When Shiju ettan* (Shiju Alex) suggested that I apply for a scholarship to attend WikiConf 2011, I dismissed it as joke. The very next day, Santosh ettan (Santosh Thottingal) urged me to do the same and gave me the link to the scholarship form, I blankly told him that I am not the right person for attending a program that involves technology.
If either of you are reading this, I’m terribly sorry for not listening to your suggestions right then – for, I did apply for the scholarship weeks later, and surprisingly, I qualified (!)– to be among the 100 scholars out of the 7000+ applicants!
Later, the organizers asked me if I could speak at the conference. A third year medico talking about Wikipedia to techie geeks was the last thing I could imagine of. But as it was Shjiu ettan who pressed me to do it, and because I admired him so much, I thought I’d give a try on a talk on “Gendergap in Indic Wikipedias – A statistical analysis ”. regarding female participation in Indic Wikipedias, but I couldn’t find enough of relevant data, so I eventually dropped the plan.
Finally, the big day arrived. On 17th November, I flew to Mumbai to attend the first ever WikiConference of Wikimedians from all over India. During the flight, I was busy working on the presentation “The state of Malayalam Wikiprojects of Wikimedia foundation”- which, luckily, was later replaced by a better one created by the ml-wikipedia team led by Viswam ettan. My accommodation was at Hotel Sea Green, with Noopur and Dipali (both from Gujrat). Dipali, if you are reading this, I miss the morning walks with you along Marine Lines.
At the conference, I met many Wikimedians from various parts of the country and abroad. Most of them had heard about ml-wikipedia, and some of them even congratulated me for the good progress ml-wikipedia is making overtime! The news about me that appeared in DNA newspaper had made me famous, and many people recognized me as the medico girl who edits Wikipedia (:))! Being an Online Ambassador for the India Education Program, I had contacts with many Campus Ambassadors, and I could meet a few of them. I had been aware of only the virtual existence of Junaid ikka, Rajesh ettan, Vijaykumar ettan, Ramesh ettan, Ditty chechi*, Vaisakh ettan, Sivahari ettan, Jagadeesh ettan and many other ml-Wikimedians till then, WikiConf helped me to meet them all for real.Though I hung around with Malayali Wikimedians most of the time, I didn’t fail to meet Wikimedians from other languages. I met a few Kannada Wikimedians, and discussed with them the present state of Kannada Wikipedia. They were so lovely, and meeting them made me want to work with Kannada Wikipedia too. Talking with a few people from Marathi Wikipedia helped me know about the challenges they are facing, and we discussed the solutions for the same. Tinu ettan and Naveen ettan were the two Malayali Wikimedians whom I had the privilege to meet.
I had feared that only geekish stuff would be discussed at the conference, but I was wrong. Jimmy Wales, in his highly inspiring speech, urged the Wikimedians to change everything they could for the welfare of Wikipedia. He described the strategies to be adopted while working in small communities like Indic language Wikipedias. He was patient enough to answer to many questions from the audience, though he had other appointments to attend to. I see of him as a humble man who has inspired (and continues to inspire) many people across the globe to de-commercialise knowledge.
Other talks that really got me think over were :
1. WikiBhasha : A powerful translation tool that helps in translation from one Indic language to another.
2. GeoWiki : About the creation of a tool that could add geographical data to Wikipedia articles. The existing technique is laborious and time consuming. Geowiki would make the process simpler and also updates the information in the pages of other language Wikipedias.
3. Wikipedia and Environment : How Wikipedia plays a role in conserving wildlife by providing accurate details about existing flora and fauna was discussed among other issues. The participants were asked to upload photos of rare plants and animals they see even if they do not know their scientific names.
4. Project Indian roads : How editors from different parts of India helped to make Wikipedia a complete reference guide for data related to National Highways.
5. WikiWomenWeb : About bridging the gendergap by increasing female participation in Indic Wikipedias. A ‘7 day challenge’ to identify 7 women from different social and educational backgrounds and help them become Wikipedia editors.
6. Digitising a book using Dejavu : An informative training session where the speaker explained how a book could be digitised using Dejavu. This session was very useful for those working with Wikisource in Indic languages.
7. WikiQuiz : This was the funniest of all sessions. Questions about Wikimedia projects were asked (most of them were trivia) and audience were let to answer. I didn’t fail to shout the few answers I knew!
The session on ‘State of Indian language Wikiprojects’ helped me know the present status of other Indic Wikipedias. As sessions were held in parallel at three halls, I could watch only a few talks.
On the final day, we took a group photo. I spoke during the ‘Noteworthy Wikimedian Award’ session when a Lady Wikimedian was called to speak. After the talk, I was interviewed by a reporter from Hindustan times!
Malayali Wikimedians on stage
Attibution: Rameshng (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Considering my liking to Kerala food and intolerance to sandwiches, the food wasn’t very delicious. My dancing skills are below average sort of, and therefore the only program I failed to enjoy was the disco at Panache bar.
One person I wanted to meet (but couldn’t meet) was Bishakha Dutta. She is a dynamic person and an awesome speaker, and seemed to engage in work all the time. I didn’t feel like disturbing her, and so I missed the opportunity to meet her in person.
It was hard for me to say goodbye to Mumbai, which was my home for three days by then. It was the first non-medical conference I had attended. I really loved being around with so many Wikimedians whose interests and ideologies were similar to mine.
Looking forward to participating in the next WikiConference!
* Among Keralites, it is indecent to call a person older than you by their first name. So their names are usually suffixed with ettan/chechi to give them due respect.
For those of you who don’t know me as a Wikipedia editor, I am User: Netha Hussain on Wikiprojects.
Added after going through the comments I received on this post on facebook :