Wikimania 2008

About a week ago I learned that Wikipedia holds an annual conference called “Wikimania,” and that I would be going this year to represent AMS to hopefully scare up new contributors. It was held at the new Bibliotheca Alexandria, which took great pains to show visitors that it now actually contains books. The library also has its own Death Star (pictured above). I took the fast train up on Thursday night and ended up staying in a flat on the Corniche rented by a former classmate and his colleagues at a new NGO he works with.

The crowd was a mix of west coast dotcom types and open source enthusiasts from around the world, along with a strong contingent of Egyptian students and bloggers. As I learned from my attempts to liven up the article on Brit Hume, “wikipedians” take themselves very seriously. Many panels were filled with excruciating personal accounts of speakers’ experiences writing and editing articles, including a presentation on how a group of users created posters about wikipedia and put them up around Tel Aviv– interesting maybe, but certainly not 25 minutes interesting. Every other person in the crowd had a laptop out and was updating wikipedia articles during the talks.

I hadn’t been to Alexandria since 2004 and it was great to get back. The weather was fantastic and we had some good seafood at the Greek Club one night. The highlight was a cab driver returning an hour later to bring a bag containing laptop and passport that someone in our group had left in a cab. We had gotten in a squabble with the driver over the fare and thought for sure the bag was history. All the driver asked for in return was a tan canvas wikipedia hat that everyone got in their totebag on registration. It was gladly given.

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