I exchanged a walk on part in the war for a lead role in the cage.
I find myself tied and limited in my actions and projects. In order to avoid the perception or potential for Conflict of Interests I have to act extremely carefully in far too many parts of my life. Instead of being able to pursue my projects or some projects at work—which I think would align very well with our mission—I found myself trapped between too many constraints. I feel like I cannot offer my thoughts and my considerations openly, since they might easily be perceived as expressions of interests—regarding my previous work, regarding my friends, regarding my current employment.
This hit home strongly during the FDC deliberations, where I had to deal with the situation of people deliberating a proposal written by my Best Man, around a project that has consumed the best part of the previous decade of my life. Obviously, I explained the conflicts in this case, and refrained from participating in the discussion, as agreed with the FDC.
This hit home every time there was a topic that might be perceived as a potential conflict of interest between Wikimedia and my employer, and even though I might have been in a unique position to provide insight, I had to refrain from doing so in order not to exert influence.
There were constant and continuous attacks against me, as being merely Google’s mole on the Board, even of the election being bought by Google. I would not have minded these attacks so much—if I would have had the feeling that my input to the Board, based on my skills and experiences, would have been particularly valuable, or if I would have had the feeling of getting anything done while being on the Board. As it is, neither was the case.
I discussed with Jan-Bart [de Vreede], then chair, what is and what is not appropriate to pursue as a member of the Board. I understood and followed his advice, but it was frustrating. It was infuriatingly limiting.
As some of you might know, Wikidata was for me just one step towards my actual goal, a fully multilingual Wikipedia. I hoped that as a Trustee I could pursue that goal, but when even writing a comment on a bug in Phabricator has to be considered under the aspect that it will be read as "it is a Board-member writing that comment" and/or “It’s a Googler writing that comment”, I don’t see how I could effectively pursue such a goal.
It was at Wikimania 2006 in Boston, when Markus Krötzsch and I had lunch with Dan Connolly, a co-editor of the early HTML specs. Dan gave me an advise that still rings with me—to do the things worth doing that only you can do. This set me, back then, on a path that eventually lead to the creation of Wikidata—which, before then, wasn't something I wanted to do myself. I used to think that merely suggesting it would be enough—someone will eventually do it, I don’t have to. There’s plenty of committed and smart people at the Foundation, they’ll make it happen. Heck, Erik was back then a supporter of the plan (he was the one to secure the domain wikidata.org), and he was deputy director. Things were bound to happen anyway. But that is not what happened. I eventually, half a decade later, realized that if I do not do it, it simply won't happen, at least not in a reasonable timeframe.
And as said, Wikidata was just one step on the way. But right now I cannot take the next steps. Anything that I would do or propose or suggest will be regarded through the lense of my current positions. To be fair, I do see that I should not be both the one suggesting changes, and the one deciding on them. I understand now that I could not have suggested Wikidata as a member of the Board. It takes an independent Board to evaluate such proposal and its virtues and decide on them.
I want to send a few thank yous, in particular to the teams at the Wikimedia Foundation and at Google who helped me steer clear of actual conflicts of interests. They were wonderful, and extremely helpful. It bears a certain irony that both organizations had strong measures against exactly the kind of things that I have been regularly accused of.
I only see three ways to stay clear from a perceived or potential Conflict of Interest: to lay still and do nothing, to remove the source of the Conflict, or to step away from the position of power. Since the first option is unsatisfying, the second option unavailable, only the third option remains.
So I have decided to resign from the Board of Trustees.
It was not an easy decision, and certainly not a step made any easier by the events in the last few months. I understand that I will disappoint many of the people who voted for me, and I want to apologize: I am sorry, honestly sorry, but I don’t see that it is me the Board needs now, or that the movement needs me in that position. What I learned is that the profile that allows someone to win an election is not the profile that makes an effective Trustee.
But be warned that you will continue to hear from me, after a wikibreak. Expect crazy ideas, project proposals, and requests to fund and implement them. I will return to a more active role within the movement. I will be, again, free to work on things that are worth doing and that only I can do. I think that in that role I can be more effective and more valuable to the movement, the Foundation, and for our mission.