Between July 10th and 20th, well, actually 21st, in the territory of Polish Podlaskie voivideship a group of Wikimedians (Wikipedians being a majority part of the group) photographed whatever there was to be photographed in the area, as well as collected materials related to the places and sights of the region, while all the time contacting the local people, bringing them news of Wikipedia and Wikimedia in general. The expedition was sponsored by Wikimedia Polska Association.
The idea of organising a WikiExpedition came up over a year ago as a derivative of a few factors. My wife (Wikimedia user Pleple2000) and myself roamed through the north-eastern regions of Slovakia in the August of 2008. We could say that those were our ordinary holidays, if not for the fact that in order to fight our Wiki-addiction we took our camera... While on our way back home an idea came up that we ought to take a larger group of Wikimedians to our next journey and organise the whole thing a bit better. Polish Wikipedia sported spontaneous ideas such as “a weekend with a photo camera”, however their results are not widely known, since nobody reported the outcomes of such endeavours, even the number of photographs taken on such weekends. However we assumed that in spite of a relatively low number of active Wikimedians in Poland we will be able to construct a 15-person adventurer group.
During the Where? Where to? How?” (GDJ on Meta-Wiki) Wikipedia meetup in Poznań in September 2008 I outlined what such an expedition could be like. After initial reconnaissance I decided on the region of Podlasie – there were but several active Wikipedians in that region opposed to a rather large number of towns and villages described in Polish Wikipedia in the form of bot-created stubs. Although the idea was welcomed warmly – we were discussing the ways to spend Wikimedia Polska’s donations which came from the people donating 1% of their income tax – I had difficulty convincing the Association’s decision-makers that we needed e.g. better cars (preferably off- road) while creating the plan for the expedition. At the same time a group of Wolin-based (which is rather a long-distance) group of people contacted us and expressed their will to join us if we only covered the cost of the fuel. I had to modify the plans in order to make driving around in cars belonging to the Wikipedians possible – I couldn’t locate any off-road car owners. Starting in the autumn of 2008 first candidates for the expedition signed up. The only thing which we had to deal with was the timing, enabling the explorers to synchronise their holiday plans. We decided on setting out in July.
In the spring of 2009 part of the proposed route has been plotted and the photos illustrating relevant Wikipedia articles have been analysed. Together with the volunteers we decided to place the expedition between July 10th and 20th. Because the planned route of the expedition led along the eastern border, through areas where national and landscape parks are located, I also assumed visiting those, in order to photograph some plant and animal life. Additionally, a month before setting out we contacted a number of local institutions (such as city halls, local authorities, park management, forest administration), as well as some media – including local. We forecast the costs of the expedition at about 30 000 PLN, however after looking at the structure of the expenses we considered 16 000 PLN to be just enough.
Almost until Day One it was unknown how many participants will actually show up, which complicated organising overnight stays at agricultural tourism points. What was more surprising was the fact that the plan, detailed to the last speck of dust (vide The Cathedral and the Bazaar”) proved to be worth none or very little, when considering the solutions brought up on the spot. Of course, putting aside the fact that we did not prepare a printed copy of the expedition plan and one of us (Polimerek) printed two copies (some tens of pages each) practically strapping his rucksack on his way out of his home. It wouldn’t have been necessary if we had Internet access, but that was a problematic issue as well. We acquired maps late – on the second day of the journey. Instead of the planned 4 cars we had 3, one of which broke down after a single day of adventuring, and one had difficulty navigating the dirt roads. Luckily we had a few bicycles and roof racks on the cars. Instead of the planned 15 participants there were 13, four of which had to return to their homes earlier; all in all the participant count was rather high. Additionally, for three days of the expedition we were accompanied by local volunteers, helping us as guides. Our e-mails were answered by few institutions and local associations, but those who did contact us surprised us very positively. We also were in touch with the local media during a few points of our journey.
Despite these and more adventures we managed to take a few thousand photos in a few hundred towns and villages. In mid-August we edited, selected and uploaded to Commons 1000 photos. We bought and were presented with tens of books, which make up the Association’s library. The final costs of the expedition came up to 10 000 PLN.
During the journey, probably the first one ever in the world of Wikimedia, we noticed a number of issues that we will certainly take into consideration during such endeavours in the future. In spite of the conclusions pertaining to the local conditions, I encourage everyone to read them, because such expeditions are in my opinion worth organising in many other corners of the world, where the Wikimedian count is rather low.
- Transport – it is best to have good cars available, suited for driving on low-quality roads, however bicycles are also very useful. From the perspective of a slow-moving cyclist it is very easy to notice some interesting aspects of the landscape.
- Communications – contacting other people with the use of mobile phones, especially when the work is organised in a sort of “bazaar fashion” is not cost-efficient. It is worth considering this issue in order to minimise communication costs.
- Individual skills, preferences and predispositions – it is not always possible to optimally divide people into working groups. During the expedition it came out that some people preferred to photograph architectural sights, while others tended to focus on the works of nature. Not everyone considered photographing the villages very attractive.
- Information about sights and places – because Wikipedia contains rather poor descriptions of individual villages and searching for information on the Web proved difficult, we did not have enough information about what interesting things are there to be photographed on the route of the expedition. Perhaps expanding the article stubs before setting out would be a plus.
- Time – ten days of photographing, taking into account the possibility of rain, a few to several hours a day proved to be too intensive and not suited to everyone involved. On the other hand, some of us seemed to like it.
- General coordinator – it does not necessarily need to be the same person for the whole duration of the expedition, in order not to get bored with the task, but it is worth having one person each day who would focus mainly on:
- planning the detailed route for the next day, taking into account the accomplishments so far;
- being the command centre and emergency phone line, coordinating who can go where in order not to send double crews into the same area;
- scouting the area to be explored – here it would be good if a scout or a scout group could be sent out earlier.
- Local guides – it is a good idea to get in touch with local organisations and individuals, because it pays to have a live guide instead of a paper one.
- Photographing works of nature – without detailed guidelines and a longer visit to the reserves and national parks not much can be accomplished. It is worth noting that mosquito repellents which work wonders in Mexico do not need to be so efficient in moderate climate zones.
- Wikiespedition main page, hosted on the website of Wikimedia Polska Association
- Wikimedia Commons image gallery, constantly expanded
- Source materials - library
- A Wikiproject devoted to the area
- Wikiespedition blog
- Przykuta – the wreaker of all this havoc, coordinator, photographer, cyclist
- Pleple2000 – driver, treasurer, photographer, cyclist
- Polimerek – driver, photographer, contacts with various institutions
- Lilly M – photographer, driver, cyclist
- Pan Henryk – driver
- Ludwig Schneider – photographer, cyclist
- Karol007 – photographer, WikiExpedition blogmaster, cyclist
- Yarl – photographer, cyclist
- Zwiadowca21 – photographer, media contact, local WikiWorkshops, hitchhiker
- Rhn mk1 – photographer, cyclist, assistance in plotting the route – OpenStreetMap volunteer, guide
- Upior Polnocy (with Natalie) – photographer, cyclist, driver, guide
- Dariusz Wierzbicki – weather forecaster (Skywarn Polska), photographer
The goal of Wikipedia is to collect the sum of human knowledge in one place. Such knowledge is however dispersed not only online, but also in real life. Reaching the less-known corners of the world we can not only document the world in the form of photographs, but also reach literature published out of the mainstream, unavailable in bookshops on the national scale, but frequently very well-written by local historians or local activists. I hope that WikiExpedition 2009 is only the beginning. Next year, before Wikimania 2010 we would like to organise a similar expedition to the Polish region of Kashubia, in the vicinity of Gdańsk. We aim at inviting there volunteers from outside Poland, and in the future years – organise trips to those corners of the world where few, if any, people have access to Wikimedia projects, where they could share their local knowledge.
Sebastian "Przykuta” Skolik