Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Year in Allies

"Wikimedia has friends". This is I think the most important lesson we've learned at our Wikimedia NYC chapter-in-formation over the past year.

Us Wikimedians are an eclectic and disparate bunch, but when we organize on a local level, some interesting possibilities open up; e.g. Wikipedia Takes Manhattan 1, Wikipedia Takes Manhattan 2 (Wikis Take Manhattan), and Wikipedia Loves Art. This is not so much because of great efforts on our part, but rather that our ordinary experience as Wikimedians gives us the skill-set to enable outside parties to contribute to the projects in unique and exciting ways. As community gatekeepers, we hold the key for institutions who need only a helping local hand to get started in this work.

All Wikimedians should be conscious they are part of a broader movement, the Free Culture movement, itself a kissing cousin to the Free Software movement. And we're not a peripheral part of this movement either, but we are almost certainly the most successful Free Culture project in existence. This is in spite of, or maybe even because of, the fact that the great majority of our workaday contributors are not yet activists on these issues.

This is a movement of many faces, including of course Creative Commons, but the standout for us at Wikimedia NYC has been Students for Free Culture, with their particular enthusiasm and numbers of activists. We have worked with the Free Culture chapters at Columbia and NYU, but there are chapters all over, and likely in your city as well. These dedicated student activists with their weekly meetings are determined to get things done, and to do it all in fun and creative ways. And they are great friends of Wikimedia.

Forming a working relationship with your local Free Culture chapter is a great way to jump-start your local Wikimedia activities. These clubs have always been gracious and open to me and other local Wikimedians, and they have always considered our proposals. These students have an admirable industriousness, and they are always actively looking for new projects. If you engage with them seriously, they are likely to embrace your project and will be glad to work together with you closely, almost as a virtual Wikimedia chapter. Indeed, they are more effective than us Wikimedians on many counts, hard-working, anxious to engage with the broader world, and better activists generally.

I cannot praise these good people enough. And indeed, with Wikimedia NYC we have consciously tried to adapt their activist model for our own chapter-in-formation.

And engaging with groups like the Free Culture clubs can be an important step in laying the groundwork for working with more institutional actors. With our work with great folks at The Open Planning Project, we found ourselves engaged with a group that is halfway in the Free Culture movement, but that also has a broader focus as a non-profit. And recently we've taken a further step toward the establishment in working with the fabulous Brooklyn Museum, a big institution with a progressive heart, that is now making its first steps into the Free Culture world.

(And, if you have problems contacting your local Free Culture chapter, don't be discouraged; usually with a little detective work you can get clued into the right person's e-mail)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chapters in 2009

Chapcom has received it's first sub-national chapter application (from New York City), although a final decision is probably not expected until the new year. The WMF board's next meeting in in January, and they are expected to decide on the application from the UK, and maybe the application from NYC if the chapcom can make a decision on it by then.

The UK's application is a little bit tricky because the resolution would require that the old defunct UK chapter be un-recognized first, and then the new chapter be recognized. I don't want to make any guesses about how the board is going to deal with this issue, but the Chapcom approved the measure so it' probably can't be a total wash.

2009 could be the year of sub-national chapters, and already I've heard interest from a number of groups who think that sub-national is the way to go. I'm hearing about renewed interest from India, where an effort to create national chapter was all but abandoned in 2007. I've heard from some people in Canada who say that sub-national chapters might be the way forward for them too, since their efforts at a national chapter have since stalled out.

Are there any other groups I haven't heard about that are pursuing a sub-national chapter?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wikimedia New York City makes a move

I'd like to update you folks on our Wikimedia New York City group, an applicant chapter hopeful to be accepted by the Wikimedia Foundation in representing and coordinating the efforts of contributors and volunteers from the Greater New York metropolitan area, a region home to some 19 million souls, or approximately 7% of the total population of the United States.

We've just filed our application with the Chapters Committee, and this presents some special issues, as we are the first sub-national group (excepting perhaps Hong Kong) to seek to organize as Wikimedians at this level, as well as the first applicant chapter of any sort in the United States. We hope that we can work with the members of the Chapters Committee, as well as Andrew, Erik, and Kat on the sub-national chapters working group, to come to answers for the unanticipated questions that may arise during this process.

The occasion for application is the completion of the draft of our bylaws, and the concurrent organization of an interim board for our group.

I thought I should also give a little background on our group, and what our activities have been. I think it is important that have not been merely biding our time waiting on the Chapters Committee to help us (though that help is greatly appreciated), but have made genuine efforts to reach out to our local community and prove ourselves as an organization. We have done this outreach though a series of events, including bimonthly Wikimedian meetings at Columbia University, but importantly also in several events reaching out to non-Wikimedians, and in budding contacts with fellow local cultural groups and institutions.

In particular, we have been strengthened by our partnerships with the Free Culture Columbia and Free Culture NYU student groups, as well as the local non-profit The Open Planning Project, in organizing the photo scavenger hunts "Wikipedia Takes Manhattan" and "Wikis Take Manhattan" (see video) in April and October of 2008, and we hope to hold similar events in future.

We are also currently partnering with the Brooklyn Museum, a leading local art museum with a distinctly progressive view on the world, in our successor "Wikipedia Loves Art" photo event, scheduled for February 2009, and which is now also being extended to museums in Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and London. We also have many other project ideas on our plate, and it is my hope that with our joining the international club of Wikimedia chapters we can move on to bigger and better things yet.