Based on the limited information that I have, it seems to me that there are already
numerous contribtors who are paid to engage in promotional activity on Wikipedia, whether
declared or undeclared, and the community does not have adequate human resources to patrol
and investigate all of these. I expect that the problem will continue to get worse unless
WMF gets more energetic about investigating TOS violations involving undeclared COI and
WMF becomes predictable about extracting financial penalties that are severe enough to
deter most of the undeclared COI contributors. Unfortunately, as far as I know, WMF has
been largely passive about the problem of undeclared COI and has not announced any plans
to become more aggressive.
As nice as it would be if everyone could afford and was willing to work for free, this is
not the case. If it was then we could safely eliminate the salaries of the entire WMF
staff. However, I think that financial support makes sense for some paid staff to handle
activities like network operations, interface design, legal defense, and responses to
Some types of Wikimedia activities are better suited to volunteer work than others. I
encourage volunteers to avoid burning themselves out; there are some activities that I did
in the past that I would not do again as a volunteer. Better to be an occasional and
long-term contributor than to get burned out.
I have some ideas about how to pay people to do certain types of work that, so far, WMF
has not funded. Unfortunately these are merely ideas and not likely to become reality in
the short term. Perhaps later this year or in the next few years I will have specific
proposals with reasonable chances for sustainable success.
I share the concern that paid participants in the Wikiverse, like staff of WMF and
affiliates, WMF grantees, and potentially like the paid contributors that I have in mind,
may become so numerous that they can drown out the consensus of the volunteers.
Unfortunately I do not have easy solutions for this issue. We could prohibit all paid
contributors from participating in RFCs and related decision processes, but we would be
largely relying on people to self-disclose their paid status, which seems unlikely to be
Perhaps the issues that we are discussing in this conversation should be included in the
Structures and Systems prong of the WMF strategy process. I am pinging Nicole to ask for
her input about that idea. However, keep in mind that the strategy process is financially
sponsored by WMF, and it is not free of potential conflicts with the interests of WMF.
I wish that I could be more optimistic. These are difficult topics.