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.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Day two of Wikimania,

The second day of Wikimania found me working at the Wikimedia UK stall in the Community Village. This was a selection of stalls where the various Wikipedia “chapters” from around the world, the different projects of Wikipedia and allied open source organisations had a chance to sit, give away food, such as stroopwaffles, and talk to people about what they do. This Community Village was situated at one of the main entrances to the Barbican Centre and was in an area open to the public. This meant that there were many people looking at the stalls who knew little about Wikipedia and then could find out a great deal more. I spoke to a number of people who wanted to know more about Wikipedia, about editing and about the activities of the Wikimedia UK, such as the woman who had just come to drop off her library book who entered a lively debate between me and a young man form America who couldn't understand the difference between England and Britain or the librarian from the Feminist library wanting a woman to teach a group to edit Wikipedia; an interesting opportunity to improve the representation of notable women in Wikipedia. As well as giving out information, leaflets and free beer mats, I was able to listen to some of the talks. These are two that caught my attention.

 Andy Mabbett outlined his work of recording the voices of living people who have articles in Wikipedia and adding the recorded voice as a small roughly 10 second sound clip. The purpose is to have a historic record of their voice and a canonical pronunciation of their name. He advised that it is important to keep the message neutral, eg not let them say “hello Wikipedia” so that the recording can be used in other places. Andy needs some help in doing it because locating the people is difficult. So if you know a person with a Wikipedia article could you record their voice for Wikipedia? There is a page of instructions on how to do it Techies amongst you will understand this, but I don’t, apparently you must use an ogg or flack file, not Mp3. Some people in the hackathon are working on a website to record and add things to the relevant article in order to make it easier.

Zillah Watson of the BBC, found out what Andy was doing, because she was working with the research section of the world service radio archive. Amongst other things they have worked out how to identify individual speakers from their voice, automatically. They wanted a library of voices, sample and clips, so they have added them to Wikipedia. This is the first time the BBC has released files from their programs with an open licence. In consequence the project has added new articles of people to Wikipedia that had the voices, but not the articles, as well as adding voices to existing articles. The BBC project is still running.

The idea of keeping someone's voice for posterity appears to be a means to give an emotional depth and reality to the life a person. The human hearing seems to pick up so many nuances, and just from a few voice snippets people in the future may think things like, "Jimmy Wales sounds like a good guy" or "Stephen Fry sounds really friendly".

Peter Murray-Rust is a Doctor of Chemistry working in Cambridge University who has been a Wikipedia editor for many years and is a passionate advocate for Open Access, Open Data and open science in general. He believes that Wikipedia is the future of science and is currently entering into a collaboration with WikiData. He has been running a project to find a means of machine reading PDF files, and that is because he wants to extract facts from scientific papers, which unfortunately are published as PDFs. His project has managed to do this, and Peter has chosen to add the data generated this way to WikiData. I think that it is a significant breakthrough to be able to machine read PDFs, that would make searching the content of things on the internet so much easier. More can be read on the project website  

In the evening I met up with the other half, sorry, I haven't mentioned that he was also there, in fact he is the real Wikipedia editor in out household, I only dabble, and as he had arranged to go out for a drink with some other editors that he either knew, or that he had stumbled upon during the day, and I wanted to see the ceramic poppies outside the Tower of London commemorating the start of WW1,(  we led off an expedition of various nationalities, including Dutch and Australian, to the Tower, stopping at a Pizza Express for food and drink on the way back.


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.