Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wikinortheast Blog

Many people undoubtedly saw the excellent previous post by Pharos, about the benefit of big discussion tables at Wikimeetups. This is one of what I hope to be many posts about on-the-ground wiki activism.

The USA currently does not have a chapter like so many other countries do. There have been some other attempts in the past to create such a chapter, but none of those attempts have reached the necessary critical momentum. There have been some efforts to create state-based chapters as well. This is easier in many respects, I think, because when you're local you can get together offline and build up enthusiasm in a real way. There was one such effort in PA to create a chapter, although that is currently dormant. There is also a very impressive effort happening in New York, and we've all heard a lot about their efforts.

I've also heard some very encouraging things from other people as well, especially from some of my newly-created contacts in Oregon. In Portland, several wikimedians have been participating in a "WikiWednesday", a monthly informal meetup.

Pharos, one of the prime movers in the NY group, came to me with the suggestion of expanding my PA blog to cover the NY volunteers and others from the region. So, I turned this little blog into a group blog that people can use to talk about wiki activism from the Northeast region in the USA. If other people are interested in joining this blog and trying to build up some enthusiasm, leave us a comment about who you are and what you are doing. I'm not going to strictly define "northeast", so consider the boundaries to be extremely fuzzy.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Big Table Required: How to turn a Meetup into a Meeting

Many cities in the US have had occasional meetups, but these are often held erratically, and usually without agenda. We've had some notable successes with organizing in New York City recently, and our group even seems set on becoming the first Wikimedia "affiliate chapter" in the United States.

How did we do it? A big table. With: people sitting around it, engaged in discussion. Without: A banquet and drinks setting (unfortunately).

The important thing is to have a clear space where you can hold real group discussion, pursue content projects and educational outreach with other local groups, and open a mini-conference where members can make presentations on their Wikimedia areas of expertise (more on this in later posts).

All you need is someone WP:BOLD enough to organize. You just need to set a date (and stick to it), advertise like hell, write a preliminary agenda, and find the right space. It's not very hard to get ahold of a space with a big table, and it shouldn't have to cost anything to reserve a room. Our first big table meeting was in November at a public library. Our meetings in January and March were in a room at Columbia University, arranged by one of our members who is affiliated there. We've been holding a meeting once every two months, and I would recommend that for other groups as well.

While Wikimedia has been incredibly open to the contributions of volunteers online, there has been relatively little scope for real-life volunteer activities, because of the small footprint of the Foundation on-the-ground. There has been constant talk of a nationwide "US chapter" online for years, but very little progress.

I believe that the solution is not a theoretical bureaucracy of American Wikimedians on Meta or IRC, but rather a diversity of local chapters capable of engaging in real-life meetings and activities on a regular basis. And that extends not just to New Yorkers, but to Wikimedians in all major metropolitan areas, who can all have something to contribute through on-the-ground activities. Indeed, the whole point of this blog is to show that it can be done in other cities too.

And the good news is: You can still have that banquet and drinks setting. We still do, every time, because social settings are a large part of what people come to meetups for. But we do it after the afternoon meeting, when we can take our evening stroll together, and set out for a neighborhood restaurant and some well-deserved laid back wiki-chat.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Renaming And Merging

Pharos, one of the leading members of the Wikimedia NY effort and somebody who has been doing some very exciting things recently, has contacted me about joining efforts with this blog. The NY group has been picking up steam in a time when the PA group seems to be losing it. They've also been forging valuable partnerships with other like-minded organizations, and that's something that's invaluable to any group.

This will be the last post for the blog After this, the blog will be moved to to reflect it's new scope. I'm also going to be adding Pharos (and anybody else who has something relevant to say) as an editor. This is an exciting time for everybody, and this change will do a lot of good.