Wiki enthusiasts from 52 countries to discuss new trends in the field of Internet knowledge, along with tours and Haifa beach party.
The Israeli port city of Haifa will provide the scenic setting for this year’s Wikimania conference. From August 4-7, Wikimedia enthusiasts from 52 countries, including India, China, Macao, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Bolivia, Venezuela and Chile, will hear from industry leaders about new trends in the field of knowledge sharing in the Internet age.
The multicultural Mediterranean seaside city - Israel’s third largest, after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - won out as the conference venue over Barcelona, Montreal, New York, Tokyo and Toronto.
“I was born in Haifa, and I think it’s a great city to show what the Middle East should be like, with all religions living and working together,” explains Israeli lawyer Deror Lin, who worked to bring the conference to his hometown along with several others involved in the independent, non-profit Wikimedia Israel group chaired by Tomer Ashur.
Wikimania is a five-year-old conference sponsored by the San Francisco-based Wikimedia Foundation, a charitable organization encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual information input by way of a wiki, software that allows users to freely create and edit web page content.
Wikimania promotes the foundation’s projects, primarily Wikipedia, the world’s most popular source of information. The Internet-based encyclopedia is available in 279 languages, offering a total of 18 million articles. Some 370 million people read Wikipedia entries every month.
The event at the Haifa Auditorium will include 125 sessions as well as workshops dealing with free content, open source, Internet-age copyrights, web communities and networks, education and knowledge acquisition.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will deliver his annual “State of the Wiki” address. Deans from the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University are planned speakers along with Prof. Yochai Benkler, professor of law at Harvard University, and Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and author of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia.
There are lots of leisure options as well. “This is the first time there will be a beach party at a Wikimania conference, and we have arranged organized free tours for participants to Jerusalem, the Galilee and around Acco [Acre] and Haifa as well,” says Lin.
The Hebrew version of Wikipedia contains 120,000 articles submitted by a diverse group of Israeli experts. About a quarter of this material does not exist in English, says Lin. The English-language Wikipedia has 3.6 million articles and is the fifth most viewed site among English-speakers. “We think that in Hebrew it’s also about the fifth most viewed site [among Israelis], after news sites, Google and Walla,” says Lin, author of many of the articles.
The Hebrew Wikipedia’s 39 “Israel” categories encompass 1,224 articles about villages and cities, 33 about the Israel Defense Forces, 39 on transportation, 22 on UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Israel and hundreds on Israeli culture. “There are almost 500 articles about buildings in Jerusalem,” Lin says, explaining that Wikipedia encourages broad entries (Israel, Jerusalem) followed by subcategories (Jerusalem neighborhoods, streets and buildings).
Wikimedia Israel has started gathering photos from the public depicting Israeli history, geography and people for its PikiWiki free image-sharing site, a joint project with the Israel Internet Association and the Center for Educational Technology, which are co-sponsors of the conference.
Spreading knowledge around the world
A meeting preceding the Haifa conference will focus on how to help the Wikimedia Foundation in its drive to spread knowledge to the “Global South,” remote places in India, South America and Africa. “Half of the world is not connected to the Internet,” says Lin. “So the foundation has projects to bring access through Internet or programs in which you send computers with a hard copy of Wikipedia to places that do not have Internet, and in many cases do not have textbooks or even electricity.”
Wikimedia Israel is working with student interns from Ben-Gurion University’s Africa Center to bring Linux-installed computers donated by open-source free software association Amutat Hamakor to schools in Cameroon and Benin, where instruction is in French. The computers are loaded with a static version of the French Wikipedia for classrooms without books or Internet. “They’ve managed to take small villages from the 17th to the 21st century,” Lin says. “Every time the students go, they update to the next version.”
The student interns have also agreed to write entries on Africa for the Hebrew Wikipedia, in the same way that Weizmann Institute of Science students contributed scientific articles to the encyclopedia.