- "If we don't improve our ability to deal collectively with complex things, as the problems grow more urgent, we're in trouble." — Douglas Engelbart
Dear Wikimedia community -
in September 2006, you elected me to the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation. It's been an exciting, exhausting, and occasionally crazy 9 months! In this time period, I sent more than 400 e-mails to my fellow Board members, attended 4 Board meetings (2 in Florida and 2 in the Netherlands) and a retreat in Frankfurt, voted on over 30 resolutions, (co-)authored many key strategy and policy documents, and met with representatives from many other organizations. As Executive Secretary of the Board, it is also my responsibility to keep minutes at Board meetings.
The Board acts as a group, and has, for the most part, done so harmoniously. I would be very honored to be permitted to continue to serve together with the present Board members. These are the achievements of the Board which I am particularly proud of:
- We elected a new Chair of the Board, Florence Devouard, and expanded the Board from 5 to 7 members. We appointed Kat Walsh and Oscar van Dillen to these 2 new seats initially (they are now running for re-election together with myself).
- We defined the mission and the vision of the Foundation in a participatory process.
- We assembled a distinguished Advisory Board, which has helped the Board directly on many matters of critical importance.
- We addressed some problems with the Wikimedia Foundation Bylaws. See foundation-l post for further information.
- We adopted a licensing policy which strengthens our commitment to Free Culture, while also giving every project clearly defined rights to develop suitable exemptions.
- We oversaw the expansion of Foundation staff to include a part-time Chapter Coordinator, a Communications Director, an internal ICT manager, and a Volunteer Coordinator. Carolyn Doran became a member of the full-time staff as a very capable Chief Operating Officer, and Vishal Patel recently joined us for grants and business development.
- We directed the largest fundraiser in the history of the Wikimedia Foundation last December and January.
In my personal capacity, I also represent the Wikimedia Foundation in the Institutional Council of the Encyclopedia of Life and have attended their inaugural meeting in Washington, D.C. I have met in Houston with representatives of several projects in the eLearning community. I have worked closely with Philipp Birken on coordinating a development project to implement functionality to identify "stable versions" of articles (FlaggedRevs extension to MediaWiki). I have lobbied for the creation of Planet Wikimedia and currently administer the English and German planets; I believe it to be an important community communication tool.
The Board has also proven itself to be capable of steering the ship Wikimedia through crisis. After Brad Patrick stopped working as interim Executive Director of the Foundation in order to focus on his work as legal counsel, the Board had to assume certain operational responsibilities. These were delegated to individual Board members until a new ED could be appointed. I was responsible for coordinating the work on grants and other business development projects, for example, which involved weekly phone calls, work on specifications and contracts, and plenty of e-mail. I can attest to the fact that both Oscar and Kat have also invested tremendous amounts of personal time to help Wikimedia through this period.
As we finalize the search for a new ED, the Board will be able to focus once again on defining ends, rather than means. Many of the goals I laid out in my election platform from last year still apply, but I would identify the following five priorities for the near future:
- Ensure better budgeting and accounting of all expenses. Right now, the level of detail to which we can make specific statements about how every dollar by the WMF is spent is limited. So are our estimates about how much money WMF needs to spend in the coming months.
- Tell the real story of the Wikimedia Foundation to the general public: the story of thousands of volunteers collaborating to bring free knowledge to every human being on the planet. Storytelling is a critical component of fundraising. We need to be able to convey, on an emotional level, what we intend to do before we ask for money.
- Develop a strategy for the rapid improvement of MediaWiki technology that involves users, stakeholders, open source developers, and paid staff. WMF maintains an extremely important open source project; one of our responsibilities is to ensure that useful code changes actually get integrated, and that the project continues to innovate. I have already done considerable work in this area, partially outside my work as Board member (see below).
- Pursue at least one large-scale grant (more than US$100,000) that relates directly to our mission and preferably benefits all projects, not merely Wikipedia. For example, a grant that would allow us to coordinate a large scale content and technology development project on Wikiversity or Wikibooks could have very tangible outcomes.
- Significantly improve internal information sharing and transparency.
We have made some improvements: Sandy Ordonez is doing excellent work as Communications Director and has opened up some processes for more community participation; the internal wiki has a defined process for adding new members now; Cary Bass was recently hired as Volunteer Coordinator to help volunteers find areas of organizational work; I have personally emphasized the element of openness in a couple of recent negotiations with external parties.
We could, however, do much more. Many current working areas lack clearly defined reporting components, which makes it difficult and frustrating for community members to find out what is going on. Even if a task may involve confidential information, there is almost always some that can be shared, and we are almost always better off if we do share it.
Whether or not I am re-elected, I have effectively become a full time "wiki nut": My day job is to be the Chief Technology Officer of a non-profit organization called Open Progress, which develops structured wiki technology based on MediaWiki, notably OmegaWiki. I am also overseeing several other development projects, including LiquidThreads (making great progress, current code in SVN), Multilingual MediaWiki (going slowly but surely), and InstantCommons (about to be merged, current code in SVN).
I also provide hosting services to WikiEducator and serve on the project's advisory board. Through WikiEducator, I recently co-facilitated a Tectonic Shift Think Tank about the future of MediaWiki, attended by key stakeholders including our own Brion Vibber. One outcome of this think tank was the creation of a MediaWiki NG list for coordinating funding and development activities on key next generation technologies.
Spending most of my waking hours with something or other related to wikis can be a little unnerving sometimes. At the same time, I feel like I am part of the biggest revolution in knowledge since the invention of the printing press. It is in the nature of wikis that they can be very frustrating and very rewarding; the same goes for work on the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation. (For example, I have had to learn that people from other countries do not generally care what time zone you are in when they call you.) If you do appreciate the work I have been doing, and would like me to continue, I would be grateful to receive your vote.
Sincerely yours --