Jump to content

Blog/The Boston Experience

From Wikimania

Dror Kamir, embedded reporter

The weather had become much more welcoming as we aproached the big day. The heat broke yesterday around 18:00 and left us with a gracious cool breeze. Today it has even rained during the morning. Yesterday was the most intensive and interesting day so far. It began with a chat over breakfast with a New York Times reporter. Later on, a German reporter joined him and asked me some questions. The first subject of interest in such talks, is the very possibility of using Hebrew for an on-line encyclopedia, with its special alphabet and the unique right-to-left direction of writing. Mentioning that I speak Arabic, and edited some Israel-related articles in the Arabic Wikipedia, threw the discussion into another direction, more interesting for a journalist, I suppose.

I told the reporters how I edited the article Al-Quds (i.e. Jerusalem) in the Arabic Wikipedia. I told her how it described the city as a Palestinian capital, while the actual situation in the city suggests otherwise. There should not be a problem with mentioning and elaborating about the Palestinian aspiration to make it a Palestinian capital, yet one cannot turn aspirations into facts when writing a Wikipedia article. I used this example several times when talking about facts vs. views and when discussing the issue of translating articles vs. writing them from scratch from the native speake's point of view. It seems to be a good example, and it attracts the listners.The reporters themselves found this example interesting - it is probably the spicy politics-related story that attracts people more than a debate about the accurate height of a mountain, or how to transform Simplified Chinese characters into Traditional ones. I am willing to supply such spicy examples - geopolitics is indeed one of my favorite fields of interest.

The preparations for the big day (i.e. today) intensified, and since I had nothing more important to do, I joined the staff in preparing folders and arranging documents. This has given me another chance to mingle with both organizers and participants. It is a very unique experience meeting intelligent and enthusiastic persons from all around the world. It may sound like a cliche, but as I am not fond of cliches, you can take my word for it.

At 13:00 I stood prepared at the front door of Berkley Center, waiting to the Boston sight-seeing tour. Apparently I was the only one who remembered the exact time. Nicholas (from Mumbai) joined me a few minutes later, and the guide, Oscar from the Netherlands, came shortly after him. There were only three of us, so the tour turned to be more intimate and flexible. We decided to walk along The Liberty Trail. Oscar and I gave up in the middle of the 4km track. Nicholas was more sportive and courageous and went all the way to the last historical station. Boston has an interesting jigzaw architecture of old European buildings interrupted by modern sky-scrapper. The historical buildings and monuments are numerous and well preserved. You don't have to guess how they looked back then, you actually see them in their original shape. Sitting at one of Boston's cafes gave Oscar and me the opportunity to develope a long and interesting talk about the nature of Wikipedia, especially the roles of bureaucrats and sys-admins. Oscar talked a lot about the their role as authoritative figures that can minimize the cases of endless arguments, editing fights and low-quality contributions. I told him this view resembles too much Plato's views of a philosopher-ruler. I was wondering whether you have to rely on the bureaucrat or sys-admin's personality, or whether it is better to devise a set of rules, that would maintain peace among Wikpedians. A similar question was raised during today's talks, where the suggestion was to create a flexible system of precedents, i.e. previous cases and solutions that should not be obligatory for future cases but could be a good authoritative resource.

To Be Continued