When writing this, Wikimania has been over for quite some time already, but myself I just got back from Egypt a few days ago. Egypt was a lot of fun, and of course a whole new experience for me.
So, about Wikimania itself, it is a very interesting thing. The most important aspect of a Wikimania, in my opinion, is not the lectures and the conference in itself, but the people who are involved. The best part of Wikimania is meeting and getting to know people; people you have been chatting with on IRC for several years, as well as people whose names you’ve never heard of, and who are not even active Wikimedians. This being my second Wikimania, I was also lucky to meet a lot of the people I met last year in Taipei, which was a real pleasure.
This year Wikimania was held in Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a huge and beautiful library (designed by the award-winning Norwegian architecture company Snøhetta), with a mission virtually identical to that of the Wikimedia Foundation: “To be a center of excellence in the production and dissemination of knowledge and to be a place of dialogue, learning and understanding between cultures and peoples.” It was the first Wikimania to be co-hosted by another organisation, which worked really well (at least from my participator perspective).
After a breing opening ceremony, the director of BA, Ismail Serageldin gave a talk about freedom of knowledge, entitled “New paradigms for new tomorrows”, which was really enlightening. He talked about how in the 21st century freedom of speech has become less important than freedom of knowledge; a crude summary of his talk would be that it doesn’t really matter that people can say what they want (freedom of speech) as long as nobody is able to or allowed to hear them say it (freedom of knowledge). As much as freedom of speech is a human right, freedom of knowledge should be one as well.
After the opening ceremony I went to a session entitled “Cross-cultural dialogue through Wikipedia”, by Dror Kamir; the session was about his experiences, good and bad, as an Israeli contributing to the Arabic Wikipedia. This was one of the most interesting sessions in my opinion, and an inspiring one as well.
Some of the other interesting sessions I attended was Sue Gardner and Erik Möller’s session about the Wikimedia Foundation’s operations this and next year, Philipp Birken’s session about the Flagged Revs extension and Brion Vibber’s session about MediaWiki development (all honour to him for making something very technical easily understandable and accessible for less tech-savvy people). Florence’s session about communication issues within the Wikimedia world was also very interesting and inspiring, and had lots of good points that especially chapter people, but also others, need to consider.
Some of the drawbacks of this year’s conference was the lack of a common gathering space (like the common room in Taipei) for people to gather and just chat when the day was over, which made it a bit difficult to come together and do something on-the-spur without planning anything; also some other criticism has been raised on wikimania-l, but much of it is stuff that was out of the organizors’ hands. All in all I think this was a great Wikimania, and I enjoyed it tremendously; I hope everyone who is curious or hesitating on whether or not to join the next one should let the benefit of the doubt have its way, and come. It is too good to miss.