[Foundation-l] bylaws (second call)

Lars Aronsson lars at aronsson.se
Wed Aug 16 00:35:27 UTC 2006

Brad Patrick wrote:

> - With such a diluted definition of 'member' what is the real 
>   point of being a 'member'?

There was a decision point back in 2002 or so, where Wikipedia was 
still more or less Jimbo's private property, and the question was 
where to put it.  Many Germans and other Europeans wanted a 
membership association, but Jimbo went for a foundation.  Later 
(in 2004) the German national chapter was structured exactly like 
the membership association (Verein) that they had wanted also for 
the international body.  There is a fundamental difference between 
the two kinds of organization, but I think this was more clear to 
the Germans than it was to Jimbo or most Americans.

(This seems to be a European/American cultural divide.  When I 
look at an article such as the [[New England Anime Society]] the 
*first* question I ask is *how many members* do they have?  And 
this is not answered.  This is like not knowing the annual 
turnover for a business or the population of a city.  Is it 
thousands or millions?)

However, one fundamental requirement for a membership association 
was also missing.  The word "Verein" means union, a get-together 
of equals.  The corresponding verb "sich vereinen" means "to 
unite", to team up.  And there simply was nobody who equalled 
Jimbo.  The German Wikipedians could get together as equals to 
form their national chapter.  Their elected board was only 
slightly more into Wikipedia than the rest.  There was nobody 
there with the God-like status of Jimbo.

I think the only way Wikipedia could have been turned into a real 
membership association is if a global "chapter" of wikipedians had 
been formed in 2002, without Jimbo, and then started to negotiate 
with Jimbo about the future rights to domain names and servers.  
As we all know, this didn't happen.

This leaves Jimbo with the decision, and it is a fact that his 
position is more like that of Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, or 
Alfred Nobel.  One day he finds himself in possession of something 
that should live on after him, and there really is little point in 
his family to inherit it.  What do you do in such a situation?  
You start a foundation.  Its bylaws is your last will. If a board 
member needs to leave, the rest of the board must find a new board 
member.  Many newspapers are owned by foundations, so it makes 
sense for a web media venture as well.

The fact that two out of five board members should be elected by 
the community is merely a curious detail of the Wikimedia 
Foundation.  This is not expected from a foundation.  Foundations 
are used for purposes where democracy is not an issue. And in fact 
the Wikimedia Foundation works perfectly alright without 
democracy, as does the Nobel Foundation.  The former only needs to 
keep the servers running.  The latter only needs to find the best 
scientists.  Both tasks can be accomplished with a handful of 
administrators and a network of experts.  These small tasks are 
independent of the whole body of article-editing or science that 
they serve.

> Is it political so members have control of the organization in 
> some way? Philosophical, in that we have 'card carrying' members 
> to prove allegiance to something?

The German chapter fills both roles, as far as I can see.

  Lars Aronsson (lars at aronsson.se)
  Aronsson Datateknik - http://aronsson.se

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