I did not, could not guess how bad a turn it had taken. Despite the valiant efforts of some of its members, the institution is moribund, and cancerous.
Just two months into his second term as an arbitrator on the English Wikipedia, Coren resigned from the Committee with a blistering attack on his fellow arbitrators. In a strongly worded statement posted both on his talk page and the arbitration noticeboard, he claimed that ArbCom has become politicised to the extent that "it can no longer do the job it was ostensibly elected for". Coren accused arbitrators of "filibustering and tactical maneuvers to gain the upper hand" and of "bickering about the 'image' of the committee with little or no concern for the project's fate". "Trying our damn best to do the Right Thing", he charged, "has been obsoleted in favour of trying to get reelected."
Arbitrator Worm That Turnedanswered Coren's claims, writing on the ArbCom noticeboard: "Personally, I find the statement from Coren to be rather unfair, ... I do give a damn what the community thinks. I consider the repercussions carefully and try to minimise the controversy surrounding events. I also care about the image that the committee portrays, as without the community's respect, the committee is nothing. I'm sure it's not only me that Coren's statement is reflecting, if it was I would be roundly ignored, but I believe I'm the most vocal about it. The leap that I cannot accept is that I'm doing this to be re-elected. ... I see no reason why we cannot do the right thing AND keep the community on side. If that's playing politics, then so be it."
Coren (Marc André Pelletier) is no newcomer to either the English Wikipedia or the Wikimedia movement as a whole. He served on the Arbitration Committee from 2009 to 2011, and was elected to a second term starting January 2013. Had he stayed on, his total service would have amounted to five years. In 2011, he ran for election to the WMF's Board of Trustees. On 25 February 2013, Coren took up a 12-month contract with the Foundation, joining the Engineering and Product Development Team; his primary focus will be to assist community developers to leverage the new Wikimedia Labs infrastructure for their tools, especially applications that are migrating from the toolserver.
Asked about the future of the Arbitration Committee on his talk page, Coren stated, "there is nothing wrong with the basic operation of the Committee when its members actually work towards the right objective – this is what I saw in 2009–2010 for instance. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that some of mechanisms in place that make it work right fail in catastrophic ways when things go wrong." He then delivered a harsh accusation against the current Committee: "What I mean by 'politicized' was that decisions are not being argued around 'what is best for the project' but 'what will make [the committee] look good'. Add to that stonewalling, filibustering, and downright 'bullying' from those who aren't getting their way – to the point of having arbitrators being ... creative ... with ethics in order to get the upper hand".
The Signpost asked Coren to explain where he saw a conflict between caring about the image of the Committee and doing the best for the project.
If you attempt to decide according to whether people will whine and yell, all you are doing is giving the loudest voices the power to veto what the committee does "to preserve the image of the committee". The good of the project, on the other hand, doesn't rely on what is currently said about the committee. Things like applying the rules fairly, or fixing a long term problem, should not be affected by "who will complain", and "but that would cause drama". When you start having arbitrators start breaking rules (internal and otherwise) in order to find something, /anything/ to use as a pretext to avoid acting because it will make people dislike them, then the problem becomes serious.
The scales of justice, the centrepiece of the ArbCom logo
Coren did not respond to the Signpost's subsequent request to clarify what he meant by "breaking rules", or which cases involved whining and yelling.
Hersfold, who resigned from ArbCom the week before, echoed Coren's criticisms in general terms: "Unfortunately, I was hoping [that Coren would] be one of the ones to lead the charge against such politicization ... I noticed a steadily increasing emphasis from several arbitrators on avoiding actions that would look bad for the Committee's image or otherwise cause undue amounts of drama". When we invited him to be more specific, Hersfold told the Signpost, "I have no further comment."
Arbitrator AGK took strong exception to Coren's statements: "I consider Coren's resignation to be the rankest drama-mongering. ... throwing the toys from the pram because the community has moved on and the arbitrators who now staff the committee were not quite willing to go along with his extreme views on running ArbCom."
Invited to explain his views further, AGK told the Signpost:
... the notion that one or more arbitrators is consistently pushing the committee to do the most popular—rather than the most beneficial—thing in high-profile cases is utter nonsense.
As for arbitrators breaking rules to push for popular opinion to be reflected in committee decisions: this is, again, unsupported by fact.
In the situation Marc is speaking about, the committee maintained Marc was required to recuse from the discussion. Marc himself agreed, and he was not asked to recuse so that a suboptimal decision could be "forced through".
Marc has misappropriated his recusal to give the impression that some arbitrators are using underhand tactics to sideline people that are not "toeing" the line. This is wrong. When Marc was asked to recuse, it was because he had a plain conflict of interest. When Marc was out-voted, it was because his opinions were the wrong thing for the project, and had no support in the committee.
Marc is obliged, in my opinion, to withdraw (or substantiate) his accusations of impropriety, and I would also suggest he make it clear to the community that the real reason he resigned was that he could not get his way.
Chapters association elects new chair
Markus Glaser, pictured here at Wikimania 2012, has been elected as the chapters association's new chair.
Markus Glaser has been elected as the new chair of the chapters association. He replaces Ashley Van Haeften (Fæ), who had faced controversy after his unopposed election as chair with little substantive discussion during Wikimania 2012. Van Haeften attempted to address these concerns before the election:
I was never completely convinced with being elected to this position uncontested through a simple vote at our first meeting, as a demonstration of our democratic strength, and last year I committed to holding a more public, thorough, and hopefully contested election, ... Over the last few months, more than half of the current WMF board of trustees have approached myself or other members of the Council, raising their concerns about my ban from the English Wikipedia placed shortly after my election as Chair. Throughout I reassured them that this had been discussed on the Chapters list, that there was no appetite from the Council for me to stand down, and I would be calling an election before the Milan conference. However, after increased pressure, I have moved this forward from my original plan of March.
In the election, Glaser beat the English Wikipedia's Kirill Lokshin and Lorenzo Losa, who started as an editor on the Italian Wikipedia, although that "now takes only a small part of [his] Wikimedia-related time." Glaser, who began as a developer and came to the association as the representative of Wikimedia Germany, downplayed the powers he would have as chair, stating that he would favor forming an executive committee to make major decisions. He believes that the committee should:
Reach out and open up to all chapters, thematic organisations and other affiliations; establish a good connection.
Listen to the needs of these entities and become a place to form and voice common opinions.
Let the action plan suggested in our London meeting come to life. This means the WCA offers help, insight and support for chapters and other organisations in their various stages and paths of development.
Become a place of exchange for experiences, ideas and resources for chapters and other entities.
Have friendly relations with all entities in the Wikimedia movement, including WMF, the Board of Trustees, AffCom, FDC.
The troubled history of the chapters association was covered by the Signpost in June 2012 and in brief updates since then, such as February 2013. More information is available on Meta—the coordinating website for the Wikimedia movement—under the proposed name of the organization – "Wikimedia Chapters Association"; however, the Foundation has declined to recognize that name on the basis that the inclusion of Wikimedia is inconsistent with its trademark policy. The next meeting of the association will be in April, at the annual Wikimedia Conference in Milan, Italy.
WMF monthly report: The Wikimedia Foundation's February 2013 report has been published on Meta.
Wikipedia Zero: The WMF has announced that Axiata has become the newest partner in its Wikipedia Zero program, which aims to provide mobile users in developing countries free access to Wikipedia articles. The partnership marks the fifth Foundation–company partnership in this respect, and adds about 80 million people to the program. The number of people already covered varies depending on the source (the Q&A page states that there are 483 million users as of November 2012, but the WMF's blog post on the last partnership gave 330 million). In unrelated news, Wikipedia Zero won the activism award from South by Southwest (SXSW). Kul Takanao Wadhwa, the WMF's Head of Mobile, said: "We are honored that Wikipedia Zero won at SXSW and we appreciate the validation the award conveys to our efforts. But this is only the beginning. Activism is step one. Next stop, accelerating this program so it becomes a movement to benefit all of humankind."
Governance review redux: The WMF's general counsel, Geoff Brigham, has published a blog post highlighting several practices he thinks are worth following by all Wikimedia-related organizations. The Signpost covered the Wikimedia UK governance review, which these practices are drawn from, in February.
Community logo: The Wikimedia community logo, designed in 2006 by WarX and released into the public domain, became the topic of discussions this week on the Wikimedia-l mailing list and on Meta, both revolving around the WMF's attempt to trademark it. The WMF's deputy general counsel, Luis Villastated that the attempt was part of a broader effort to trademark these sorts of logo, so that the WMF would be able to take action if someone chose to abuse them. As it was part of this broader action, the WMF did not communicate with the community on this specific logo, a minor oversight that Villa apologized for not seeing sooner.