Wikimania Justification

Due to fiscal constraints we (understandably) have to write justifications for travel requests at $work, to make it clear how the conference/meeting fits in with the goals of the institution. I am planning on going to Wikimania for this first time this year, which is happening a short metro ride away at George Washington University. The cost for the full event is $50, which is an amazing value, and makes it a bit of a no-brainer on the cost-benefit scale. But I still need to justify it, mainly because of the time away from work. If you work in a cultural heritage organization and ever find yourself wanting to go to Wikimania maybe the justification I wrote will be of interest. I imagine you could easily substitute in your own organization’s Web publishing projects appropriately …

The Wikimania conference is the annual conference supporting the Wikipedia community. It is attended by thousands of people from around the world, and is the premier event for discussions and research about the continued development of Wikipedia–and it is being held in Washington, DC this year. Wikipedia comprises 22 million articles, in 285 languages, and it has become the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet, ranking sixth globally among all websites.

Wikimania is of particular interest to cultural heritage institutions, and specifically the Library of Congress, because of the important role that collections like American Memory, Chronicling America, the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog and the World Digital Library (among others) have for Wikipedia editors. Primary resource material on the Web is extremely important to editors for verifiability of article content–so much so that the Wikipedia community is specifically conducting outreach with its Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) project. Several of the our peer institutions are involved in the GLAM effort, including: the National Archives, the Smithsonian and OCLC. Wikipedia remains one of the top referrers of web traffic to the Library of Congress web properties. LC’s multi-decade effort to put its unique collections online for the American people naturally aligns it with the mission of Wikipedia, and Wikimania is an excellent place to learn more about this collaboration that is going on with cultural heritage organizations.

I will be presenting on the value of open access to underlying datasets when conducting a real-time visualization of Wikipedia edits. There is a track of presentations for the cultural heritage community which I plan on attending. There is also a workshop on the Wikidata project, which has particular relevance for LC’s historic involvement in subject and name authority control files. In addition there is a Wikipedia Loves Libraries workshop being sponsored by OCLC to explore the ways in which libraries and Wikipedia can support each other in enriching discoverability and access to research material.


Wikipedia’s 10th Birthday Party at the National Archives in Washington DC on Saturday was a lot of fun. Far and away, the most astonishing moment for me came early in the opening remarks by David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, when he stated (in no uncertain terms) that he was a big fan of Wikipedia, and that it was often his first go-to for information. Not only that, but when discussion about a bid for a DC WikiMania (the Wikipedia Annual Conference) came up later in the morning, Ferriero suggested that the National Archives would be willing to host it if it came to pass. I’m not sure if anything actually came of this later in the day–a WikiMania in DC would be incredible. It was just amazing to hear the Archivist of the United States be supportive of Wikipedia as a reference source…especially as stories of schools, colleges and universities rejecting Wikipedia as a source are still common. Ferriero’s point was even more poignant with several high schoolers in attendance. Now we all can say:

If Wikipedia is good enough for the Archivist of the United States, maybe it should be good enough for you.

Another highlight for me was meeting Phoebe Ayers, who is a reference librarian at UC Davis, member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, and author of How Wikipedia Works. I strong armed Phoebe into signing my copy (I bought this copy on Amazon after it was de-accessioned from Cuyahoga County Public Library in Parma, Ohio ). Phoebe has some exciting ideas for creating collaborations between libraries and Wikipedia, which I think fit quite well into the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museuems (GLAM) effort within Wikipedia. I think she is still working on how to organize the effort.

Later in the day we heard how the National Archives is thinking of following the lead of the British Museum and establishing a Wikipedian in Residence. Liam Wyatt, the first Wikipedian in Residence, put a human face on Wikipedia for the British Museum, and familiarized museum staff with editing Wikipedia, through activities like the Hoxne Challenge. Having a Wikipedia in Residence at the National Archives (and who knows maybe the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress) would be extremely useful I think.

In a similar vein, Sage Ross spoke at length about the Wikipedia Ambassador Program. The Ambassador Program is a formal way for folks to represent Wikipedia in academic settings (universities, high schools, etc). Ambassadors can get training in how to engage with Wikipedia (editing, etc) and can help professors and teachers who want to integrate Wikipedia into their curriculum, and scholarly activities.

I got to meet Peter Benjamin Meyer of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who has some interesting ideas for aggregating statistical information from federal statistical sources, and writing some bots that will update article info-boxes for places in the United States. The impending release of the 2010 US Census Data has the Wikipedia community discussing the best way to update the information that was added by a bot for the 2000 census. It seemed like Peter might be able to piggy back some of his efforts on this work that is going on at Wikipedia for the 2010 Census.

Jyothis Edthoot an Oracle employee and Wikipedia Steward gave me a behind the scenes look at the tools he and others in Counter Vandalism Unit use to keep Wikipedia open for edits from anyone in the world. I also got to meet Harihar Shankar from Herbert van de Sompel’s team at Los Alamos National Lab, and to learn more about the latest developments with Memento, which he gave a lightning talk about. I also ran into Jeanne Kramer-Smyth of the World Bank, and got to hear about their efforts to provide meaningful access to their document collections to web crawlers using their metadata.

I did end up giving a lightning talk about Linkypedia (slides on the left). I was kind of rushed, and I wasn’t sure that this was exactly the right audience for the talk (being mainly Wikipedians instead of folks from the GLAM sector). But it helped me think through some of the challenges in expressing what Linkypedia is about, and who it is for. All in all it was a really fun day, with a lot of friendly folks interested in the Wikipedia community. There must’ve been at least 70 people there on a very cold Saturday–a promising sign of good things to come for collaborations between Wikipedia and the DC area.