Of course, the Turkic Wikimedia Conference had many other highlights except my talks and workshops. Jonas Öberg from Creative Commons delivered a keynote speech about the importance of letting people freely share their works, especially with regards to cultures which are not as known as the American or the Western European, such as that of Kazakhstan. Basically, anybody who is curious about the culture of Kazakhstan will only be able to know about it the things that are freely posted online. If it’s gathering dust in the library or locked behind a password in a pay-to-read website, nobody will read it.
The Wikimedian Daniel Mietchen, who is an advocate for Open Science, convincingly explained why opening up academic articles and experiments will not just make them cheaper, but also more correct scientifically.
Daniel also impressed lots of people with his Russian speaking skills: Apparently, he grew up in East Germany, where all children had to study Russian in schools, and he was one of the few children who actually bothered to learn it well. He said that at first he didn’t like to be forced to learn a language that wasn’t useful to him, but when he had to read a book of prose – The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin – as homework, he found it very satisfying, even though it was very hard in the beginning.
Another highlight was a book about editing Wikipedia given to me by one of its authors Irada Alakbarova, a participant from Azerbaijan. It is similar in content and scope to the book written by the French Wikimedians Guillaume Paumier and Florence Devouard, but it’s impressive that Irada is not just an enthusiastic Wikimedian, but also a department head in the Information Technology Institute of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, and the book’s other author Rasim Aliquliyev is the Institute’s director. (In precise Azeri spelling their names are İradə Ələkbərova and Rasim Əliquliyev. The letter Ə is a part of Azerbaijan’s Latin-based writing system, but looks too weird to many English readers.)
Irada also told me that some time ago she gathered any information that she could about Wikipedia’s server configuration and used it as an example for teaching configuration of high-performance websites. She was very happy when I told that the Wikimedia server configuration became even more transparent recently.
I participated in many conferences lately, and this one was unusually satisfying in many ways.
As usual, meeting the people was the best part. This refers both to the people from places like Bashkortostan and Sakha, with whom I communicated by email for many years, hardly imagining how do they look, and also to people whom I had not known before and who came from countries that I could hardly imagine of ever visiting, like Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. The international press mostly reports bad and weird news from these countries, but as it often happens, the image created by the media has little to do with the real people – I was stunned by the talent, the originality and the vigor that they demonstrated.
I was not the only one who felt that the conference was a great success, so we already started to throw around ideas for the location of another one. The names of Bishkek, Ufa, Baku and Istanbul were suggested, and I would certainly be very happy to go to any of these cities or to meet these wonderful people elsewhere.
Most importantly, this conference left me and the other participants a long list of exciting tasks to do.