Wikimania 2012 tackles diversity issues

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mary Gardiner gave the keynote speech at Wikimania 2012 in Washington, D.C.
Image: Andrew Bennetts.
Jimmy Wales addresses attendees of Wikimania 2012 at the Library of Congress.
Image: User:Deror Avi.
Chinese language contributor Shang Zhang meets Jimmy Wales at the Library of Congress.
Image: User:Shujenchang.

Community leaders at the Wikimania 2012 conference, which is largely attended by Wikipedians and volunteers from other Wikimedia Foundation projects, focused attention on diversity within the projects and specifically on the inclusion of women, people who come from developing countries, and those people who, while not tech geeks, are potential contributors.

Wikipedia is the fifth top web site visited on the internet, according to Wales.

Mary Gardiner, co-founder of the Ada Initiative, delivered the opening address, where she encouraged conference participants to think about how they could be more inclusive, especially toward women, in their work. She is the first woman ever to give an opening address at a Wikimania conference. The conferences have been held annually since 2005.

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, echoed the theme of diversity in his remarks during his annual State of the Wiki address and expanded on Africa and including more people who are not technically savvy.

Participants from 87 countries gathered in Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University, Washington, D.C. for the opening session on Thursday morning.

Mary Gardiner focused on the lack of gender diversity within the Wikipedia community. She said reader and editor surveys have shown that while over one third of the readers of Wikipedia are women, the number of women who are editors is around 10 to 15 percent in the English Wikipedia and as low as 8.5 percent for all Wikipedias. "As a project of social change, even if it's not an activist project, the Wikipedia community has a responsibility both to its mission and to the people out there in the world to always be on a journey toward diversity — to increase the size of the umbrella of the world", Gardiner said.

The Ada Initiative, co-founded by Gardiner, encourages women's involvement in open source projects like Wikipedia, open-source software, and open government. Prior to the conference, the Ada Initiative sponsored an AdaCamp where women shared their experiences across these projects. Gardiner, who is a graduate student in Computational Linguistics, delivered the keynote, entitled "Fostering diversity: not a boring chore, a critical opportunity."

Gardiner said Wikipedia should not only increase diversity because it would be good for the community to have more voices, but also the community should reach out with sincerity and both engage and hear women's voices and be open to change from their contributions.

Jimmy Wales recommended Wikipedians "reexamine [their] premises." As an example, he asked them to consider article topics that other audiences who are not currently being served well could find meaningful. He became involved in a deletion debate about whether Kate Middleton's wedding dress was worthy of an article. He contrasted this topic choice with the large number of obscure pages about Linux and asked the audience to consider why important fashion events could be of interest to a different audience with other interests. He said if Wikipedia is not providing content for this audience, they will go elsewhere to create and read that content.

Gardiner also said when women or another subculture focus on their identity it can actually create a stronger Wikipedian identity. "The more you encourage people retain parts of their identity that are important to them, in my case as a woman, the more you enhance their other identity as a Wikipedian... You can encourage both identities by allowing minorities to acknowledge and embrace that they are a member of a minority." Wikipedia has encouraged the development of subcultures through the creation of chapters, portals, and even individualized user boxes.

Jimmy Wales, on a personal note, announced that he and his partner had named their daughter Ada after Ada Lovelace, who Gardiner had explained to the audience is considered the first software programmer and was an inspiration for the Ada Initiative. Gardiner credits her fellow Ada Initiative co-founder Valerie Aurora, executive director, for naming the organization after Lovelace.

Wales devoted a large portion of his speech to Wikipedia's footprint in Africa. Wikipedia is currently offered in 285 languages and of African languages, Yorùbá, Swahili, and Afrikaans are the largest. Wales described how in a one month period in 2011 Yorùbá jumped to first in the number of articles. Yorùbá Wikipedia User:Demmy created a bot that added 15,000 articles to the language in one month and his activity doubled the number of active editors to about four. Wales presented the second annual "Jimbo Award" to User:Demmy for his contribution to the Yorùbá language version of Wikipedia.

Wales said the Wikimedia Foundation's mobile initiative would be an important part of bringing people from developing countries to Wikipedia and would even offer new editing tools for the community worldwide.

New software is in development that could also expand the number of editors of Wikipedia. Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, announced that Wikimedia Foundation is currently testing its Visual Editor Software that she says will make it as easy to edit Wikipedia as it is to update the status on a person's Facebook account. "Editing is unnecessarily difficult," Gardner said. "We're using an older technology. And it's an open-source environment and developers of that kind of software are not typically dedicated to design and usability issues" but to solving technical problems.

Wikimania is an international event and past conferences have been held in Frankfurt, Germany; Boston, USA; Taipei, Taiwan; Alexandria, Egypt; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Gdańsk, Poland; and Haifa, Israel. Next year's Wikimania is to be held in Hong Kong, China.

The main conference has attracted over 1,000 participants and will be open through July 14.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.