This past week, my status updates on IdenTwiBook were filled with references to Gdansk and WikiMania. This was my first year to attend the conference and my mother asked me: “Are you going to blog a bit for us lay folks about your trip to Poland and what you did there? (You know, plain language, no computer talk.)”
Since I was a newbie this year, perhaps I can offer a newbie’s perspective that non-technical people (like my mom) will appreciate. Here’s a try.
WikiMania is a conference for anyone involved in Wikipedia. Anyone includes the casual reader, the comma-splice-fixer, the extension author, Administrators, Bureaucrats, and, of course, MediaWiki developers like myself. Ultimately, though, WikiMania is a celebration of Free Culture, from the freely available knowledge and the freely licensed videos, photographs and music that Wikipedia holds to the freely available software that it runs on.
Gdansk, the birthplace of solidarity and the city for this year’s conference, led to the theme “Freedom of Knowledge in the City of Freedom” — an especially apropos title for those who take such freedom seriously.
For three days, we gathered for meetings, talks and socializing at Gdansk’s Polish Baltic Philharmonic. The venue (aside from the lack of air conditioning for this Baltic Sea-side city) was incredible.
Aside from the meetings, there were a couple of cultural events. The first was an impressive concert celebrating Władysław Szpilman (author of “The Pianist”) by the Baltic Philharmonic. This was particularly fascinating for me because, while laptops peppered the crowd at every other event, the concert was free of them. Listening to the music and watching the musicians just required too much of a person’s attention.
The second cultural event was a premiere screening of “Truth in Numbers?” While I personally thought it was a pretty decent documentary, many people thought that the makers gave far too much screen time to Wikipedia’s critics. It was yet another example of the sort of conflict we see almost every day as authoritative sources like newspapers or cultural gatekeepers like the MPAA and RIAA come head to head with amateurs who are using the Internet to freely and widly diseminate their efforts and collaborate with others.
So that’s it. WikiMania is a gathering of free culture fanatics. Their mania, especially while there, is infectious.