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Latest comment: 1 year ago by Ganesha811 in topic Good progress

No people, no social, all tech?[edit]

I was excited to read this Year One Update -- after all the community process that went through the start of your work as a CEO, I was hoping that finally there was someone in charge that understood that Wikimedia was a social movement enabled by technology. Yet, by the end of this message I was disappointed. As a matter of fact, this message does not include the word "social" or "people" at all; the word community is more prominent (mentioned 8 times), but it is brought up mainly in relationship with the technical community or in relationship with several consultations on English Wikipedia (which happen to be the loudest voices in the room). Technology, on the other hand, is featured 12 times throughout this message. While this is a very basic way of analyzing the message, it does signal something; it's also in sharp contrast with the amount of times that these words appeared in your first messages.

And this was exactly my concern when the whole TikTok & other social media platforms conversation appeared on the "Trends" section of your first message as a CEO -- that we were going to be focusing again on the "technology" side of things, rather on how our communities have been building knowledge in the most disadvantaged circumstances -- not because the tech doesn't serve them, but rather because the way in which our cultures and our societies work marginalize them. They come to Wikipedia not because it's shiny or has new features, but rather because it enables them to do things they can't do on any other platform (from digital literacy to understanding what a "reliable source" is to documenting knowledge that it's nowhere else in the world to be found).[FN1]

Tech is an easy, low-hanging fruit, because it can deliver products without ever delivering real impact or results. I've seen so many organizations go through this route -- "let's develop this amazing tool to do xyz thing and we might be able to bring in more donor money and create change" -- just to find out later on that the only real program that was delivering consistent impact were things as modest as capacity building initiatives.

Centering the work of the WMF on tech is indeed hearing the loudest voices in the room that have the most technical prowess (which is also related to language skills), in detriment to all the other communities that don't have any of that prowess or those concerns. I hope there's still space and time to have an honest conversation about this turn. It's a rather sudden change from movement strategy and its focus on knowledge equity. I hope we can go back to discuss the things that make our movement the most unique, and where we still need the most support from WMF: how do we go about the challenge of building communities that are more inclusive, safe, diverse, and representative of the world's majority.

[FN1]: Just to be clear, I agree that Commons does need a lot of change, but that's a whole different problem. Scann (talk) 00:04, 1 February 2023 (UTC)Reply

Hi, @Scann. I agree with your point that we are a social movement enabled by technology, and I think this point is compatible with what Maryana Iskander has said in this one-year update. On the one hand, to recenter the WMF's priorities does not mean social engagement initiatives and community programs should stop existing; it might just mean --as far as I understand Maryana's point-- that there are collective actors that are more suitable to run them, from a bottom-up, contextualized perspective. On the other hand, the focus on product & technology --as you say-- should be driven by our core values, and my sense is that the systemic lack of maintenance of our basic tools creates fundamental hurdles for "building communities that are more inclusive, safe, diverse, and representative of the world's majority", as you say, and I am glad to see the WMF take up the role of prioritizing our technological infrastructure, hoping it will improve and ease contributions for all.
My two expectations concerning this proposal made by Maryana are:
  • that the budgetary adjustment the WMF is proposing is done through a communitarian, participatory process; and
  • that the overall budget for social initiatives and community programs is not significantly reduced (i.e., grants), even if it is reduced for the WMF.
I hope this makes sense. --Joalpe (talk) 16:07, 1 February 2023 (UTC)Reply
Hi @Scann - Thanks for writing, I always benefit from hearing your perspectives and in particular our exchange last year about a similar issue related to relevant external trends we should be watching in the world. I am not sure a word count of this message is a fair way to assess how I understand the importance of people and social work in the Wikimedia movement. What this particular note was trying to convey is that the Foundation has a core responsibility related to technology, which I don’t believe is a controversial point. I agree and understand that people are the driving force behind anything we want to see change in the world, and that technology is intended to enable this. I think @Joalpe's reflection has also captured this well as these goals are neither contradictory or inconsistent. And indeed, they must both be taken into account for any budgetary decisions now and into the future. MIskander-WMF (talk) 19:14, 1 February 2023 (UTC)Reply
Hello @MIskander-WMF, I'm sorry to disagree again. I find there are enough vague sentences on this message to be concerned about the overall direction.
Also, I want to add that "technology being a main responsibility of WMF" is a political decision as any other. After all, Wikimedia Germany does maintain Wikibase with an institutional & monetary arrangement with the WMF. Nothing prevents WMF to transfer the maintenance of, say, Wikisource to some of the chapters in ESEAP that have been using it in very innovative ways or to do the same with Commons (where WMF decisions have been erratic to say the least, as the one time that WMF decided to do machine learning tagging that ended up putting racist tags to images, despite several members of the community telling them it was a bad idea to deploy the tool). The technical debt is also a result of poor decision making on WMF's side in the past, so what does make it different this time? I'm skeptical about both the approach and the optimism, particularly when as I said back in the day, I don't see metrics, and now I'm feeling in this message that there are a lot of assumptions being made without evidence to back it up, such as the assumption that an improvement in platforms (which I don't deny is needed, among many other things) will lead to improvement in communities, new audiences and participation. While it's really important that we have a Commons app that works on Android, it's a stretch to think that that alone will solve the defensiveness that the Commons community feels on copyright issues that deters people from participating.
Despite all these questions -- my main concern is still that the technical debt is equated as a building block for community, when that's not the case. Technical debt means that we only focus on a very specific portion of the community (that happens to have their own assumptions on how to drive collaborations or to reduce the gender gap, to name a few). Additionally, there's a suggestion to move activities to others (without mentioning who those others could be), that feels rather vague, and what I'm concerned here is that activities will be transferred without the support or capacity needed to actually take those activities on, including the investment needed to create the structures that could take those activities on. The language is strong on the technology side, but weaker on the need to attend the various community needs that are still lingering. This is particularly worrisome in a context where the impacts of the fundraising campaign mean that prioritization of one over the other (as this message seems to suggest) will mean less community resources, that go beyond just money.
And last but not least, I'm sorry if my word count looked petty. However, as someone that is focused in working with the communities, that omission it's very prominent to me. To be clear, I don't doubt that you have a commitment to community or people. I'm happy to also chat more about my concerns in person soon.
cheers, Scann (talk) 00:51, 2 February 2023 (UTC)Reply

Good progress[edit]

I just wanted to express that I think this all looks like good progress in the right direction from the WMF, and I'm very pleased with what I have seen of your work in the first year. There will always be points of criticism to be made, but overall, this is the right track! The WMF has three core responsibilities, as I see it: 1) to pay for the servers that keep Wikipedia up 2) to build the technology platform that makes Wikipedia possible 3) to nurture a growing editor base dedicated to high quality, free knowledge. The second goal contributes to the third, and the third makes Wikipedia worthwhile for the world. Ganesha811 (talk) 12:00, 5 February 2023 (UTC)Reply