Wikimedian John Samuel and his experiences at Wiki Techstorm 2019

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In 2019, I had the opportunity to attend Wiki Techstorm. This is the first time that I attended such an event. Held by Wikimedia Nederland, it is smaller compared to Wikimedia Hackathons and had almost around 60 participants. However, what made this event so special was the diversity of participants, with varying knowledge of Wikimedia projects.

The technical event, held in Amsterdam, not far from the city center was a mix of technical workshops and organized talks, focusing on Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons and applications. The organized talks included different subjects like introduction to Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons, Pattypan, Open Refine, structured data on Commons, SPARQL, scraping of websites, Copyright, Listeria, Regex, map making, etc. The technical spaces allowed the participants to work on topics of their choice. Organized in multiple rooms, the technical spaces gathered together participants wishing to work on some common subjects.

Since Wiki Techstorm attracted a wide range of participants with varying knowledge of Wikimedia projects, it was interesting to see how the organizers helped the participants. Some selected Phabricator tickets were printed and pasted on the walls of technical spaces. A Phabricator ticket, as some of you know may know is a way by which Wikimedia projects track bugs, feature requests, development tasks etc. Any participant could come and check these tasks and assign themselves the task or could mark their offer for help to other participants. Thus, you could see the participants going from time to time to the wall and updating the tickets with colorful markers. Participants were also free to work on their own projects.

Throughout the two days, one could see the participants working around different tables, discussing, editing Wikipedia or other Wikimedia projects, developing tools and applications, running SPARQL queries, visualizing some interesting results and even switching tables to discuss with subject experts. Has offline collaboration been overtaken by online collaboration? One would even wonder whether physical world had momentarily won virtual world. Indeed, this is the purpose of offline events like these, bringing participants together, give them an opportunity to collaborate and clarify their doubts on different Wikimedia projects.

Wiki Techstorm gave me an opportunity to work on Shape Expressions (ShEx). Shape Expressions were released on Wikidata last year. However, less than 200 entity schemas are currently available. With Andra Waagmeester, we worked on the possibility of reducing the learning curve of developing these entity schemas. This is a work in progress and I hope that we are able to release some interesting results this year.

The event ended with a showcase session, where the participants could demonstrate what they worked on during the two days. More than twenty demonstrations were made, including works on Wikibase, Wikimedia templates, Wikidata-powered infoboxes, semi-automated addition of categories to photographs, uploads to Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource, new Wikidata items, documentation, etc. These amazing showcases show the power of inviting diverse participants in offline events such as these. On one hand, there are a number of Wikimedia projects with varying number of editors and on the other hand, there are experts working on one particular Wikimedia project bringing exceptional results. Events such as these give the diverse contributors a platform where they can learn from each other and bring the great results of one Wikimedia project to other projects. Thus Wiki Techstorm for me was an occasion to learn, showcase, share and collaborate.

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