Wikimedia Foundation elections/Board elections/2007/Candidates/Michael Snow/questions
|2007 board elections|
To ask me questions about my candidacy, please post your question in the Discussion section below. I speak English, French, and German, so questions in all of those languages are welcome. I can also try reading Italian or Spanish, although I'm not completely fluent in those. For languages unrelated to any of these, Babel Fish translations may be all I can manage. I may choose to answer questions in English, to be more precise in my statements and allow more people to understand them (if this is a problem for you, let me know with your question, and I can answer in a different language).
I'll try to quickly anticipate some basic questions for which people may be interested to know the answers.
- When I first ran, although I feel that I had a fair amount to offer, I was relatively new and somewhat unknown to many people, which was reflected in the results. By the next election, I was more established in the community. However, since Angela and Anthere had been elected the previous year and had considerable sentiment for re-election, I did not think trying to unseat one of them — successfully or not — would be particularly productive.
- I was approached about taking Angela's seat temporarily when she planned to resign, and many people urged me to run in the ensuing election. Unfortunately, a previously scheduled family vacation meant that I would be out of contact for a month and effectively unable to serve in her place on an interim basis, or to run in the election. So this is the first time I could suitably consider the possibility since the initial board election.
What of your work on The Wikipedia Signpost? Would it continue if you're elected, and which is more important?
- Between the workload of a board member and the responsibilities of a reporter, the two would seem mostly incompatible. I'm grateful to Ral315, who took over as editor some time ago, and others who help out, and I think additional people could take on responsibility for it as well. The Signpost has survived without my help for stretches in the past, and more people are now involved in it, though still more writers are always needed. My stepping aside may encourage other people to step up.
- From my experience with other institutions, especially those whose operations depend primarily on volunteers taking on assignments, I have learned that some amount of rotation between duties is important to the health of the organization. People need both the opportunity for new experiences and the time to establish themselves in a given role, which might be three months or three years. Certain times come when change is appropriate, and I feel that this is such a time.
Is that picture what you really look like?
- No. As I matured, my hair turned much darker. But as I get older, it continues to change, moving toward a color that is at least substantially closer to the original shade.
- eh, I just came on this page to ask you whether you had artificial color as a kid or now ? :-)
I asked this the other candidate, and I think it fair to ask you as well.
What do you think about Wikipedia awareness, eg. do people know about Wikipedia? Should the board do something to increase participation, at least in less spoken languages, or countries that have a smaller Wikipeda, than the number of speakers of the language would suggest? --Dami 01:19, 12 June 2007 (UTC)
- Whether people know about Wikipedia is very much a different issue from whether they participate in it. In the developed world where internet access is taken for granted, Wikipedia has many readers and people generally know something about the project, whatever their opinion of it. Even if it is not universal at this point, it can mostly spread naturally, though some education and clearing up misconceptions will remain necessary. Participation can and does then come from those who are interested, although I'm somewhat concerned about the obstacles to participation for those who aren't highly technically inclined.
- When focusing on particular languages or questions of underrepresentation, the first problem is to examine the underlying reasons. If lack of internet access is the issue, correcting that is a monumental task the board cannot do much about, and frankly it lies outside the mission of the Wikimedia Foundation. As a work-around, other routes of distribution can be sought (and in fact Wikimedia has taken steps here, such as with One Laptop per Child). But that doesn't solve the problem for a language, because you have to reach people in their language before they will build Wikipedia in that language. It's difficult to achieve a breakthrough on a chicken-and-egg problem like that.
- Another issue is that Wikipedia, as an encyclopedia project, naturally emphasizes education and learning. Certain languages may suffer because they are not perceived as languages of learning, sometimes even by native-speakers. That's a cultural issue which isn't susceptible to any quick fixes. For what the board itself should do, other than being aware of the matter and offering encouragement, I'd be happy to entertain concrete proposals. --Michael Snow 20:16, 12 June 2007 (UTC)
What kind of competences and experience should the WMF Board as a whole have, in your view? How will your competences and experience contribute to that ideal?--BradPatrick 02:53, 12 June 2007 (UTC)
- The collective experience of board members needs to be such that the board is competent to oversee any part of Wikimedia Foundation activity. Important qualifications would include business acumen, technical knowhow (given the importance of technology to the undertaking), management skills including understanding of both individual and organizational behavior, and ability to deal with legal issues. For a nonprofit relying primarily on donations, fundraising is sufficiently important to be considered distinct from business operations, and needs one or more people with that kind of expertise and connections on the board. The international scope of Wikimedia adds another dimension to almost all the areas I already mentioned. As an attorney my legal training would be valuable and offers something beyond what is available from the present board (though I do not mean to diminish the efforts of Kat Walsh, who has served well on the board and will undoubtedly become a fine lawyer). I hope my knowledge of other languages and cultures can help bridge some of the international issues as well, although the complexity this adds puts it beyond reach for any one person to master.
- Another area that is discussed surprisingly little (at least explicitly) considering its central role in Wikimedia's mission is education. Professional training and education is the field I actually work in, so I bring some relevant experience to the table there. I have not been involved in Wikibooks or Wikiversity much so far (for me it can resemble work too much, and anyway my company pays me to work for them and not other people), but I think I could offer some useful observations. Adult professional education operates somewhat differently than primary education or university-level academics, and it would be good to have those domains represented in some fashion also. I think the lack of any true professional academic on the board is a serious gap, though partly a product of the way the organization functions at present. The board has been involved in a more hands-on way than would probably be the case in a mature, fully-staffed organization; a role emphasizing guidance and direction might work better for someone who also faces the demands of an academic career. The advisory board has several academics, of course, but I do think the board of trustees should have at least one such person as well. --Michael Snow 20:16, 12 June 2007 (UTC)
Non-free images and other media
What are your opinions on the use of non-free images and other non-free media on Wikimedia Foundation projects? Should they be used at all, or disallowed completely? Do you support, oppose, or have mixed opinions on this 23 March board resolution regarding licensing? Picaroon (Talk) 20:17, 12 June 2007 (UTC)
- Wikimedia's mission focuses on the spread of freely-licensed educational material. Meanwhile, its vision statement emphasizes sharing "the sum of all knowledge." The dilemma arises that knowledge may relate to material which is not freely-licensed. Historical practice and legal systems have allowed for some degree of freedom with respect to such material, though we may call it "non-free" or "proprietary". The creation of freely-licensed material covering some areas of knowledge may need to take advantage of this freedom. Unfortunately, the boundaries of this freedom and the rights of the proprietor are fluid. Wikimedia should seek clarity and broader freedom from the overall system, but not in ways that take away the incentive to freely license material (newly created or pre-existing). The licensing resolution is a good effort at striking this balance, and I support the general principles it outlines. True necessity is rare enough that avoiding non-free media entirely is also a perfectly respectable way to simplify things for the time being, according to the preferences of the project. --Michael Snow 21:28, 12 June 2007 (UTC)
The Board's Licensing Policy officially endorses this definition of Free content, written by a board member, which, in my interpretation, states that copyright is a form of government suppression, and that the concept of intellectual property is inherently morally wrong. Do you think this is a sentiment shared by most editors? Do you think it is the place of the WMF to make declarations like this?
If it was shown that this resolution was not widely supported by the community, should the resolution be adapted to conform to the will of the community, or should the community adapt to conform to the resolution?
In my opinion, the Foundation should certainly emphasize free content, but its primary purpose should be legal issues. (Let each project decide the ideological issues by consensus, not by top-down mandates.) What are your opinions on the subject? — Omegatron 00:09, 15 June 2007 (UTC)
- I would say the resolution "adopts" the definition in question, rather than "endorses" it. The reason I make a distinction is that the resolution focuses on free licenses, and refers to "the terms...specific to licenses", which are only part of the larger document. Most of what you point out seems to be drawn from the definition's preamble, and is not particularly necessary to the resolution. The preamble articulates one set of arguments for free content, but others exist and it need not be a universally held view. I do think it is necessary to have some kind of defined standard, and for this particular issue that definition may be the best available. The definition is certainly open to debate and improvement, but even if originally drafted by a Wikimedia board member, it is not maintained by the Wikimedia Foundation and alternatives can be considered.
- I'll leave to the drafters whether they agree with the interpretation you make of the preamble. I don't think whether someone supports that interpretation matters in terms of their ability to support Wikimedia licensing policy. In my view, the resolution reiterates Wikimedia's commitment to promoting freely-licensed material, which is why I say I support its general principles, but it doesn't require any particular ideology beyond that. --Michael Snow 22:30, 15 June 2007 (UTC)
Portraits of living notable individuals and other similar images are routinely deleted because a free image could theoretically be created, at some point in the future, leaving lots of biographies indefinitely with no images of their subject. The rationale I've seen is that including a non-free image prevents free ones from being created. I somewhat agree, but think the harm done to our educational goals by deleting the images outweighs the potential benefits, and that there are plenty of better ways to encourage the creation of free content that don't destroy information. What are your thoughts? — Omegatron 03:41, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
- I disagree somewhat with the premise you offer. Deleting images that are not freely licensed does not "destroy" information, it simply removes the image from whatever Wikimedia project it was on. Even leaving aside the fact that deletion of images can now be reversed, the information is almost certainly not destroyed. Basically by definition, if it was not created and licensed for Wikimedia, it must have been found somewhere else and is presumably still available there. If there's a case to be made that a specific image is significant enough to make its use essential even without a free license, that can still be debated and the image easily restored.
- Shorn of the dramatic rhetoric, I don't find quite as persuasive the argument that the harm from this approach outweighs the benefits. Anecdotally at least, this has attracted freely-licensed images in some cases; I'd be happy to consider hard data that could allow a more definitive evaluation. There are also other ways to encourage people to create freely-licensed material, as you indicate, but that doesn't mean this strategy should be rejected. --Michael Snow 04:53, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
- With respect to fundraising, I would like to improve the strategy for bringing in large donations, which needs more effort but also more consideration about what sources to target. For example, Wikimedia has some useful relationships with technology and internet companies, but it's not clear that this has lived up to its revenue potential yet. In part, while these companies have some common interests with us, they also have their own efforts at synthesizing knowledge. They may see Wikimedia projects as potentially competing with their own, and they may find that whatever benefit they directly receive from Wikimedia is not clearly measurable, and all this may put a damper on the inclination to donate.
- Contrast this with entertainment companies, since recent studies have indicated that entertainment topics easily constitute the largest identifiable group of visits to Wikipedia. This involves more than just people reading Wikipedia, it also drives traffic toward these companies. I was struck by reports of an SEO conference a couple months ago at which someone from Comedy Central said Wikipedia brings them $20,000 worth of traffic a month. Companies like this would be a logical place to look for financial support, because they already know or can be shown exactly how they're benefiting from the project. Perhaps some people will see this as resembling advertising, but it is not — I'm not looking to create ways they can buy space and attention they don't get now, I'm saying that we should get them to donate in recognition of the value of what they already get naturally, all for free. That's what most of our individual donors are doing, contributing because they feel they've received some value from our efforts.
- In connection with this, another strategic issue involves technical resources. So far, attention has mostly focused on simply keeping the sites operational and adding or improving features. But there's a lot that can be done in terms of analyzing what sits on or passes through the servers, and efforts in that regard like the German chapter's toolserver only scratch the surface. Better tracking incoming and outgoing traffic is one example, which would help support the rationale when seeking donations like those I mentioned (releasing collective, not individual, data; large scale is the only way this makes sense anyway). Naturally, data may be useful for upgrading technical performance, but it can also be fed back into the system in other ways. For example, rigorous studies of Wikimedia content would be very helpful in efforts to improve its quality. While the role of the Wikimedia Foundation does not include acting as a global editor for its projects, it certainly could generate information individual editors can use as guidance in their work.
- So, to summarize this as three points: 1) Better targeting and more diversified revenue sources, 2) More technical attention to generating data that can be useful for non-technical considerations, and 3) Actively supporting systems to provide feedback on quality. I'm not adopting the numbers as a ranking of priority, but I do think these are all areas needing improvement. --Michael Snow 21:46, 13 June 2007 (UTC)
- Why would they pay for free-ads they get from our external links? the only way to get money from them would be the leverage of removing links from our articles to their sites. Are you prepared to use that leverage? The Relativity of The Truth 08:33, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- Why would anybody donate to the Wikimedia Foundation at all? It could benefit their public image and help sustain a mutually beneficial relationship. I'm not going to leap ahead and conclude they can't be persuaded when it hasn't even been tried. --Michael Snow 18:41, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- As I've mentioned before, I am a lawyer, so in the legal area I could add a degree of expertise beyond that of the current board. Law is a broad field, but in terms of training and experience relevant to Wikimedia, I'm familiar with copyright and licensing issues as well as the laws governing non-profit organizations. I've studied some accounting and did quite well in it at the time, but I can't imagine that I would bring any new skills to the board in that respect. However, with this and the interplay between legal and financial issues, I'm confident that I could at least master the essentials and help with the board's oversight of financial matters. --Michael Snow 22:22, 13 June 2007 (UTC)
- If I may ask, what is your field of expertise? Effeietsanders 19:16, 17 June 2007 (UTC)
- Educational publishing focused on real estate. The educational publishing aspect applies quite readily to Wikimedia. Real estate, not so much, although it's a field that incorporates several different areas of law — some of which, like contracts, also come up in Wikimedia affairs. --Michael Snow 04:21, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- If I may ask, what is your field of expertise? Effeietsanders 19:16, 17 June 2007 (UTC)
What are you views on advertisements on Wikimedia projects? Would you support a resolution that forced Wikimedia projects to use ads? Would you support a resolution that gave projects the right to vote on the use of advertisements? Would you support a resolution that forbid the user of advertisements? —METS501 (talk) 02:36, 13 June 2007 (UTC)
- I don't think it makes sense to pledge a particular vote on a vaguely outlined, hypothetical resolution, especially on an emotionally charged subject like advertising. There's already disagreement about what constitutes advertising, as we've seen in the past. To address the concept in general, I don't want to resort to advertising, and I think Wikimedia has other important potential sources of income to pursue. I'm also skeptical of some of the claims for what advertising would bring in, and what it would cost. If it did get implemented, allowing projects to choose in the fashion you describe does not sound like a good idea — it would almost certainly create significant tension between projects that do and projects that don't, particularly over how the resulting income is spent. If you really want to make the presence of advertising a choice, it seems more sensible to use the suggestion sometimes made, that we give readers an opt-in or opt-out method and leave the choice to them. Finally, I'm not sure what would be the point of a resolution forbidding advertisements; it doesn't really change or clarify the present situation, nor would it realistically be much of a barrier if the board changed its mind. --Michael Snow 20:22, 14 June 2007 (UTC)
What is your view on the use of flagged revisions to help prevent vandalism from appearing before it is reverted and the extension's possible use to mark "quality" versions which would display by default even instead of the stable (non-vandalized) version? — The preceding unsigned comment was added by Mets501 (talk)
- I've supported using some type of feature along these lines for quite a while, as one part of the strategy to improve quality. I don't believe the exact implementation and choice of defaults are really something to be determined at the board level, however. --Michael Snow 20:58, 14 June 2007 (UTC)
Business developer, GHGs.
What are your thoughts on the foundation's hiring of a business developer?
How would you vote on the board about the foundation reducing or offsetting anthropogenic greenhouse gases, e.g. power used by hardware, flights, etc.?
- The Wikimedia Foundation clearly needs to solidify its sources of income. Before his departure, Danny Wool's official title was Grants Coordinator, although he also ended up with many other tasks because the office is understaffed. The phrase "business developer" may sound oddly corporate, but this kind of terminology is fairly common among nonprofits and public grant-seeking institutions for positions that focus on bringing in revenue, whether from donations, grants, or other types of transactions. With that kind of emphasis, I don't have any fundamental objection to the idea. The position does require guidance to ensure that financial dealings are consistent with Wikimedia values.
- The flip side of needing income is the need to control costs. Electric power, travel, and probably other areas implicated in your second question, are already costs for the Wikimedia Foundation, often sizable ones. The idea that Wikimedia should self-impose additional costs on top of these is a challenging suggestion. The world at large currently has a great deal of noise around this — and the attention being given such issues is a good thing — but it's not clear yet what the standards will be by which institutions should conduct themselves. I'll reiterate that pledging a vote before the features of a resolution are sufficiently clear would be premature, and I would need more information to make a decision. --Michael Snow 22:00, 14 June 2007 (UTC)
In what way do you forsee the office (and staff) evolving under your tenure as a board member, should you be elected? i.e. would you be in favor of expansion, contraction, status quo, more interns, new positions, less, what?Swatjester 01:07, 15 June 2007 (UTC)
- As indicated earlier, I believe the Wikimedia Foundation is understaffed, so certainly I expect some more expansion as circumstances permit. The precise details are less certain, and the future course will depend in part on the guidance of a permanent Executive Director, which is still in the works. A professional executive should help turn the Wikimedia Foundation into a more functional organization, but at the same time the organization has needed to mature enough to be ready for one.
- Becoming more professional would include defining clearer roles, eventually providing some answers to the additional issues you mention. Hopefully this can also alleviate uncertainty in the community about what the staff do, and help balance the work of volunteers with paid staff. --Michael Snow 21:40, 15 June 2007 (UTC)
What is your opinion on some of the projects that are not as well-known as Wikipedia? Would you favour a situation where attempts are made to nurture these projects rather than almost-solely concentrate on the one that has the highest profile? --Brian McNeil / talk 14:41, 15 June 2007 (UTC)
- The projects other than Wikipedia have a number of challenges, some shared and some specific to a particular project. Part of the issue is that they have lower profiles, but simply boosting their profiles would not solve all of the problems. Some have technical needs that would call for different software configurations; in combination with other efforts, this could help give them more distinctive identities and also improve their profiles. To some degree, Wikipedia cannot control its own profile, which illustrates that the overall disparity you sense is not a simple matter to fix — manufacturing mindshare is a mirage. Constant awareness of the problem still should help. Dedicated efforts on behalf of a particular project should be designed to maximize the benefits and growth for that project, and go beyond merely trying to placate perceived slights.
- Another concern, in a thinly-stretched organization, is having to forgo new potential projects in order to focus resources on those we already have. This is especially true when existing projects still have significant untapped potential. For example, the rationale for a separate Wikispecies project was poorly defined, especially in the absence of more explicit technical support for structured data. As a result, the launch received a decidedly mixed reception from the Wikimedia community, and Wikispecies has had great difficulty catching on. The recently publicized Encyclopedia of Life project shows that the basic premise remains appealing, and I hope future effort will eventually yield richer results in that area. So in general, I would favor strengthening current Wikimedia projects over launching new ones. --Michael Snow 05:25, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
What is your opinion on family members/close friends using another person's Wiki account? Would you vouch not to allow other people use your account as <unnamed> board member did? MatthewFenton 16:57, 16 June 2007 (UTC)
- I have difficulty imagining a circumstance in which I'd allow any other person to directly edit using my account. If someone wanted that, what I might suggest instead (depending on the circumstances) is to post something myself on their behalf. This I would consider a more acceptable practice, as it's regularly offered to people who, for whatever reason, are not personally able to edit in the normal fashion. I would want to clearly indicate that I'm posting on behalf of someone else, and identify that person to the extent that I'm authorized to do so. --Michael Snow 05:25, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
Last December, the Wikimedia Foundation revised its bylaws to change itself from a membership organization to a non-membership organization. In a membership organization, the trustees are directly responsible to the membership; in a non-membership organization, the trustees are ultimately responsible only to one another (and indirectly to donors, who presumably will not donate if they feel the trustees are not being responsible). Do you feel that the Foundation, constituted as it is as a non-membership organization, provides sufficient structural checks and balances to ensure that the trustees observe their fiduciary responsibilities appropriately? Would a return to a membership structure, with the ability of members to bring policy proposals themselves at the annual meeting or by other methods, to remove board members by appropriate vote, and to sue the Foundation under certain conditions limit the ability of the Trustees to do what they need to do? If you do support a return to a membership structure, how would you determine who the voting members are? Kelly Martin 18:42, 16 June 2007 (UTC)
- Although the original bylaws specified a number of membership types, I think those bylaws were inadequate in some respects. They provided for the election of two representatives to the board, but otherwise failed to specify some important rights and procedures as outlined in the applicable nonprofit statutes. Some of the checks and balances you mention would first need these gaps to be filled in. (I've also mentioned in the past that some of the procedures involved would raise privacy concerns for potential members, a serious consideration given the importance of privacy issues to many participants in Wikimedia projects.)
- As a result, it's somewhat debatable whether the original bylaws truly established a membership organization, and in any case that membership system was not fully implemented. With the situation still undefined, I believe many people never particularly felt like members (this despite voting in board elections), whatever the bylaws said at any given time. Their not feeling like part of the organization is at the root of much of the disconnect between the Wikimedia Foundation as an organization and the Wikimedia community at large.
- Anyway, without rehashing the past in too much detail, I think we should focus on how to move forward and not be tied to either the present or past systems. I certainly agree that the organizational structure should be designed so that the board (and also all directors and officers) will consistently act in the best interests of the Wikimedia Foundation. Preserving community-based election of at least some board members is an important part of this, regardless of how the membership question is resolved.
- In some past discussions on the subject, I've suggested that for legal purposes, the members of the Wikimedia Foundation should be the local Wikimedia chapters. Individual participants could be represented through membership in their local chapter. I've been asked whether the chapter organizations are sufficiently developed to proceed with this. I don't know, and I'm open to other ideas about membership, but for now I see this as the best way forward. In part, I think it could also be a useful incentive to promote the building-out of more chapters. But primarily I believe it could help both chapters and individual participants feel more like they are part of the global organization.
- Chapter organizations would be better placed to formulate policy proposals, or remove board members if necessary, than the cycles of unstructured debate on a wiki. I think this would produce a more realistic safeguard on the conduct of the board of trustees, while reducing the energy drain of maintaining a membership system, and inserting the chapters as a buffer on the privacy issues to which I alluded. As the legal members, chapters could select some Wikimedia Foundation board members. I think that should be in addition to the direct election of board members by community vote, which should continue. A few additional seats might also be left for outside independent board members, and to ensure that certain skills and backgrounds are present on the board, if not already found among the elected members. But either directly (elections) or indirectly (via chapters), I believe the community should control the composition of the board. --Michael Snow 06:49, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
- Given the lack of development in our chapters (For instance, where is the USA chapter? Will we have chapters by state?), will chapter development be a major consideration of yours? Also, how deeply have you investigated the feasibility (both practical and legal) of comprising the membership of chapters, or is it just an idea you're mulling over? Swatjester 01:23, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- This is not an idea I've just thought up, I've been looking into it since before I attended the board retreat last October. It certainly is legal for the chapters to be members as far as Florida statutes are concerned. To answer a point raised elsewhere, the statutes further provide that members are not personally liable for acts of the organization, so it would not create any liability for chapters in terms of Florida law. It would also be far more practical to run a membership structure, with its recordkeeping and notice requirements, for a two-or-three-digit number of chapters than for thousands upon thousands of individual members (which is also where the privacy issues come in).
- As I mentioned, more chapter development is needed. This suggestion would both give chapters a clearer position in the organization and create a strong incentive to promote additional chapter formation. Forming a chapter is not something imposed by the global Wikimedia Foundation, it must have local initiative behind it. Right now there is little incentive for a US chapter, because the people and institutions that in other countries would deal with a local chapter go straight to the global organization instead. I'm sure it would happen quite rapidly with this system.
- Chapters by state (or region or other local interest group) are also possible. I expect membership would go to the national chapter. Not all chapter-like organizations would necessarily fit the criteria for formal membership in the global Wikimedia Foundation; that's an implementation issue new bylaws would need to address. --Michael Snow 05:20, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
Would such a thing require board level ---hmm I can't think of the right word.....guidance? Yeah, board level guidance into the structural design, and board level approval of the chapter election processes? (Considering that the chapters would then have more direct effect on the board themselves, we wouldn't want them to be haphazardly thrown together). Do you think the board would be able to push it through any changes to the currently existing chapter's structures? Also, have you put up on wiki anywhere your proposal idea for this? I'd like to read more.Swatjester 14:43, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- The Wikimedia Foundation already has a Chapters Coordinator, Delphine Ménard, and part of her role is to guide people through the process of forming a chapter. With this kind of supervision and the authorization chapters receive to use Wikimedia trademarks, the tools exist to ensure chapters are appropriately organized. Some aspects have evolved as the experience is a learning process, but I don't consider this a haphazard system. I believe my idea is entirely compatible with the existing chapters as they are, along with those still to be formed.
- I haven't put together a fully-detailed proposal or done anything like attempting to re-draft the bylaws, so this discussion is probably the best summary at this point. To outline a basic setup, I would suggest expanding the board once more, and having its fully mature form constitute nine members. This lends itself to a very simple distribution into three groups of three. The chapters could select three board members, the community at large could elect three as we're doing now, and the board could appoint three more to bring in outside voices or add desired expertise that isn't already covered. No single avenue would give control of the board, but overall the community would have control through two avenues, and should these two produce an internal conflict, those from the third avenue could mediate. --Michael Snow 20:05, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
If you are elected, how much time do you foresee spending on your work as a board member? Other than the Signpost, are there any WMF-related duties which you believe you would have to give up? Anthony DiPierro 02:35, 17 June 2007 (UTC)
- The time demands are subject to some guesswork, because the current involvement of the board in day-to-day management doesn't necessarily match its idealized role. I think the range might be 15-20 hours a week for the time being, although that's a good bit higher than what it should call for in a more mature organization.
- Regarding non-Signpost duties, there's my position as chair of the Communications committee. I don't know that board membership would require giving this up, but the role is less critical now that Sandra is in place as Communications Manager. Aside from that, being on the board would in a sense reverse my role as an attorney, from giving legal advice to receiving it, but obviously the Wikimedia Foundation would still get the benefit of my input on those issues. --Michael Snow 18:46, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
You are running again, you have been around for a long time..you have a keen interest in becoming one of the team..I like that..I can assume that you have good ideas and you have some changes in mind..can you tell me a few of those (if they do exist of course)..and good luck...--The Joke النكتة 07:52, 17 June 2007 (UTC)
- For a few of my ideas, I refer you to some of my comments in response to earlier questions. For example, to Effeietsanders on strategy (in the section headed "Change"), my suggestion to push for donations from entertainment companies that already derive clear, measurable benefits from Wikipedia. Also, my proposal to structure membership in the Wikimedia Foundation through local chapters (see the "Membership" section), and to use this in choosing board members. I have more points to consider, but I'm not coming in committed to a specific narrow agenda, and I prefer to articulate my ideas as they come up in discussion here and elsewhere. --Michael Snow 18:58, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
OK, a more focused question a propos. Dear Michael, you stated that you performed many wiki contributions without use of an account. Could you discover an IP address(es), from which were your contributions logged in de.wiki, fr.wiki etc., i.e. your IP? Suppose that I'm willing to browse your changes in fr.wiki. Best regards, Incnis Mrsi 20:01, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
- I'm not sure what an interest in my contributions has to do with a question that was originally about the CheckUser function. Anyway, I did not claim to have made "many" contributions without using an account, I said I have occasionally worked that way on a few projects, nothing more. If I worked more regularly on some of these projects, I might consider creating an account, though part of me wants to stubbornly hold out for the long-awaited single login feature. While I speak French and German, I consider it more efficient to leave most of the work there to native speakers. I'm afraid I don't have time to go back and identify different IP addresses from which I contributed to other projects, so I'll simply say that I'm not asking to be treated as if I had some large additional body of work there. All I mean is that I've had some opportunity to observe how they work, and that I have an understanding of languages and cultures beyond just English. --Michael Snow 21:06, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
Communication with communities
Smaller communities in my experience can have problem drawing attention of the Board to important community issues where Board input is really necessary. Do you recognise such needs are currently left unanswered, and what could change to let the Board process such requests?--Steven Fruitsmaak (Reply) 15:07, 17 June 2007 (UTC)
- I think the issues you mention reflect some of the areas where the Wikimedia Foundation lacks structure. I agree that the problem can exist, but you describe it only in general terms, and I'd be curious to know what examples you might identify. In some cases, smaller projects are not fully familiar with established Wikimedia principles, unless participants come overwhelmingly from the larger, established projects. For these, the community should not look so much to board input, as the board's work cannot be simply responding to a constant stream of requests from projects about previously settled issues. Instead, small developing projects need staff or volunteers who can point them to where the board has already laid out principles, and then educate that community about how to apply the principles. Here, the understaffed organization is the real problem.
- For somewhat larger segments of the community, working on projects that are better established but not among the largest, the matter may be a bit different. They're more likely to have singular issues requiring board attention. I would encourage those projects to seek that attention through local chapters if feasible, as this makes the problem clearer than smatterings of individual questions. As such, this is another reason to develop the chapter infrastructure.
- The idea of a Wikicouncil is also worth considering as part of the solution, although I'm not sure how this would turn out in practice. It might be a helpful forum for two-way communication between the board and communities, it might become a bureaucratic system that adds more confusion than value, or it might simply fail to be used in the manner intended. --Michael Snow 21:19, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
- The examples:
- The English Wikinews had the opportunity to send a reporter to the G8, but we needed a letter of assignment, something that needed to be provided fast but what had never happened before. We tried to get Board attention because local admins felt reluctant to sign such a paper themselves: because we did not succeed in getting any response (from Eloquence or Jimbo), a local admin signed anyway and got the reporter into the G8.
- Another thing is that we have been sending mails to Eloquence for months to ask the Board to discuss our request to have a firstname.lastname@example.org email address for accredited reporters, which they could use for their original reporting activities. Brion Vibber agreed that it could technically be possible, but we want the Board to discuss the details of such an idea.
- Finally, we have been struggling with the new licensing policy, because, unlike any other Wikimedia project, Wikinews articles are not works in progress: they are archived after 14 days, so the new policy poses a great threat to our news archive. In selected cases, images have been licensed under let's say cc-by-nc or a grant-of-license. A newspaper has the responsibility also to maintain an archive of historical events, so you can't just retroactively delete images.
- The examples:
- These are just 3 examples of how Wikinews is a completely different project from any other, which in selected cases needs Board attention (we won't ask it if we wouldn't really need it), and which can cause real problem if a Board that is not always familiar or sensitive to it's needs takes decisions that are, frankly said, only centred on Wikipedia.
- Your conclusion leads to what is probably the real solution. The first two points are both aspects of accreditation. It may be advisable for the board to pass a resolution regarding accreditation of Wikinews reporters, but handling the implementation should be the work of the community itself or Wikimedia staff as necessary. Signing individual accreditations or deciding details like email addresses should not be board-level concerns, but in the absence of a resolution on the general principle, nobody is willing to act. It seems to me that Wikinews could easily develop whatever accrediting system is thought appropriate. For the licensing policy issue, again the staffing situation comes up — with no legal counsel on staff, there's nobody in place to deal with the details when they arise. --Michael Snow 19:09, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- You say: "deciding details like email addresses should not be board-level concerns": what do you suggest then, that we say to the developers: hey, we have community consensus about email addresses for our accredited reporters, and since that is not a Board-level concern, we simply demand that you create email addresses for us? There is a good accreditation policy and the community dealing with individual concerns works well, so that is not the concern. I guess we just shouldn't count on the Board to care for things we find important, and just take our wiki into our own hands? --Steven Fruitsmaak (Reply) 14:53, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
- Hey, I realize you may be frustrated with what the current board isn't doing, but I'm not on the board right now. To some extent, yes you can and should take the wiki into your own hands. The purpose of a board is to oversee big-picture issues, not to manage details. This doesn't mean that details aren't important, but you should be empowered to take care of them without constant supervision. If the accreditation policy is solid, that's great, and a resolution from the board authorizing the Wikinews community to accredit reporters on that basis would be appropriate. With that kind of resolution to point to, you might find it becomes clearer to the developers that they should provide an infrastructure to support it. I'm just saying the board isn't qualified to decide exactly how that infrastructure should be set up, and can't afford to spend its time that way in any case. --Michael Snow 06:13, 21 June 2007 (UTC)
The Wikimedia Foundation is growing at much faster rate now than ever before. We are trying to establish ourselves as a stable, mature, international non-profit organization. What type of organizational and management skills can you offer that will benefit the foundation?
Also, our advisory board (http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Advisory_Board) is filled with experienced and competent professionals. The foundation can benefit greatly from their expertise and knowledge in various fields. Currently, their involvement in the foundation seems limited, how can you change the system to utilize their expertise? Do you think the advisory board should have more influence on decision-making? Vpatel 15:16, 17 June 2007 (UTC)
- I spent some time as a local government attorney and managed support staff in the course of my work, which I suppose can relate to the board's managerial activity. However, board involvement in day-to-day management of staff should be significantly reduced when an Executive Director is in place. The board's activity should emphasize general oversight and strategy, working with executives who report to the board and have responsibility for managing the overall staff. In other experience relevant to growth issues, I've helped run a campaign to qualify a voter initiative for statewide ballot, an endeavor that involves scaling up operations even more rapidly than at Wikimedia, though it's less technical and doesn't have quite the ultimate scope of the Wikimedia Foundation.
- The advisory board's role is not easy to evaluate, since it may often be behind the scenes. As the name suggests, an advisory board should advise, it is not a body that should actually make decisions. However, if its advice does not influence decisions, then the advisory board serves little purpose. I've seen reports of a handful of contacts and discussions developing out of its role, though tangible results are less visible at this early stage. I agree that the advisory board's assistance has a lot of potential uses. Another possibility is that select advisory board members could rotate onto the board of trustees for a term.
- The advisory board also could be expanded to cover an even more diverse set of professionals. Academic and technology backgrounds are well-represented, business to some extent, but additional areas should be looked at. It's been pointed out, for example, that the advisory board has no lawyers; as an attorney myself, I think this is another area of expertise that would certainly be helpful. --Michael Snow 02:16, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
Religious Picture Ban – Muhammed (Islam) versus Bahá'u'lláh (Baha'i)
Islam is a religion which don't want to see/show pictures or images of the founder Muhammed. Baha'i is a religion which don't want to see/show pictures of the founder Bahá'u'lláh. Wikipedia in most languages show respect for Islam and don't show Muhammed. But Wikipedia in most languages show a picture of Bahá'u'lláh. Wikipedia show more respect for the picture ban in islam than it show for the picture ban in Baha'i. What do you think is the cause for this and do you think that Wikipedia shall treat religions equal? Caspiax
- I'm not going to speculate on why these particular cases are treated one way or the other. I will comment that the issue is an editorial decision, not one for the board to make. I think Wikipedia should treat religions (and other subjects) "equally", if by that you mean neutrally, since maintaining a neutral point of view is the overriding editorial principle of the project. I do not consider it appropriate to dictate "equal" treatment in the sense that the coverage must be identical — this would not be neutral, since the underlying circumstances are almost never identical. That's what editorial judgment is for. --Michael Snow 04:45, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
What are "free" works?
- What is your opinion on the fact that the WMF has based its licensing policy on a definition of free cultural works that is not controlled by the WMF itself but by some external group? Doesn't that make it harder to adapt it, if that should ever become necessary?
- How should, in your opinion, requests for clarifications from the community regarding said licensing policy and/or the definition of free cultural works or their impact on the Wikimedia projects be handled?
|Hint on the trick question|
|The definition of free cultural works says that additionally, free works "must not be covered by legal restrictions (patents, contracts, etc.) or limitations (such as privacy rights) which would impede the freedoms enumerated above." The Empire state building is trademarked, and the image of the Polizeihauptmeister appears to be subject to personality rights. Now what?|
- Trick question: would you consider Image:Empire State Building3 Dec.2005.jpg or Image:HH Polizeihauptmeister MZ.jpg "free" works? They are properly licensed CC-BY-2.0 and CC-BY-SA-2.5, respectively... (please look at the images before looking at the hint :-)
Cheers, Lupo 10:31, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
- I appreciate the concern about leaving such issues outside Wikimedia's direct control. However, Wikimedia projects coexist with a larger movement to promote free culture, and it makes sense to establish common definitions for that movement. The Wikimedia Foundation focuses on free educational works, while the definition encompasses other works that potentially fall outside Wikimedia's mission, such as creative and artistic works. It's not clear that being an official source for a definition of freedom (or actual free licenses, either for content or software) is something the Wikimedia Foundation should undertake. This is not to say that it shouldn't have strong input in shaping such definitions or licenses.
- Requests for clarification related to licensing policy should presumably be directed to the legal coordinator, once that position is filled. The legal coordinator can elaborate as appropriate or bring any needed modifications to the board's attention.
- As the problem of moral rights illustrates, freedom in the most absolute sense is difficult to achieve. I consider personality rights somewhat akin to moral rights in their implications. Unfortunately, for such rights the uncertain scope lends itself to extremely restrictive interpretation, at least hypothetically. I hope that as freely-licensed material becomes more widely understood, it will lead to clearer limitations on these rights so that they do not impinge on essential freedoms. As to the Empire State Building, I'm not familiar with the details of the trademark you mention, so I have no conclusion to offer. I have seen a couple places stating the trademark is for the building design, which might make the issue less relevant to everyone but practitioners of free architecture. Certainly the building is widely photographed with no apparent legal concern. --Michael Snow 07:06, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- Thanks for the answers. The point in the "trick question" was more to also consider whether these are "free enough" according to the licensing policy. Maybe that's obvious to you, but for me, the licensing policy could be clearer on that matter. On 1: I also am not convinced that the WMF should endeavor to become a source for a (universally accepted :-) definition. But it should certainly be the source for the WMF definition of what content the WMF considers "free enough" to be hosted on its servers. That might IMO be better served by re-stating locally what "freedoms" we/the WMF considers essential, and acknowledging explicitly that there may be freely licensed works that are not "free" for all purposes. And then also stating clearly whether or not the WMF cared about such "non-copyright" restrictions of freedom, and if so, which kinds of such restrictions were to be regarded.
- Anyway, thanks again, and good luck! Lupo 08:20, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
From time to time there has been discussion about whether the Foundation's current headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the United States, is the best location for the office. Do you think that the Foundation should continue to be headquartered in and operate out of Florida, or would you support a move to another location? If you think a move is appropriate, where would you move the Foundation to, and why? Kelly Martin 21:36, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
- The headquarters location is a product of convenience at the time, not long-range planning. I'm quite open to the potential for better locations, after considering both strategic benefits and relative overhead costs. I don't have a strong opinion about any specific location yet, and this decision in particular should not be made until an Executive Director is hired and can have input on it. I don't expect the headquarters to become overly large (no Wikimedia Building in Manhattan). The possibility of multiple small, geographically distributed offices (the German chapter already maintains an office) is also worth considering if it doesn't undermine staff coordination. --Michael Snow 17:42, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
Another candidate, Danny, mentioned that he'd like to see "something along the lines of Robert's Rules of Order implemented in the governance of the WMF". How do you feel about something like this? Do you have any changes you'd like to see with regard to the way the board proposes and passes resolutions? Anthony DiPierro 02:01, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- I'm not sure what he has in mind there. Robert's Rules are designed for parliamentary procedure, and thus intended for use in much larger bodies than the Wikimedia Foundation board is or ever should be. In a membership model, they could be applied to the activity of the membership body, perhaps that's the kind of governance he meant. I do worry a bit about whether the board is tracking the legal requirements that apply to its meetings and actions. Regarding resolutions, one thing that occurs to me is the lack of an established system for anyone outside the board to propose a resolution. Again, I think a chapter membership system could be helpful, because many individuals will have no idea what exactly is needed or how to write an appropriate resolution. --Michael Snow 18:10, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
By nature and design, wiki communities are an amateur, unstable amalgam of widely differing perspectives and agendas. There is no individual or collective responsibility and no competence test for participation. Yet, the board of the ever-expanding and legally constituted foundation that runs one of the world’s top websites, needs to be highly professionally, highly competent, collectively coherent and responsible. It must have business savvy, and be willing to make hard-nosed and even unpopular decisions. In your opinion:
- Is the current board, vision and structure fit for that purpose?
- Are you? (Would you be a competent candidate for a board in any non-profit venture?)
(same asked of all candidates)--Doc glasgow 14:44, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- I'll take the elements of your first question in reverse order. The structure of the organization is not nearly up to these standards yet. There's a complete vacuum of executive leadership, which the board is trying to fill, and not enough professional staff. Filling essential positions would be a start, and time will tell how much more work beyond that is needed. Depending on what the concept means to you, the organizational vision (for example, the vision and mission statements) may already befit the Wikimedia Foundation's status. But in the sense that vision is what you get when the obstacles directly in front of you are removed, then it's not there yet either, and this problem is reflected in a certain tendency to manage in response to the crisis of the day. Of the current board I think that to the extent they know how, they have done the best they could. That doesn't necessarily make it the best that anybody could do.
- Regarding myself, I've mentioned my professional background as a lawyer, and based on my experience I believe I'm well-qualified for the board. To borrow from the statement I wrote for Wikizine, in all my work I try to maintain a professional standard. My volunteer experience within Wikimedia is also important, because the board must know the project and have a sense of the organizational culture. There's nobody on earth who would be competent to serve on the board of any and all non-profit organizations for that reason. In the context of some other non-profit, I might have the basic professional competence, but wouldn't consider myself qualified unless I had some familiarity with its mission. My ability to combine the professional side with an understanding of amateur participation in Wikimedia is an aspect that I think distinguishes me as a candidate. --Michael Snow 14:35, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Chapters
Taking into account the growing importance of Wikimedia chapters in furthering our common goals on the one hand and the impact the decisions made by the Wikimedia Foundation have on the work (if not existence) of the Wikimedia Chapters on the other hand: What do you think about the idea of giving the chapters a formal say in WMF's decision making process? What do you think especially about a) letting the chapters appoint one or more board members (beside the ones elected by the community) and/or b) changing the WMF back to a membership organization (with the chapters as members)? Do you have any other ideas to achieve more checks and balances between Foundation and chapters? On top of that, would you care to elaborate on your vision about the current and future role of the Wikimedia chapters? Thanks in advance, Arne (akl) 15:41, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- Well, these questions are largely asking about my own ideas (which I outlined in the "Membership" section above). Not surprisingly, I favor them. I think local chapters need and deserve better integration into the global organization. At the same time, they should have the ability to think and act for themselves. If a membership system can be built around chapters without too many legal complications, and I think it can, I believe we should move in that direction.
- I expect that chapters would be actively engaged in the issues facing the global Wikimedia Foundation. They can act as a check on it when necessary, but more importantly they can be a source of much-needed support. By contrast, in a system based on individual membership the bulk of members would be relatively unengaged. Most people want to work on building one or more of the Wikimedia projects, not building a system of governance. Having chapters as members, with individuals having the opportunity for membership in a chapter, provides people with an avenue to help shape Wikimedia without depending on all of them to attend to its business constantly. --Michael Snow 15:57, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
- Well, I must admit that I didn't read the "Membership" section above before posting my questions (which I drafted a week ago). It might be the case that we've talked about similar ideas during the board retreat last November in Frankfurt. However, thank you very much for your answers - no matter who had the idea in the first place ;) -- Arne (akl) 17:05, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
- I definitely talked about the concept with Delphine in Frankfurt, and though I can't remember for certain, you may well have been involved in some of the discussion. Either way, I expect you and Delphine have undoubtedly talked through it with each other a few times since then, so it wouldn't surprise me if you're not sure whose idea it was originally. Anyway, what does it matter who gets credit among friends? --Michael Snow 06:13, 21 June 2007 (UTC)
Project policy involvement
What are your views on board involvement in writing and implementing policy for the various projects, especially in controversial areas where it appears that community consensus will be difficult to establish, such as on the "attack sites"  and biography of living people (BLP)  issues? Cla68 15:53, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- The Wikimedia Foundation has a wise and longstanding practice of not making general editorial decrees to individual projects. Except for fundamental matters, projects are largely autonomous. Policies must fit within the scope of the vision and mission statements, and follow a few basic principles, one summary of which was originally written by one of the other candidates, UninvitedCompany. Some editorial questions may prove controversial, but that doesn't mean the controversy will go away if the board intervenes. Board members can still participate in developing project policy in their individual capacities, using whatever persuasive skills they have to move things closer to consensus. But in that case, they are part of the community, and the policy is still that of the community. --Michael Snow 17:03, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
What would you do/recommend when elected and faced with 40% budget deficit? Absolwent 18:44, 19 June 2007 (UTC)
- Well, the question presumes the existence of a budget in the first place. One of the critical gaps in the organization is the lack of a Chief Financial Officer, which Wikimedia has not had since Daniel Mayer resigned last year (and as a volunteer doing the work without formal qualifications, he always expected to be replaced by a trained professional eventually anyway). Right now any financial plans are essentially of the back-of-the-napkin variety. While the current staff are able to do bookkeeping and pay the bills, there is nobody to provide professional planning. I understand the priority placed on an Executive Director, and the need for these positions to work together, but I'm concerned that this area is being neglected.
- As for how to respond to this scenario, it's already clear that large amounts of money need to be raised. Periodic fundraising drives should be only one tool, supporting a relatively small percentage of operations when compared to appropriate grant applications and better targeting of large donors. I believe the financial issues facing the Wikimedia Foundation can be remedied, but they require much more attention. Greater professionalism will also increase the confidence of donors that money is being spent wisely, which is especially important when the amounts are large. --Michael Snow 18:33, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
Cash & users
We need money and people. We have lost users (for a while) after this event. Nobody expected it, but... the same was in 2006. Do you want to talk about money (with these wealthy guys) and what's your opinion about that event ;)? Przykuta 11:57, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
- The event resulted from an unfortunate twist added by a blogger to sensationalize some comments, which was then repeated and amplified in other places. It's a cautionary tale about being careful with public remarks. At the same time, it called attention to the Wikimedia Foundation's financial challenges, which are quite real.
- I'm skeptical about whether it caused a major loss of users. I don't mean to dismiss the event's significance, or the importance of having people contribute to the projects. However, it's not clear why English-language media would have such a dramatic effect on other projects, especially when the data for the English Wikipedia from that time interval is unavailable (though I don't know what coverage Florence's remarks received in other languages). Participation does fluctuate, and I think it's interesting to note that the graphs for the larger projects, including English, show a similar pattern approximately one year earlier as well, so it might be an annual thing.
- I'm willing to do what I can in terms of seeking large donations. Connections are valuable here, and Jimbo provides the best we have available. Unfortunately, none of the candidates, including myself, seems to offer much in the sense of having their own independent connections to draw upon. That should be something to consider for potential appointed board members. --Michael Snow 19:43, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
Wikinews and Accredited reporters attending events
Wikinews may be one of the lesser-known projects, but we recently managed to get a contributor entry to the G8 conference. Efforts were made to get the Board involved in the drafting of a letter for the reporter's entry to the G8, but these received no response. As an involved party there is more about this issue on Eloquence's questions page . What is your opinion on this, it is - I believe - an issue the board should take seriously. Those of us who contribute on Wikinews are ambitious enough to think that we can overtake the Wikipedia article count (although I may be retired before we manage it there are new news stories every day). As we really want to be able to do truly original reporting we need people who can "almost" say they represent us. Do you support this, and do you believe the board should have been involved for something as important as sending a reporter to the G8 conference? --Brian McNeil / talk 21:09, 20 June 2007 (UTC)
- Accreditation is also an example mentioned by Steven Fruitsmaak, so you may want to look at that discussion (see the section "Communication with communities"). As I mentioned there, the board could definitely consider a resolution authorizing Wikinews to accredit reporters. It should probably review the accreditation policy in case there are any obvious concerns, but what else is actually appropriate for the board to do? The community is who should determine which reporters can represent it and carry Wikinews credentials.
- Should the board be involved in sending a reporter to the G8 conference? I don't know, how much do you want the board to be taking over the accreditation process? It would seem you expect to do this kind of thing regularly — I certainly hope so — should the board be involved every time? Should all reporters attending major summits, expos, and political conventions require board approval, leaving just the stuff like local school board meetings and small sporting events for the project to handle on its own? I'd say the board is there to provide general oversight, and the community (and occasionally staff, with the observation that understaffing has already been noted as a glaring problem) gets to actually execute the plans and run the show. Don't underestimate what you can accomplish when you don't have to drag it constantly in front of the board. --Michael Snow 06:13, 21 June 2007 (UTC)
- I expected input on what should be written in the accreditation letter. Perhaps I didn't ask the right person and it should have been someone on staff. The board has FYI already allowed our accreditation process. My concern was not to misrepresent either Wikinews or the reporter we sent to the G8. I don't think the board need be involved in the day to day running of the wiki, but for our early efforts at getting our accredited reporters into big events some help would have been appreciated. --Brian McNeil / talk 07:00, 21 June 2007 (UTC)
The Wikimedia Foundation at a corporate level is soaked in its own drama and if conditions don't improve soon, it will crash and burn. I want the newly elected trustees to act as catalystic mediators to simply and peacefully transform drama into productivity and then success for the foundation. How do you plan on doing this? —Signed, your friendly neighborhood MessedRocker. 06:07, 21 June 2007 (UTC)
- I intend to focus on the work and the best interests of the Wikimedia Foundation. I try not to contribute to counterproductive petty dramas; I've had ample opportunity to create my own and not acted on it. To the extent that I can address the problem, I think the right course is to maintain a professional level of conduct and expect similar professionalism from others. The best way to set the tone is by example. --Michael Snow 00:13, 22 June 2007 (UTC)
Within the Wikimedia Foundation, there are multiple smaller wikis such as the Simple English Wikiquote, the Romanian Wikisource, and the Cherokee Wiktionary. All of these wikis lack local communities, and many go for long periods of time without any improvements made. Most also lack any active admins and 'crats and are prone to vandalism. First, do you think it is worth keeping these wikis, or do you think we should close them down until there is more active? Second, if they were to be kept, what would you do to improve the local communities? Wikihermit 20:42, 22 June 2007 (UTC)
- The current setup, such as the Wikimedia Incubator, is supposed to alleviate these sorts of concerns in theory. Some of the problematic wikis may predate this system. If there's no activity of value on a wiki, I have no problem with it being locked from editing until new legitimate contributors make themselves known. I don't see that it should be necessary to remove the wiki completely, although if it has no content of value at all (not just no new content of value), then it might as well be removed completely. Moving inactive-but-not-worthless projects back to the incubator might also be considered, to facilitate addressing vandalism.
- Judging which option is the best incentive to promote a struggling wiki is tricky. I'd compare this to encouraging people to write Wikipedia articles — what motivates people more, a stub or a red link? Sometimes it depends. Certain people enjoy creating their own work, others are happy fixing and improving existing work. If it's merely one project in a language where other projects are active, closer ties to the working projects should help. When the language itself has little activity on any project, outreach to other groups, such as linguists, can be of value. --Michael Snow 18:06, 23 June 2007 (UTC)
This is a mass question being posted to all candidates. A couple days ago there was a proposal to hold an all candidates debate on IRC at a time TBD. The planning page is at ElectionDebate07 - please indicate if you are interested and if so, a time that would work for you. -- Tawker 22:59, 23 June 2007 (UTC)
- As I commented there, I wish you luck in organizing it and will try to be available if a debate is held, but it's a pretty short timeframe to put this together before voting begins. --Michael Snow 18:05, 25 June 2007 (UTC)
Most Wikipedia users are technically inclined, but usability studies have turned up serious problems for non-geeks, and many of these problemsd remain uncorrected.
Have you read these usability studies? Do you consider them to be important? Would you commission more such studies? How would you implement their results?
Here's an example from just a couple months ago: a journalist working for a major newspaper thought that "there's no way to tell who wrote the entry or how many people contributed to it" until one of his readers corrected him -- he works for the media! How many regular people know how to check an article's contributors? If i might be permitted to opine for a second: the fact that you can view the revisions of an article should be obvious from the design of the webpage, but it's not: "history" is a terrible, non-obvious name for the function.
Put yourself in your parents' shoes: you're reading a page about Thailand that you found through Google, and you see a square that says "history". You click the square expecting to read about the history of Thailand and suddenly you're faced with a long, mysterious list of nonsensical words and numbers. You click the back button. Aaron Swartz gave one of the best summaries of the issue that I've seen:
"The page design the site uses encourages specific actions by making some links clear and prominent. Software functions like categories make certain kinds of features possible. The formatting codes used for things like infoboxes and links determine how easy it is for newcomers to edit those pieces of the site.
All of these things are political choices, not technical ones. It's not like there's a right answer that's obvious to any intelligent programmer. And these choices can have huge effects on the community.
One presentation was by a usability expert who told us about a study done on how hard people found it to add a photo to a Wikipedia page. The discussion after the presentation turned into a debate over whether Wikipedia should be easy to to use. Some...questioned whether confused users should be allowed to edit the site at all -- were their contributions even valuable?
As a programmer, I have a great deal of respect for the members of my trade. But with all due respect, are these really decisions that the programmers should be making?"
How would you solve this problem?
Tlogmer 00:09, 25 June 2007 (UTC)
- The wiki model itself challenges most people's understanding of how website content is created. This may mean that making certain features fully intuitive to new visitors is an unattainable goal. Better, more widely disseminated basic instruction would address these issues more readily than technical changes.
- At the same time, I agree with the concern about usability for those who aren't strongly technically inclined. Many people may grasp the wiki concept and be able to learn its basic syntax, but they are often overwhelmed and intimidated by the prospect of editing when they encounter a large block in unfamiliar formatting. When someone understands the system well enough to know what changes they want to make, ideally the path they're provided should allow them to immediately recognize how to do it.
- Readers without editing experience may have even more trouble processing everything that's in front of them, and this creates a significant barrier to them accurately evaluating Wikipedia (or any other Wikimedia project) as a source of information. I think generally these issues would fall under the purview of a Chief Technical Officer. The board's involvement should be to establish a philosophy and some general criteria for the CTO to work toward. Currently Brion Vibber is nominally the CTO, but it's been mentioned that he functions more as lead developer, which given the ongoing work on MediaWiki is already a demanding task. So bringing in a professional CTO to provide direction on these issues is yet another staffing need the Wikimedia Foundation should address. --Michael Snow 19:02, 25 June 2007 (UTC)
Danny Wool has proposed replacing the current board with "a professional board consisting of captains of industry and academia" -- presumbaly, web leaders and information academics, etc. Do you agree? What do you think Wikipedia can learn from, for example, professional writers of paper encyclopedias like Britannica? How should the foundation best recruit their advice and put it into practice? Tlogmer 00:09, 25 June 2007 (UTC)
- I support improving the degree of professionalism on the board, and I believe my personal qualifications can contribute to that. I also would like to see at least one position held by an academic professional, but I'm not sure what this particular proposal means other than as a slogan. Completely cutting the community out of the board, as this could potentially do, goes much too far. It also glosses over a fundamental prerequisite, that these people would have to understand and support what the Wikimedia Foundation is about. To directly address the example you mention — while there may be much to be learned from the professional work put into commercial products that arguably compete with Wikimedia projects, I think seeking that kind of advice would make more sense through a consulting relationship. Giving professionals the kind of authority the board ultimately has over the Wikimedia Foundation can only make sense if we first know they support Wikimedia's mission. --Michael Snow 19:26, 25 June 2007 (UTC)
Appropriate conduct for Board members
Recently, in a non-Mediawiki forum, Erik Moeller made the following comments: "Cyde's and Kelly's arguments are on the same level: they are driven by blind hostility, not thoughtful analysis."  Do you believe that responding to criticism of one's credentials and conduct as a member of the Board with personal attacks such as these is appropriate for a member of the Board of Trustees? Kelly Martin 00:55, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
- While I doubt that anyone in that discussion is covering themselves with glory, if any readers think this is an important issue for evaluating candidates, I'll refer them to the link Kelly provides so they can consider the full context of the comments and what they are in response to. Beyond that, I point you in the direction of my response to Messedrocker above (in the section on "Impending failure"), which captures some of my sentiments relating to such situations. --Michael Snow 06:12, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
Intermediary layer between board and communities/chapters/projects
There has been a lot of talk about a wikicouncil. In my view (please tell me if you disagree) the great stumbling block has been seat allocation, because of the immense disparity in the size of contributor-base per language, and per project-type, which makes it near impossible to create a fair allocation system that would come even close to keeping everybody happy.
How would you feel about a body that was explicitly barred from being a deliberative body, but given a remit to share knowledge of practises, problems and the like; and in a consensus format (not unanimity, but with explicit opt-outs) try to bring the communities closer on those issues where they are able to share common ground, and with each "common understanding" then being sent back down to the chapter, language of a project or whatever, where they can then amongst themselves think about whether they wish to implement it fully, in part or what; each according to their own decision making culture?
As I see it, this would with one swift stroke entirely erase the need for strict representativeness. And each chapter, project or language, or what not could send one person to the body, with the only requirement being that that subcommunity has a working manner of ratifying decisions in a common framework. That is, no conglomeration of communities or tiny and largely inactive fringe community could send a representative, unless it had an actively working way for making decisions (Meaning that it regularly makes decisions; and needs to. There is no reason to burden those communities that are still in that happy state of just doing what needs to be done, without worrying about how to make community decisions) within themselves.
Since one of your fields is political history/science, I would be very interested in your thoughts on this proposal and the larger question it attempts to be a solution too, of course. (Note, I also sent this same proposal to Kim Brunings question-page, as you two are the candidates whose answers I am most interested to hear on this question.) -- Cimon Avaro 11:22, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
- I agree that to create a wikicouncil as a representative body, figuring out how to assign representation is one of the major challenges. Defining it as a non-deliberative body (I assume by deliberative you mean a body that has some kind of decisionmaking authority within Wikimedia) would make the representation issue less crucial, true. At the same time, however, if there's no clear way for it to have influence, I suspect there won't be much energy devoted to making it useful as a consensus-developing talkshop. I don't wish to reject that possibility or its potential usefulness outright, but experience so far suggests the initiative to get it off the ground is lacking. Without the established area of influence, the rationale for a formal body becomes much less strong. Instead, when discussions and exchanges happen along these lines, they are purely informal, of the type that Kim seems to enjoy studying.
- To the extent that the present situation may inhibit support for a shared mission, I'm open to a wikicouncil as a possibility, though I also look at chapters as an intermediary body between the community and the board. One approach might involve a wikicouncil that produces formal but not necessarily binding recommendations. Organizing this would still have to deal with basic representation issues, and the body would be inferior to the board's ultimate authority. The relationship between the UN General Assembly and the Security Council comes to mind as an example, though I'm not sure how much we should want to emulate it. --Michael Snow 18:14, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
Wikiquote & copyright
What's your stance regarding Wikiquote and copyrights? As it is, most wikiquotes depend and extensively use fair use content, which is contrary to the philosophy of most other projects. What are your views on this? Should wikiquotes move to only free content? Should resolution on fair use have a special exemption for wikiquote? Should fair use be removed from Wikiquote after deadline for the resolution? drini [es:] [commons:] 16:06, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
- Wikiquote's struggle to balance copyrighted and freely-licensed material is a significant obstacle and perhaps part of the reason its community seems weaker than some other Wikimedia projects. Still, I don't know that it would be necessary for the board's resolution to provide a special exemption specifically for Wikiquote. It already provides that projects can develop their own exemption policies. Wikiquote is welcome to do this; although the guidelines are written more with other forms of media in mind, applying the "historically significant" analysis to text quotations is plausible enough. --Michael Snow 18:14, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
Hi, as this seems to get closer to the time that the elections are to start, I thought it would be best to go ahead and attempt to get the unofficial IRC debate a time and a place. By the time analysis on the talk page, the best time for the debate appears to be 1800 UTC, to 1900 UTC. As it would be best for this debate to occur before the elections, June 27 was chosen as the day. I know that this is short notice, but the whole unofficial debate thing was on a very short notice to start with. I hope that you are able to attend. Again the time is 18:00 UTC, June 27, 2007, it will be held at ##wikimedia-debate. Please do note that this debate is unofficial, and you are not required to attend. —— Eagle101 Need help? 20:38, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
- Well, I seem to be the one candidate who responded but didn't indicate that this particular time would work. I understand the decisions that need to go into planning this, but I'm afraid it's very unlikely that I can be available then. I hope a transcript will be published for the rest of us to review. --Michael Snow 21:14, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
Donors and scope
Asked of all candidiates: Okay, I'm not naive so yeah, it follows that large donors will probably get some pull when policies, direction and the scope of the foundation get decided, but what's your take on it all? How far do we bend to satisfy our donors, and to what extent are ideals of the foundation non-negotiable? In five years say, would you expect the foundation to still exist in the same legal fashion as now and assert ownership over the assets it currently has? Steve block 20:44, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
- I consider free licensing and editorial neutrality non-negotiable. Other structural issues serve those philosophical goals. For example, I'm not sure there's an absolute need for the Wikimedia Foundation to run its own server farm, although that's been the primary direction so far. In theory, it could rely entirely on donors to provide the hardware capacity needed to host Wikimedia projects. Two big requirements would have to be met — that it doesn't involve conditions that would compromise the fundamental mission, and that it doesn't make Wikimedia overly dependent on any particular donor. Choosing a future course in this area depends on technical considerations and a cost/benefit analysis.
- The other primary assets are trademarks and goodwill. These I would want to be much more vigilant about. Donors can't be put in charge of such intangible assets in the same way, at least not without jeopardizing their value. This is part of what makes generating income from Wikimedia brands challenging. --Michael Snow 22:12, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
- Thanks a lot for a thoughtful answer. If I could follow up, where do you stand on separating or hiving off any of the various projects, as has been proposed by one candidate? Steve block 15:52, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
- It's not the obvious thing to do at this point, but the idea was thoughtfully presented and should not be rejected out of hand. Since I believe the Wikimedia Foundation is far short of maturity as an organization, I'm not sure it's currently capable of spawning a framework for projects to succeed on their own. Ultimately, however, a distinct organization supporting a particular project could strengthen its identity and better address individualized needs. Whatever the final structure, I'm sure significant linkages would and should remain. --Michael Snow 17:46, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
- Thanks again for a swift and reasoned answer. Steve block 18:51, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
What do you do when faced with a difficult decision to take ?
I saw in the recent irc debate the following question. Would you support releasing the state of the foundation's finances quarterly? Why or why not.. Of course, making such a decision is a matter of board-level policy. Now, the job of the board is also oversight. So, let's imagine the hypothesis that the board made a policy for quarterly release, the staff was asked to provide the statements according to the policy... and in spite of this, the report does not come. As board, you are embarassed. First because the policy is not respected. Second because the community is complaining. And third because, with no financial statements, there is no oversight possible. Please imagine you are facing this situation, reminded the staff once, then twice, then three times, and still no report.
What do you do ?
- Part of oversight is establishing a system of accountability. In this scenario, the first element is in place, in the sense that staff were assigned the task of carrying out the policy. More specifically, somebody has to be given personal responsibility for the assignment, and it should be made clear that they will be evaluated based on it. This may be more than one person, according to how responsibilities are distributed (for example, the quality of staff work generally would also go into an evaluation of the Executive Director who delegates assignments to them).
- Other things that help with accountability include clear job descriptions, a shared understanding of priorities, and a process for reporting on activity. Inadequacies here could be contributing to the breakdown you describe. If people understand their jobs and the priority placed on their assignments, they will look to report activity that's in line with those expectations. When it's not, the question becomes whether they couldn't (lack of resources or proper skills) or just didn't (by choice, essentially). Here you're at the reporting and evaluation stage. I don't think anybody on either side enjoys performance reviews, but some kind of format for evaluations is necessary, preferably on a regular schedule.
- With a failure like this, then, the board's evaluation needs to focus on whether the task requires additional resources for the same assignment framework, or if it should be reassigned. The focus is on how to actually get the job done; however, it can involve painful decisions that I don't mean to minimize with this clinical style of analysis. Unfortunately, "reassignment" is often applied to people instead of tasks in corporate-speak. That should be avoided, but this is where evaluation also reaches to staff performance. You may have to conclude that someone doesn't have the skills, or is unwilling, to do their job. Or the problem may be that they weren't given adequate support and more resources must be found for the task. If the entire system of accountability is organized and well-understood, the answers to these questions won't be too surprising to most people involved. When there are a lot of real surprises, it's usually a sign the system isn't working very well either. --Michael Snow 00:42, 28 June 2007 (UTC)
fund raiser and chapters
do you support to facilitate fundraising by offering a direct link to country specific donation possibilities? an example woulde be medecins sans frontier's donation page. in wikimedia's case the donation page for the year end fundraiser would contain flags, and the links behind the flags would go to the donation page of local chapters, for two reasons:
- local law (which donators know and can make use of) strengtens donators feeling, that their donations are used at their will
- local tax exemption allows to donate up to 50% more without paying more
--ThurnerRupert 12:13, 28 June 2007 (UTC)
- In principle, I support whatever donation process will allow Wikimedia to maximize the amount raised and use it in the most efficient manner possible. Certainly people who might get favorable tax treatment from a donation should be given the appropriate option for it. At the same time, we should make sure that plans for using these funds aren't impeded by local restrictions. This calls for better planning and coordinating with the chapters about what to do with the money. --Michael Snow 17:18, 28 June 2007 (UTC)
The committee system has been around for roughly a year and a half now, not counting previous initiatives. Several of the committees are now dormant and some never got off the ground. Some, conversely, have done fairly well.
I know this is a long-standing and groan-inducing topic of debate, but what is your view on the committee system? Do you have ideas for reviving the current committee system or making it more functional? Do you think there is a place in the Foundation, in theory at least, for community-based committees to do some of the day-to-day work or oversee certain areas? Who should the committees report to, ideally? Are there new committees that should be formed, or old ones to be reworked?
Sorry about posting my question(s) so late! -- phoebe 00:32, 29 June 2007 (UTC)
- Most of my impressions are drawn from observing the communications committee, which selected me as its chair. I think a system like this can be useful, but it takes considerable effort to make it so. When everyone (including myself) is a volunteer, sometimes the time to put in that effort is simply not available. It has helped to have a staff person for communications, for whom this effort is a regular part of the job. Perhaps committees as ways to bring staff together with volunteers, thus extending their reach, provides a usable blueprint. In the sense of reporting, staff would report to the same people they do normally, while the volunteers can provide assistance along with advice from a community perspective.
- One of the challenges of making the system functional is having a good sense of what to do with a committee. In my observation, the successes have overwhelmingly involved receiving clear direction, and ideally tackling items that can be handled in small chunks. For example, we helped coordinate the closure of the French Wikiquote due to copyright concerns, something where the objective was understood and which went reasonably smoothly in the end. Things that are more amorphous (like the general problem of improving communications between the Wikimedia Foundation and the projects) are much harder to address concretely, and as a result that area has remained one of our weaknesses.
- Within the communications committee's area, probably its most impressive accomplishment has been wrangling OTRS and the steadily-increasing stream of questions, concerns, and complaints Wikimedia receives from the general public. The overall task is quite daunting — and remains a constant challenge still — but capable of being broken up into parts to fit the pattern for success I outlined. At its smallest, naturally, the task can be seen as dealing with a single message, while the objective of providing good "customer service" is straightforward and easily understood. Keeping it organized and running smoothly is additional work, for which I credit the OTRS admins and Wikimedia staff in particular.
- I don't have a grand scheme for reorganizing or revitalizing committees at this point, these are just my initial reactions on the subject. I do think staff members are useful enough to committees, and hopefully committees similarly useful to staff, that structuring committees around them seems like a good place to start. This kind of liaison setup can also help develop the connections between Wikimedia and the community. --Michael Snow 06:14, 29 June 2007 (UTC)
- thanks very much for your reply. -- phoebe 18:43, 29 June 2007 (UTC)
Wikipedia, being one of the ten most visited sites in internet, has some negotiation power. I believe we should be able to use this power in order to increase both the freedom and quality of the encyclopedia. In example, the board could contact copyright holders of promotional images (places, objects, models, singers, bands, etc), and convince them to release their items under a free license. I have been doing this myself, but I believe the Board could have better chances than a single person, a WikiProject or even a Wikipedia project. What do you think, do you think this could be a priority? And good luck! -- ReyBrujo 18:37, 29 June 2007 (UTC)
- In what sense are you suggesting this? For the board to spend a lot of time personally contacting individual rightsholders to seek freely-licensed material, I'm afraid, would take away from much-needed efforts in other areas. The board's direct involvement is best reserved for situations where it would have much broader impact than obtaining a single image. Naturally board members can push the issue as the opportunity presents itself. But I would rather see a lot of volunteers and staff better enabled to apply this negotiation power. The idea that the board alone can obtain all the freely-licensed illustrations we need is like the notion that Jimmy Wales wrote Wikipedia. --Michael Snow 19:25, 29 June 2007 (UTC)
- Of course, that is why I am talking about the board as a whole. In example, a press release requesting free images sent to different promotional agencies, record companies, film studios, etc would be a good step (I would not expect the board to handle the replies, that is OTRS task). We need to be able to say something like "Greetings, I am ReyBrujo, Wikipedia editor, and reach to you with a request published by the Wikimedia Foundation in which they call companies like yours to review the possibility of releasing media under a free license." Also, whenever such agency or company agrees with this, an official press release by the Foundation commenting the agreement would allow us to say things like "Other records companies like this and that one agreed with our freedom statement." putting some weight in our approach.
- I don't want the board to do what I am doing, but I would like to demonstrate such companies that the board explicitly agrees with our approach. I would not represent the board in such conversations, but would like to say "Read here, if you don't believe me and want to talk with someone who has decision power in Wikimedia, you can contact them here". -- ReyBrujo 21:15, 29 June 2007 (UTC)
I am asking these exact same questions of you and all your opponents so I can make an apples-to-apples comparison.
- Do you think the Wikimedia Foundation should invest in stocks and bonds so that it has a source of income if donations dry up? If so, should its investment strategy be active or passive, diversified or focus, value or growth?
- Do you think the Foundation's spending on travel and conferences before it has a long-term source of income is responsible?
- Should some of the Foundation's major financial decisions, such as expansion of the paid staff, be subject to referenda of the editors and donors?
- The oversight function -- where edits are hidden even from admins -- has legitimate uses, but the potential for misuse is Orwellian. How can abuse be avoided?
- Do you believe control over Wikipedia content policy should ultimately rest with the man who created the skeleton of the site, or the editors who create its flesh and blood and/or their elected representatives?
- What is your position on freedom of expression in the User namespace?
- Where U.S. copyright law unfairly impedes Wikimedia Foundation projects, should the Foundation lobby for the law to be changed? If so, how should it do so without spending money it can't afford?
- To what extent is Wikipedia yet reaching the developing world, and what could you do during your term to speed that up?
Seahen 05:37, 30 June 2007 (UTC)
- The question of an investment strategy is better suited for a time when the Wikimedia Foundation is in a position to build up an endowment. I do support the goal of an endowment; I expect that it would pursue diversified investments under professional management, so as not to require constant supervision by the board.
- Some travel expenditures, if not excessive, are reasonable, though I don't know enough details to evaluate the current level of those. Just as physical and not just virtual facilities are ultimately necessary to operate a website, some direct personal interaction is needed to run an organization no matter how "virtual" you try to make it. I do note that the tab in some cases has been picked up by others (for some speaking appearances or meetings with outside groups, for example). As for conferences, if I understand correctly, Wikimania has paid for itself in the past and is expected to remain self-sufficient, even though attendance fees are a pittance compared to many comparable events. Any other conferences, if they've cost anything it's been arranged by the chapters and not required any Wikimedia Foundation money, I believe.
- I'm glad you recognized it's a question that should involve the actual donors, not just editors. I'll respond with a question — Do the editors and donors want to identify themselves to the Wikimedia Foundation sufficient to ensure that such a referendum can be fairly administered? Considering the widespread use of anonymity not only in editing, but also donation through services like PayPal, I'm skeptical that the idea is feasible.
- The oversight function has clear guidelines for its use, and ultimately can still be checked by developers. I know that they have monitored it on past occasions to ensure that it is not misused. Since a collaborative project inherently requires that we trust each other anyway, I think when a process like this is necessary, it is appropriate to invoke that trust. We also trust the developers not to mess with things in many other ways that they might be capable of, this is just one more.
- The question assumes that control is capable of ultimately resting with either. A wiki being what it is, I find the assumption somewhat flawed. To the extent that any editor, including Jimmy Wales, is truly able to control policy, it is through the support or acquiescence of other participants. The balance between them is open to being revisited, of course, particularly as it's in a constant state of flux anyway.
- A fair amount of latitude is generally allowed there. However, people seeking a venue dedicated to complete freedom of expression (artistic, political, or otherwise) are advised to seek out a more suitable project for it.
- Lobbying activity is something that a nonprofit organization must be extremely careful about. I think there could be circumstances where it would be appropriate, but I expect that it would focus on personal advocacy by people in the Wikimedia Foundation, or else allying with like-minded organizations. This would avoid expensive approaches like handing over the matter to a lobbying firm.
- The largest effort I know of that would try to bring Wikipedia to the developing world is the One Laptop per Child project. The scope of the problem, and the level at which discussions must take place to address it, means that such things will not be finished overnight, but I'd try to move things along where I can. --Michael Snow 02:04, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
Wikinews and building on an unexpected publicity opportunity
As I would hope you have seen, Wikinews has made a splash in the news as the original non-blog source for the story of a prank edit to w:Chris Benoit's Wikipedia page. Our Alexa rating has skyrocketed, Google news has hundreds of articles that mention - or cite - us. I had planned to sponsor a Writing Contest on Wikinews following these elections - but this seems like too good an opportunity to miss. I've asked a few people to contribute to the prize pot, but most of our local contributors don't have the spare cash.
- First question, should we do things like this - we've had other competitions in the past and the daily article count has gone up significantly.
- Second, are you prepared to put your money where our projects are and donate to the prize fund?
- Third, if you are prepared to donate to the prize pot would you also be prepared to help out as a judge? I feel the impartial position the board should strive to take day to day would be welcome in defining rules and judging a competition. --Brian McNeil / talk 11:16, 30 June 2007 (UTC)
- There have been a number of writing contests, and I'd highlight that of the German Wikipedia in particular as a successful example. So in general it's a great idea, though I don't see how it relates to the election or board activity. You're welcome to get individual board members involved if they have the time, of course.
- I'd suggest being cautious about how you involve money in a project that most people work on for free. An occasional prize may be fine, but if not handled right such issues can tear a volunteer project apart. As an illustration of that, it's a slippery slope from this idea to having people buy their way onto the board, so I'm simply going to decline to respond to your challenge. --Michael Snow 04:06, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
- If I recall correctly there is a page somewhere on Wikipedia where rewards are offered for certain tasks being completed - such as bringing articles up to FA status. My bringing this up here wasn't a request for people to "buy their way onto the board", on Wikinews we were already discussing having a contest - it was the unexpected publicity from the Benoit issue that prompted me to try and bring this forward.
- In any case, thank you for answering me. --Brian McNeil / talk 06:35, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
International Symbol of Access
If elected, would you act to remove the Foundation's ban on the use of the International Symbol of Access and International Symbol for Deafness outside the scope of fair use? If you are unfamiliar with this issue, it boils down to the fact that these symbols may be freely used for their intended purpose but are extremely unlikely to be released under a free license. Because they are internationally recognized symbols, no free equivalent could be created to replace them. There would be no legal risk to either the Wikimedia Foundation or to downstream users if we were to use these symbols in infoboxes to designate handicapped accessible metro stations, Disney rides, etc. I'm not asking for permission to use them in userboxes or the like. I just think that the current Foundation-level policy of lumping them into the "fair use" category is quite detrimental our goals.
There is actually general consensus to make this change on the English Wikipedia. The only thing standing in the way is the Foundation's policy. —Remember the dot 04:01, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
- The Wikimedia Foundation licensing policy doesn't say that use of these two symbols is banned. It doesn't specifically mention them, nor does the English Wikipedia policy on non-free content. The latter is intended to satisfy the requirements of an "Exemption Doctrine Policy (EDP)" as described in the licensing resolution. It is entirely possible for the EDP to encompass the types of circumstances you describe, so I beg to differ with your conclusion, Wikimedia Foundation policy is not "the only thing standing in the way". In fact, it is not standing in the way at all.
- Now, whether the English Wikipedia policy should allow the kind of flexibility you seek is a matter to take up there. I'm not here to interpret whether it currently does or not (conflating English Wikipedia policy with Wikimedia Foundation policy is something many other projects have justifiably complained about). I would suggest dealing with the matter in general terms, so that the policy identifies criteria for application, considering these images as possible examples instead of just listing them as exceptions to the policy. This minimizes the potential problem that "hard cases make bad law". --Michael Snow 01:33, 2 July 2007 (UTC)
- Yes, it would be better to make a general exception for internationally recognized symbols. But Foundation:Resolution:Licensing policy includes the phrase "regardless of their licensing status", meaning that all non-free content must be treated as though it were All Rights Reserved. Using symbols like the International Symbol of Access for their intended purpose is completely legal for all, but it is not fair use.
- When I attempted to change the policy on the English Wikipedia to reflect consensus, I started with just making a specific exception for the International Symbol of Access, thinking that this would be less controversial than a general exemption. I was reverted and told not to contradict Foundation policy. The page was immediately protected to prevent us from re-adding the exception. Thus, the Foundation appears to be the only thing standing in the way of having an exemption like this. —Remember the dot 16:51, 2 July 2007 (UTC)
- There's a difference between the Wikimedia Foundation telling you that something is not allowed, and somebody else telling you the Wikimedia Foundation does not allow that. The latter should often be retranslated as somebody telling you, "I'm not going to allow that, because of how I think Wikimedia Foundation policy should be applied." That's the issue you need to deal with. In order to keep the projects as autonomous as possible, the Wikimedia Foundation has to allow them considerable freedom in applying general policies. --Michael Snow 17:33, 2 July 2007 (UTC)
- So, if elected, would you be willing to clarify that each project's community is allowed to make its own decision about to how to use copyrighted international symbols like these? The Foundation has not been very clear about this thus far. I asked Kat Walsh, but she never replied. —Remember the dot 18:53, 2 July 2007 (UTC)
- There seems to be a general problem, at least on English Wikipedia (I don't know about the other projects), for some cliques of people to develop their own interpretation of what policy is, then treat it like it was handed down on stone tablets from Mount Sinai, and defend it against any change or reinterpretation with the ferocity of a junkyard dog. Dtobias 19:42, 2 July 2007 (UTC)
- Well said :-D – however, without clarification from the Foundation, it's hard to tell whose interpretation of the policy is correct. —Remember the dot 01:37, 3 July 2007 (UTC)
- When I originally mentioned interpretation of policy in this discussion, I was talking about the English Wikipedia's policy on non-free content (its EDP). It is not for the Wikimedia Foundation to say which interpretation of that policy is correct, the English Wikipedia community gets to settle that. From a Wikimedia perspective, that policy is an application (not an interpretation) of the general licensing policy, and the only question is whether this application is valid or in some way runs contrary to the board's resolution. So far, I have seen no argument that would make it invalid.
- Again, I'm not going to try to interpret English Wikipedia policy here. The policy might be interpreted to rule out the proposed use of these symbols, or it might not, or it might be modified to allow a more favorable interpretation. None of these potential results seems to make any difference with respect to the board's resolution, unless someone wants to present an argument that the modified policy would violate it (hard to say without knowing the nature of the modification). The English Wikipedia has an active community and processes for dispute resolution, so it governs its own policies. Community dynamics, as Dtobias describes them, may be an issue as well, but those are also things the community needs to deal with. --Michael Snow 20:13, 3 July 2007 (UTC)
- Thank you for the discussion. That seems to me like a good position for the Wikimedia Foundation to take. —Remember the dot 21:00, 3 July 2007 (UTC)
On English Wikipedia, there has been some controversy about whether it is, or ought to be, the policy that linking to so-called "attack sites" against Wikipedia and Wikipedians is to be banned. Some administrators have (overzealously, in some others' opinions) removed links to criticism sites from such places as talk pages, evidence pages for ArbCom cases, and even in a few cases from actual articles where they were being used as a source. I wrote an essay on this issue. What is your opinion? Dtobias 04:02, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
- To begin with, as indicated by my response to Cla68 above (see the section "Project policy involvement"), this is a matter for that community to figure out, and I don't see any compelling reason for the board to intervene. Purely in terms of my personal opinion, I can see both sides of the debate, something I think my own conduct relating to the issue amply demonstrates. However, I've gotten very tired of how those involved talk past each other, with each side becoming strident and dogmatic while making little effort to show they appreciate the other's concerns. As a result, of course, they make it impossible to move toward a solution.
- The story of my connection to this issue, for those who don't know it, relates to my work on The Wikipedia Signpost. At one point, Wikipedia critic Daniel Brandt, who operates one of the sites that is the subject of controversy, was briefly unblocked on the English Wikipedia. This being a fairly eventful incident there, I wrote a Signpost article about it. As originally published, the story included a link to his site. I did so because, in keeping with my role there as a reporter, it was appropriate to provide a link where readers could learn about his various criticisms of Wikipedia, which couldn't be explained in detail for the story. Note that during the discussions that led to Jimmy Wales unblocking him, Brandt had taken down the really objectionable parts of his site (galleries of selected Wikipedia editors with actual or purported real names, photographs, hometowns, birthdates, etc.), which was why it was labeled an attack site in the first place.
- A couple editors decided to remove the link from this story, without consulting me about it (note that Signpost articles carry a byline) or showing any sign that they had taken into account the discussion that had already started about this issue on the talk page. Brandt then threatened, in a post to another forum often labeled an attack site (not his own site), to put one of his galleries back up if the link to his site wasn't restored to the Signpost story, and soon thereafter carried out his threat. For me, the fact that he would make such threats tipped the balance in terms of whether it was journalistically responsible to include the link. So the back-and-forth finally ended with me removing the link after someone else put it back in. What the incident mostly illustrates, I think, is that using discussion and moving deliberately, instead of hastily, would produce better results and leave less disturbance in its wake. --Michael Snow 04:26, 2 July 2007 (UTC)
- Pretty good summary, and I apologize for being one of the "strident and dogmatic" ones on the anti-link-ban side... censorship happens to be a big "hot button" for me, and I also get the distinct impression that any moderation on "my side" will be interpreted by the "other side" as a sign of weakness and just lead them to press for ever more unreasonable positions; they've already gone from just suppressing actual links to "bad sites" to even sometimes censoring links to Wikipedia diffs to edits that add or remove "bad links", and also sometimes rewording other people's comments that refer to the sites in question... sure makes it hard to carry on a rational discussion about those sites. People involved in the debate often show a great degree of confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to knowing the difference between the various so-called "attack sites", sometimes mistakenly attributing facts about one of them to a different site, and it's hard to set anybody straight given the strictures the other side is imposing. Dtobias 19:47, 2 July 2007 (UTC)
How will you deal with this...
Whenever I can not find the specific answer to a question in an article I turn to Wikipedia help. In many instances, however, the reply is devoid of thought or knowledge and merely a student's guess to fill blank space on the page as if to say: "Here is my guess. I've done my job. You have received my authoritative response."
- I am sure there are many ways to improve the quality of Wikipedia content, the ability to find Wikipedia content, and the kind of "customer service" provided by Wikipedia contributors. However, the Wikimedia Foundation does not generally dictate editorial issues like this. So I don't see how this relates to an election for the board of trustees, at least in the absence of a specific proposal to consider. Naturally, I encourage improvement in all these areas, whether or not there is any particular initiative involved. --Michael Snow 20:28, 3 July 2007 (UTC)
How to deal with consensus of uninformed editors
Sometimes a popular opinion is contradicted by scientific evidence. Majority of editors stick to the popular opinion (which is also theirs) and vote to delete all pages that contradict their opinion (intrinsic weakness of democracy). As a result Wikipedia propagates old prejudices. How would you solve this problem?
Supporting evidence for the problem: Once I wrote several pages on Einsteinian physics (I'm just doing my PhD on it) and all of them were deleted by consensus of editors (9:1) who preferred their old high school physics :-). Unfortunately their high school physics was invalidated about 100 years ago by Einstein. Yet till today one can read as the first statement of Wikipedia's Gravitation: "Gravitation is a natural phenomenon by which all objects attract each other". According to contemporary science objects don't attract each other they just look like they do. Similarly as the Sun looks like running around the Earth while it doesn't and there exists a simple explanation in both cases. So I just explained the simple Einsteinian mechanism of this apparent attraction, since I thought it may be interesting to Wikipedia's readers. All those pages were deleted by consensus of editors cooling my enthusiasm for Wikipedia. So the issue of propagating old prejudices, because of democratic process involved in editing, seems to be very real in Wikipedia. JimJast 14:03, 4 July 2007 (UTC)
- This is an editorial issue, and doesn't sound like anything for the Wikimedia Foundation to be involved in. The board has neither the time nor the expertise to figure out whether editors are rejecting well-prepared articles based on personal disagreements, or simply keeping out original research from physics cranks. --Michael Snow 18:19, 5 July 2007 (UTC)
- When Wikipedia becomes just a collection of popular opinions contradicted by science and nothing can be done about it then Wikipedia might stop being treated seriously enough to be supported with anybody's money. E.g. I wouldn't support with my money an organization that feeds public with ideas known for almost a century to be false if the board of diectors knows no way of preventing such things. JimJast 21:38, 5 July 2007 (UTC)
how will you deal with transparency and corruption
how come that some admins in wikimedia can take over and block other users at their own will? More than one year ago the wikimedia world seemed nice to me. By edit count I was quite high in en:WP. But then the first out-of-policy block came in (3RR violation, but I only did 2RR). Then the next. And so it went on and on. Blocked for blanking a user page (this blanking was based on prior agreement with that user), blocked for moving "Eisenkappl" to "Bad Eisenkappl", admins directly lieing to me "I have a checkuser at hand that confirms you used socks" - it turned out there never was a checkuser. And I never used socks. ... On and on. I collected evidences, they got deleted, just because some admin in the middle of a discussion decided to do so. This deletion even did not show in the deletion log.
I asked at ComCom about transparency and corruption handling - this was directly deleted, with claim that it does not belong there (ComCom task page says otherwise). I called the Foundation where Danny shouted at me, hang up the phone in middle of talking, talked in hebrew etc.
What can a normal editor do to stop admins abusing their rights? - Tobias Conradi
- Regulating the conduct of administrators is generally a matter for the community itself, particularly on a project as large and diverse as the English Wikipedia. The English Wikipedia has a process for resolving disputes. I don't know the facts of your case, but you haven't indicated in what way you tried to use it. Unless the avenues there have been exhausted or seriously broken down (last I checked, the Arbitration Committee was still operating), I don't see how this is a matter for the board, the communications committee, or any other part of the Wikimedia Foundation. --Michael Snow 18:19, 5 July 2007 (UTC)
Majority biasing the facts
- 12:33, 6 July 2007 (UTC)
it is an increasing frustration to me that a supermajority of wikipedians has apparently decided to defend their common view of the world as the only truth. All minority views are blocked. This goes so far as to not allow facts, which are acknowledged to be true, on article pages when they are seemingly at odds with this view. This tends to make the articles POV and destroys the knowledge and hard work brought together by many, many editors in this unique enterprise. It makes wikipedia a very unreliable and biased source of information. Subjects are e.g. terrorist attacks. Will you make an effort to change this trend? It is imortant to us that the guidelines are upheld fairly and equally, and not just to defend a single viewpoint.
- Although the subject matter may be different, my reply is effectively the same as to JimJast in the section above ("How to deal with consensus of uninformed editors"). If you wish to raise editorial issues with Wikipedia, you need to do it there, not with the Wikimedia Foundation. The board is a board of trustees to oversee the operations of a nonprofit body, not a board of editors to oversee the writing of an encyclopedia. --Michael Snow 00:19, 7 July 2007 (UTC)
Who Writes Wikipedia?
Late question: do you have any thoughts on this essay (and if so, what)? It suggests that Jimbo formed a radically false picture of anonymous users and their contributions to Wikipedia. This may have far-reaching implications. Dan(pedia) 21:38, 6 July 2007 (UTC)
- Some people write, some people edit, some people code, some people take pictures, some people give money. With all of these people, sometimes we know who they are, sometimes we don't. One of the things about a collaborative project like Wikipedia, where everything is subject to being "edited mercilessly", is that it's unhelpful to get too attached to issues of who deserves credit. This is true on an aggregate level just as it is on an individual one. I find the issue is too often politicized in the service of some agenda (on either side). A lot of people have contributed, in ways too diverse to try and compare or value them against each other.
- I understand the significance of casual contributions. This is one reason I'm concerned about barriers to less-technical people, as discussed in the section on "Usability" above. Focusing on how to enable more and better work, rather than elevating the importance of certain groups of people, is the better approach. --Michael Snow 00:19, 7 July 2007 (UTC)
Wikipedia and the media at large
- 1. Could you name the top five services (or advantages) that Wikipedia is offering to the Community that no other media provides now? Could you also briefly explain WHY?
- 2. Do you think there are subjects that the major media do not cover or cover in a biased manner?
If so, could you list 5 examples in different fields that come to your mind, without censuring yourself? ;-) Could you explain WHAT Wikipedia can do that is not yet done to remedy this problem?
- 3. What challenges do you see ahead in terms of opportunities and potential threats (financial, organizational, technological, behavioural) to Wikipedia's independence and growth in the next 3 years?
- 4. Do you think it is appropriate for Wikipedia to have an article about media control and concentration of financial power (2 sensitive & essential subjects for Wikipedia itself)?
- 5. Do you agree it might be difficult to find an analysis in the major media about this subject because it goes against their own interests? If so, does Wikipedia have a moral obligation to treat the subject nevertheless, if verifiable evidence can be provided (without references to the major media)?
- 6. Truth shall make you free: Are you aware there might be a real conspiracy to discourage some editors by harassing them or defaming their work unjustly in order to drive them away, create divisions, or marginalize them for the reason they have been tagged as a danger to the LIES spread in the media about new world order, central banking , many historical facts, valuable academic and scientific knowledge in various fields; who are therefore feared by a tiny minority of editors on Wikipedia for the essential knowledge they can bring to the Community (which is suppressed now)?
Thanks. 184.108.40.206 22:40, 6 July 2007 (UTC)
Censorship on Wikipedia
Does this extraordinary true story, completely censored by the major media, with verifiable evidence to back it up, deserve its page on Wikipedia? If so, WHY? Thanks for your truthful answer.
220.127.116.11 22:40, 6 July 2007 (UTC)
- As I've repeated a few times, editorial matters on Wikipedia are not normally issues for the Wikimedia Foundation. Since the voting period is drawing to a close, I don't have time to address all of these questions individually. The world includes many media forms of varying quality; evaluating this is a question for anybody who relies on them as sources. Regarding the suggestions of conspiracy or censorship, I'll simply say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. --Michael Snow 00:19, 7 July 2007 (UTC)
A Fairer Voting System
Would you support the use of choice voting in the next Board Elections?
Choice voting protects majority rule while providing for the fair representation of minority views. Voters rank the candidates 1, 2, 3, and so on, in order of preference. If your top choice either is not elected or already has enough votes to win a seat, your vote goes to your next choice. No vote is wasted, and all viewpoints are represented. Choice voting would drastically reduce the number of wasted votes.
Choice voting can be used for single or multiple position elections. It is used for national elections in a number of countries including the Republic of Ireland. It is also used by a wide variety of organsations such as students' unions, charities, trade unions, universities, hospital trusts and housing associations. Choice voting is already used to elect the board of Nominet UK.
Choice voting is also called preference voting or wikipedia:single transferable vote (STV)
John Cross 16:59, 7 July 2007 (UTC)
- I'm open to reconsidering how Wikimedia elections are administered, including switching to single transferable vote or some other system for determining winning candidates. I'm not willing to commit specifically to supporting single transferable vote at this time, however. A number of considerations need to be taken into account, and some of the virtues mentioned in your sales pitch aren't all that applicable to a board election.
- The board of trustees is not a parliament, and the notion that using only seven (or even a few more) seats you could ensure "fair representation of minority views" is, to my way of thinking, a pipe dream. Wikimedia already has more projects than that, let alone any other issues that might give rise to minority viewpoints. I think it's far more important to focus on identifying board members who can provide fair consideration to minority views — people who will honestly consider a position they don't initially hold themselves, who can recognize when a sizable portion of the community feels a certain way about an issue, and who will take that view into account whether or not they personally share it.
- In terms of crafting an "ideal" election system, decisions about voting methods can have both positive and negative effects. Maximizing participation is one ideal, improving the efficacy of votes is another. Correlation between the two is unclear and often produces significant tension. In one sense, trying to see that votes aren't "wasted" may encourage participation. In another sense, the uncertainty of confronting an unfamiliar voting system, especially one that expects voters to perform a more complex assessment of their preferences, would quite likely discourage participation. The tradeoffs are a challenge for managing a broadly democratic election system. --Michael Snow 23:42, 8 July 2007 (UTC)