News and notes
2012—the big year
The past 12 months have seen the emergence of many issues and events in the Wikimedia Foundation, the movement at large, and the English Wikipedia. The movement, now in its second decade, is growing apace in its international reach, cultural and linguistic diversity, technical development, and financial complexity; and many factors have combined to produce what has in many ways been the biggest, most dynamic year in the movement's history. Looking back at 2012, we faced a difficult task in doing justice to all of the notable events in a single article; so rather than trying to cover every detail, the Signpost
has selected just a few examples from outside the anglosphere, from the English Wikipedia, and from the Wikimedia Foundation.
Individual members give their views
We began by asking several Wikimedians who are closely involved in the movement what 2012 meant to them—a collection of vignettes, as it were, through which to try to piece together some of what the almost 100,000 people who regularly participate in the movement might be thinking.
Essam Sharaf, a medical student in Cairo, Egypt, has been a Wikipedian for seven years and specialises in translating articles from Arabic to English. The Signpost asked him what's on his mind as far as the Arabic Wikipedia goes:
||I think this year, with the launch of the Arabic Wikipedia Education Program, the prospects for ar.wp are positive. The university-based program is working on increasing students' awareness about Wikipedia and how it works, providing them with the basic knowledge they need to edit and contribute more to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. The students' response to the program is generally positive as well, especially when focusing on the importance of having the "sum of all knowledge" in their native Arabic language. Almost everyone wants to help!
The extraordinary Kjeungskjær Lighthouse
off the Norwegian coast, taken by Rha009
. The photograph was placed 13th in the 2012 WLM competition
Cantons-de-l'Est (French Wikipedia user page) is from Quebec. He writes a regular news page as a service for the French Wikipedia community, analogous to the Signpost. Much of his time on the French Wikipedia goes to improving the language, typography, layout, and neutrality of articles. What does he think were some of the important issues for the French Wikipedia during 2012? His immediate response was one that the movement as a whole is feeling: "Our community keeps growing, but at a slow rate. Some argue this is a consequence of the way we welcome newcomers, but there's no hard evidence." Cantons-de-l'Est identified three specific matters, at least two of which may resonate with editors in the English Wikipedia:
||First, the comité d'arbitrage (like the English Wikipedia's ArbCom) has been on hold since April 2012, but there's a will to re-establish it, which should happen in 2013. Second, in January 2012 a notable change was made: any user with enough "rights" may challenge an administrator's status; since then, 15 requests have been filed, and five administrators have lost their tools. And third, many editors keep writing our equivalents of featured and good articles, "alone" or in competitions, but sometimes there are not enough knowledgeable reviewers at our FAC forum (and there are rumors that many editors don't want to review any more).
Abhishek Suryawanshi is a Young Scientist and social worker from Pune in western India, who participates in Wikipedia Club Pune. We asked what he felt was noteworthy across Wikimedia in 2012:
||There were at least three highlights, for me. One was the launch of the Visual Editor trial. It's good to see a user-friendly interface, and let's hope it will be extended to Indian Language Wikipedias. The many editors who joined the Marathi Wikipedia during 2012 have contributed to a broader growth in Indian language Wikipedias. And the WikiWomenDay launch was one of several important initiatives in the task of bridging the gender gap in the WMF world. I'm also looking forward to the development of spoken Wikipedia, which will be helpful to visually impaired and will increase accessibility to the projects by the underprivileged Indian community. I have hopes that 2013 will bring more inspiration and excitement.
Akaniji is active on the Japanese Wikipedia, where his eclectic interests are reflected in a wide range of articles he has created and improved, many of them on biological and chemical topics. Akaniji is also active in off-wiki support of movement goals in Japan. He pointed out how active the Japanese off-wiki activities have become, even though the country does not yet have a formally recognised chapter. He told us that some of the most important events in 2012 were:
||... editathons in Tokyo, monthly meetups of Japanese Wikimedians, a visit to Wikimania DC, and the creation of a new user group, the Wikimedian Society of Tokyo. In 2013, we expect to be holding even more events in Japan!
The blackout urged readers to "protect free speech"
2012 started with eight new arbitrators: Courcelles, SilkTork, and AGK were new to the committee, and Risker, Kirill Lokshin, Roger Davies, Jclemens, and Hersfold had already served at least one term. Civility enforcement was likely the most contentious case of the year, but there have been no new cases since Fæ in July.
In one of the biggest stories of the year, the English Wikipedia went dark to everyone in the world in protest at two proposed US laws: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). The move, which was authorized by a consensus of anonymous readers and regular Wikipedia editors, attracted significant press coverage of Wikipedia and the two Congressional bills.
Early in 2012, there was a contentious debate at the featured article candidates process (FAC), where editors were divided over whether the positions of featured articles director and delegates should be elected, or if Raul654 should continue indefinitely in the former and appoint the latter as needed. Various sockpuppets and returning users played a role in continuing the drama through subsequent months, but the area has calmed more recently. As covered in the Signpost's Featured content section this week, the FAC process approved an average of 31 articles a month, slightly higher than last year's average of 30 per month.
At Requests for Adminship, there was another major attempt at reforming the process, in July (see related Signpost investigative report). There were only 28 new administrators this year—just over half of 2011's total, which itself was two-thirds of 2010's total and less than half of 2009's total.
After several requests for comment, pending changes was enabled for use on all articles, similar to page protection, and a successful trial of the Teahouse project was completed early in the year.
Paid editing was a common theme in 2012, rearing its head several times during the year. The Signpost ran a five-part series, beginning with three proponents and ending with two opponents, including Jimmy Wales. No proposed policy or guideline on paid editing has garnered enough consensus to be made official on the English Wikipedia. In a related move, Wikimedia Germany approved an €81,000 grant in December for a project to evaluate paid-editing concepts on Wikipedia.
Wikimedia Foundation and the movement
In January, the WMF reached its US$20M goal in the annual fundraiser held during the previous month. At the end of 2012, it was announced that the most recent fundraiser had delivered "$25 million in record time".
In milestones reaching from January to December, Commons celebrated its 12-, 13-, 14, and 15-millionth upload. These came just six years after the site reached its millionth upload, underlining the importance of Commons as a worldwide resource.
The WMF board decided to publish its own voting record per person for each resolution and to set up the LFAP.
The chair of the foundation's board of trustees, Ting Chen, published a controversial open letter to the movement, flagging the foundation's intention to restructure its financial relationship with the chapters by moving towards a grant-making system. At the Berlin conference, the board gave in-principle approval to the creation of the volunteer-run Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC), heralding a major change in the financial relationship between the foundation and its grant-recipients; in this scheme to date only chapters. The FDC was allocated US$11.4M for its first year of operation, which started with round 1 in October. This resulted in grants totaling $8.3M—81% of the funding sought by 11 chapters plus the foundation itself. Five chapters were granted full funding; three chapters, the UK, France, and Australia, received major disappointments. The FDC's statement stressed the need to discuss growth trajectories, encourage mutual learning from experiences in the movement, and promote editor recruitment, particularly of women.
The foundation announced that two new types of entities would be created alongside the established nation-based chapter entities: thematic organizations and user groups. The first candidate for approval as an thematic entity—Wiki Med—has run into bureaucratic issues on Meta, showing that details of how these entities will be approved are yet to be determined by the new Affiliations Committee.
Representatives from 25 of the 39 chapters, meeting at the Berlin conference in March, decided to establish a Wikimedia Chapters Association to represent the interests of the chapters in the movement; however, developing the details of where and how the Association is to be incorporated, who will fund it, and the nature of its role have been slow and controversial. The Association currently has expressions of interest by 21 member organisations, but neither legally exists nor has taken up programmatic activity.
Conflict-of-interest issues in the movement came to the fore with a controversy over governance in Wikimedia UK in which the chair of the board resigned. This resulted in a joint decision by the foundation and the chapter to launch an external report into WMUK's governance; the Hudson report is due to be released by 15 February. In addition, there were storms over financial propriety in two chapters.
Meanwhile, Wikimedia France forged a major collaboration with a French government agency to promote links between WMF sites and some 50 languages in metropolitan France and affiliated overseas countries. There are plans for further projects for francophone areas that have poor Internet access.
GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) activities continued this year. The OCLC and the British Library were among the institutions to host a Wikipedian in Residence, while MonmouthpediA became the first Wikipedia town in the world. A highlight was the closing plenary at Wikimania 2012 (the annual conference for anyone interested in Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia), which was given by David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States and head of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Shortly after, the GLAM initiative stumbled into its first major controversy on the English Wikipedia, when GibraltarpediA was alleged to have severe conflict-of-interest problems.
Wiki Loves Monuments had 15 global winners; this is number 12, a manor house in Poland.
Wiki Loves Monuments was held globally for the first time. It was expanded from a European-only competition to be worldwide, and it eventually became the largest-ever photo competition. The winner was a photo of the Tomb of Safdarjung in New Delhi, India.
The WMF took a bold step this year in creating the first new Wikimedia project in six years. With support from several large donors, Wikidata, hosted by Wikimedia Germany, was opened to the world on 30 October. It aims to produce a centralized database for easily quantified items, like infobox entries, for use on Wikimedia projects.
Just two weeks later, a second new project, Wikivoyage (VOY), was launched as a beta trial. WV had a unique but difficult journey: community members of the website Wikitravel (WT) decided to ask the WMF to host the site's content, which was licensed under CC-by-SA, on the WMF’s servers. The editors of another website, the largely German-language Wikivoyage that had forked from WT years earlier, also decided to move under the WMF’s umbrella, combining VOY's content with WT's in the process. This resulted in the filing of lawsuits by Internet Brands, the owner of WT's trademark, against two Wikipedians who were also editors at WT. The WMF countered by "seeking a judicial declaration that IB has no lawful right to impede, disrupt or block" the creation of a new WMF travel website. Internet Brands' legal actions were eventually dismissed, while the WMF’s continue. The newly recombined projects adopted the Wikivoyage name, and the site will be officially launched on 15 January.
In January, the Read Report on the India Education program pilot cited inadequate planning, poor communication and lack of due diligence on the part of the Wikimedia Foundation, and instances of unsatisfactory behaviour by the Wikipedia community in India. Following this report, the Indian program was completely reworked and an Indian non-profit organization, the Center of Internet and Society, was put in charge.
In October 2012, the US and Canadian Education Program did not manage to build community consensus on whether it should transition to a Wikimedia thematic organization. Two analyses of early 2012 edits associated with the program were conducted by the WMF and an English Wikipedia editor. Education projects in the Czech Republic, Brazil, and Cairo (see the Signpost's special report) all went well.
- Wikimedia merchandise sale: The Wikimedia Shop has announced plans for a 10–15% discount on nearly all items for logged-in users on the English Wikipedia. This would, in the words of Jalexander, the merchandise manager, be "mostly a 'thank you' for the community and [would not be] meant to make money in any way at all." The discount for logged-in users will be on 14 January (UTC) in celebration of Wikipedia's coming 12th birthday. Anonymous readers will be given their own chance of gaining a discount on 15 January.
- English Wikipedia
- Adminship reform: A proposal for an "RfACom" has been met with tentative support. Meanwhile, a new process for removing administrators and a new userright, moderator, are currently under discussion.
- New administrators: Darkwind is the first new English Wikipedia administrator of 2013, after passing the requests for adminship process. Ocaasi also succeeded, becoming the second administrator of 2013.
- Board of Trustees minutes published: The minutes of the WMF board meeting on 1 December have been published.
- WMF trustee reappointed: Expert-trustee Bishakha Datta has been appointed to a second two-year term on the WMF's board. It was the last resolution dealing with the make-up of the board in 2012, which included two new chapter-selected trustees in July. In addition, trustee Matt Halprin, who notably improved the board's governance structure, departed at the completion of his term in December and his seat is currently open.
- Jimmy Wales with Colbert: The co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, was featured on US comedian Stephen Colbert's satirical television show on 7 January. He spoke about the WMF's operating costs, censorship in China, Britannica, and the new Wikivoyage project. Colbert, perhaps surprisingly, refrained from calling for vandalism on Wikipedia projects. He did, however, refer (0:40) to when he "saved the elephants" in 2006 by calling for edits to the page, falsely saying that the number of elephants had tripled in the last six months (see also other Signpost coverage of the Colbert Report: I, II, III).
Explore Wikipedia history by browsing The Signpost archives