Thanks to everyone who supported me in the 2006 Board Election, and for all constructive criticism. I will do my best to work together with the Board to move our organization forward. Please continue to comment or ask questions about my Foundation involvement.
Letter to the community edit
People who publicly endorse my platform include the following:
- I am honored to be the first to endorse Erik Moeller's campaign. I wish him good luck for the election and his future in Wikimedia. Messedrocker 19:41, 10 August 2006 (UTC)
- I think that Erik can provide great leadership for the Wikimedia organization. I definitely support his candidacy. -- IlyaHaykinson 00:31, 11 August 2006 (UTC)
- I am and always have been deeply impressed with Erik's knowledge, vision, drive and broad range of activities. Wikmedia would not have been what it is without him. He matches Antheres candidness, if not quite her tactfulness, but noone is perfect. Wikimedia needs people like Erik to keep the momentum going. I wish him best of luck in the elections. Erik Zachte 03:49, 11 August 2006 (UTC)
- Erik gets my whole support. I endorse Eloquence's platform. Hégésippe | ±Θ± 04:12, 11 August 2006 (UTC)
- Although I'm torn between him and another great candidate, I've decided to endorse Erik in his campaign, as I believe his take on the issues facing Wikimedia currently is quite astute and to the point, and I believe his serving on the Borad of Trustees will prove to be of great profit for the project. —Nightstallion (?) 06:27, 11 August 2006 (UTC)
- I have not always agreed with Eloquence/Erik, but he disagreed with me respectfully, intelligently, and with conviction. If I were on a board, he's exactly the kind of person I'd want to be on the board also. Rholton 03:27, 13 August 2006 (UTC)
- I cannot imagine a finer candidate. Erik is a model of integrity and openness, and combines these traits with a creative mind, fine technical skills, and a deep desire to learn from others. This is an outstanding blend of characteristics for a Wikimedia board member. Dovi 06:35, 17 August 2006 (UTC)
- I strongly support Erik's platform in this election and I believe he is the best candidate to represent the community in the development of the Wikimedia Foundation over the coming year. Erik has shown a continued commitment, not only to Wikipedia but to the Wikimedia Foundation as a whole. Erik's commitment to the sort of openness that will ensure the community will have an influence in ensuring the Foundation meets its goals makes me happy to endorse him as the person to replace me on the Board. Angela 16:45, 18 August 2006 (UTC)
- Erik has perhaps the most comprehensive understanding of the Wikimedia universe -- from its philosophy, to its projects, to its technical and organizational infrastructure -- of anyone involved with the Foundation. I support his candidacy and endorse him for the Board. --Evan 04:43, 19 August 2006 (UTC)
- I've always been strongly impressed with Erik's work, his commitment and his creativity and many great ideas, and am delighted to support his candidacy. Erik is a great resource for the community. He was nearly elected to the first Wikimedia board, and lost only narrowly by 11 votes. Kph 11:59, 19 August 2006 (UTC)
- Sometimes I am not happy about Erik's way, but I see his actions as having a really positive effect on Wikipedia, therefore I fully support him (Fest Daumendrück ;-) Fantasy 容 06:59, 21 August 2006 (UTC)
- I'm happy to endorse Erik. We've conversed on various topics on wikien-l, and on occasion we've happened to edit the same article. I've always found him reasonable, thoughtful and willing to converse amicably even when there is disagreement. He has extensive knowledge of the Wikimedia community at multiple levels: as a programmer, as an active editor, and as an active participant in discussing and setting policies and norms. I think he would be a great board member. --Sheldon Rampton 03:55, 23 August 2006 (UTC)
- Of all the candidates, Erik is the most involved as a Wikimedian. He was instrumental in the creation of Wikinews and Commons. He is currently actively involved in Wikidata and therefore in WiktionaryZ. As the emphasis is slowly but surely turning away from en.wikipedia there will also be an increased emphasis on the other Wikimedia projects. Erik has creditably championed the good cause of the Wikipedia, he has been extremely relevant for the other projects and this is what makes him a perfect candidate for this office of board member for the Wikimedia Foundation. GerardM 11:18, 23 August 2006 (UTC)
- For having such a cool platform page and for making the word competency blush. GChriss 17:52, 23 August 2006 (UTC)
- I am very happy to see Erik's candidacy for this election. I trust his personal judgement and I believe he is one of those who fully gets what Wikipedia is about. I will vote for Erik again. Sverdrup 02:30, 26 August 2006 (UTC)
- Erik's enthusiasm, commitment, and organizational and technical expertise make him the ideal candidate for the Board. -- NGerda 22:22, 26 August 2006 (UTC)
- Eloquence is a tireless developer and moderator on multiple projects. He will make a great contribution to the board. Ŭalabio 07:13, 28 August 2006 (UTC)
- I feel that Erik knows what he's talking about and has ideas that could change Wikimedia for the better. I'm happily endorsing him. -- AndreniW (or see en:User:AndreniW) 09:27, 30 August 2006 (UTC)
- Erik combines a value for worldwide development, especially for those communities that most need development, with technical expertise and experience in Wikimedia. I am proud to have people like Erik represent me. r3 01:38, 31 August 2006 (UTC)
- I am not new in this site, unfortunately, I cannot vote because I just signed up. Well, I see Erik as a great person based on his platforms. I hope his creativity will be recognized now. cuagoo, Philippines
- Ah! Just 395 edits in en.wikipedia! You will have my support but unfortunately not my vote! Good luck Erik! Miguel Andrade 04:07, 10 September 2006 (UTC)
- Better late than never I suppose. Eloquence has my unequivocal support based on both his illustrious past involvement in Wikimedia, and his admirable platform. the wub 12:59, 16 September 2006 (UTC)
- While my endorsement may be seen as a negative by some, I have to say that Erik has been one of the most open-minded, constructively inclusive individuals to address "conflict of interest" issues within Wikipedia. --MyWikiBiz 15:28, 16 September 2006 (UTC)
- Erik is an open-minded person and I like his professionalism which is sometimes missing in WP/WM/MW. He is courageous enough to try something new, that's what I like most. To swim against the stream (only those will reach the source), adopted proverb from S. J. Lec. --Wikinaut 12:37, 19 September 2006 (UTC) .
"Horses, unlike domestic animals like cats and dogs, have never formed a voluntary symbiotic relationship with their human keepers." So begins Wikipedia's article of the day for August 31, 2001, which is the first e-mail I ever received from Wikipedia. I had read about the project on Kuro5hin (where I was an active author at the time), after Larry Sanger had posted a detailed editorial about both Wikipedia and Nupedia.  Being very daring, Larry suggested: "Suppose that, as is perfectly possible, Wikipedia continues producing articles at a rate of 1,000 per month. In seven years, it would have 84,000 articles. This is entirely possible."
As I am writing this, Wikipedia has more than 4 million articles in over 100 languages.  The website is ranked #16 in Alexa.com's Top 500 list of websites by traffic ranking, before Amazon.com, CNN, Google Germany, and AOL. Our servers receive more than 10,000 page requests per second during peak load. Hardly a day goes by without the mainstream press reporting on things we supposedly have done or intend to do.
This phenomenal growth puts us in an enviable, yet scary position. As a non-profit dedicated to the public interest, we have an enormous potential to do good. At the same time, our growth carries responsibilities and risks. Being defamed on Wikipedia is no longer the same as being mentioned in some blog or on a Geocities website: any claim on Wikipedia carries our logo, our brand, and we need to do much better in distinguishing between those statements which have passed through community processes, and those which haven't. Our sites are very much targeted by spammers and search engine optimizers, who pose a far greater threat than teenage vandals. At least one company publicly advertises that it will create Wikipedia articles as a PR service for its clients.
Our slogan boldly states: Imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing. This promise, which is part of the reason so many people give generously to our non-profit organization, remains unfulfilled. In a world where 21% of the population live from an income of less than $1 per day , where half the people in the least developed nations are illiterate, where millions lack access to clean water or electricity, how can we realistically make a difference by creating free knowledge resources?
While we may not be able to help the poorest of the poor, together with initiatives like the One Laptop Per Child, we may be able to support regions in transition, where education is available but not affordible, where free textbooks and a free encyclopedia (which goes far beyond the traditional view of an encyclopedia) can make a real difference. This requires us to work closely with other non-profits in the area of education and ICT for developing countries, and to bring our volunteers into this process on a large scale. We can give the world more than just a pocketful of hope.
Not only do we need to bring knowledge to those people who need it the most, we also have to make an effort to innovate and succeed in our other projects: Wikibooks, Wiktionary, Wikisource, Wikiquote, Wikinews, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, and Wikiversity. Each of these projects carries a great potential for enlightenment, and each requires us to build a network of partnerships around the globe in order to build content, technology, and community.
The Foundation itself needs to scale to meet these challenges. In the last year, it has transformed from an organization that used to be run entirely by its Board of Trustees, to a more typical non-profit with some operational staff, an Executive Director, and a commitment to expand its Board. The average non-profit Board in the United States has 17 members,  whereas the Wikimedia Board only has 5, of which only 3-4 were active for most of its existence. This is going to change. While we don't need a 17 people Board, 9 has been cited as a number by Jimmy and some others.
As we scale up, I believe that we should set an example for other organizations. Unlike a typical non-profit, the thousands of members of our community are all used to working on the Internet, and are able to participate in open processes. We should therefore make sure that, in areas where it makes sense, as many people as possible can participate as easily as possible in organizational tasks. The Wikimedia Foundation needs to be more than "the group of people that keeps the site running;" it needs to become the open organizational effort which helps us to achieve our broad and ambitious goals.
In 2004, I ran for the Board of Trustees for the first time. I was narrowly defeated by Anthere with 269 to 258 votes. I did not give up and pursued the projects that I believed in and that I had promoted in my platform, particularly Wikinews and the Wikimedia Commons, both of which did not exist at the time. After 5 years on Wikipedia and a lot of involvement with Wikimedia and MediaWiki, I believe I am today ready to serve you, the community, in our common interest.
I am asking you to elect me to this short term (until July 2007), and to give me a chance to prove to you that I can use my abilities to take the organization to the next level. If you would like to endorse my platform, you can do so publicly in the box to the right. Below you will find a brief "Wiki CV," my thoughts on some of the issues which we will face over the coming years, and an interview with myself. ;-) If you have any questions, please ask me here on Meta. You can also find me on IRC as Eloquence (formerly Xirzon) or Skype as Xirzon.
Brad Patrick, our Executive Director, recently wrote: "This is the big picture stuff the board will be thinking about for the Retreat. I'm not worried about a million dollar donation. I'm worried about how to think about an organization that has a billion dollars." This is not the Arbitration Committee election of the English Wikipedia. In this election, you will choose the next trustee of the governing body of the Wikimedia Foundation. Please study the candidates' platforms carefully, identify the issues you care about, and choose wisely, with the "big picture stuff" in mind. :-)
Very truly yours,
Wiki CV edit
Specs and ideas:
Work around Wikipedia:
In pictures edit
Excerpt from my book, "Die heimliche Medienrevolution", which covers Wikipedia in detail. The first edition is available under a GFDL/CC-BY-SA dual-license.
At the FLOSS workshop in Pretoria, South Africa in 2005 (second from right). I have spoken at many conferences internationally about Wikimedia and its projects.
WiktionaryZ editing interface. I currently manage and lead the development of the project, which seeks to build a better database model and editing interface for a multilingual dictionary and thesaurus.
I visited the OhmyNews citizen journalism forum in Seoul, South Korea in 2005 and provided Wikinews coverage from the event.
Presenting semantic wiki technologies, including WiktionaryZ, at Wikimania 2006. To the right are Brion Vibber (Wikimedia CTO) and Denny Vrandevic (Semantic MediaWiki developer).
When I proposed Wikimedia Commons, I developed a detailed Commons:Project plan, including a redesigned upload form. In the end, the project was launched with no special functionality. One month later, I coded the feature to use images from Commons.
One of about 6,000 images uploaded by FlickrLickr, a collaborative process I developed to vet freely licensed images from Flickr for inclusion in Wikimedia Commons.
Wikipedia's logo until September 2003. In mid-2003, I organized the international logo contest, which resulted in the current logos for Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation, and MediaWiki.
The namespace manager is one of the most complex pieces of code I've worked on for MediaWiki. It is in the process of being merged into the standard distribution of the software.
One of 10,000 reproductions of paintings donated to us by Directmedia, a Berlin company (not all of them show chubby kids ;-). I coordinated the upload and metadata import.
Richard Stallman with Wikimania attendees. The Wikimedia community is at the core of the free culture movement. It is Wikimedia's greatest asset, and we must always make sure that it can be involved in everything we do.
The issues edit
To address the issues described below, I would like to help make a Wikimedia roadmap together with the rest of the Board, so we can more systematically delegate responsibility to achieve our goals.
Open Wikimedia edit
- Survivable systems are never closed, but always open and accessible to the outside.
- — Frederic Vester
In January 2006, Angela announced the creation of several new Wikimedia Foundation committees which would receive official delegated authority from the Board of Trustees.  This was a major change from the way the Foundation had been run so far: entirely be the Board of Trustees. I immediately expressed some thoughts on the committee structure, and these still largely reflect my thinking today. First and foremost, I believe that any committee should be as open as reasonably possible.
Angela and Anthere made a first effort to guarantee this openness through a Resolution on committee conduct. This resolution did not pass, as it was seen as insufficiently developed. One of my first actions as Board member would be to develop a clear and sensible proposal as to how we can guarantee transparency, openness, participation and accountability within these Wikimedia committees. Information should be published whenever doing so is unlikely to cause harm to the projects, our partners, the community, or the organization.
I believe every committee should hold open meetings at least from time to time, to allow new volunteers to receive and provide input about what the committee has been doing and how they can help. Volunteers should be able to attain advisor status after a while, and the most active volunteers should become legal members (which means that they legally receive delegated authority from the Board, and also get access to internal wikis and mailing lists, so this is quite a big deal). Ideally, advisors should have access to most of the operational information needed to participate in the work of the committee, and should be allowed to take part informally in its processes.
Subcommittees can be an effective way to manage confidential information. Already, the Special projects committee has created several such subcommittees to deal with particular efforts, such as static content versions of Wikipedia. Since such subcommittees only need to have access to operational information, they can be even more open about participation than the main committee.
Each committee should at least occasionally report to the Board and to the Executive Director, and a version of that report which has been edited for confidential information should be copied to the community. Private mailing lists or wikis should only be used when necessary, and there should be well-defined processes for publishing information after it is no longer confidential (e.g. when a deal has been agreed upon).
The committees should effectively function as small meritocracies, where anyone who is willing to do good work can attain legal membership. (Members should, however, also be excluded when they are no longer active.) See below for some thoughts on processes that will help us to avoid situations where we take on projects which we are not equipped to successfully complete.
How do we handle multiple languages in a committee? On a practical level, the chapters will probably be the best home for people who do not speak English, so we should continue to assist and accelerate the process of creating new ones (Delphine is doing a great job as chapter coordinator). If there is significant interest in having language-specific workgroups on the Foundationlevel, we should also facilitate that—and find people willing to report progress in a shared bridging language (typically English).
On a financial level, we do not yet have a full-time Chief Financial Officer who can make sure that our budgets are published openly and in a timely fashion. We have a responsibility to explain clearly how we spend our money and why we need more, and we should never ask for money if we cannot articulate a clear and present or future need for it. Most importantly, we need to make sure that money is spent responsibly and efficiently, and that all expenses are accounted for. Professional external audits must be conducted on a regular basis to make sure that our finances are fully in order, and the results of such audits should be publicized as much as possible.
The Board itself can be more open to participation than it currently is. Many resolutions can start their life on Meta, with open development and feedback, before being voted on. Any member of the community should be encouraged to put forward proposals for resolutions, as long as these are sensibly vetted before being examined by the Board. The process for proposing new projects is an example of how the community can take initiatives.
One question that has come up in recent months is whether the Wikimedia Foundation should have legal membership. I have no clear answer to that question yet, and would like to discuss it in detail with our legal counsel and the other members of the Board. My intution is that a membership model that incorporates both the chapters and the Foundation might make sense for certain purposes (such as elections), but I would also like us to avoid additional risks of liability and unnecessary bureaucracy. Membership could guarantee that the organization will be fully in the hands of the community, since under Florida law, members can remove any member of the Board of Trustees by majority vote.  In any case, I would like the majority of the Board to be elected openly by the community in a staggered process (i.e. there is no risk that the entire Board will be replaced in the same election, which helps to establish continuity).
Balance and Harmony edit
- Conflict is competition between and among individuals. It can be constructive and stimulating. It promotes change and adaptation. Conflict, managed well, can promote awareness of self and others. It can even strengthen relationships and heighten morale. Conflict can be destructive too, and it is its ability to damage individuals and relationships that too often confronts and confounds us.
- — E. Grant MacDonald, Director, Non-Profit Sector Leadership Program, Dalhousie University 
Any organization of the complexity and size of Wikimedia needs full-time employees to make sure that skilled people are available wherever and whenever we need them. The organization has now recognized this, and has hired some of the smartest people in our community as FTEs: Danny Wool, Brad Patrick, Tim Starling, and Brion Vibber. Delphine Ménard, because of her background as a professional events organizer, has been hired on a contractual basis to organize Wikimania 2006. So far, I believe our hiring practice has been excellent and in line with our needs. As the Foundation and the Chapters grow, we need to make sure that volunteers always feel welcome to contribute, and that we minimize the risk of conflict across the two layers. We should also think very hard how we can decentralize and delegate work to volunteers or part-timers that is currently done by full-time paid staff.
Examples of volunteer/staff overlap include: sending personalized thank you notes to donors (in addition to legally required documentation, which should be managed professionally), dealing with legal content issues across multiple projects and languages, managing fundraising campaigns, organizing events like Wikimania (already done very well), developing the software and servicing external users of our content and our code, building partnerships, and so on. Within each of these areas, the trick is to let volunteers do as much as possible, while minimizing risks by employing staff in key areas.
Staff and Board members, when acting in an official capacity on a Wikimedia project, should use different user accounts or different signatures from those used for their volunteer work as Wikimedia editors. This helps to avoid misunderstandings in the community, and may also be preferable from a legal perspective: if employees on the Foundation or Chapter level are seen as content editors, this may increase our liability or expose these individuals to direct legal threats.
I see it as one of the important roles of the Board to mediate between staff and volunteers, to listen carefully to complaints, and to assist the Executive Director in restructuring workflows in response. The Board is in the perfect position to do this: It has no day-to-day operational responsibility, and is made up primarily of known and trusted individuals from the community, while also meeting regularly with employees. Conflicts should become visible through existing discussion channels, new forms of dialogue, and reports.
Resolving conflicts within the Board is equally important. E. Grant MacDonald (quoted above) distinguishes between passive Boards, embattled Boards and harmonious Boards. From a community perspective, a passive Board is as dangerous as an embattled one. MacDonald writes:
- The passive board is a group content with the status quo, complacent, comfortable being led by an influential person (perhaps the founder, Chair of Board or the Executive Director). The passive board is one that may be characterized by poor attendance, little membership turnover, very few vocal persons. The passive board is one that takes as 'given' to them, both the ends and means of the organization.
For an organization as dependent on constant innovation as Wikimedia, a passive Board is particularly dangerous. To avoid both extremes, we need to build a diverse Board whose members are trained to resolve conflicts, who are willing to express their opinion while honoring that of others, and who have a full understanding of the roles and responsiblities of Board members, staff, and volunteers. There are courses specialized on non-profit Board conflict resolution, and it may be desirable for all members of the Wikimedia Board to participate in such courses on Foundation expenses.
Dialogue and Surveys edit
- To be willing to test a new idea; to be able to live on the edge of difference in all matters intellectually; to examine without heat the burning question of the day; to have imaginative sympathy, openness and flexibility of mind, steadiness and poise of feeling, cool calmness of judgment, is to have culture.
- — Arthur Henry Rolph Fairchild
In order to make sound decisions about the future of Wikimedia, the Board needs to have a good basis of information about all its projects and languages. Discussions with the community can also help to avoid future conflicts, and to recognize alternative strategies for solving problems.
In my experience, members of the community respond very positively to invitations for discussion. With good moderation and a clearly defined agenda, such events are more than just an opportunity for people to make their voice heard. For Wikinews, we organized a couple of IRC chats: A Wikinews Chat to explore the relation between wikis and blogs (where many bloggers with no Wikinews involvement participated), and two future talks about the perspectives for the project. I believe that such open community discussions should be initiated from the Board-level on a regular basis for each Wikimedia project, including Wikipedia. This will help the Board and the Executive Director to identify key priorities, potential partnerships, and projects that have fallen by the wayside.
It is my hope that in the long run, each project will have a clear and well-defined mission statement that is independent of its languages, and that an open dialogue will lead towards that. To give just an example, I do not believe every Wikisource language edition should decide on its own whether it wants to allow translations, or modern texts—such goals should be determined for the project as a whole. This is why we need open discussions to figure out what exactly these goals are.
Beyond discussing with the community, we need better information about the practices in the different languages and projects: What do sysops do in the different Wikipedias? Is sysop status seen as a role carrying specific responsibilities, or as an expression of trust? How does deletion work across languages and projects? Are users happy with the interaction with stewards? Which copyright standards are being followed? As we understand the projects better, we can begin to identify best practices. I believe that the community should collect such best practice recommendations on Meta, so that new projects do not have to reinvent the wheel of NPOV, Wikiquette, admin roles, every time a new wiki is set up. But collecting some of this data, especially across languages, will require a coordinated effort, and the Board should lead or at least initiate this effort.
The same goes for the way the organization itself is run. Every now and then, we should have an "Open Wikimedia" chat, with an agenda prepared on Meta, and ask the community whether they are happy with the ways they can participate in the projects and the organization. Finally, the Board should report about its activities in multiple places, and the frequency of reports should reflect the level of Board activity. I'm happy to lead this reporting effort; my Wikinews "State of the Wiki" essays are examples for how much work I'm willing to put into such tasks.
I believe that the site notice can be a great way to motivate members of the community, especially if we make it trivial to dismiss (i.e. a small button to indicate that you have seen it and do not wish to see it again). Why do we only have fundraising drives, but never, say, a call for MediaWiki developers? This, of course, needs to be discussed. Still, I think we should ask the community for help in areas beyond money—through targeted campaigns, and through a less targeted broadcasting approach for some issues.
- Instead of thinking about management challenges at the organizational level, leaders should think about how best to mobilize resources both within and outside organizational boundaries to achieve their social aims.
- — Martha Lagace: Nonprofit Networking: The New Way to Grow 
With the many projects we have taken on, it is clear that we cannot succeed on our own. But we don't have to. Wikimedia is a community of thousands of individuals with connections to large, widely respected institutions and organizations. Wikipedia has name recognition globally. There are a few examples of partnerships and grants, such as the Beck Foundation grant for Wikijunior, the Lounsberry Foundation grant , the Kennisnet and Yahoo! hosting partnerships, Kennisnet development initiatives such as InstantCommons, various hardware donations, event sponsorships, the German chapter's partnerships with Directmedia around the German DVD and the Wikipress books, and so on. Imagine these partnerships magnified by a factor of 100 or 1000 and you have a good idea what is possible.
Wikimedia needs to become capable of handling a vast, global network of partnerships. Many of these partnerships will be conditional, e.g., a partner or grant-giving organization will require that a certain project be undertaken successfully within a certain timeframe. That is a perfectly reasonable expectation, so Wikimedia needs to have some full-time staff to manage projects. The basic principle is simple: for any given project, we need to have reliable people at the critical junctions, so that the risk of project failure is minimized. Certainly, some projects we undertake will fail; that is to be expected, so it makes sense to start with small, low-risk projects like InstantCommons, and to take on larger ones as our experience grows.
Here are some specific examples of networking and partnerships that I have in mind:
- Wikipedia: After Nature's publication about the quality of Wikipedia vs. Britannica, and our announcements and initiatives to flag stable versions of articles, we need to make a serious call to the scientific community to participate, and provide them with easy channels to do so. We also should build connections with the growing open access movement, and create workflows for incorporating the latest scientific findings and references into Wikipedia as they are published. My favorite example is the gorilla article on the English Wikipedia, which is illustrated with a photo from a recent Public Library of Science open access paper under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Whether we're talking about scientific papers or other knowledge resources such as the documentaries in the BBC Creative Archive, a clear strategy for knowledge integration into Wikipedia will help us to persuade partners to make material available under permissive licenses. The perfect Wikipedia article should be a gateway to knowledge on all different levels.
There is tremendous potential in researching Wikipedia's content and community, and we should facilitate such projects technologically and socially while respecting users' privacy. Volunteer groups like the Wikimedia Research Network will help to avoid duplicate effort, to identify research goals, and to communicate needs to the executive level.
Wikipedia's language diversity also opens an incredible potential for content development through grants and partnerships. Paid article development should focus on languages where no or only very small communities exist, to minimize conflict and to avoid disincentivization of volunteer work.
- Wikinews: Within the global movement for citizen journalism, we do not have the same dominant role as we do with Wikipedia. Therefore, joining an existing effort of organizational leadership such as the Center for Citizen Media may make sense. We should try to find ways to enable meta-cooperations of citizen reporters across projects, including content and resource sharing and possibly even funding models. I have initiated some early discussions with citizen radio projects during my visit to Salzburg for the Civilmedia conference, and hope that these could lead to long term content development partnerships wherever citizen media already exist. Ideally, I would wish for a network of media centers, where Wikinews is one of the resources volunteers work on (and make use of), and would like us to pursue grants in this area.
I also believe that Wikinews has incredible potential as a learning resource for students of journalism, particularly online journalism. Not only does it provide a publishing platform, the Wikinews community can give immediate feedback on a submission, and will deny the publication of stories which are not up to its standards.
- Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource: There is a huge wealth of media resources out there that we can make use of, and the recent discussions with the Library of Congress and the Holocaust Museum demonstrate the potential. However, we should be careful not to become another Internet Archive: our goal is to enable practical collaborations around information, and the resources we host should somehow fit within that goal. With that in mind, we should approach international archives, libraries and organizations that want to collaborate with the Wikimedia community: to author metadata, to provide translations, to proofread digitized text, or to incorporate works into our exisiting projects.
For Commons in particular, we will also find ways to fund content development. It would be relatively easy to get a European Union grant for international multimedia projects involving students or children ("photo documentation of Europe"), for example. This does not necessarily need to be done by the Foundation, though; the chapters should assume the lead in projects in their respective regions. I personally would find multimedia projects in the developing world especially exciting.
We should also build better interfaces with existing content providers, to make sure that useful free content information can be quickly imported into our own projects. My own FlickrLickr project is a modest example of that; Project Gutenberg provides a constant flow of freshly digitized public domain documents and images, some of which have plenty of relevance to our own projects (take the recently digitized History of Egypt as an example). We should encourage new media platforms like Google Video and, yes, even YouTube, to support and encourage free content licenses so that content they develop can become useful to us.
- Wikibooks and Wikiversity: If we play our cards right, the Wikimedia Foundation will become the key player in the growing field of free educational resources. Heck, the UNESCO is already running an Open Educational Resources wiki using MediaWiki—the entire field seems to be waiting for us to approach them and work with them. We need to get serious about managing this effort, as it will have the greatest impact on our educational mission. See more below under free knowledge.
- Wiktionary: You wouldn't believe how many organizations and individuals have expressed a strong interest in the WiktionaryZ project, even while it is still in its pre-alpha stage. The interest became clear even before we knew whether it would ever be accepted as a Wikimedia project. There is an incredible need across all multinational institutions to deal with terminology in a more effective manner, and a central collaborative resource like WiktionaryZ is exactly what is needed.
The project's development began with a content partnership: We imported the data of the GEMET thesaurus of the European Union, just one of many thesauri specifically about environmental terminology. The amount of redundancy in this area is incredible, and most of these organizations are happy to provide their resources as free content (or already do). WiktionaryZ supports the notion of a collection to distinguish different sources, and we have already developed importing tools for multiple other data sources, including one which contains nearly 2 million expressions. Spend a few minutes talking to Gerard Meijssen, who has been incredibly active in building a network of partnerships for this project, and you will get an idea what's possible.
- MediaWiki: Whether you consider MediaWiki, our wiki software, one of Wikimedia's projects or not, it is clear that the Foundation is leading its development by hosting the largest wikis and employing its two primary developers. I see MediaWiki as the Linux kernel of the free culture movement: thousands of free content and open source projects depend on it. Accordingly, I believe the Foundation should not only focus on development goals within its organizational boundaries, but should identify MediaWiki users and collaborate with them on issues like open APIs and exchange formats, external tools, and feature development.
It is not up to the Board to lead and manage these initiatives, but it needs to create the structures where they can flourish, and should advise the Executive Director and Staff on those which are to be pursued with priority. Most importantly, if the organization becomes sufficiently open and participatory, the community will lead, and it will amaze us all with its ingenuity.
- Knowing the steps to create living growth: that is art.
- — Deng Ming-Dao
Financially, we're in pretty good shape. Even without a fundraising drive, we are taking in about $30,000 per month as of August 2006.  This is almost sufficient to continue to operate the server farm, since our previously exponential growth seems to have slowed down somewhat. However, if we manage to scale existing and future projects to even remotely the size of Wikipedia, then of course massive new purchases of hardware and bandwidth will be required.
It's stating the obvious that we must continue to build spare capacities to avoid having to constantly optimize the last 10% of our resource usage. I'm not convinced that our current model of buying servers needs to be continued indefinitely; leasing may be a reasonable alternative, and I'm also certain that we can get free hardware and hosting support (in return for organizations and for-profits being listed among our benefactors) on a larger scale. As tempting as some offers may be, we must avoid a dependency on a single partner, and should try to develop consistent standard agreements for such partnerships.
We should rethink the way we want to host large media files. Right now, we are limiting the size of files uploaded to Wikimedia Commons to ~20 MB. Given that we have to pay for the storage capacity ourselves, that makes sense. However, many of these large files are static and can be stored with mirrors across the globe, and with existing organizations that specialize on media hosting, such as the Internet Archive. BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer technologies may also facilitate large file distribution. From a Board level, exploring these strategies can very much be prioritized.
The goodwill shown to us by donors demonstrates the benefit of being a trusted non-profit. I completely reject the idea that we need advertising on Wikimedia projects. There is no evidence whatsoever that we need it to support our projects, it would cause harm to the community, damage our credibility, and put us in a disadvantageous position compared to for-profit mirrors. Some have cited imaginary numbers of revenue that advertising could generate; these calculations do not take the negative impact of ads into account. Aside from that, the amount of money we take in is far less relevant than our strategy for spending it; we are not a for-profit corporation.
I believe that online fundraising efficiency can be increased significantly. I have collected some ideas for doing so 2 years ago; many of them are still valid. Beyond these, there is huge untapped potential in grants, charity dinners, endowments, and other more traditional fundraising strategies. This effort should be largely led by the fundraising committee in coordination with the office staff and the financial committee, but the Board should at least outline broad strategic goals. Wikimedia President Jimmy Wales' growing international fame could also prove useful for fundraising purposes.
Scalability to me means that we hire staff in line with the needs of our projects. Personnel can be useful in many different areas:
- Press and marketing (having at least one person permanently available as a press officer would help in crisis situations)
- Administration and development (we're reasonably strong in this area for now given that our existence depends on it)
- Product management and business development (establishing partnerships and making sure that commitments are successfully completed)
- Communication and office work (coordinating volunteers like the OTRS team is especially important here)
- Accounting and financial planning (hiring a CFO should be a top priority)
The Foundation also needs to oversee the development of the chapters, which includes their management structures and their ability to serve their local communities. While chapters make personnel decisions autonomously, the Foundation at least needs to make sure that data about chapters is shared, and that all chapters operate within a generally defined scope.
- We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.
- — Alan Turing
We have two full-time developers; this is a recognition of the great work they have been doing, and of the fact that especially in the area of software development, we haven't seen nearly the exponential growth of volunteer work as in the wiki-based projects. MediaWiki is an incredibly complex piece of software, and we need to have dependable individuals to continue to build and maintain it.
By and large, Brion and Tim do not need the Foundation to tell them what to do. There are certain roadmap items which can be prioritized by the Board and the Executive, such as single login (in the works now), quality assurance mechanisms, better integration of Wikimedia Commons, or a more scalable system for interlanguage and interproject links. However, in general, I believe it makes sense for isolated projects to be handled by contracted developers outside the Wikimedia Foundation, and for Brion and Tim to focus on maintenance, optimization and integration, as well as the projects they personally deem valuable and useful.
I put quite a bit of effort into both Wikinews and Wikimedia Commons, and as such, am somewhat biased towards making these two projects succeed. I am also the lead developer of the WiktionaryZ project, which I hope to get off the ground with GerardM, Sabine Cretella, and the rest of the WiktionaryZ team. Our goal with WiktionaryZ is to not only build a much more powerful system than the existing Wiktionaries—a system operating on relational data, rather than flat wiki pages—but to construct a general Wikidata framework which can be used to enrich wiki pages with structured data, and to create a central repository for concepts in all languages.
This concept database can then serve as a language-independent metadata tool; for instance, you could tag multimedia from Commons with concept IDs from WiktionaryZ and as such access them through any language. Imagine: as soon as we have translations of the word horse in Akan or Marathi, people speaking these languages will be able to find pictures of horses in Commons. Whereas most "Web 2.0" applications are monolingual, the Wikimedia Foundation can take the lead in building a truly multilingual semantic web.
WiktionaryZ is developed through a broad network of partnerships, and is an example of how I think innovation in Wikimedia can happen. So far, this was not done through the official channels of the Wikimedia Foundation, yet, the Board has recently passed a resolution to host and test WiktionaryZ. I will avoid conflicts of interest and not vote on any resolutions which could benefit me personally.
As Board member, I will consider all projects to be on equal footing, and promote development initiatives and partnerships around all of them. Beyond Wiktionary(Z), here are just some examples that come to mind, though I'm happy to be told that my ideas are bad, or to listen to those of others:
- All projects will benefit from stable versioning functionality (now under development), advanced wiki-based quality assurance processes (see Wikicat, Wikicite and WikiTextrose for some wild ideas in this area), improved localization, and multilingual metadata. WYSIWYM editing is also very much needed, though Wikia is already prioritizing it so Wikimedia may not have to.
- Wikipedia needs to provide mechanisms for experts to participate in article building without giving them special privilege or requiring them to discuss each of their suggestions endlessly. The review process I recently suggested is an example how this could work. Another idea is to start a network of IRC channels devoted to self-selected experts in particular topic areas, such as a Wikipedia history chat, a Wikipedia biology chat, and so on (the German Wikipedia is already doing this), possibly tied to the existing WikiProjects and Portals. This might help us build knowledgeable and stable communities that serve a purpose even beyond Wikipedia.
- Commons should be integrated directly with all the projects, with a revamped upload form (compare the one that I created as part of my original Commons proposal in 2004), so that users don't have to know too much about Commons in order to understand how to use it. However, in order for this to work seamlessly, we will also need better cross-project messaging functionality, so that the Commons community can talk to uploaders from other projects effectively. Single login is an absolute requirement before any of this work can begin. More than any other project, Commons needs multilingual metadata to become a more useful resource.
- Wikinews needs a simplified workflow and better RSS support. The project would also benefit greatly, I think, from the integration of real-time collaborative editors like Gobby. There are some extremely interesting developments in the area of video content editing and annotation, such as the Metavid project, and I hope that we can work closely with these efforts to promote video news generation.
- Both Wikibooks and Wikisource need better tools to structure complex documents as such, for instance, a document builder to arrange elements of a book in a tree structure. Better translation tools and integration with professional software like Omega-T would help Wikisource (I believe translation of free documents is one of its greatest promises). Export mechanisms to common formats like ODF and PDF would also benefit both projects.
- Wikiversity could become the hub of a the global movement for Open Educational Resources (OER). But to do this, we need to support open export standards like SCORM, and integrate interactive instructional devices like trusted Java applets into the wiki learning environment. We should support authoring tools like eXe and allow effective collaboration on interactive learning resources that are then imported into standard Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Moodle. Through my work on the Wikieducator project, I already have many contacts in this area which I would be happy to bring to the Foundation.
- Learning resources, be they in Wikiversity or Wikibooks, need to be contextualized for particular learning environments (specific schools or universities, specific countries or regions). In order to do this, we should take a lesson from the open source community and develop tools to easily branch and merge changes within a page or resource, so that contextualized versions can be kept up to date with generic ones.
- Wikiquote is a bit of a problem child—given the various legal issues (closure of French Wikiquote, German Wikiquote copyright reform, etc.) I'm not entirely convinced that the Wikimedia Foundation is the right home for the project. It's impossible to produce a free content collection of contemporary quotes, they will always, by definition, be fair use.
That being said, the project would benefit from a better database structure: its smallest element is the quote, not the page, and a quote can be associated on multiple levels (a person, a work, a topic, and so on). Right now, information needs to be redundantly duplicated to achieve this. Perhaps the project can be modeled better as a Wikidata application. We can take some inspiration here from existing quote databases like zQuotes.
- Wikispecies, too, is a project that really needs structured data support to work well (to export data to standard formats, to check the integrity of relations, to avoid redundancy, and to provide better input mechanisms). I see it as one among many structured knowledge databases we are going to build.
I believe that, as a developer, I bring specialized knowledge to the Board that no other candidate has. As such, I think I can help to establish a roadmap of innovation that will make Wikimedia competitive with for-profit companies which see the collaborative model as merely a good method to generate advertising revenue and user profiles.
Free Knowledge edit
- If you ever get close to a human
- And human behavior
- Be ready to get confused
- There's definitely no logic
- To human behavior
- — Björk
It's easy to question the human capacity for rational thought or even empathy when looking at the state of our planet. Poverty and war continue to afflict hundreds of millions of people, and one can be forgiven for asking whether Wikimedia can make a greater impact than a drop in a bucket. Given our record of creating a wonderful set of collaborative learning resources in 5 years, I do believe that, within the next 20 years, we will be able to improve the lives of millions of people. Not the poorest, but those who live in polarized threshold nations with basic educational and technological infrastructure. One of the reasons I participate in Wikimedia is this very belief.
Developing world projects edit
Our goal should be to build sustainable knowledge communities, not to provide a "steady flow" of knowledge from the rich to the poor. We must recognize that all human beings possess knowledge they can share, and we should contribute to the global effort of preserving indigenous culture and knowledge, and of mixing it with our own.
One project that I find particularly fascinating in this regard is MobilED. I first heard about it when I visited South Africa together with Angela in April 2005. At that time, it was just an idea. Today, it is almost a reality. The basic idea is very simple: get Wikipedia articles on your cell phone by sending an SMS with the article title to a phone number. The return call is not an SMS, but an actual voice message. In developing nations where cell phone technology is used to "leapfrog" traditional landline phone development, this could provide people with almost or completely free access to knowledge, depending on the level of sponsorship for the project.
The audio can be generated using text-to-speech systems like Festival, which is open source. Where spoken audio versions exist, they can be used. But the main reason I mention the project in this context is its recording ability. Like following a red link in Wikipedia, when you request an article that doesn't exist from a MobilED server, the system allows you to record or explain it in your own voice. These files are then uploaded to the wiki and attached to a wiki page.
Of course, in reality, it won't all work smoothly. Still, I love the perspective the project has taken on the developing world: not intellectual arrogance, but simple recognition of the economic and social situation. The poor are not stupid, they are just poor, and they have stories to tell.
That same strategy should apply to other ways of accessing Wikipedia as well. From a practical level, we must prioritize getting free static content DVDs in the main language Wikipedias to those who can use them. But we should also strive to make write access to Wikipedia possible for people without permanent Internet connections. Handling edit conflict resolution in situations where only overnight dial-up is available is tricky, but not impossible.
There is a global network of non-profit groups which try to make good use of information and communication technologies in the developing world, and we are not yet part of it. We need to stay informed about their initiatives, and join them when appropriate. This network includes organizations like OSI, ActionAid, the Shuttleworth Foundation, Geekcorps, MIT's One Laptop Per Child effort, and Widernet, to name just a few. I already have contacts with most of these organizations, but cannot currently speak to them for the Foundation. I would love to do so.
Beyond supporting organizations, we must never forget the individuals who do good work on their own time—people like Andy Rabagliati, who already brings Wikipedia content into South African schools. Ubuntu GNU/Linux has an interesting project called "ShipIt": it lets you request a free copy of Ubuntu through the web that will be sent to you on CD. We could do something similar with Wikipedia DVDs, but perhaps not quite so liberally—targeting specifically developing nations, and volunteers who can articulate a real desire to use them.
I'm skeptical about print editions of Wikipedia (it's too damn huge!), though topical extracts like Wikipress or Pediapress may work well in certain contexts. I believe print on demand is the only way to go about printing Wikipedia content, and that any static content extracts should tie into stable versioning and other quality assurance mechanisms we develop. I believe that quality controlled copies of our content should naturally be made available as freely as the current database dumps.
With any new model of distribution, we need to be very careful about taking on a publisher role when our processes are not yet good enough to effectively vet legally problematic content. It might be best to partner with other organizations, including for-profits. Starting a separate affiliate organization might be another option. We don't want to find the Foundation's assets at risk because we've distributed static copies of libelous information or copyright infringements to thousands of people.
We must never be content to have magnificent resources in the languages of the former colonial powers. Building content in the native languages of the developing world will be a challenge, but we can and will find many partners to do it. How beautiful would it be if even the poorest countries of the world would find, as Internet access becomes widespread, that large Wikimedia projects in their languages already exist?
Wikibooks and Wikiversity edit
Beyond the encyclopedia, one of the biggest needs are free textbooks. Achal Prabhala, a good friend of mine from Bangalore, co-authored an interesting paper on the subject. It shows that textbooks in countries like South Africa are excessively priced (by SA income standards, they could be considered a luxury item), and copyright law is preventing free access to the knowledge they contain. Wikibooks has the potential to change this, but I don't believe an all-volunteer effort is going to be good enough. We need to, first of all, provide an environment that has all the tools to build quality textbooks, and to help the community to establish sound methodological standards throughout the project.
In the long run, I hope that grants can be used to develop free content textbooks around particular topics. Given that the project is multilingual, these grants and content development partnerships can come from any organization. Again, a highly optimized environment for translations will help us to bring content into all languages.
Wikiversity could become a global, free, multilingual institution of learning (and even research). As such, its ambition is revolutionary—divorcing knowledge, research and learning from institutions to the greatest extent possible. Needless to say, this is a huge social, political and technological challenge. Especially with an "in your face" name like Wikiversity, there will be considerable resistance from within academia. With the right leaders, the project could become as internationally visible as the "One Laptop Per Child" initiative, and unify the vision of free learning resources shared by many NGOs. With a lack of leadership, it could alienate potential allies indefinitely.
It took about 3 years for Wikiversity to evolve from proposal to a beta stage Wikimedia project (without any new technology, partnerships or grants to support it). Self-organization and community are powerful, but setting up a wiki and stating its purpose isn't enough. I believe the to-be-created Advisory Board of the Wikimedia Foundation should play a key role in bringing the right individuals and organizations together, and that at least one person with an eLearning background should be appointed to the regular Foundation Board in the future. The committees will have to work hard to figure out the right strategies of success for Wikiversity, but the Board can offer guidance.
Copyright reform edit
Currently, content is copyrighted for 95 years and more in typical cases. As our influence grows, we should speak up in defense of free access to human knowledge, and in opposition to excessive copyright terms. Such a position is hardly unthinkable. Even The Economist published an editorial in defense of a "radical rethink" of copyright law, calling for 14 year copyright terms. This, incidentally, was the original duration of copyright in the United States, before it was repeatedly extended as a result of intense lobbying.
Some might argue that the Wikimedia Foundation should stay neutral on such issues, similar to the way Wikipedia and other projects adopt a neutral point of view. However, the Foundation's mission is to enable universal, free access to human knowledge. That is not a neutral statement, and certainly one which is politically and economically controversial. I see no reason why the Foundation should not pursue political ends in line with its mission, as long as they are not particularly divisive. If the community broadly supports the idea of the Foundation joining a global process to reduce copyright terms (or to reinstate a registration requirement for copyrighted works), we should do so. Ideally, I do believe that the Foundation would be one among many organizations in this process.
Today's excessive copyright law contributes to human suffering. To remain neutral on this issue, which is very much a core issue for the Foundation, is morally indefensible. In the developing world or the developed world, even slightly reduced copyright terms would enrich society tremendously. We should not underestimate our power, our visibility, and our ability to find friends in this endeavor. A giant treasure chamber of art and knowledge is waiting to be opened, its contents distributed freely without ever running empty. Every year of copyrighted works that pass into the public domain is a slice of civilization, an annual ring in the world tree of culture.
Legal strategy edit
- Stripped of ethical rationalizations and philosophical pretensions, a crime is anything that a group in power chooses to prohibit.
- — Freda Adler
Our legal problems have grown as exponentially as the content in our projects. The first lawsuit, the Tron case, was successfully fought by the German chapter, but it is clear that many more will follow. It is therefore crucial to the survival of the organization and the projects that we develop a comprehensive legal strategy that is applicable to all projects and languages. We must, however, never confuse law and morality. Laws can be changed, and Wikimedia may soon be influential enough to call for changes which are in our interest.
Fair use is by far one of the biggest legal issues in Wikipedia and some of the other projects right now. I believe our content should be clearly divided into either fair use or free content, that fair use should be used only where necessary (where no free alternative does or is ever likely to exist), and that we need to harmonize our legal standards across languages. Essentially, every Wikimedian can be expected to follow the laws of his or her country, and in addition to that, as content carrier, the Wikimedia Foundation needs to follow the laws of the countries where it hosts services (we may make a distinction between caching services, and primary database hosting). Each project or language should provide uploaders with the guidance they need to make legally responsible decisions.
We should carefully study the current practices in multiple languages: Are there projects or languages where "anything goes" in terms of fair use? Are some overly restrictive? With the help of our legal counsel, we then need to develop best practice recommendations, and encourage (and in some cases require) projects and languages to implement them.
Another major legal issue is the interpretation of the GNU Free Documentation License. While the projects have implemented their own copyright policies, this discussion thread has shown that such polices can often directly contradict the practices we want to encourage. In the cited example, a user took content from Wikibooks and attributed it to the "Wikimedia Foundation, Inc." The discussion appears to have shown that we do not desire such attribution to the Foundation for legal reasons—yet, Wikibooks copyright policy recommended it. We need to make sure that we have a single, declarative interpretation of the GFDL and how to follow it, and we should then standardize copyright policy accordingly.
Ever since the John Seigenthaler Sr. Wikipedia biography controversy, we have spent considerable energy on improving our processes for biographies with living people. The WP:OFFICE policy was created on the English Wikipedia (and occasionally applied elsewhere) for quick interventions. I believe that we need to make sure that such processes scale across languages and projects, involving trusted volunteers where possible.
I also hope that we can work towards making as much information as possible available to the community in legal threat situations, to build trust and get broad feedback on our strategies. The decision what to publish when and what to hold back is of course never an easy one. I could easily see the Foundation hiring an "Information Transparency Officer" at some point in the future to help with this process.
Trademarks and other "Intellectual Property" rights are frequently cited as one of the primary issues we need to be concerned about. While I agree that we should be careful not to let third parties publish resources under names that we use, my view is somewhat more generous on logo usage. I feel that it would be perfectly fine to create special "Content provided by" logos for mirrors and other third parties, to identify our content as such while distinguishing clearly between high level partnerships and work that is being done without our involvement.
Our mission is first and foremost to give away free knowledge. Trademarks are a useful tool to preserve our identity as a knowledge provider, but they should never be used to prevent others from sharing content. Nevertheless, I fully support litigation against groups which deliberately and maliciously misuse our trademarks, and I believe that we need to have sensible processes to pursue new trademark and domain name registrations and to maintain existing ones.
The German chapter was recently confronted with a privacy complaint about the edit counter hosted on its toolserver. Specifically, a user held the view that the detailed analysis of a user's edit patterns over time and across articles represents a privacy violation, and should (if at all) only be available as an opt-in procedure. I tend to agree with this view (one cannot reasonably expect, from using Wikipedia, that such behavioral analysis will be made public), and believe we need to carefully evaluate all similar tools for possible privacy implications.
It is also absolutely critical that we avoid any chapter liability for the content in the Wikimedia projects. All and any liability must remain with the Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedia and its sister projects cannot exist in a sane legal state if we have to assume liability in all the countries where we have chapters, according to each one's national laws. Legal neutrality towards the content restricts the kind of partnerships that chapters can engage in, and also necessitates funds to flow from the chapters to the Foundation on a regular basis, in order to make sure that money donated to the chapters is actually spent in the way donors expect (purchases of new servers, employment of critical staff, etc.).
It may be useful for chapters to provide legal defense to users who act in good faith and in the spirit of our policies, and to conduct legal research into interpretation of national law, particularly with regard to copyright. When conducting legal studies, I believe it is important that we state clearly what our intentions are, and that we ask experts to develop the best legal strategy. How can we do X? is often a better question to ask than Can we do X?.
Interview with myself edit
During a quiet moment, I sat down with myself to ask critical questions about my board candidacy. Who am I and what am I doing here? It was time to get to the bottom of this. This is a transcript of the conversation that followed.
Erik Möller: Hello Eloquence! Running for the Board again, eh?
Eloquence: It's only the second time. :-)
Tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living?
I'm a journalist and author by trade, though I have recently moved on to project management and development for WiktionaryZ. For most of my adult life, I've worked as a freelancer for various publications; a list of these can be found on my personal homepage. I'm also an international speaker and workshop moderator, and make some money with content management consulting and hosting services.
From looking at your platform, it seems like you're pretty influential already. Do you really need to be on the Board?
Firstly, a Board position is not about power. It's about listening, thinking, and reasoning about how the Wikimedia Foundation should be run, what its scope should be, and what practical decisions need to be taken. No single person will dominate the Board, especially after we expand it. Secondly, I don't hold any formal power or special access in the projects beyond sysop/bureaucrat status in a few projects and shell/Subversion access as a developer.
If you'd be such a good person to have on the Board, why don't you already have a larger official role in the Foundation?
Partially because the Foundation, until very recently, didn't have all that many official roles to offer. The committees were only created in January 2006. I've been nominated as an advisor on the Fundraising Committee, which as of today, has not even been officially authorized yet.
But you were the Chief Research Officer and you resigned - why?
At the time, in August 2005, Wikimedia was still in the stage where the organization was run entirely by the Board. (Today, it has an Executive Director and several other full-time employees.) As CRO, I tried to establish a network of partnerships with organizations and companies. I was asked to stop pursuing such partnerships, and since there was no other mechanism which could have handled them in a scalable fashion, I resigned. The fact that none of these partnerships were picked up until the creation of the committees in January 2006 validated that decision.
Couldn't you just have carried on doing research?
Ideas are only as powerful as their implementation. Open source developers very rarely pursue other people's ideas: they scratch their own itches and pursue their own interests. My goal was to bring together the right people to make good things happen. That goal could not be achieved at the time.
So now you're running for the Board to do the same thing that you criticized when the Board was doing it?
No. The Board should not have an operational role. As Board member, I would at most send contacts and information about potential partnerships to the relevant staff members and committees. More importantly, the Board should define the structure of the organization, set the strategic vision, and oversee its implementation.
How much work do you think you'll put into the role?
I believe that it would be quite a lot of work initially, as we're in a tricky transitional stage. I expect to put in something like 6-8 hours per week initially, significantly less with an expanded Board. If I end up on an Executive Committee, the amount of time might stay the same. This is about as much as I can put into a volunteer role like this. It is less than the Board members have spent so far, but significantly more than typical non-profit Boards.
So you don't want to do Wikimedia for a living?
I think right now I can make the biggest positive impact through Board-level participation. If I'm not elected, and Wikimedia is interested in having me as an employee, I might apply for a job with the organization. But the two are mutually exclusive: Board members shouldn't be paid employees and vice versa. Right now I'm getting paid for my work on WiktionaryZ.
Who's paying you for that? Isn't there a potential conflict of interest?
We have multiple partners in the WiktionaryZ project, most notably KnewCo, a Dutch start-up company that is interested in building it as a resource for data mining. WZ is no more a conflict of interest than Jimmy's, Angela's and Michael's Wikia: As long as I do not make decisions that benefit myself financially, and do not get paid by the Wikimedia Foundation, we should be in good shape.
Just to clarify, does that mean that you will recuse yourself from decisions related to WiktionaryZ?
As long as I get paid for working on it, yes.
Why are you mostly active in the English language projects, and not in German, your native language?
For me, English has always been a bridging language in the same way Esperanto has been for many others. I share the belief that a world language is a wonderful thing—it has enabled me to communicate with people from all contintents of the world—but I take the pragmatic approach of using the one that is already there. While far from ideal (English pronunciation is very unpredictable), I try to use it as much as possible. That being said, I have tremendous respect for the achievements of the German Wikipedia community and the German chapter, and maintain healthy relationships with many members of both groups. I continue to live in Berlin, and will be happy to facilitate cooperation with the Foundation in Europe.
You list your role in Wikinews and Wikimedia Commons among your accomplishments so far. Did you just start these projects so you could take credit for them later?
Not at all. My involvement in Wikinews and Commons has continued far beyond the launch of the projects. See my user pages on both projects for more information. The Commons story is actually interesting in that I opposed the early launch of the project (at the time, it was not even possible to use images from Commons in the Wikimedia projects—I hacked that functionality one month later), because I felt it was too far away from the project plan I had originally defined. It was probably good that it was launched so early, though, since that provided a stronger impetus to add functionality. Still, I believe that new projects need to be carefully thought out before they are launched.
Did you ever want to become the "GodKing" of these projects, like Jimmy is for Wikipedia?
Absolutely not. These projects do fine without any sort of "benevolent dictator." My only intention was to observe them, and to help them succeed beyond their launch. I've never used, or claimed, any extraordinary powers on Commons or Wikinews. The decision to transfer the wikinews.org domain to the Wikimedia Foundation was an easy one: it was best for the project to be hosted by Wikimedia and to be integrated into its community. Personal control never factored into it.
Would you consider Wikinews a success then? It doesn't seem to have all that much to offer yet.
The English edition, which I know the most about, is actually pretty impressive. It has a print edition, an audio version which is even available as an iTunes podcast, countless stories containing original reporting, and some fine examples of collaborative journalism. The German edition and some others are also growing very nicely. Stories are translated regularly between the different languages, and the site has an Alexa rank of about 10,000, which is not too bad. See above for some thoughts on how we can take it to the next level.
You seem to be a very vocal, outspoken person. Shouldn't the Board be a place for people who can easily agree with each other?
I share the passion to do good and build an effective, global organization with all existing and likely future Board members. If elected, I am certain that we will sometimes disagree about what to do, but I am also hopeful that we will always be able to find unity and harmony through our common goals.
Even with 5 people, the Board has had occasional troubles reaching an agreement; with an expanded Board, consensus will be even more difficult to reach on controversial issues. Where consensus cannot be found, any Board will resort to votes to pass resolutions. I will respect the processes of discussion and voting, and put my own ideas behind those of the majority when I fail to convince others.
So what is your motivation to be on the Board?
I want to make the biggest positive impact that I can have through my involvement with Wikimedia. This is not about power: politically, I believe in direct democracy. For instance, I organized a small electronic conference about direct democracy technology last year. I don't think Wikimedia will ever be run by direct democracy, but I believe it is a place for many leaders. Jimmy will continue to be the public face of the organization indefinitely, but I think 2 years from now, if you look at the organization, it will be hard to identify any one person who is "running Wikimedia" unless you try really, really hard (or just say "Jimbo").
Wait a minute, did you say democracy? Do you think we should use voting in Wikimedia? Isn't voting evil?
Voting is a tool to achieve consensus. It's a pretty bad tool, compared to reasoned discourse, but sometimes it can help to resolve a standstill. Voting has been used in Wikimedia in elections, Board resolutions, project-wide votes and polls, and smaller scale polls on the various projects. It's instructive to compare the launch of Wikimedia Commons and Wikinews. Commons was launched basically through consensus, since there was no real objection to having such a media repository: it made sense. Wikinews was launched after a vote, since a very long discussion had shown no clear consensus. Wikiversity was similarly voted on.
There are good reasons for a skeptical attitude to any vote that takes place in the Wikimedia framework. I don't think it's rational to reject voting under all circumstances, nor does it reflect current practice. I have no desire to change this practice.
Tell me how well you get along with the key people currently running Wikimedia.
For most people you could name, my answer would be: "Fine. We've had a few disagreements in the past, but have been able to resolve them." After 5 years in Wiki[mp]edia, I think that's pretty good. I do not hide my opinions, but I will always make an effort to work together again, no matter how large a past disagreement has been.
I'm not the kind of person who will only do work in areas which are not controversial. While that would be an easy way to avoid conflicts, I think we need a large number of people who engage openly in reasoned debate about even the most divisive issues. I try to pursue such debates with the appropriate amount of WikiLove, to not hold grudges against those who express strong disagreement with my own positions, and to never make personal attacks. I like to believe that I have gotten better at this throughout the years.
You once said something I strongly disagreed with. Should I still vote for you?
Erik, that sounds more like an FAQ entry than a genuine interview question.
Sorry, let me try this again. What do you say to people who have once, or even frequently, disagreed with you? Should they still vote for you?
My answer would be: I'm an open book. I'm very honest about my positions, and have always communicated them to the public through rational discourse. I will continue to do so. Any Board member you vote for is going to do things you're not going to agree with from time to time. The question is: Are they going to do so as openly as I do? Are they going to let you question their decisions, and to explain in detail why they made them?
So you're always going to be there to answer questions?
If they relate to my Board work, yes. If I can reasonably delegate them to someone else, I will.
Sounds like a pretty big commitment. Aren't you taking this whole Board thing too seriously?
We're talking about the governing body of the Wikimedia Foundation, which I consider to be one of the most important organizations of the 21st century. We've created the single largest structured summary of human knowledge in the history of civilization, and we've only just scratched the surface of what is possible. I think thoughtful, transparent and responsible governance are absolutely key to our future success, and if elected, I will do my best to help with it.
Always good for some pathos, huh? Thanks for your time, Eloquence. You'll proably get my vote.
That's good to know, Erik. You can talk to me any time. ;-)