News and notes
Chapters Association self-destructs
Wikimedia France pulls the plug on Chapters Association
The logo of the chapters association, including the contested Wikimedia
in its name
The elaborate proposal for the organizational structure of the Chapter Association, as agreed by chapter representatives in Berlin last year
Sebastian Moleski (former chair of Wikimedia Germany) presents the proposal for the "Chapters Council" in March 2012 in Berlin
Ziko van Dijk, historian, president of Wikimedia Netherlands, and now former vice-chair of the Chapters Association
Christophe Henner, vice-president of Wikimedia France
Participants at the Education Pre-conference.
View from the observation deck of the Sky100
observation platform during the welcome party for Wikimania 2013
A buffet table at the party after Wikimedian attack
The opening days of the annual Wikimania, referred to as the "pre-conference", are not typically newsworthy. This year's pre-conference in Hong Kong looked like no exception, with meetups scheduled for education, Chinese-language Wikipedians, and developers, along with registration, a roundtable discussion, and various chapter meetings.
This changed dramatically when the Chapters Association council met on Thursday. The Association was proposed at Berlin in March last year and set up "to serve as a central organization ... to promote coordination and accountability among the chapters, represent the chapters on common interests, facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience, and provide assistance and support in organizational development". In its year-long existence, the Association has been mired in controversy, seeing the use of the trademarked term Wikimedia in its name contested by the Foundation; dithering on proposals to recruit a so-called secretary-general and several other employees, and to incorporate the Association and set up a physical office in a European country (Brussels and Geneva were mentioned as locations); and the resignation of its inaugural chair, Ashley van Haeften (Fæ).
The Association's council meeting—with 48 in attendance, according to the etherpad records—opened with a statement from vice-chair Ziko van Dijk, who read a lengthy prepared address on the "failure" of the Association:
||We all dreamt of a powerful association, with resources to support the chapters, and Council Members serving as a transmission belt collecting the thoughts and emotions of our entire movement. But look around now ... our investment in time and energy has proven to be a genuine failure. ... in February 2013, the WMF board of trustees ultimately lost faith in the [Association]. It announced that it will not give money for [an Association] employee; instead, [the Association] should show some useful practical work, not waste its time with discussions on legal framework.
Van Dijk's address contained a series of references to a "fictional Johnny" (which he decoded later in the meeting—Johnny "spoke with a French accent"). There were suggestions that Johnny "doesn't take the Association seriously" and "hated the WMF", and that Johnny said "the big chapters, those with the resources, want to dominate the movement and cannot be trusted". Van Dijk said: "please explain this to me: who should take the WCA serious[ly], if even Johnny doesn't? Those questions kept coming to me." Even his own board, of the Netherlands chapter, had discussed whether supporting the Association is "flogging a dead horse".
"I don't want to end this speech in the same bitterness as when I started to write it on Wednesday's early morning", he said. "Of course, when you are pointing with your finger at others, three fingers of the same hand point to yourself". He concluded with a quotation from the Bible concerning "the power of sharing".
Wikimedia France vice-chair Christophe Henner then announced the chapter was leaving the organization. Henner denounced the current state of the Association, saying that its structure was "untenable", since "too few people are involved". He declared that Wikimedia France would instead be supporting volunteers in specific Wikimedia-related tasks, and called on the other member chapters to follow their lead in departing the Association and directly supporting volunteers. Several chapter officials told the Signpost that Association heads were informed of this pre-planned maneuver only the night before.
Van Dijk and Association chair Markus Glaser then resigned, "effective now", stating that they see no future in the Association. In subsequent discussion, participants debated what to do, but the records reveal no clear direction. Glaser said: "The movement is not taking us seriously. We are perceived to be working on our internal structures all the time. Both chairs resigned and then the solution is to rework charter, this is a death blow." He was convinced, it is recorded, that the chapters will now abolish the WCA. In Van Dijk's words: "The Wikimedia Chapters Association is no more. The Council did not abolish it, but on the Thursday meeting Markus (the Chair) and I (Ziko, the Deputy Chair) stepped down. A discussion followed that demonstrated: an early revival seems to be highly unlikely."
Asaf Bartov, the Foundation's head of the Wikimedia grants program and global south partnerships, was present as an observer. Emphasizing that he was expressing his personal views and not those of the Foundation, he introduced a different tone. What has been missing in the discussion so far, he said, is "gratitude and appreciation for the people who have been trying to make it work. It's frustrating, thankless work, and deserves appreciation all the more." Bartov said he was "intrigued but not surprised that the conversation has focused so far on recriminations and blame, ... this is not the best use of our time in this rare and expensive opportunity where we are all in one room."
Bartov said he originally saw the Association as the combination of a Wikipedian, democratic instinct coupled with the dream of "a league of chapters that would give equal representation, do conflict resolution." But some basic facts were overlooked: in his view, a lot of chapters are still not interested in participating in global movement-wide policy or planning, and there was a lack of clarity on what the Association would achieve.
In practical terms, he said: "there were no more than maybe 10 people with the actual drive to do the kind of things that the WCA said they would do. ... this was something that very few people really cared about. ... People were fooled into believing that the WCA had a lot more volunteer energy than it really had. In Berlin in 2012, we spent the better part of that conference talking about points in the charter." Bartov said he wished more time had been spent on thinking about what the Association should actually do.
He drew an analogy with Wiki Loves Monuments: "Some of these things just aren't as exciting as WLM! WLM happens on an almost military scale of coordination of troops around the planet, ... because people want to do it. There are enough people to do it, even without a chapter, or without a WLM fiscal setup, ...".
As the meeting drew to a close, Glaser narrowed the options down to four:
- keep the association but discard the bureaucratic structure around it;
- form a new committee that will replace the association, allowing anyone to join;
- find local Wikimedia chapters to take over the association's current projects;
- continue and ignore what has happened.
Votes were taken on dissolving the Association and abolishing its charter, but both failed. Only three chapters supported the former (against six opposes and two abstentions), and while a small majority voted in favor of charter abolition (four supports, three opposes, four abstentions), it failed due to the association's requirement of 66% support. One major open question is if other major chapters will pull out during Wikimania's remaining days—a chapter official opined to the Signpost that the association would fully collapse if this occurs. If not, the question will morph into if the chapters association will be able to continue functioning.
The etherpad ends with an intriguing comment: "The charter requires having a chair. The pool to select a chair from consist of the council member who voted to keep the charter. My question: which council members voted to keep the charter?"
The Chapter Association's death throes were not the only event of the pre-conference. The education program held a day-long session on Wednesday that covered important topics for the future of the program. The first session was led by Peter Gallert, who explained how to overcome fears and setbacks in an education program, including challenges with editor retention, technical ability, communication between the community and the class, and adherence to wiki norms. The Foundation's LiAnna Davis gave a presentation on best practices for starting a new program at a university. She suggested that Wikipedians start on a small scale and organize early, taking a lesson from the disastrous Pune experiment in India. Davis also discussed the aims of the Wikipedia Education Program, which have shifted from previous iterations: "We do not care about [editor] retention—we care about adding quality content to Wikipedia." However, she encouraged people involved in the program to focus retention efforts on course instructors.
Speaker Martin Poulter drew on his experience as JISC Wikipedian-in-Residence to teach participants how to "pitch" Wikipedia to educators. Other presentations given included an overview of the training materials available for students, instructors, and ambassadors; recruitment of ambassadors (both Campus Ambassadors and Online Ambassadors); a tutorial on the Education Program software extension; and a discussion of different target groups. Davis summed up her view of the conference in an email to the Signpost:
||I was really happy with the outcome of the Education Program Pre-Conference. Our goal for the event was to start sharing learnings across countries and provide very detailed, action-oriented suggestions for programs in varying stages of development worldwide. We had a very productive group of people very dedicated to Wikipedia's use in educational settings from nearly 20 different countries.
The welcome party on Thursday night was held in the Sky100 conference centre, known for its striking view of the city ("up the elevator to the 100th floor—impressively, it seemed to take less than 60 seconds", according to Hong Kong resident Ohconfucius). The normal entry fee of US$21.50 was waived for party-goers as part of the hiring cost for the party.
The venue was crowded and the food did run out, but there was delight among some people at the high-quality Cantonese offerings, and appreciation of the free alcohol. We were unable to determine whether there were relatively high levels of gate-crashing, given that there were no proper checks of registration at the door of the party venue (one source told the Signpost: "no questions—just put your name on a label and you're off").
Among comments we have received were that "the lights were too low" and the venue was "good for appreciating the view, but pretty useless if you wanted to look for people". According to Ohconfucius: "the PA was a damp squib for the size of the gathering, and I don't think more than a handful of people even heard the introduction and welcome from Jimmy Wales. I heard the welcome, but I was at the front. People at the back didn't stop talking."
The Signpost did not have the necessary information at publishing time to give in-depth coverage to the developer camp, but the WMF's James Forrester told us that it went "very well", although the "short timeframe involved means that we will need to wait to see what comes out of it." More information will be available in episode 96 of the Wikipedia Weekly, when that is released.
The next edition of the Signpost will provide coverage of key presentations at Wikimania.
Superfast elevator to the party (picture by Polish Wikipedian Adam Kliczek)
- Jimmy Wales calls for ideas on new journalism site: In his keynote speech at Wikimania 2013, Jimmy Wales declared that mass media and its individual journalists are missing out on the greatest opportunity of the century by reducing coverage of the 'serious' topics to focus on topics like Edward Snowden's girlfriend. This has spurred him to call for crowdsourced ideas on a new journalism site that would be built from the ground up and possibly feature a hybrid community-paid journalist model. More coverage will be devoted to this in next week's Signpost.
- New board chair, vice chair: The Wikimedia Foundation has announced that Jan-Bart de Vreede and Phoebe Ayers have been appointed to the positions of Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, on its Board of Trustees. The press release quoted de Vreede as saying "The next twelve months promise to be significant for the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia movement and I'm excited to have the opportunity to lead the Board."
- NHRP milestone: The National Register of Historic Places Project now has images of 50,000 of the topics within its scope, or about 57%. The project, which as its name suggests covers all of the places listed on the United States' National Register of Historic Places, has several prolific photographers who have taken more than 1,000 images. The impact of the movement's Wiki Loves Monuments was also clear: the initiative added 6%, or about 5200, of these images.
- Wikimedia engineering report released: The July 2013 report covering the Wikimedia Foundation's engineering activities has been published on Mediawiki.
- Late: The Signpost offers its apologies for being extremely late this week, and responsibility for that falls on the editor-in-chief.