“It’s about valuing engagement in voluntary work.”


Every year, the WikiCon brings together the active members of the German-language Wikipedia and its sister projects. In 2022, the WikiCon took place in Stralsund. Sandro Halank, Project Manager Volunteer Engagement at Wikimedia Deutschland, is one of the event organizers.

How would you sum up the WikiCon?

Sandro Halank: It was a great event in a really special place. The city of Stralsund was very supportive and made the city hall available to us as the main conference venue. Through a contact, we were also able to hold a panel discussion at the Ozeanum, in an impressive hall under huge models of whales. The museum was kept open for two hours longer especially for us, so that the volunteers could also look at the permanent exhibition. For our catering, the city offered us a church used for cultural events as a venue, which – enhanced by appropriate lighting – also created a special atmosphere in the evening.

What were the main topics?

The panel discussion was about changes in the environment due to climate change – and how important verifiable facts through Free Knowledge are on this topic. We had museum experts and a member of Fridays for Future from Stralsund as our guests. Often at WikiCons, a thematic focus emerges that runs through the event. In 2022, the war in Ukraine was very present, and talks on this subject included one by Wikimedian Oksana Radikova. Wikimedia Deutschland staff spoke on various legal, technical or organizational aspects around Wikipedia. And of course, the volunteers had plenty of opportunity to get involved, for example with presentations and lightning talks. There was also plenty of room for mutual exchange on the fringes of the conference program.

What are the organizational challenges of such an event?

First of all, it needs sufficiently good transport connections, after all, participants travel from all over the German-speaking world. There must be hotel capacity for around 200 people and, of course, suitable conference venues, ideally with various rooms that can be used in parallel. In addition, there are technical requirements. In 2021, we held a hybrid WikiCon in Erfurt for the first time to include people who can’t be on site. Of course, we wanted to keep that in Stralsund in 2022. In the city hall, we streamed from three of a total of six rooms, including the Ozeanum and the church venue Kulturkirche. About 80 to 100 participants were there remotely, about 190 on site.

How long has the WikiCon existed as an institution?

In the early 2010s, there was the idea of organizing a supraregional meeting for active contributors to Wikipedia. The regulars’ table culture of the German-language Wikipedia has existed since the mid-1990s, and then in 2010 there was SkillShare – the predecessor of the WikiCon – a conference of German-language Wikipedia communities that took place in Lüneburg. This led to the idea to do something like this more often, if possible with a catchier name. In 2011, this initiated the WikiConvention, now just abbreviated as WikiCon, which was first held in Nuremberg. Since then, it has been an annual event.

A fixed section is the “Technical Wishes”. What did the community express in Stralsund?

The “Technical Wishes” are of course a broad field. On the one hand, many volunteers would like to have little helpers for certain routine tasks that need to be done again and again to make their own work processes easier. One topic that was given a high priority in 2022 is uploading media files to our media archive Wikimedia Commons. Unfortunately, this hasn’t always worked stably in the past, so the Wikimedia Foundation now wants to focus on that as well. In addition, Timur Vorkul from our “Technical Wishes” team organized an open mic rant together with a volunteer – under the title “What bugs me most about the software …” This also revealed some needs.

The WikiOwls are also awarded at the WikiCon. What is this tradition all about?

It’s about valuing people’s engagement in voluntary work and making it visible. In 2013, there was a so-called motivation project at WikiCon in Karlsruhe, where articles or projects were nominated and then awarded on site. In 2014, volunteers had the idea to develop this award further, which resulted in the WikiEule. Since then, this award ceremony has been the highlight of the event on Saturday evening. Awards are given to volunteers who are particularly active, upload a particularly large number of images, write or edit articles, perform special services in the cultural field or are involved in the organization of projects. In 2022, one award was given to the spoken Wikipedia, which provides the contents of articles in audio format. Incidentally, WikiEule has two offshoots, WikiUilen in the Netherlands since 2015 and WikiRiccio in Italy since 2018.

What has the feedback from the community been like?

We’ve been doing a feedback survey since 2016, where we try to evaluate what went well and where there is room for improvement. It showed that exchange and meeting each other are enormously important for people, and the atmosphere was highly praised. All in all, it was a really successful event.