In the media
Is the Wikimedia movement too "cash rich"?
The Register swings at the Wikimedia movement's finances, and misses
||It's that time of year again. As the Christmas lights go up, Wikipedia's donation drive kicks off. Wikipedia claims that the donations are needed to keep the site online. Guilt-tripped journalists including Heather Brooke and Toby Young have contributed to Wikipedia in the belief that donations help fund operating costs. Students, who are already heavily in debt, are urged to donate in case Wikipedia "disappears".
But what Wikipedia doesn't tell us is that it is awash with cash—and raises far more money each year than it needs to keep operating.
A recent poorly researched and poorly written story in The Register highlighted the perceived "cash rich" status of the Wikimedia movement.
The author of the piece, Andrew Orlowski, opened the piece strangely, bringing up an unrelated story from 2005 and several early missteps by the Wikimedia Foundation.
He paraded several examples to support his argument. He first targeted one of the Wikimedia chapters: "In the UK, the local chapter of WMF, Wikimedia Foundation UK [sic], admitted to racking up a bill of £1,335 on business cards, calling it 'a failure to make the most effective procurement choices'." Yet in this claim he confused chapters, which are independent, with the WMF. Worse, he wrongly attributed the quote to the chapter (it was a question from WMUK trustee Fæ). The actual chapter response states, "We do not believe this represents a failure to make an effective procurement choice, as alternative suppliers were sought, and a sensible decision was reached ... [but in the] future, we will ensure that business card purchases are more thoroughly researched."
Orlowski next questioned Wikimedia Germany's €18,000 funding for editors to attend and photograph concerts, along with €81,000 to photograph many politicians. This of course fails to note that freely licensed, professional photographs of government figures are rare outside the United States, whose federal government releases its photography into the public domain.
Last, Orlowski conflated Omidyar Network's $2 million donation (2009) with winning a seat on the WMF Board of Trustees. The trustee in question, Matt Halprin, was appointed on 24 August 2009, just one day before Omidyar's donation. However, Halprin has since left Omidyar and continued to serve as a trustee until last month, and there is no evidence of a 'donation for board seat' agreement.
This superficial journalism was a substitute for what could have been more valid and useful criticism of the movement, of which there are many such opportunities, such as the repeated delays in the development of the visual editor, which is viewed as essential for the continued health of Wikimedia projects. WMUK, too, has many areas that could be examined, such as the Gibraltar controversy (see Signpost coverage: "UK chapter rocked by Gibraltar scandal"). Bringing up only three examples, one from three years ago, another misquoted and extremely minor, and the third necessary to obtain high-quality photographs to headline Wikipedia articles, Orlowski missed a chance to offer real, constructive criticism on the WMF and its chapters.
Links alleged between Jimmy Wales and Kazakh government
The Telegraph and Daily Dot, among others, have alleged that there are many links between the WMF, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and Kazakhstan's government, which is for all intents and purposes a one-party non-democratic state.
The controversy began when the background behind Wales' first "Wikipedian of the Year", Rauan Kenzhekhanuly (see Signpost coverage) was publicized. Before becoming the head of a non-profit organization, Wikibilim, he served in Kazakhstan's Russian embassy and as the Moscow Bureau chief for the National TV Agency, which is viewed as a Kazakh government propaganda outlet. Additionally, his organization is backed by Kazakhstan's sovereign oil wealth fund, which is run by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's son-in-law.
Wales has vocally supported both Kenzhekhanuly and Wikibilim, and the WMF gave the latter a US$16,600 grant to hold a Wikimedia conference in Kazakhstan in April 2012.
Wales defended himself and the WMF, saying: "The Wikimedia Foundation has zero collaboration with the government of Kazakhstan. Wikibilim is a totally independent organization. And it is absolutely wrong to say that I am 'helping the Kazakh regime whitewash its image.' I am a firm and strong critic. At the same time, I'm excited by the work of volunteers, and I believe—very strongly—that an open and independent Wikipedia will be the death knell for tyranny in places like Kazakhstan."
Whatever Wales' culpability, there is an inherent problem in this awkward situation, as Eurasianet's Myles Smith points out:
||As Kazakh-language development is a major policy goal of the Kazakh government, Kenzhekhanuly must know how much favor his project curries with the government, just as similar projects sponsored by USAID, OSF, and Chevron have. Whatever the intentions of Kenzhekhanuly's organization, or of Jimmy Wales' cheerleading, the reality is that an authoritarian system, particularly one as well financed as oil-rich Kazakhstan’s, has thus far choked the idealist dreams of the crowd-sourced openness revolution. Without the freedom to express opinions openly in all fora, the online medium may remain a reflection of discussions in the rest of society, not an exception to them.
Later comments on Wales' talk page, led by Andreas Kolbe, tried to forge a link between Wales and the Kazakh government through Wales' friendship with Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom and the head of a public relations firm that has been contracted by the Kazakh government in the past. Wales, saying that Kolbe's tenuous allegations were "weird and irrelevant", hatted the discussion and banned Kolbe from his talk page.
The Signpost mentioned the Kazakh Wikipedia developments in June 2011.
- This article was retitled on 5 January, as the previous title was too strong and therefore did not accurately portray the position of the news coverage surrounding the event.
- Top hundred articles, by views: Various media outlets, including the BBC and Infodocket, have run stories on the most-viewed articles on Wikimedia sites. Facebook was this year's most-viewed article on the English Wikipedia, but the BBC highlighted the differences in article views between languages. The full lists are available on the Toolserver. As the BBC acknowledged (but several other sources did not) a few of the results are highly suspect, but most seem to be accurate.