Wikimania 2012/Board Q&A

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Questions for the Board, submitted for the Q&A session at Wikimania 2012

Please notice: some answers were given in person at Wikimania, others are being posted here on Meta; answers are from individuals and not the views of the whole board (though many are impersonal questions and may only be answered once).

* Could you please post an answer to all of these questions online and specify where?

Now posted on meta!

Governance, policies, board-specific[edit]

* What the hell were you thinking when you decided to run for, or join the Board? Have you ever regretted that decision?

  • Jan-Bart: I was thinking it would be an interesting challenge (that was an understatement) and regardless of the ups and downs I have not had any regrets)

* There was an item “Term limit proposal”. Could you elaborate on this and what conclusions you came to on the subject ?

  • Jan-Bart: We have not yet come to a conclusion. I think that we will finish it somewhere in the coming months. The important part is not making rules that will come back and haunt us. We have a unique board with three different parts to it, and all three parts should be subject to a good process that evaluates and renews members as necessary.

* For the sake of transparency, please consider opening the Board Mtgs to observers from the WMF community.

  • Jan-Bart: Not sure this would be helpful, trying to be more transparent in communication as individuals is something that we have taken upon ourselves to do. But opening the board meetings to observers will likely impact the discussion (making people less frank?) and I not sure that level of transparency will add anything useful.
  • Alice: From my experience public meetings too often restrict members of decision making bodies or (even worse) make them act as if they were in an election campaign. It would be useful to know which information is missing to find ways to make them accessible without loosing a "safety zone" for exchange and discussion.
  • I think this is a good idea, within limits. We already have the idea of Board visitors, with a spot open for a visitor in the coming year. The UK chapter has allowed multiple observers at their recent meetings, and it seems to have worked for them so far; we should experiment more with this concept. SJ talk 

* How does the board get elected? Is there any input from “regular” users?

  • Jan-Bart: Yes, there is input from regular users, please see Wikimedia board manual for more information on the composition of the board

* How about establishing a standard of conduct for WMF employees and fellows regarding financial conflicts of interest, non-harassment of community members, and user privacy?


* Why the Foundation employs more and more people?

  • Jan-Bart: Although the rate of growth is something that we as a board are looking at I think it is important to remember that we have a LOT of things that we want to accomplish. Looking at our strategic plan you can see just how broad that scope is. These are things that we feel we need to hire people to help accomplish. Personally I think that the number of people that we employ compared to other top 10 websites in the world is very small, and this is mostly due to the fact that a lot of volunteers do most of the work that needs to be done in keeping our projects up to date and running.

* There is an emergency: Wikimedia project are not user-friendly. We really need big improvements, like a WYSIWYG interface, or a real messaging system. Since last year little things have done by the WMF, big improvements by Wikia. What is missing to extract WM projects from prehistory? Will you promise a real change for next year?

  • Jan-Bart: I agree that it is urgent, and hope that things like the visual editor will make a big difference. At the same time there are a lot of experiments on the UI that we will play around with in the next year.

* How can Wikipedia help to make health care/treatments knowledge to be accessed by the public?

  • Jan-Bart: Phew, tricky question. Not to sound too defensive, but in my personal opinion: if you need information on health care/treatments please consult a professional if at all possible. I know that this is not an option for a lot of people, but relying on Wikipedia like projects for healthcare information is not a very good idea. There are lots of websites out there that offer information written by healthcare professionals and that are free of commercial influence, try to consult those. I realize that this might sound strange coming from someone who really believes in the "wiki" concept, but the consequences of "getting it wrong" are really too big...

* In some countries public organisations (governmental and non-governmental) want to take control over Wikipedia. What do you think about it?

  • Jan-Bart: As far as I am aware there are no governments trying to take control of Wikipedia. I do see several governments trying to limit access to (parts of) Wikipedia, which is a bad thing (obviously). I also see government programs across the world using Wikipedia to share their public information which I think is a good thing.


* When will the Foundation hire staff to help the chapters coordinate and develop?

  • Jan-Bart: As far as we know we already have staff doing that.

* How do you see the Board's relationship with the chapters association developing?

  • Jan-Bart: Hopefully very well. As we expand the movement with different kinds of entities it is good that these entities organize themselves and help each other. I do hope that the promise of "sharing information and experiences" is something that applies to all chapters, whether they are a member of the WCA or not.

* Has the Board an opinion about the Wikimedia Chapters Association?

  • Alice: I'm very excited that the chapters are going this step to help and support each other and to find new ways to develop and express their common positions and goals. This is a great opportunity to interact as partners rather than opponents and it will help chapters to find their part in the movement's growing complexity.

* What is the WMF's view on the Chapter Association? Could it help improving communication and vice-versa trust?

  • Jan-Bart: I am aware that at lot of people feel that the WCA could be a good "counterbalance" to the foundation. I think it is too bad (but maybe inevitable). I don't think that the chapters and the foundation should have conflicting interests. At the same time the board of trustees has had to change some things very radically in the past year, and that will always create some animosity. The part that I am really enthusiastic about is the exchange of information amongst chapters and helping each other develop. Also: making sure that the chapters themselves take care of their reporting and other regular process is something that I am really excited about (because it gets the foundation out of the "big brother" role which is widely unpopular)
  • Alice: Everything that helps Wikimedians in different positions and functions to increase mutual understanding will also help to improve communication and trust. Communication is the key and I believe in the simple way to do it: ask the right one and there will be answers. Applied to the WCA this hopefully means that exchange will be easier and more effective.

* The WMF, Chapters (WCA), and Wikipedia communities are at least three distinct entities. While communication has been improving, how would you like to improve them further?

  • Jan-Bart: these three are not distinct entities :) I would assume that both the WMF and chapters consider themselves to also be part of the community's that make up our movement. At the same time I can also see that other types of organizations will organize themselves into thematic organizations (GLAM anyone?) and that these thematic organizations might one day organize themselves (the WTA :) I think it is important to realize that some parts of the movement have different ways of looking at things (although we share the same goals) and that is fine.
  • Alice: There are simple things all of us can do: try to de-emotionalize online discussions, be aware that there is always more than one single truth, recognize that people are not enemies just because they have different opinions.

* Should there be a chapter for every state in the U.S.? What problems will this cause?

  • Jan-Bart: not sure, sorry :)

* Should the WMF have any say in chapter decisions?

  • Jan-Bart:If chapter decisions impact the ability of the foundation to comply with any kinds of regulations then the foundation should be able to have a say. Similarly: if the decisions of any part of the movement affect the ability of another part of the movement to further the mission, then there should be a discussion. This is one of the reasons why it was so important to have a open process with regards to the FDC which was recently approved.

* How do you support international exchange of information on programs between chapters on different topics? (make it better?)

  • Alice: I am impressed that the information regarding chapters programs is increasing from year to year. There were Wikimania sessions this and in the last year, there is the collection of monthly reports at , which keeps a lot of information about programs and activities (I could imagine an annual chapters compendium, but it should be the chapters to express their wishes and needs.) In this case I see more the chapters than the board in the role to find the best ways to exchange and publish but would be happy to support them if needed.


* Are you satisfied with the progress towards implementing the FDC?

Jan-Bart: Yes, I think that the Foundation did an excellent job of having a public discussion, including everyone's viewpoints and coming to the proposal that is on the table now. I realize that we will have to see how it will work in practice, but this is something that will evolve over the coming years.

* Why there is no development and resources allocated for sister projects? (e.g. Wikisource) (asked 2x)

Jan-Bart: Does Wikisource need specific funding? Why not apply to the Wikimedia Grants Program? Grants:Index

* Why don't you allocate funds on Wikidata rather than the new interfaces? Cheree-o!

Jan-Bart: I thought that funds were allocated to Wikidata....

* Can you expand the funding opportunities for non-Wikipedia projects to include complementary free software and open education orgs?

Jan-Bart: donors give us money to further our goals. If the above projects help us further our goals they are free to apply to the grants program. Straying too far from our core mission would be misuse of donor funds as far as I am concerned. (working on open education myself I would be happy to see them receive more support, but not with WMF donations...)
We have on occasion helped support or promote the work of fellow organizations, like Freenode, which the wiki communities rely on; and have supported relevant software work outside of core mediawiki development. Organizations of all sorts are welcome to apply for grants - those that work closely with wikimedia projects.

* Do you anticipate many complaints from chapters with the inception of the FDC?

Jan-Bart: I think we had a lot of (legitimate) complaints about the sudden decision we had to make last year which resulted in a lot of chapters having to change the way they participated in the fundraiser. Most of those complaints were focused around the suddenness of this decision. The FDC is something we worked on for the past 9 months, together with chapters, individual community members and other stakeholders. The process as completely public and everyone who wanted to be involved could be. So I don't expect many complaints on that count. I do think that some chapters disagree with the principle of the FDC and the underlying concept that "the location where we as a movement decide to spend our money is completely independent from where we raise that money" and that "good program plans that further our mission deserve funding, regardless of where they originate". Not sure if I can or want to do anything about that disagreement...


* Suggestion: develop an app for Wikimania next year with schedules and maps.

  • Jan-Bart; yep, missed that as well. I am not sure we want to develop our own app. There are plenty of solutions out there that make create a conference "environment" for use on any device. It would be nice to have this is an open source solution, but not sure how viable this is.

* How will Wikimania look like in a couple of years? More days...? Still larger venues? Limited number of participants? Permanent staff hired for organisation purposes?

  • Jan-Bart: Wikimania is organized by the community and it is you gals/guys that decide where you want to take it, not sure how big it will get. I think we had a big year because there are a lot of editors from around DC who decided to attend (thank you :)

* If the goal of Wikipedia is to create a community of people all over united in the sharing of knowledge, why do the board members & senior members of the Wikimedia Foundation insist on separating themselves bodily from the community?

  • Jan-Bart: Wikimania is a conference where staff and board take a lot of time to interact with everyone (at sessions or just at the meeting space). I had around 70+ conversations at and around Wikimania this year. I think this question also refers to the accommodations. Wikimedia Board, advisory board and staff stay at different places and some of these overlap with places where other community members stay. Just to be clear: these are not five star hotels or anything in that range. I must say that being in a hotel did not make much difference to my ability to interact this year, by the time the evening came I was pretty much exhausted and usually collapsed in bed (as I am sure many of you did :)

* I was hoping for a way to get involved in W at this conference. It might help to offer newcomers a sign-up, or some way to join a group. Keep up the good work, nice conference!

* Please add energy conservation CO2 reduction topics in future.

  • Alice: See above. You can use the feedback page or make recommendations to the Hong Kong program committee. It's not the board but the community who organize and realize the event.

Editor engagement[edit]

* Which are the strategies to make wiki easier “friendly” in order to increase contributors in less developed countries?

Jan-Bart: not sure what specific things would make this easier for any specific country that would not benefit everyone?

* Comment: remove the word “elderly” from the effort to appeal to 60+ year old users – not a good term for enrolling people.

Jan-Bart: agreed, not really something that I as a board have input on, but others will notice and probably take this suggestion :)

* A lot of effort is put into keeping registered editors and get people to register. Shouldn't there be more effort to also respond to the needs and motivations of occasional editors that will never register?

Jan-Bart: agreed and I am not sure if this is not already happening?

Specific to features, projects, communities, and/or articles[edit]

* Could you please apply the new features which are on English Wikipedia on the other wikis, specially the Arabic Wikipedia ?

Yes, which ones do you mean? If communities request features to be turned on, they generally are. SJ talk 

* Do you have ideas how to improve Wikimedia Commons' front-end?

* How will Semantic Mediawiki adapt to the Wikidata project?

* What group or person is the central point of contact for endangered languages of N. America? Could we build a mobile/iPad app to record audio/video of an endangered language, wiki-link it to an offline en:wikipedia, then upload the new language file?

While noone has this formal role, the Language Committee includes many of the endangered-language experts within our community, and may be a good group to discuss this with. SJ talk 

* The murder of Meredith Kercher article has been described by Jimmy Wales as “highly biased because one side has been taken out” He has also said that “reliable sources have been systematically excluded”. The article dealt with the heavily disputed murder of Seattle College student Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy. During 2010 and 2011, at least 15 editors, all with the same POV, were blocked. The Wikipedia content was repudiated by the authors of 4 books about the subject and by a number of other RS. I believe this to be the most troubled article in Wikipedia history. What do you believe to be the most troubled article in Wikipedia history?

Gdansk / Gdańsk / Danzig. SJ talk 

* A bank with billions of dollars in assets & many employees keeps sanitizing Wikipedia pages about them. What help can you offer me to achieve neutrality? (cf “Bradly Birkenfeld” talk)

* I've seen examples of the Education program putting professors and classrooms on Wikipedia without any training or assistance. Will the Education program also please establish clear ambassador roles so Wikipedians can first cultivate relationships and know-how with professors? (Everything looks classroom-related).

* What do you think about democracy on Wikipedia? Sometimes we see that some admins want to take control of whole processes and all users.


* Can a way be found to facilitate edits that are dangerous/illegal to make in the editor's country of residence? e.g., or user:anonymous, with a well-known login

* Could KOPIMI license be added to Wikimedia Commons as acceptable?

While I know nothing on this subject, someone has helpfully addressed this on the talk page:


* What ideas do you have for rewarding the many quiet, polite, reasonably competent, entirely well-meaning contributors who never cause a fuss? It's the troublemakers & agendized folks that seem to collect the awards.

  • Jan-Bart: Not sure that they collect the "awards", they do seem to get a lot of attention. I think that inviting the thoughtful people to help us solve complex problems is a step in the right direction. A good example is the FDC advisory committee which was composed of a lot of people that fall in the positive category you describe. But as a return question: What do YOU think is a good way to reward these people?
  • Bishakha: Barnstars seem to continue to do the trick for many quiet, polite contributors - as well as attending movement-wide conferences such as wikimania. Does anyone have ideas for other kinds of rewards?

* How is Wikipedia & Wikimedia collaborating with Google to maintain within the “top 3” results for searches?

  • Jan-Bart: not really something that I would know (not really something a board member would know). I would suggest attending a wikimedia-office meeting on IRC and asking your question there. IRC office hours

* Why doesn't Wikimedia build its own power plant? It can be green and support the Foundation.

  • Jan-Bart: Wouldn't using "green energy" be better (I have no idea if that is an option in the US?). But we don't have to do everything ourselves :)
  • Alice: Before making efforts to do something which is absolutely new for us and doesn't have a direct connection to our mission we should bundle our restricted power and ressources to further improve in fields we know better than others.

* What is your favorite food?

  • Jan-Bart: Vitello Tonato