Fall SMWCon 2015 in Review
by Chris Koerner on 15 November 2015 12:42 (EST)
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This October I was fortunate enough to attend the Fall SMWCon in Barcelona, Spain. The event exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot, was able to share the MediaWiki Stakeholders' Group with a new and diverse audience, and presented on topics that I felt good about and believe helped many in our community.
The biggest motivation behind trying to attend SMWCon this fall was to continue the work we (the MediaWiki Stakeholders' Group) started in Lyon at the Wikimedia Hackathon around building up the awareness around MediaWiki.
Bringing awareness to the MediaWiki community, both from yet untapped contributors (developers, designers, writers, admins, users, etc.) and from the larger Wikimedia movement (including the Wikimedia Foundation) is something that is needed right now. MediaWiki, the software, is in a position of being an incredibly viable content management system (CMS) and the community is ripe with many active participants. Taking advantage of the growth of both - community and software - goes a long way to ensuring a strong future.
At SMWCon I was introduced to an entirely new continent of Semantic MediaWiki (SMW) admins, developers, and users. We had about 50 folks in attendance from various backgrounds. The location was spectacular. Fabra i Coats, a renovated textile factory turned art gallery, was our home for the 3-day event. The event organizers did a great job choosing a location that was near accessible accommodations, and a short walk into a beautiful Barcelona neighborhood, Sant Andreu. I was really happy that we weren't in the city centre (but close) and could experience Barcelona a little closer to how locals go about their day.
I was fortunate enough to have been asked by one of the organizers to host the Introduction to Semantic MediaWiki session on the first day. We had a lot of folks not only new to SMW, but to MediaWiki itself! Being able to guide folks through common wiki concepts like Categories, Namespaces, and Templates felt really good.
My session was well received and spurred seemingly endless conversations and tasks! My presentation was titled "What we Know About MediaWiki and Where we're Going" which really is just a long-winded way of saying - "Here's what's going on with MediaWiki and why you should get involved" (Which, as I type that, is just as long of a title).
I shared with folks some practical examples of the work the stakeholders' group has accomplished like our user survey, the resulting report, and our updated and prioritized wishlist. I also spoke to some practical examples of changes and developments in MediaWiki core. What I was most excited to discuss was the idea that the meaning of MediaWiki is changing. As WMF-lead initiatives look to more service-enabled solutions the definition of MediaWiki as a piece of software is up for question. For third-party users, it is hard (if not impossible) to nail down a single decisive definition of "What is MediaWiki". However, a individual users part of a larger community we have to be asking these questions and developing some shape to what MediaWiki means. Is it just core MediaWiki and a handful of extensions? Does it include ConfirmAccount? WikiEditor? Semantic MediaWiki? Semantic Forms? Upload Wizard? Echo? VisualEditor?
What does it mean to support third-party users? Is there a better way? Would a new organization with a unattached roadmap be more fruitful in defining MediaWiki as a software? As a community?
I don't know if we were able to answer any of these questions, but I do know we're moving in the right direction and engaging the right people.
From the other sessions I learned a lot about new SMW extensions, updates to existing extensions, and some really interesting ways people and organizations are using the software to do great things. Please take a moment to look through the various presentations on the conference site. I guarantee you'll learn something new.
Some of the individuals that stand out to me are Lex Sulzer, Sabine Melnicki, and Toni Hermoso. Lex and Sabine were two people that not only showed generosity in helping me get around the city, but were also gracious in sharing their knowledge and ideas with the community. Their presentations are worth enjoying and learning from - again SMW user or not.
Toni was a hero helping to organize the event and being a superb host. His care was present in every morning as he personally went to the local bakery to bring fresh pastries for us to enjoy.
In fact all of the organizers were pleasant and hardworking folks who you could really tell wanted to put on a great event for everyone.
Barcelona is an amazing city with so much life and activity. Coming from a small suburb in the Midwest United States it seems like a world away, but everyone was friendly and accommodating. The art, the food, the history - were all inspiriting and beautiful.
The most economical flight had me arriving in the city a day ahead of the conference. I was invited to join a self-organized tour of the city and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. We walked over 12 miles from every corner of the city seeing the sites. All lead by Rolf, Sabine, and Lex - attendees and impromptu tour guides. I was able to take a few photos of our adventures and have uploaded them to Flickr (all licensed under Creative Commons, naturally).
At the event I helped to introduce the MediaWiki Stakeholders' Group to attendees and we were successful in getting new folks to say they're interested and want to get involved. We have more folks aware of our work and eager to stay involved.
One of our goals for the next few months is to work with members of our group to put together a proposal for the Developers Summit in January. We've created a few tasks to guide our work in Phabricator and I'm helping to put together information for that event.
If you work with MediaWiki - not even specifically Semantic MediaWiki - SMWCon is one of the largest, most well organized, and informative events you can attend. I'm thankful for the organizers for hosting and event and allowing me to present, and for the Wikimedia Foundation for their travel and participation support program that enabled me to attend. I'm invigorated to continue working with the stakeholders and to further develop the community around MediaWiki and all its extensions.