I was very surprised to read on the Wikimedia blog a post from Naoko Komura,
the WMF program manager heading up the Wikipedia Usability Initiative,
funded by the Stanton Foundation.
To quote Komura,
"On the space front, we had outgrown our current space in the South of
Market area of San Francisco, and we were in search of space specifically
for this project. I am happy to announce that Wikia has agreed to sublease
two of their conference rooms to the Wikimedia Foundation for the project
duration (Jan'09-Mar'10). Daniel [Phelps] collected a dozen bids for the
space in SOMA, and Wikia matched the best offer."
I submitted a comment to the blog, but over seven hours later, it is still
not published, and there is a history of my questions to that blog being
ignored or censored. So, I'm going to ask here, and I'll also advise the
list moderators that this message is being copied to members of the press.
Could we have more detail, please, on the note that "Wikia matched the best
offer"? Were the other ten higher bidders also given the opportunity to
match the best offer? Why was Wikia chosen on a "second and adjusted offer"
basis, rather than choosing the good-faith firm that submitted the lowest
offer initially? Was the first low bidder given the chance to further
discount their rate? If so, what was their response? If not, why not?
I have to agree with Steven Walling's comment on the blog. He said, "I find
the idea of the Foundation working that closely with Wikia, literally and
figuratively, discomforting. We already have enough people confused about
the difference between the two organizations, and to be honest, this feels
Actually, it's not nepotism. And, there are no uniform laws regarding
nepotism. It's potentially worse. Self-dealing, which is what this really
smacks of, is covered in case law, judicial opinions, and some statutes.
I have been assured in countless places that "Wikia and the Wikimedia
Foundation are complete separate organizations" and that there were "no
business relationships" between the members of a past WMF Board that was 60%
comprised of Wikia employees/owners. Considering the past Wikia/Wikipedia
fiasco of Ryan "Essjay" Jordan, I would have thought the WMF would be
hyper-sensitive to working in concert yet again with their neighbor down the
We know Wikia was recently laying off workers in the economic downturn.
Presumably, Wikia now has excess office space per employee. WMF gets a
grant, presumably funded by tax-deductible dollars. Expending that grant on
office space is served up to an ostensibly "open" and "fair"
search among 12 candidate landlords. A lowest bid is received. However, a
bidder who happens to have strong personnel ties to the Board of WMF and the
Advisory Board of WMF, is given the opportunity to match the lowest bid,
which they do, since they have empty office space doing them no good empty.
Net result: Tax-advantaged dollars will be transferred to a for-profit
corporation with an "inside track" to the decision-making body of the
It strikes me as fishy, to use a gentle word.