Why we’ve changed
I want to address some of the many questions that are coming up in this
forum. From the general to the very concrete, they all touch on the fact
that many things about the WMF have been changing. We are in the thick of
transformation, and you all have the right to know more about how and why
this is occurring. This is not a statement of strategy, which will come out
of the community consultation next week. This is the ED’s perspective only.
After 15 years since the birth of Wikipedia, the WMF needs to rethink
itself to ensure our editor work expands into the next decade. Recently we
kicked-off some initiatives to this end, including aligning community
support functions, focus on mobile and innovative technology, seeding the
Wikimedia Endowment, re-organizing our internal structure, exploring
partnerships and focusing on the most critical aspects of our mission:
community and technology. We started this transformation, but as we move
forward we are facing a crisis that is rooted in our choice of direction.
The choice in front the WMF is that of our core identity. Our mission can
be served in many ways, but we cannot do them all. We could either fully
focus on building our content and educational programs. Or we can get great
at technology as the force multiplier for our movement. I believe the the
former belongs to our volunteers and affiliates and that the role of the
WMF is in providing global support and coordination of this work. I believe
in -- and the board hired me to -- focus on the latter. To transform our
organization into a high-tech NGO, focused on the needs of our editors and
readers and rapidly moving to update our aged technology to support those
needs. To this end we have made many significant changes. But the challenge
in front of us is hard to underestimate: technology moves faster than any
other field and meeting expectations of editors and readers will require
When Jimmy started Wikipedia, the early editors took a century-old
encyclopedia page and allowed anyone to create or edit its content. At the
time when creating knowledge was still limited to the chosen few, openly
collaborating online gave us power to create and update knowledge at a much
faster rate than anyone else. This was our innovation.
As we matured, we encountered two fundamental, existential challenges. One
is of our own doing: driving away those who would otherwise join our
mission through complex policies, confusing user experiences, and a caustic
community culture. The other is external and is emerging from our own value
of freely licensed content: Many companies copy our knowledge into their
own databases and present it inside their interfaces. While this supports
wider dissemination, it also separates our readers from our community.
is more than the raw content, repurposed by anyone as they like. It is a
platform for knowledge and learning, but if we don't meet the needs of
users, we will lose them and ultimately fail in our mission.
Meanwhile, in the last 15 years revolutionary changes have taken hold. The
rate of knowledge creation around the world is unprecedented and is increasing
exponentially <http://qpmf.com/the-book/welcome-to-hyper-innovation/>. User
interfaces are becoming more adaptive to how users learn. This means we
have a huge opportunity to accelerate human understanding. But to do so
requires some significant change in technology and community interaction.
So let’s begin with technology: Many at the WMF and in our community
believe that we should not be a high-tech organization. I believe we
should. With over half of our staff fully committed to delivering product
and technology, it is already our primary vehicle for impacting our mission
and our community. In fact we constantly see additional technology needs
emerging from our Community department to help amplify theirs and our
What do we need to do in light of the changes I described above? We need to
focus on increasing productivity of our editors and bringing more readers
to Wikipedia (directly on mobile, and from 3rd party reusers back to our
When we started, the open knowledge on Wikipedia was a large piece of the
internet. Today, we have an opportunity to be the door into the whole
ecosystem of open knowledge by:
scaling knowledge (by building smart editing tools that structurally
connect open sources)
expanding the entry point to knowledge (by improving our search portal)
There are many ways to alleviate the manual burdens of compiling and
maintaining knowledge currently taken on by our editing community, while
quickly expanding new editing. We made significant strides this year with
our first steps to leverage artificial intelligence
to remove grunt work from editing. But that is just a start. Connecting
sources through structured data would go much further and allow our editors
to easily choose the best media for their article and for our readers to
recieve content at their depth of understanding or language comprehension.
Wikipedia is the trusted place where people learn. Early indicators show
that if we choose to improve the search function more people will use our
site. We are seeing early results in use of Wikipedia in our A/B testing of
, but we have a long way to go. We want people to come directly to our
sites -- and be known as the destination for learning -- so that eventually
we can bring our readers into our editing community. And without community
support none of this will be remotely possible.
Which brings me to the community. Over time the WMF has grown, with an
opportunity of becoming a complementary, mutually empowering partner with
the community. We need each other and we share one focus: humanity.
Reaching and sharing with people across the world is our common goal.
In the past year we managed -- for the first time since 2007 -- to finally
stem the editor decline. But that will not be enough. We need to find ways
to re-open and embrace new members instead of the hazing we conduct at
least in some parts of the site today. We must treat each other with
kindness and respect. Technology is not the main reasons for rampant new
editor attrition. It is how we talk to each other that makes all the
Without tackling these issues we artificially limit our growth and
scalability. And we will continue to reject those whose ideas are new or
different, the most vulnerable members of our community. In this, the
Gender Gap is the “canary in the coal mine”. Women are the first to leave
contentious and aggressive environments and are less likely to remain when
they encounter it. They are less likely to run in elections because of rude
and aggressive treatment. Yet in editor surveys and in our latest strategy
consultation, Gender Gap has been considered a low priority. I disagree.
Over the past two years I have actively pushed funding to improve
anti-harassment, child protection and safety programs; work in these areas
is ongoing. We are actively exploring some tangible approaches that -- I
hope -- will turn into concrete outcomes
<https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Harassment_workshop>. In the latest
research this year the number of female editors shown some growth.
What does this mean for the WMF?
In the past 18 months -- and thanks to hard work of the people at the WMF
and our community supporters -- we have made significant structural
changes. We have organized around two core areas: technology and community.
We have made changes with an eye on improving our relationships between the
volunteer community, the chapters and the WMF, including the creation of
structures that should vastly improve the WMF's responsiveness to
volunteers. We began adopting best industry practices in the organization,
such as setting and measuring goals and KPIs. We’ve given managers a lot of
responsibilities and demanded results. We’ve asked for adjustment in
attitude towards work, our responsibilities and professional relationships.
We prioritised impact and performance so that we can provide more value to
our communities and the world.
This has not been easy.
In practice this means I demanded that we set standards for staff
communication with our community to be professional and respectful. It
meant transitioning people, shutting down pet projects, promoting some but
not others, demanding goals and results to get funding. This level of
change is necessary to set up our organization to address the challenges of
the next decade.
All of this means stepping away from our comfort zones to create capacity
for building programs and technologies that will support us in the future.
It is a demanding and difficult task to perform an organizational change at
this scale and speed.
I believe that in order to successfully serve our community and humanity,
the WMF has deliver best-of class technology and professional support for
community. This will ensure we are delivering significant impact to
volunteer editors and opening avenues for new types of contributions. This
requires that we choose the route of technical excellence for the WMF with
support and encouragement from our community partners. Without this
empowerment, the WMF will not succeed.
The world is not standing still. It will not wait for us to finish our
internal battles and struggles. Time is our most precious commodity.