About three months ago, I blogged about potential explanations for Wikipedia’s diversity problems (see “‘Middle-aged White Guys’“). Last weekend, a truly bordercrossing crowd gathered in Berlin to discuss strategies for addressing these problems at the first Wikimedia Diversity Conference. Due to other commitments I was not able to take part the whole time but I have enjoyed most of the sessions I was able to attend.

Since there is extensive documentation on most of the sessions available online, I will only highlight some of my personal insights:

  • In her talk on “Diversifying India through outreach among women“, Netha Hussain emphasized the importance of Wikipedia Zero to increase participation in countries, where mere Internet access is not self-evident. Wikipedia Zero enables mobile access, free of data charges, to Wikipedia in developing countries via cooperations with local internet service providers. While some criticize the initiative because of it being a violation of net neutrality principles (see, for example, this mailing-list discussion), it really seems to be a great opportunity to lower access barriers in poorer countries.


  • Gregory Varnum spoke about “LGBT Outreach” and reminded the audience that being openly gay is still illegal in 78 countries – punishable by death or life in jail in 15 of them. This fact should be considered when choosing a venue for international meetings of Wikipedians, because openly gay Wikipedian’s may fear substantial consequences such as, for example, loosing health care benefits in the US. In a related matter, Varnum reminded organizers of Wikimedia events that privacy is important for potential LGBT participants. Moreover, his argument that being LGBT does not imply bias with respect to Wikipedias neutral point of view (NPOV) policy was well received and substantiated by the following argument: “If you’re a man, do you have a bias and so should not edit articles on Wikipedia about men?”

  • Katie Chen, in turn, specifically focused on the T in LGBT and criticized that the gender categories in Wikipedia editor surveys still do not offer appropriate choices and should rather be replaced by an open text field. Of course, she also addressed the case of Chelsea Manning’s Wikipedia entry as a case of transphobic bias (see a blog post by Wikimedia CEO Sue Gardner on the issue).
  • Since I am interested in all kinds of “open” or “collaborative” online projects, I was particularly curious about Valerie Aurora’s talk on “Diversity initiatives that worked in other open communities” – and I was not disappointed. As co-founder and executive director of The Ada Initiative, Aurora has collected an extensive number of lessons learnt (see PDF of he slides) with regard to increasing diversity of participation in free and open source software communities. To mention just three of her points, which I found particularly important: First, she forcefully made the case for safe, invite-only online spaces. Second, paying people to do diversity-related work is critical – not least because less time is one of the reasons for less participation of women and other underrepresented groups. However, both these points are highly controversial in online communities that regularly emphasize the importance of “openness” and unpaid volunteer contributions. Third, in yet another session, Valeria Aurora argued that the common imperative that one should “assume good faith” (see the respective Wikipedia policy) is often used to justify a harassing or unwelcoming atmosphere: people complaining about being harassed are told to “assume good faith” and that it was probably not meant to be harassing in the first place.

Overall, I was really impressed how seriously and intensively Wikimedia is addressing the issue of (lack of) diversity in Wikipedia and its sister projects. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go.