Board letter/January 2005

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Letter from the Board
Strelitzia modified.jpg

The year 2004 was astonishing not only for the reasons indicated above by Jimmy Wales, but for other reasons, as well. This past year was, especially, one of evolution toward internationality.

2004 was characterized by a phenomenal growth rate of the projects in languages other than English. It was during this year that the number of encyclopedia articles in other languages exceeded those contained in the English Wikipedia. The installation of a multilingual portal at http://www.wikipedia.org, after two years of discussion, further reflects this change.

Many local communities are now linked by strong internal bonds and operate autonomously, rather than by copying the operations of the English community. Some have become a source of inspiration for other projects. The number of new initiatives that are born in local communities is striking -- publications in the form of a CD, the cross-project Merry Christmas initiative, Translation of the Week, and, most recently, the International Writing Contest. These projects are described in this publication in recognition of their initiatives.

The past year was also a period of meetings of Wikipedians, in person, in cities in many countries, in particular, in Europe and Asia: Paris, Berlin, Munich, Rotterdam, London, Taipei - to name a few. The existence of such active communities is living proof of the global development of our projects. However, communication between the various communities is still difficult, at times. This is not surprising, considering the diversity of the languages spoken by Wikipedians.

A publication such as the Wikimedia Quarto would have been in at most one or two languages, a year ago. It is now translated in many languages. Efforts were also made this year to increase interaction among communities, and to improving our meta-site, http://meta.wikimedia.org, which is open to all communities. Translation efforts have been begun to translate key pages on meta and other sites, and to take into account opinions from all projects.

The international aspect of our project is also visible in its administrative and legal aspects, through the creation of the Wikimedia Foundation to support the growth and the development of all our projects, and through the election of two members of the Board to represent Wikipedians - both female, as I never tire of saying, as is rare in administrative circles. 2004 also saw the creation of two local associations, one German and one French, and the preparation of other legal structures.

In short - three years ago, I joined a small English-language project, located at http://www.wikipedia.com, owned by an unknown American entrepreneur. It was a fabulous project, but it was centered entirely around English, which was frustrating. Today, we are sustained by a non-profit organization, and have evolved into a complex, worldwide, multilingual project.

In 2005, I wish for us to increase the number of participants in languages with smaller Wikipedias (such as Arabic), through external collaborations, if necessary. I also hope we will become a resource for readers in countries with little technological infrastructure, where there is no access to the Internet. The participation of editors from all cultures is necessary, too, to reach our objectives of neutrality and balanced perspective.

Anthere

None of us reading this lacks access to information; to the contrary, we are drowning in the excess of information provided by television, radio, newspapers, the Internet, and so on. Our problem is, filtering information, and obtaining reliable information. However, the majority of humanity has no access to most of these information sources, and needs help. We must avoid widening the gap between those who have and those who do not have access to information!

Lastly, this is an unhoped-for opportunity for us to discover men and women of all countries, to balance our similarities and our differences, and to attempt to live with, tolerate, and appreciate these differences. In many countries, such differences are regulated with exploding grenades to keep certain groups silent. We have no choice but to find a consensus. We have only words, and must use them.


--Anthere / Florence Devouard


If you have questions or comments, we would love to hear from you. You can reach us on our talk pages (see [1]), or by email to: board (at) wikimedia.org.


Quarterly Reports

Persian astrolabe

Administration

Where can I find information about the Foundation?

Current information about the Foundation can be found in this quartely newsletter, on the dedicated mailing list [2], on the Wikimedia Meta-wiki [3], and at the Foundation's website [4]. The Foundation website was in active development in the early fall : major pages were set up and most were translated into 10 languages. There are currently 38 editors, native speakers of a variety of languages, registered on the Foundation's website; however the site is currently in a rather dormant phase.


How does the Board communicate ?</br >

Dominoes sml.JPG
Board activities are recorded on the Wikimedia Meta-wiki [5], and on the Wikimedia Foundation's site [6]. Communication takes place via email, as well as, through the foundation-l mailing list, which is open to the public and publicly archived. Members of the board also frequent the #Wikimedia IRC channel on freenode [7].

The general address, board(at)wikimedia.org, can also be used for any request. However, please be aware that this mail address is no longer a private one. All mails are redirected to a ticket system, OTRS [8], and may be answered either by a board member or by a few other trusted editors. The OTRS also handles mail about the German chapter, as well as requests for information in English and German.

Finally, Jimmy, Angela, and Anthere, being fearless explorers, have all started blogs. Angela’s blog is the richest one [9] in terms of information about Wikipedia. Please read it if you want information on the latest Wikipedia features or anything related to wikisearch. Jimmy [10] took the opportunity to talk about free software (both in English). Also, Anthere ([11], in French) decided to use her blog to express her opinions, and to focus on increasing the visibility of Wikimedia projects in the French-speaking world, in the particular hope of reaching out to French-speaking Africa.


Does the Board record or publish their activities anywhere?</br >

There have been several meetings of board members over the fall.

The board also had the opportunity to meet in real life on a few occasions: in Rotterdam in November, the day following the Wikipedian meeting; and in New York City, before the OSI meeting. Several topics were discussed, including plans for upcoming meetings, whether the Wikimedia Foundation should get involved in political advocacy, how local chapters could be more involved in WMF activity, and free discussion of what the board could become in the future. All these topics were easier to discuss in real life in a youth hostel lounge than on irc or by mail.


Life with the board

Michael and Tim Shell were not very active this trimester, although Michael helped with the financial considerations after the last fundraiser.
The past months have been very busy for Angela, Jimbo and Anthere, with many good Wikipedian meetings (please, see the Meetings report), and interviews with newspapers, websites and radio stations for all board members. Wikipedia is becoming famous now, and our project raises a lot of interest.

Jimbo and Angela spent 2 weeks at the BBC (please, see the special report on this), while Anthere was moving into a new house (with plenty of room and a garden but no phone line and no internet connection for several weeks). Anthere was able to keep in touch and active, thanks to her workplace internet connection, and random visits to the local university computer lab, but she had no opportunity to satisfy her true wikipediholism or to access IRC.
Anthere appreciated support during her forced vacation, and suggests that all wikiholics use the "Wikipatch" [12] sent via snail mail by Ryo and notafish.

How can I become a member of the Foundation?

Tha board made several decisions in regard to membership [13]. The board's vision of membership changed, after much thought and discussions with Wikimedia editors.
Initially, it was imagined that much of the income supporting the project would come from subscribing membership fees. Hence, initial plans set membership fees rather high (about 100 dollars.) However, some board members and many editors were not in favor of such a high amount, and it became clear that most Foundation income could come from other sources. Additional discussions led to subscribing membership fees being set at US$36 (for non-editors) and US$12 (reduced).

Additionally, discussions with Jamesday and Kate changed the volunteer membership status from being the default status of editors, to being opt-in. The technical development of a membership system will be worked out over the coming months.

Are developers currently being paid?

In July 2004, the Wikimedia developers were polled about the feasibility of a bounty system for development tasks. This led the board to try out a system of payment and other rewards for developers who choose to work on particular tasks. The board suggested a four month trial run before stepping back and evaluating the system.

In the past three months, the board has proposed one task, related to the membership system development -- a task of primary interest to the Foundation itself, and thus, unlikely to be controversial. More than two months after the proposal, Tim Starling made an offer, which was accepted in late November. The feature will be developed against a certain amount of money, at the end of 2004 or in early 2005. No other proposal has been made by the board; one other suggestion was offered by a developer, but has been discarded.

This suggests that the prospect of being paid per task is not a strongly motivation for our developer team. Details of the trial run are available at [14]. All Wikimedia contributors will be encouraged to evaluate it when it is over.


What is going on with domain names?

Jason Richey has the full list of domain names that are registered to the Foundation. Some domains in other countries are owned by other people; for instance, GerardM looks after a few .nl domain names. The French domain name www.wikipedia.fr was taken over by a cybersquatter in fall of 2004. The French Wikipedians have decided not to do anything on the matter for now, and the cybersquatter gently redirected the domain to Wikipedia, himself. However, the Russian domain name, www.wikipedia.ru, is, unfortunately, being used to make cash by its cybersquatter.

Over the next trimester, decisions will bes made regarding which domains to acquire. Many editors would prefer that the domains of all projects be bought for their country's top-level domain; however, the cost of buying so many names is too high for that to be sustainable. The board hopes that registering its trademarks will help alleviate this issue.


Privacy on Wikimedia projects

As requested by several editors, a long overdue privacy statement is under development and should be finalized and translated during the first trimester of 2005. Please do not hesitate to comment on it [15].


Local chapters

Anthere was involved in the creation of the French chapter, Wikimedia France (see the special report on this), and is now part of its board. This became the second of two local Wikimedia chapters, which are based on very different legal constructions, and emphasize the diversity of options for chapters. The French chapter is a legal representative of the Wikimedia Foundation in France. The French and German chapters are both legally based in a country, rather than on a language. However, both wish to expand their activity beyond the borders of their respective countries.

Several other projects have discussed the creation of a local chapter in the past few months, most notably the Dutch and Italian Wikipedias. Some editors are interested in the creation of chapters based on languages rather than nations, or even a European chapter.


The Wikimedia Foundation and political involvement

Over the fall, there were discussions about the political involvement of the Foundation and of its local branch, Wikimedia France. The board would like to indicate that it does not wish the Wikimedia Foundation to support activism generally, particularly activism not directly related to Wikimedia's work. Any involvement, such as the signature of a petition, should be carefully assessed and done only with the overwhelming support of the community.


The future of the board

During the fall, the board discussed both the involvement of local chapter boards and the future of the Wikimedia board, itself. With regards to local chapters, the board is open to discussions with or proposals from the chapters' members. Please be active on this matter.

With regard to the board itself, Anthere, Angela, and Jimmy agree that the current situation is hardly sustainable. All board activity is essentially taken care of by three people, and requires the active involvement of other Wikipedians to be manageable. It was suggested that the board size, or at least the number of active members, be increased.

Collaboration

Angela and Jimbo at the BBC
During November 2004, Angela and Jimmy worked for the BBC in London for two weeks. Everyone had a fine time, and it seemed to be a success; they have been invited to come back at some unspecified date in the future. Some of the BBC employees came to the London meetup held during those weeks. Angela describes their experience elsewhere (see Endnotes, pg. 8).

Lost Oasis and hosting
Wikimedia has a standing offer of free hosting from a webhost in France, Lost Oasis, where three new squids have recently been set up.
There were other offers of free hosting, as well, particularly while making contingency plans for the first Florida hurricane, in late August; none have yet come to fruition.

Mandrakesoft DVD
Much to the disappointment of many Wikipedians, the release by Mandrakesoft of a bilingual snapshot of the French and English Wikipedia, with an upcoming version of Mandrake Linux, has been delayed.

The intensive work to tag images and lists in preparation for these publications, which was long overdue, has provided quality improvement to the Wikipedia projects involved. You can help this effort at Wikipedia:Untagged_images.  

New projects policy

Due to the multiplication of new projects and controversy over the creation of wikispecies, a procedure for starting new projects has been set at New project policy page. Wikinews was the first new project to follow this procedure, which requires an extensive description of the project, the translation of this description into several languages, an positve approval poll by the community, and a final approval by the board of the Wikimedia Foundation.  

Public Relations

Jimmy Wales being interviewed in Rotterdam

There were a few major news events this fall: the "one million-article" press release, which was picked up around the world in over ten languages; the press release about the German Directmedia CD, which was picked up widely in Germany; and the launching of Wikinews, which was heavily reported by reporters and bloggers in many languages (please, see In the Media, pg. 7).

During this trimester, it was noticed that several of the larger Wikipedias, aside from the English one, were beginning to receive important media coverage. For example, the French Wikipedia was the subject of several very good articles. Among them, was one in Liberation ([16]), as well as, a very critical one in Charlie Hebdo ([17]). On November 27th, 2004, Anthere participated in a radio interview at radio BFM (please, see [18]). Another radio interview occurred, featuring Yann : [19] in January, 2005.

For quotes from articles about Wikipedia and other projects, see "In the Media", pg. 6.

Angela Beesley

Angela, also, participated in a radio interview on BBC Radio4. Her report :

On November 17, I did my first ever radio interview for Wikipedia. It was for BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme. I didn't realise it was going to be live when I agreed to do it, but it turned out less terrifying than I imagined it might be. It was recorded at the BBC Suffolk studio in Ipswich, since the BBC Essex studios, which are closer to me, were fully booked at that time. I was invited to wait in the "Green Room" when I arrived, which wasn't as impressive as it sounds; it was a room with some sofas, drinking water, and press clippings about BBC Radio Suffolk. Shortly before the recording began, I was taken into a small studio and given some headphones, where I could hear both the programme and the editor in Manchester talking to me. I was left alone in the studio during the recording.

Bamber Gascoigne started by giving a potted history of the encyclopedia, and, then, a recording was played of a family searching for facts in a traditional encyclopedia, compared to one using the web. Michael Schmidt, an English professor at the University of Manchester, Institute of Science and Technology, then talked about how his students nowadays were more likely to use computers than books for their research. The presenter, Liz Barclay, asked me to distill how Wikipedia works, and I explained how the site is editable by any visitor, and how vandalism is quickly discovered and reverted. Bamber was at a studio in London, and talked about his HistoryWorld site. Bamber and Michael both felt that Wikipedia articles should be "arrested" at some point to prevent editing. But, I suggested that instead of locking articles permanently, a version of an article could be marked as stable and could be given to users who wanted that, whilst still allowing other users to edit the live article. This section of the programme lasted just under 20 minutes and concluded with Bamber saying "the idea that encyclopedias [which are printed] are reliable is nonsense".

Listen to the programme.