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Blog/Many hands

From Wikimania

Winding up

We had visitors yesterday afternoon, and we took the heater off its normal timings and set it to the thermostat so we'd feel warm and comfortable as we took our tea and bikkies. Winter here in Canberra, you know.

So I woke up in bed later on as the heater comes on - the fan unit is located just outside the bedroom - and I'm feeling a bit groggy, thinking, wow, I must have slept through the night and it's six in the morning already. But the clock beside me said 0130 and after a bit of trying to reconcile my dream and real-life experiences, I realised that I was going to have to get up to switch the heater back to the timer, so I might as well see what was happening with Wikimania.

I caught the last segment of the board meeting on the video stream, made myself a stovetop espresso, opened up the IRC window and just sort of hung out. After a while it was time for one of my regular Monday morning activities, BBC Radio Shropshire's Sunday night rock show, and I tuned in to the internet stream. This is a regular favorite with the BookCrossing.com community, and we all hang out on the site's "Chit-Chat" forum, so I opened that up as well.

And there I was, monitoring a video stream from the U.S. on one computer, an audio stream from the UK (via my Skype headset) on the other, a couple of chat windows open, and my normal flow of email proceeding merrily. Another reason why I have more than the usual feel for timezones around the world, I guess.

One of the after lunch sessions was on Africa, and while some of the other sessions sounded more interesting, this one seemed pretty important to me. The camera didn't show how many people were listening in the room itself, but I got the idea from something the presenter said that it wasn't a real lot. Never mind, I was listening online, and I dare say there were enough of us to fill the auditorium.

What I know of African languages is sketchy indeed, and my knowledge of African access to the internet largely revolves around whatever scams the clever but unschooled folk in Nigeria are trying to hit me with (I loved the one about the Nigerian astronaut, left alone on some Soviet space station since the 1980s and his back pay now amounts to zillions of dollars, just sitting in a bank account...), but anyway it seems to me that middle class kids in Los Angeles are one thing, but when the kids living in grass huts deep in Botswana (or whatever) are able to get online, that'll really be something.

Will they want to talk about Star Trek and British steam engines of the 1930s, or will they have other interests. What can we learn from them about global warming and individual freedoms?

When you get right down to it, we're all in this together, and there are any number of things we should be thinking about on a global basis. Not necessarily the thoughts of millionaire UN ambassadors, neither.

So that was interesting for me, and I'm grateful for learning a bit about things in Africa.

The next session was about visualising information, something I have an especial interest in, having long been a fan of maps and charts of all types. Minard's famous graphical chart of Napoleon's Moscow campaign stands out strongly in my mind. With computers we have any number of ways to assemble information into a form where it is easy to spot patterns. Or breaks in patterns. Speedier identification of persistent vandals, articles that may need work, community trends; find the key variables and a way to present them, and the human eye can grasp what's going on.

An example is the timestamps attached to every WP contribution. Sure, they are all available in User Contributions, but it's hard to gain a feel for them. The Editcount tool graphs them by time of day and time of week, and at a glance you can see who is spending their time at work editing Wikipedia.

Anyway, that was more fun, and about then I began to pay more attention to the IRC channel as preparations for the final session began, Wikimaniacs assembling in various degrees of geekitude and apparent disorder.

Jtkiefer showed up:

* Jtkiefer is cursing at the media stream that's not working
<Skyring> Quit and restart it
<Skyring> might need a few goes
<Jtkiefer> wow Skyring, that's a nick I haven't seen in a long time

How many remember me, I wonder? A year is a long time on WP. See my talk page.

By this time the rock show on the BBC had ended and Genevieve Tudor's folk program just wasn't keeping me occupied. I'd had breakfast and dawn was fast approaching. My attention was on spotting the various wikidenties as they fiddled with microphones and displayed a kind of Brownian motion. sj finally kicked off things and I wondered how such a slight frame could accommodate such a booming voice. He ran us through the various text and media awards, along with a noticable interruption to the feed when the best media clip was announced and untold thousands of people decided to download the file all at once.

Jimbo came on, thanked various people, and really it was pretty much backslapping all round from that point on. Well deserved, I thought. Organising something like this and making it go well cannot be easy. A lot of thought and a lot of effort is involved. This is the positive side of the wikipedia community, and despite all the squabbles and arguments and edit wars, when you take a step back and look at what has been achieved, it's an amazing thing.

So, as Wikimania comes to an end and the attendees disperse to hotels and cars and planes, I'd like to add my own voice of thanks to the organisers, the attendees and to the community in general. It's been a hoot!

I also see, from various corners of the wikisphere, that next year's Wikimania is being planned already, despite the lack of a host city. Who knows, maybe I'll attend in person.

Now, I'm off to the Archives to catch up with some of the sessions I missed.