Answers archive/November 2011

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Finance: Why does the Wikimedia Foundation not currently accept Bitcoin?

More than one contributor has asked this one. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Bitcoin is a form of crypto-currency; in their own words, "an experimental new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world."(Bitcoin P2P Digital Currency. Retrieved 2 November 2011.) The Wikimedia Foundation's position on the matter is as follows:

The Wikimedia Foundation, as a donor-driven organization, has a fiduciary duty to be responsible and prudent with its money. This has been interpreted to mean that we do not accept "artificial" currencies - that is, those not backed by the full faith and credit of an issuing government. We do, however, strive to provide as many methods of donating as possible and continue to monitor Bitcoin with interest and may revisit this position should circumstances change.

The Wikimedia Foundation does try to make donating as easy as possible, however. For a list of ways to give, see Ways to Give. --Maggie Dennis 20:33, 3 November 2011 (UTC)


Collaboration: Is there a formal division of operation authority between the WMF and the various project communities?

How does the Wikimedia Foundation determine the division of operating authority between the WMF and the various project communities? Some policies and practices are left to the communities to develop independently, without Wikimedia Foundation input or intervention, but sometimes the Foundation does become involved. Does it have a guiding principle on when it will engage or intervene?

In one form or another, this question has been raised to me multiple times since I became Community Liaison in May 2011. In September it was put to Erik Möller, the Wikimedia Foundation's Deputy Director and VP of Technology, on the English language Wikipedia.

There's no formalized definition of when and how we would or wouldn't engage. About 8 years ago, long before being involved in WMF in any way, I started this essay,which has been further developed into a reflection on the various governance norms and processes that exist in Wikimedia projects. There's also m:Founding principles, which is particularly worth considering in the given context. And of course there are many examples e.g. of Board resolutions that have directly sought to effect change in Wikimedia self-governance or established high-level policy principles.

In general, Wikimedia Foundation works in partnership with the Wikimedia communities to achieve our mission. This is expressed also in the WMF values:

We are a community-based organization. We must operate with a mix of staff members, and of volunteers, working together to achieve our mission. We support community-led collaborative projects, and must respect the work and the ideas of our community. We must listen and take into account our communities in any decisions taken to achieve our mission.
...But it is not true, and has never been true, that WMF will execute any request that has sufficient community support (by some definition of sufficient) unquestioningly.

He went on to explain:

I think the general shared understanding and belief that we operate on is that we're all working together to advance the Vision and Mission of our projects, and that this requires continued, serious, honest and deep engagement regarding the key challenges we're dealing with. WMF employees are here because they have a strong passion for what we're trying to do, many of us have long histories as Wikimedia volunteers, and everyone here works beyond the call of duty to help us succeed.

In my experience, when there is a high degree of tension, pausing, discussing, looking at data, and considering various alternatives is usually the right thing to do. While I do believe in the importance of improving and clarifying governance and process, I also think we have a strong tradition of case-by-case flexibility (cf. Wikipedia:Ignore all rules) that's important to maintain. I've seen plenty of online communities get bogged down in bureaucracy and the development of "constitutional" documents at the cost of losing focus on the core objectives. Some degree of tension, frustration, and anger is unavoidable, but we have a shared responsibility to move conversations back into constructive spaces as quickly as possible.

Erik's answer would seem to make clear that while there are no written guidelines for when the Wikimedia Foundation will engage, it does not see itself as a passive partner with the projects in achieving our mission, but instead collaborators. Its goal is to listen respectfully to community wishes and concerns and to engage with the community, when conflicts exist, in finding the best possible approaches. --Maggie Dennis 20:40, 9 November 2011 (UTC)


Foundation: What are the WMF's major values and beliefs? How does it feel about censorship?

What are the major values and beliefs of the Wikimedia Foundation? What is the Wikimedia Foundation's position on censorship?

The Wikimedia Foundation's mission is to empower a global volunteer community to collect and develop the world's knowledge and to make it available to everyone for free, for any purpose. It supports principles and practices that are in line with meeting this mission.

The Wikimedia Foundation believes that all people everywhere should be afforded equal access to information. It supports network neutrality and the free culture movement. It believes in the need to conquer the digital divide, which results in the economic or cultural marginalization of individuals with limited access to technology. It respects the rights of human beings to basic privacy and dignity. The Wikimedia Foundation also believes that the environment is important; it strives for sustainable business practices.

The Foundation holds that censorship is incompatible with its mission. In recent months, it has reaffirmed its opposition to censorship several times. Most recently, in November 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation took part in American Censorship Day, a protest against the United States House of Representative Bill 3261. You can read the blog post about it by Head of Communications Jay Walsh here. In May 2011, when the Board of Trustees passed its resolution on dealing with controversial content, it affirmed that "Wikimedia projects are not censored." Curating knowledge for an international community of all ages will certainly mean the display of materials that some may find offensive or upsetting. The Board supported the principle that users should be able to choose what content to access and encouraged the responsible curating of content so users might reasonably expect what they will encounter when viewing a page or using a feature, but continued in its explicit support of access to information for all. --Maggie Dennis 15:38, 16 November 2011 (UTC)


Finance: How much of the money raised by the Wikimedia Foundation goes to the mission?

Probably in response to the launch of the Wikimedia Foundation Fundraiser, several people have asked questions related to the way money donated to the Wikimedia Foundation is divided. While specific details about spending were answered in September (see Where does the money come from, and where does it go?), there is a breakdown of the Wikimedia Foundation's financial performance at Charity Navigator:

  • Program Expenses: 75.4%
  • Administrative Expenses: 10.8%
  • Fundraising Expenses: 13.6%

I'm very proud to say that Charity Navigator awards the Wikimedia Foundation 4 stars out of a possible 4 in reviews of both its financial practices and its practices related to accountability and transparency: see their summary for these figures and more. --Maggie Dennis 20:07, 16 November 2011 (UTC)