News and notes
Wikimedia conferences—soul-searching about costs, attendance, and future
Group photograph of the 2013 Wikimedia Conference in Milan
Wikimedia mailing list
This week's Special report has highlighted the Wikimedia Conference 2014, to be held from next Thursday to Sunday in Berlin under the stewardship of the German chapter. In related news, the run-up to the conference has seen the unfolding of two fractious threads on the Wikimedia public mailing list, both of which may serve as background for the last session at Berlin: "Future of the Wikimedia Conference".
Former WMUK chair Fæ began the earlier thread, entitled Cost of Wikimedia Conference 2014, questioning why the UK is sending "a massive party of 8 people", when he had understood that "organizations would send no more than 2 representatives plus one optional guest". / "Another consideration is past concern from smaller chapters that this meeting was being overwhelmed with the viewpoint of the larger and better funded chapters that found it easiest to travel to Berlin, or pay employees to attend."
In answer to claims that limits on attendance are "misplaced frugality", Fæ said: "For one chapter to break the rules and send significantly more representatives to this conference than the others when they are not even the host does not appear effective to my eyes." / "... we should take care to ensure appropriate transparency when using our funds. It is almost impossible to fully assess how many employees are attending in proportion to unpaid volunteers (which implies costs beyond travel and accommodation), or whether named representatives have any experience or interests in the Wikimedia projects, as many names are given no link or context."
This was met by comments both in support and against, revealing surprisingly different attitudes among chapters to the "ownership" of donors' funds: "Really Fae, as you are no longer the [WMUK] chair, why rule "from the grave"?" / "... it is for the chapter to decide if they spend their money wisely." This was then rebutted by another party: "It is not 'their money', but rather the money of donors—i.e. the general public—who are every year told that Wikipedia needs your help to survive. The 'movement' ... has a tendency to waste money on frivolous things such as travel and accommodation, as demonstrated last year by the Affcom attendance controversy at Wikimania 2013.
Former WMUK chair Fæ raised cost and attendance issues.
Fæ later wrote: "I am genuinely puzzled as to why, if nobody on the WMUK board (such as the CEO or the current Chairman) is sure what the purpose of the conference is, they should choose to invest the donor's money in sending 5 trustees and 3 full time employees to it (presumably the employees are being paid for their time rather than going as volunteers). / If the key benefit claimed is to do social networking, it should be recognized that all the same faces will be at Wikimania London in 4 months, and socializing is part of the defined benefits of Wikimania. / Considering the conference is a week away and it appears that flights and accommodation have been paid for, re-framing this as good news, rather than admitting it is a problem, appears to be replacing pragmatism with sophistry."
For one chapter representative, funds "[do] not belong to the relevant chapters, and as a result we need to respect that when spending our their money. / ... we should always be frugal with the funds that we have as a movement ... I think the guideline 2+1 really should be adhered to by all, and would wonder what value there is in sending more than this along to the conference on the dime of the donor. If it's acceptable for large chapters with large reserves, it potentially puts smaller chapters at a disadvantage or could be perceived as bias." Nicole Ebber, Wikimedia Germany's head of international affairs and the program manager for the conference, wrote that she was "baffled" that these questions are being asked only now, since they were raised months ago on Meta in the early planning stages; there is evidence on Meta that Ebber worked hard to get discussion going as early as August last year. In the end, she said, "we felt the 2(+1) rule is kind of outdated".
According to another participant: "... we have [a] strict rule – two representatives, 3 if you have ED. I also saw that some chapters have more than that, and I really don't know why." However, John Davies, CEO of WMUK, wrote: "this is a sensible use of our resources", suggesting among other functions that the UK delegates "can promote Wikimania London and learn about people's ideas and expectations", but that "we will certainly not be going round in a sort of WMUK gang trying to overwhelm small chapters – quite the opposite and I think we have a good record at WMUK of supporting others." One participant commented that in previous years the idea was "to keep the conference small as possible in order to have effective discussions, and to allow all the chapter to be equal." Chris Keating, chair of WMUK, pointed out that "there was no 'only 2 representatives plus an ED' rule mentioned in the registration process."
Wikimedia Germany's Nicole Ebber at last year's Wikimedia Conference. Ebber is the program liaison officer for the upcoming conference.
While emphasising that she was generalising and there are exceptions, Risker—a former arbitrator on the English Wikipedia who performs a number of volunteer roles for the movement—wrote: "... the place where leadership is most sorely lacking is on projects, while the majority of those participating in leadership activities at the chapter/thorg level are not doing a lot of work on WMF projects."
In a new thread, Purpose of WMConf, Risker said:
||It's a heavily publicly discussed meeting to which 99.9998% of Wikimedians are unwelcome – and yes, that's the way it comes across.
The movement has failed if the only way to participate in group discussions on movement governance is to (1) create a chapter or thorg, (2) become an executive or employee of one and (3) be granted authority to attend this conference. Those are very big hoops to jump through in order for non-aligned Wikimedians and movement participants/supporters to participate in the discussion.
Controversy erupts among German-speakers
This strident discourse on the mailing list has been mirrored in the German-language part of the movement. While Wikimedia Germany is hosting an event at which determining the future purpose of WMF-affiliated entities is a major topic, the chapter is facing significant criticism from both the German editing community and within its own board on where the chapter's priorities lie. In a substantial post, Open Letter to Wikimedia Germany, posted on Saturday 5 April in the German Wikipedia's news outlet, Kurier, long-standing German Wikipedian Marcus Cyron has accused the chapter's leadership of being out of touch: "For a long time I have put a lot of energy into the development of Wikimedia Germany. ... I see it as an important tool for supporting volunteers at work on Wikimedia projects. But even as an active member I am seeing decreasing control [by members] of the chapter. Hardly a decision is made other than within the Berlin office, and even the chapter board often seems to be powerless. This I can no longer accept."
Cyron went on to complain about a lack of openness in the way Wikimedia Germany judged applications for Wikimania scholarships, and of "encrusted processes in the chapter. Unfortunately, many people do not dare to speak openly about these issues—there is a lot of frustration ...".
The open letter has unleashed a lengthy controversy on the Kurier's talk page that makes the English Wikipedia look polite—accusations that Cyron's letter comprises "intemperate attacks", "vain whining", and counterclaims that such comments are "rude and totally wrong"; "you have a problem, not me." There was support for the good work of chapter staff, but assertions that Cyron's letter "has brought long-standing problems to a head."
At the same time, Wikimedia Germany's treasurer, Steffen Prößdorf (User:Stepro), posted a blog, The essential question: What is the purpose of Wikimedia Germany?. The piece was billed as "an overdue look back at the Chapter Boards Training Session he attended in London last month, in which he recounts his shock at the "opinion of a prominent female Wikimedian at the workshop about the meaning of the movement and the role of the chapters: if we can buy free knowledge, we should do that [and] just forget about the communities. Or even quoted verbatim [in English]: 'Fuck the community, who cares'."
Stepro posed what he sees as the core question: "Is the Wikimedia movement in general and Wikimedia Germany in particular primarily there to generate free content to collect and make available, or to support the volunteers in these tasks?" He drew contrasts between the WMF's mission "to empower a global volunteer community to collect and develop the world's free knowledge", and the starting point of the chapter's stated mission, to "promote" this rather than directly supporting volunteers to conduct it. The chapter's board, he wrote, "must make it clear to all employees ... that the office was created in support of volunteers ... only under this condition is a partnership between all stakeholders possible—communities, members, the chapter office, the board, and the employees."
- Should Russia create a Wikipedia alternative?: The ITAR-TASS newsagency reports that Anton Likhomanov, the director general of the National Library of Russia, told a public forum that it is "high time" that a Russian-language alternative to Wikipedia be created, claiming that Wikipedia is controlled from the US and thus vulnerable to American sanctions. Vladimir Medeyko of Wikimedia Russia told the Signpost that while there might be some bad PR for the movement, given that "foreign entities, especially American ones, are considered suspicious", there were obvious responses if it came to defending the WMF in Russia. "I'm very skeptical," he said, "and don't believe they would be successful."
- Affiliate-nominated seats: Five candidates have been nominated for the two affiliate-selected (previously chapter-selected) seats on the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees. Editors are welcome to make comments and ask questions on the talk pages of each candidate's statement. Affiliated organisations will discuss the selection next Sunday morning at the Berlin conference, so prompt feedback would be advantageous.
- New FDC round: The deadline for submissions for Round 2 of the twice-yearly funding cycle of the Foundation's Funds Dissemination Committee closed on 1 April. There are three applicants for funding: the Norwegian and French chapters, and the India-based Centre for Internet and Society (CIS). The community review period has begun, and will last until the end of April. All Wikimedians are encouraged to provide feedback and pose questions.
The Belfer Center at Harvard University
- The Belfer affair: Fallout over a Wikipedian-in-residence hosted by Harvard University in 2012 continued on the mailing lists this week. As we reported two weeks ago, "The position, advertised and promoted by the Wikimedia Foundation, was at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. ... This chain of events [came] after an inquiry from Liz Allison of the Stanton Foundation, an organization that had donated several million dollars to the WMF ... While the Wikipedian in residence would be funded by the Stanton Foundation and work at the Belfer Center at Harvard, they asked the WMF to act as a fiscal sponsor for administrative reasons." Since then, Sue Gardner (the Wikimedia Foundation's executive director) has issued an apology, and the Foundation itself has published a post-mortem investigation. From the document, "The WMF believes it is a bad practice for those in Wikipedian-in-Residence positions to edit Wikipedia as a core activity of their residency, and regrets that it constructed the Belfer project to include editing as part of the position's core work. The WMF has made a number of decisions, detailed below, designed to prevent similar situations from playing out like this in future." Nevertheless, the controversy has continued with comments from Greg Kohs and Fæ.
- Typography update: Design magazine FastCompany has revealed that the recent typography update could have gone much farther. FastCompany reporter Mark Wilson viewed the update as "conservative", saying that it was mostly "a new font for the section headers." Wilson continued, "[Wikipedia] fills your browser with a wall of end-to-end text that consumes everything, edging itself up against ever-tiny images that, for whatever reason, have been framed in a weak outline."
- English Wikipedia
- Core Contest: The winners of the Core Contest have been announced. The goal of the competition, as its "core" name implies, is to improve Wikipedia's important broadly themed articles, particularly those in a state of disrepair. Five editors were recognized by the overseeing committee: Johnbod (talk · contribs) (first place, Ottonian art), Cwmhiraeth (talk · contribs) (tied for second place, Poultry), Hugetim (talk · contribs) (tied for second place, Philosophy of science), MasterOfHisOwnDomain (talk · contribs) (fourth place, Literature), and Worm That Turned (talk · contribs) (fifth place, Drink).
- Quarterly update: The quarterly update consisting of all changes to the English Wikipedia's content policies has been published at Wikipedia:Update. Volunteers to restart updates of deletion and enforcement policies are requested.
- DYK record: The record for page views on a non-lead hook at the English Wikipedia's Did you know? section has been broken. United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls, a legal case, ran on April Fools Day with the teaser "[did you know] ... that the United States once sued 50,000 cardboard boxes and clacker balls?" and received about 128,000 hits.
- Commons and the URAA: The saga over Commons' interpretation of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) has continued with the closure of a consensus-building discussion: "URAA cannot be used as the sole reason for deletion. Deleted files can be restored after a discussion [at the undeletion requests page]." This result has been challenged in multiple places by Russavia, including edit warring on the Commons' global licensing policy.
- Publishing scholarly papers with, and on, Wikipedia: Martin Poulter has authored a post on the Wikimedia UK blog examining the relationship between the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology and Wikipedia. For example, PLoS has a competition where an individual improves an article over a four-month period. At the end, a committee of academics and Wikipedians review the changes; the top three articles receive cash prizes.
- Anna Koval: The Wikimedia Foundation has announced its newest hire, following the recent departure of LiAnna Davis. Anna Koval spent the last eight months at the WMF as a community advocate. Her Serbian background and extensive experience in the classroom set her apart during the selection process: according to Rod Dunican, director of Global Education at the WMF, "Anna's Serbian background will be helpful to our team's efforts to support education program leaders in Eastern Europe. ... Anna is an award-winning educator, with a master's degree in education and more than a decade of classroom teaching experience, ranging from middle school through graduate school. She was a Walt Disney Teacher of the Year nominee, an American Library Association Emerging Leader, and was even featured on the cover of California Teacher magazine." Koval will be a Global Program Manager.
- Two quarterly reviews: WMF Grantmaking has brought out its latest quarterly reviews. Notes and presentation slides from the WMF's quarterly review meeting on growth are now on-wiki.
- Edit-a-thon at the Royal Society: New Scientist has covered an edit-a-thon hosted at the UK's Royal Society, which aimed to improve Wikipedia's incomplete coverage of women in science. Although coverage is more extensive in English Wikipedia than in other Wikipedias, significant work remains to be done to create a full selection of biographies of women scientists from English language sources, which can serve as a basis for articles in other languages.