[Foundation-l] Communications issues (was Re: This is not an Advertisement @ pgunn)

Michael Snow wikipedia at earthlink.net
Wed Jan 3 06:31:55 UTC 2007

James Hare wrote:

> For the record, I'm asking about an apology for the poor communication,
> because that -was- rather minimal communication prior to the ad.

Others have said it already, but since I'm the chair of the 
Communications Committee, I think it's appropriate for me to add my 
apology for the difficulties in communication between the Wikimedia 
Foundation and the community. It's clear that the level of communication 
is not adequate, and I share the frustration that I think many of us 
feel. Because of the scope of the problem, I think it's worthwhile to 
explore it at some length.

Part of the problem is a lack of resources, both human and technical, in 
the communications area as much as in any other. That sort of thing is, 
of course, exactly what this fundraiser is trying to address. As has 
been noted, we've barely managed sufficient communication to merely 
coordinate what we're going to do, let alone communicate those 
intentions more broadly. Although there has been some previous 
communication that produced disappointingly little discussion. The 
community seems much more inclined to give feedback when the Foundation 
does something as opposed to when it talks about planning things.

Some of that feedback is over the issue of advertising, with various 
attempts to draw lines in the silicon and declare them crossed or not 
crossed. Honestly, it reminds me greatly of a typical dispute over 
competing points of view on a Wikipedia talk page. It is not resolvable 
by simply insisting on a particular interpretation, and in the meantime 
the Foundation has to make decisions in order to continue operating. 
Wikimedia is committed to maintaining a neutral point of view, as is 
well known, and I believe that value has not been compromised in any 
material way. Perceptions are admittedly important too, but they do not 
always reflect reality, as anyone familiar with the media coverage of 
Wikipedia can tell you. What is advertising and whether we should have 
it are important considerations, and have been debated at length, but 
it's not a fundamental value in the same way that free content or 
neutrality are. Anyone who's convinced that our actual content has been 
compromised already by the recent decisions is welcome to try and 
demonstrate how that's the case.

A wise person once told me that basically all longstanding members of 
the community are outliers on certain issues. I know that it's true for 
me, and I'm sure that it's also true even of people closer to the center 
of Wikimedia, including Jimbo himself. There will always be some matter 
on which your personal viewpoint does not prevail, even though you think 
it's an important point and use your most persuasive arguments to get 
that across. In any group project that consists of more than just your 
ideological clones, this is something we have to deal with. Here we do 
share a few fundamental goals, and hope that people can put aside other 
agendas to work on them. If upon closer examination you find that you 
cannot adopt these goals, or that the path to them includes elements 
that you absolutely cannot live with, then we wish you well in your 
other endeavors.

Meanwhile, we have a number of communications needs, and some go beyond 
communicating just with the immediate community of Wikimedia projects. 
I'd like to mention some of those to remind people of the many tasks 
being handled, often unseen and unappreciated, and invite additional 
help. We have the general public to communicate with, for example 
through the volume of email Wikimedia receives, which many volunteers 
take turns responding to (some of you may know this as the OTRS system). 
This is frequently overloaded, especially in English, but through a 
valiant effort we actually cleaned out the backlog about a month ago. Of 
course, over the holidays the emails have built up again, and we need to 
renew the effort. Anyone willing to help with this for a few months, 
please contact UninvitedCompany, the chair of the OTRS subcommittee, or 
else the contact for your particular language. Good customer service 
skills are a key here.

Communicating with the project communities is also a challenge, because 
they are so widely distributed. There is no central place to reach 
everyone, and many differing expectations about what "affects" the 
community and how it should be notified. (I use quotes because 
everything affects the community, but notice doesn't seem to be expected 
every time we buy servers, as long as the site runs.) The solution is 
for the community to help spread the word about anything that might be 
of importance. Some people may be familiar with The Wikipedia Signpost 
on en.wikipedia, or the Kurier on de.wikipedia. These are community 
efforts to grow and build on, and more like them should be encouraged. I 
know the TIME honor is so last year, but "You" are the only way 
Wikimedia can ever communicate with its projects. Contributions like 
Walter's Wikizine or Improv's LSS are invaluable (and as we regret the 
latter's departure, thanks to BirgitteSB for committing to keep it going).

Returning to the public side, the Wikimedia Foundation gets a number of 
requests to provide speakers at various functions. Some want Jimbo, but 
he's not able to fill them all, and many of these requests would be 
happy with community representatives. A few of these may be large 
conferences that can offer to cover travel expenses, but often it's a 
smaller function simply hoping that someone local would be available to 
meet with them. We're looking for someone who can volunteer to 
coordinate public speaking assignments, both handling requests and 
organizing a pool of available speakers. If you're interested in doing 
this, please let me know (in the meantime, if people who have presented 
on Wikimedia subjects can 
update http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Presentations it would be 

--Michael Snow

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