After an offlist correspondence with Gergő, we agree it is quite hard
to get to grips with the beginnings of Wikia unless you lived through
it and casual interviews may be confusing. This remains a tangent
to the issue of whether ownership of Wikia is seen in the public eye
as a conflict of interest or loyalty for Jimmy Wales.
Based on that discussion, a second issue that may muddy the waters is
that some may interpret "Conflict of Interest" in the same way as it
is interpreted on Wikipedia. Keep in mind that companies and
charities read this narrowly in a legal sense as having a demonstrated
financial benefit from your actions as a board member, and that the
concept of conflict of loyalty extends this to relationships that may
make it harder for a trustee/director to be seen as capable of making
decisions that are not unduly influenced by those relationships.
Ownership of Wikia is a relationship where loyalty will be perceived
by the public as questionable, and there may be indirect financial
gains, even though there is no traceable direct benefit.
1. Wikia early press releases:
- thanks to Gergő for suggesting these sources
Jimmy Wales has never declared a conflict of interest or loyalty when
acting as a WMF trustee. He is co-founder of Wikia Inc, set up in
2004, a commercial company that often benefits from new MediaWiki
developments, and clearly he benefits financially from resulting
profitability of Wikia. The original vision for Wikia was as a
"Google-killer" open search engine, so it would seem highly prudent
for Jimmy to have declared a conflict of interest and avoided WMF
board discussions and votes in relation to new development projects
around open Knowledge Engines / Search Engines.
I welcome some feedback as to whether the general perception of
Wikimedians is that WMF trustees should be seen to do more to declare
and manage their potential conflicts of interest, and whether Jimmy
Wales is perceived to have a conflict of loyalties when steering the
WMF board member in areas which overlap with Wikia Inc.'s marketing
strategy, and that they might otherwise fund commercially.
With regard to his potential conflict of loyalties when serving as a
voting unelected trustee on the WMF board, Jimmy Wales has stated:
"I did not have any conflict of loyalties during that process.
Spending a reasonable portion of our IT budget on an ambitious project
to improve search and discovery, and to conduct research and community
consultation on that, is a great idea for Wikipedia and for the
broader Wikimedia movement and I strongly support it."
Most recently Jimmy Wales has been arguing the case against
introducing charges for commercial reusers of WMF services, with an
obvious reuser of MediaWiki code improvements and WMF supported open
project data being Wikia Inc.
There is no record in the WMF board minutes for 2015 of Jimmy Wales
having ever declared a conflict of interest or loyalty for Wikia Inc
or for any other reason, nor of any other trustee doing so. In order
to comply with standard company law, these are expected on the
standing agenda for board meetings, and it is worrying for a
Foundation with control of $100m assets to never have a trustee or
director ever declare an interest as a reason to abstain from a vote
Jimmy does not appear to see there may be a public perception of
conflict of interest or loyalties when he is involved in steering
the WMF strategy for prioritizing new developments that are likely to
benefit Wikia Inc. The Knowledge Engine / Search Engine project was
discussed by the board during 2015 and Jimmy has been a public
advocate of the project since it was publicly leaked. The overlap of
what is thought to have been the original proposal to the Knight
Foundation with Jimmy Wales' original vision for wikia.com
"Search Wikia", described as a "Google-killer search engine", is an
obvious concern. Jimmy Wales: "Obsession: Currently, it’s wikia.com
It is meant to take on Google by creating a search engine where all
the editorial decisions are made by the general public and all the
software is open."
Nine years later Jimmy is promoting the same ideas but with the WMF
investing charitable donated funds to support a development that will
benefit Wikia, rather than it being commercially funded while using
much of the same rhetoric, such as the importance of transparency.
4. Search Wikia interview
6. Company directors and trustees are expected to declare both
"conflicts of interest", normally interpreted as having a direct or
indirect financial interest, and "conflicts of loyalty" where their
non-financial interests may be seen to potentially influence their
judgement as a board member. There may be no demonstrable conflict for
this to be an issue, it only needs to be potentially be seen to be an
issue by others, in order to require a declaration.
7. "Take advantage of Wikia's custom research solutions to achieve
campaign objectives, including brand lift studies, target audience
insights, and more!", "Reach the right audience with the right message
using Wikia's multitude of targeting opportunities, including
demographic, psychographic, geographic, contextual, genre, devices,
conquesting, and more!" http://www.wikia.com/mediakit