Wikimedia’s strategy, and the future

This is the last week for the formal strategic planning process for the Wikimedia Foundation. There are three newish summary pages worth noting:

I would particularly like to see those interested in Foundation workings who may have missed the last item, as I did — it’s been up for about two weeks now — to review it. This document came out of the Bridgespan work that was done, certainly along with many consultations, and it features many interesting predictions including:

  • Growing the staff to 188 by 2015, with a $51M budget to support them (currently we have 35-40 paid staff, which in itself is nearly double from just a year or two ago; note that this is projected to double to 90 next year )
  • Splitting the office into 5 divisions, including community, global development, and “strategic products” (aka projects?)
  • supporting local offices around the world

What do you think of this plan for the WMF? Is it responsible? What would you change? I personally find this level of growth fairly shocking, and potentially ill-considered, but then I have always been nervous about Foundation growth, and about the WMF taking leadership in historically community-driven areas. I worry about the continued ability of community members to get involved in Foundation work (itself a marker of community health), the health of the office itself under such brutal growth, and the financial sustainability and wisdom of such a plan, given that I think we ought to be building an endowment for the long term.

I’d love to hear what Wikimedians and non-Wikimedians alike think of these ideas, however (many of which are already put into place or in motion, like the new office divisions). And I’m curious: is this new to you? Has this been discussed much of anywhere?*


* aside from internally, of course, and bits of it — though I’m not sure about all of it — on the strategy wiki.

Edited to add: the annual plan for 2010-2011 was just posted.

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32 Responses to Wikimedia’s strategy, and the future

  1. Nihiltres says:

    I largely agree that the growth is worrying: I’d rather see work on an endowment first. For the long term, the Foundation ought to have a fallback point: a point at which an endowment could guarantee continued operations without worrying about the need for donations. I get the impression that a number of Wikimedians aren’t happy with the growth while the Foundation is still largely dependent on the annual fundraiser.

    I think that regardless of the reality, there’s a serious *feeling* that certain things are “official”, that they’re “Foundation business”, or some such, and I find that disturbing. It’s still very open, but there’s a feeling that there are certain things over which the community has no control, and that feeling is disturbing to the community and dangerous in general. While I’m happy for the organizational power that the Foundation can and does provide, there’s a sharp divide between being an organizational *foundation* (if you’ll pardon the punnish double meaning) and a centre of leadership power.

    For example, if a community isn’t quite happy with the new Vector skin, there has been talk: what if a community wants to go back to Monobook? Will the Foundation *allow* it? While I do think that recommendations from the Foundation should carry some weight, at what point do we lose our balance on the slippery slope?

    I don’t think it’s yet a huge problem, but it’s looming on the horizon, and it makes people feel uneasy. It needs to be remembered that the project has a *social* basis rather than an academic or economic one, and thus how people *feel* is therefore critical to its success.

  2. Phoebe, I posted my response on strategy wiki:

    http://strategy.wikimedia.org/wiki/Thread:Talk:Strategic_Plan/Role_of_the_WMF/a_good_idea%3F

    I wanted to say a few things about Nihiltres’s comments here as well. I hope both of you will jump in on the discussion at strategy wiki.

    An endowment was discussed during the Task Force process, and the recommendation was not to pursue it. It’s hard, it’s complicated, and it raises many more of the issues that the two of you are bringing up than the current strategy of emphasizing community donations.

    The question about what level of control everyone should have is a hard, hard question, and frankly, it will require more time to understand them. I don’t think that the Foundation as a whole believes it needs to have more control than it already has.

    Internally, we banned the use of the word “community,” because it’s not concrete enough. If you say the “community” decides it wants to use Monobook, what does that mean? Does that mean contributors? Should contributors be the sole decision-makers? If yes, what level of consensus would that require? How do you define contributors?

    I realize there are mechanisms in place for this already, but those mechanisms need to continue to evolve. Ideally, decision-making should be more inclusive, more distributed, and in general, good and timely. That I think is an ideal we all share. It will take work to figure out how to get there.

    I don’t think going from $15 to $50 million in yearly revenues in five years shifts the power dynamic in any serious way. If the Foundation were talking about going to $150 million in revenue (adjusted for inflation), that might be a different story.

  3. Brian Mingus says:

    “Internally, we banned the use of the word “community,””

    I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that disturbing. Many of us remember that the original vision for the WMF was that it would be a membership organization that we were all a part of. Thus the community would have been part of the Foundation. Now that the Foundation has banned the word community I wonder what stands in its place. Does that mean that there is effectively no more voices outside the Foundation? Has all power been effectively sequestered there?

    Brian

  4. Philippe says:

    Brian, I think you’re misunderstanding what Eugene meant. What Eugene is saying is literally that – within the process, we thought using the word “community” was imprecise. It’s not a good description, and it’s likely to be misunderstood, since the meaning changes from context to context. Some staff members are using the word “society”, which I actually like better – as you know as well as anyone, there’s not one singular community, there are MANY of them, joining together to form a society, or a group of communities. I’m also fond of the word “neighborhoods”.

    But c’mon, please don’t pick fights: we certainly weren’t banning the voice of people from the projects, but being very specific about recognizing and honoring our various constituencies. Remember that we had 1,000 people contributing to the strategy project: we weren’t trying to ban them, we were actually trying hard to include as many outside voices as possible.

  5. Jon says:

    In terms of the number of people being hired… I think wait and see. They said they _wanted_ to hire X many people, not that they _absolutely positively were going_ to have X people by next year. One thing to keep in mind that while Wikimedia is 1/2 “free knowledge foundation” it is also 1/2 tech company (gotta keep that free knowledge online). For a tech company, hiring 40 people in 1 year is laughably small.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that at some point certain departments and the company at as a whole hits a “critical mass” of people. When you’ve got 15 employee’s, you don’t need an IT Manager. But at 40 or 50? Yea, you do. Then at some point you must realize that the IT guy can’t do it all so you need a help desk guy, a network guy, a server guy and still a manager. Now a department of zero becomes 4. After that you start talking uptime and emergencies, then you realize the network guys and servers guys can’t be on call 24/7 – so now those two guys become 6 (3*8 hour shifts).

    This is just IT I’m talking about (because that’s my thing), but many departments are like this. Programming is no different. You need coders, and QA and managers for each. At some point all these people need someone to answer the phones for them (so they can actually do work) and buy the supplies for the office. Of course someone needs to hire them all, someone needs to pay them. At the beginning, a well trained “secretary” (forget the PC term) can do all that – but down the line you need 4 separate people.

    So on and so forth…. The moral of the story: At some point running a company on a DSL line, a linksys box, and a telephone you found in the basement just wont cut it anymore.

  6. Goldzahn says:

    I didn´t mind spending $51M by 2015 if there is the money. But since we don´t know what amount of money there is at 2016, we should have an emergency plan to cut costs as fast as possible.

  7. SJ says:

    Phoebe, thanks for this post.

    Goldzahn: exactly right. I’m not comfortable with this growth, and want to see us clearly commit to long-term financial stability, “endowment”-based or otherwise, before attempting anything like it. (that way if this concept of large-scale growth fails, the core beauty of the Projects and the community’s ability to keep trying new things without fear of the servers going down is preserved)

    Philippe: ‘community’ is the standard way to talk about what you call Wikimedia ‘society’. It’s fine to add more terminology and to clarify what specific terms mean, but to “ban the use of the word community” doesn’t really make sense to me.

  8. phoebe says:

    thanks for the comments all, keep ’em coming; I do want to hear what people think. (From my Facebook: “Is there also a proposal to reduce it in half instead, or is the sign of the scaling exponent not currently up for negotiation? ;-)”)

    I’ve argued for years against considering the Wikimedia Community one monolithic entity, so maybe I am partly to blame for this confusion; I do think dropping the term altogether is even more confusing.

    Re: growth — Jon, I do know that a lot of it seems/is inevitable, with needed positions being created simply because of scale. And having suffered the office’s terrible wifi, I definitely don’t begrudge some more IT people around the place 🙂 But I think it’s important to step back at a certain point and ask what all those people are *doing* that we’re not doing right now, or weren’t doing last year. This is even more important for the programs area, which is more my thing.

  9. Philippe basically clarified what I was trying to say. I think I need one more clarification.

    “Community” is a good word. It reflects what we have, and it’s also aspirational for what we want to continue to be. In this sense, it’s an important word, and we should continue to use.

    The problem — as Philippe and Phoebe wrote — is when we use it as a catch-all. For example, I often hear, “The community feels this way,” when what is actually meant is, “Editors feel this way,” or, “Chapters feel this way.” We were trying to be precise by avoiding the term, “community,” in these situations.

  10. “What do you think of this plan for the WMF?”: I wouldn’t spend too much time on that question. Parkinson’s law is like gravity, it’s hard to ignore it (“community” or not).

    What I’m really interested in is what will happen with the content when WMF finally hits the bottom.

  11. Until now, the Wikimedia Foundation has “survived” with limited financial and human resources. We are now in a position where our financial situation is more comfortable, and it’s natural to convert these financial resources into human resources, considering the Foundation has been ridiculously understaffed for years.

    Phoebe, you of all people must know the insane amount of work the current Foundation staff has had to bear; it is not uncommon for a WMF employee to work 50 to 60 hours a week, because they have to. That’s not sustainable.

    The financial / fundraising goals can be reached — I fully trust my co-workers who made this decision. And even if they can’t, we have back-up plans.

    I hear your concerns about the risks associated with such a rapid growth in personnel. But with more people, the staff will be more available and more responsive to the community. With more people, the Foundation will be able to support the community more effectively. Until now the staff has had to focus on more “internal” tasks; I expect a larger staff to be able to devote more time to interacting with the community.

    In a word, I think having more staff at the Foundation will enable the Foundation to work more closely with the community; it is an opportunity for better collaboration and integration. And also an opportunity for talented community members to join the staff 🙂 We need more people on staff who share that historical & community knowledge with their co-workers who are relatively new to the Wikimedia universe.

  12. Liam Wyatt says:

    I’ve left a comment at the Strategy Wiki page where this is being discussed: http://strategy.wikimedia.org/wiki/Talk:Strategic_Plan/Role_of_the_WMF

    But I’ll mention it here too:

    The issue of endowment is a perennial one and IIRC it comes back to “we’ll take an endowment when we’re ready to stop growing” but until that point it could be a misallocation of funds.

    As for the rapid growth, I think that we need to be growing and taking risks in the way that we used to that got us to such an interesting position as we have today. Of course, the risks of rapid growth (as previously discussed) need to be monitored carefully.

    My concerns with this announcement are:

    1) I don’t see much scope for participation in the movement for those people who are neither content creators (a.k.a. editors) or Staff. My little role that I’ve tried to carve out, for example, is in cultural outreach and I believe that I will not be allowed to keep doing this under the plan unless either the WMF choses to employ all of us!

    2) I am happy with the growth of outreach activities planned with this expansion, but why is the WMF taking on more and more chapter-like activities rather than directly assisting the chapters to professionalise and take on those roles more effectively themselves?

  13. phoebe says:

    Thanks Liam, Guillaume.

    Re: working hard — I do see a sense in the office of, among other things, having to do lots of things that we have previously either not done at all or left to the community. Is *that* sustainable? There’s always more to do, of course.

    I’m not trying to be contrary; there are many needed positions. But we *must* resist the temptation to say, “there’s a job that needs doing? Oh, let’s hire someone to do that.” As Liam says, it’s alienating to people who do that work in other spheres.

    Philippe, I will not belabor the obvious point that no matter how many people participating, that doesn’t imply consensus: only participation. I participated, but apparently violently disagree with some of the recommendations.

  14. phoebe says:

    And Nk: that’s rather pessimistic! I guess we’d better trust to a free license and good dumps.

  15. Where do you see the Foundation trying to do things that the community previously did?

  16. Phoebe, I completely agree with you that there is a tendency, at the Foundation, to “forget” that volunteers have been doing a great job at some activities for years. I actually make that very same point myself every so often in the office.

    What I’m saying is, I believe having more staff will allow all staff to devote more time to working closer with the community. More planning, reaching out & collaboration, and less fire fighting.

  17. Jon says:

    @SJ “I’m not comfortable with this growth, and want to see us clearly commit to long-term financial stability,”

    If I read the Annual plan correctly, there is $13mil in cash. Which is a bit more than was use in the entirety of last year and still 65% of what they plan to spend for the entirety of next year. Obviously running entirely on backup cash is a “bad thing” – but they have the money available to do it, should donations run low (or out). They’ve already said if money gets short, they wouldn’t hire as much…. so on and so forth.

    So I guess the real question is, HOW would the Foundation achieve long term financial stability? At some point of pocketing money and not spending it A) the gov is gonna get curious about it (‘non-profit’ and all) and more importantly B) the donors are going to be upset. I mean – why donate to a group that is just going to take your money and pocket it rather than spending it…especially when the site goes down.

    According to page 23 of the PDF. Mgmt is getting 9 new hires, Fundraising is getting 2, Tech is getting 16 and Other is getting 17. I guess what I’m curious… Does anyone have any problem with these numbers besides “other” group?

  18. Jan-Bart says:

    Hi Ya,

    So reading all of the above I have two thoughts which I think are worth sharing:

    1) The five year plan is not set in stone. For example: both Sue and the board share the understanding that we have a very ambitious annual plan for 2010-2011, but that we should continue to monitor all the aspects that influence this plan (questions like: are we able to hire the right people?, are we not growing too fast?, are we not losing touch within the office with some of our roots?, are we able to raise enough funds? etc.). At the same time we are also always looking at new opportunities and seeing if these can/are being picked up by “the community” (whatever definition you use). If it turns out that the foundation staff can contribute to the success of these opportunities by in some way supporting them and that they are in line with our strategic goals, that would be great

    2) The important thing which the plan does is: bring focus into the activities of the foundation and its staff. It is clear where we are headed and where we want to go, that gives everyone an indication what to measure their success by, and what they are intent on picking up.

    3) When we first started hiring staff in a serious way it was our chair at the time, Florence, who insisted that we always look to the community first. There are a few jobs where this was hard to do, but overall I think we have done a great job in hiring people who were already active in the community doing things, and often the hiring of these people made it possible for them to focus completely on essential things which they had to do in a few spare hours before. I know that this trend will continue and would hope that we continue to blur the line between staff and community. An active community member who suddenly gets paid to do the thing he/she is good at does not suddenly turn into a staff member who is taking away work that the community used to do.

    My 2c

    Jan-Bart de Vreede
    Member Wikimedia Board of Trustees

  19. Jan-Bart says:

    oops, turned out to be three thoughts 🙂

  20. Brion Vibber says:

    [Warning: this may be a little rambly, as I’m recovering from a tooth extraction and on vicodin ;)]

    The staffing numbers actually don’t sound too out of line to me, though they definitely feel like a big jump; I think a lot of us still kind of think of the foundation as “four guys and a server closet”. 🙂

    Tech of course is the area I know best, and I can assure you that there will be plenty of work for ~75 tech folks to do in 2015; even with the major expansion over the last couple years there’s still wayyy more stuff to do than time to do it. Purely on that end, there are a few rough tasks that need to get taken care of all the time:

    * keeping the actual site running smoothly — we’re still understaffed on ops, and relatively low-hanging fruit remains in improving proactive & reactive system administration procedures. Needs a combination of butts in chairs and clear planning with enough attention to dedicate to making sure everything’s maintained as it should.

    * keeping the software development going smoothly — this includes making sure that volunteer devs are getting the attention they need on getting patches cleaned up and accepted, bugs fixed, relevant feature requests implemented and live

    * minor feature development — things like improving how we can show images, or adding a new file format, or supporting a nicer way to upload a file, whatever. Lots of little things!

    * major feature development & near-term research — all the awesome work that’s been coming in from the UX team is a big example now. Migrating things to a newer infrastructure has taken time, and figuring out what could be done in response to real problems that were seen takes plenty of time and effort.

    * long-term research — do we even know what needs to be created to make things as kick-ass as they’re going to need to be five or ten years down the pipe? There’ve really been very few significant changes to how the wikis work since templates & parser functions got serious. We have vague ideas about where the future’s going to go — probably less markup in peoples’ faces, more semantically connected data, and more social collaboration & communication — but with a small core tech group it’s hard to really pursue those things — or the things we don’t even know we need yet! — while all the above are taking everyone’s time.

    Looking at what Mozilla has done in the last few years, I can definitely say that a well-managed tech staff on that order of people or larger, drawn from and working with a large dedicated open-source community, can create *really great things*. Research projects started in Mozilla Labs are starting to reach real people, with Firefox Sync soon going into mainline Firefox, and lots of cool third-party involvement in slightly farther-out projects like Jetback (Firefox-side stuff) and Bespin (web app-side stuff) pushing the boundaries of what tools are available to developers to create awesome things for the rest of the Mozilla-using community.

    A strong “MediaWiki Labs” research program would be *extremely* awesome, and well worth the money spent, once the resources and organization are all in there to get all the basics past “we keep the site up” and “we’re fixing things we’ve known suck” into really future-focused areas too. From what I see and hear, Danese is doing a smashing job at getting tech organized for its big-enough-to-need-real-management present and future, so as long as the rest of the system is working I feel pretty good about the next few years of Wikimedia tech. 😀

    My main concern foundation-wide is in making sure that there’s really sustainable income to keep that going, of course! Mozilla’s got a great income source as an advertising revenue affiliate for web searches, which should do them well as long as they don’t hit a wall with the provider(s) they’re affiliating with (Google, to date). Wikimedia’s never really had anything quite so equivalent, although there’s been some poking with things like the Telefonica stuff which is sort of in that direction. One way or another, income needs to both big enough and stable enough.

    Outside the world of tech — there’s definitely still a lot of work going on figuring out how to balance things between WMF, the various local chapters, individual volunteers whereever they are, and organized volunteers in large or small degrees. I tend to agree with Jan-Bart and Guillaume that there’s been some good work in the staff & community being sort of a continuum and supporting each other, though there’ve certainly been times when things get forgotten too — organizing is hard work! 😉

  21. aude says:

    I’m uneasy about the rapid growth…

    For Wikimedia, I would much prefer things be structured so the volunteers don’t seem periphery in the org chart, but rather are at the top and the foundation fill in for tasks that volunteers can’t do. With the growth and staffing, I sense things are the opposite with volunteers on the bottom of the org chart and on the periphery.

    With the growth, I sense it can take away tasks that volunteers (and chapters) use to do and they become “official” foundation business. This may just be perception, though.

    I’m also concerned about the growth being so centralised, and would prefer chapters having a greater role in taking on some of the priorities. Wikimedia is known as, and has its strength as being a global community.

    As well, I’m concerned about the departmentalisation… There should be more cross-fertilisation among the different areas. I would especially like to see some cross-fertilisation between staff and the editing community (in similar spirit that Zappos has new hires do front-line customer service for a few weeks). Of course, for liability reasons, Wikimedia staff generally do not edit. (exceptions?) It would be nice to see some way for staff to be able to edit and integrate better with the community, without or mitigating liability risks.

  22. BradPatrick says:

    Great comments, really awesome thread.

    My point of view includes the notion that the Foundation has an obligation of providing leadership in the free culture/open realm – a space in which it is uniquely qualified to lead. It is a wonderful thing that the Foundation is growing, and growing up. Having sustainable income to support a staff gives the entire organization flexibility to implement the broader strategies.

    What the recent Troubles have shown is that WMF can lead without Jimbo as the mouthpiece. There is no doubt in my mind that Wikipedia-Forever is a huge goal, but that it needs to be the work of an appropriately sized, professional, competent staff to enable the community to do what it does.

    The analogy I used in the meeting I had with Jimmy the first time we met face to face was that of the university. Students come and go, but they are always the #1 focus. The administration and faculty are there as a necessary apparatus to support the university mission. Keeping the lights on, the lawns mowed, etc. is all a function of providing the right environment for the mission, i.e., learning. The difference between a book club and Harvard is, in one sense, only a matter of degree. So too is WMF there to keep the projects supported in every way necessary, drawing on the contributions of volunteers and professional staff as well.

    I am excited at the progress that has been made and will continue on and on and on…

    Brad

  23. Goldzahn says:

    My concern about stuff is, that there is a lot to do and since we don´t find volunteers we have to hire stuff. This is what I see at the German chapter too. This is a solution to the problem, but I would like to see more efforts to strengthen e.g. the tech-community. Or is it possible to build up an outreach-community? I know that some tasks have to be done by stuff, and what I see today the stuff is doing those tasks. But I don´t see the community building. For example, if there is a reader with a lot of tech-knowledge, he/she will never know that we are looking for them. Only after being a long time editor he/she will know that eventually. Compare that to the editor-community.

  24. Austin says:

    Although I’m not part of this group, I’m always eager to point out that there’s a contingent of Wikimedians which doesn’t want WMF Inc. to do anything more than keep the servers running[1]. In fact, some years ago one volunteer developer—now a paid staff member, so clearly his opinions have changed a bit—refused to support anything not directly related to the operation of the English Wikipedia.

    I think it’s fairly obvious why these people aren’t vocal participants in the strategy process. I just hope nobody’s naive enough to assume that they don’t exist simply because they weren’t heard from.

    I have no problem with employing professional staff—I don’t think anyone objects to having a professional accountant manage the multi-million dollar budget, or paying a dude (or three) to keep the servers up. I don’t even have a fundamental problem with the size or composition of the current staff.

    This said, while the IT side has been fairly uncontentious—mostly we just hire volunteers to do the stuff they were doing before, only more effectively—the professional development side is trickier.

    A lot of things, like partnerships and media relations, were handled for years by volunteers. Many of them continue to be, through chapters, local press contacts, and the “grassroots” stuff like the GLAM projects. We’re fortunate to have some pretty cool guys heading this up on staff, but although the coordination has gotten a lot better, everyone who works in the area knows that problems regularly pop up, and I don’t expect that they’ll ever completely stop.

    I do have serious concerns with the recommended growth, mostly with the timeframe proposed. Linear growth here translates to exponential complication.

    I’ve never been a “community” hawk, and I’m not an idealist or a zealot—I’m just speaking in practical terms, based on what I’ve seen over the years. This has to be carefully managed, because the balance is still fragile.

    Austin

    P.S. Replacing “community” with “society” without further refining the terms is just silly, and I think everyone realizes that. We can make fun of the facilitators for the “two bobs” mentality, but maybe it’s better to focus on substance.

    [1] http://strategy.wikimedia.org/wiki/Proposal:Keep_the_servers_running

  25. “Brutal growth”? There are a whole lot of things which, to put it mildly, are way behind schedule. The database dumps have been a cruel joke for years. Interactive content is still limited to text. There still isn’t even an audio recording of the word “hola” in the Spanish Wiktionary: http://es.wiktionary.org/wiki/hola?rdfrom=Hola

    I think the board’s plan doesn’t go far enough, and that the effectiveness of volunteers can be judged in part by how willing and able they are to make up the difference.

  26. phoebe says:

    Thanks Austin, Goldzahn, Brad, Aude, Brion, Jan-Bart, Jon! I feel like this is all-stars week on my blog 🙂

    It’s worth reading the page comments on the “Keep the Servers Running” proposal. Though put in to make a point, and with some tongue-in-cheek comments (i.e. mine) there is a very serious thread of we have a core job to do, and that core job is keeping the projects online. I think this ties nicely in with what Bigitte was saying on foundation-l; many of us can remember a time with this was a dicey proposition, and I think we’d like guarantees of security before moving into new and shinier things. If they’re there, fantastic; but that’s not apparently to the community necessarily.

    Brad, your enthusiasm is and has always been infectious — thanks for being around. (Little known historical trivia: Brad was the first one to encourage me to write a wikipedia book).

    Aude, looking at the strategy wiki, you and Liam seem to be thinking alone the same lines re: decentralization to the chapters.

    Goldzahn: yes, absolutely, I have felt this is a problem for a long time — if you want to help out in “meta” areas it is hard to figure out how to participate. This has been true for a long time but it’s *still* true now and it shouldn’t be. Maybe an army of volunteer coordinators?

    Brion: your rambly is other people’s well-spoken 🙂 I would love to see Wikimedia labs also. And a research program!

    Jan-Bart: thanks for the emphasis on flexibility. I am 100% behind the strategic plan as a focusing document. I was even telling someone about it at work in those terms the other day. “If we had a similar plan here at the library”, I said, “even if we disagreed, we’d have something concrete to argue with instead of a vague sense of unease.” I think this is a really, really important point.

  27. aude says:

    Decentralisation to the chapters would take some of the foundation-type activities down closer to the community level and help us retain diversity.

    For example, activities like outreach to the Smithsonian and other museums/institutions in DC is best handled by people in DC (possibly via Wikimedia NYC) and heavily involving volunteers. With the last DC meetup, that’s starting to happen.

    People in DC may have networks/contacts into these institutions, and people at the wiki community level would be more familiar with who the article writers/content people are, know “so and so” is doing a great job editing “such and such” topic and know they are from the DC area. Let’s send them a message, invite them to be involved with “such and such” initiative.

    Grants to the chapters (and individuals?) are helpful to give resources needed to undertake such activities.

    I know things have been happening also at the foundation level (e.g. NIH Wikipedia Academy) which is great, but those initiatives would benefit from greater involvement of the local Wikimedia community in DC. The academy was held July 14, 2009, and a mere five days before were bot notices sent out to DC area Wikipedians inviting them to volunteer at the academy. (http://bit.ly/9NcNtI) At the time, I was stalking MetaWiki recent changes and was able to find out before that, but disappointed with how this was handled.

  28. llywrch says:

    The problem with the ramp-up in staffing that I have is simple: regardless of the actual intent or need, it still appears to the average person who contributes content to any Wikimedia project to be hiring a bunch of people who earn a living by taking meetings which don’t make my life as a contributor any easier. This comes across as a bunch of people unfairly living off of my donations of time & effort, which serves as a disincentive to continue to donate the same to Wikimedia projects.

    For example, anyone who is serious about creating content — whether they are mere starts or become Featured Articles — ends up paying for access to material out of her/his own pocket. In many cases, this is not that heavy of a burden & actually an excuse to indulge further in a favorite hobby. (I’ll admit that I am somewhat of a bibliomaniac, & am eager to use any excuse to buy books; my wife is somewhat frustrated that we have an entire room solely dedicated to my passion.) However, no matter how one packages this, it is still a burden which sometimes cannot be adequately borne.

    Then there is the issue of time donated to volunteering. I seriously have great sympathy for the Foundation employees who work 50-60 hours a week; no one should need to do that. However, consider any contributor to a Wikimedia project: for anyone who is not a student or retired, an hour contributed is one hour on top of their normal 40-hour workweek — which is time taken from friends & family. Unless they have an employer who is generous in allowing an employee to contribute to Wikipedia on company time, but that usually ends up with the time at work *and* the time at home being spent on a Wikimedia project. And being unemployed does not mean more time to contribute, if you have a family — take my word for it: family needs expand to fill all available time. For example, since adopting a child, I have less time on the weekends to contribute than I do during the week.

    And contributions to a Wikimedia project involve more than clicking “edit”, doing some typing, previewing the edit, then saving: anyone who wants to write a useful Wikipedia article needs to do research, an increasing share of which may never appear in the article. And to offer a non-Wikipedia example, I found verifying & revising OCR files for Wikisource would require from 15 minutes to a couple of hours of effort *per page*. And it’s hard not to admire the time & effort someone like Durova devotes to restoring historical photographs for the commons (despite that, last I knew, she does not return the admiration). In short, if someone donates 10-20 hours of their time to a Wikimedia project, & they are between the ages of 25-65, then they are actually working 50-60 hour work weeks, a significant chunk of which is unpaid.

    And then there is the constant drain on a contributor’s desire to continue: harassment from other contributors — as well as the inevitable collection of kooks, troublemakers, & people complaining that their ox is being gored. Far too often, we feel that we are abandoned to go one-on-one with these destructive personalities, & must watch our actions carefully while the other party is free to engage in any kind of action, unethical or not. I’ve been an active contributor to the English Wikipedia for over seven years, & I wonder at how many contributors have come & gone in that period; the highest turnover seems to be amongst the ranks of those who do the most important work — fighting vandals, mediating disputes, & building the community. I often wonder if the reason I am still around is that I simply don’t care enough, & if that means only those who do mediocre work can survive the pressures of Wikipedia.

    So there are understandable reasons for resentment from the people who are creating the content which the Foundation relies on for its mission. At the same time, there is a clear need to encourage those of us who have made the websites into the valuable to continue our work. Money is always nice, but incentives like scholarships to perform research, formal recognitions for our contributions — even meaningful help to gain these beyond a Wikimedia project — would help retain veteran contributors like me. Until we see some kind of outreach back to the Wikimedia volunteer community (yes, COMMUNITY — fuck political correctness), we volunteers will simply grow even more embittered & cynical at how we seem to be taken for granted, like serfs on a feudal lord’s manor, until enough of us drift away to cause a vicious circle leading to the death of all of the Wikimedia projects.

    Geoff

  29. Tompw says:

    aude says: “For Wikimedia, I would much prefer things be structured so the volunteers … are at the top and the foundation fill in for tasks that volunteers can’t”

    This got me thinking about what exactly the balance of repsonsibilites between the volunteer community and the paid foundation stafff should be, and I think it boils down to this: The foundation should do the things that the volunteer community cannot.

    At it’s simplest this includes day-to-day tech (looking after servers, paying for hosting) and raisieng the funds needed to support this. In other areas, it may be possible for the community to do “X”, but the foundation can do “X easily and efficiently”. Outreach to new geographic areas springs to mind, as does co-ordinating MediaWiki improvements/upgardes.

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  32. namekan says:

    thanks nice sharing. think i used it in the right way but my result is sth like this:

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