Wikimania 2012 — mind the gap

This is the third in a series of posting on my first Wikimania. I’m (mostly) focusing on the connection between Wikipedia and libraries, and approaching topics thematically, rather than going through the conference in order.

Mind the [gender] gap
The Wikipedia community has been paying a lot of attention to the “gender gap” which was revealed in a study by University of Minnesota researchers last year. Therefore I was surprised to see so many women attending Wikimania — I don’t have official numbers, but I would say perhaps woman accounted for 1/3 of attendees. The conference programming reflected the concern about the gap (“how can you represent the sum of all knowledge if you don’t involve the sum of all people?”). The opening keynote was delivered by Mary Gardiner from the Ada Initiative, who focussed on ways to increase and encourage diversity in communities (my takeaway from this session — when someone is trying to give you advice on how to improve, “stop being defensive; shut up and listen.”). Both Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner wove the issue of gender diversity into their remarks. The Wikimedia Foundation is investing in addressing the gender gap, and an outcome of this is the Teahouse project, which offers peer support for new editors and is particularly aimed at being welcoming to women. There was also a Wiki Women’s lunch, which was attended by more than 120 women (Sue Gardner remarked that at her first Wikimania in 2007, the number was more like six).

WikiWomen's Lunch
WikiWomen’s Lunch

Interestingly the gender gap is not entirely a “wiki” or technology problem; I attended a session on wikiHow (a for profit company in which content is contributed by volunteers) which has a high percentage of female contributors — in fact, in wikiHow, the majority of editors are women. In that session, the presenter said that wikiHow’s friendly culture was established early on by the (male) company founder, who paid attention to and emphasized niceness in communications. She also said that Wikipedians have a reputation for being “mean online and nice in person.” Indeed, one of the major goals of the Wikimedia foundation is to improving editor retention and increasing participation across all Wikimedia projects, and I could see this emphasis echoed in presentations on a number of projects that encourage kindness (and also help simplify things for newcomers).