Wikimedia Foundation Report, July 2009

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ED Report to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, July 2009

  • Covering: July 2009
  • Prepared by: Sue Gardner, Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation
  • Prepared for: Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees


Milestones from July[edit]

  1. Hiring concluded for the Strategic Planning Project
  2. New fiscal year begins
  3. First Wikipedia Academy in the United States

Key Priorities for August[edit]

  1. Prepare for and attend Wikimania 2009 and associated Board of Trustees meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina
  2. Beta roll-out of first usability improvements
  3. Begin planning process to seek funding for new data center
  4. Meetings with donor prospects

This Past Month[edit]

Strategic Planning Process[edit]

During July, two members of the Wikimedia Advisory Board, Wayne Mackintosh and Benjamin Mako Hill, separately visited the office to share their expertise and help influence the strategy planning project. Discussions included possibilities for community support structures, outreach and partnership models as well as sharing of learnings from the free software and open source movements. Several proposals based on these conversations will be posted to the strategic planning project pages. Thomas de Souza Buckup, a Brazilian Wikimedian, also visited the office of the Wikimedia Foundation, and held meetings with staff.

Eugene Eric Kim and Philippe Beaudette joined the Wikimedia Foundation staff to fill the Project Manager and Facilitator positions for the Foundation's collaborative strategy development project.

Eugene was announced as the Project Manager for the strategy project. Eugene is principal and co-founder of Blue Oxen Associates <>, a San Francisco-based socially-conscious consulting firm that focuses on understanding and improving how people collaborate. He's worked at all levels of the collaborative process, from strategy development to facilitation. His past clients have included People for the American Way, NASA, the Institute for International Education, Socialtext, and the Sierra Club. Eugene is also a long-time member of the Wiki community. He is the co-author of PurpleWiki, he spoke at the first Wikimania conference in Frankfurt, he was a keynote speaker at WikiSym 2006, and he was one of the instigators of the first RecentChangesCamp.

Philippe Beaudette joined the Wikimedia Foundation as Facilitator for the strategy project. Philippe is a trusted member of the Wikimedia volunteer community. He's a three-year member of the Board of Trustees Election Committee, a two-year trusted administrator for the English Wikipedia, and has twice been granted temporary administrator status for meta for election-related activities. He has also been a volunteer for OTRS, and has helped the Wikimedia Foundation in the development of a grant proposal. Outside Wikimedia, Philippe has a background in American electoral politics, where he has worked as Deputy Campaign Manager, Operations Manager and Technology Director on a number of state and federal campaigns, as well as for the non-profit Progressive Alliance Foundation. He has also worked as a technology consultant in the for-profit sector in the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The strategy project also intended to hire a Research Analyst and interviewed a number of candidates, but has since reconsidered that role, and will rededicate those resources to other work in the project. That may possibly include efforts to bring in external expertise of various kinds, and/or to bring in the perspectives of developing countries.

Eugene and Philippe started working on the strategic planning process in mid July. They've been working closely with Bridgespan and senior Foundation staff on the details of the process. They've also been holding weekly brown bag discussions and IRC office hours. Finally, they launched the strategic planning Wiki <>, and they're encouraging people to submit proposals for what they think the movement should be working on over the next five years. The Bridgespan Group worked throughout July to build the fact base <> for the strategic planning process, supported by individual Wikimedians and Wikimedia Foundation staff.


MediaWiki contract developer Andrew Garrett worked on modernizing the LiquidThreads discussion forum extension and solicited feedback from users and the Usability Initiative team on the user interface. The Foundation hopes to start deploying LiquidThreads in some isolated areas in the next couple of months to get real-world usage feedback; in the long term this should help clear up many of the usability problems with the current discussion page system. Related tech blog post:

The technology team received a large amount of feedback on Wikipedia's new mobile interface which left beta at the end of June, and mobile developer Hampton Catlin incorporated bugfixes and improvements throughout the month.

A new 'wmf-deployment' branch was created for MediaWiki which allows us to more cleanly track the specific version of the software running on Wikimedia's servers.

Tomasz Finc began pursuing several sources for offsite backups and mirrors of data dumps and images. The Wikimedia Foundation now has a private offsite mirror hosted by eBart Consulting in Europe. Data dumps are running smoothly overall, with some new development occurring to restore availability of full-history dumps of

Brion Vibber, Fred Vassard, Erik Moeller, Ariel Glenn, Trevor Parscal, Naoko Komura, and Parul Vora attended the OSCON open-source conference in San Jose, California, a massive multi-track conference bringing together leaders in the open source community. The conference was widely regarded as helpful to establish contacts with new and established open source projects, and to review the state of technologies such as distributed version control, user interface paradigms in open source software, authentication systems, caching and database technologies, etc.

Brion attended an Open Educational Research Search Discovery workshop at the Berkman Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he assessed a variety of possibilities with exposing license and other metadata from the sites, and using data from other sites to aid in sharing of educational media. Related blog post:

At the end of July, Ariel Glenn attended the Open Translation Tools Conference in Amsterdam to coordinate work with developers working on relevant translation systems. Related blog post:

Technology Incident Summary[edit]

There was a small number of unrelated site incidents in July that resulted in outages and downtime, documented in Wikimedia's technical blog:

Additionally, the technology team investigated significant issues related to media storage due to erratic behavior of the storage servers, which were resolved after brief interruption of media upload capability. A more systematic rearchitecting of the media storage and serving architecture is still in order.

Usability Initiative[edit]

The first set of the usability features was deployed to Wikipedia and all other Wikimedia projects across all languages on July 1st as a user interface option. This first release focuses on a simplified navigation and cleaned-up basic layout, an improved editing toolbar with more obvious access to key formatting tools and a built-in help system, and a redesigned interface to MediaWiki's built-in search. Further information about this release can be found here:

The release was deployed initially as a user preference so that we can start collecting feedback from a small set of users. About one thousand users changed their setting to use the new interface in the first few weeks, and they provided valuable feedback so that we can address critical software issues. The support for right-to-left languages was the most difficult problem to resolve, however a solution was in place by the end of July.

The team worked on the launch plan of the new feature as an easily accessible “Beta” option for all users, and staged the opt-in and opt-out path by prototyping them. The development for the next release called “Babaco” [1] has started. The planned main features of the next release are a table of contents integrated into the editing interface to help users navigate long pages (a common problem encountered during user tests), and pop-up dialog boxes to help users easily insert links and tables.

On July 13, the project brought in Blair Lewis to help with tech hiring. Blair has been an in-house staffing consultant for Google, the San Francisco Health Plan, and SurfaceInk.

On July 31, Nimish Gautam joined the usability team as a Software Developer. Nimish recently worked at Yahoo as Software Developer and Localization Coordinator for the Trip Planner for Yahoo! Travel. Prior to Yahoo, Nimish worked on linguistic analytical software for text-to-text translation research for the United Nations and the government at Carnegie-Mellon University. Nimish holds a master's degree in language technologies from Carnegie-Mellon University and a bachelor's degree in Networking/Cognitive Science with highest honor, from Georgia Tech.

Preparation work for the Ford multimedia usability project has begun, and the search for a new software developer has started.

Other Program Activities[edit]

The first Wikipedia Academy in the United States with the US government agency National Institutes of Health (NHI) was conducted on July 16. About 100 NIH employees received live presentations and training on Wikimedia mission and culture, as well as editing skills. The event was live-streamed to the entire NIH staff of over 350,000. Frank Schulenburg, a team of six volunteer experts, Jennifer Riggs, and a team of local volunteers planned and implemented the event. The expert volunteers worked for several months to create welcoming spaces and to support sustained participation of the NIH health scientists and educators. A summary of the event is available on Wikipedia at <>.

Frank Schulenburg has also been focusing on building Wikimedia volunteer capacity by launching the Best Practices series on Meta, at <>. In July, Kathrin Jansen began volunteering in the San Francisco office and remotely, to assist other volunteers in documenting their experiences with a variety of public outreach models and activities. Currently there are best practice articles in building content partnerships with cultural institutions, giving a Wikipedia presentation, setting up a Wikipedia booth at a third-party event, assigning Wikipedia articles as coursework to students and using Wikibooks in the classroom.

Cary Bass embarked on planning and activities to improve the customer service system to better serve users of the Wikimedia projects. Two administrator volunteers on the Open Ticket Response System (OTRS) helped him to gather statistics for analysis on response rate, ticket closure and customer satisfaction. Cary also presented a workshop on OTRS and customer service for about 20 attendees at the New York Wiki conference where Jimmy Wales and other speakers focused on biographies of living persons (BLPs) and other customer service issues.

The Wikimedia Foundation approved 21 funding requests from 11 chapters, in the pilot year of the chapters funding request process. Reporting instructions were developed for this pilot year with a focus on sharing lessons learned with other chapters and individual Wikimedians interested in pursuing mission activities. Initial financial processing procedures were also developed to support this new kind of spending. Submitted chapter grant proposals can be found here:


Major coverage during July revolved around the following stories:

1. The New York Times wrote about the ethics of Rorschach test interpretation information being available on Wikipedia, kicking off coverage from other news organizations. Most coverage leaned towards neutral, with some journalists noting the information has been available for years in libraries and from other sources.

2. Wikimedia staff and volunteers held the first-ever US-based Wikipedia Academy, resulting in very positive coverage from the Washington Post and, as well as a number of government and health sector media outlets.

3. Media paid attention to controversy over the inclusion of public domain images on Wikimedia Commons from the National Portrait Gallery's website. The NPG asserts that the digitizations of these images are protected by copyright law. The Wikimedia Foundation's response can be found here:

Other coverage:

Other worthwhile reads:

During July, the Wikimedia Foundation participated in interviews with WCBS AM (New York City, USA); the New York Times (New York City, USA); USA Today (Boston, Massachusetts, USA); Computer World (Farmingham, Massachusetts, USA); the Guardian (London, UK); the Daily Mail (London, UK); Wired (San Francisco, California, USA); Wall Street Journal (Los Angeles, California; USA); IT News Australia (Sydney, Australia); National Post (Toronto, Canada); Federal News Radio, 1500 AM (Washington DC, USA); Washington Post (Washington DC, USA); CNN Money (New York City, USA); American Medical News (Chicago, Illinois, USA); BioTechniques (New York City, USA); Government Executive Magazine (Washington DC, USA); IT Pro (London, UK); WCBS New York (New York City, USA); Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, USA).

During July, the Wikimedia Foundation released 3 press releases.

  1. “Wikimedia Foundation receives Ford Foundation grant to grow Wikimedia Commons, a free educational media repository”:
  2. “United States National Institute of Health (NHI) and Wikimedia Foundation Collaborate to Improve Online Health Information”:
  3. “¡Viva Wikimanía! ¡Buenos Aires los espera! / Buenos Aires awaits you!”:

Fundraising, Grants & Partnerships[edit]

As per the above, the Wikimedia Foundation officially announced that it has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to improve the usability of Wikimedia Commons. This is also the first time a full grant proposal has been published alongside a press release as part of Wikimedia's commitment to organizational transparency. We're very grateful to the Ford Foundation for this support.

During July, the Wikimedia Foundation received 775 donations, with a combined total value of USD 100,014. July is the beginning of the Wikimedia Foundation's fiscal year; this year's fundraising target is USD 7,500,000.

The community giving team made progress with the Chapters Fundraising Agreement, mobile giving application, and the fundraising survey. They plan to finalize these projects in time for the Annual Fundraiser, which will kick off in late fall 2009.

In addition to her normal fundraising activities, Rebecca Handler began leading development of a proposal for the funding of a new data centre. The Wikimedia Foundation aspires to open a new, fully redundant data centre in either California or the Washington DC area: Rebecca is leading activities designed to secure funding for it.

Finance & Administration[edit]

Veronique Kessler began planning with KPMG (the Wikimedia Foundation's audit firm) towards the audit of the Wikimedia Foundation's 2008-09 financial statements.

Veronique also finalized the process for managing payment of grants to chapters and individual Wikimedians.

Daniel Phelps continued leading the search for the Wikimedia Foundation's new office space. Daniel consulted with other staff to create criteria for the new space, and led several site visits, ultimately narrowing down prospects from several dozen to four. Daniel hopes to have a lease signed for the new space in August or September.


Mike Godwin completed a first draft of the revised trademark policy. The new draft policy is designed to define to chapters and others what they can and can't do with WMF trademarks and resolving long-standing ambiguities about what the chapters need to ask permission for use of trademarks. The policy is adapted from the latest iteration of the Mozilla trademark policy (version 2.0), with appropriate adjustments. Although the document is still in the drafting phase, the goal is to answer trademark questions for Chapters and others in ways that resolve most questions before they arise.

Staff Training[edit]

Communications coach John Plank staged a series of workshops aimed at helping Wikimedia staff improve their presentation skills. Those workshops were attended by Brion, Tomasz, Cary, Daniel, Veronique, Naoko, Jennifer, Rand, Sara, Rebecca, Jay, Frank, Sue and Erik.