From May 9 to May 11, I attended RecentChangesCamp 2008 in Palo Alto, California. It was a camp, conference, gathering of people who are involved in some ways with wikis. People who showed up included representatives from of Wikipedia including their CTO and a few people really involved with the organization, people affiliated with Wikia on the technical, business and community end, representatives from wikifarms including WikiSpaces, a few academics interested in the collaborative possibilities for using wikis in an educational setting, a number of people involved in all levels of WikiHow, representatives from AboutUS, people who had taken their wikis into the commercial realm, and people who run smaller wikis that are in various stages of content and audience development.
I attended this event with pretty much zero expectations regarding it. I learned about it because one of the things that we’ve been talking about behind the scenes on Fan History is how there is a wiki community out there. We’ve had discussions regarding how to plug in to it, what it could do for us and our place in it. We also knew that Fan History is at a stage where we’re almost ready to take things to the next level. It is just something scary to contemplate. None of the people most heavily involved with Fan History had done something similar and none were particularly plugged in to the bigger wiki family. There seem to be local groups around in some places which have meet up that sort of deal with these issues but non were particularly local to me. So having heard about RecentChangesCamp 2008, it seemed to be a really good event to attend to help me learn about various issues, do the networking that we know needs to be done and then take that information back to Fan History, to share with our administrators and users. Still, it felt like a crap shoot. That’s a lot of money to go when you have no clue if it will help you meet your goals for attending. But things came together and I attended. And it was worth every penny and anxiety about attending.
RecentChangesCamp 2008 was run using OpenSpace. A description of OpenSpace is: “In Open Space meetings, events and organizations, participants create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance, such as: What is the strategy, group, organization or community that all stakeholders can support and work together to create?” I didn’t really know this before I got there and my first thought was “How is this going to work?” but work it did. There was a really diverse group of people there, with various needs and various interests who created their own panels. They included a panel on who edits Wikipedia, a panel about encouraging people to become more involved with wiki editing, a panel on the future of Wikipedia, a panel on how to use wikis in education, discussions on which wiki platform worked best, and some more technical discussions.
For my part, I facilitated two discussions: A panel on wikis and fandom and a panel on marketing your wiki. The fandom one was interesting. It turned in to not what I necessarily thought it would be. At times, it was more of a general overview of what is fandom, how does fandom identify, who is watching fandom than it dealt with some of the very real policy issues that Fan History has to deal with: Fandom privacy concerns, use of real names, identity issues, behavioral patterns in fandom that at times run counter to the expected norms for wiki behavioral norms. Some of those were covered in brief. We also discussed funny things in fandom, some of the bad things fandom does, etc. I also tried to make clear that while there are bad things fans do, there are plenty of good things. The bad are just easier to mention, funnier to talk about and are easier in terms of creating discussion. I did feel reassured by the end of the panel that Fan History is doing many things right in terms of how we’ve transitioned in our policies to be less about my personal project and more of a project for the whole fannish community. It is awesome when your peers, in this case people in the wiki community who have been there and done that, reaffirm your actions or give you advice on how to improve in areas where you need help.
The other panel I facilitated was about marketing your wiki. The first half of this panel was mostly a conversation between myself and Evan who ran WikiTravel and runs vinismo. He also helps out with kei.ki. We discussed various strategies for marketing wikis. Both of us were pretty much on the same page regarding how to do that. Our marketing strategies were pretty similar. Contact bloggers. Use tools like digg to improve your search engine optimization. Know your community. Network and network. Use various tools to help with search engine optimization. Find content for your wiki that makes you unique. Give people a reason to invest in your project. Get the right people involved. Use controversy to your advantage. When Evan left, the discussion continued with two or three other people where the conversation tended to be a bit more context specific to specific needs. There was one guy who wanted to make that panel but couldn’t and we couldn’t really reconnect before the end of the camp in order talk about the subject more so we met for breakfast in the Mission district the next day to discuss it.
I also attended a panel on community building, and a discussion on using wikis for data gathering and how to include that, how to make sure the data is good, etc. I also took part in a discussion on using wikis educationally and some of the issues connected with that. One thing that came up was the question of training: Do you need to train people to gain online and information literacy? Or is it something that needs to be absorbed and shared through a broader culture?
Outside of the panels, a lot of what I did was networking. It was one of the major reasons I went. For anyone thinking of going to this camp in the future or thinking of attending a similar event for this reason, it really is worth it. It might be worth checking out who is going to help determine if the people you want to and need to network will be there. I knew that Wikia looked like it had people who would be there, Wikimedia foundation had people who would be there, a few academics who were doing work related to my MSEd, people who participated in smaller wikis who I could discuss specific smaller wiki issues with would be there. And really, fantastic. I got the chance to chat with a lot of those folks. They were really helpful. It reinforced one of the themes of the camp of the wiki ohana. This is a community of helpful people who definitely have a sense of community that extends beyond their individual projects. (And that extends beyond just wikis to include giving people rides to places like Oakland.)
I also had a lot of fun. There were interesting side discussions for those of us being butterflies. One involved what a Amish wiki would look like and what the principles of an Amish wiki would be. It wasn’t very serious but it was seriously entertaining. There was another conversation about fandom wank and the Open Source Boob Project. The who participated in it added to the entertainment level.
Fan History comes away my having attended this having gained a few things:
1. Fan History is ready to be part of a wider wiki community.
2. We’ve got contacts who can help us in the future.
3. We have leads on how to grow the wiki in order to be more successful.
4. We gained information that can be shared with others who help out with Fan History.
If you’re in fandom and you’re helping with a wiki, I can’t urge you enough to be bold and try to participate in the wiki community on a wider level.