Monday, July 23, 2007

Site policy: Finalized

Shortly after getting our own website, there started a few inevitable discussions about the site's policy. Bastique provided some amazing advice: what if we did something that no other WMF project had ever done? What if we actually based our site policy on the common sense of the users? At the urging of Bastique, we have written our site's policy and approved it by the "community" (which is admittedly only 3 or 4 people). I will include the text of our policy here, in it's entirety:
  1. Exercise common sense.
  2. Vandalism, Spam, Nonsense, off-topic discussion: We know it when we see it. We delete it when we know it.
Wouldn't it be nice if this caught on?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lower Merion Conservatory

There are two distinct types of outreach programs that our chapter can engage in: Attracting readers, and attracting contributors. Both of these two tasks are difficult in their own right.

Johnny and I are heading down to the Lower Merion Conservatory eventually (we need to make a proper appointment) to talk to the people there about some open-content projects, especially Wikiversity's amazing [[Bloom Clock]]. For readers who are not familiar with the bloom clock project, it's a visual guidebook to flowering plants by region and time of year. While the scope of the bloom clock will eventually include areas all over the globe, currently the project only encompasses south eastern pennsylvania. To use the bloom clock, you figure out which month it is, scroll down the list to find that month, and then click on the color of the flower you want to find. For each color, there will be a large graphical list of all the flowers that have been seen already in that area, of that color.

Participation in the bloom clock is easy: When you see a particular flower, log onto Wikiversity, find that flower, and sign your name. Your signature includes a timestamp, which serves to give a time to a sighting of that particular flower. In essence, the bloom clock is a collection of "evidence" about what plants are blooming at which times.

The value of such a project, especially in terms of a local nature conservatory, could be enormous. Groups of volunteers could be adding data to the project, and groups of students and visitors could look at the visual lists to help identify the plants that they find at the conservatory. It's our hope that we can help to convince the volunteers at Lower Merion Conservatory of these arguments.

Oh, and if we could get some more interest in the [[Wikimanual of Gardening]] Wikibook, or even Wikipedia's [[Portal:Gardening]] at the same time, that would be a nice bonus.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Website Administration

We have our fancy new website, and already a few issues have been brought to the table about how to run it.

During a discussion on the uses of userboxes and categories for keeping track of our members, somebody cited "WP:CREEP", which prompted me to exclaim "This is not wikipedia!" Some users have even tried to upload encyclopedia articles about pennsylvania, which prompted a modification of [[MediaWiki:Newarticletext]], [[MediaWiki:Edittools]], and [[MediaWiki:Copyrightwarning]] to explain in large red bold letters that "this is not wikipedia!" It's my hope that people get that point now, and that we wont need to be explaining it for the rest of our chapter's existence. On a philosophical note, if it is this hard for our little website to distinguish itself from Wikipedia, how hard must it be for the poor sister projects to do the same? Kudos to projects that have actually made a name for themselves from under the shadow of Wikipedia.

The current draft of our bylaws (which has gotten some good reviews and probably won't be changed much) specifies that there will be an "executive council" that will handle the "everyday administration of the chapter". It's my interpretation (and it's sad that I wrote the current bylaws and am having to interpret them) that the executive council will also handle the administration of the website. This would include the appointment or removal of admins on the website, and the specification of website policy. Because of the focused-nature of this website, we don't need much policy, but there are always going to be people asking defiantly "Where does it say that I can't?"

Once we get an executive council set up, we will be able to appoint people to administer the website, the mailinglist, the IRC chatroom, etc. This will help to get other users involved in the workings of the chapter, and will also help to make the process less chaotic then it currently is.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

New Website!

Just wanted to put up a short post today about the new website for Wikimedia Pennsylvania. The url is:

It's a flurry of activity trying to get all the necessary pages set up, and getting user accounts created and all that fun stuff. I've never seen the creation of a new wiki before, and a fresh, un-edited wiki truely is a beautiful sight to behold. It's like raw potential to become something, anything, great.

We'll be posting more information as it comes up, both here on the blog and there on the website. Hopefully we are getting nearer to a point when we can submit our bylaws to the ChapCom and become an official chapter!!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Philadelphia Wikimeetup

This evening there was a wikimeetup in Philadelphia, and though there were few people in attendance (there were about 20 people or so, and I've never been to another wikimeetup so I have nothing to compare it to) I would say it was an excellent success. We introduced ourselves all around, took some good pictures, and made the crucial announcement about the new chapter.

The response was generally very positive, and even the few people who were more cautious about the idea seemed interested in the concept. It's very clear that our chapter is not "traditional" in the sense of the previous chapters. Since we are just a state, and we are generally english-speaking, we aren't going to serve as any sort of informal embassy or point of contact for the WMF.

What we can do, however, is to provide a collaborative framework for outreach: We can attract new contributors, we can attract new readers, and we can do it at the community level. This is what seems to have people most excited.

The response from people at the meetup was very positive, and the response we've been getting from other people in the previous days and weeks has been positive as well. I'm excited because we are making real progress and attracting real members, and we have the chance to do some real good with it.

Friday, July 6, 2007

"Wikimedia Pennsylvania" Redux

I posted a short message a while back about how the name of the chapter had been changed from being "Wikimedia Philadelphia" to "Wikimedia Pennsylvania", at the behest of the ChapCom. I received a very thoughtful reply from Kelly Martin about the post, and with permission I'm going to reproduce it here:

I did some rather extensive clustering analysis of US population and travel distances some time ago, and as a result of those analyses and other reasons I strongly advise against mandating a state-level chapter organization for WMF (sub)chapters in the US. It makes far more sense to allow regional chapters to grow organically without regard to state boundaries or other political subdivisions. The only time state-level organization makes sense for US subdivisions is when the entity will have close relationships with state government (such as a political lobby), and I can't see this happening with WMF chapters. Plus calling it Wikimedia Pennsylvania is exclusionary to Delawarians (it would be like asking Swiss to join Wikimedia Germany because it "close") and will also strongly act to discourage Pittsburgians from forming their own chapter, forcing them instead to drive all the way to Philly, or to Cleveland for Wikimedia Ohio (which is actually more likely to end up in Columbus).

This particular "policy" clearly evinces the lack of understanding of the United States and its denizens by Wikimedia's chapter czar.

If you want a less restrictive name than "Wikimedia Philadelphia", perhaps you should try "Wikimedia United States, Mid-Atlantic Region" or something of that nature.


There are a number of points to consider with this, both pro and con. I would first like to point out that all previous chapters are being based off political boundaries, not organic social ones. Consider the case of the upcoming Wikimedia Canada chapter, where following a country boundary makes significantly less sense then having chapters for individual provinces. In fact the only other planned chapter that doesnt follow a national boarder is the Wikimedia Hong Kong, and it could be easily argued that Hong Kong has enough cultural and political autonomy that it isn't a far stretch from the rule.

One of the driving forces behind our chapter, and the reason why Johnny and myself are so interested in a chapter at all is because we want to do community outreach. We want to actually load up some people into a van, drive to a school or university or other group, and work with students and teachers and community members. It was this idea of a close-knit community program that initially had us interested in a community chapter: Philadelphia. Being "Wikimedia Philadelphia" had the advantage of specificity: It describes exactly where the chapter is centered, and where it is legally incorporated. However, it has the disadvantage that many people who would be interested in joining a local chapter are not exactly in the Philadelphia region. "Wikimedia Delaware Valley" would perhaps have been a little better, but then it's ambiguous where the chapter is headquartered.

As the chapter gets too large, we lose the ability for our members to congregate, and to work in close physical proximity when such work is required. People from California are likely to be working on very different community outreach projects then are people from Pennsylvania. Beyond that, there is very little chance for collaboration between the two groups, except for the occasional encouragement over long-distance communication lines.

As the area gets larger, the ability for members to come together, for work projects or annual meetings, or whatever, decreases. Even if we did a "Mid-Atlantic Region" chapter, it would be difficult for all the members to participate equally. There would also be an impetus for the center of activity to be pulled away from the geographical center. For instance, more users from New York would want the meetings and activities to be held in New York, and users from the Baltimore-Washington area would want to pull focus down to that location. What we end up with is members who are either disenfranchised (not being able to attend events that are occurring at the opposite end of our geographical area), or else we end up with multiple discordant efforts (some people in newyork, some in baltimore, some in philadelphia, etc).

Even "Wikimedia Pennsylvania" has the problems that it includes Philadelphia and Pittsburg (which are separated enough to make much collaboration infeasable) while at the same time essentially excluding people who really can belong in it: Trenton, Camden, Wilmington, etc. However, we have tried to overcome this hurdle by not placing residential restrictions on members.

There is probably a lot more to say about this issue, but i'll cut the discussion off here. At the moment, we've done so much set-up work under the name "Wikimedia Pennsylvania" that any change would be difficult. Some of the people who are working hardest on the idea really see "Pennsylvania" as being a good compromise between big and small, so that's what we are going to run with.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Signs of Interest

Even though we haven't made any public announcements yet, there is a surprisingly large amount of support already for the new Wikimedia Pennsylvania chapter. A few people have expressed an interest in helping with the effort, and several other people have also expressed an interest in joining the chapter.

In the current draft of the bylaws we don't specify an geographical limits on membership. This means that people who are not in pennsylvania or the surrounding area will be able to join and participate. This will make us an interesting surrogate chapter until other state chapters get rolling. Since our chapter's focus will be on grass-roots efforts, it will be possible for people anywhere in the world to get out in their community and do things for the chapter.

We're trying to set up a meeting (at least an informal one) with some lawyers to talk about our chapter and the bylaws. It's a very exciting time for us, and things are really going to start moving quickly after the wikimeetup on saturday.