10 wishes for 2008
In my country, as well as in many countries (though not all), today is the first day of the new year. First of all, as is traditional, let me present my [[edit:wishes]] to all of you. I hope you will be in good health, will meet many successes, and will have fun in what you are doing.
Second, I would like to share with you my wikimedia-related-stuff wish list. I am pretty sure we will not all have the same, not even amongst board members, but here is my list anyway. As it is not a good idea to be too greedy, I limited myself to 10 wishes.
- 1 Quality
- 2 Promotion of lesser known projects
- 3 Software development
- 4 License, international laws and compatibility
- 5 Wikimania, reinventing the wheel, and civility
- 6 Wikicouncil
- 7 Chapters and general assembly
- 8 Board membership, election
- 9 Financial sustainability, controls and independence
- 10 Organization. Clarification of board role and limits to executive authority
Quality has two sides. First, content should actually be of quality (accuracy, completeness, up-to-date information, and ease of reading). And second, content should actually be perceived as of quality.
Several communities have made great efforts to improve quality, with for example rules such as the biographies of living people. Some projects, such as the German Wikipedia, have been recognized of better quality than a traditional very respectable German encyclopedia. (Press releases/German Wikipedia).
I hope that in the coming 2008 year, the Wikimedia Foundation will do its best to provide the technical tools (to identify quality versions), the public relations support (to communicate more efficiently on success stories and lessen PR crisis when they occur), better OTRS and legal support (to answer complains and legal threats), but also the leadership to make sure that more projects adopt rules leading to better quality (e.g., living people biographies).
For now 2 years, since the Seigenthaler controversy, the English Wikipedia has been in full gear toward better quality, and have received much support in that regard. It does not seem to me that other projects have received as much attention and support from the Foundation, and the size reached by several other languages, as well as the increasing number of legal requests in some of the biggest Wikipedia (such as French and German languages) suggest that it is high time to expand the focus beyond the traditional English territory. I also recognize that languages barriers and diversity of national laws are making this a big challenge, but it is in such challenges that we will prove really being an international organization.
Promotion of lesser known projects
Whilst Wikipedia has probably reached the top of its fame in the press of many nations, and enjoys the largest communities, other Wikimedia projects are being increasingly successful. Commons has now over 2.000.000 free objects and is a unique case of multilingual community-based project. The largest Wiktionary is not English speaking, but French-speaking, a unique situation in wikimedia project and probably a showcase for the francophony. Wikibooks now hosts several high quality books, and also receive as donations, books originally under regular copyright protection and released under a free license, again, showcases of the interest of the educational world for the free movement.
I would like these projects to be shown more attention by the Foundation, including more promotion efforts in conferences, press release and promotional leaflets, more interest to their specific technical needs, and more representativity of their communities.
I am pretty sure it is an evidence to anyone that our software development is much behind, not because of a lack of great ideas, but rather of human power.
I would like to see this year a system implemented to collect technical wishlists from each project; outreach to developer open-source communities; a well-outlined technical roadmap, with goals, resources and deadlines. And yeah, results. It might be worth also seeing how the Foundation could help on the tool server side.
License, international laws and compatibility
In the past year, new policy regarding media object has been implemented, but I still see many questions coming in from communities, which do not always know how to implement our policies with regards to different laws. It seems that often, the answer proposed is "as long as it fits the american law, all is fine". I do not consider that a valid answer, unless we are trying to build a freely-licensed content for American citizens.
My wish would be that these communities receive clear and constructive answers, in a timely fashion.
Very recently, the board took some steps making it possible to migrate in the future to a CC license, in order to improve compatibility with other freely-licenses works as well as to facilitate re-use of our content. I hope this evolution will happen along with our longstanding traditions of strong community input and control over major decisions affecting the projects.
Wikimania, reinventing the wheel, and civility
I would be quite amazed if this could not be a very neat PR opportunity and could not be in particular sponsored by governments, non profit educational organizations and big international organizations. In 2007, a lot of work has been provided for WMF to be recognized as a charity, and for WMF to be involved in various decision-making circles for global education. I hope WMF will be able to take benefit of this recognition.
Regarding participation and program, my wish would be that WMF makes real efforts to fund participation of many of our core participants, and use this opportunity to make "transmission of experience", and discussion and improvement of "civility" on the projects, a major part of Wikimania program. In the past year, I remember a very interesting workshop on this topic in Wikimania Taipei, several projects suffer from limited civility, in particular toward newcomers, and several of our members suffer cyberstalking in 2007. This is unacceptable. We must take the time to think about wikilove, and work to improve relationships between participants. Arguably, our projects are an example of peace making process (seriously :-)).
I would like the Wikicouncil idea to be revived and implemented. For past discussion, please have a look at
The Wikimedia Global Council would be a body of representatives for all projects who could serve alongside the elected members of the Board.
Our projects are now far too big to easily permit circulation of information between community and organization. My belief is that we need an intermediary body. Please join the discussion.
Chapters and general assembly
The relationship between chapters and Wikimedia Foundation has improved over the past year. There are now guidelines for creation, some chapters have received the permission to use trademarks within certain limits, several chapters were created etc....
However, it is still not sufficient. My wishlist is that further work be done to clarify relationships and lines of authority, and that a meeting be held annually with the chapters. I had hoped this assembly would occur in winter 2007, but this was delayed. I would like the board to agree to a meeting with WMF and chapters in spring 2008.
Board membership, election
The board recently lost two members, Michael and Erik, who need to be replaced. The board also agreed to an expansion of the board, up to 11 members. However, to be transparent on this topic, there is strong disagreement on the board about what the board should be in the future.
Some members consider that the priority is that the board stays primarily a body representing the community, so that the community stays in control of the projects future. Missing skills would be then completed by senior staff members, many of which have recently joined the team and more senior staff being expected. Professionalization of the Foundation would mostly concern the staff, but not so much the board, who would have in turn to heavily rely on staff.
Other members argue that most community members lack the proper skills to be good members of a non profit organization the size and importance of Wikimedia Foundation, and lack the experience of American non-profits. They wish that the board professionalize as well. This would mean cutting down pretty severely in the number of community members, in particular elected, and would mean the arrival of various American big shots in replacement. In the same vein, these members argue that officers of WMF (chair and treasurer in particular) should not be community members, but rather individuals experienced in various skills (finances, legal, fundraising, management etc...), but also seasonned experts to deal with the high level companies and individuals we are now facing (as potential partners or competitors).
Needless to say, these two visions of the future are not totally compatible, and both visions hold a certain truth, which makes it doubly difficult to deal with.
One thing is certain, the past is well behind us, and the time when we could quietly grow is over. Key questions are "which view will dominate" and "how much does the community want to be involved in that decision".
I stand noisily and strongly in the first view, as I believe in
- an editing community in control of the projects they are creating
- a need for independence, which excludes adding to the board many outsiders, tied by multiple conflict of interests
- building an international organization, which seems incompatible with adding many outsiders all coming from the same nation (not to say the same city).
The risks of that position is that limited skills on the board might make us easy preys and might make us easily fall in legal or financial pits. We might also exhaust the professional team ;-)
Switching to a more professional board, with professional officers might make us stronger and might reveal a good idea in the long run. Risks are mostly loss of control and loss of independence. Another aspect is that the current board is willing to give a lot of its volunteer time. As our quest for a treasurer has shown, most professionals will either only accept to join against a stipend, or will mostly rely on the staff, merely becoming rubber stampers.
What should really be my wish list on this point ?
I am not quite sure, but I think my wish list would probably be that we take time through each of the steps of our evolution. Professionalizing the staff means most of the staff is brand new and have to be introduced to our projects. Switching to a professional board means most of the board is also brand new and many have to be introduced to our projects. Doing both changes in a matter of couple of months, strikes me as more than unsuitable. It is "dangerous". My wish list would be that revolution be achieved in at least a year. As such, I would like that the board is expanded including mostly community members, as an interim board if necessary, and the brutal professionalization currently proposed be delayed until the end of the year.
Financial sustainability, controls and independence
By now, it should be obvious to everyone that the audit of our previous fiscal year is taking more time than we would hope for, but it is all in audit firm hands now. Last fiscal year was difficult both because of the amazing growth of our projects, our limited revenue not making it possible to hire all the necessary staff at first, followed by high staff turn-over in spring 07. However, as the organization matures, the Wikimedia Foundation has begun implementing more necessary policies and procedures, considered normal practices for any healthy organization. The hiring of Sue Gardner, executive director, and Mike Godwin, our general counsel, has played a central role in ensuring that these new checks and balances are implemented properly. Sue also brought in Mona Venkateswaran, a former auditor and a CA, to assess Wikimedia's internal financial controls and systems, and recommend improvements. In summary, the Foundation has enacted many new controls, employee processes and procedures, and accountability systems. A first wish will naturally be that we keep on improving :-), that audit next year be done in a couple of weeks and detailed budget be voted before next summer.
My second wish is related to financial sustainability and independence. I would like that no decisions be taken on the paths to follow to achieve sustainability, without the involvement of the board and of the community.
Last wish is actually clearly related to several points listed above, but I chose to mention it as a goal again, to insist on its importance.
In Fall 2006, the board chose me as chair, in a courageous move to evolve from a foundator based organization, to a more mature, group-led organization. At that time, the organization had only a couple of staff members. No real formal policies or procedures. Less than one board meeting a year. No agendas etc... I believe I helped the organization grow to the next step, which is just in front of us: moving from a group-led micro organization with a working board, to an organization with clear delineation between staff and board. I hope that the coming year will show a smooth and successful transition to our new professsional organization, where roles and responsibilities of all parties, board, staff and community, will be better understood and acknowledged, for the benefit of our project, in a shared vision.