Training in the Australian Outback – Photo essay

Over the last week, and I have been travelling around Central Western Queensland with representatives from the State Library of Queensland delivering some Wikipedia training to the local librarian, history and tourism communities. This is part of a partnership between the library and Wikimedia Australia to bring Wikimedia to the bush – to help the outback communities share their stories with the world.

While the training we provided was not substantively different from Wikipedia academies anywhere else in the world, this week was a rare opportunity to visit a special part of my own country that very few ever get the chance to see. So, rather than describe our lesson plan, I thought I would publish this little photo essay of the week instead.

Coming in to land at Charleville, our base for the week (google map link for context). To give you a bit of context of the scale we’re talking here, this region is in the Australian federal parliament seat of “Maranoa” which covers an area of 731,00 square kilometres. That’s larger than any of the countries in Western Europe. There’s even a government rebate on satellite phones…

After the flight to Charleville we drove North for the first training sessions in the town of Tambo – population <400 but with two great pubs 🙂 We used the WP article about the town as our training starting point, so hopefully it will continue to develop.

Our gregarious guides from the State Library – Troy and Ruth – with the boab tree outside Tambo town hall. All credit to them for managing the logistics of this trip (and being great companions).

When they say “road train” they’re not kidding (and they get bigger still). The key industry of the area is cattle grazing – the animals are transported in these. We heard a fair bit from the locals at the bar about how worried they were about the threat of Coal Seam Gas mining disrupting the water-table and thereby the grazing land.

The classic Tambo post office (1904). That vehicle is called a ute, short for utility, not a “pick up” – despite what the Americans (and Wikipedia) might tell you.

Yes, it’s a token Kangaroo photo 🙂 They were very curious about us, but bounded off when we got any closer.

The Barcoo River at Tambo – straight from a Banjo Patterson poem. This season has been one of devastating floods in Queensland, but the landscape is now abnormally green and lush.

Back on the road, heat-haze and endless horizon included.  Driving out to Quilpie, famous for its boulder opal deposits and for being the end of the railway line out west. We used these WP articles in our training session for editing practice – tapping in to the trainees’ extensive local knowledge!

And in the least expected place, on the Western fringe of Quilpie, we found Lyn Barnes’ beautiful gallery.

Outside Lyn’s Gallery the local primary school kids came to eat lunch in the shade. The horses came up the paddock to have a chat too.

Some of our trainees after the editing session at the town public library. You’ll note the serious gender-gap of the participants – in the opposite direction to the usual Wikimedia statistics!

A double-rainbow (all the way!) as an evening storm rolls in to Quilpie to cool things down. Whereas most of the world would be unhappy with this, the locals greeted us with “enjoy the rain”.

celebrex patient assistance

Posted in education | 7 Comments

National Museum of Australia Situation Report

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been offered a “2012 Director’s Fellowship” at the National Museum of Australia (NMA). This is a six-month post where I’ve been asked to create a strategy for how the museum can build a long-term and mutually-beneficial partnership with Wikimedia that fits their into their own priorities. Last week was the first stage of this project – with my submission of a “situation report” and traveling to Canberra to deliver a workshop for staff and meeting with representatives of each department to hear about their specific needs.

[Vicki Humphrey (head of conservation) and Tikka Wilson (head of web) investigate the amazing “Saw Doctor’s Wagon” in the collection – being restored to working order for a forthcoming exhibition about conservation techniques.]

At the beginning of this fellowship I really wanted to try and make a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the current and relationship between the museum and the Wikimedia projects. As far as I know this kind of comprehensive report has not been made before so I thought that I should give it a go! I think that this kind of report is especially needed since, as the number of GLAM-Wikimedia partnerships increases around the world, partnerships should be increasingly evidence-based and targeted in their approach. The National Museum was kind enough to let me publish this under a free-license so other organisations can potentially modify this model to fit their own needs.

If you can’t see the document embedded below, you can also download the PDF at Wikimedia Commons. I’ve divided the report into six sections: inbound traffic to the NMA; search engine optimisation; outbound links from Wikipedia; presence on Wikimedia Commons; presence on Wikipedia; and presence elsewhere.

To make this report I’ve relied heavily on the metrics tools built by the illustrious Magnus Manske, many of which I originally asked him to build back when I was “Wikipedian in Residence” at the British Museum. I would also like to thank Ed Summers (@Edsu) for relaunching and modifying his Linkypedia tool specifically to help me with this report (he has also written that story up in his own blog). Thanks also to Sydney Wikipedian and NMA in-house Wikipedian Shamto for assisting with the staff training session and department meetings. And of course, especial thanks to Tikka Wilson (@Tikkaw) at the National Museum for giving me access to their own metrics and for setting up and coordinating this fellowship in the first place!

You’ll note that in providing this analysis I’m deliberately not drawing conclusions or recommendations in this report, but merely reporting the situation as it is. After last week’s meetings Tikka and I certainly have lots of ideas and exciting potential projects, but that’s a different story for a future blogpost…

If you have any questions about the situation report, including any critiques or suggestions for improvement, please leave them in the comments.

Posted in museums, National Museum of Australia | 2 Comments


After nearly a year down,  my blog is finally alive again!
My “GLAM Fellowship” with the Wikimedia Foundation concluded at the end of 2011, and as a result the beginning of 2012 has seen lots of changes for me, so I will apologise in advance for the length of this post.

  • I’m now a project officer for the ARC Centre for Excellence in Creative Industries and Innovation (CCi) – which is the group that runs Creative Commons Australia. My role is to assist Australian cultural organisation in adopting CC for their content. Hopefully I’ll have lots of announcements from that over the next year…
  • I’ve also been offered the role of “2012 Director’s Fellowship” at the National Museum of Australia – in order to develop a comprehensive “Wikimedia strategy” for the organisation including training, a situation report and three year plan.
  • I’ve enrolled in the QUT/WIPO Masters of Intellectual Property Law  – because the world needs MORE copyright lawyers!
  • Oh, and I got engaged 🙂

But there’s something else…
Every two years it is the chance for the Wikimedia Chapters to nominate two people to the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation – the full process for this is described here. After being involved in the Wikiverse since 2005, I’ve decided to become a candidate for this very important position.

At this point in the process two years ago, much to her credit, Phoebe Ayers made public on her blog the fact of her [eventually successful] candidacy as well as her thoughts and election statement. So today, I’m doing the same thing here.

== Wikium Vitae ==

I can honestly say that every stage of my professional life has been influenced by my involvement in Wikimedia and the free-culture movement more generally. I have variously worked for the online history project the Dictionary of Sydney; for the founding member of the “free access to law” movement AustLII; and most recently, for the Wikimedia Foundation and now Creative Commons.

Academically, I have a Bachelors of Globalisation Studies and  my honours thesis subject was “The academic lineage of Wikipedia: Connections and disconnections in the theory and practice of history”. For this I earned the UNSW 2008 University medal in history. I am now undertaking a Masters degree in Intellectual Property law.

Within Wikimedia, I have had various formal and informal roles, including as:

As a result of this experience, I have had the opportunity to meet many many Wikimedians, free-culture advocates and GLAMs around the world. I have also given dozens of formal presentations about Wikimedia, including a few conference keynote addresses and most recently a live TV interview about the SOPA strike (full list with links). Finally, I am one of the very few people who has been both a Chapter executive and an employee of the Foundation.

== Candidacy Statement ==

With regards to Wikipolitics, it always feels like right now is the biggest or most disruptive argument we’ve ever had – until you step back for a day or so and remember the other big arguments we had in the past! But at this critical time in the Wikimedia Movement’s history I believe that it is especially important that we get things right. The Wikimedia Foundation, and by extension the Movement, has been going from strength to strength in public areas (visibility, impact, quality, financial and technical stability) but many of the internal problems remain unresolved. I would categorise these as broadly  “community development and communication” issues that have led to a perceived gap between several groups within the Movement – a “democratic deficit” if you will.

From my perspective it looks like each of the Wikimedia Foundation, the Chapters and the general editing community all feels that it is the group with the least power and is the most misunderstood. It is my perception that many in the WMF feel as if they are a “whipping boy“, blamed no matter what they do; that many in the Chapters feel as if they are being sidelined and regarded as unhelpful despite their best efforts; and that many in the editing community feel as if their needs are widely ignored – especially if they are not from the English Wikipedia. Like all generalisations, this simple analysis lacks nuance or counterexamples – and there are many – but I think it is broadly true.

The ways that I would like to help bridge this gap (whether it be one that is real or perceived) is by focusing on four distinct areas: 1. Board role; 2. Chapter development; 3. Community support; and 4. WMF Human Resources.

1. Board role

Whilst the WMF Board of Trustees is the highest decision-making body in the Wikimedia movement, it remains rather hidden from the general community. This is not by intention but it is the reality. I would propose a variety of transparency measures, including:

  • Name Board voters (for/against/abstain);
  • Host “office hours” and/or publish videos, community interviews, board blog, etc.;
  • Provide access to non-confidential reports prepared for the board in advance of meetings for comment;
  • Formally approve annual grants to Chapters (or fundraising approval) on advice from Staff. (Similarly to how the Board already formally approves new Chapter creation on advice from ChapCom);
  • Provide updates on current discussions whilst consensus is still forming, but once it is decided, make directions to WMF more clearly less room for interpretation;
  • For resolutions that contain policy, publish drafts for comment and review (similar to the recent Terms of Use rewrite).

2. Chapter development

This particular point has been debated back and forth for years. And, whilst we are getting better, there is still not a consensus about what the relationship between the WMF and the Chapters should be – this has focused most especially on the issue of fundraising. In my opinion, I subscribe to the principle of subsidiarity – that matters should be handled by the least central competent authority. I also believe that our mission is a very broad one and to achieve it we need to see ourselves in the future at a scale and level of impact like the Red Cross. What they are to disaster relief, we are to knowledge: global, neutral, free.  Because of these two points I believe it is the Wikimedia Foundation’s responsibility to actively assist in the capacity development of the network of Chapters. Without such a network I believe we cannot achieve our mission. I am not saying that the WMF has been actively ignoring the Chapters. I generally support an expanded framework for affiliation of Wikimedia groups. However, I do think we need to ensure Chapters are effective – rather than trying to route around them. We should:

  • Plan for a fundraising future where virtually all of the money from the “annual banner campaign” goes through Chapters. Obviously this will not happen for many years but that is the general direction I believe we should be heading. (I blogged about this general idea almost four years ago here).
  • Develop a plan for how to structure WMF (legally, financially and organisationally) when there’s a national Wikimedia-USA Chapter with fundraising capacity (a corollary of the point above, discussed in more detail here).
  • Treat Chapters according to their capacity and create a model of rights and responsibilities with “tiers” for different levels of development. There should be specific WMF staff liaison and guidelines for each level. For example: New Chapter with no funds; Entirely volunteer Chapter with funds; Partially professionalised chapter with annual grant funding; fully professionalised chapter with fundraising.
  • Actively support ChapCom to increase its efficiency in providing assistance to new/prospective Chapters, and develop rules for disendorsement of non-functioning Chapters (a corollary of the point above).
  • Obtain and publish the financial compliance requirements for large international money transfers to/from USA for each Chapter country. This allows for money to be transparently and legally moved to where it is most needed in a way that is agnostic to where the money is raised.
  • Develop and maintain a “global budget” that shows how much money each organisation in the movement is planning to raise, how much they are planning to spend (and the growth %) broken down by categories. This also provides clear expectations and data for long term planning.
  • Develop expense oversight committee for whole movement’s budget. This is similar to Sue’s recommendation #4 or the Board’s recommended FDC but is different in that it is for “reviewing” rather than “allocating” funds. (This is a corollary of the point above).
  • Coordinate global priority programs with the Chapters taking the management and funding at the national/local level, as distinct from running only outreach programs directly managed by WMF staff. For example, the “Education program” should be managed and promoted by the local organisation while the coordination and associated course management software should be developed centrally (which would help avoid problems like this).

3. Community support

I completely agree with and support the WMF’s focus on new user retention as their primary metric for success over the next few years. On all other aspects of the strategic plan’s goals we are moving forwards (e.g. higher quality, more content) but in this we are actually moving backwards. Clearly this needs addressing and I’ve blogged about editor retention before. However, by focusing on new users to the exclusion of the existing community, the WMF risks seeing the existing community as the problem rather than part of the solution. To quote a veteran Australian politician, I worry that we are fast moving towards a position where it becomes “…so reliant on focus groups that it listens more to those who don’t belong to it than to those who do.”[1] Focusing on helping the existing community do their work more efficiently and effectively will mean that newbies are less likely to be turned away when the do join up. Building new “curation” tools such as the New Page Triage system is an excellent move in this direction.

One of the most common complaints from the existing community is that the WMF has an overwhelming focus on Wikipedia and virtually none for the sister projects. Therefore I would propose to undertake a formal “brand review” of the current projects. We should:

  • Identify the community expectations of what minimum standard of technical/organisational support WMF hosting should provide;
  • Identify “under-supported” sister-projects that have high growth potential for relatively small investment (e.g. Wiktionary, Wikisource) and build plans to directly support them. (this is related to Erik Moeller’s presentation at Wikimania 2010);
  • Identify wikis that can be merged to consolidate the community and discussion e.g. OutreachWiki merged with MetaWiki or WikiSpecies merged with WikiData (currently being built);
  • Invest to remove software-enforced division between projects e.g. global userpages;
  • Devote specific attention to supporting the needs of the “power-users”;
  • Run regular “by popular request” software development projects which ask the community(s) to build consensus for most wanted features, and promises to invest in the results (within reason, of course).
  • Develop a movement-wide calendar to coordinate software releases, outreach events, conferences…

4. WMF human resources 

As a former staffer of the WMF I know how hard everyone there works to do their jobs well (and transparently), how high the staff morale generally is, and how supportive the organisation’s policies are to its employees. However, there remain issues that cause resentment and reduce effectiveness. This is not the direct purview of the Board of Trustees, but it is something that the Board can direct the WMF executive to focus more on. We should:

  • Decrease recruitment process length and increase process clarity. Good applicants are being unintentionally turned away  as a result of vague and drawn-out hiring processes. Often, no one is sure who has approval to give a formal “yes” while the applicant is given a months-long runaround.
  • Build systems to stop “bait and switch” hiring practices – where the real job turns out to be much less inspiring and more restricted than the advertised role.
  • Increase everyday visibility of WMF staff to community, such as videoing office lunchtime presentations and providing greater detail on staff wiki pages.
  • Increase job autonomy and personal empowerment within assigned tasks.

Thanks for reading down this far, those of you who have! I look forward to your comments or questions.

[edit: my formal candidacy page is on-wiki here and you can read my answers to the many “questions to all candidates” here.]

Peace, Love & Metadata.

Posted in wikimedia foundation | 12 Comments

Themes from Wikimedia Conference 2011

Last weekend I attended the Wikimedia Conference 2011 in Berlin, an annual event hosted by the German Wikimedia Chapter to bring together representatives from every Chapter together with the Wikimedia Foundation board and senior staff. Although I attended two years ago as a representative of the Australian Chapter, I was there this time in my new capacity as Wikimedia Fellow working on the area of cultural partnerships – something that is very much within the Chapters purview.

Whilst there were many different discussions going on (documented extremely well here) I’d like to talk about three things that I personally found important from this conference:
1) Editor Retention
2) Professionalisation
3) World Heritage

[The obligatory group photo. Other photos may be found on commons here.]

Editor Retention

This is a problem, probably the biggest problem we’ve ever had. We’ve known for a while that the total number of contributors is declining, leaving the task of maintaining the quality of the existing content (let alone improving it) to a decreasing group of people, but we’ve not known who is leaving or why. Thanks to the Editor Trends Study we now know who and we also know why. Old hands are slowly retiring (naturally enough) and there’s no shortage of people creating accounts and beginning to edit, but newbies do not stay around long enough to become true members of the community. They find it too difficult to edit technically and socially. [“Der! Took you long enough to notice” you might say, but at least we now have the data to back it up.]

As Sue Gardner summarised:

Between 2005 and 2007, newbies started having real trouble successfully joining the Wikimedia community. Before 2005 in the English Wikipedia, nearly 40% of new editors would still be active a year after their first edit. After 2007, only about 12-15% of new editors were still active a year after their first edit. Post-2007, lots of people were still trying to become Wikipedia editors. What had changed, though, is that they were increasingly failing to integrate into the Wikipedia community, and failing increasingly quickly. The Wikimedia community had become too hard to penetrate.

[The most striking of the graphs from the results of the Editor Trends Study showing that at the exact time Wikipedia hit the mainstream in 2006 editor retention became correspondingly difficult but has reached somewhat of an equilibrium since.]

[The total number of active contributors is slowly declining (English being worst than the average) even though the popularity of the sites are steadily growing.]

The first responses to this announcement on the mailinglist and on the wiki) were the usual: arguing why this isn’t actually a problem, questioning the validity of the methodology, blaming the messenger and personal attacks. Sounds a bit like the stages of grieving. The discussions that I’ve seen about this remind me a lot of this famous advertisement – “The German Coastguard

We too are sinking, but no one can agree what we are sinking about! The urgent message is being lost amongst the Wikimedian tendency to focus on the details rather than the trend.

I’m glad that important and necessary steps of creating a WYSIWYG editing interface and new-editor-support tools are being prioritised as the “great movement projects” for the next few years. However, I suspect that a lot of the community backlash against these kinds of projects from the Wikimedia Foundation is due to a “siege mentality” that has developed – especially amongst those who regularly deal with new editors through “recent changes“, “new article” and “recent uploads” patrols. It’s not for nothing that new article patrol on English Wikipedia is colloquially known as “the firehose”.

Wikimedians engaged in those tasks are often blamed for the bitey culture towards newbies but it is also those people who are the ones maintaing Wikimedia’s baseline standards of educational value and free-licensing. So, when the Wikimedia Foundation says there is a need to “increasing participation” what many in the community hear is “more work for me to clean up the mess”.

[Is this a Wikimedia admin being overwhelmed by the the firehose of new content to be checked, or is this a newbie being blasted by the Wikipolice? It depends on your perspective.]

I think it is instructive to note that with plans to improve the ease of uploading to Wikimedia Commons an equivalent and parallel priority is to improve the toolset available to review these uploads – they go hand in hand. The same is true for editing Wikipedia. There is no point in making it easier to edit if all that means is the existing community feels they are going to be overwhelmed dealing with contributions of low quality or limited encyclopedic utility – the contributions will be reverted and the new editors will have had an even worse first experience.

We need to “fight for the users” (à la TRON), but equally we need to remember we are not Facebook or Flickr where more always = better. Where the Chapters can participate in fixing this problem is by taking ownership of one of the lower priority/smaller tasks in the Product Whitepaper.

[Legend: ! = Part of Great Movement Project ; ^^ = Strategic Opportunity ;
^ = Frontier. “Red link” projects omitted.]


This was a very popular session (documented here). Many Chapters are now at a stage and size where they have the desire and ability to hire their first employee(s). There are three ways to go about this (also summarised in Delphine Menard’s blog):
1) Administrative – someone to to do the necessary stuff, a.k.a. the “outsourcing option”
2) Programs – someone to take an agreed activity and Just Do It, a.k.a. the “Nike option”
3) Management – someone to be given the delegated authority of the Chapter board to decide the future of the organisation, a.k.a. the “executive option”.

The first (admin) is probably necessary to begin with – to handle the legal, financial or administrative requirements of a young non-profit with massive visibility and fundraising potential but it should not be seen as a way of making all the “boring stuff” disappear. The second (project) is useful when there’s a specific project (like a conference) to hire a contractor but such a role should not merely replace volunteers and the oversight required of that position mightn’t actually save any time in the end. I have long been of the opinion that if Wikimedia Chapters are going to reach their potential then they should look the third option (management) as soon as sustainably possible.

Currently, many chapters have a budget derived from the annual fundraiser which they invest in projects on a case-by-case basis, as agreed by their volunteer executive board. This decision-making power is amazingly high compared to nearly every other volunteer non-profit of a similar age but this power is also extremely hard to wield effectively. That is has not always been used effectively or transparently does not in my opinion mean that the Chapters concept has failed but that as volunteer organisations Chapters have been suffering extreme growing pains. As the Wikimedia Foundation is the “biggest kid in town” I see it as their responsibility to help the Chapters grow (even if it too is learning how to grow very fast too).

There is some discussion within the Wikimedia movement as to whether the Chapters are meeting the transparency expectations of the Wikimedia Foundation and legitimacy expectations of the editing community, whilst on the other hand there is some discussion about whether the Foundation is enabling or hindering the efforts of the Chapters to grow. Relatedly, recently the “Movement roles” working group has been trying to map out a way for groups that wish to support Wikimedia work (but do not wish to become Chapters) to exist – “friends of” associations in a manner of speaking. Already we have a group in Kansai, Japan who’ve said they wish to follow that path.

[One of the beautiful visualisations of the discussions from the conference.]

If the Chapters wish the Foundation to treat them as partners rather than merely fanclubs with fundraising potential, and if the Foundation wishes to see more chapters become net contributors to the movement (financially, socially, technologically) with a clear strategic direction, then in my opinion the Chapters need to look at moving from having executive boards to oversight boards – i.e. the “management” option. The existence of the “friends of” concept as a viable option puts even further weight behind the need for professionalisation amongst the Chapters. If the group simply wishes to apply for funding for specific projects then there is no need to be a formal Chapter – that’s not a criticism just a fact. But if the group wishes for Wikimedia to have a local presence in their country/region which leverages our impact online (and yet not be completely overwhelmed with all the concomitant administrative burden) then we cannot remain as a group of good-faith Wikimedians meeting by IRC or in the pub. For a Chapter board to cede control of the day to day decisions to an employed director may feel like a loss of power (which is why I think most haven’t done it) but in the long run it can only make that Chapter more influential.

World Heritage [web]site

This is the audacious (and in my opinion, excellent) idea from the German Chapter that Wikipedia should apply to become listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They will be running a campaign over the next year to this effect starting with a dedicated petition website that urges the public to think about what cultural heritage means to them.

[“world heritage upgraded” – we’ve even got t-shirts. Surely UNESCO cannot refuse us now! :-)]

To be clear, the point is not necessarily to be awarded this honour but to engage the world in a conversation about what “cultural heritage” means in the digital era and to contest the idea that it must be something old, that it must belong to one country, and that society cannot be actively involved in it.

The criteria for inclusion are fairly broad and Wikipedia probably already meets at least three of them (only one is necessary):
i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
ii) to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world,
iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
There is also the more recent program to recognise “intangible” cultural heritage such as dances, songs, festivals… See the list at the official UNESCO website.

So, given that digital culture is important to global society (and increasingly so) why not apply to list Wikipedia as a world cultural heritage [web]site? Can you think of ANY other piece of digital culture that is more applicable to this than Wikipedia – especially since it is “living heritage”, it is not commercial and is dedicated to EVERY culture and language? Obvious criticisms of this plan include the facts that: all World Heritage applications are from one nation; being approved might mean UNESCO require Wikipedia be locked from editing; and there is no precedent for digital heritage. Whilst these are indeed valid concerns I would respectfully say that they are UNESCO’s problem, not Wikimedia’s! Yes, to a certain degree this is trolling UNESCO, but equally it’s also such a good idea they’d be mad to ignore it. At the very least having Wikipedia as World Heritage would make it quasi-illegal to block the website from being read in schools. 🙂

Posted in chapters | 5 Comments


A few weeks ago I wrote about my priorities during this “fellowship” year – one of which was the concept of the “Wikimedia GLAM Ambassador“. In this post I will try to explain what this means in theory, what has happened so far in practice, and what we hope to do next. I’m writing this on my way to the way to the annual Wikimedia Chapters’ meeting in Berlin. I’ll be there talking with representatives from all the Chapters so we can learn from our failures and successes, can share best-practices and make plans for the coming years. On the way I stopped for a meetup in Singapore and then in Barcelona to give a guest lecture at the university and present at their GLAM-WIKI conference.1

[Participants at GLAM-WIKI:Barcelona in the gorgeous foyer of the Museu Picasso]

Both of these cities have massive GLAM-Wikimedia collaborative potential but have quite different situations. In the citystate of Singapore there is a density of “national” institutions (library, museum, zoo etc.) but no regular Wikimeetups, much less a Chapter. In the regional capital Barcelona there are a plethora of historic landmarks and fine art museums and has an active local Wikimedia group as well as a national Chapter. Both cities straddle multiple languages and are desperate to display their unique culture to the rest of the world – Singapore especially for its gardens and it’s cross-cultural heritage, Barcelona especially for its artistic heritage and public architecture. In both of these cities I believe that the “Ambassadors” could be a successfully way of building/maintaing GLAM-Wikimedia relationships, and if that’s true for Singapore and Barcelona then it should be true for anywhere!

1 – Theory
There are two central purposes to the idea of a Wikimedia GLAM Ambassador:
For Wikimedians it is a way for people to volunteer to represent our movement in an in-real-life capacity in their own city.
For GLAMs it is to provide an appropriate local contact for when a GLAM asks “who do you call when you want to work with Wikipedia?”.
Ideally we will end up with a world map with a pin on every major city or region representing a local, trained, approachable, volunteer that GLAMs can “cold call” to arrange multimedia donation, ask for a meeting and localised documentation, organise a ‘Wikipedian in Residence’, or simply learn how to edit Wikipedia as subject-area experts. Having a GLAM ambassador in a city doesn’t mean that other Wikimedians aren’t allowed to do outreach too it just makes it easier to coordinate – much like the Campus Ambassador project.

Of course both of these already have an answer – the Chapters – whose purpose is to be able to run local programs, be the point of contact, and represent the Wikimedia movement especially in the area of cultural partnerships. In countries where a Chapter is already managing successful GLAM relationships it would be counterproductive for an Ambassador to exist without the support of their Chapter. However, not all places have Chapters or, when they do exist, the don’t necessarily have the financial/administrative capacity to support GLAM activities across their country.

So, we have at least three situations. Places where:
1) a Chapter exists, has the capacity and interest to work with GLAMs and is already doing so (e.g. Wikimedia Nederlands).
2) a Chapter exists but does not necessarily have the capacity to formally run GLAM projects, often because of geographical diversity (e.g. Wikimedia Australia – we can’t be everywhere at once).
3) no Chapter exists but the local community still wishes to undertake GLAM projects. A good example is Washington DC where there are many active projects going on but with no funding or organisational support from a Chapter because there is no Wikimedia-USA or Wikimedia-DC [yet].

[The mini-meetup in Singapore outside their famous Raffles Hotel. Singapore is a good example of type (3)]

How to support cultural partnership activities across all of these places in a way that supports any existing work? If we look just at Ambassador recruitment I would suggest that:
In situations like (1) an Ambassador system could become a program that the Chapter supports directly (financially and/or organisationally) by nominating their own Ambassadors, training them etc. In situations like (2) Ambassadors would self-nominate but should as a minimum be approved by, and remain in regular contact with, the Chapter so they can grow together. And in situations like (3) the local community such as a Wikiproject would need to list their support for a self-nominated Ambassador. Overseeing all this would be a GLAM Ambassadors Steering Committee to make sure the system works.

Let’s also be clear: if GLAM-Wikimedia collaborations are working well already in a country in some completely independent manner, that’s fantastic. There is no obligation on anyone to work in this structure and furthermore this structure is not an imposition on any existing program. I have no budget nor to “force” this idea – it’s just an idea 🙂

2 – Practice
Based on discussions on the GLAM hub at OutreachWiki ( and on the cultural partners mailinglist I am pleased to say that we have already begun work setting this up. An open call was made and we now have a Steering Committee that’s working to create a position description, criteria for approval of a self-nominated Ambassador (especially with regards to pseudonymity), and responding to the initial group of nominees (listed here).

[Àlex in mid-explanation at GLAM-WIKI:Barcelona 🙂 ]

To that end I’m pleased to announce that, with the formal approval of the steering committee, Wikimedia España and the Catalan Wikipedia community, Àlex [user:Kippelboy] from Barcelona is Wikimedia’s first official GLAM Ambassador!

He was the convener of yesterday’s GLAM-WIKI:Barcelona conference which was attended by over 100 representatives from cultural organisations large and small across Catalonia. I have the strong suspicion that he will be very busy in the next few weeks responding to partnership requests! Congratulations Àlex.

[Especial thanks to Conxa Roda (@innova2) from the Museu Picasso for hosting this event. She first encountered the Wikiverse at the Wikimedia@Museums and the Web conference in Denver last year. Since then she has become one of the best GLAM friends to Wikimedia.]

3- What next
The immediate next step is for me to talk with Chapter representatives at the Berlin meeting and relay any ideas/questions to the steering committee. Ideally, I would like to see if any Chapters in situation 1 (above) would be interested in creating a paid position of “outreach coordinator” to help facilitate a network of volunteer GLAM and Campus ambassadors across their country. More broadly we’ll start to create some documentation and case studies (project page) that Ambassadors can translate and perhaps organise some merchandise! Finally, the New York Public Library has generously agreed to host “GLAMcamp” in late May. This will be an opportunity to have a cross-disciplinary working weekend for people in the Wikiverse involved in cultural sector outreach – stay tuned…

1My guest lecture was built around the question: “What is is the value proposition of museums in an age of information abundance: Haute Couture or Search Engine” My keynote presentation at the conference was based on these slides.

Posted in chapters | 3 Comments

Horn OK Please – India is Great

Recently I returned from a whirlwind tour of some of the cultural sector in India in order to work with the local Wikimedia community on building their GLAM collaboration capacity. Equally I was there to learn what the particular advantages and challenges in this field are for India. You can see all of the main meetings and activities in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore at the summary page here.

[Indian truck & taxi art is something quite special (check out this beautiful set on Flickr of Street Graphics)
but one phrase keeps reappearing everywhere I went: “Horn OK Please“.]


Immediately after giving a presentation at the National Library of Australia in Canberra (podcast here) I fanged back to Sydney airport, flew to Mumbai and within five hours of landing,  Bishakha DattaPradeep Mohandas and I met with the director of arguably the most venerable museum in the country, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya – better known as the Prince of Wales Museum.1 Following the precedent of the British Museum’s “Hoxne Challenge“, they are keen on working with the local Wikimedia community to run a similar “editing challenge” event across relevant languages (including Hindi, English, Marathi…) and also to run “backstage pass” tours.

We also visited the directors of Jnanapravaha (a private arts education institute) and the Heras Institute (a research institute associated with St. Xavier’s College). The former are interested in making the videos of their lecture series on Indian aesthetics available via Commons, whilst the latter publish Indica (one of the very few peer reviewed journals on Indian archaeology/ancient culture/religion etc.) and wish to make it more referenced online. I also participated remotely in a Wikipedia Academy running that day in Kolkata:

[Skyping in to talk to the class at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade]

We also had the 7th Mumbai wikimeetup where the people behind the FOSS video sharing site (Public Access Digital Media Archive) which differs from Youtube etc. in that it encourages users to annotate, subtitle, extract and download, not merely comment and rate.


The original purpose of my trip was to speak at the 2011 International Conference on the Convergence of Libraries, Archives and Museums (ICLAM) about my project with the British Museum and Wikimedia GLAM outreach in general.

[The opening ceremony at ICLAM 2011]

I was also asked to open the session on social media. I entitled my talk “Why Wikipedia is not social media” and said that even though Wikipedia requires people to collaborate, that is not its purpose. It is a socially constructed project but its purpose is not to be social. It is a community for a purpose – to write an encyclopedia – whereas the purpose of Twitter/Facebook is interaction. On Wikipedia, interaction is a by-product of the common goal. Personal interaction is the currency of a social network but for a social construction, personal interaction is merely a requisite factor.

Whilst in Delhi I also spent considerable time with Hisham Mundol (twitter), the recently announced head of Indian Wikimedia Foundation office. 2

We couldn’t have hoped for a nicer fellow to be offered this job! For one thing I can report that this man has a fantastically bizarre sense of humor – you’d need it if your day-job in the HIV-AIDS prevention program included running a needle-exchange program for Delhi’s addicts. As difficult as learning all the ins-and-outs of the Wikiverse is, you can be sure that it’s not as hard as learning how to convince long-distance truck drivers to wear condoms when visiting sex workers on their journey.

I am particularly interested to see what the Wikimedia Foundation presence in India can achieve. There are well-documented opportunities to make Wikimedia content more accessible in India and in engaging more Indians to contribute, but equally there are big potential pitfalls in terms of how the tripartite relationship of Community-Chapter-Foundation will work in practice. What can be said for certain is that if the WMF India Office or the Indian Chapter try to undermine, ignore or work against each other then the community will suffer as a result. Good-faith collaboration is the only way to succeed.

Thanks especially to Theo (twitter) for spending his time to show me the sights of old and new Delhi including the Red Fort:


Gautam John (twitter) and Achal Prabhala were kind enough to be my hosts in Bangalore. I was through Gautam that I met Ryan Lobo by chance in a cafe. He told me about his documentary that followed the mass murderer General Butt Naked as he returned to the places where he committed his atrocities. This is his TED talk.

I gave a presentation to the students at a local Fine Arts college Chitrakala Parishath who were quite keen to hear about how they could start documenting local public monuments and heritage buildings using the models developed by the team in Indianapolis. (Hari Prasad Nadig put some lovely photos of this event in a gallery on Flickr.)

Following up on contacts made in Delhi, we also visited the Microsoft Research campus to talk with the people behind “WikiBhasha” – a tool that enables you to translate into your own language from another language edition of Wikipedia better content – even if you don’t understand the other language. Of course, you could simply throw the full text of an article into any translation software and then fix the errors, but this system lets you do the work within Wikipedia with all of the editorial and markup advantages that entails (youtube instructional video).

We also visited and gave presentations to staff at the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Karnataka State Library Association (who gave me a lovely gift of સત્યના પ્રયોગો અથવા આત્મકથા).

Finally, we had a wikimeetup and talked about what the Indian Chapter could do in the GLAM field. One of the major problems of course is the lack of archival Indian-language material that is digitised, let alone available online. A consequence of this scarcity is that it is extremely difficult to provide any same-language footnotes when writing in regional Indian languages. Two specific project ideas were discussed:

  1. We commission a digitisation list. The Chapter first engages the Wikipedia (and especially Wikisource) communities to come up with a list of “most wanted” texts/maps/manuscripts in local languages that are in the Public Domain and then runs a campaign to have these works digitised in high quality and placed on Wikimedia Commons. The funding could come from a WMF grant or local donations for this specific cause. This kind of project could and should be run in any country but is particularly useful in places where GoogleBooks doesn’t see any commercial potential and so hasn’t bothered to bridge the digital divide.
  2. We become the digitisers ourselves. Principal reasons why there is so little digitised content available are: lack of proper equipment/trained staff; political fighting over which regional language gets priority; no online system to put it even if it is digitised (usually it sits in a CD on the shelf). Perhaps if a State/National library agreed to allow access, the Indian chapter could raise a grant to purchase a good quality bookscanner and the funds to operate it. A request list could be set up on-wiki where editors in any language could ask for particular sources to be scanned. The digitised documents could then be placed on Commons and OCR on Wikisource and a copy given to the institution. This system has obvious financial and bureaucratic pitfalls. However, it has the advantage of ensuring that the content is made available for free in the future and that it WILL be publicly referenced given that the request comes from a Wikipedian not a private scholar. Chapters in developed countries should probably not suggest that their libraries outsource digitisation to Wikimedia, but for developing countries I would argue this is a legitimate usage of our funds.

[If memory serves, the two ladies on the left were from the arts college talk in the morning and came to find out more about being Wikimedians, yay! Note the kangaroo/penguin on my shoulder, I call it Pengaroo!]

Thanks especially to Bishakha in Mumbai, Theo in Delhi and Achal and Gautam in Bangalore for their time and hospitality.

1 For political reasons many of the former colonial names for public institutions and major roads in India have formally been given local names (fair enough) but the locals still commonly refer to them only by their original names – making it particularly difficult for anyone not from the area to reconcile oral instructions with a written map! For example if someone tells you to meet them at “VT” you need to know that this is Victoria Terminus (Mumbai’s gorgeous Victorian-gothic central train station) that is now officially known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

2 Presumably he has been given the formal title of consultant because the legal framework for the Wikimedia Foundation presence in India is not yet in place so there is no organisation of which he can be the head. 🙂 This is similar to the situation when Sue Gardner first joined the Wikimedia Foundation as a “consultant”.

Posted in chapters, museums | 1 Comment

Clamour for GLAMour

A couple of weeks ago it was announced on the Wikimedia Foundation blog, that I had been given a one year fellowship to focus on Cultural Partnerships within the Wikiverse – informally known as “GLAM fellow”. Not surprisingly, I think this job is nine different flavours of awesome 🙂 In this blogpost I will attempt to outline my fellowship’s priorities as I currently see them, list some forthcoming relevant events, and pay homage to Bowie.

My role is to help create systems and processes to make outreach partnerships more efficient and effective. The key phrase is “capacity building” as described in my blogpost from a few months ago “How to make cultural collaborations scale“. I believe that now the cultural sector has seen that working with Wikimedia can be A Good Thing™, that we must have reasonably professional processes in place for managing those relationships. I would like to stress that this one-year fellowship does not make me the “Wikimedia GLAM manager” and does not mean that the WMF is centralising responsibility for multimedia content donations etc. This remains a community activity (and especially a Chapters activity).
As a first step in this I’ve built a bit of a GLAM hub on-wiki where I will document all my work this year. I can be accessed by this short URL

Fellowship priorities
This hub is very much a work in progress, but it includes the main areas of activity that were mentioned in the aforementioned announcement. I’m making these the priorities for my fellowship.

* 1. Wikimedia GLAM ambassadors
This is based on the experience of the campus ambassador system whereby Wikimedians are trained to perform the task of being the local, in-person “official” contact for a university. The idea here is to see if it is also possible to have trained “ambassadors” in cities/regions around the world (affiliated with a local Chapter if there is one in their area) that GLAMs can call upon to ask questions, run projects and generally build a relationship with.

* 2. Documentation and Case studies
The first half of the idea here is to improve the quality, consistency and visibility of the how-to documents for many of the common tasks and questions that GLAM-Wikimedia relationships produce. These include legal things like “Why can’t we use Non-Commercial licensing” down to technical things like “How do I upload tens of thousands of images to Commons”. The second half of the idea is to ask the GLAMs themselves to explain the whys and wherefores of their past collaborations. Each relationship is different and it would be nice to hear, in their own words, what that relationship means to each cultural institution. My inspiration for this is a book produced by Creative Commons Australia that is a useful outreach tool because it is easily accessible, demonstrates the wide range of ways that CC licenses can be used and is above-all pretty. I think we can do the same thing in the Wikiverse and the British Museum, Al Jazeera and the National Library of Australia have already signed up!
Building an Australasian Commons: Case Studies Volume 1

* 3. Tools & Requests
This entails finding out what kinds of metrics data GLAM techies would like to see and also what kinds of tools our techies would like to have. Ultimately this will result in better kinds of reporting to demonstrate collaboration successes and also better tools to make the actual collaboration processes easier.

Imagine if every GLAM were easily able to create a “report card” of their organisation’s quantitative and qualitative relationship to Wikimedia projects! For example, the multimedia content donation from the State Library of Queensland now has some very detailed quantiative data being reported and the British Museum collaboration has some good qualitative analysis. Some of the tools that are most useful for analysing a GLAM-Wikimedia relationship include the amusingly titled baGLAMa GLAMorous and Linkypedia. I would love to see these kinds of things talked about in the same discussions as the Wikimedia Foundation’s work on Open Web Analytics.

* 4. Better Communication
That is, Wikimedians need to have spaces where they can share best-practice, discuss issues and plan projects.

The new “This month in GLAM” newsletter is an attempt to bring together in one place reports of all the activities that have bearing on GLAM activities. It is based on the very useful WMF monthly engineering updates and I’m hoping that it will be translated and incorporated into different Chapter’s newsletters in an effort to keep the wider Wikimedia and GLAM communities informed. Aside from the GLAM-hub’s useful on-wiki discussion board there is also the “cultural partners” mailinglist.

If you would like to join in on this work please have a look at that wiki hub and add your two cents to the discussions, join the cultural-partners mailing list or be BOLD and change the pages (and/or my project’s priorities) completely!

Forthcoming events

As it said in the announcement I will remain based in Sydney but will be visiting the global hotspots of the Wikimedia GLAM outreach community too. There are several real-world activities happening in the near future:

* Tomorrow I will travel to Canberra to give a presentation at the National Library of Australia in their “innovative ideas” series on the topic of the work I did at the British Museum. The NLA will add this to their podcast so I will link out to that when published.

* Then, that same night I fly to India! I’ve been invited to speak at the International Conference on the convergence of Libraries, Archives & Museums [ICLAM] in Delhi. The Indian Wikimedia community have been kind enough to organise outreach events next week in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi which I will attend. This will be as much a learning opportunity for me as anything. I hope to be of use in helping start GLAM relationships there but I also look forwards to learning what the specific problems/opportunities the Indian community have – especially as the Wikimedia Foundation has identified India as a strategic priority.

* In March the Barcelona Wikimedians have organised, in association with the Museu Picasso, a GLAM-WIKI conference I will assist with. This is made all the more important because today it was announced that Wikimedia España has been approved as an official Chapter! This event will be immediately followed by the Chapters meeting in Berlin where we can all share best practices.

* In early April Wikimedia New York and I are tentatively planning “GLAMcamp” (similar in style to the 2009 Paris Multimedia meeting). It is designed to bring people together for a focused weekend of work on the various aspects of GLAM-Wikimedia collaboration (described above in “priorities”). A few months later the Washington D.C. community is also looking into hosting GLAM-WIKI:USA which would be fantastic!

This job title also gives me the wonderful excuse to regularly make frequent references to slightly cheesy but oh-so-right music. This post is titled in homage to my favourite Swedish band, which just happens to be a glam-rock band, The Ark and their hit song “Clamour for glamour”! Of course, no one can beat the master of glam

I’m looking forward to a very glamorous year!

p.s. If you happen to be in touch with a GLAM that doesn’t already have a relationship with Wikimedia and want to give them some contact details, send them to glam[at]wikimedia[dot]org. This is a new public email address to triage incoming “cold calls” for collaborations to the relevant chapter/ambassador/etc.

Posted in museums, wikimedia foundation | 1 Comment