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In memoriam of Cynthia Ashley-Nelson

Cynthia Ashley-Nelson

Cynthia Ashley-Nelson passed away Friday, April 11th. She was attending the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin as an AffCom member, and on Thursday had participated on her first annual AffCom meeting. The news about her death has surprised and shocked the people at the conference. I realize there are many people who might not be familiar with her, so I wanted to write a few words about the impact she made on those who knew her.

In my role as Board liaison to the Affiliations Committee, I had seen Cindy, as her friends called her, apply to become a member – and ultimately elected to the committee. She had such a solid background, so relevant to the work AffCom does, she was such a strong candidate, it was a no brainer for AffCom to elect her. They were not disappointed. Cindy was participative, incredibly engaged from day one, always looking ahead and trying to improve existing processes and expand AffCom’s role. She had wonderful ideas and a refreshing perspective regarding movement roles and the role of AffCom. One that I especially liked was her desire to implement a thorough Affiliate Development Program, to help guide new affiliates and teach them relevant skills so they could not only be better equipped to survive, but to thrive and have a bigger impact in a shorter period of time.

I got to know Cindy a bit beyond that, for she wanted to test ideas and potential directions in which to take the movement. We would send each other long emails about movement roles and how to move forward with the movement. And as it usually happens, conversations turned from the more formal to the informal, eventually including little snippets of our every day lives, the good things that happened to us and the not so good. When we met for the first time face to face several days ago, we gave each other a big hug. In the session we had during the AffCom meeting she once again showed her passion and commitment to help re-imagine the role of AffCom and how to help new affiliates. At the end of that session, she was confirmed as the new vice-chair of AffCom. That speaks to the impact she made on the committee in such a short time. I think our last interaction was about getting together at some moment during the conference to just hang out and talk. She had a great smile.

As far as we know, Cindy died peacefully and in her sleep. When the tragic news came in on Friday night during dinner, so out of the blue, I was shocked. Literally shocked. She had missed the meeting between AffCom and the Board, which was very surprising, and it hadn’t been possible to contact her, but it didn’t necessarily make one think something bad had occurred. When the Board was notified of what had happened, we wanted to be very respectful of the fact that the priority had to be to contact the next of kin before any kind of public announcement was released. But AffCom had to be told. I had been an AffCom member before joining the Board. Breaking the news to them was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We went to a room to deal with the shock and the reactions. Nobody wanted to be alone.

This morning after the next of kin had been located and notified, we all got together for breakfast and went together to the venue where a grief counsellor was available. There was a brief but touching tribute at the beginning of the conference. AffCom then prepared a public statement about Cindy’s death. I felt my place was with them, helping them word it. As the schedule was reorganized, I missed the Meet the Board session which was moved to the morning, which I deeply regret, but I did want to be with AffCom in these moments. I want people to know I will be available for anyone who wants to ask me anything about the Board or the movement at the venue. I just couldn’t make it that morning. Before ending this post, I would like to take a moment to thank the people of WMDE, who were incredible in such difficult circumstances and who set up a special room to grieve for her and write in a book of condolences, particularly Pavel, and WMF staff, especially Anasuya, Garfield and Asaf. The support of Board members was deeply appreciated as well, not only by me but by AffCom as well.

This post is perhaps a bit cathartic for me. Cindy, you made an impact in those who knew you and you will be remembered. My thoughts are with the family and friends. Rest in peace.

María Sefidari, WMF Board of Trustees member

  • See Cynthia’s user page on English Wikipedia.
  • Wikimedians have begun to share their memories and condolences about Cynthia on her user talk page.
  • Memorial post by Asaf Bartov, Head of WMF Grants and Global South Partnerships.
  • Announcement by Carlos Colina and Bence Damokos from the Wikimedia Affiliations Committee
  • Wikinews story on the passing of Cynthia Ashley-Nelson.

Remembering Adrianne Wadewitz

Portrait of Adrianne Wadewitz at Wikimania 2012 in Washington, DC.

Each of us on the Wikipedia Education Program team is saddened today by the news of Adrianne Wadewitz’s passing. We know we share this sadness with everyone at the Wikimedia Foundation and so many in the Wikimedia and education communities. Our hearts go out to all of you, her family and friends. Today is a time for mourning and remembering.

Adrianne served as one of the first Campus Ambassadors for the Wikipedia Education Program (then known as the Public Policy Initiative). In this role, she consulted with professors, demonstrated Wikipedia editing and helped students collaborate with Wikipedia community members to successfully write articles. As an Educational Curriculum Advisor to the team, Adrianne blended her unique Wikipedia insight and teaching experience to help us develop Wikipedia assignments, lesson plans and our initial sample syllabus. Her work served as a base for helping university professors throughout the United States, and the world, use Wikipedia effectively in their classes.

Adrianne was also one of the very active voices in the Wikimedia community urging participation and awareness among women to tackle the project’s well-known gender gap. She was an articulate, kind, and energetic face for Wikipedia, and many know that her work helped bring new Wikipedians to the project. The Foundation produced a video exploring Adrianne’s work within the Wikipedia community in 2012.

Many in the Wikimedia community knew her from her exceptional and varied contributions, especially in the areas of gender and 18th-century British literature – in which she received a PhD last year from Indiana University, before becoming a Mellon Digital Scholarship Fellow at Occidental College. Since July of 2004, she had written 36 featured articles (the highest honor for quality on Wikipedia) and started over 100 articles – the latest being on rock climber Steph Davis.

Adrianne touched many lives as she freely shared her knowledge, expertise and passions with Wikipedia, her students, colleagues, friends and family. She will be deeply missed by all of us. Our condolences go out to her family during these very difficult times.

Rod Dunican
Director, Global Education

Wikipedia Education Program

  • See Adrianne’s user page on the English Wikipedia, her Twitter account, her home page and her blog at HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory)
  • Wikipedians have begun to share their memories and condolences about Adrianne on her user talk page.
  • The leadership of the Wiki Education Foundation, where Adrianne was a board member, have also expressed their condolences.
  • Memorial post from HASTAC Co-founder Cathy Davidson.
  • Wikinews story on the passing of Adrianne Wadewitz.

Europeana Fashion Handbook to Bring Wiki and GLAMs Together

In an effort to improve fashion knowledge on the web, Europeana Fashion has organized a series of edit-a-thons with Wikimedia volunteers and fashion institutions around Europe. The experience and knowledge gained from these events are now compiled in one handbook, The Europeana Fashion Edit-a-thon Handbook for GLAMs.

Fashion Edit-a-thon Logo.png

What is fashion? Fashion is vanity, fashion is business, fashion is art. Fashion can mean many things to many people, but what is certain, is that it has enormous cultural significance. Every item of clothing has its roots in history and carries a symbolic meaning in the present.

2013-05-13 Europeana Fashion Editathon, Centraal Museum Utrecht 39.jpg

An edit-a-thon around fashion in collaboration with Wikimedia Netherlands and Fashion Muse. May 13, 2013. 

Take, for example, the most basic of garments, the T-shirt. It was originally designed as an undergarment in the American army in the early 20th century. In the 1950s it became part of the uniform of rebellious youth culture and was seen on the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean. Nowadays, the T-shirt is worn everywhere with everything, even under a suit. From underwear, to act of rebellion to formal, fashion objects can be considered artifacts of past and present.

That is why there are public and private institutions collecting fashion. Europeana Fashion aims to bring all these collections together in one online portal and improve knowledge around these collections.

The best way to improve knowledge online is through Wikipedia. It’s open, free and one of the most visited websites. In an effort to get communities and institutions involved, Europeana Fashion hosted multiple Wiki edit-a-thons.

Badge Fashion Editathon.jpg

Fashion badge Edit-a-thon Europeana. Museum of Decorative Arts (Paris), March 22, 2014. 

After setting up seven edit-a-thons in five countries in one year’s time, the project bundled its experiences in a handbook for organizing fashion edit-a-thons. It is directed towards galleries, libraries, archives and museums, or in short: GLAMs. The handbook is available online and open to improvement from the community.

Engaging Fashionistas

Fashion carries with it very relevant cultural, historical and symbolic meaning. However, despite its social significance, fashion’s presence on Wikipedia is not as comprehensive as it should be. This encouraged Europeana Fashion to partner with Wikimedia volunteers in an effort increase fashion knowledge and open multimedia in the Wiki world.

Twenty-two partners from twelve European countries work together on the Europeana Fashion portal. Together, these institutions collect and make available thousands of historical dresses, accessories, photographs, posters, drawings, sketches, videos and fashion catalogues. At the same time, it makes these items findable through Europe’s online cultural hub Europeana. Europeana Fashion invited its partners to make available their collections on Wikimedia Commons and welcomed users to write about their collections. The aim: to enrich and share the knowledge about these objects and improve the existing knowledge about fashion’s history, origins and trajectory on Wikipedia.
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Wikimedia RU expands Wikipedia Voice intro project to include music

WikiMusic logoRecently, Wikimedia RU (the Russian Wikimedia chapter) successfully launched the Russian version of the “Wikipedia voice intro project” and expanded it to incorporate the “WikiMusic” project. Now it not only covers celebrity voices but also free music – which prior to this had no significant presence in any Wikimedia project.

How did it happen?

The recent launch of the “Wikipedia voice intro project” got extensive coverage in Russian and European press. While the topic was hot, directors of Wikimedia RU achieved an agreement with the chief editor of “Echo of Moscow” radio, Alexei Venediktov, to start a similar joint project in Russia – “WikiVoices“.

It should be mentioned that Echo of Moscow has the largest audience among Moscow radio stations and broadcasts in more than 40 cities in Russia, the United States and Baltic states. It has the highest citation index between all Russian media, exceeding even TV channels. So, we are really happy to start working together with such a partner. According to the agreement, Echo will do the following:

  • ask their guests for short neutral stories about themselves without propaganda, advertising or personal attacks so that they will be suitable for future usage in Wikipedia;
  • search through their archive records (dating back to 1990) and provide us with interesting samples;
  • not only provide us with records of guests who came to their studio but also ask their external correspondents to make such records;
  • publish  photos of their guests under free licenses.

“Waves of the Danube” waltz.

Gypsy song from the opera “Carmen.”

“The Lost Chord.”

Voice Recording of speech “On the cultural role of the gramophone.”

Echo of Moscow not only agreed to donate such materials but also did a lot for simplification of this process: all records are posted at their official website with information about the person and direct statement of CC-BY-SA license for the records. The log of uploads is prepared in the machine-readable XML format and new records are automatically uploaded to Commons via bots in the free OGG format. At the moment about 40 records were uploaded: now we have voice records of the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel (with translator), the USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev, journalist Vladimir Pozner and many other famous people.

Fortunately, that’s not the only good news we want to share. While we were announcing the start of WikiVoices project on the, we were heard by the Russian State Archive of Sound Recordings. This archive was founded in 1932 and at the moment has more than 240,00  records. Many catalogs are not available online and many records are not digitized, but the Archive is ready to convert desirable records into the digital format and donate them to us.

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Wikimedia’s Road to Bugzilla 4.4 (How we puppetized, upgraded and moved Bugzilla to another server)

The original publication of this blog post can be found here.

The software behind Wikimedia’s website for tracking software issues and feature requests was recently updated to a newer  version and moved onto a new machine in a different datacenter. Furthermore, proper configuration management for this software was set up. This post explains the technical details and challenges.

Though we currently also evaluate Wikimedia’s project management tools, we will have to stick with our current infrastructure for a while. Among many other tasks, I spent the last few months preparing the upgrade of Wikimedia’s Bugzilla instance from 4.2 to 4.4. Some reasons for upgrading can be found in this Bugzilla comment.

In late November of 2013 I started cleaning up Wikimedia Bugzilla’s custom CSS which was copied about five years ago and not kept in sync. It turned out that 16  out of 22 files could be removed since there was no sufficient difference to upstream’s default CSS code (Bugzilla falls back to loading the default CSS file from /skins/default if no custom CSS file is found in /skins/custom). Less noise and less diffing required for future upgrades. In theory.

After testing these CSS changes on a Wikimedia Labs instance and merging them into our 4.2 production instance, I created numerous patches and put them into Gerrit (Wikimedia’s code review tool) by diffing upstream 4.2 code, upstream 4.4 code and our custom code.

At the same time, Wikimedia’s Technical Operations team wanted to move the Bugzilla server from the kaulen server in our old Tampa datacenter to the zirconium server in our new Ashburn (Eqiad) datacenter. While you’d normally prefer to do only one thing at a time, Daniel Zahn (of Technical Operations) and I decided to create a fresh Bugzilla 4.4 instance from scratch on the new server to see into which problems we would run. During this process Daniel Zahn turned the old setup on kaulen, which was largely manual and had organically grown over the years into a proper Puppet module. For every “missing module” error we ran into we avoided installing anything from Perl’s CPAN in Bugzilla’s /lib folder and ensured we just relied on distribution packages for a much cleaner install. Daniel Zahn installed the needed packages by adding them to puppet code. While doing this we also removed Bugzilla’s Sitemap extension as it created sporadic Search::Sitemap errors when running Bugzilla’s checksetup.pl (plus it’s unmaintained anyway). Furthermore I ran into another runtime error to fix.
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Taking the stage: How we entered the Brussels Bubble

Big Fat Brussels Meeting April 2013. 1st meeting of EU-Policy Working group

Spring’s here again and we’re calling everyone to a strategy meet-up in Brussels! Join us in constructing our strategies and charming our way into EU policy-makers hearts and minds! Wikimedians along with all Free Knowledge enthusiasts are invited to help figure out our next steps in Europe. Prior knowledge about the Wikiverse or the intricate advocacy system is not necessary – diverse points of view produce better results!

Grouping the activists

At the first first Big Fat Brussels Meeting we discussed the inadequateness of the current copyright framework and focused on making some defining organizational decisions. As a result, a contact person in Brussels was implemented to monitor the EU, provide political intelligence, serve as a go-to point on EU issues within the Wikiverse and build up a network with other locally active organizations.

To establish our thematic focus, we mapped relevant issues (kudos to Anna Lena Schiller) and ran them in a community survey. The final step was to write out – as a group of European Wikimedia Chapters – a Statement of Intent, which was afterwards approved by the respective boards. This was done in London at the Wikimedia UK offices and will perhaps one day be considered the founding document of the Free Knowledge Advocacy Group EU. The whole process can be regarded as an effort to define our goals, as well as define those who will help achieve it.

Activating the group

The Free Knowledge Advocacy Group EU monitored and analyzed exciting topics like net neutrality and data protection for their possible effects on Wikimedia projects. We were also challenged to appear on stage on a few occasions: We drafted model answers for the European Commission copyright consultation, requested a study on the “economic benefits of the public domain and open licensing to the European economy” and tried to save (+here) the Collective Rights Management Directive in a last minute attempt.
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For Rexford Nkansah, Wikipedia represents the future of education for his country

Despite its growing economy, Ghana is not the first place one would associate with technology, but for 20-year-old native Rexford Nkansah, it’s second nature.

Wikipedians attending WikiAfrica’s Open Africa 2014 course in Cape Town in February of 2014. From left: Abel Asrat, Rexford Nkansah, Michael Phoya, Cyriac Gbogou, and Erina Mukuta.

“In Ghana you don’t have hobbies like skiing or going to restaurants,” he says. “So these are the little things I do to keep myself busy.” The youngest of five, Rexford is now spearheading a campaign to form a Wikimedia Chapter in Ghana. “I’m actually considered to be Ghana’s Wikimedia person,” he explains.

He first stumbled upon Wikipedia in 2006, and like many, at first did not realize what made it so special. It wasn’t until five years later that he began contributing himself. “I thought – how can anyone, anywhere on the planet put in anything just like that? So I decided to read about it, to learn the rules for editing, and that’s how it all started.”

A biography on Ashesi University founder Patrick Awuah was his first foray into writing, an article that took him six hours of non-stop work. “I took my time to write it. I sat down, researched, did everything, put it all together, added photos… I just dedicated that time to do it. I said, this guy – I need to do something to say thank you to him, for how he’s helping Ghana grow.”

Nkansah is a passionate web developer, and is keen on emphasizing the value of open source software. “Not all of us have access to credit cards, buying something online is like going a million miles to fetch something,” he says, “so when you get free software, you get happy about it. Because software that is not free… it’s hard to pay for it even if you have the money.”

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MTN South Africa responds to Sinenjongo High School open letter and launches Wikipedia Zero

MTN South Africa’s video response to the open letter written by the 2013 12A class of Sinenjongo High School. The original video was uploaded to YouTube.com and was released under a creative commons license.

Wikipedia Zero is an initiative started by the Wikimedia Foundation to create partnerships with mobile carriers who provide access to Wikipedia free of data charges. On February 14, 2014, MTN South Africa, one of four cellular carriers addressed in an open letter by a class at Sinenjongo High School in South Africa announced via a YouTube video that they would provide access to Wikipedia without data charges via the Opera Mini browser. They are the first South African operator to do so, and the first to answer the Sinenjongo High School students’ plea.

From the video:

“Hi. This is an open letter to the youth of South Africa, and the students of Sinenjongo High School in Cape Town. You recently shared a video asking South Africa’s cellular networks to give their customers free access to Wikipedia. We think this is a wonderful idea. We know that many schoolchildren in this country don’t have access to research material, which can make excelling at school so much more difficult. That’s why MTN is proud to be the first South African cellular network to make Wikipedia free. Free Wikipedia means access to a wealth of knowledge on just about every topic, giving a boost not only to schoolchildren, but to our whole education system of South Africa. We hope that by changing one small thing, we can change everything. To the learners of Sinenjongo High School, who sparked the initiative, we would like to thank you immensely. Thank you.”

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Celebrating Women’s Day, the Wiki way

Participants editing articles about women in science.

How many Indian women scientists can you name? Go on! Think about this one. Think really hard. How many can you name, now? One? Two? Three?

I wrote this blog post at a co-working space for tech startups in the Southern Indian city of Kochi. I was surrounded by science students. None of them could think of a single woman scientist from India. Pretty shameful, isn’t it? And, there was nobody to burst our sexist bubble, except, Wikipedia. This page lists 15 women scientists from India. While I am grateful for this archive, it is hardly comprehensive. 15 women scientists from a country of 1.2 billion people.

India is currently Asia’s third largest economy and it prides itself on making many ancient discoveries. Given this context, it is unbefitting for us to come up with such a tiny list. (By the way, If you know of a more detailed website on this subject, please send me the link on Twitter – which you can find at the bottom of this page). Could there be women whose contribution to science have slipped out of popular culture?

Wikipedia has organized edit-a-thons for the entire month of March to address these glaring gaps in our knowledge. The goal of these edit-a-thons is to celebrate International’s Women’s Day that fell on March 8. During this month, we would like to enhance the quantity and quality of Wikipedia articles on gender and sexuality and translate English articles into other Indic languages. Anyone can join the celebrations as editors, translators, bloggers, event managers or enthusiasts.

We encourage more South Asian women to use this opportunity- right now 9 out of 10 Wikipedians are men. There are many subjects that may be of interest or value to women that are not covered in traditional encyclopaedias because the majority of knowledge-producers are men. Let us make sure that Wikipedia is diverse and voices from all sections of  society are represented.

We have kick-started the event with weekend edit-a-thons. We will provide specific topics and links to editors to write or expand upon. This month the focus is on women parliamentarians and scientists.

So come on over, put your editing skills to use, make some new friends and last but not the least, learn more about women scientist from India!

- Diksha Madhok, Wikipedian

Viquiprojecte Unió Europea: know your own backyard

Catalan Atlas from 1375

One of the great things about Wikipedia is getting to know people with a variety of academic interests. In the geography department, this means working side-by-side with Wikipedians who know the map of Ancient India like the backs of their hands, others who spend hours creating categories about rivers and lakes in Kazakhstan and those who seem determined to write articles about every single nook and cranny in Uruguay.

Although information on all these far-flung and exotic (from the Catalan perspective) places is a huge asset to Wikipedia, knowing our own geopolitical backyard remains as important as ever. While there is a lot of information on the Catalan Wikipedia for some European countries (like Spain, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands), in many other cases information on European countries is conspicuous for its absence. In an effort to address this issue the European Union Wikiproject was launched on the Catalan Wikipedia.

The aim of the Wikiproject is threefold. First, we seek to create and expand articles on the culture, history, economy and traditions of the EU Member States. Second, we aim to write about the European institutions themselves. Thirdly, we organize and participate in related free knowledge and free data projects. These project often include Wikipedia edit-a-thons on European topics, as well as interviews and photography of European politicians and officials for Commons. Editors were are also sent to take part in the Wiki Loves Parliaments visit to the European Parliament, which brought together several European Wikimedia chapters and was led by Olaf Kosinsky.

Since the Wikiproject began in early 2013, we have created well over 1,000 articles on the EU and its Member States. The Member State on which we focus changes every six months in synch with the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. Because it is such a broad project, there is something for everyone, ranging from space exploration geeks and art lovers to foreign press fans and political enthusiasts. This broad appeal has made it one of the most successful Wikiprojects ever on the Catalan Wikipedia, next to the big push to reach first place on the list of Wikipedias by sample of articles.

Our geopolitical background is one gigantic puzzle with lots of holes in it but, step by step, article by article, Catalan Wikipedians are filling in the pieces.

Author of the text: User:Leptictidium - Amical Wikimedia