First time @ ESEAP Conference: Reflections & learnings of Japanese Wikimedians

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The ESEAP Conference 2024 was held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia in May 2024, and three Wikimedians from Japan attended a regional conference for the first time. We got them together post-conference to share their experiences, learnings and reflections from their time at the ESEAP Conference.

From left: Tofeiku (ESEAP Conference organizer member), VZP10224, Wadakuramon, Eugene Ormandy / Jason Liow, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What motivated you to attend the ESEAP Conference?

Wadakuramon, you started editing in March 2016 and published you book, “A 70-year-old Wikipedian talks about the charm of libraries” in 2023. Did you know about the ESEAP conference?

Wadakuramon: I didn’t know anything about the ESEAP Conference, I submitted my application for Poland (Wikimania 2024) in December, but in January, the day before the grant deadline, I was told about it and after thinking about it overnight, I decided to apply anyway, even though I had no experience, as I had also applied for Wikimania.

VZP10224, you are a long-time jawp administrator and attended the conference on behalf of the Wikimedians of Japan User Group, which he founded in 2023. Why did you join the ESEAP conference?

VZP10224: When the Universal Code of Conduct draft was being finalized, a staff member at the Foundation at the time spoke to the Japanese administrators, and I was shocked to learn that “a democratic process was in place to finalize things. I applied for the Wikimania Singapore scholarship last year as an individual but was not successful as I could not prepare well. I then joined the user group which later started, and when I mentioned about not being able to apply for the Wikimania Poland scholarship in time, the user group members told me about the ESEAP Conference, and so I applied for it.

Eugene Ormandy, as many Diff readers know, you are the founder of the Student Wikipedian Community in Waseda Uni Tokyo and Toumon Wikipedian Club, and was the first Japanese recipient of the Wikimedian of the Year (New Comer of the Year) at Wikimania 2023. Surprisingly, this was your first time attending the ESEAP conference!

Eugene Ormandy: I was originally not interested in the democratic process of the movement. In 2023, I participated in Wikimania in Singapore, but it was not because I actively volunteered to go, but only because the Wikimedia Foundation said, “You have been chosen as Wikimedian of the Year, and we will pay for your travel expenses”. However, as I learned many things at Wikimania, and started projects such as the Wikimedia Japan-Malaysia Friendship and the Wikimedia Japan-Turkey Friendship with the Wikimedians I met there, I became somewhat interested in international movements. Then, a friend of mine, who is an organizer of the ESEAP conference and a participant in the Japan-Malaysia Friendship project mentioned, “Why not come to the ESEAP conference if your schedule works!” and so I applied for a scholarship.

Wadakuramon: I was always very interested in Turkey, but I knew almost nothing about Malaysia. But when I joined the friendship projects that Eugene started and participated in the events such as the editathons, I built a good base of knowledge, and I became more and more interested in Malaysia leading up to the conference.

Eugene Ormandy: I’m very happy to hear that! 

What was your impression of the conference and what new ideas do you have for post-conference?

VZP10224: I thought it was going to be a technical conference, but I was surprised by all the meta discussions. I was impressed that the major policies of the ESEAP region were discussed in such a forum, and that these policies were then adopted as policies. Even as an administrator who has been working with various policies for many years, my impression of the Meta page was “There is so much information all jumbled together that it is hard to know what is written where.” And just the other day, I spoke with users who are actively engaged in outreach activities in Japan, but they also did not know much about global trends, so I believe the situation is similar for most Japanese wiki users. Therefore, I feel the strong importance of more widely sharing the way the Foundation works and how the policy process is balanced and compliant, and that Wikimedia’s policies are not decided by the top people at the foundation, and that each individual user can participate in the decision-making process. 

Eugene Ormandy: I agree with you that users should participate in governance, but I think there are probably many people who are puzzled by the idea of participating in governance, thinking that it is a hassle, somewhat tedious, or simply not really sure what it is. I used to feel the same way, and 40% of me still do. I became more interested in governance than I used to be because I was “pushed” in a sense to go to Wikimania after being selected as the “Wikimedian of the Year”. I felt that I had been invested by the Foundation, and so in order to make myself a good return on that investment, I spent the past year setting up international exchange projects and studying about governance. The ideal situation would be for volunteers to voluntarily get involved in the movement, and it is important to build this momentum. On the other hand, I think it would also be good to have some investment in “taking chances on those who have not raised their hands but have the potential to become the bearers.” 

Wadakuramon: Eugene’s word “investment” reminded me that the Wikimedia Foundation is nurturing people in this way, and that I am being nurtured by them, more than by the report writing (in addition to the conference itself). I read a lot about the Wikimedia Movement, not only to write the report, but because you can’t write a grant application without knowing about it. I feel that I am changing more and more in this way, and that I am living a completely different life than I did before last year.

VZP10224: My focus is how to bring the Japanese users who are only domestically focused, to the worldwide movement. At the Open Source Conference I attended after the ESEAP Conference, many engineers gathered and were interested in Wikidata, so I would like to use it as the gateway to introducing other Wikimedia projects. As an engineer myself, I would like to initially leverage the space of Open Source Conferences, but I would also like to think of ways to explain about the Wikimedia projects and the movement at various venues in Japan.

Wadakuramon: Speaking of Wikidata, I read in a Diff post that a person from Uzbekistan attended a Wikidata workshop in Turkey, and I thought “I have never heard of this in Japan, why isn’t there anything like this in Japan?” There are many things that can be learned by reading Diff, and as an individual user, I would like to write Diff and translate stories to be shared “from Japan to overseas”, and “from overseas to Japan”. I don’t belong to any group, but I just recently created a Diff Japanese version club on Facebook, and although it has only been around for a short time, I feel like I have found “a space I can call my own” where I can freely talk about what I am doing. For other plans, though the concrete plan is yet to be determined, the Library Fair is on my mind. 

Eugene Ormandy: Similar to Wikimania, my impression of the ESEAP conference was a “casual conference”. Personally, I enjoyed meeting new people as well as renewing old friendships with users I met at Wikimania the previous year. I also created a telegram group on Diff and East Asia with users I have become friends with, and I hope to do something new with these networks. Although I was very satisfied with the ESEAP conference, I felt that there were some points that could be improved in the future. Specifically, I would have liked to see more analysis of how ESEAP is connected to other regions and more introductions of practices.

Wadakuramon: What also surprised me was the great energy of Islamic culture. As well as the tradition that everyone can have fun without drinking alcohol, I was astonished by a group of about 10 people called Medan. I translated their Diff post after I returned from the conference, and they are very active. Also, there was a Wiki-Nusantara gathering that has continued from last year. Nusantara is the new capital of Indonesia, and I felt young energy when I learned that Wikimedians had been gathering to talk about it for some time. I thought it would be nice to have something like that in Japan.

Eugene Ormandy: I don’t think there are that many cases of 10 (active) Wikipedians getting together to do something in Japan. Reflecting on my own cases, when we do get together, it is usually 4 or 5 users, and even when we have an editathon, it is only 10 people.

VZP10224: I started with Wikipedia and have also seen and heard about community activities for other open source software, but I honestly feel that in Japan there is generally less awareness of the need for users to work together offline, and that there is a tendency to have negative feelings toward such activities. How did we celebrate Wikipedia’s 20th anniversary …?

Wadakuramon: It was online.

VZP10224: I think the year after next will be the 25th anniversary. It’s still ahead in time, but it would be great if we can celebrate it in some form, whether it’s an editathon or a local conference.

You gave the following presentations on the second day pf the conference in the “Community Spotlight: Japan” session. How was it and any challenges in presenting in English? 

Wadakuramon: There was technical trouble, but during the Q&A session, there were many substantive questions about the situation in Japan presented by VZP10224, and overall, everyone listened and asked questions.

Eugene Ormandy: The comments and questions regarding VZP10224’s presentation could mainly be grouped into two. The first was on the rarity of the survey.There have not been many such community-led, quantitative surveys of Wikimedians, so everyone was impressed. In particular, those in the Oceania region were surprised that such a detailed survey was conducted. The second was “Why don’t Japanese users participate in the global Wikimedia movement?” To this question, VZP10224 responded that “Japanese users highly value anonymity.”

VZP10224: It was nice to hear someone in Wadakuramon’s session say, “I will buy the book, I looked for it on Amazon

Eugene Ormandy: Wadakuramon’s analysis of Wikipedia as a tool for lifelong education was unique, with nothing similar to be seen at the ESEAP conference and with its catchy title, I think it caught everyone’s interest. Also, after listening to Wadakuramon who long worked as a librarian, I heard comments like “Librarians can indeed make good Wikimedians!” There were several GLAM enthusiasts among the conference participants, so I think there were many aspects with which they could resonate. 

Wadakuramon: I was glad to see that some people wrote about my book in their participant reports. I met people who said they wanted to read the book, so even though it was something I had not expected to get into, I started to translate the book into English little by little, and posted the first chapter on Diff.

Eugene Ormandy: I introduced my activities in an a la carte style, so those who had some knowledge of the Wikimedia movement and my activities would have understood, but some people may have found it difficult to understand.

Wadakuramon: As for presenting in English, I had a little bit of experience at my previous job, but I thought I should practice because I was not good at it. Two weeks before the event, I practiced with my son, and he advised me that my English was fine, but remember to speak slowly and to introduce myself and my family at the beginning.

VZP10224: I think it’s important to share who you are before you start talking about the content. Although I couldn’t prepare much in advance this time, I was very grateful that everyone listened to me regardless, and this experience gave me new confidence. Next time I would like to follow Wadakuramon’s example and try to speak more smoothly in English.

Eugene Ormandy: I feel that presenting in English is a matter of “getting used to” 

Finally, what would you like to say to users who have not yet attended a Wikimedia Conference?

VZP10224: “Go, it makes a world of difference”
I would like more active users, especially current and past administrators, to know more about a place where they can connect with people in real life.

Wadakuramon: “I want young people, and people of any age, to take the first step”
If there is something I can do “because of my age” or “because it’s me,” I want to try it. I think there’s something unique to be done for every person, so I want people to cherish these kinds of opportunities.

Eugene Ormandy: “Very unfortunately, there are many things you wouldn’t know unless you go”
I think that even those who do not actually participate in the meeting should be able to grasp the trends of the meeting through the minutes which is why I am archiving what I can. There are, however, still many things that cannot be understood without actually going to the meeting. Whether it is fun or not depends on each person, but I think it is a good idea for those who want to improve their skills to try it once. If you take advantage of the opportunity, I think your information-gathering and processing abilities will improve dramatically.

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