Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wikipedia and SkeptiCal 2012

Just back from another fantastic skeptical conference.  SkeptiCal is held in Berkeley, CA each Spring, sponsored by several active skeptic groups in the Bay Area, they have just finished their third annual event.  With almost no advertising out side of the skeptical community they hit just over 250 attendees.  This is such a well run event that attending it feels effortless and that every skeptic group should have their own event.  (But don't be fooled, there is a lot of planning and great people behind the event making it appear effortless)

I was not a speaker this year, but my presence was known as I was everywhere with camera in tow.  We got a Internet connection for the main room which made me more happy than you will know.  Adding to the fact that the hotel managed to quickly set all of us to a spaghetti buffet for only $10, I was in heaven!

Every conference should be so capable.  I was able to download, edit and upload all the pictures I was taking at the event within minutes of taking them.  I had them up and tagged on Facebook and the high rez images up on my Picasa account sometimes before the speaker was finished speaking.  I used two Extreme HD SD cards, while one was loading on my laptop, I was out shooting with the other card.  Check it out there were even outlets available for the laptop and my battery camera recharger for FREE. (are you paying attention JREF?)

One of the really great reasons that this conference succeeds is because of its great variety of speakers.  Most of these people are local and not generally well known in the skeptic community.  That does not mean they are any less so, just that they are really busy doing a lot behind the scenes.   I'm not here today to talk about the speakers but about how we can help these local conferences without spending a dime.   You know where this is going right?  Yes, Wikipedia!

First off when you know a conference is coming to your area, check out the speakers on Wikipedia.  What do their pages look like?  Do they need updated pictures?  Does their page reflect their support of the skeptical cause?  (Yau-Man Chan's didn't) Make a plan maybe even contact the speaker and see if you can get access to the images and citations that will improve the page. (talk to me if you need any help in this area)

I had approached Alison Gopnik about her very badly written page at least a month ago.  Dustin Phillips sprang to action and between the two of them they came out with an amazing re-write in time for the conference.  See the before and after of Alison Gopnik's page here.  Pretty amazing isn't it?  Still a little early (I'm writing this blog on the day after the conference) to know if her stats are going to have an upsurge, but you can watch along with me using this tool).  Do you think that if the public and the media want to know more about this woman they will have a great place to start?  Does she look like a respectable member of the skeptical movement?  Does it look like the skeptical community cares enough to make sure we have her back?  I think we can answer yes to all of these questions.

As a photographer I had several goals for the event.  (I always have photo goals before every occasion)  I wanted to make sure I caught images of the participants that they could share with their friends, and spread around to help publicize the event.  Yes, every photo I take that is tagged acts as a little commercial for the event.  Also with a photographer being so active it frees up the participants to relax a bit and not have to freak out taking pictures with their cameras.  Many times people ask me "send me that image" or "I'd love a shot with so-in-so"  I aim to please.  We want to make sure people who didn't attend the conference are jealous and then not miss it the next year. 

Also I'm hoping that the SkeptiCal committee will use images from this event and from the last two for their website.  Pictures of the speakers as well as the attendees also helps generate interest in the conference.

But also very important, I'm trying to create images that I can use on current Wikipedia pages as well as future Wikipedia pages.  Every image I upload to Wikipedia has a caption explaining that it was taken at SkeptiCal in Berkeley.  Currently there is not a Wikipedia page for SkeptiCal (I will elaborate on this further in a minute).  But the citation remains in anticipation that someday there will be a page.  When done so it will be a snap to hyperlink all these speaker's pages to the SkeptiCal Wikipedia page.  A little prep work now will save a lot of hassle in the future.

Shane Trimmer  (the man behind the conference even if he is too modest to admit it) is very supportive of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.  I had approached him weeks ago letting him know that I was going to be taking a lot of images for Wikipedia pages. What I did usually before the speaker started was to have them stand at the podium and look like they were addressing the audience.  This way I wasn't as intrusive during the actual lecture, the speaker was more relaxed and I was less likely to get the unflattering angles and odd expressions associated with speech.  Also I could remove water bottles on the podium stand from view, move my vantage point so distractions from the background were no longer there.

Rant/  I know that with the use of photoshop I can do even more amazing things to these images.  I am not that kind of photographer, I take it and upload it and it is done.  Very little color and cropping are done.  If you want fine art images then look somewhere else.  In fact you will probably not see that image anytime soon, in my experience the image is usually fussed over for months and IF it is finally uploaded somewhere assessable the event has already passed out of our minds.  /End Rant

I was also able to photograph and upload and update the pages for Kiki Sanford and David Morrison (who has a well written page but no picture).  I was very impressed with all the speakers I heard that day.  My friends were spread out all over the different workshops and everyone talked about how great the speakers that they saw.  I photographed them all.  Only one person who spoke I was surprised did not have a Wikipedia page already.  Dr. Indra Viskontas.  Quite a bit of notoriety in several communities, co-host of Miracle Detectives as well as an opera singer.  We need to have that notoriety before we can begin work on a page for her.  I'm sure she was overwhelmed with the crowd that wanted to talk to her after her talk, but I pushed through, photographed her and gave her my card.  I told her that if she will give us access, I will find someone to write her page.  She agreed but we will just have to see if she follows through.

The last thing I wanted to discuss before I have to get to work today is the future of a SkeptiCal Wikipedia page.  Even though we are on our third event we do not have the secondary sources needed for a page.  We are going to need noteworthy media sources writing about the conference and publishing them in noteworthy places.  Either about an upcoming SkeptiCal event, or reporters at the conference writing about the event/speakers.  Sorry blogs do not count as noteworthy.  Not to discourage bloggers, we really need the publicity.  But podcasts and blogs from people who do not already have Wikipedia pages are not considered enough.

If you have access to people in the media that you can influence to write about and hopefully attend this conference (or your own local event) please get in touch with the organizers of the event.  I'm sure they will be more than happy to accommodate them.  

Oh more more thing...  All event organizers make sure you get at least a placard for the podium for the event.  Every picture taken of the speaker is publicity, we didn't have the best lighting for the speakers podium but we made due with what we had.  But the more photo opportunities the organizers create with the event logo in the background is free advertising.  Do not underestimate the power of an image.  Even goofy photo-ops can be arranged in advance (tin-foil hats maybe?) with the event logo will force the photo and posted all over our social sphere.

So I'm off to my real-job this Sunday morning as a guess what - yep I'm a photographer! 



  1. This is all such great advice, as usual. And thanks so much for "covering" SkeptiCal. I think the idea of a website is long overdue. Let's figure out how to make this happen!

    1. Thank you so much for your support Eugenie!

      I will help with whatever needs help. I have 3 years of images that I will gladly donate. Just tell me what you all decide.