Wikiwrimo’s Regional Directory Challenges

I founded Wikiwrimo almost seven years ago when all I had going for me was some spare time on my hands. A year or two in, I introduced the regional directory as a way to keep track of regional histories, from MLs to stats. While Wikiwrimo’s contributors and I have gathered a lot of information on 600+ NaNo regions, there’s still a long way to go on a project that may never be complete. There’s only so much one person can add to Wikiwrimo about regional histories and cultures; that’s why one of the biggest things you can do for Wikiwrimo is write a little bit about your region, especially if you’re not in my region.

Chances are good that I am the only person outside of NaNo HQ interested in such minutiae of maintaining this directory, so writing all this information down is mostly for me to outline all the challenges bouncing around inside my head while figuring out next steps to take. But hey, maybe you’ll find it of interest too.

Dealing with splits, renames, merges, and removed regions

As NaNoWriMo grows, so do its regional chapters. Sometimes they split into multiple new regions, sometimes regions get renamed or merged or occasionally removed (but that last one takes several years of no activity to happen). I usually ask Nano HQ for a list of these regional changes around September each year. Without this list, figuring out whether Erath County split from Dallas/Ft. Worth (it did) is a test for even my decent US geography knowledge.

Recently I’ve started categorizing regions by year of creation so someone can see at a glance which regions were created in, say, 2014. That’s where these lists come in really handy; I can see which regions were split or simply renamed at a glance. However, I don’t have lists like these for all the years of regions, and I get the impression that Nano HQ’s early region records are less organized. So at least for the early years, I’m on my own here.

Pure renames are the easiest to manage; I make a note of the rename on the article and redirect the page. If for some reason the region is renamed again, make sure there are no double redirects on Wikiwrimo’s end. Not much else to do there.

Merges and region removal are tricky to manage, but once I know what happened, I can sort them out. Without some previous knowledge of a specific area, it’s hard to tell whether two regions were merged or one was flat-out removed. This is where the info from NaNo HQ starts coming in handy.

Regional splits are the bane of my information-gathering existence, even with spreadsheets containing the information. On the Nano backend, when two regions split, one of those regions keeps the homed and subscribed participants, while the other region has to work at gathering homed participants. When it’s the case of a small region splitting from a large region, then the larger region keeps the homed participants. When was a split region officially founded? Should it be listed as founded with the original region, or when it split on its own?

Here’s a real example of how these regional changes combine to become the bane of my existence. Milwaukee had its own regional forum in 2002, but not its own ML. An ML stepped up to lead the Milwaukee region in 2003. By 2008, the region had officially expanded to include nearby Waukesha, with nearby Kenosha & Racine as a separate region. In 2012, Milwaukee and Waukesha were separate regions. In 2015 and 2016, the regions were Milwaukee & Ozaukee, Kenosha & Racine, and Waukesha. What happened? When would each of these regions be considered to be created? I’m guessing Waukesha split to create its own region, but what about Ozaukee? That’s what I’m trying to figure out, using my knowledge of NaNo regions and limited geographical knowledge of the area. (Actually, now that I’m writing this out, things look much easier to untangle. I knew writing this post would help in some way.)

ML records for the early years

Early regional records aren’t as complete as the records today, which leads to its own challenges in compiling all this regional information. Thankfully, ML syaffolee has put together a huge spreadsheet with all the information gathered from 2002 to 2015. I’m eternally grateful for this since it has saved so much time. The early disorganization leads to several hard-to-answer questions and creates a big project of its own.

During the first few years of NaNoWriMo regions, the MLs were listed on a page at the NaNo website by a real name (as opposed to their username). Now they’re listed by username, and it’s hard to tell whether someone listed as a real name is the same someone listed as a username a few years later. This is mostly relevant for large regions that have in fact been around since the early NaNo years.

Also, MLs weren’t always moderators for their area forum during the early years. Sometimes a moderator was listed for a forum, sometimes there were none. Sometimes those moderators were also MLs; sometimes they weren’t. Not to mention that being an ML for a region listed on the ML page didn’t always mean having a forum just for that region. Someone who ML’d, say, Macon in 2002 would actually host their regional chitchat in Georgia :: Elsewhere because there was no Macon forum.

Which leads to a big question when documenting the early NaNo years: Does having an ML for a region = having a regional forum? In recent years, new regions are created when someone volunteers to lead that region, and a forum is also created for that new region. In the early years, this wasn’t always the case. For those early NaNos, when do we consider a region to be created? My gut answer says to go with whichever is earlier: ML-hood or creation of a regional forum, and as long as this method is used consistently, then everything should be okay.

Nearby regions: What is “near”? How near should a region be to another to be considered “near”?

In the regional directory, I’ve tried to list some nearby regions for a given region. The meaning of “near” gets murky here since there are few official boundaries for regions. But when it comes to nearby regions, I generally stick to bordering regions or those within two hours of the region’s center–basically, a distance a dedicated someone might reasonably drive for a special event in that nearby region. I don’t normally list nearby regions for regions consisting of entire states or countries because while two countries may border each other just because there’s likely little travel between those regions.

This relationship is commutative: if Region X is near Region Y, then Region Y must be near Region X. But it’s not necessarily transitive: if Region X is near Region Y, and Region Y is near Region Z, then Region X is not necessarily near Region Z.

As a result, not all regions have nearby regions. Metropolitan areas are most likely to have nearby regions listed; the San Francisco region, for instance, has East Bay, SF Peninsula, and South Bay listed as nearby. Atlanta has Kennesaw, Cumming and Forsyth County, Macon, North Georgia, and Chattanooga listed as nearby. In the latter case, Macon is not listed as being near Chattanooga since they’re over three hours apart in driving distance, despite Macon and Chattanooga both being listed as near Atlanta.

And of course, there are the many regions in the greater Los Angeles area that I haven’t untangled yet. That’s a project of its own.

It’d be interesting to have a map showing which regions are near others, but that can be someone else’s project. I know a person or two who has expressed interest, so nudge nudge.

Regional Stats: Active vs. Homed and more

Let’s talk about regional stats. This is one area where Wikiwrimo may never gather all the complete and accurate info.

First, the numbers used for these stats have changed over the years. Some years used homed novelists in a given region. Other years used homed, active novelists (which would be lower than the homed novelists total). Gathering the total statistics using the same metrics is nearly impossible except for the extreme fan of tedious tasks.

Gathering these stats is even more difficult for the early NaNo years, and I’m not sure anyone has these numbers for, say, 2002.

Another challenge is that I gather this information from the individual regional forums, which is available to anyone. The word count and novelist totals are not set in stone even after NaNoWriMo has ended; they can increase or decrease if, say, someone changes their home region after the event. Since I don’t usually gather this data until March or April, that leaves plenty of time for the regional stats to change.

While MLs have separate stats tools, it’s impossible to convince all 900+ MLs to share that info with me, especially since some of them may not even know about the existence of such a tool or know what to do with it.

Regional donation info

By the end of the year, the late validators should be included in the regional totals, and the donation total for a given region will be close to the actual total amount thanks to the end of the fiscal year. The donation totals are reset at the beginning of the new year, which coincides with the beginning of NaNo-the-nonprofit’s fiscal year, so by the time I get around to updating regional stats, the donation total is usually far from what it was in December.

One solution here would be to write a script that would use the NaNo API to collect all this information at the end of December. This would require time and effort, as well as plenty of testing time to make sure everything works as planned.

Unofficial MLs/minions

Lots of regions, especially larger ones, adopt minions or volunteers to help out with some programs without being an official ML. Sometimes these volunteers are training to become an official ML the following year, they missed the application deadline, or a host of other reasons.

This is where things get really murky. Keeping track of all 800+ MLs is challenging enough, but tracking down the minions or volunteers in the forums is nearly impossible. If you’re an ML or minion and want to list your region’s super-awesome minions, please do! Just do so under a separate area and make a note that they were a minion/volunteer/whatever your region calls them, not an official ML for that year.

Side note: I’ve seen some MLs refer to themselves as co-ML when their region has multiple MLs and as a full ML if they’re the only ML. This is misleading; every ML is a full ML whether or not they have a co-ML. Some regions may have a lead ML (by seniority or time/effort put into the event, perhaps), but their MLing power on the Nano site is exactly the same as their co-MLs.

Puzzling through ML user renames

Before NaNo 2016, MLs have created new accounts to reflect a new username, which means that one person may be listed as ML under multiple usernames. When NaNoWriMo introduced the rename feature in 2016, this opened up another can of worms for Wikiwrimo and regional history. Fortunately, I didn’t notice too many post-event renames while updating the regional directory this winter post-event, but now any participant can change a name anytime. (In fact, one of my friends who happens to be an ML used this feature recently, but this wasn’t a problem since I already knew the old and new names.) As well, to the best of my knowledge there’s no internal HQ history of knowing that User Y used to go by User Z until 2016.

MLs, like other Wrimos, have many reasons for changing a username. Depending on the reason for a name change, listing User Y as formerly User Z may not be the right thing to do. Maybe User Y doesn’t want the general public to know that they used to be User Z; there are many possibilities for this as a reason.

Now that this feature is active, I’m guessing that MLs will be discouraged from changing their username during Nano events and to contact HQ if they change their username, just as they would with a changed email.

Answering other questions: going beyond what Wikiwrimo can do

The current format of Wikiwrimo regional pages means that we can answer questions like “Who previously served as ML for X region?” Another interesting question is “How long has User Y served as ML, and for which regions?” This one is impossible to answer with the regional directory’s current layout; one would have to scour all 600+ regions and note which regions User Y has MLed in. There are solutions to this problem such as implementing Semantic MediaWiki; I just haven’t gotten around to researching and implementing yet.

There’s also the information that only that region’s participants would know–the history of the region, special events, et cetera. Sure, I could do some digging to uncover some of this myself, but it would take way more time and effort to do this across all the years of a region’s existence when an active participant in that region would know more of this information than I would ever figure out. This is triply true for regions where English isn’t the primary language. MLs in non-English-speaking countries, this is one place you could really shine on Wikiwrimo!

Script Frenzy regions

I’m not even trying to maintain these right now, to be honest. Maybe in about three years once I’ve conquered what’s listed here. Since Screnzy has been retired, there’s no additional info to keep up with, so noting which regions also had Script Frenzy regions can wait.

What now?

Whew, that’s a lot of information. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations: that’s more people than I thought would be interested in such small details. All these topics combined mean that I (and anyone else interested in helping out) have a long road ahead to make sure Wikiwrimo’s regional directory is as accurate as possible. I could tackle each thing one at a time and update a region’s page upon gathering info for each topic, but that would mean a lot more time involved.

The safest route for the moment, I think, is to start with large regions created in 2002 that haven’t changed all that much. Atlanta is a good example–while other regions have been created from the Atlanta region, much of the Atlanta region was in Atlanta in 2002 and is still so today. Then once most of those regions are done, start untangling the splits and renames and questions like “Is this Jamie person listed as MLing when NaNo listed names the same user as User X the next year?”

Whatever happens, creating a complete regional directory is a task that will never be complete due to the nature of the project. But dear Baty, I’m gonna try.

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