening ceremony last night had a few speakers, Ed Saperia who was the initiator and motivator for bringing Wikimania to London; Jon Davies, the Chief Executive for Wikimedia UK, the body who organised the event together with the Wikipedia Foundation; Lila Tretikov the new CEO of the Wikipedia Foundation and of course, Jimmy Wales himself. They set the scene of why Wikimania came to London, how it has been organised, and they all emphasised the power of Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales endeared the crowd by telling us that Wikimania is a gathering of  "A bunch of geeks like us…" who together are making Wikipedia "as good as well possibly can be". There was an emphasis of  the Wikipedia opposition of “right to be forgotten”, as introduced by European legislation against Google and the statement that Wikipedia hardly ever has been asked to take down articles about people because generally they are fair and accurate articles. The point about this issue that was not stated is that search engines such are Google are indiscriminate about the things that appear there, but there are so many levels of editing and moderation, that a certain amount of censorship of articles occur before they are generally read. For example, if an editor wrote something slanderous about an individual, or added something spiteful, untrue or exaggerated, then the general rules of proving the veracity of the article apply and these statements will be removed. On the other hand, if an individual has a chequered past that they do not wish to be exposed it will be perfectly legal to add facts about their previous life to Wikipedia it can be done in an objective manner. Jimmy believes that Wikipedia is really really powerful and should have an influence on open policies.

The most thought provoking keynote speech, however, was Salil Shetty Secretary General of Amnesty International, who talked about their principles and the similarity in the main tenets of  Amnesty International and Wikipedia. Amnesty International was started in the 1961 by Peter Benenson, a British lawyer to campaign for the human rights of individuals. They are carrying on fights against the death penalty and torture across the globe. They do not take money from governments or corporations so that they can preserve their impartiality. Members are from Europe and N America, and Amnesty international know that they need more in India and S Africa, the developing world. Therefore, staff are moving out to these other world.  It is  mainly a letter writing organisation but it has started to use modern technology to help detect where there are problems in the world, for example,  a panic button app for those under threat; satellite imaging to look at prison camp development and oil spills, so that they can give independent evidence of in humanities. 

Here I am at the Wikimedia UK stall, holding a Welsh flag with Robin from the Welsh Wicipedia.

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