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The 2002 Spanish fork and ads revisited; Wikipedia still failing to fail; brief news
Concerns about ads, US bias and Larry Sanger caused the 2002 Spanish fork
A recent interview has shed new light on the 2002 fork of the Spanish Wikipedia and the influence it may have had on the development of Wikipedia as a whole, and ignited a controversy between Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales about the stance on advertising in the early phase of the project.
Edgar Enyedy, an early activist on the Spanish Wikipedia who describes himself as "some sort of unofficial leader together with Javier de la Cueva" of the fork Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español, was interviewed by Nathaniel Tkacz of the "Critical Point of View" (CPOV) Wikipedia research initiative, on whose blog the interview was first published on January 15 ("‘Good luck with your WikiPAIDia’: Reflections on the 2002 Fork of the Spanish Wikipedia". See also the recent Signpost interview with Tkacz and fellow CPOV member Johanna Niesyto).
Concerns about possible plans to use advertising on Wikipedia are often named as the main reason for the fork. Enyedy confirmed that remarks about ads in a February 2002 announcement by Larry Sanger triggered the exodus of the Spanish Wikipedians ("Bomis might well start selling ads on Wikipedia sometime within the next few months, and revenue from those ads might make it possible for me to come back to my old job"), but insisted that several other issues played an important role, including concerns about the insufficiently international nature of Wikipedia - an "American shadow [that] marked the first point of contention between myself and Sanger and Wales." As examples, he named the fact that "the basic pages ('what Wikipedia is not', 'be bold', 'how to start', 'sandbox', etc) were all in English; we had the American logo in English and so on", but also referred to issues that are in some form still relevant today, such as the internationalization of the interface: "The software, for example, was not translated at all and it cast an English (language) shadow over the entire project", and cultural differences between Europe and the US regarding sexual images ("Former AOL users used to remind me that explicit biology images are widely accepted among us, but would be considered inappropriate on the American version"). The Spanish Wikipedians also differed from their English counterpart by introducing a stylebook, and an index based on the Universal Decimal Classification.
A main reason for the fork was objections to the leadership of Wikipedia's chief organizer Larry Sanger:
||Larry Sanger acted as a Big Brother. He was an employee, a Bomis-Wales wage-earning worker. ...
The American Wikipedia might have seen him as a "facilitator", but we regarded Sanger more like an obstacle. At that time he was not an open-minded person. I have to admit that he brought some good ideas to us, but the American Wikipedia was too caught up in the interests of Bomis Inc.
I engaged in head-on confrontations, open clashes, with Sanger. We were all working on a basis of collective creation, with peer-to-peer review. It was an open project, free in both senses. We were all equals, a horizontal network creating knowledge through individual effort – this is the most important thing to keep in mind. But Sanger turned out to be vertically minded. His very status as a paid employee led him to watch us from above, just waiting for the right moment to participate in active discussions in the (mis)belief his words would be more important than ours.
Also contributing to the decision to fork was a distrust of Jimmy Wales' intentions, who to Enyedy seemed reluctant to steer Wikipedia into a non-profit direction.
||All Wikipedia domains (.com, .org, .net) were owned by Wales. I asked myself ‘why are we working for a dot-com?’ I asked for Wikipedia to be changed to a dot-org. ... I didn’t trust Wales’ intentions. Not at all. We were all working for free in a dot-com with no access to the servers, no mirrors, no software updates, no downloadable database, and no way to set up the wiki itself. We were basically working for Bomis Inc., and asked in a gentle way to translate from the main Wikipedia.
Asked by Tkacz how the right to fork (granted in principle by the Wikipedia's free license) looked in detail in this case, Enyedy said that the activists had to download and transfer the articles one by one. (The accessibility of timely Wikipedia dumps continues to be a point of debate today.)
Enyedy said that the Enciclopedia Libre, while still active today, "was not intended to last. It was merely a form of pressure. Some of the goals were achieved, not all of them, but it was worth the cost", and emphasized its continuing influence:
||as it is known today, the international Wikipedia that you all know and have come to take for granted, might have been impossible without the Spanish fork. Wales was worried that other foreign communities would follow our fork. He learnt from us what to do and what not to do. The guidelines were clear: update the database; make the software easily available on Sourceforge; no advertising at all; set up a foundation with a dot-org domain and workers chosen from the community; no more Sanger-like figures, as well as some minor things [...], such as free (non proprietary) formats for images.
According to Tkacz, Enyedy said "that he has been approached several times a year since 2002, but has never shared his story because the people contacting him were either mainstream journalists or people from wikimedia and he wasn't convinced they would let him tell his version of the story".
The abstract of a talk about the fork given at Wikimania 2005 also mentions issues that led to its creation.
Reactions by Wales and Sanger
On January 20, Wired UK published an abbreviated version of the interview ("The Spanish Fork: Wikipedia's ad-fuelled mutiny"), which included reactions by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.
Sanger objected sharply to Enyedy's statements, saying that "the only sort of person who could seriously describe my role as an Orwellian "Big Brother" is a radical anarchist, for whom even the slightest possible exercise of authority is outrageous oppression. To be sure, Wikipedia had quite a few of such vocal characters in its early days. The story has not yet been fully told just how they essentially took over with the blessing of Jimmy Wales". But Sanger agreed that the fork "might well have been the straw that finally tipped the scales in favor of a 100% ad-free Wikipedia."
Jimmy Wales issued a much shorter statement:
||Sanger was absolutely adamant that Wikipedia must have ads, and it was my refusal to do so that led to Wikipedia being as it is today. The Spanish fork did not provoke any changes of any kind. We stayed the course. I didn't want to have advertising, and I found ways to avoid it -- the Spanish fork was an important event in the history of Wikipedia, but not in the sense of "provoking change".
Sanger objected even more sharply to Wales' statement, questioning the veracity of the first sentence, first on Twitter ("He was long in favor; I long opposed. Apologize, pls!"), then on his personal blog, recalling or citing various statements by Wales about ads from 2000 to 2002 ("From the beginning, Wales let me know in no uncertain terms that, once it garnered enough traffic, Nupedia would become ad-supported"). Sanger said that in December 2001 (when all other Bomis employees had to be laid off and his own position appeared to hinge on possible advertising revenue), he "was still uncomfortable with the idea of ads being run to support me, even in a non-profit context". The discussion then continued on Jimmy Wales' user talk page, where Wales said that "I don't see what the discrepancy is supposed to be", and Sanger accused him of lying.
Five-year bet about Wikipedia's failure concludes: "My prediction is wrong"
In December 2005, US law professor Eric Goldman (User:Ericgoldman) bet his friend Mike Godwin (later to become Wikimedia's General Counsel) that within five years "Wikipedia inevitably will be overtaken by the gamers and the marketers to the point where it will lose all credibility", if it would not give up its open editing model. ("Wikipedia Will Fail Within 5 Years", Eric Goldman's blog). Godwin predicted that anonymous editing would still be possible, even though "I think part of the design of Wikipedia was to allow for the evolution of contributor standards, even though as a 'foundational' principle anonymous contributors will always be allowed to edit it. Such evolution ought to be enough to keep Wikipedia alive and vital in the face of a changing digital environment." ("Will Wikipedia Fail in Five Years?", Godwinslaw.org). In 2006, Goldman reiterated his prediction for 2010 (Signpost coverage).
The bet was to be decided on December 2, 2010. On January 14, Goldman revisited the bet on his blog, admitting that "My 2005 Prediction of Wikipedia's Failure By 2010 Was Wrong". He identified the introduction of Nofollow on Wikipedia and anti-spam techniques developed by volunteers as the main reasons that Wikipedia is still able to resist spammers and marketers, but also noted other changes that he sees as "less salutary". While remaining somewhat skeptical about the sustainability of Wikipedia's model (citing his 2009 article "Wikipedia's Labor Squeeze and its Consequences", cf. Signpost coverage), Goldman (who is also a participant in the Foundation's Public Policy Initiative) praised the usefulness of the site: "I visit it daily as part of satisfying my intellectual curiosity. Happy 10th anniversary, Wikipedia!"
In a recent blog post ("Wikipedia is not a place for promotion"), Wikipedia researcher Felipe Ortega (whose statistics on Wikipedia editing frequencies had started debates about Wikipedia's sustainability in 2009) voiced concerns similar to Goldman's, identifying "conflicts around self-promotion in Wikipedia" as one of the "main challenges for Wikipedia over the next 10 years".
- Turkish Wikipedia lacks academic contributors: Today's Zaman reports that "Wikipedia in Turkish still faces many problems despite the fact that it is a fast-growing site, which its contributors say has come a long way since it was first founded in 2004." The English-language Turkish newspaper consulted "Vikipedists" on the project's "Village Fountain" (the equivalent of English Wikipedia's Village Pump"), and found that the community members "unanimously complain that experts that specialize in particular fields, particularly members of academia, are unwilling to contribute to the encyclopedia for free", which Today's Zaman contrasted with situation on the English Wikipedia. The Turkish Vikipedists said that their experience "shows that an overwhelming majority of those who contribute to Vikipedi are students. ... In the experience of at least two Turkish Vikipedists many academics that have been invited to participate in the project have declined after finding out that they will not get paid for their contributions."
- BBC World Service discusses Wikipedia: Jimmy Wales spoke to the BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme while in London marking Wikipedia's 10th anniversary on a range of subjects including collaboration with the British Museum and the future of Wikipedia. He also spoke about the demographics of Wikipedia editors, stating the need to attract more female editors. The rest of the interview can be heard here. The Digital Planet hosts also discussed Wikipedia's funding model and the problems Wikipedia has faced, with contributor Bill Thompson noting his article had once been vandalised to falsely claim he had died.
- Wikipedia as an agent of change in the developing world: A fashion shot of Jimmy Wales was one of the two cover motives of the Italian men's Vogue this month (the other one featuring singer Usher). In the accompanying interview, Wales said Wikipedia's biggest growth potential was in the languages of the developing world – particularly India and Africa. Wales also sees Wikipedia as an agent of change in non-English-speaking developing countries which lacked access to basic information freely available in the Western world. He is confident that the democratisation of the developing world through technologies such as iPad-like tablets will accelerate within two years, when he predicts such machines will become affordable. He hoped access to information will reduce their vulnerability when the general public can upload information and also gain access to information Westerners take for granted. "With entries, Wikipedia in Swahili is already solid for that region, but we're only at the beginning. I'm really excited about this direction. I'm confident that we will have a great impact from the moment that people there start having basic information- when they start understanding and reflecting on their own government, on the governments of neighboring countries".
- Wikipedia vandalism a past news fad: Pocket-lint.com published a long interview with Jimmy Wales ("Wikipedian Jimmy Wales talks favourites, faults and the future"). Among other things, Wales argued that treating vandalism edits on Wikipedia as newsworthy had been a "fad" in the media which had passed away. "If there’s vandalism now, I don’t hear about it [from reporters]. It’s usually checked very quickly and I think we’ve got better than that. If it does get reported on, these days we just roll our eyes and say ‘so what, it got fixed in a minute’."
- Wikipedia makes "the ordinary person the expert": In a column about Wikipedia for the Indian Express, Nishant Shah from the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society stated that "Wiki changes the world", by "making the ordinary person the expert and knowledge free."
- The past year for Wikimedia in India: The Bangalore Mirror interviewed administrator Tinucherian ("Bangalore’s the place for Wiki"); including a look back at 2010, which Tinucherian said "was quite a year for Wikimedia in India".
- How to "secure a Wikipedia article about your business": Entrepreneur.com has published a blog post listing "Do's and Don'ts of Featuring Your Business in Wikipedia", mentioning the demographics of Wikipedia's readership and the importance of knowing its policies and guidelines, and concluding: "Getting an article published on Wikipedia is pretty heady stuff. It can be casually brought into any conversation you're having with friends, peers and potential customers. Think of it: A slight wave of the hand at the end of a pitch and a casual aside where you say, 'Yeah, actually you can find all that stuff on our Wikipedia entry.'"
- Name suppression on Wikipedia: The New Zealand Herald reports that after a court had ordered the suppression of the name of a celebrity who had been arrested last month following a row with his wife, "the celebrity's Wikipedia page has [...] been altered at least seven times [...] in an apparent battle between internet users trying to reveal his identity. Each time the information is added, it is deleted."
- UK parliament COI editing awards: Earlier this month, Briton Tom Scott announced the "2010 'Editing Wikipedia From Inside Parliament' Awards", to edits selected from the anonymous contributions of 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52, two IP addresses over which users at the UK Houses of Parliament are known to access the Internet. They include the "'Sweeping Things Under The Carpet' Award" and the "'Did Someone Bring Their Kid To Work?' Award". (Related Signpost coverage: "British politicians accused of WP cover-ups")
- First UK Wikipedia student society planned: There are plans underway "to found an Imperial College Wikipedia Society – the first student Wikipedia society in the UK – by the end of February", as reported by the "Reporter", a community newspaper at Imperial College.