SMWCon Spring 2015 in Review

In early May I helped to organize the Spring Semantic MediaWiki Conference or SMWCon. We had 25 people from around the world come together for three days to learn and share about Semantic MediaWiki and it’s use in various industries. It was an honor to host such an event here in my hometown of St. Louis. I wanted to take a few minutes to share my experiences as an amateur event organizer and reflect on one of my personal accomplishments for 2015.

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When planning an event my mind always goes to the worst possible scenarios. What if people don’t come? What if they can’t find the event location? What if the food is terrible? What if the presentations are off-target?

For the most part, if you worry about these things and do something to address them, you’ll be fine. Don’t be overly anxious. Writing things down and keeping “To-Do” lists really helped keep things organized. Remembering to follow-up with people (venue folks, caterers, etc.) will prevent miscommunication and last-minute dashes to fix things.

Another tip? Make sure you have coffee and snacks around. Nothing fancy is needed. We made a trip to Costco the day before the event and grabbed some mixed nuts, granola bars, chips and soda.

I’m glad to say that everyone appeared to have a good time and everything 1 generally went off without a hitch.

I was an attendee at the last Spring SMWCon. Since that was also my only SMWCon experience, I based a lot of my work off of the great organizers that hosted us in Montreal. One thing I didn’t go a good enough job on was encouraging diversity in the audience and in speakers. What we had wasn’t bad, but man I would have like to have more unique voices present.

That said, we did have one of the most diverse group of industries represented. eSport statisticians, geneticists, geophysicists, independent developers, Tibetan Buddhist philosophers, MITRE, NASA, NATO, SNPedia, and more represented the diverse use of Semantic MediaWiki. We actually remarked during one of our sessions that this SMWCon had a much more ‘enterprise’ vibe than past conferences. It’s remarkable how many wikis exist behind firewalls that the public never know about and what amazing things people are doing with the software.

This lead into an interesting discussion around future of SMW and SMWCons. The discussion is ongoing, but the consensus is that there should be more events around enterprise 2 MediaWiki usage.
All of the presentations were interesting and chatting with some of the attendees opened my eyes to new uses and interests I never knew existed.

Some of my favorite sessions are listed below. We recorded the presentations and they should be up online soon.

smartMediaWiki

Wolfgang Fahl presented on an idea he has called smartMediaWiki. His tutorial was in-depth and allowed for all attendees to participate. While some of his concepts are beyond my meager understanding, the amount of effort he put into his presentation is commendable upon itself.

 

Cargo and the future of SMW

Yaron talked about his new extension, Cargo. It’s an alternative to SMW, which is interesting as it’s a much smaller code base, but nearly just as powerful. His approach to semantic data is different (standard database schema instead of triples) and the history of his involvement with SMW made for an interesting talk. Where Cargo (and SMW) go in the future is still very much unknown, but Yaron brings forth the idea that both can live in harmony.

 

The Why and How of Wiki Farms

Cindy’s presentation on the interworking of MITRE’s Gestalt framework was eye-opening. I manage two independent wikis and have never though much about the complexities of running dozens – or hundreds – of wikis. Her talk covered how one might manage multiple wikis without going insane – and still leaving plenty of room for customization and uniqueness.

 

SMW Grammars & Variables

John McClure is not a man to shy away from big challenges. His presentation tackled the promise of a semantic web – multiple independent sites interconnected among one another with a common ontology. His passion was present and his goals noble. The conundrum is who is willing to do the work? So many wiki folk – yes even those within the Wikimedia movement – are rather ‘heads down’ on what they’re working on. John’s vision is of a standard grammar we can all leverage to systematically interconnect the various repositories of information we all maintain.

 

Quantifying Accountability

James and Daren gave a great ad-lib presentation 3 on how they use MediaWiki to help document information around the training of astronauts for their EVAs. Their presentation was a great example (among many) of folks who are not ‘wiki people’ leveraging the software as part of their jobs. Both are engineers and training astronauts is their primary career. Even with that full-time gig they find time to develop their own extensions and adapt the SMW platform to fit their needs – all while releasing their code to the public.

 

How to get your bug fixed in MediaWiki

Mark gave a great overview on how to take a PITA bug and get it fixed. His introduction to the MediaWiki bug ecosystem was really helpful. I now feel more confident in submitting bug reports and improving the software.

 

We had a panel on the third day around the topic of “The Future of the Semantic Web, SMW and MediaWiki”. The three panel members 4 did a great job discussing the changes yet to come that will impact us all.

I love the SMW and larger MediaWiki community. There are a lot of good people involved. Each working hard in their respective industries trying to not only accomplish the work before them, but giving back to the community as well. If you have an inkling of interest in attending (or organizing!) a SMWCon I can’t recommend it highly enough.


  1. Except for A/V hiccups. Like their printer brethren, A/V equipment conspires against humanity.

  2. Not necessarily inside corporations, but non-profits, community groups, research groups, etc.

  3. Their original slide deck was not approved in time by NASA

  4. Cindy CicaleseYaron Koren, and Mark Hershberger

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