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Haifa Hosts Largest Wiki Conference in History

Wikimedia Foundation leaders outline their vision at seventh annual meeting

By: Sammy Hudes

Published: August 4th, 2011 in Business » Israel

Haifa Hosts Largest Wiki Conference in History

For many, Wikipedia is the prime source of all information, be it the necessary or useless type, and everything in between. In the past, it has been a website to visit for school project research, sports statistics, celebrity bios and even world news.

In the future however, the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the encyclopaedia, says that the company will represent so much more. The subject of Wikimedia’s future is the topic of discussion at this year’s annual International Wikimania Conference, which opened today in Haifa.

The conference is headlined by keynote speeches from Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director, Sue Gardner. It features 125 workshops and panels, focussing on issues such as free knowledge initiatives, open content, open source, online copyright, web communities and networks, and education and knowledge acquisition.

Approximately 650 Wikipedia editors, advocates, free content promoters, researchers and educators from 56 countries, some of which do not even have diplomatic relations with Israel, have gathered in Haifa for the seventh edition of the three-day conference.

“The vision of the Wikimedia foundation and the whole movement is to allow every human being in the world free access to knowledge,” Tomer Ashur, the chairman of Israel’s Wikimedia chapter, told the Jerusalem Post. “People really believe in this mission and want to change the world by allowing people to gain access to knowledge which they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

The vision which Ashur mentioned is not limited to just Wikipedia. During the conference, other Wikimedia projects such as Wikimedia Commons will be addressed. Wikimedia Commons gives its visitors access to 10 million photos, many of which are often used by news websites. Another project, Wikisource, which gives users access to important historical texts, including the Torah, will also be discussed.

Ashur emphasized that Wikimedia is not only about the organization’s encyclopaedia section

“The entire Wikimedia movement has grown out of Wikipedia, which was established in 2001,” he told Haaretz. “It deals with the dissemination of knowledge that is not necessarily encyclopaedic.

Often criticized for its probability of errors given that its editors could be just about anyone, it was actually found that Wikipedia has a similar rate of errors per article as Encyclopaedia Britannica, according to a study by the Nature journal in 2005.

Wikipedia currently contains 19 million entries in total, written in 282 languages, according to Wikipedia, of course. A total of 3.6 million articles on the site are written in English. All entries are written collaboratively by volunteers and can be edited by almost anyone, except in a few unique cases. Wikipedia is currently ranked by Google as the fifth most-visited website on the Internet.

Despite its successes, Ashur says that there are still many challenges that Wikimedia will face “in improving our quality in all languages, which means technically better writing and the use of more reliable sources in order to increase our reliability.”

According to Ashur, one of its new projects will consist of collaborating with cultural institutions, including galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Another important task is to bring Wikimedia to developing countries. Leading that project will be Asaf Bartov, formerly of Wikimedia Israel.

“Whoever has Internet access can access Wikipedia,” Bartov told Haaretz. “But there are many people who are still not online, and who can only get on the internet once a week – when they have electricity. These people could be helped by an offline version of Wikipedia, on a DVD or memory stick.” This initiative of creating an offline version of Wikipedia will be called “OpenZim.”

“We are assessing what will yield the most or what will provide the highest relative output per invested time and money,” said Bartov. “This will be a very significant year in terms of growth in the amount of free information Wikipedia creates and makes accessible to the developing world.”

The 2011 conference is reportedly the biggest yet Previous Wikimania conferences were held in Argentina, Egypt, Germany, Poland, Taiwan and the United States.

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