News and notes
Dear [admin's name],
Thank you for your work with the Foundation wiki. At this time, we are formalizing a new requirement, which is that administrator access is given only to staff and board. I am having administrator access to accounts that are neither staff or board be disabled, effective immediately.
Gayle [Karen Young, the WMF's Chief Talent and Culture Officer]
Thus came an email to community volunteers who until last Friday had been administrators on the Wikimedia Foundation's (WMF) official website, wikimediafoundation.org. In a torrid week for Foundation–community relations, this sparked a highly emotional reaction on the Wikimedia-l mailing list—one of the largest off-wiki methods of communication for the Wikimedia movement.
The Foundation's site has been around since 2004, when its home page described Wikipedia as "the award-winning online encyclopedia". However, unlike all other WMF sites, which are freely editable by anyone, the Foundation's official site has never been fully open to community editing. Its "Welcome" page states that "this wiki does not exactly follow the same rules as the other Wikimedia projects, since it is not open to all for editing, and in case of disagreement, the organ of decision will be the Board." The WMF uses the site to publish its Board of Trustees' resolutions, to present information about its staff and contractors, and as part of the fundraising process, among other purposes.
The desysopping was a source of considerable upset among participants on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, with some community members accusing the Foundation of intentionally pushing the community away. The motives for the action were initially unclear, even after an explanation from Young on her Foundation website user talk page:
I'm limiting admin rights on this wiki to Foundation staff and board members. You'll still be able to do everything a normal user can do, and if you have a particular project you're working on which brings with it a good justification for admin rights, I'm sure people will be happy to give you those rights for the duration of that project.
The abrupt action and its accompanying email was likened to being summarily terminated from a place of employment—the key difference being that those fired were volunteers, or people who edit because they believe in the movement and its mission. Community members characterized it as "tactless and rude", a simple "thanks, bye", and as the "corporate version of ordering someone off your lawn". The situation was apparently exacerbated by the unfortunate timing of the actions—at the start of the weekend break in the US—and the lack of an early response intensified the mounting furor on the mailing list.
Community members used the incident to remark on what they perceived as centralizing actions being taken by the Foundation in recent months. MZMcBride noted that these have included restricting blog access, Bugzilla adminship, and shell access, the latter leading to the loss of volunteer system administrators. The Foundation's Executive Director, Sue Gardner, said the incident was in the interests of simple efficiency. Gardner said it was her understanding that volunteer editors on the Foundation's site have reverted changes made by Foundation staff, and vice versa. The resulting long discussions, typically one-on-one (as opposed to large community debates), have occasionally taken an inordinate amount of time away from the Foundation's paid staff. Gardner said that the staff working on the website have been assigned tasks to complete, and these discussions are not an ideal use of their time.
Gardner does not believe that the Foundation revoked administrators' powers to spite the community. "This decision is not about 'the community' versus 'the WMF'", she said, but about enabling the WMF's paid staff "to do their work on the WMF wiki with some reasonable degree of efficiency and effectiveness." It also clarifies the proper structure on the Foundation site, where the Foundation takes the editorial lead, in contrast with the projects, where the editing community takes the editorial lead and the Foundation provides background assistance. Returning to the removal of administrative rights, Gardner said, "People can disagree with this decision, and that's okay. But ultimately, the Wikimedia Foundation is responsible for the Wikimedia Foundation wiki: it's our job to figure out how best to manage and maintain it. That's what we're doing here."
WMF has not identified any specific incidents that prompted its decision, though staff interactions with MZMcBride may have been a trigger. In January 2012, a disagreement with a contractor led WMF Deputy Director Erik Möller to threaten deactivation of MZMcBride's WMF wiki account. In March 2013, MZMcBride proposed deletion of over one thousand pages. In response to that proposal, Director of Community Advocacy Philippe Beaudette hinted at the possibility of removing userrights, saying that Senior Communications Director Jay Walsh "has requested that I not issue any further userrights here until a conversation has been had about the direction of the wiki and its management." Conversations in these incidents raised the same points about the WMF wiki's unique purpose and Foundation control as Gardner's recent explanations. The event also brought up the question of merging the WMF site into Meta, the coordinating website for the Wikimedia movement, including the Foundation, the projects, related entities, and community members.
Gayle Karen Young apologized for her handling of the incident, and continued with her thoughts on the divided community that the Foundation faces every day:
||... I wish people could see how ... it can be sometimes just exhausting to try to please so many different voices. Some of you may think that the Foundation doesn't think about the community—and I think we sometimes listen so much that it's a little crazy because, as has been explained to us, the community is not one voice, not one thing, not one person. It's a vast, beautiful, sometimes conflicted, sometimes coordinated people working on this enormous shared endeavor. So it's not that community is not worth listening to, but how and where and to what pieces, and how do we get better at it and how do we amplify the constructive voices and not let deconstructive voices (both within the Foundation and without) tear us down because this work is hard. ... / ... So sometimes I forget we're on the same side, and thank you for reminding me. Thank you for the temperate voices, the ones who present a point of view I hadn't considered. As you can likely imagine, I hear more that way. Most people do.
So...listening, thinking... also tired, but optimistic, and I hope and want to keep doing better.
The former Chapters Committee voted in Berlin in March last year to become the current Affiliations Committee
- Criticism of Affiliations Committee's perceived profligacy: In addition to the removal of administrator rights, a flurry of emails were sent on the Wikimedia-l mailing list relating to the Affiliations Committee's (Affcom) proposed US$40,000 travel budget for its annual meeting, which will be held in Hong Kong at Wikimania 2013, and its included $200 per night lodging cost. Community inquiries began after a blog post focused on a proposed (now passed) resolution to request US$40,000 to send nine of its ten members to the annual meeting. Discussion then moved to Meta on both the Affcom talk page and talk page of the resolution. Affcom defended its proposed lodging outlay by pointing to the Foundation's official travel policy, which states in part that "WMF travelers shall be reimbursed the actual and reasonable expenses for accommodation while traveling on WMF business. A single room with a private bath is the standard." The $200 per night figure stems from this requirement and the Foundation's choice of hotels in Hong Kong; the Affcom chair commented that the actual price may be lower, especially if the WMF’s travel organizer chooses a different location.
- Upcoming elections: Nominations for the upcoming board, Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC), and FDC Ombudsperson elections will close on 17 May. At the time of publication, with less than two days to nominate, three more candidates have put themselves forward for election as trustees: Francis Kaswahili Kaguna (Francis Kaswahili), from Tanzania in East Africa; Jeromy-Yu Chan (Yuyu), from Hong Kong; and Samuel Klein (Sj), from the United States. There are now two candidates for the two vacant seats on the FDC, including newly nominated CristianCantoro from Italy; and no candidates for the position of ombudsperson.
- SUL centralization delayed: In related news, the planned finalization of the single user login (SUL) system has been delayed until August due to the Foundation elections, where voter identity will be at issue, and because the visual editor will be deployed soon after, which will require the close attention of WMF engineers.
- Chapters association: The chapters association, fresh from the Wikimedia conference in Milan, has started an ambitiously titled public newsletter, WCA/Journal. The association has modeled it after the Kurier, the German Wikipedia news outlet, and has high hopes for it:
||Facilitating collaboration among Wikimedia organisations is the major topic the WCA has committed itself to. The WCA/Journal is one big piece in the mosaic of tools and communication spaces we provide in order to start and grow the exchange of ideas, solutions and projects. It's [sic] purpose is to make organisations aware of each other's work, give them some entry points for collaboration, make their success stories visible and share their experiences.
- German chapter: The largest Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia Germany, which received nearly US$2 million from the FDC in last October's round, has released their 2012 annual report and a translation of its detailed plan for 2013. Included in the latter is the chapter's projected expenditures of a total of $8.6 million, with fundraising costs at nearly $360,000.
- Main page RfC: The design and appearance of the English Wikipedia's main page, which has not been significantly altered since 2006, is the subject of a new request for comment. Previous assessments have been unkind, calling it ugly and "remarkably unattractive", and that a "superficial makeover" of the page may be "just the thing Wikipedia needs to begin growing in a more meaningful way."
- Ombudsman and gender neutrality: A proposal to rename the Foundation's ombudsman position to a gender-neutral term has been met with resistance, including from one of the current ombudsmen, Thogo: "Just to sum up this rather useless discussion: There is absolutely no problem to solve here. So, please don't waste your time. ... This über-artificial crampy political correctness is nothing but annoying, and it shows that people are either not aware of the grammar or are trying to manipulate it for political reasons." In addition, as reported last week, the request for comment (RfC) on the proposed expansion in scope of the movement-wide Ombudsman Commission is still open.
- Museum case studies needed: The Museum Association, which describes itself as a "membership organization for everyone working in museums, galleries, and heritage," has published a call for examples of Wikimedia and museum collaborations that they can use in the June issue of their journal, Museum Practice.
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