About a month ago, I participated in a couple of meetings at the Berkman Blog Group regarding Wikimania, the Wikimedia annual conference, which will be held this year in Boston. Talking with the local organizer, I was interesting in helping in a number of ways where I’m more useful than many other people — having a place to stay and possibly offer to other people, as well as technical skills which not everyone has that might be of assistance.
During the second meeting, I had the oppourtunity to engage with other Wikimedians who would be participating, and to get some of their feelings about the conference and the Berkman Blog Group’s attempt at trying to make things easier for them here in Boston during their convention.
I got a negative vibe from one of the people I spoke to, and later attempted to determine whether my understanding - that Wikimania was dedicated to Wikimedians, and local help in a significant way by people who were not active Wikimedia participants would be appreciated only so long as it didn’t affect the conference - was correct. Although I don’t have an exact quote of my question and the answer, the feeling was, again, negative.
The local organizer here asked me to clarify why I felt pushed away by the Wikimedia participants I had talked to, and this is what I wrote in response:
When I asked if it was the case that the purpose of Wikimania was to further the goals of Wikimedians, and that local people were not being invited to participate in the same way, I was informed that yes, this was the case: assistance from non-Wikimedians was unneccesary. (Sadly, I don’t have the log of this due to a client crash, because it’s the one thing that was said more than anything else that convinced me not to participate.)
Wikipedia has always had a very distinct aura of excluding outsiders. Although the wiki-nature of Wikipedia would seem to act as a counter to that point, many friends who have in the past been heavily involved in Wikipedia have left due to issues relating to negative personal interactions between themselves and other contributors. I have always held Wikipedia at arm’s length due to this, but given the local oppourtunity presenting itself, I thought that maybe I could be convinced otherwise.
What I stumbled into was exactly what I would have been led to expect - an elitist attitude taken by core contributors towards anyone who is not one of the “good ole boys”. Although you were extremely positive towards external help from the people on the ground, every other person I spoke to who in any way represented Wikimedia only left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
I was hoping that Wikimedia was really a good group of people, done wrong by the masses who consider themselves to be “better than you” because they participate more. Instead, I found out that that attiude is perpetrated all the way to the top, at least from my external point of view.
As a result of the general vibe and the specific statements requesting that non-Wikimedians not take part in the planning and activities surrounding Wikimania, I’ve decided simply not to bother.
Another friend of mine put it best: “The only way to participate in Wikipedia is to just edit, and ignore all those people behind the ‘Discussion’ link.”