General counsel Mike Godwin leaves the Wikimedia Foundation
Mike Godwin, July 2010.
On October 19, the Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director Sue Gardnerannounced that Mike Godwin, long standing general counsel to Wikimedia, would be leaving the Foundation on October 22. Gardner described Godwin's departure as a "confidential personnel issue" and said that "we want to handle this kind of thing with respect for people’s privacy and dignity, and we are hopeful we can do that in this instance," stressing that his departure is neither "because of a change in direction or policy, related to our legal context" nor "over a point of principle" nor "because he did something egregious" ("The Wikimedia Foundation believes Mike has always acted in what he believes to be the Wikimedia Foundation's best interests").
Mike Godwin was hired on July 3, 2007, less than a week after Sue Gardner (see Signpost coverage). Before working for the Foundation, he had 17 years of experience as a technology and free speech lawyer, some of which resulted in his 1998 book Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age. He is also credited with the invention of "Godwin's law," a whimsical adage on Internet discourse, which states that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." He has edited Wikipedia as User:MGodwin.
The General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation is in charge of the day-to-day legal issues within Wikipedia. During his time on the Foundation staff, Mike Godwin had been involved in several important legal issues, including the introduction of employee background checks after the case of former COO Carolyn Doran, the 2008 privacy and data retention policy updates, the 2008/2009 license migration and the August 2010 FBI seal issues. While the Foundation has chosen not to reveal the details of his severance package, Sue Gardner did say that he will remain available to Wikimedia for several months longer. The Foundation is currently seeking for a replacement for Godwin through its employment agency m|Oppenheim, and is expecting to fill the position by January. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed by senior WMF staff. In the interim, an outside counselor will fulfill the Foundation's day-to-day needs. In the announcement's Q&A (described as "cryptic" by law blogger Rober Ambrogi), Sue Gardner said about Godwin's future prospects that
we wish him all the best, and we hope that he will continue to do the same kind of work he’s always done -- helping to advance people’s online freedoms. We think he’s really good at that work, and we hope it’s what he continues to do.
Since the nature of the job means sometimes you can't talk about everything you're doing [...], he may not have gotten all the public appreciation he deserves for his work, but he has really been a great champion of the foundation and the movement, and guided WMF through a major expansion and some truly crazy situations.
Ten ArbCom seats up for grabs
The official Arbitration Committee logo, which has been used since the start of 2010
Preparations are under way for the eighth election of the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom). By tradition, the elections are run by the community without the involvement of the Committee itself. Provisional election pages have been set up based on the model of the 2009 election, which was conducted using the SecurePoll secret ballot system. There will be a 10-day nomination period (14–23 November), followed by two "fallow" days for the completion of technical tasks; the 10-day voting period (26 November – 6 December). If the SecurePoll system is adopted, the vote will then be audited by independent scrutineers and announced on the election page, as for last year. Jimmy Wales is aware of the schedule and has confirmed his availability to formally announce the appointments after the audit. A large community RfC in 2009 established the Committee's numbers as 18, with a maximum two-year term for incoming arbitrators. This time, there are 10 seats to fill, with terms starting on 1 January 2011.
Until the call for nominations starts on 14 November, the parameters of the election are open to community feedback. There is a draft set of nine questions for all candidates (discussion here); voters will also be able to ask a unique question of each individual candidate on the public pages, and any number of questions on candidates' user talk pages. Editors interested in helping to organise the elections are encouraged to sign up as volunteer coordinators.
The Arbitration Committee is a critical part of the English Wikipedia; experienced and committed editors are urged to seriously consider standing for election.
Mailing list dispute: Heated arguments have erupted on the Foundation-l mailing list last week over the blocking of Greg Kohs, owner of MyWikiBiz (who had been previously discussed and blocked on Wikipedia (The Signpost article); discussions regarding him spilled over to an IRC meeting last week) and moderation of Peter Damian (who has been banned from Wikipedia for insistent disruption and sockpuppetry), which has been summarized here. Editors have been arguing over whether or not the actions were "just," and in particular over how blocking the editors deprives them of their voice and self-preservation in the matter.
RecentChangesCamp: RecentChangesCamp 2011 has been announced. RecentChangesCamp is set to have two venues: the University of Canberra in Australia, returning there from this year's event, and Boston, Massachusetts. The "unmeeting" is meant for "discussing the past, present, and future of the technology and collaborative method that is wiki", and has taken place every year since 2006. RCC is an open space event, with no agenda, so visitors participate in ad-hoc discussions and make up their own schedule at the meeting. The Canberra event, taking place 28–30 January 2011, will be the first full-sized three-day RCC meeting outside of the US or Canada to date.
New Wikimedia research: Diederik van Liere, the research consultant recently hired by the WMF, has "posted a wiki [sic]" on the Strategy wiki about a new "Editor trends study", which is aimed at a better understanding of developments in the number of active and very active Wikipedians. In related news, meta:Research/Projects was recently announced "as a new canonical tracking page for [Wikimedia-related] research projects that are either currently underway, or that have been recently completed."
Europeana conference: Liam Wyatt (User:Witty lama) has blogged about his opening keynote at the Open Culture Conference held earlier this month in Amsterdam by Europeana, an EU project. He speculated that "Europeana will become possibly the most important force in Europe for advocating for a free-culture future" and described several areas of possible collaborations between Europeana and Wikimedia projects, which were discussed during his two-week invited stay at the institution.