Wikipedia editors log off long enough to mingle

Monica Hesse / The Washington Post /

Published Jun 25, 2011 at 05:00AM

WASHINGTON — The Wikipedians of the world will unite today in the first Great American Wiknic, a Wiki-Picnic for editors of the online encyclopedia.

The contents of the picnic will be entirely user-generated.

“Basically, we tried to encourage people in each local area to do their own thing,” says Richard Knipel, who has been heavily involved with the New York-area Wiknics on which the national effort, planned for 18 cities nationwide, is based.

“You get to talk about deletion debates” or controversial editing decisions, Knipel says, describing how it is fun for Wikipedia volunteers to meet in person. He remembers one gathering at which attendees shared their favorite Wikipedia April Fools’ jokes, including Knipel’s, in which he deliberately confused George Washington, the president, with George Washington, the inventor of an instant coffee process.

“Wikipedians are notoriously socially awkward,” says Dominic McDevitt-Parks. “But after a few minutes of socializing,” he predicts, nothing will be awkward at all.

McDevitt-Parks is the new Wikipedian-in-residence at the National Archives; he helps get archival content online, creating greater accessibility for the public. Partnerships like this, McDevitt-Parks says, represent the “secret agenda” of the Wiknic.

“Getting involved socially offline is the precursor to activism offline,” he says.

He would like to see greater involvement with cultural institutions from the Wikipedia community at large. Already, Washington Wikipedians have been working with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art to help curate the collection’s presence online.

But the Washington-area Wiknic, at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., will be predominantly about getting to know one another. “We can do outreach projects, but we also want to have fun sometimes, too,” says editor Katie Filbert, whose particular areas of Wikipedia interest have included Banff National Park in Canada and emergency law in Egypt.