4 wishes for year 2007
Yet another year is over. We’ll soon celebrate our 6 years of existence. Wikipedia has made an amazing transformation, growing from a grassroots effort to a global resource. A unique community-driven, non-commercial top 10 website, letting people share their knowledge, culture and resources with neighbours near and far.
Wikipedia is just one piece of the Wikimedia movement. Other projects are growing. Wikicommons, our common repository of media documents, has experienced an amazing growth and celebrated its first million of documents. WikiSource is a effort aimed at unearthing primary sources to unlock historical information, further academic research and add credibility and depth to publicly available information. WikiBooks is the future of learning – up to date, readily accessible text books that lets students around the world learn, inside and outside the classroom. WikiNews, Wiktionary and Wikiquote are all growing, thriving examples of the power of the community to bring new information to new audiences everyday.
The global impact of Wikipedia and the other project opens the door to a growing set of responsibilities and challenges for the Wikimedia Foundation and the community behind it.
Year 2007 will be placed under two major priorities: Sustainability and reliability.
Two minor priorities will be: Outreach and recognition as a charitable organization.
Whilst there has been no formal “vote” to decide so, it seems to be the consensus emerging from discussions during the board retreat, discussions during the board meetings, discussions whilst preparing the fundraising. So, roughly, it seems these four words, sustainability, reliability, outreach and recognition, will lead the coming months. It does not necessarily mean other directions will not be pursued, but we will really try to push along those lines and I hope very much you will agree these directions are indeed important and will help.
I want to explain a little bit more about these four directions.
Sustainability for the organization and the projects it support. Sustainability require a new level of dedication to both organizational and technological infrastructure.
The board retreat in Frankfurt in October 2006, has revealed deficits at the organizational levels were a major issue.
The bylaws needed to be fixed, as they did not reflect the reality of the organization structure. This was done in November. Issue closed. Board expansion was planned and first step implemented, with the addition of Oscar, Mindspillage and Jan-Bart. Next step will occur at the next board members election in june 2007.
An advisory board was set up, future members were suggested by the community and many contacted. Most of the ones contacted agreed to help and several of them are already helping the board on various issues. Angela Beesley, formely board member, has agreed to help chair that advisory board. More information on this will be provided during January probably.
Committees and workgroups are not working very well (big understatement). There are many people willing to help, but few coordinators, and we are losing a lot of time and energy to identify and channel goodwill. This is a major issue to work on in the coming months, and of course an issue for which community input (your input) will be critically important.
In the past few days, with the discussion over the matching donations issue, and in the past as well, some ask why volunteers are not involved more in the Foundation activity. There are various reasons, ranging from “the Foundation does not communicate sufficiently on its needs” to “the community does not show enough interest”, as well as “you can not always count on the availability or willingness of a volunteer to do the job”, or “a volunteer is not accountable” etc.
There is much to discuss on this list.
Staff. Most of you do not realize that, but the deficit of staff is really a big issue. Various positions have been envisionned in November and December, but we are waiting January and the end of the fundraising, to really discuss that in depth and see what we can do, according to the cash we have available. We need in particular more developers and more people working in the office on administrative tasks, as well as divers experts, which hopefully we could get pro-bono. I must say that it is unlikely the global community will be involved much in these decisions, simply because the people working on these tasks on a daily basis are the ones more likely to know what is needed.
One of the most needed position and likely to be hired soon is an office manager. We absolutely need to get some of the daily administrative tasks fully taken in charge, and to relieve ourselves from this burden. I saw a discussion this morning, stating that there was no need for an accountant, that this could be done by a volunteer, just as so many associations do. Now, wake up guys ! We are no more an association running with 10 000 dollars a year and 10 checks to issue per month. We are running an organization of over 2 millions dollars, with thousands of unique donations, purchasing servers per hundred lot, receiving hundreds of emails per day, legal requests every month. This can not be done by a volunteer when (if) he has 2 hours free during the week end. Executive director. The search of an executive director is also one of our urgent and important tasks. This is currently ongoing.
On financial sustainability, there is a lot to say. This has been a hot topic in the past few days with the matching donations system. I did not comment much myself, but I read all the comments made on foundation-l, offered privately, and the ones in languages I could understand on village pumps. All I can say is that we hear your feedback and we’ll take it into account in the next fundraisings. It is likely we’ll have more fundraisings this year. We also need to get new sources of money to be able to go on. Hopefully, the new executive director will have creative ideas on this as well. Setting up an endowment is such a solution, and a first step for this are the audit results and a suitable bank (which is under way). Other needs involve making use of our “big” contacts, setting up an investment strategy and generally managing the funds. Other directions involve making more “business”, either as services (datafeed) or products (DVDs). As of today, we simply do not have the infrastructure to do that.
There is not much to say on the topic right now, but I just wanted to mention how big an issue it is for the board.
Related to financial sustainability, the audit completed on our first three years of operations will be a major asset in the future. Such an audit is essential to get big donations and grants. It required a lot of effort in the past months, and hopefully the path in front of us is less steep. We’ll go on getting our financial statements audited every year and as much as possible, we’ll try to implement the various recommendations given by the auditors to ensure our organization is as clean, transparent, fair as the public would like it to be. This will involve setting up many policies and guidelines at the administrative level, which will be invisible to you, but important for our long-term sustainability. I invite you to read again the financial audit document where a list of suggested procedures to implement is listed.
Sustainability of course also is technical. Decisions in that direction involve more developers, hiring a chief technical officer, and having a tech summit to work on MediaWiki.
On the legal side, an important and quite urgent topic is related to our trademarks and domain names. By securing our trademarks, we ensure long term fruitful use of them, and decrease the risk of abuse by third parties.
Whilst not all our projects or all our languages are not in a “mature” phase, we believe a major issue on which we must dedicate time, energy and probably money, is related to reliability. Content quality, not quantity, is the measure that matters.
I could quickly cite some issues: the non-vandalized version feature. The reviewed version feature. Guidelines to avoid spamming by small companies. Guidelines to avoid uncontrolled modifications by PR agencies. Issue of rampaging external links toward myspace and youtube :-) Mandatory sources etc.
In most part, it is in community hands, but the Foundation (and the chapters) can help, either the development of technical features, or favor contacts between communities and academics/experts etc.
It is regularly discussed. Pushing the envelope on global reach is critical. We must continue to extend our boundaries in terms of providing knowledge as well as a voice to those who’ve never had them before. Not much to say on this issue. I think it a very important issue, unfortunately often falling behind other more pressing issues. Hopefully, we’ll find time and energy to work further on this.
This comes from a very simple observation. For many, Wikimedia projects are web 2.0 websites, similar to other websites such as myspace or youtubes. People tend to confuse us with commercial projects, even wikipedians themselves sometimes, who fear we will “sell” the projects to big companies.
We are not a commercial product. We provide free knowledge (… or content… or educational content…) for everyone. Our goal is not to make money. Our purpose is to help humanity be more informed, knowledgeable. Not only are we confused with commercial companies sometimes, but big charitable organizations do not recognize us as a charity, which greatly limit the support we might get from them. I would consider as a goal for year 2007, to change this.
Note that the blocks are not independent one from another. To be recognized as an important charity, we must show we are a stable and solid organization. We must show we are trustworthy as a resource.
And we must show we try to go beyond boundaries of wealth, language and copyright.
To be able to reach everyone, we must be organized and relevant. To be reliable, we need good foundations.
So, we can build the tower with the four blocks. First sustainability. Second reliability. Third outreach and fourth recognition.
Hopefully, that’s what we will succeed doing in 2007. Together.
Happy New Year