- These are some of the Conclusions from the organizing team; if you would like to share your own do so at the Comments section.
Even though the average answers of the survey are mainly positive, this survey showed us a lot of thing we could/should have done better.
To give just one small and simple example, even though almost everyone seemed to be content with the food, we learned that our choice of catering missed an favourite of everyone: fresh fruit.
There are direct conclusions that are implicit in the Analysis that we will not repeat here, such as the visitors' profile. Here we will instead focus on more indirect findings and repeated comments from the responses we received, as well as the feedback we got in other ways (mainly in person).
We already talked about the communications being the lowest graded group in the fifth item of our questionnaire. Sadly, there were very few comments about them in the section "how to improve".
Some complained about the poorly announced welcome dinner, which we organized the day before and was indeed poorly "advertised", including an even poorer handling of the registration for the dinner, with around 50 people showing up unregistered. Even though we made room for them as well, there was a delay and a general discomfort on how things where handled.
Besides the obvious "Plan ahead, don't make sharp turns", we now realize we didn't have a strong unified highly-visible channel for such announcements; there was the mailing list for one side, the wiki on the other, and the verbal communication with the organizers, but many didn't pay that much attention to the wiki, some didn't read all the numerous mails to wikimania-l, and weren't looking for an organizer to catch up with the latests news.
- Moral of the story? Have a very-low traffic, high-importance announcement channel.
Be it a special [wikimania-announcements] mailing list, an RSSed blog or a gigantic electronic board at the venue's hall, there must be a way to tell people "guys, do read this, it's important".
Something similar happened during the conference, where a few presentations had to be unavoidably changed (people failing to show up, last-minute changes, etc.). We limited to change the daily "Big Board" with the program and the schedule at the wiki-page. That proved insufficient to some, who complained about this. A mail announcement, or a special board with flashing news, could have improved the communication at the venues.
As you probably know, we had some thefts during Wikimania. 2 organizers got their laptops stolen at the venues prior to the start of Wikimania, and 2 speakers got theirs stolen during a presentation. Even though one of the thieves was apprehended, the laptops were unfortunately not recovered.
The thief, a Columbian citizen, had a story of stealing laptops in conferences, and this arrest added to his ongoing process to trial. You can visit the facebook page of the technophile. His accomplice, who was not arrested there, failed to show up in court.
The General San Martin Cultural Centre is a building with several conference rooms and offices, belonging to the city government. Since we didn't have the complex for our exclusive use, we couldn't restrict the public circulation of people.
So, for the second day, we did the only thing we could: control the access to the rooms, and add stickers to the laptops.
It is difficult to foresee the possible security problems that can arise, and even harder to decide were is the middle point between security and intrusiveness. Thorough thought must be given to this issue, especially in big cities, with potentially more opportunistic thieves.
Additionally, we had 3 more attendees get their backpacks stolen in public areas or bars. A warning to visitors could be issued if the organizers consider it necessary.
The venues were generally praised except for a few problems.
Three of the 5 rooms used were easily accessed from the main hall by only a few stair-steps, but to get to the other 2 conference rooms on higher floors elevators were a much more comfortable option. Or so should have been. Some of the elevators didn't work, and some didn't stop on all floors. This seriously affected the accessibility of the higher rooms.
Another common complaint was the poor maintenance and cleanliness of the toilets.
There wasn't much the organizing team could have done to improve these problems, but in such cases it is always advisable to inform attendees before to, at least, minimize the discontent.
- If you know something is going to be disliked and can't do anything to avoid it, let people know about it well beforehand.
Among the high-points were the main hall as a socializing point and the technical part such as live translations and internet broadcasting.
The main venue had a big common hall filled with couches and coffee tables, and was located at the exit of two of the conference rooms, and it served its purpose of a socializing hub well. The presentations started around 9 in the morning, and lasted until around 18, with 2 coffee breaks of 30 minutes, and one hour and quarter for lunch.
The hotel also had common areas with an internet connection that people used to talk any time of the day. There were a couple of organized activities: the welcome dinner, the good-bye party, tango lessons (twice) and a Wikia party.
Yet there are a lot of comments complaining that people haven't been able to socialize as they would have liked to.
Another complaint was that people who already knew each other tended to stay together tight, and those on their own had a difficult time blending in. Additionally, some pointed out that the organizing team was too busy to socialize with the rest of the Wikimedians.
We can only deduce that you just can't have enough of common spaces, socializing activities and know-your-fellow attendee activities, and suggest organize a lot of all of them, perhaps taking care of not superimposing them in time nor splitting people in groups.
Another idea to have in mind is to present the organizers during the opening ceremony, and let them have some more free time to wander around the crowd.
The schedule proved to be one of the most difficult and critical parts of the organization. People want to know who was speaking (and when) a month in advance to decide if they will be participating, and when to travel.
The complaints on the schedule were focused on the late consolidation of it, the lack of details on the presentations until the final weeks before the conference, and the communication of changes that took place during the conference itself (see the Communication section).
On the other hand, having hundreds of speakers with their professional and personal lives means you have to deal with also hundreds of different cases, delays, cancellations and last-minute changes.
No matter how much time in advance you try to arrange things, you have to be prepared to rapidly respond to contingencies that will for sure arrive at all time, from early planning to the last minute of the last conference. This includes having a Plan B and wild-cards for whatever you manage to prepare. Have predefined channel(s) for communicating changes prior to and during the conference, and make those changes globally consistent (wiki, printed boards, flyers, etc).
Another suggestion was to include more people from outside the wiki-world we know so well, for they can give fresher views and ideas.
Posters sessions and Lightning talks
The poster sessions and lightning talks were poorly publicised.
There was no defined place to put the poster sessions; first a low traffic place was chosen but then we moved to the main hall, but it was not well marked.
Lightning talks are a great and effective (and probably one of the few) way of people sharing valuable ideas that probably and for whatever reason didn't make it as a presentation. We should encourage people to prepare them with time and present as many of them as possible. But it would also be important to know with at least some anticipation what will they be about, so people can decide which ones they are most interested in.
There were several complaints, not only through the survey but personally, on Richard Stallman's keynote presentation. Many felt Stallman issued an extensive and non-constructive critique of a subject he wasn't well informed of, and stubbornly failed to process any feedback on the subject.
For future speakers we had a lot of suggestions, some serious and other not that much. Linus Torvalds had a bunch of votes, while Noam Chomsky and Sue Gardner more than one. In general there were suggestions of people involved in Open Source and open Knowledge ideologies, but also local politicians, philosophers, educators and supporters of empowering third-world countries.
Of course, the most requested speaker was none other than Jimmy Wales.
Make sure you read all suggestions here.
The workshops were not very commented, except for their length (some thought they were too short). There were different suggestions on future topics, but education, semantic mediaWiki, quality control and planning/strategy where the most asked for. Others popular where governance, offline content, bots, and intellectual property. See all the suggestions here.
Even though the answers on Wikimania lasting 3 or 4 days were tightly split, there were a lot of comments suggesting more days for the conferences, with less packed days, leaving room to more socialization and face-to-face ideas sharing. Having more days would also make possible to have less concurrent talks. We had 5 overlapping conference rooms, what made a lot of attendees miss presentations they were hoping to hear, because they had others simultaneously; nevertheless, most conferences were recorded and put online so they wouldn't miss them entirely.
Press & reach
We had an important number of accredited press visitors during the conference that in turn delivered news of Wikimedia's projects to a wide range of readers. We also had around 15% of local attendees, which is a good number considering the conference took place during working days.
Nevertheless, there seemed to be limited press coverage from prominent media of the event both in Argentina and worldwide. We should try using news on Wikimania as a means of obtaining more participants, but also users and editors.
In the survey, we only had one or two locals who didn't find themselves identified with Wikimania, and didn't exactly know what to expect from it.
Organizing a Wikimania in your country is a privilege of which maximum advantage should be taken. Reaching as many people, converting passive users into active editors, or spreading the concept of free and open knowledge as widely as possible can give the local Wikimedian community a very important boost.
It should be considered having the conference from Friday to Sunday, in order to avoid having so many people renouncing to Wikimania because of work/studies.
There seamed to be some discontent on the way plane tickets where handled, which resulted in more expensive flights yet less convenient for the attendees. Perhaps it would be good if the attendee could suggest a couple of possibilities for the committee to have in mind.
People pointed out that there were chapters that were not represented at Wikimania, and that there were very little people from third world countries, who always have more difficulties to find financing.
When awarding scholarships balancing this economic bias should be an important item.
The live video streaming was one of the technical novelties we had during this Wikimania, and it was widely praised. The only suggestions were to upload better quality versions of the video afterwards, as well as the sound-tracks separately. Additionally, videos contain only the presenter's sound track, leaving out the translations either to English or Spanish. We've been suggested having an IRC channel to allow remote viewers to ask questions to the speaker. In order to do that someone other than the speaker should be responsible for reading such questions and choosing some for the speaker.
Another praised detail was the extensive coverage of electric power at the conference rooms and halls to avoid laptop-dependants to run out of juice.
We had some problems with the wireless connection during the first day because we didn't count on people moving between cells that overloaded the DHCP services; this was solved by using Roaming instead for the following days. Conference rooms had both wireless and a wired connection for the presenter, as well as a desktop computer, in case the presenter needed them.
Translations to and from Spanish allowed more people to enjoy presentations in both languages, what we thought was very important considering the low percentage of people in South America that have a good understanding of English.
Some complained that during the closing ceremony they missed quite a lot that was said in Spanish, and that they didn't know they would be needing the available translation headphones. We apologise for it, but we would also like to let you know that that part of the speech in Spanish was directed to all the local cooperators, volunteers and the organizing team.
The food was generally praised. Among the critics we got are the lack of clear distinction of vegetarian food, lack of fresh fruit, and excess of dough. The last responds to the necessity of having food easily eaten with one hand, but other options can be studied.
Some complained the party was too loud and dark. During the party several people went outside to enjoy the calm night and a chat. An adjacent clear and quieter place would have been a good idea.