From Wikimania 2016 • Esino Lario, Italy

I'm Sam Wilson; my main project is English Wikisource.


This is my report on Wikimania 2016, which I attended as a recipient of a partial scholarship from Wikimedia Australia.

Getting to Esino Lario

I arrived in the Lake Como area from the north, from Switzerland, by train on the day before the conference began. It was warm, delightfully so, and I spent the couple of hours of the train ride standing at an open window, engrossed by the views and full of excitement to be heading to my first Wikimania.

Varenna is the town at the foot of Esino Lario's valley, and was the meeting point for delegates catching the shuttle buses up the hill (it's about 10 km). My first sight of Wikimania was here, from the far end of the railway station platform, when I de-trained and saw a gaggle of blue t-shirts waving to me. All the volunteers were so very welcoming, immediately making me feel like things were under control and shepparding me into the station bar to await the next shuttle bus.

Beer in Ortanella

The next couple of hours were a very friendly and often hilarious sequence of me being passed around from registration to other volunteers and onwards, being led down narrow streets and becoming quite disoriented, waiting and chatting and miming (my Italian failing me pretty much after 'buongiorno'), until I was picked up by my billeting hosts and driven 5 km to their house in Ortanella.

Hackathon day 1

The first two days of Wikimania were hackathon days. They started with an introductory session in the main venue, the 'gym palace', where there was a brief welcome to Esino followed by various hackathonians having three minutes each to spruik their projects. Some of interest were: improvements to WMFlabs operations; how to use Sparql to query Wikidata; the addition of Visual Editor to Wikisources (in the Page namespace); using Markdown in MediaWiki; hacking Wikisource to pull more data from Wikidata; and a possible WordPress plugin to integrate WP tags with Wikidata identifiers, for multi-lingual disambiguation of topics.

Being a Wikisourcerer, I headed to School Room 12 to spend the rest of the day talking with many people about the brave new world of Wikisource works' metadata being stored in Wikidata. What a world it'll be... when it comes; it's a while away yet! We also talked about the Visual Editor; the use of Google's OCR system for proofreading Indic scripts; and the addition of caching to the WSexport tool (there're only two hard problems, as they say).

I worked on the ws-search tool, mostly, with the help of Jan.

Dinners (and lunches) at Esino were great: about half a dozen restaurants, and we were all given meal tickets on which were written the name of one ­— all one had to do was turn up, eat three courses and wine and coffee, and discuss with one's table companions the intricacies of Wikisource's fidelity to original typography, and the comparative analysis of works that then becomes possible (anyone care to know how many commas are usually taken out of the original of Persuasion?!).

A street (and cats) in Esino Inferiorie

After dinner there was music in the main square, and the opportunity to relax in the warm evening air and get lost exploring the twisting and steep streets of Esino. I attempted to start the walk home to my lodgings, but was warned off my two kindly old women who mimed to me the horrors that awaited me on the forest path. I caught the bus instead.

Hackathon day 2

Walking to the main town

Too excited to get to the second day of the hackathon, I didn't wait for the bus but instead walked from Ortanella to Esino. A great start to another day of hacking on Wikisource metadata topics, with each language community showing off the work they're doing with tools, systems, and methodologies. Unusually, I was the only one there from English Wikisource. I demo'd the search tool, and ws-cat-browser.

It was inspirational hearing about different ways of drawing contributors in (e.g. by focussing on proofreading just a single work that holds a massive place in some subculture).

Another idea for a system I'd like to work on when I find time is something to make it easier for non-contributing 'readers' to submit corrections (i.e. if someone just downloads an epub and finds a typo, what should they do?).

Lunch on the second day was more delicious courses and glasses of wine, entangled with conversations about MapWarper and georectification in general, as well as what can be done to get people using more of the maps that are on Commons (as well as adding more). I have been attempting to find time to upload a bunch of maps from the Western Australian State Records Office, thanks to the current work of a bunch of Geogeeks.

Conference day 1

The opening session was big and glamourous and full of news, all of which is covered elsewhere and so I won't bother with it. (I admit I spent a tiny bit of time focussed on my laptop, working on an RSS feed generator tool for the new Wikiversity Journal of Medicine.)

After that I attended a session about privacy and the differences between the EU and US perspectives of what it means, especially with regard to the right to be forgotten. Not everything belongs in a Wikimedia project! This resonated with a discussion I'd had earlier with some people, about the idea that in fact Wikidata is not trying to catalogue the universe (despite what it might seem at times).

At quite a few sessions there was mention of the WikiCite conference, and how to improve manchine-readable connections between Wikipedia articles and so use these connections to judge both the articles and the material they cite. This would make it easier to find citable material, not to mention simplifying the actual citation process (e.g. more aligned to the traditional reference-database approach of academia).

After lunch I went to general introductions to Commons, OpenStreetMap, and Wikisource. The Commons session was a useful overview of image restoration work that is possible on Commons, as well as the basics of how to do it, but didn't go into as much detail as I'd hoped. Ties to OSM from Wikimedia projects are becoming stronger year by year, and there's great stuff in the works especially with regard to historical map data. And Wikisource, of course, is just generally brilliant and sadly often overlooked. ;-)

Dinner was a slightly rushed affair, albeit with some good discussion about Belarusian Wikisource (and what Wikidata properties they needed to fix), because mostly it was time to get back to the hacking space to get some work done before the last bus to Ortanella.

Conference day 2

The second day saw ever more Wikidata disucssion, both in formal sessions and just by the roadside. Sometimes it feels like ontological angst is the new fashion, and we're all being dragged along. Not to matter, because there was also a terrific Wikisource discussion forum, which was full of agreements and clarifications and general getting-along-ness.

Wiki Ed got lots of attention, and was the topic of a lunchtime disucssion about student blogging within the wikiverse and how much it can help learning. Some work has been done on this front on Wikiversity, but it's still pretty chaotic.

A session in the newly-renovated Hall (the town cinema) about MediaWiki was very interesting. There seems to be a vibe that contributing should become easier, because other software systems are doing better than we are at encouraging developers to get involved. MediaWiki is very widely used outside of the WMF, and it is "opiniated software" that sheppards users towards good ways of publishing on the web (persistent identifiers, open formats, reusable content, etc. etc.) and we should be proud of this. One idea is to create an independent organisation to manage MediaWiki's development and promotion. Perhaps it'll stay as a sub-section of the WMF though.

The ability to access Wikipedia for free (Wikipedia Zero) garnered some contradictory responses, some believing that "sharing is better than giving" and that the simplified free content did not have sufficient freedom — certainly it does seem that a free service should at least also allow editing at the very least, and probably also include all the other projects. (Although, a slight blindness to anything that wasn't Wikipedia was a bit common throughout Wikimania....) The lack of an ability to edit content has resulted in some past partnerships being discontinued (citation needed?).

Wikiversity popped its head up again and again, and does seem to have potential (but has that been said for too many years now?). It is a great place to send new people who want to contribute their research, if it's not suitable for Wikipedia.

Conference day 3

A morning of high-level WMF talks was very interesting, including a Q&A session with Katherine Maher. Following this, an in-depth session about affiliates. Interestingly, it was reiterated a couple of times that non-wiki organisations (i.e. not chapters etc.) can become affiliates so long as their aim is to add content to any of the projects.

The future of Wikimania session was fascinating, and hopeful. I think the obvious solution for 2018 is for South Africa and Australia to join forces... and hold Wikimania on a boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Seriously though, the incredible feeling of Esino Lario was felt to be a wonderful success, that should be repeated elsewhere if possible (even if for 'regional' conferences).

And thus Wikimania ended for me, with a long evening of good talks with people, mostly around Wikisource and the optimism that we're all feeling about the WMF more actively supporting this project.


Lake Como

It took me the rest of the week to travel back to Western Australia, with a couple of luxurious days spent coding on the shores of Lake Como and a couple more of hot trains (that manage to fine you even when you've got a ticket!) and sleepless flights.

I look forward to next year, and I thank Wikimedia Australia for supporting me.