Final report on the conference
WikiConference North America was held on Friday-Sunday, October 8-10, 2021.
WikiConference North America (WCNA) is the annual conference for Wikimedians in North America, including Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. WCNA 2021 was the 8th conference, and the second virtual conference. Building on 2020’s successful virtual event, in 2021 we wanted to expand and improve the virtual experience. Attendees of WCNA include new and experienced Wikimedians editing all Wikimedia sister projects in several languages (especially English, Spanish and French) as well as GLAM and cultural institution professionals, educators, and technologists. The program for the conference was designed to share information, educate and inspire these varied attendees. For many participants, WCNA is the only large Wikimedia conference they attend.
The conference organizers committed early to certain goals for the conference:
- (a) making the event inclusive, especially to Spanish speakers, by arranging captions or audio interpretation across languages, which would be new to the WCNA conferences
- (b) presenting a theme of global-and-local frames implemented in several ways
- (c) supporting local events and being able to sponsor attendees who needed funding to make time or get equipment to attend
- (d) offering workshops and training for both new and experienced editors, not just one-to-many broadcasts of presentations
Over the course of October 8-10, 2021, over 65 sessions were streamed across two presentation tracks and a breakout track, plus edit-a-thons. Two of the presentation tracks were also provided with live translation in English and Spanish, and these tracks were livestreamed on YouTube along with a livestream of their audio interpretation into the other language. There were three invited plenary talks, two in English and one in Spanish. In addition, there was a special Friday night trivia broadcast with social media star Annie Rauwerda, creator of the popular Twitter, Instagram and TikTok feeds @depthsofwikipedia.
Of our 324 registrants, 266 people logged into the conference platform over the course of the weekend—an 82% turnout. Additional members of the public watched our videos on YouTube. The attendee experience was positive, as reflected in evaluations and anecdotal comments. The technology for the conference was a combination of a paid platform (Hopin) plus volunteer efforts to run the streams to YouTube and moderate sessions behind the scenes. Learning from and building on the lessons of 2020 WCNA and the 2021 virtual Wikimania conference, the program and technology ran smoothly all weekend, with no major technical problems and a smooth presenter and attendee experience.
The core organizers had attended the conference in the past and had compatible visions and goals. In addition to past WCNA organizers, new organizers were recruited and joined the team. Organizers met weekly, and a few volunteers joined for the conference itself to help moderate sessions. The many volunteers for this year's conference are listed here.
Technologies, platforms, suppliers
We learned from other online conference events, and used many software platforms and services to plan and run the conference. The table lists them.
|Hopin||A virtual conference hosting platform that uses Streamyard to stream presentations, with logged in attendees able to chat during talks and go to breakout rooms||Used as the main attendee platform||paid|
|Kudo||Software that creates a virtual translation room that the translators could log into to control input/output||Used for translation. Kudo had a prebuilt connection to Hopin so it was not difficult to integrate||paid|
|YouTube||Showed live talks in English and Spanish||Two streams from the Stages, plus the translations of those streams||free (WCNA account)|
|OBS||Free/libre software for live streaming to YouTube||Streams from Hopin were recorded in OBS by distributed volunteers on their laptops, and then sent to YouTube, which enabled streaming post-translation||free|
|Zoom||Video meeting platform||Used for participatory edit-a-thons (editona, vaccine workshop, and training workshops)||free (individual accounts)|
|Tlatolli||Live translators||This is the translation collective that was used by Wikimania 2015 in Mexico City;
in addition to translation they were very helpful in being involved in organizational meetings
|Etherpad||easily editable documents||Used for participatory notes during sessions||free|
|WorkAdventure||a free/libre platform for live interaction and discussion||Used for after hours social space||free|
|Menti||Trivia game platform||Used for live participatory trivia during the Depths of Wikipedia session|
|Slack||chat platform||Used for organizer and behind the scenes/day of communication||free|
|Telegram||chat platform||Used for general and attendee chat||free|
|Pretix||registration / ticketing platform||Used for registration||free|
|MailChimp||mass mailing system||Used for attendee communication and advertisement to previous attendees||paid|
Many videos of talks are on YouTube; final processing of videos and making them available on YouTube and on Commons is still unfinished.
Sessions and spaces
We had over 65 scheduled items on our Schedule.
- Red and Blue stages: These were broadcast presentations, from StreamYard. The audience was not visible and could not speak. Often the presenters showed slides or a browser tab/screen. These were recorded by Hopin and interpreted between English/Spanish, and generally shown live on YouTube. A moderator was present backstage to help speakers share their screens and help with Q&A from the audience.
- Pre-scheduled sessions: Those in our "Green track", or breakout track, were generally not recorded. They did not have language translation/interpretation. The people attending could choose to be visible generally, unless there was a pre-designated moderator deciding.
- Edit-a-thons, lightning talks, and unconference sessions - Open chat, mostly "sessions" on Hopin; a couple were Zoom meetings
- Expo: We had a few prepared YouTube videos. Attendance was light but it meant people could see some presentations before or after the scheduled time.
The schedule incorporated breaks and five-minute pauses which helped with switching presentations and making sure that the behind-the-scenes technology ran smoothly. Moderators used the Hopin chat to remind attendees to add their questions and comments, as well as reminders of the safe space policy.
The keynotes for the conference included "Breaking the gender gap on Wikipedia / Rompiendo la brecha de género en Wikipedia" (Carmen Alcázar, from Wikimedia México); "Trust and Knowledge on the Global | Local | Glocal Level" (Connie Moon Sehat, from the Credibility Coalition); and "New Maps for an Inclusive Wikipedia: Strategies to Counter Systemic Bias" (Carwil Bjork-James, English Wikipedia and Vanderbilt University).
Overall, 324 people registered, and 266 logged in to our Hopin event at some point—an 82% turnout. The peak attendance at one time was 92 people, early on Friday afternoon, possibly when Carmen Alcázar was giving her invited talk. In the first chart, attendance never drops near zero even at night because there was no need to log out. On Thursday evening we invited attendees for a social/test time on the platform.
- Three edit-a-thon events linked from the conference program were held on Zoom. These gathered perhaps 20 participants overall, most of whom were also conference attendees.
- English/Spanish interpretation: In about half of the sessions, those on Hopin's "stages" (our red and blue tracks), attendees could click for interpretation and select a language, English or Spanish. It went well overall, with some glitches. The systems are complicated. The Hopin software has a plugin for the Kudo software which created virtual interpretation rooms, where interpreters could control for example whether they were speaking into an English channel or a Spanish channel -- they had to switch depending on the speaker's language. The interpreters were near Mexico City on their own computers mostly working from home.
- Friendly/safe space matters: We had prepared a safe space policy in advance, and we did not hear of any safe space issues during the conference. A team went over training materials in advance and wrote up a document of what our practices would be during the conference. We edited the safe space policy from Wikimania 2021 for this conference. We think the resulting policy document is worth reusing and sharing. Volunteers signed up for shifts and sessions. Every session had a safe space monitor who listened and watched the chat, and if the presentation was in Spanish we made sure to have a Spanish speaker in the role. Members of this team stayed in touch with one another by direct messages.
Evaluations by attendees
We distributed survey questions to attendees, and got 35 responses between Oct 11th and Oct 19th. We invited ratings from 0-10 on their overall conference experience and 28 of the responses were high, in the 8-10 range. The main platform, Hopin, got 25 responses that high, but a few attendees had difficulty and expressed frustration with it. We asked about their experience with the live audio interpretation, and 14 said they used it, and of these 12 said it worked well. We invited specific comments about difficulties or matters of special interest, and there were a variety of interesting answers. They are hard to summarize, but generally positive and informative, and worth reflecting on for next time.
We had in-person events on Sunday afternoon in New York City and in Mexico City. A parallel picnic was held in San Diego. Our grant anticipated having more local events. There was less interest than anticipated, and we did not push the point; there was interest in the online event, and caution about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Plans not achieved
We meant to give scholarships for attendees to cover child care or other needs to enable them to attend, but we could not manage an application process. It was not clear that there would be much interest; people seemed to take the time to attend some sessions and just skip others. We were willing to hold more in-person wiknics, but partly because the main event was online, and partly because of COVID-19 concerns, there were only two major proposals. We made major platform decisions late which was stressful and meant we could not fully plan and train ourselves. We have not uploaded most of our videos yet, but we can link to the YouTube streams for several sessions.
Our original budget was set by a grant from WMF, totaling $US 24,508. Our actual expenses exceeded this by 13%. Savings from previous years, donations, and t-shirt sales ($121.93) made up the difference.
The effort to scale up for over 200 registrants and English/Spanish interpretation raised our costs over other conferences. We talked with several vendors of the software and got advice from experienced translators who had supported Wikimania 2015 in Mexico City. We practiced by supporting the Wikimedians of the Caribbean's WikiCari festival with interpretation in September before our conference, with English-to-Spanish only, using different software and translators than we eventually chose for the conference.
We decided late in the process to scale up to relatively high end plans, getting Hopin's "business plan" (which lasts a year and includes some support), and the Kudo software service to integrate interpreters. These raised costs but we found it necessary to have a solid platform for interpretation, and it did work. It left us with a year-long subscription to Hopin which our component organizations can use again, and which we have used twice since the conference (for Meta Day and EMWCon).
|Expense||Cost in USD||Notes|
|Hopin||$10,000||Main conference software platform|
|Kudo||$9,047||Live interpretation software platform|
|Tlatolli Ollin||$6,635||Interpreters at conference (en ⇔ es) (Amount was originally in MX pesos)|
|Amtrad||$931.75||Interpreters at WikiCari, (en ⇒ es), a practice event (Amount was originally in MX pesos)|
|Clevercast||$304.72||Live interpretation software platform used for WikiCari, as practice|
|Zoom||$121.51||Experimental conference platform|
|WMMX picnic||$294.73||Picnic in Mexico City (Amount was originally in MX pesos)|
|WMNY picnic||$371.73||Picnic in New York City|
For the future
- It would help us to hold future events if WMF Events could scale up the services it offers, so as to offer some prearranged subscriptions to platforms and services, more of which would have open-source commitments. We were short on time and skills to evaluate these platforms and did not have bargaining power to negotiate for our one event -- but WMF affiliates hold events every week around the world.