I am Karen, a member of the University of Edinburghadministrative staff. I spotted a new open learning experience for staff and students in Creative Learning Week 2018 with ‘no experience needed’ – Wikipedia edit-a-thon for Vote100 centenary anniversary of (some) women’s right to vote .
learn from great teachers, with cakes and coffee on hand,
be part of a community of (mainly) women making a difference ,
access a range of research, references, materials to hand, discussions and sharing.
Wikimedians Ewan McAndrew from the University and Alice White from Wellcome Library made it all so easy!
Now with a bit of an ‘addiction’ to editing Wikipedia (for women, especially for the amazingly brave suffragettes), I have been known to
wear ‘We can edit’ T-shirt, sport a ‘Deeds not Words’ sticker on the laptop,
meet, share ideas with Wikimedian Roger, co-founder of ‘Women In Red‘,
repeat the ‘refresher’ training, but never feel inadequate in my skills,
find constant support as a volunteer and aware of joining a global effort,
listen to a University archivist sharing the history of our University,
see an original letter to Christabel Pankhurst in prison, from one of University of Edinburgh’s few female students,
read the handwritten register of the University Womens’ Education Group from an era when ‘we’ could study but couldn’t graduate .
A joyful open learning community is truly collegial and uplifting, and even has cute messages of support.
== A cupcake for you! ==Many thanks for coming to our International Women’s Day editathon today, Karen.
Vote 100 Editathon, CC BY, Karen Bowman
A hobby for life
Processions Karen & Suzanne, CC BY SA, Kaybeesquared, Wikimedia Commons
Now I am proud to tell family and friends of my new (though limited) editing skills, made so easy in VisualEdit and with great Wikimedians there to help!
So I re-joined the University Library and local City Library to track down secondary sources to cite on our suffragists and suffragettes, joined events on the topic and was part of the Processions 2018 artwork with thousands of women acknowledging the success and the suffering and sheer persistence of notable (and less known) women who led the way and as a result now have my own picture in Wikimedia Commons, and a hobby for life!
Open Learning from history
Open Learning has helped me enjoy learning from the past and creating materials again to acknowledge the women who made it possible for me to march, to have a political voice, complete graduate education, and have a long, varied and satisfying professional life.
Karen Bowman is Joint Director of Procurement at the University of Edinburgh, FCIPS, now part-retired. A former NHS Scotland procurement leader and hospice pain research nurse, she started and led the University staff/student Fair Trade steering group and was awarded the Principal’s Medal for outstanding service in 2011. She has continued to learn throughout her life including with Dame Cecily Saunders, OM, DBE; with Harriet Lamb CBE and since joining in Open Learning events and with ‘Women in Red’ is now starting to wiki-edit (a little).
Wikipedia is the 5th most visited website in the world and is an important first stop when looking up any topic – it is truly an incredible resource. But its power can be dangerous. It lacks diversity both in its editorship and its articles. This means that its systemic biases can have a large impact on the way we think. Wikipedia, like most mainstream publishing and media, is very disproportionately white and male. However, unlike traditional information resources, Wikipedia’s users can have a direct positive impact on its content. This is why Information Services held a Diversithon event for the Festival of Creative Learning on the afternoon of 20th February 2019:
“To increase the diversity of voices, genders, and cultures among its contributors and editors, the Wikimedia Foundation has made it a strategic goal to recruit and foster more women, people of colour, and other underrepresented individuals—including LGBT+ populations… the Wikimedia Foundation recognizes that the majority of its Wikipedia contributors and editors are disproportionately male, under 22 years old, and (most likely white and straight) from “the Global North”. They also admit that Wikipedia’s coverage is skewed toward the interests, expertise, and language skills of the people who created it…”— Wexelbaum, Herzog, & Rasberry, “Queering Wikipedia” (2015).
The Diversithon was a Wikipedia editing event held in a social and supportive setting to celebrate diversity for LGBT+ History Month 2019 and Black History Month.
This event trained its attendees in the skills required to contribute to and improve Wikipedia – a useful skill for anyone to have – and focused on creating new articles to include notable Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic professionals; LGBT+ professionals; as well as continuing our work to address the systemic gender gap on Wikipedia where only 17.83% of biographies are about notable women.
The Diversithon in a nutshell:
12 new articles were created.
2 more were drafted.
28 articles were edited.
249 edits in total.
9,530 words added.
9,190 articles views.
Our co-hosts for the event, the student support group Wellcomm Kings, kicked off the event.
Rosie Taylor, a Biological Sciences student and Wellcomm Kings convenor, presented on why we hold LGBTHistoryMonth, which she had stated she had orientated herself about using Wikipedia. Rosie discussed the history of the Section 28 and the protests against it. This legislation stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. It was repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000, as one of the first pieces of legislation enacted by the new Scottish Parliament, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of the United Kingdom. Rosie also provided some context on the Queer Community in Scotland and posed the question as to whether Scotland was indeed ahead of the curve? Homosexuality was, after all, decriminalised 13 years later than in England. She closed by stating there was still a long way to go. Despite the progress being made in some quarters, 1 in 5 LGBT+ people still report to have experienced a hate crime in the past year.
Tom and Henry from Uncover_Ed presented following Rosie’s talk; outlining the student research project they had been involved in, which focused on surfacing the lives and contributions of the University of Edinburgh’s global alumni. The UncoverED exhibition launched 31 January 2019 in the Crystal Macmillan Building.
“UncoverEd is a collaborative and decolonising research project, funded by Edinburgh Global, which aims to situate the ‘global’ status of the University of Edinburgh in its rightful imperial and colonial context. Led by PhD candidates Henry Mitchell and Tom Cunningham, the team of eight student researchers are creating a database of students from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the Americas from as early as 1700, and writing social histories of the marginalised student experience. The aim was to produce at least one biography each of a ‘notable’ alumnus, leading up to a website and exhibition in January 2019”.
Roger Bamkin, co-founder of WikiProject Women in Red, was also in attendance and helped support the staff, students and members of the public at our Diversithon to create and improve Wikipedia pages over the course of the afternoon. WikiProject Women in Red is the second most active WikiProject on Wikipedia and its aim is to turn red-linked articles about notable women which don’t yet exist into blue clickable links which do.
“In November 2014, only about 15% of the English Wikipedia’s biographies were about women. Founded in July 2015, WiR strives to improve the figure, which has reached 17.73% as of 18 February 2019. But that means, according to WHGI, only 284,439 of our 1,604,512 biographies are about women. Not impressed? “Content gender gap” is a form of systemic bias, and WiR addresses it in a positive way through shared values.”
Through our combined efforts, over the course of an afternoon, the following pages were produced:
Jane Pirie (1779-1833)opened a girl’s school in Edinburgh and was accused of lesbianism with the school’s co-founder Marianne Woods. The story of the court case was the inspiration for Lillian Hellman’s play “The Children’s Hour”.
Lisa Middleton is the 1st transgender person to be elected in California for a nonjudicial position. Lisa was included in the 2016 Pride Honors Awards recipients from Palm Springs Pride with the Spirit of Stonewall Community Service Award.
Xheni Karaj is a LGBT rights activist and co-founder of the Aleanca LGBT organization. Xheni, together with Kristi Pinderi, were among the first activists to launch the LGBT rights movement in Albania. Translated from Albanian Wikipedia.
Clara Marguerite Christian (1895-1964), was born in Dominica and was the 1st black woman to study at the University of Edinburgh. Her university experience speaks to the “double jeopardy” of “navigating both race and gender within whiteness”, embodying “the simultaneous invisibility and hyper-visibility” of being a black woman in Edinburgh during the 1910s”.
Jabulani Chen Pereira is a queer South African activist & visual artist. In 2012, Pereira founded Iranti (South African LGBT organisation), a non-governmental organisation focusing queer human rights issues primarily through visual media.
Annette Eick (1909-2010) was a Jewish Lesbian writer. During the 1920s, a liberal time period in the Weimar republic, Eick wrote poems and short stories for lesbian magazines. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, she had to give up on journalism and started working as a nanny. In 1938, she was granted a visum to live in the UK and fled to London after surviving an attack by Nazis on the farm she was staying at during the Reichkristallnacht. Her parents were murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In London, Eick worked as a nanny and housekeeper and met her partner Getrud Klingel. They moved to Devon, where they opened a nursery and Eick started writing again. Her collection of poems, Immortal Muse, was published in 1984 and turned into a short film called The Immortal Muse by Jules Hussey in 2005. Eick became known to a wider audience through the documentary ‘Paragraph 175’ from 2000, which told the experiences of five gay men and one lesbian woman (Eick) that were prosecuted under the paragraph 175 which criminalised homosexuality.
Elizabeth Kerekere is a scholar, artist & activist within the LGBTQ+ community in New Zealand. Kerekere has been an active member of the Green Party, promoting suicide prevention, anti-violence, healthy relationships and housing for all.
Jessica Platt is a professional hockey player and an advocate for transgender rights. She plays for the Toronto Furies in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and was the first transgender woman to play in the CWHL.
Les+ Magazine was started in 2005 by a group of young Chinese lesbians. The slogan of the 1st issue states ‘After the darkness fades away, I’ll be holding ur hand, walking under the sunlight with pride, boldly & happily living our lives!‘.
Lala is a non-derogatory Chinese slang term for lesbian, or a same-sex desiring woman. It is used primarily by the LGBT+ community in mainland China, though the term has origins in the Taiwanese term for lesbian, lazi (Chinese: 拉子).
NEWLY drafted to Wikipedia: Mala Maña is an all-female vocal group from New Mexico, fusing contemporary & folkloric rhythm of the African diasporas with Latin American music. Can you help finish the article so we can publish it?
NEWLY drafted to Wikipedia:Marsha H. Levine is the founder of InterPride, an international organisation for Pride committees. She was Parade Manager of San Francisco Pride from 2000-2018. Can you help finish the article so we can publish?
If you want to know more about the Diversithon or would like to suggest a Wikipedia event yourself then the Wikimedia residency is a free resource available to staff an students at the university. Message me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Creating new role models on Wikipedia to encourage the next generation of #ImmodestWomen
By Siobhan O’Connor, Dr. Alice White, Dr. Sara Thomas and Ewan McAndrew.
Wikipedia, the free, online, multilingual encyclopaedia is building the largest open knowledge resource in human history. Now aged eighteen years old, its English language version receives over 500 million views per month, from 1.4 billion unique devices, and has over 130,000 active users collaboratively writing and editing millions of articles online. As topics on Wikipedia become more visible on Google, they receive more press coverage and become better known amongst the public.
Yet while English Wikipedia has significant reach and influence as the go-to source of information around the world, it also has significant gaps in its coverage of topics, articles in other languages and the diversity of its editors. Less than 18 per cent of biographies on English Wikipedia are about women, while most editors on the platform are white men.
This disproportionate gap on Wikipedia silences women’s contribution to science which continues their marginalisation in public life, a vicious circle that leads to more women being lost to careers in STEM. This gender imbalance mirrors the 2017 findings of the WISE campaign with women making up just 23% of those in core STEM occupations (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the UK and 24% of those working in core STEM industries. Only 17% of physicists worldwide are women and studies have shown that it will take approximately 258 years for equality in physics. The rate of progress is even starker for the fields of computer science (280 years) .
“Our research shows that scientists are using Wikipedia and that it is influencing how they write about the science that they are doing… Wikipedia isn’t just a record of what’s going on in science, it’s actually helping to shape science.” – Professor Neil C. Thompson
The randomised controlled trial the researchers undertook evidenced a profound causal impact that, as one of the most accessed websites in the world, incorporating ideas into Wikipedia leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature.
Chemistry graduates were asked to create forty-three new Wikipedia entries about topics in chemistry, with half being posted on Wikipedia while the rest were held back. Two years later, the chemistry entries created on Wikipedia had collectively over 2 million views. Analysing the text of publications from fifty high-impact chemistry journals during this period, showed words in the publications were influenced by content from the new Wikipedia entries.
For example, the ‘History of Chemistry’ entry on Wikipedia features over 200 men but only mentions 4 women and is missing notable female chemists such as Nobel Prize winning biochemist Gerty Cori and Professor Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist and one of the pioneers of a new breakthrough genetic engineering technology called CRISPR.
Another example of the gender imbalance can be seen in the entry for ‘Benzene’ on Wikipedia. There are several paragraphs describing many male scientists who tried to discover the structure of this chemical compound in the 1800’s. However, only one single sentence in the same Wikipedia article acknowledges the female scientist, Kathleen Lonsdale, who finally confirmed the structure of benzene in 1929.
Consequently, the Wikipedia community has established numerous initiatives to address this acknowledged systemic gender bias as they are committed to diversity and inclusivity to ensure knowledge equity. One such initiative, “WikiProject Women in Red (WiR)”, aims to crowdsource turning dormant red links for biography articles that do not yet exist into clickable blue ones which do, directing readers to female biographies and works by women on the platform.
New articles recently created by Women in Red volunteer editors from around the world include: Zheng Pingru, a spy whose life inspired a film; Bridget Jones (academic), a pioneer in the field of Caribbean literature studies; and Paquita Sauquillo, a campaigner in defence of democratic freedom. Entries recently improved by Women in Red editors include: Ruth Schmidt, an award winning American geologist; and Wilma Mankiller, an activist and social worker who was the first woman elected as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
As a result of targeted Wikipedia editing events, or ‘edit-a-thons’, there are also now entire series of articles for the Edinburgh Seven, the first female students to matriculate at a British university, and the nineteen pioneering women chemists who, in 1904, petitioned the Chemistry Society (later to become the Royal Society of Chemistry) for the admission of women as Fellows of the Society.
“These were a group of extraordinary women who had done chemistry to degree and postgraduate level at a time when you couldn’t do that… and they had extraordinary stories and they did extraordinary chemistry.” – Dr. Michael Seery, Director of Teaching at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry.
Often if articles are not missing entirely, the contributions of women in science are reduced to bit part status as an addendum on the Wikipedia articles of their husbands or male contemporaries. Marie Curie’s Wikipedia article reportedly started out shared with her husband. That was, until someone pointed out that her scientific contributions might just warrant an article of her own. There is also a new article for Scottish physical scientist, Katherine Clerk Maxwell, whose contribution to measurements of gaseous viscosity was recorded by her husband, James, and is associated with his paper “On the Dynamical Theory of Gases”, where he states that Katherine “did all the real work of the kinetic theory” and that she was now “…engaged in other researches. When she is done I will let you know her answer to your inquiry.”
The achievements of extraordinary pioneering women are recorded in various sources, however no one has chosen to write their stories on Wikipedia. Focused attention in themed editing events means more articles are being created all the time.
Surveys have indicated that only 8.5–16% of Wikipedia editors are female. One particular 2011 survey suggested that on English Wikipedia around 91% of editors were male, and typically formally educated, in white-collar jobs (or students) and living in the Global North. The same survey found that fewer than 1% of editors self-identified as transsexual or transgender.
“if there is a typical Wikipedia editor, he has a college degree, is 30- years-old, is computer savvy but not necessarily a programmer, doesn’t actually spend much time playing games, and lives in US or Europe.”
This means that articles within Wikipedia typically reflect these gender, socioeconomic and cultural biases. Among the findings of the 2016 research article, Women through the glass ceiling: gender asymmetries in Wikipedia, were that women in Wikipedia were more notable than men; that there was linguistic gender bias manifest in family-, gender-, and relationship-related topics being more present in biographies about women; and there was also linguistic gender bias in positive terms being used more frequently in the biographies of men while negative terms appeared more frequently in the biographies of women. The authors also found structural differences in terms of the metadata and hyperlinks, which had consequences for information-seeking activities. Wikipedia is only ever as good as the diversity of editors who engage with it, with many articles reflecting the perspective of white male English speakers in the northern hemisphere, and many of the topics covered reflect the interests of this relatively small group of editors. Wikipedia therefore needs a diverse community of editors to bring a range of perspectives and interests that truly represent human knowledge.
Awareness of this systemic gender bias has prompted the development of a tool called the Concept Replacer which simply highlights the gendered nouns and pronouns in the text of an article and temporarily shows you how a biography article of a notable woman would read if it was written instead as a biography for a man (and vice versa). This easy to use tool is useful for editors and article readers alike in order to help identify instances of unconscious bias at a glance. For instance, exposing why the marital status is included in the first lines about some biographies, and not others.
Wikipedia is also a community that operates with certain expectations and social norms in mind. Sometimes new editors can have a less than positive experience when they are not fully aware of this. As mentioned previously, there are over 130,000 regular contributors to Wikipedia. Of these, only 3,541 are considered ‘very active‘. That’s the population of a small village like Pitlochry in Scotland trying to curate the world’s knowledge.
There is a need to increase both the diversity and number of Wikipedia editors. One way to do that is to run ‘edit-a-thons’ and other facilitated activities that introduces some of the norms and expectations of the online platform while at the same time learning how to technically edit Wikipedia pages and create high quality content.
Despite this global campaign and investment to encourage more female editors and the creation of content related specifically to women, progress is slow. Since 2014, WikiProject Women in Red’s volunteer editors regularly help create in the region of 1000-2000 new articles every month. As a result, this has increased the proportion of biographies on women from 15% to 17.83% of the total. It has been estimated that it will take until 2050 or later until gender parity is achieved on Wikipedia.
Tackling this bias online requires collective responsibility. A number of actions at an individual, organisational and national level can be taken to bring about positive change.
“Women in STEM are under-represented and maybe the lack of role models is one reason why. Also biographies of women in STEM on Wikipedia are much fewer than they should be and maybe if we can change that, we can change the way future generations look at science and technology as a career path”
Firstly, those of all genders everywhere could commit time and energy to becoming dedicated Wikipedians, who regularly create female scientific biographies and other content related to women in science. Those who do so tend to benefit from a sense of reciprocity and altruism which results from the direct impact that Wikipedia has worldwide.
For instance, Dr. Jess Wade, a physicist and postdoctoral researcher in electronics at Imperial College London, attended a Wellcome Library editathon and was horrified to learn about the gender gap on Wikipedia.
“The majority of editors are men. The majority of editors are white men. So representation of people of colour, of LGBTQ+ people is really, really bad. So many young people use [Wikipedia] as the sole source of their information. They don’t use textbooks anymore. They go to Wikipedia first when they’re looking something up. And I don’t want that to be an incredibly biased view of the world… you could be looking up some kind of new solar material, you could be looking up a cathedral in Florence [but] the people that you read about will be men. And that really frightened me… So I just thought I’d start off by doing one a day. And yeah it’s really fun.”
Secondly, organisations in these fields could provide training for staff at all levels via edit-a-thons to build capacity for an inclusive, global, online community. Investing in a Wikimedian, an in-house expert that is dedicated to educating and supporting an organisation to contribute to Wikipedia, would enable larger institutions to permanently embed gender equality within their organisational culture.
Institutions that currently host, or have hosted, a Wikipedian in Residence include libraries (e.g. the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Wellcome Library), charities, museums, archives, the Royal Society of Chemistry, heritage organisations (eg. Museums Galleries Scotland), UNESCO and universities (University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford).
At the University of Edinburgh, discussion around meeting the information literacy and digital skills needs of staff and students, and how to better meet the university’s commitment to Athena SWAN led to working with Wikimedia UK. Research by Professor Allison Littlejohn at the Open University validated that running editathons at the University contributed to the formation of networks of practice and development of social capital.
“Editathons, if run well, can develop not just technical knowledge but also workplace cultural capital and networks. These are the things women need in STEM (science, technology, mathematics and engineering) workplaces. ” – Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal at the University of Edinburgh.
Participants also saw it as an important part of their professional development and felt that editing was a form of knowledge activism which helped generate important discussions about how knowledge is created, curated and contested online and how Wikipedia editors can positively impact on the knowledge available to people all around the world and addressing those knowledge gaps.
“It’s an emotional connection… Within, I’d say, less than 2 hours of me putting her page in place it was the top hit that came back in Google when I Googled it and I just thought that’s it, that’s impact right there!” Anita – editathon participant.
Thirdly, national policies across education, research and workforce development could put the spotlight on the powerful impact online platforms like Wikipedia have on women in science and recommend strategies to capitalise on them. For its part the University of Edinburgh has recommended that Wikipedia Women in Red editing forms part of its new four year action plan for meeting its commitment to the Athena SWAN charter by surfacing role models in ten academic disciplines; to encourage and inspire the next generation of immodest women.
“Search is the way we live now”
According to 2011 figures in the book “Google and the Culture of Search”, Google processed over 91% of searches internationally. Google’s ranking algorithm also narrows the sources clicked upon 90% of the time to just the first page of results.
American feminist scholar of 18th-century British literature, and a noted Wikipedian, Adrienne Wadewitz noted the important role in addressing knowledge gaps on Wikipedia and Google could have:
“Google takes information from Wikipedia, as do many other sites, because it is licensed through aCreative Commons Share-Alike license. Those little boxes on the left-hand side of your screen when you do a Google search? From Wikipedia. The information that is on Wikipedia spreads across the internet. What is right or wrong or missing on Wikipedia affects the entire internet.”
More recently, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University have underlined the substantial interdependence of Wikipedia and Google. The results of two deception studies, whose goal was to better demonstrate the relationship between Wikipedia and Google, demonstrated Google depends on Wikipedia and vice versa. Click through rate decreased by 80% if Wikipedia links were removed. Wikipedia was shown to depend on Google. 84.5% of visits to Wikipedia were noted to being attributable to Google.
This means that addressing knowledge gaps on Wikipedia will surface the knowledge to Google’s top results, help populate and power Google’s ‘Knowledge graph’ (presented as a box to the right of search results) and increase visibility, click through and knowledge-sharing. Wikipedia editing can be seen as a form of activism in the democratisation of access to information.
A powerful reminder of the impact Wikipedia can have can be seen among young women and girls, who often lack easily identifiable female role models to follow. Bringing female role models to the fore beyond the world of celebrity and reality television is something that both Girlguiding UK and psychologist Penelope Lockwood noted was necessary for female students to feel that success is possible in order to broaden their future career aspirations.
Last Summer, schoolgirls from across London were invited by the Mayor of London’s office to take part in a editathon at Bloomberg for London Tech Week to redress the gender balance on Wikipedia through adding new entries on women CEOs, editors, entrepreneurs, lawyers and artists. The hope is this will kickstart further editathons across London and the UK; to further empower students up and down the country that their contributions are valued and that there are inspirational people out there achieving success in fields they just might aspire to join.
A new Open Access book on Gender Equality in higher education, EqualBite, asserts that the problem is persuading girls to consider and apply for STEM courses in the first place when they could apply for any number of courses, given that girls outperform boys at school including in STEM subjects. Recognising women’s achievements and contributions through creating and editing Wikipedia articles can encourage the next generation to take up careers in science. This could help address workforce shortages across many STEM fields and generate significant amounts of economic growth through diversifying innovation and entrepreneurship. Beyond this, we need to look at how improving the visibility of women role models in the online world can better shape our physical environments. The University of Edinburgh Student Association has recently worked on a project to improve diversity in student spaces through replacing the all-male portraits on the walls with more diverse group of portraits to encourage a greater sense of belonging. Similarly, a project in Hertford College, Oxford to mark 40 years of women at the college specially commissioned photograph portraits of women graduates, staff and students to replace the all-male portraits on the walls. By increasing awareness of female achievements online, we can create more inclusive, more diverse, more representative, more empowering physical environments to help breed confidence and undo the negative impact this lack of representation engenders.
“Meanings are projected not just by the buildings themselves, but by how they are furnished and decorated. And where almost every image –portrait, photograph, statue – of academic achievement and leadership is masculine (and nearly always white middle-aged), the meaning is clear: to be a successful leader, gender and ethnicity matter.”
The benefits are clear but the scale of the challenge is massive. It has taken Women in Red editors two years to move the percentage of biographies of women on Wikipedia up by 2%. Looking to the future, Artificial Intelligence may prove one method to help address the gender gap. The software tool, Quicksilver, developed by San Francisco startup Primer has been created to help address the blind-spots on Wikipedia, with women in science a particular focus. Using machine-learning algorithms, Quicksilver searches the internet for news entries, links to sources, scientific citations and helps pull all this information together to auto-generate fully-sourced draft Wikipedia entries. This has since been tested at an editathon in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History.
“Maria Strangas, the museum researcher who organized the event, says it helped the 25 first-time editors update the pages for roughly 70 women scientists in just two hours. “It magnified the effect that event had on Wikipedia,” Strangas says.”
So far, over 40,000 summaries have been generated by the Quicksilver method. These entries then need proofread by Wikipedia editors before they can be added to Wikipedia’s livespace. Given that the number of ‘very active’ Wikipedia editors on English Wikipedia remains low at around 3,541 (the population of a small village) the importance of encouraging and empowering a diversity of editors to engage with Wikipedia editing is crucial in terms of increasing the visibility of inspirational female role models online to, in turn, encourage and empower the next generation of women in STEM whose scientific breakthroughs can continue to shape our world for the better.
To celebrate 100 years since the Representation of the People Act (1918) gave some women the vote, we held three #Vote100 Wikipedia editing events.
34 brand new biography articles have now surfaced on Wikipedia about Scotland’s suffragettes and the Eagle House suffragettes, along with 220 improved pages and items of data so people can discover all about their lives and contributions.
New Wikipedia pages have been created about: Maude Edwards slashing the portrait of King George V at the Royal Scottish Academy and her defiance at trial; the force-feeding of Frances Gordon and Arabella Scott at Perth Prison by the doctor who was “emotionally hooked” to Arabella Scott and offered to escort her to Canada; the attempted arson conducted by pioneer doctor Dorothea Chalmers Smith; the Aberdonian suffragette & organiser, Caroline Phillips, being sacked by telegram by Christabel Pankhurst; and the “energetic little woman from Stranraer” Jane Taylour who was a firebrand lecturer on Women’s Suffrage touring up and down Scotland and England.
The collaboration with the School of Chemistry this year came about because it was suggested I should meet Dr. Michael Seery, Reader in Chemistry Education, on a completely different subject; his work with digital badges. During the tail end of the conversation, Michael expressed a certain scepticism about Wikipedia being used in academic contexts and I took the opportunity (and great delight) in proving him wrong… or at least in providing him with what I saw as a more informed approach to Wikipedia’s role in the creation, curation and dissemination of knowledge globally.
I can’t be sure what it was during that brief exchange that prompted Michael to start his own investigations yet investigate he did. And it resulted in his epic Twitter rant and this blog post re-appraising Wikipedia’s role in chemistry education*.
After our meeting and discussions, it was as a process of writing his first Wikipedia article on the English chemist Mildred May Gostling, and seeing the work involved, that he began to move “closer to the light“. (His words not mine). The fact that Michael was able to move from sceptic to activist and teach himself how to create such a page within the space of an evening should evidence how much easier editing Wikipedia has become in the last 2-3 years with the new Visual Editor interface making it possible to pick up the basics of Wikipedia editing in as little as 25 minutes.
*NB: Before I get carried away and completely misrepresent Michael, this was no Road to Damascus volte-face on his part. I prefer to think of it as a rational educator responding to rational arguments; making connections between the work he does and the work of the Wikimedia community. For the record, a certain amount of (healthy) scepticism is fine. An unhealthy quasi-prejudiced scepticism is a whole other kettle of fish. In any case, I’ll always make the case that an informed approach to engaging with Wikipedia trumps pretending it doesn’t exist each and every time.
It was Michael who brought the Letter of 19 to my attention. I confess I had not heard of the nineteen British women chemists who petitioned the Chemical Society in 1904 to afford women the same basic rights of Fellowship as their male counterparts. Shamefully, only a handful of the nineteen were represented on Wikipedia this Summer, the world’s number one information site. Hence, if providing more Women in STEM role models helps show that STEM careers are not just viable but something to be emulated then ensuring these fabulously notable women & their achievements were represented on Wikipedia had to be the #1 focus for our editing event for Ada Lovelace Day. (And it didn’t hurt that one of the 19, Ida Freund, had invented the Periodic Table of cupcakes as a teaching tool… which over a hundred years later would help inspire & fuel our editors while they worked).
Happily, as a result of last week’s cupcake-fuelled editathon event, ALL nineteen of the signatories to the petition are now represented on Wikipedia. In addition, we also now have a brand new article about the 1904 petition itself where you can access all of the nineteen biographies.
Wikipedia is a concept that shouldn’t work when you think about it.
A free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit, crowd-sourced from volunteers. Yet work it does, miraculously so. It’s always been predicated on the notion that more people want to good than harm. And this is borne out by my own experience of editors and, perhaps more importantly, by research which found that only 7% of edits can be considered vandalism; meaning 93% is well-intentioned.
The 5th most popular website in the world receives 17 billion pageviews a month and 7,000 new articles are created each day. A recent article by WikiProject Medicine(recommended reading) found that Wikipedia is a source of health information for half to nearly three-quarters of physicians and more than 90% of medical students. It is also estimated to be 1,500 times more cost-effective than traditional ways of spreading information such as presenting at academic conferences. With recent analysis showing that people spend more time on Wikipedia’s mobile site than any other news or information site, issues of inaccuracy or under-representation matter.
But they can only be solved by greater engagement. Of the 80,000 regular contributors to Wikipedia, only 3,000 are considered ‘very active’ – meaning a community the size of the village of Kinghorn in Fife is often left to curate the world’s knowledge. Having more eyes on articles improves those articles immeasurably. That’s why it is so important to address areas of under-representation, to involve subject specialists, and to share the (often pay-walled) knowledge universities possess. Only then can Wikipedia begin to get anywhere close to truly being the sum of all human knowledge.
And people do respond to this call-to-arms. Correcting systemic bias and areas of under-representation has motivated many to help create and improve articles since the Edinburgh residency began in January 2016. I am convinced it also motivated Michael Seery to contribute and his advocacy, in turn, helped bring in many others within the School of Chemistry.
More generally, the lack of female Wikipedia editors is a clear & ongoing concern – with numbers routinely under 15% this skews the content on Wikipedia in much the same way. Two years ago, the number of biographies on Wikipedia about notable women was roughly 15% too. Thankfully, there are editors all around the world determined to address this. WikiProject Women in Red is the second most active WikiProject on Wikipedia (out of some 2000+ WikiProjects) and its editors are motivated to turn red-linked articles about notable women which don’t yet exist into blue clickable links which do. As such they have been hugely successful in helping correct this systemic bias and the number of female biographies has shifted; currently standing at 17.12%. So moving in the right direction but still a long way to go to achieving gender parity.
Issues of fairness and representation are felt keenly. Changing the way stories are told matters. That’s why it is so amazing to see people engage with Wikipedia; to see articles like the 1904 petition be created; to see new role models be uncovered and (hopefully) inspire new generations. 65% of our editathon attendees last year were women and, while I haven’t totted up the latest figures, I can tell you that this trend has not changed one iota this year.
“Hello, this isn’t a very Wikipedian comment but I just wanted to thank you personally for creating an entry for my motherAnn Katharine Mitchell. She is in residential care with Alzheimers, serene and contented, and largely lives in the past. She was told recently that she had a Wikipedia entry and was flattered and delighted to see it (I’ve now made some revisions). It isn’t the purpose of your editing to give the subjects pleasure, of course, but thanks for doing so!”
Michael himself created articles for two of the 19 including the British chemist, Margaret Seward. This article was first drafted by a participant (User:ActuallyDutch14) at a Royal Society of Chemistry event this Summer but, as sometimes happens, never finished. After writing the 1904 petition article, Michael simply took the half-finished article on Margaret Seward and helped complete it using information provided in an excellent source identified by Alice White, Wikimedian in Residence at the Wellcome Library, and ordered into the University of Edinburgh’s Murray Library by Rowena Stewart, Academic Support Librarian: ‘Chemistry was Their Life: Pioneer British Women Chemists, 1880–1949’ by Marelene Rayner-Canham and Geoff Rayner-Canham.
To do my bit, I reached out to the various universities these 19 brilliant women chemists were working at around the turn of the century including: Royal Holloway College; Bangor University; Bristol University; University of Manchester; Girton College and Newnham College in Cambridge; the University of Zurich; University College London; and Somerville College in Oxford. So far, I have been extremely impressed by the responses I have received in helping illustrate these new pages with images provided from their archives.
We already have a picture supplied by Royal Holloway Archives of Mildred May Gostling’s study and Royal Holloway are also looking to provide the group image of Elizabeth Eleanor Field at the School of Chemistry (below). Somerville College in Oxford have today provided a first class image of Margaret Seward taken in 1885 when she must have been 21 years old. Wikipedia articles with images are at least 20-30% more likely to be read but somehow an image on a biography article, like Seward’s, can also make that person come to life and seem that little bit more real.
Many institutions will often try to sell such images in their collections as revenue generation is such an ingrained, and persuasive, model. Yet it is not the only model and it is not only reason to share images. Sharing images, even low resolution images, for the rest of the world to engage and learn about a person or subject is, more often than not, hugely rewarding in of itself. Especially with the global reach that Wikipedia delivers.
Looking at the newly uploaded picture of Margaret Seward generously shared on her Wikipedia page, which itself didn’t exist until a week ago, and thinking of all the people involved in the article’s creation who gave of themselves to tell her story over a hundred years later, it really does make me marvel both at Margaret’s life & achievements AND the kindness of strangers in bringing her story to the world’s attention.
I recently wrote 3 articles of the 19 petitioners and was struck both by my increasingly difficulty to find sources and by the following passage from ‘Chemistry was their life’:
“Of the early women research workers in traditional areas of chemistry the three most productive in the period before 1905 were Aston and Micklethwait at University College, London, and Fortey at University College, Bristol. None of these, or indeed any of the slightly later and notably productive women chemists such as Marsden, Renouf, Alice Emily Smith or Isaac, produced a substantial body of independent work. Most of their publications are joint with eminent male co-authors, and almost the only records of their research careers are those co-authored papers in the technical journals. They appear, therefore, in the role of assistants rather than partners. Micklethwait, the most outstanding in terms of number of co-authored publications, was described by her obituarist as being ‘of a modest and retiring disposition’, which ‘was reflected in her preference for working in collaboration rather than striking out on lines of her own’.
Their records of joint publications would seem to suggest that, generally speaking compared with the women biochemists, most of the women researchers in established areas of chemistry were of a similar ‘modest and retiring disposition’ – a curious coincidence….
Both Freund and Thomas, two other life-long professional academics in traditional areas chemistry, are remembered as teachers rather than as researchers: Thomas’s original work was all collaborative, and Freund’s most important publication was her classic textbook. Thus, for the most part, British women of this period who were interested in doing research in the chemical sciences at anything beyond the assistant level generally found their opportunities in areas other than the established branches of the field. A similar pattern has been noted in the careers of American women chemists of the turn of the century…
The difficulties encountered by women chemists in establishing themselves as independent workers and being recognized as such are emphasized further by comparisons with fields other than biochemistry. In geology, for instance, a discipline in which in Britain during the late nineteenth century there were less than half as many women active in research as in chemistry, several women made major independent contributions, which were recognized by the Geological Society by the award of notable honours (not-withstanding the fact that women were not accepted as Fellows of the Society until 1919).
…..It is also the case that of these seven prominent women scientists only four held salaried positions…. Ogilvie Gordon, Donald and Sargant were independent research workers, living on family funds in a manner more typical of the ‘amateur’ male scientists of an earlier era, and not competing for salaried positions despite life-long commitments to first class scientific work.
Despite professional recognition by their peers and notable honours, these scientists, the ablest of the women researchers in their fields, were on the very margins of the scientific community as far as consideration for such positions was concerned. Nevertheless, they and the women biochemists whose careers are outlined above did achieve success as independent researchers. Corresponding success and recognition by the established chemical community for women in traditional areas of chemistry is hard to find.”
The context in which these women made these achievements makes them all the more remarkable.
While her page has only been live on Wikipedia for two months, Mary’s page has now been viewed in excess of 7000 timesbecause a) editors were motivated to address Wikipedia’s gender gap problem where less than 15% of editors are female and less than 17% of biographies are of notable women and b) we felt Mary’s story was important enough that it should be shared on Wikipedia’s front page and introduced to an audience of up to 25 million.
Did you know you could do that? Nominate a page newly created in the last seven days, or significantly expanded on, to be included on Wikipedia’s front page in this way?
Did you know that Wikipedia works with Turnitin to address issues of plagiarism and copyright violation using the Copyvio tool and that the Dashboard for managing assignments now offers Authorship Highlighting of students’ edits thereby making it easier to visualize and evaluate student work.
Did you know that Wikipedia does not want you to cite it? It is a tertiary source; an aggregator of articles with facts backed up from reliable published secondary sources. You can’t cite Wikipedia but you can cite the references it uses. In this way it is reframed as the digital gateway to further research sources.
Did you know that Wikidata, Wikimedia’s repository of structured open data, now has 3 million linked citations added to it which can be queried using the new Scholia tool – a tool to handle scientific bibliographic information? (The Scholia Web service creates on-the-fly scholarly profiles for researchers, organizations, journals, publishers, individual scholarly works, and for research topics. To collect the data, it queries the SPARQL-based Wikidata Query Service).
Did you know that releasing images through Wikimedia Commons can result in a huge increase in views with detailed metrics about the number of views these images are accruing? E.g. Images released by the Bodleian Library have accrued 218,460,571 views to date.
Did you know that thanks to the new I4OC initiative (April 2017) there exists a collaboration between scholarly publishers, researchers, and other interested parties to promote the unrestricted availability of scholarly citation data? Before I4OC started, publishers releasing references in the open accounted for just 1% of citation metadata collected annually by Crossref. Following discussions over the past months, several subscription-access and open-access publishers have recently made the decision to release reference list metadata publicly. These include: American Geophysical Union, Association for Computing Machinery, BMJ, Cambridge University Press, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, EMBO Press, Royal Society of Chemistry, SAGE Publishing, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley. These publishers join other publishers who have been opening their references through Crossref for some time.
Did you know that thanks to Wikidata you can now query, analyse & visualise the largest reference work on the internet? You can also add your research data to combine datasets on Wikidata.
Did you know that the University of Portsmouth have been running a Wikipedia assignment called Human Geography for the last five years where each student is assigned a different short stub article for a village in England and Wales, and asked to expand it to provide a rounded description of the place and, in particular, an account of its historical development?
Did you know that, so far, they have left Scotland untouched and so there will be many villages and towns in Scotland ripe to have articles created and improved?
Did you know that Wikivoyage is Wikipedia’s sister project and a Lonely Planet-esque travel guide? Students can write articles about their hometown area with bullet-pointed sections on ‘Things to do’, ‘Things to See’, ‘Things to Buy’, ‘Places to stay’ with Open Street Maps included and images added from Wikimedia Commons.
Did you know how students and staff at the University of Edinburgh have reacted to the Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments we have run this year? You can view a compilation of their feedback in this video.
Did you know that students can create entire textbooks, chapters of textbooks, on Wikipedia’s sister project, Wikibooks?
Did you know that every September the world’s largest photography competition takes place, Wiki Loves Monuments? Participants are encouraged to photograph and upload images of listed buildings and monuments to document our cultural heritage.
Did you know that the WikiShootme tool helps identify notable buildings in your area that require an image uploading?
Did you know that taking part in Wikimedia activities does not always require a heavy time component and that short, fun activities can also help: adding a citation through the Citation Hunt tool (“Whack-a-mole for citations”), playing the Wikidata game, adding images through WikiShootMe and FIST; taking part in fun Wiki Races (6 degrees of separation for Wiki links between articles).
Did you know that you can learn how to edit at our 90 minute training sessions and how to become a trainer at our 3 hour Train the Trainer events?
Did you know that I can deliver presentations and training as you require; be it on Wikisource (the free content library), Wikidata (the free and open respository of structured data), Wikimedia Commons (the free media respository), the Wikicite initiative, WikiVoyage (the free travel guide), writing articles for Wikipedia, adding your research to Wikipedia or something else entirely?
Wikipedia has a problem with representation. Its mission is to be “the sum of all human knowledge” yet it only covers, by very rough estimates, only 5% of the number of articles that it needs to. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done. However, that it has amassed over 40 million articles in 300 languages in its short existence is quite incredible and is a testament to the dedication of its community of volunteers.
Yet the fact Wikipedia is human-curated means that it reflects the editors that engages with it. The late Adrianne Wadewitz, wrote an article on why teachers should engage with Wikipedia:
“Wikipedia is the encyclopedia anyone can edit but not everyone does. You and your students can dramatically affect the most popular and important reference work in the world.
Wikipedia is the most popular reference work in the world.
If you want your students to learn about how a small community is influenced by demographics and how they can change that community by participating in it, Wikipedia is the place to go.
Google takes information from Wikipedia, as do many other sites, because it is licensed through a Creative Commons Share-Alike license. Those little boxes on the left-hand side of your screen when you do a Google search? From Wikipedia. The information that is on Wikipedia spreads across the internet. What is right or wrong or missing on Wikipedia affects the entire internet.” (Teaching with Wikipedia: the why, what and how” HASTAC Blog February 21, 2014)
Since I began my residency in January 2016, the figure we have cited in terms of female editorship of Wikipedia is 15%. Better than the 10% of 2014 but still shamefully low. This lack of female representation also skews the content in much the same way; resulting in only 15% of biographies on Wikipedia being about notable females.
According to figures from Equate Scotland, Women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) represent similarly low percentages (only 14-18%) of the STEM workforce. If Scottish education & industry is serious about becoming a realistic competitor in STEM sectors and Wikipedia is serious about attaining the sum of all human knowledge then both need to take action to become more inclusive spaces; and both have an important role in highlighting success stories in providing role models for young & old women alike so they can see a career in STEM as viable.
With this in mind, the university held an Ada Lovelace Day event on Tuesday 11th October 2016 which incorporated guest talks, fun technology activities and a Wikipedia editathon which created 9 brand new articles on Women in STEM and improved 9 others. The event was enthusiastically received by its attendees and attracted the attention of STV News.
Sheila May Edmonds – British mathematician, a Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, and Vice-Principal of Newnham College from 1960 to 1981.
Ann Katharine Mitchell – Decrypted messages encoded in the German Enigma cypher at Bletchley Park. Wrote several academic books about the psychological effects of divorce on children. Won a place to study maths at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford (1940–1943). At the time relatively few women went to Oxford and even fewer studied maths. There were only 5 women in Ann Williamson’s year at Oxford and she remarked that the men coming to university had been taught maths much better at school than the girls. Indeed, it was suggested to her by the headmistress of her school that studying maths was “unladylike” and her parents had to overrule her school to allow her to take up her place at Oxford. Returned to university in 1970s to study social policy and in 1980 she graduated with a Master of Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh.
Margaret Marrs – Senior Operator of the original Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Computer (EDSAC). EDSAC was an early British computer constructed at the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory in England, and the second electronic digital stored-program computer to go into regular service.
Code First: Girls – Not for Profit Social Enterprise that works exclusively with women in Britain to develop coding skills. The organisation promotes gender diversity and female participation in the technology sector by offering free and paid training and courses for students and professional women. It also supports businesses to train staff and develop talent management policies. As of June 2016, Code First: Girls is reported to have provided in excess of £1.5 million worth of free coding courses to more than 1,500 women since 2013.
PLUS another 5 Wikipedia articles were translated from English Wikipedia to Portuguese Wikipedia using Wikipedia’s new Content Translation tool.
Tamar Ziegler translated to Tamar Ziegler here. Ziegler is an Israeli mathematician known for her work in ergodic theory and arithmetic combinatorics. Much of her work has focused on arithmetic progressions, in particular extensions of the Green–Tao theorem.
Vyjayanthi Chari translated to Vyjayanthi Chari here. Chari is an Indian–American professor of mathematics at the University of California, Riverside, known for her research in representation theory and quantum algebra. In 2015 she was elected as a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
Stefanie Petermichl translated to Stefanie Petermichl here. German mathematical analyst who works as a professor at the University of Toulouse, in France. Topics of her research include harmonic analysis, several complex variables, stochastic control, and elliptic partial differential equations. She became a member of the Institut Universitaire de France in 2013.
Cornelia Druțu translated to Cornelia Druțu here. Romanian mathematician working in the areas of geometric group theory, topology, and ergodic theory and its applications to number theory. She is a fellow and a tutor in pure mathematics at Exeter College, and lecturer in the Oxford University’s mathematical institute.
Mildred Sanderson translated to Mildred Sanderson here. American mathematician, best known for her mathematical theorem concerning modular invariants. She is mentioned in the book Pioneering women in American mathematics. A Mildred L. Sanderson prize for excellence in mathematics was established in her honor in 1939 at Mount Holyoke College.
Links were improved from Joan Robinson (British economist well known for her work on monetary economics) linked to John Eatwell (British economist and the current President of Queens’ College, Cambridge) and then Nicholas Kaldor(Cambridge economist in the post-war period) linked to Joan Robinson. Text has been drafted in sandbox to improve the Cathie Marsh page. Marsh was a sociologist and statistician who lectured at the University of Cambridge and University of Manchester. The Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research (CMIST) at the University of Manchester was named following her early death from breast cancer, aged 41.
Highlighting female success stories like these is massively important so WikiProject Women in Red (the second most active WikiProject out of 2000 or so WikiProjects) hold 5 editathons every month on and gets editors from all over the world to turn those red-linked articles on Wikipedia (i.e. ones that don’t yet exist) into blue clickable links that do; whether it be Women in Art, Women Writers, Women in Nursing, Women in Religion or Women in STEM.
To date they have been very successful, averaging 1-3000 articles a month and shifting the balance from 15% of biographies on female to 16.52%. Still a long way to go but it is important for projects like these to write women back into history.
The annual conference celebrating Wikipedia and its sister projects was held in the alpine town of Esino Lario in the province of Lecco, Northern Italy, this year.
It was my first but I am led to believe that this year’s venue, and this year’s conference in general, was quite different from the ones in years gone by; certainly the rural location was quite different from the Hilton Hotel in Mexico City in 2015 and the Barbican in London in 2014.
There was another gathering going on the day I left for the conference however: the EU referendum vote. Given that I was due to catch a 7.45am flight from Glasgow Airport on the day of the EU referendum, I left my vote in the hands of my girlfriend to vote on my behalf. (The thunder storms that delayed the flight from landing at London Heathrow should have been a portent for the political turmoil to come.)
However, I was in good spirits despite the delay and, even when the consequence of the London storm was that I missed my bus connection from Milan airport to Esino Lario, I was busy contemplating how it might be nice to spend a bit more time travelling by train from Milan Central to Varenna-Esino. Fortunately, I found myself in the same boat as Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO of Wikimedia UK, who had been on the same flight. A quick chat with a terrifically pleasant Italian gentlemen at the Wikimania greeters’ table at the airport and a taxi was arranged to take us both the rest of the way to Esino Lario.
While we waited, and our charming Italian saviour checked our names off his list of expected delegates, we were told the sad tale of one particular delegate who earlier in the day had been told that his name definitely wasn’t on the list and would he mind checking the FIVE pages of names on the list himself to see that was the case. Perplexed, the man had taken one long look at the list and replied, “But I’m Jimmy Wales.” (Needless to say, I think he probably made it back to Esino Lario okay after that, especially after a few selfies were taken with the volunteers from the local high school.)
A picturesque drive through Alpine country to Esino Lario in the company of Lucy’s incredibly entertaining, but incredibly dark, sense of humour and I got settled into the family-run hotel I was to spend the next four nights in. Once registered, I was able to wind my way through the narrow cobbled side streets to meet with my fellow Wikimaniacs at the central reception area.
The experience of the first night’s good-humoured chats were typical of the whole conference; here were Wikimaniacs from all over the world ostensibly divided by different backgrounds, languages & cultures but who were all united by their passion for working collaboratively & sharing open knowledge through Wikimedia’s projects.
So it was with some shock that I discovered the next morning that the referendum result had been that the UK had chosen to turn its back on working together as part of the EU. It just ran contrary to everything that Wikimania, and Wikimedia in general, was all about. Consequently, Jimmy Wales in his keynote address at the opening ceremony could not help but address this seismic decision back home in Britain. Clearly emotional, Jimmy Wales referenced the murder of his friend Jo Cox MP, the EU referendum & Donald Trump, when he asserted that Wikipedia was not about the rhetoric of hate or division or of building walls but rather was about building bridges. Wikipedia was instead a “force for knowledge and knowledge is a force for peace and understanding.”
The focus of the programme for Wikimania 2016, therefore, was on Wikipedia as a ‘driver for change’.
Of course, I couldn’t get in to see the keynote in person. The venue, the Gym Palace, could only hold around six hundred people and with around 1200 Wikimaniacs, plus curious townspeople attending too, the venue and the wi-fi soon because saturated. Hence, a great many people, myself included, got turned away to watch the keynote opening ceremony via the live stream at a nearby hall. Unfortunately, the one thing that everyone had been worried about prior to the conference occurred; the wi-fi couldn’t cope and we were left with a pixelated image of the opening ceremony that got stuck in buffering limbo. Little wonder then that a massive cheer went up when the young Esino Lario volunteers put on a Youtube clip of ‘Cool cats doing crazy things’to keep the audience entertained while they desperately tried to fix the live stream.
The town of Esino Lario itself only has a population of around 760 inhabitants so the people of Esino Lario really did invite the 1000+ Wikimaniacs into their homes and I can honestly say that we were treated extremely well by our hosts. The hope is that the experience of hosting Wikimania in such a small town will have an enormous impact on the local economy & a legacy such that their young people, who worked as volunteers to help run the events and made sure we were well looked after in terms of espresso & soft drinks while we walked in the heat of the afternoon sun from venue to venue, may hopefully look to careers in tech and become the next generation of Wikimedians.
The rest of the conference brought no further technical problems and everyone seemed to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, and stunning views of the surrounding Alpine mountains, to learn & share both in formal presentations and informal discussions in-between times. There was also a preponderance of egalitarian community discussions to determine how each project should move forward which were recorded on Etherpad discussion pages (I made good use of these during the few days I was at the conference to follow real-time discussions at several venues at once.)
The ticketing system for meal times was a hit too as it meant you were allocated to a certain venue at a certain time so that you couldn’t stay in the same clique & always encountered new people to chat to over a delicious plate of pasta. The evening events – chocolate tasting, cheese & wine, evening hikes, line dancing, a live band, a falcon playing a theremin – all allowed for further discussions and it was a real pleasure to be able to learn through ‘play’ in such relaxed surroundings.
In terms of content, Wikidata proved its growing importance in the Wikimedia movement with a number of sessions threading through the conference and I was also pleased to see Open Street Map and Wikisource, the free content library, garnering greater attention & affection. The additional focus on education, especially higher education, with sessions on Wikipedia’s verifiability, the state of research on Wikipedia and the tidying up of citations was terrific to see. Overall though, it was great to see further focus on translation between Wikipedias and on areas of under-representation: on the gender gap and on the Global South in particular. As one session put it, there is only one international language: translation.
In a nutshell, the weather was hot, the espresso was hot and the whole town was a hotbed of ideas with people on every street corner discussing the projects they were working on or wanted to find out more about. #Brexit was the hot topic of conversation too but it felt a million miles away; completely unreal & counter-intuitive when the fruits of cross-border collaboration were there for all to see at every turn. People I had encountered only in the online world I was finally able to meet in the flesh and warmly discuss past, present & future collaborations. It was especially pleasing to be able to meet the Wikipedia Library’s Alex Stinson and my Edinburgh Spy Week: Women in Espionage editathon collaborator, Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight from WikiProject Women in Red, who deservingly had just been made Wikipedian of the Year for the work WikiWomeninRed had done in helping to address the gender gap. Warm hugs and warm handshakes about working together was what Wikimania meant to me.
Boarding the bus for the airport home on the Monday morning, I was able to listen in on Andrew Lih’s (author of ‘The Wikipedia Revolution’) roundtable discussion with the Wikimedia Foundation’s James Forrester and Cambridge University’s Wikimedian, Deryck Chan, about their reflections on Wikimania 2016 (as it was recorded as a podcast on the bus at the table of seats nearby).
Listening to their summary of proceedings while I looked out the window at the rolling Alpine foothills & waterfalls proved a nice full-stop to proceedings as it confirmed what UNESCO Wikimedian in Residence, John Cummings, had told me first and many, many others had said since… this was the best Wikimania ever.