I want to address some of the many questions that are coming up in this forum. From the general to the very concrete, they all touch on the fact that many things about the WMF have been changing. We are in the thick of transformation, and you all have the right to know more about how and why this is occurring. This is not a statement of strategy, which will come out of the community consultation next week. This is the ED’s perspective.
After 15 years since the birth of Wikipedia, the WMF needs to rethink itself to ensure our editor work expands into the next decade. Recently we kicked-off some initiatives to this end, including aligning community support functions, focus on mobile and innovative technology, seeding the Wikimedia Endowment, re-organizing our internal structure, exploring partnerships and focusing on the most critical aspects of our mission: community and technology. We started this transformation, but as we move forward we are facing a crisis that is rooted in our choice of direction.
The choice in front the WMF is that of our core identity. Our mission can be served in many ways, but we cannot do them all. We could either fully focus on building our content and educational programs. Or we can get great at technology as the force multiplier for our movement. I believe the the former belongs to our volunteers and affiliates and that the role of the WMF is in providing global support and coordination of this work. I believe in -- and the board hired me to -- focus on the latter. To transform our organization into a high-tech NGO, focused on the needs of our editors and readers and rapidly moving to update our aged technology to support those needs. To this end we have made many significant changes. But the challenge in front of us is hard to underestimate: technology moves faster than any other field and meeting expectations of editors and readers will require undistracted focus.
When Jimmy started Wikipedia, the early editors took a century-old encyclopedia page and allowed anyone to create or edit its content. At the time when creating knowledge was still limited to the chosen few, openly collaborating online gave us power to create and update knowledge at a much faster rate than anyone else. This was our innovation.
As we matured, we encountered two fundamental, existential challenges. One is of our own doing: driving away those who would otherwise join our mission through complex policies, confusing user experiences, and a caustic community culture. The other is external and is emerging from our own value of freely licensed content: Many companies copy our knowledge into their own databases and present it inside their interfaces. While this supports wider dissemination, it also separates our readers from our community. Wikipedia is more than the raw content, repurposed by anyone as they like. It is a platform for knowledge and learning, but if we don't meet the needs of users, we will lose them and ultimately fail in our mission.
Meanwhile, in the last 15 years revolutionary changes have taken hold. The rate of knowledge creation around the world is unprecedented and is increasing exponentially. User interfaces are becoming more adaptive to how users learn. This means we have a huge opportunity to accelerate human understanding. But to do so requires some significant change in technology and community interaction.
So let’s begin with technology: Many at the WMF and in our community believe that we should not be a high-tech organization. I believe we should. With over half of our staff fully committed to delivering product and technology, it is already our primary vehicle for impacting our mission and our community. In fact we constantly see additional technology needs emerging from our Community department to help amplify theirs and our community work.
What do we need to do in light of the changes I described above? We need to focus on increasing productivity of our editors and bringing more readers to Wikipedia (directly on mobile, and from 3rd party reusers back to our sites).
When we started, the open knowledge on Wikipedia was a large piece of the internet. Today, we have an opportunity to be the door into the whole ecosystem of open knowledge by:
scaling knowledge (by building smart editing tools that structurally connect open sources)
expanding the entry point to knowledge (by improving our search portal)
There are many ways to alleviate the manual burdens of compiling and maintaining knowledge currently taken on by our editing community, while quickly expanding new editing. We made significant strides this year with our first steps to leverage artificial intelligence to remove grunt work from editing. But that is just a start. Connecting sources through structured data would go much further and allow our editors to easily choose the best media for their article and for our readers to recieve content at their depth of understanding or language comprehension.
Wikipedia is the trusted place where people learn. Early indicators show that if we choose to improve the search function more people will use our site. We are seeing early results in use of Wikipedia in our A/B testing of search , but we have a long way to go. We want people to come directly to our sites -- and be known as the destination for learning -- so that eventually we can bring our readers into our editing community. And without community support none of this will be remotely possible.
Which brings me to the community. Over time the WMF has grown, with an opportunity of becoming a complementary, mutually empowering partner with the community. We need each other and we share one focus: humanity. Reaching and sharing with people across the world is our common goal.
In the past year we managed -- for the first time since 2007 -- to finally stem the editor decline. But that will not be enough. We need to find ways to re-open and embrace new members instead of the hazing we conduct at least in some parts of the site today. We must treat each other with kindness and respect. Technology is not the main reasons for rampant new editor attrition. It is how we talk to each other that makes all the difference.
Without tackling these issues we artificially limit our growth and scalability. And we will continue to reject those whose ideas are new or different, the most vulnerable members of our community. In this, the Gender Gap is the “canary in the coal mine”. Women are the first to leave contentious and aggressive environments and are less likely to remain when they encounter it. They are less likely to run in elections because of rude and aggressive treatment. Yet in editor surveys and in our latest strategy consultation, Gender Gap has been considered a low priority. I disagree.
Over the past two years I have actively pushed funding to improve anti-harassment, child protection and safety programs; work in these areas is ongoing. We are actively exploring some tangible approaches that -- I hope -- will turn into concrete outcomes. In the latest research this year the number of female editors shown some growth.
What does this mean for the WMF?
In the past 18 months -- and thanks to hard work of the people at the WMF and our community supporters -- we have made significant structural changes. We have organized around two core areas: technology and community. We have made changes with an eye on improving our relationships between the volunteer community, the chapters and the WMF, including the creation of structures that should vastly improve the WMF's responsiveness to volunteers. We began adopting best industry practices in the organization, such as setting and measuring goals and KPIs. We’ve given managers a lot of responsibilities and demanded results. We’ve asked for adjustment in attitude towards work, our responsibilities and professional relationships. We prioritised impact and performance so that we can provide more value to our communities and the world.
This has not been easy.
In practice this means I demanded that we set standards for staff communication with our community to be professional and respectful. It meant transitioning people, shutting down pet projects, promoting some but not others, demanding goals and results to get funding. This level of change is necessary to set up our organization to address the challenges of the next decade.
All of this means stepping away from our comfort zones to create capacity for building programs and technologies that will support us in the future. It is a demanding and difficult task to perform an organizational change at this scale and speed.
I believe that in order to successfully serve our community and humanity, the WMF has deliver best-of class technology and professional support for community. This will ensure we are delivering significant impact to volunteer editors and opening avenues for new types of contributions. This requires that we choose the route of technical excellence for the WMF with support and encouragement from our community partners. Without this empowerment, the WMF will not succeed.
The world is not standing still. It will not wait for us to finish our internal battles and struggles. Time is our most precious commodity.