Haifa and Wikimania
It was a very good conference, but my experience this year was very different from last year’s, in Poland. Mostly this was because my profile as an employee of the Foundation has elevated significantly (people know to come talk to me about things) but also there is some minor celebrity from my banner ad being successful.
I was particularly nervous about my solo talk, “Identity, Reputation, and Gratitude” (slides). This talk was (in my opinion) an important one, since it focused on the why we are going to add social features to Wikipedia and why that will not turn us into Facebook. It’s a delicate line but the changes are essential to the long-term survival of the projects.
I made a metric boatload of new friends. I am continually astonished at the work we as a collective are actually doing and how many people in the world are dedicated to The Mission. There is a visceral thrill involved with it, with recognizing those of like-minds, and how our shared enthusiasms bridge language gaps.
We did a lot of partying together. In a way, that’s a lot of what this conference is about: strengthening our ties to each other, reinforcing trust and friendships that can last thousands of miles apart.
Several of us were “boots on the ground” in Haifa a couple days before the conference started itself, so we were able to suss out local bars. Surprisingly, Haifa has a thing for Irish bars and whiskeys, which, if you know me, is right up my alley. I’m even the mayor of one of them on Foursquare.
A great memory for me was this:
On the first night of the conference, I and my immediate crew descended on one of the bars we liked. There were maybe fifteen of us. I told them that we’d need several tables and the manager was concerned: he had a group of 40 college students coming, so he wasn’t sure where he could put us. Also, he wanted to “open tables” (single tabs) for us.
I told him that the single tab thing wasn’t happening. If you’ve ever been to dinner where one guy buys 50 dollars in drinks and then only drops twenty into the pot, you’ll know why. I said we’d just buy drinks from the bar, individually. He was (rightly) concerned about tips for the waitresses, and I told him that we’d take care of that.
He wasn’t having any of it. I’m not a big guy on haggling, but the Israelis are, so I set to. Here’s what I did:
First, I told everyone, loudly, “hold on! We might be leaving!”
Then I said to the manager: “Listen, I’ve got maybe 150 people about to show up here. They’ll be spending thousands of shekels. Thousands. Now, if your establishment can’t help us, we can just go across the street.” At that point, another group of about twenty people walked in, and I got to say “Hold on, guys! We may not be staying.”
He spent exactly 60 seconds on the phone with the owner before telling me that they absolutely could do business with us, and that we could basically take over the bar. I guess that the idea of having 40 college students who nurse one beer and eat all the peanuts was less attractive than a plethora of adult conference goers who like expensive whiskey.
Conservative estimates put us as having dropped over 30,000 shekels that night, so they were very happy. I then went about making sure that everyone dropped 5 or 10 shekels into a tip jar that we gave to the waitresses. There were probably 200 people in and out of there over the whole night.
The final night the chaps from Wikimedia Israel threw us a party on the beach. It was, in a word, epic. Immediately upon arrival I took off my shoes, rolled up my pants, and walked out into the Mediterranean Sea before spending the next half hour trying to get everyone else to do so. We watched the sun go down and reflected upon The Mission and our new friendships and how we’re all working towards Something Great.
I want to comment for a moment about the heat.
Two weeks ago I was in West Virginia to visit my family and attend my 20th high school reunion. There, it was an oppressive 106 degrees fahrenheit and 100% humidity. Haifa, by comparison, was a chilly 86 degrees and 75% humidity.
Israel felt hotter.
We found this sandwich shop near the venue that sold icee-style drinks: grape and orange. The “purple drank” flavor became a staple of our continued battle with the heat. We even made up new lyrics to Purple Rain to go along with it.
The night of the closing party, I asked one of the local bartenders, “How is it that it gets hotter at night, when the sun is down, than during the day?” She shrugged and said, “Is Israel.” This became an in-joke.
The return journey was a chore. We left the hotel at around 6:00 PM Israeli local time and then I finally got home at around 9:00 PM Israeli local time the next day. Twelve hour flight from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia? Check. Baby that cried for all twelve hours? Check.
Here’s some food for thought: Ben Gurion Internation Airport in Tel Aviv is widely regarded as the most secure airport in the world. There were no porn-o-trons. And I didn’t have to take my shoes off.