Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2008-01-28/2007 in review

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The Wikipedia Signpost


Special: 2007 in Review, Part III

By Ral315 and Staff, 28 January, 2008
See also Part I and Part II.

Last month marked the end of 2007, and the end of the biggest year (and perhaps the most controversial year) that Wikipedia has seen. This week, the Wikipedia Signpost continues to take a look back at the year that was 2007 in Wikipedia.

Signpost interviews

In 2007, the Signpost interviewed three key figures in the Wikimedia Foundation: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Wikimedia Foundation Chairperson Florence Devouard, and Executive Director Sue Gardner.

In Wales' September interview, we asked him about a trip to China, the fall fundraiser, and anonymous proxies:

Wikipedia Signpost: This week, you visited China. Did you meet with Chinese officials regarding the blocking of Wikipedia within the PRC?

:Jimmy Wales: Well, on this particular visit, I did not end up meeting with any relevant Chinese officials. Those visits are being scheduled for November. I was in Dalian, China attending an event of the World Economic Forum for the group of people they have named "Young Global Leaders". I met some awesome people. Of course they all know of Wikipedia (a few have had Wikipedia scandals or BLP issues or both). And others have missions that are in some ways similar to ours. ... I met Princess Mabel of the Netherlands, who is a delightful person, who happened to have had a WikiScanner situation last week.

That's right, we reported on that last week. What did she have to say about that?

:Well, she hoped that the edit would give rise to a debate about the facts of the situation. But the media only focused on the fact of the editing. She also thinks they could have done a better job of it. Rather than removing the two incorrect words -- which was a mistake since it was part of a quote -- she should have added a sentence pointing out that the couple continues to maintain that they gave no incorrect information, only incomplete information. (I have no opinion on the content of the controversy, but can testify that after a very long conversation with her, it was quite clear to me that it would be absurd to think of her as acting in bad faith around this matter.)

How is the Foundation planning to run the fall fundraiser? Will the emphasis be more on personal donations, or larger, corporate and grant contributions?

:For the most part it will be the same as ever, with banners on the website, etc. Except that I have gotten commitments for over US$1 million in matching funds from wealthy individuals.

In 2004, you said, “In general, I like living in a world with anonymous proxies ... There are many valid uses for them. But, writing on Wikipedia is not one of the valid uses”. How do you feel about the use of open proxies on Wikipedia today?

:I just came back from China. I was unable for that entire time to access Wikipedia. If I had been able to access Wikipedia, using Tor for example, I would likely have not been able to edit. I think that's a shame. At the same time, anonymous proxies do pose a couple of interesting problems for us. First, they spew a lot of vandalism, and the reality of the situation is that more people seem to use such tools for bad than for good. Second, there are some interesting problems that could arise due to the increasing number of griefers/trolls who would like to build fake "good" accounts at Wikipedia while at the same time continuing "bad" behaviors. I acknowledge that it is a tough problem, but I think it important that we think carefully and pro-actively and always try by default to be as open as we can be.[1]

In Devouard's November interview, we asked her about the Foundation's audit, the strengths and weaknesses of the Foundation, and misconceptions of the public:

Wikipedia Signpost: What is the current status of the Wikimedia Foundation's audit? When do you expect a public release of financial statements for FY2007?

:Florence Devouard: The audit officially began on September 17, 2007. It is expected to be finished by the end of the calendar year (hopefully). The audit is being conducted by a St. Petersburg firm called Gregory Sharer and Stuart. This is the same firm that conducted our ‘first-three-years’ audit report that was published last year.

:On the Wikimedia side, the people involved are Oleta McHenry, preparing the books on behalf of the Foundation. Mona Venkateswaran, a financial consultant to the Foundation and a former auditor, is providing oversight and guidance to Oleta. Various others are helping Oleta by providing information and/or supporting documentation. We are also now actively looking for a new treasurer.

:It is hard to plan completion date. It depends on the size of the organization, number of transactions, inherent risk in the audit work, and overall complexity of performing audit procedures. It’s fairly normal for audits to take longer to complete than was initially predicted. The Foundation’s projects (and their popularity) grew significantly over the past year, which meant that spending (number of transactions) increased. So there is more work to be done. Also, there has been some turnover in Foundation staff (e.g., the accountant), which has resulted in some loss of institutional memory that makes it harder to do the audit preparation. So it isn’t really all that surprising that the audit is fairly time-consuming.

Today, what do you think are the Wikimedia Foundation's strengths? What are its weaknesses? How can these be improved?

:People and good will are probably the biggest strengths. I would currently consider understaffing the biggest weakness. We probably miss many great opportunities to do big and important things, due to lack of time. I expect this will be improved soon, when more staff is hired. However, the success of the fundraising will also determine our future hiring ability.

What do you think is the public's biggest misconception about the Wikimedia Foundation and its projects? How do you think we can remedy this?

:In January 2007, I defined as one of my priorities the following message: we are not a commercial project. By and large, the public, the corporate world, the NGOs and governmental organizations had no idea what Wikimedia Foundation was about, and considered Wikipedia was held by a private commercial company. As could be expected, such a belief raises questions (doubts...) about our (hidden) intents, about our independence etc... For this reason, in 2007, a lot of efforts have been put to explain that we are a non profit, that Wikimedia projects are here for the common good, etc. I can already see much improvement, not so much in the public mind, but definitely at the level of big non-profit organizations, big private companies and governments.

:A remedy to improve that further? Messaging... explaining what we do, how we do it, why we do it etc...everyone can help push this message: "We are a non profit, we want to bring knowledge to people". I would also consider getting one big grant a very cool way to show the public where we stand.[2]

Sue Gardner's December interview focused on her duties at the Foundation, the fundraiser, and quality concerns:

Wikipedia Signpost: As Executive Director, what are your immediate duties for the Foundation?

:Sue Gardner: I have two major immediate priorities right now: the relocation, and ensuring we’re okay financially. Financial stability is obviously critical – we can’t accomplish anything if we’re bogged down with money problems. So a lot of my attention is going towards fundraising. We have the online fundraiser underway right now, and that is important. And there are other initiatives as well – we’re doing some major donor cultivation, and I am hiring a head of fundraising whose job will be to develop and execute a sustainability strategy for us, etc.

:The second big priority is the relocation: it’s my job to get us safely and successfully to San Francisco. Which involves more than just finding us an office and buying some furniture; it involves a fair amount of hiring too. You may know that when we decided to move to San Francisco we invited all the current U.S.-based staff to come with us. But obviously many people are in no position to do that - they have husbands, they have kids in school, and other constraints. So we will need to replace several of the current staff, and we will also be hiring for a few new positions, like the fundraising one. That's really exciting and fun work, building what is in some ways a new organization. There are a bunch of other smaller urgent priorities – but those are the two major ones.

While the fall fundraiser has raised over $1,000,000 so far, this number falls well short of the $4.6 million in the 2007-2008 Planned Spending Distribution. How will the Foundation ensure that the budget is balanced?

:Yes, the online fundraiser will not cover our operating costs - nor did we expect it to. And that's okay. We have a couple of major donations coming in within the next few weeks: they’ve been committed to, and will arrive in the bank before the new year. I will be going on a mini-tour of potential major donors, starting in the middle of December. We’ll probably do another one in January. And the German chapter is doing its own fundraising, and will be pitching in to buy 15 new squid servers for Amsterdam – which is fabulous and will be very helpful.

:In the short term, I will need to focus quite a bit of my energy on fundraising, to ensure we’re okay for the coming year. In the medium and long term though, I am not particularly worried. We are going to have a head of fundraising, whose job will be –mainly- to cultivate major donations. And I think she or he will have a lot of fun in that role, and will be able to be really successful. Lots of people love Wikipedia: there is an awful lot of warmth and good feeling towards it, and also – to a lesser extent because they are lesser-known - towards the other projects. And I understand that. If I were a philanthropist, I would want to put my money towards initiatives that were able to be effective on a shoestring. And there is no denying the impact Wikimedia is having with a ridiculously small staff.

:I would also want to encourage philanthropists to attend Wikimania. It was incredibly inspiring to me to see those hundreds of very very different people, all voluntarily coming together for no reason other than to do something exciting and positive and good.

With the CBC, you handled the day-to-day operations of a website known for its quality and accuracy. How do you think the Foundation can overcome public perception of inaccuracy, and begin to foster a public image of quality growth?

:Regarding the perception-of-inaccuracy issue for us, I believe that part of the issue is simply time lag between perception and reality. First Monday published a study a few months ago that helped to validate our fundamental premise. It concluded that the best articles in Wikipedia had benefited from massive, open collaboration: working together in the way we do is critical to achieve high-quality articles. So, although I don’t want to minimize quality problems where they actually exist, I do believe that part of this is a perception issue rather than a reality issue. And my feeling is, some of the attacks on us will subside as people get more used to the idea of projects like ours. My mother has learned to embrace Wikipedia. So gradually, will other people who have been dubious about us.

:Part of the challenge is to make it clear to our readers that our core community of contributors is diligently working on building an ever improving reference work. Our fundamental openness is essential for that community to grow and thrive, but it also creates unique challenges. Recently we launched the quality portal, which lists some of the strategies we're supporting to make it easier for readers to distinguish high-quality articles from text that is in the draft stage or from random vandalism.[3]

Foundation timeline

In 2007, the Foundation went through numerous changes:

  • January: The announcement of an Advisory Board, consisting primarily of leaders and experts from the free culture movement.[4]
  • January: The hiring of Carolyn Doran as Chief Operating Officer, and Sandra Ordonez as Communications Manager.[4]
  • February: Brad Patrick departs as interim Executive Director (staying on as General Counsel); Delphine Ménard hired as Chapters Coordinator, Foundation organizational structure clarified.[5]
  • March: In unrelated announcements, both Brad Patrick and Danny Wool resigned their positions as General Counsel and Grants Coordinator, respectively, citing disagreements with the Board of Trustees.[6]
  • June: Sue Gardner is hired as a "consultant and special advisor" to the Foundation.[7]
  • July: Mike Godwin hired as Foundation General Counsel and Legal Coordinator, replacing Brad Patrick, who resigned in March.[7]
  • September: Michael Davis' intent to leave the Board of Trustees announced; he departs in December. His position as Treasurer has not yet been filled.[8]
  • September: Foundation announces intent to move its offices to San Francisco. The relocation, meant to move the Foundation closer to potential employees and donors in Silicon Valley, was completed in January.[9]
  • December: Sue Gardner promoted to Executive Director.[3]
  • December: Erik Möller abruptly resigns from the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees; a day later, Möller was named the Deputy Director of the Foundation.[10]
  • December: Foundation approves a plan to fill the two empty seats on the Board of Trustees, and add up to four additional seats.[11]

Next week

Next week, the last installment of the Signpost's exceedingly long series, "2007 in review".

Links/references



Also this week:

From the editor — 2007 in review — John Broughton interview — New parser — WikiWorld — News and notes — In the news — Tutorial — WikiProject report — Dispatches — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report


Signpost archives