Wikipedian-in-Resident in Malawi, Michael joined the global community

Posted by on Sep 2, 2014 in Blog | No Comments

Wikimania is a 2000+ person conference, festival, meetup, workshop, hackathon, and celebration, spread over five days preceded and followed by fringe events. It’s the official annual event of the Wikimedia movement, where all kinds of cool projects that people are making with wikis and open content are showcased. It is also the meeting of the Wikimedia community.

Wikimnia 2014 was taking place in London and I had applied for a scholarship. When I received the news that mine was accepted, I was glad! Not only would attending give me a chance to visit London (Shakespeare’s playground, among other many highlights) but also some sort of validation for WikiMalawi, the movement we are currently setting up.

In Malawi, there is not a strong Wikipedian community. So even though Malawi has a very rich cultural heritage, it is not celebrated across the world. Part of my passion is changing this. In January 2014 I became a Wikipedian-in-Residence in Malawi, as part of the WikiAfrica project.

The highlights started on day one of the hackathon. Meeting other dedicated Wikipedians (some of them I know via hundreds via their legacies on WP) was very affirming and I was invigorated!

Hackathon (“Hacking days”)—sometimes called DeVcamp is a series hacking sessions related to MediaWiki and Wikimedia code development. In its simplest form, it is the development of the engines that drive Wikipedia and Wiki initiatives. In attendance were technologists and hackers of all backgrounds. Other novices including myself were also there. Although I have a tech background, I haven’t coded in over 10 years now! Breaking into groups and I joined the Wiki research hackathon. They had presentations and mini-tutorials organized for accessing data and processing it.

On Thursday, after greetings from Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia and Lila Tretikov, Executive Director of The Wikimedia Foundation, among others, the main event started. Three days of very engaging and eye opening talks.

In terms of general talks, highlights include Open Data Roundtable, a presentation by Rufus Pollock, Founder of The Open Knowledge Foundation, and another presentation by Ralph Koster, author of a Theory of Fun. The latter was very challenging to Wikipedians in terms of reaching more people and getting them to be active in the community.

In the case of GLAM work, which is what is more relevant to us at the moment the biggest highlight is a discussion on the state of metrics for Galleries Libraries Archives and Museums projects. It was a short recap of tools, what tools work and which don’t, and how to use them. The main question was:

As more organisations release large sets of content how can we help them measure their impact? It was also nice to meet other people in the GLAM movement, especially the ones who are some of the most active. I got to know some intimately during a special GLAM meet.

Among some of the exhibitors, I met the guys running Internet Archives where I immediately saw how GLAM institutions like National Archives of Malawi and Society of Malawi can benefit. Even greater was the news that IA were active in Africa, in South Africa and Kenya, and that they had plans to expand to countries like Malawi. We promised to be in touch and we did so via a Skype call, two weeks after Wikimania.

Being a Wikipedian-in-Resident in Malawi can be quite an isolating experience. It was nice to share my experiences with other Wikipedians. Also, to participate at this historic event and meet with other passionate Wikipedians was very encouraging to me personally. And of course, I got a chance to share about Malawi’s rich culture and heritage.

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