Jump to content

Blog/From The Far Side Of The World

From Wikimania

Pete, cold and distant

I'm a member of an online community about the same size as Wikipedia. A very different community in many ways, and we tend not to get television comedians urging viewers to vandalise our site. We have gatherings now and then, usually local meetings on a monthly basis, but national conventions are held annually in an increasing number of countries. I've attended seven of these things so far, the most recent last month in Birmingham, where 128 of us gathered to do the things BookCrossers do.

It is an extraordinary and delightful experience, to meet face to face the people with whom you have shared your online life. Each nametag lists two names - the screen-name and the real-life name. We tend to think of each other by our screen names, real names being something best kept for family, credit cards and jobs, things that don't have much bearing on the online world except as interruptions.

As with any other real-life gathering of netizens, there are a large number of folk who cannot make it to the venue, and their plaintive voices resound in the forums, begging to be able to share in the fun. Blog reports, pictures, audio or video streams - anything is seized upon.

And a curious thing happens. The real-life participants, severed from their comfort zones of high-speed internet and large chunks of free time, suddenly dry up. Internet access becomes scarce and expensive, and time to go online vanishes, literally eaten up in rounds of dinners and drinks with the other attendees. Not to mention time spent in actually participating in the conference sessions. The attendees try to scrape together time and access late at night or early in the morning, but coverage is kind of spotty.

And then the convention breaks up, the attendees are busy with luggage and shuttles and planes, catching up on the backlog at home, and often it's weeks before pictures are posted and backdated blogs written and video streams made available.

So, at least for BookCrossing.com, trying to participate remotely is an exercise in frustration.

Wikimania looks to be a very different online experience, and I shall observe with interest the proceedings of a group of very special and dedicated people gathering in summer heat. But here in Canberra, winter reigns and there is snow on the Brindabellas. --Skyring