Wikimaniacs arrive in Haifa for Wikipedia extravaganza

Seventh annual get-together of online encyclopedia buffs in Haifa expected to be biggest ever.

wikipedia conference_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
wikipedia conference_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hundreds of Wikipedia activists from around the world will descend upon Haifa on Thursday for the seventh annual Wikimania conference, to discuss, debate and deliberate all things Wiki.
The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the hugely popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia along with a number of other open-source projects, is expecting 650 Wikipedia editors, advocates, free content promoters, researchers and educators from 56 countries to attend the threeday conference.
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“The vision of the Wikimedia foundation and the whole movement is to allow every human being in the world free access to knowledge,” said Tomer Ashur, the chairman of Israel’s Wikimedia chapter.
“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,” Ashur said.
According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia contains 19 million entries in total, written in 282 languages and including 3.6 million articles in English. Launched in 2001, the entries are written collaboratively by volunteers and can be edited by anyone. Wikipedia is ranked by Google as the fifth most-visited website on the Internet.
Among the projects under discussion at the conference is a relatively new initiative called OpenZim, which is an offline version of the Wikipedia encyclopedia that can be used in regions without Internet access.
The Israeli Wikimedia chapter has already demonstrated how effective this tool can be when it teamed up last year with Hamakor, an Israel based NGO involved in open-source initiatives, and Ben Gurion University’s Africa Center.
Hamakor provided Wikimedia Israel with 50 old computers which were refurbished and installed with the offline version of Wikipedia in French containing over one million entries. The computers were then distributed to two education centers in the West African nations of Cameroon and Benin for use by children who, until then, had no access to libraries or any other kind of information repository.
Manuel Schneider, a 30-yearold Wikimedia activist from Germany who helped develop the software for the offline version of Wikipedia and is attending the Haifa conference, said that he enjoyed volunteering his time and money for the organization.
“I feel like I’m paying something back to society but I enjoy it so much that it doesn’t feel like I’m paying, it’s just fun for me. Schneider said.
“I contribute my time and effort and help other people gain access to information which is what Wikipedia is all about.”
The conference will include keynote speeches from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director, Sue Gardner, and will feature 125 workshops and panels which will discuss issues such as free knowledge initiatives, open content, open source, online copyright, web communities and networks, as well as education and knowledge acquisition.
“Virtual communities work much better once the participants actually meet each other, Ashur said. “If you have positive, personal relations and interactions amongst the people who participate then productivity will be much better and we hope that the conference will help towards that goal.”
Wikimedia Israel is therefore treating the array of global participants in the 2011 conference to a choice of special tours around Haifa Bay, the Galilee, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv which will take place after the conference has ended on Sunday.
Previous Wikimania conferences were held in Poland, Argentina, Egypt, Taiwan, Germany and the US with the 2011 conference expected to be the biggest yet.