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Letter from the Founder


Article state : Editing - Proofreading - Translating - edit
Jimbo Wales speaking at FOSDEM 2005 in Brussels, Belgium.
By Chrys.

Wikimedia's mission is to give the world's knowledge to every single person on the planet in their own language. As part of that mission, Wikipedia is first and foremost an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality. Asking whether the community comes before or after this goal is really asking the wrong question: the entire purpose of the community is this goal.

I don't know of any case where there is a genuine tension between these two things, either. That is to say, the central core of the community, the people who are really doing the work, are all passionate about this point: that we're creating something of extremely high quality, not just building an online community for its own sake.

The community does not come before our task, the community is organized around our task. The difference is simply that decisions should always be made, not on the grounds of social expediency or popular majority or traditional credentials, but in light of the requirements of the job we have set for ourselves.

I do not endorse the view, a view held as far as I know only by a tiny minority, that Wikipedia is anti-elitist or anti-expert in any way. If anything, we are extremely elitist, but we are anti-credentialist. Attracting and retaining academic specialists is one of our goals. That is, we seek thoughtful intelligent people willing to do the very hard work of collaborating with others to be both accurate and balanced, and we don't accept anything less than that. A PhD is valuable evidence of that willingness, but it is not a substitute for these qualities.

There may be cases of PhDs who think that no one should edit their expert articles, or who can't stand seeing their point of view challenged, and have no patience for discussion. In these cases, their expertise is of limited value; if someone is unable to work in a friendly, helpful way in a social context, and feels that their credentials entitle them to the last word on a subject, this is a problem for them and for us. We will always have to make complex judgments about how to handle such situations.

I'm 100% committed to a goal of a "traditional encylopedia or better" quality for Wikipedia, and all of our social rules should revolve around that. Openness and inclusiveness are indispensible for us, but these are our radical means to our radical ends.

Letter from the Board
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Anthere in Agadir, May 2005

It has been one year since Angela and I were elected to the board of directors; an exciting year, but also a difficult one. And, it was the first year of real operation of the Foundation and its board.

In June 2004, the Foundation's birth was, above all, a declaration of intent by Jimbo. Its aim was to create a legal structure to provide for the needs of the Wikimedia projects and to help these projects in their development, while promoting their free and open qualities. In short, it aimed to remove the commercial tinge of earlier times, such as, associations with and, and to fully assume a certain ideological stance.

One year ago, the Foundation existed on paper, but it had no real existence. Jimbo had a certain idea of what the board would be like. He imagined quarterly meetings and some agreements on principles. All things considered, not a demanding activity...

Quote : "The role of the board is *not* generally to get involved in the day-to-day operation of the website. The board is a legal entity entrusted with ultimate decision making for the Foundation. Website governance is a different matter altogether. I don't anticipate that the board will be a difficult or demanding position." — Jimmy Wales

This was not exactly Angela's or my point of view; Angela and I had both planned to do a little more than "take part in some meetings"... and, I am afraid that we made a little bit more exciting position :-)

Whereas Jimbo took care of a good part of the technical and financial management, we slowly endeavoured to bring our conceptions of our roles to life: to relay to Jimbo the opinions of the editors; to organize the general operation of the Foundation; to announce decisions taken by the board; to support editor initiatives; and to gradually to help Jimbo in certain tasks, which he could not reasonably continue to become yet more involved in.

I often hear people ask But how do you operate? And, well... this evolved over the course of the year. During the summer of 2004, all three of us were relatively available, and could discuss issues all day on the IRC channels. The three of us had occasion to meet three times, in July, in November, and in December. Jimbo and Angela worked together with the BBC in London during the autumn...
For Angela and myself, the most difficult thing was to find our place and, yet, to avoid stepping on each other's toes. This was not always easy; we both had a very strong wish to be useful and to see our work appreciated.

Today, things are different. Angela and I are also very involved in our professional activities and our personal lives. Our hours of presence on IRC now coincide only partially. Jimbo is frequently gone during the week, as the worldwide success of our projects has led to ever-mounting requests for presentations about the project. And, he devotes his weekends to his personal life.

What could be a negative point, that is, less availability for Wikimedia, and increased stress due to tighter management of our time, has also, I think, become a positive point; we have devoted much time to the Foundation, yet we also have our own private existence. We do not depend entirely on the project.

Currently, we, therefore, function much more asynchronously, by mail and by one-on-one discussions on IRC. It happens more frequently that Angela or I let ourselves occupy a role previously managed by Jimbo, such as responding to local conflicts or following up on legal requests. Since the tasks are numerous, we try division of labour... at the risk of sometimes lacking information about some issue already being handled by another member of the board.

Some board activities are visible to editors. Among the most conspicuous are the signing of a partnership with Yahoo! or the participation in a Wikipedia meeting. But, more generally, its actions are visible neither on the wiki, nor on the most-known discussion lists. Our daily activities may consist of managing innumerable emails, drawing up a budget, contributing to the organization of events, taking part in the development and the diffusion of the Quarto and press releases, updating the Foundation Website, promoting the creation of new departments and their discussion lists, following the proceedings of legal accusations of slander or copyright violations, considering the legalities of logo use, mediating conflicts on the individual projects, tapping developers for information, organizing grant meetings, signing petitions, presenting the projects at conferences, responding to interviews and the press, ordering hardware, inquiring after not-profit status, organizing income tax returns and fundraising, analyzing and commenting on contracts with partners, following and supporting the creation of local chapters, relaying requests from editors, etc....

As all this could not be managed by one tiny group alone, which is sometimes badly informed on the grounds for and the outcomes of each decision — for example, none of us has legal training. Therefore, it is necessary to weave a permanent fabric of collaborators and hope that all turns out for best.

And generally, THAT WORKS! Unfortunately, the multitude of daily tasks also pushes back significant decisions concerning the proper evolution of the Foundation.

The Foundation has functioned this year on the model described above — with failures, partial successes, and successes. Its role has been created day by day, according to changing needs, by striving for a constant but reasoned growth: through striving for decision-making by consensus, not by vote; and through supporting the suggestions of many people and listening as much as we could. I hope that it will continue to grow according to this model, gradually and continuously building the solid basis of operation, which it needs.

Florence Nibart-Devouard, "Anthere" 17:58, 24 May 2005 (UTC)[reply]