Update from Wikimania 2008

Every year, the Wikimedia Foundation hosts a conference for Wiki contributors and enthusiasts worldwide, and this week, it is being held in Alexandria, Egypt. Wikimania, as the annual get together is now dubbed, is a forum for innovation and brainstorming, and a soap box from which Wikipedia can promote freedom of expression and information. Alexandria, home of an ancient classical library that had once attempted to assemble all of the world’s knowledge under its roof, is an apt location for Wikimania. Today, the new Alexandria library is trying to live up to the city’s reputation as a center of learning, amassing Arabic texts in digital format to establish itself as a library of the future.

Wikipedia junkies from throughout the Middle East were invited to partake in Wikimania 2008, which has dedicated a good deal of time to issues specifically related to Arabic Wikipedia. Some controversy was stirred up by several reporters, who questioned Wikipedia’s commitment to the Arabic version (which is tiny in comparison to the English, which has over 25 million posts), and who took an interest in the presence of Israeli contributors at the conference. The administrators of the Arabic Wikipedia site maintained that it was the responsibility of the users and public to make greater contributions, and that the collaborative process can take time. As for the two Israelis in attendance, while they did run into some skepticism from their Arab counterparts, their Arabic language fluency and desire to work and learn from the meeting’s cultural

dialogue eased the tension.

Most importantly, the conference addressed the urgent need for the dissemination of knowledge and freedom of speech in the region. The presence of the Israeli wikipedians was evidence enough of the site’s commitment to incorporating the valid content of any contributor, regardless of perspective or philosophy. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also graced the conference with an analysis of the current threat to the project in Egypt itself, where President Mubarak has been known to imprison bloggers and restrict the press.

But despite Wikimania’s message of free expression, the traditional liberty accorded Wikipedia posting may be tightening. Wiki has recently begun to tackle the plague of vandalism that has hit several of the Wiki sites. German articles have been especially prone to bogus posts, and so German Wikipedia has chosen to implement a system of “checks” which must take place before any article is viewed by the public. Administrators hope that the process will only be a temporary measure to discourage bad posts, rather than a permanent method of censorship. Jimmy Wales hopes this will allow Wikipedia to eventually feature “stable” versions of articles as well.

We here at Fastcase are all in favor of the democratization of information, and look forward to Wikipedia’s future on the world stage.

Source: The New York Times

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