Wikimania 2008 opens at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt

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Friday, July 18, 2008

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Wikimania 2008 press conference
Press conference

Thursday saw the start of the fourth International Wikimedia Conference, better known as Wikimania 2008. The conference is being held in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a modern library with conference facilities for multiple tracks as well as a grand hall where the opening ceremony and first presentation were held.

Wikimedia Board Panel

Speakers for the opening ceremony: His Excellency Dr. Ahmed Darwish, the Egyptian Minister of State for Administrative Development, Florence Devouard, the outgoing chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, Mohamed Ibrahim the active lead volunteer, who took the initiative of approaching Bibliotheca Alexandrina to collaborate on the bidding and the organization of Wikimania 2008 along with the enthusiastic local volunteers, and finally Jakob Voss head of the program committee.

The theme of this year's conference is "Change the shape of wisdom", and the choice of location is seen as an outreach to the Arabic and African communities.

According to Dr. Darwish, the conference has the full support of the Egyptian Prime Minister who would have attended but for a clash with a prior engagement. In his introductory talk he described wikis as becoming more reliable and being a form of globalization which did not destroy local identity.

Talking of Egyptian efforts to improve education and make it a more continuous process he discussed increased e-Government and the fact that in this area Egypt had come in the top 25% of UN surveyed countries. The country's young population is seen as a driving factor in increasing Internet use. Optimistically, Dr Darwish spoke of the move from a two-sided situation to more collaboration between government and citizens.

Florence Devouard spoke briefly about the library, comparing their goals with those of the Wikimedia Foundation and drawing a number of parallels. One of the projects hosted by the library is a mirror of the Internet Archive. As a surprise announcement, she revealed that the language subcommittee had approved the creation of a new Wikipedia version for Egyptian Arabic.

Mohamed Ibrahim talked on how Alexandria winning the bid had significantly raised the profile of wiki projects within the Arab and African media. This was evidenced at a press conference held early that afternoon. Around six or seven TV crews were present along with at least 30 reporters. Despite not being Western media, the focus of questioning was on academic skepticism towards Wikipedia; the oft-repeated confusion between Wikia and the Wikimedia Foundation was dismissed when raised.

Jakob Voss, the last member of the opening ceremony team, gave a rundown of a number of statistics. The conference received over 150 submissions for talks and workshops. Of these approximately 75 were approved with around 100 speakers due to talk during the course of the three day conference.

Participation in the conference is around 650 attendees, coming from 47 different countries around the globe, in addition to some 80 other participants, including individuals from local and international media, sponsors representatives, BA directors and WMF advisory and board members.

At a well-attended press conference the usual issues were raised, such as the reliability of Wikipedia as a source. It was also announced that with the stepping down of Florence Devouard as Chair of the WMF board, her successor will be Michael Snow.

Jimmy Wales gave a speech titled Freedom of speech, human rights, and free culture. In his speech he made a comparison between the Freedom House rating with the size of the Wikipedia in that language. He found a link between the two in the cases he examined.

Other presentations included Rhonda Shearer's speech on media accountability, Foundation goals and plans with Sue Gardner and Erik Möller.

The day ended with a board panel providing an opportunity for discussion with the board and a question & answer segment. This included the announcement that the new chair of the Foundation is Michael Snow.


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