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50 Party and a Wikimania 2008 Cape Town update

With one week to go before all the bid information has to be ready, it’s the final stretch for Cape Town’s bid to host Wikimania 2008.

I went to the 50 Party last night, and finally got to meet Jimmy Wales. He told me that he’ll do everything he can to ensure Cape Town wins the bid. Oh no wait, that wasn’t him. Goddamn Stormhoek, mixed with that real cider they were giving away…

I’m more positive though than ever about Cape Town’s prospects. What was launched on a whim is now crystallizing into something quite special.

The first of Cape Town’s advantages is its geographical location. Wikimania has been hosted in Boston, Frankfurt and Taipei (North America, Europe and Asia), and with the Wikimedia Foundation having a stated aim of rotating the location, being in Africa, and the southern hemisphere, is an advantage. Of the four remaining competitors (London, Toronto, Atlanta and Alexandria – Karlsruhe dropped out this week), three are in a continent that’s already hosted the event. Conversely, being so far away from most Wikimedians is a potential negative, but Cape Town will always be where it is, so we’ll have to address this in the bid, and counter with other advantages, such as cost (flying to Cape Town and spending a few weeks here will probably be cheaper than spending those weeks in London, even without flights).

The second advantage is that Cape Town is a fantastic tourism destination. Everyone wants to come here. This can’t be the focus of the bid – everything else must be in place, but it’s a definite value-add.

The third advantage Cape Town has, which I was reminded of at the 50 Party, is the inspirational and active Free culture and knowledge community here. There’s a tremendous concentration of skills. We have a great Free Software community. South Africans are the 2nd most prolific contributers to iCommons. South African topics are well-covered on Wikipedia. We have Geek Dinners, 27 dinners and various regular open coffee meetups. I was struck by the comment that Andrew Rens made in his talk that the reason for this is that South Africans embrace change.

A generalisation, but a true one I think – I’ve heard so many anecdotes about stagnation in Europe from friends having spent time there.

We don’t spend time resisting and claiming that Britannica is more reliable than Wikipedia – we just use it, and improve it.

Meeting and speaking today to all sorts of people, including lots of new faces, gave me a burst of positive energy. The artist from the Eastern Cape who distributed her work, admitted she knew nothing about websites or wikis, but heard about the event and just dived in, bringing along some of her art as a contribution. The engineer going off to Antartica, with stories of active green energy research happening here. The fact that the Free Culture house being built here will probably be built on sustainable principles, thanks to the comments of another attendee.

The final advantage, although it may not be obvious, is that Cape Town is in South Africa, a country with 11 official languages. The vision of the Wikimedia foundation is to see the totality of human knowledge available to all in their mother tongue. Taking the conference to an entirely English-speaking country, who’s people are already well-served, does not bring this vision much closer to fruition. It’s in places like South Africa, with its huge resource divide and unique set of challenges, that the vision will blossom.

One of my personal goals is to see usable Wikipedias in all 11 official languages. This has been slow going, as outside of English and Afrikaans, there’s not much presence. With bandwidth obstacles slowly being removed, an event such as Wikimania can provide a huge boost.

There’s three weeks before the decision on the host city is made. I’m enjoying the ride.

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