(In response to a certain remark in ‘Malayalam Wikipedia could be emulated’)
The Malayalam Wikimedian community definitely deserves kudos. A
diverse bunch of people volunteered their effort and skills gratis for
many years to build up what is already a major educational aid in
Malayalam. This will play an actual positive role in community
development and that is what the greatest reward to the participants.
We are confident that they will go on with their exemplary work and
prove to be sources of inspiration to us all in the years to come.
That kind of satisfaction, at being part of something bigger than
oneself and being able to make a difference in the world, motivates
Wikimedians all over the world, as it does in India also.
Human nature causes wikimedians to look to the statements of WMF
officials for encouragement, advice and guidance (though imho they
should not). In this context, Newstead's comment at the
Wikisangamotsav in Kollam last weekend - "they don’t focus on
politics or personal gains" - can be construed as mischievous in the
worst case and mistaken in the best.
Though the WMF does dole out some grants to individuals and
communities, all Wikimedians are essentially unpaid volunteers, the
vast majority of which do not have access to resources provided by the
Such a remark casts aspersions wrongly on the rest of the Indian
wikipedian community, giving the casual reader the idea that the
Malayalam Wikimedians are paragons of virtue while the remainder of
the Indian Wikimedian community “focus on politics and personal gain”.
The remark indicates a deep distrust of the WMF for the general
community for reasons best known to them. Such a remark is hardly
constructive in motivating the entire bunch of Indian Wikimedians who,
as a collective whole, are making extremely valuable contributions to
society despite being unpaid volunteers and at the cost of a large
amount of personal time and often at their own expense.
The question arises at what could be the reason for politics and what
personal gains are to be found in doing Wikipedia editing or outreach?
Satisfaction, learning, peer approval, interaction with intelligent
fellow-believers, social service and fun are the personal gains for
editors - all legitimate rewards which one can partake off with
integrity and pride.
Politics arises when scarce resources are pursued by many. It cannot
be money, since all funds in Wikipedia are in the hands of the
Foundation which directly receives donations. Nor is it power, as the
community insists on it being a society of equals. The India Chapter
with its few executive members and completely budgetted by the WMF and
with its limited role & mandate cannot be considered worthy target of
Newstead’s remark either. So what politics are we talking about and
who is it that Newstead is referring to?
Perhaps the WMF feels offended by the criticism from Wikimedians
worldwide at the failure of a flagship educational program in India
last year or perhaps at local criticism in their mode of operation in
India and the cost-benefit analysis of their country program where
hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured in with mediocre
results. Newstead may feel unhappy about these issues but public
statements like these do not add to the confidence of the community in
the WMF either.
In today's world, participants in citizen science or collaborative
projects such as Wikipedia expect the highest levels of transparency,
democracy and debate - in part, Wikipedia’s open ethos itself is
responsible for the extremely democratic aspirations of participants.
Wikipedians routinely engage in large debates on major and minute
issues. They absorb from their experience in the Project the idea that
all action is open for debate and that such criticism/dissent is not
only constructive but vital. It would be a strange quirk of fate,
should an office-bearer of WMF feel threatened by the values
encouraged by their own projects.
This distrust may also be seen as a clash of cultures - on one side, a
corporate culture where actions are expected to be accepted at face
value and not to be justified to those not in power, and on the other,
an open culture where nothing is sancrosanct and responsible action
and respectful response from all, including and especially Jimbo
Wales, is expected as a matter of moral right by volunteers.
The meaningful solution lies through engaging the community as equals
and stakeholders, not with public remarks like these. Wikimedian
volunteers understand and express their gratitude to the foundation
for creating and operating a vehicle which enables their useful
contribution to society. Reciprocally, it is time that WMF
representatives realise that it is the Wikimedian community that is
the living flesh and blood of Wikipedia, without whom the WMF cannot
exist, and who need to be engaged with mutual respect and
consideration, if the encyclopedia is to prosper in the long run.