[Foundation-l] My 10 wishes list for 2008

Florence Devouard anthere at anthere.org
Tue Jan 1 19:50:55 UTC 2008

Dear all,

In my country, as well as in many countries (though not all), today is 
the first day of the new year. First of all, as is traditional, let me 
present my [[edit:wishes]] to all of you. I hope you will be in good 
health, will meet many successes, and will have fun in what you are doing.

Second, I would like to share with you my wikimedia-related-stuff wish 
list. I am pretty sure we will not all have the same, not even amongst 
board members, but here is my list anyway. As it is not a good idea to 
be too greedy, I limited myself to 10 wishes.

1. Quality
2. Promotion of lesser known projects
3. Software development
4. License, international laws and compatibility
5. Wikimania, reinventing the wheel, and civility
6. Wikicouncil
7. Chapters and general assembly
8. Board membership, election
9. financial sustainability, controls and independance
10. Organization. Clarification of board role and limits to executive 

1. Quality
Quality has two sides. First, content should actually be of quality 
(accuracy, completeness, up-to-date information, and ease of reading). 
And second, content should actually be perceived as of quality.

Several communities have made great efforts to improve quality, with for 
example rules such as the biographies of living people 
Some projects, such as the german wikipedia, have been recognized of 
better quality than a traditional very respectable german encyclopedia. 

I hope that in the coming 2008 year, the Wikimedia Foundation will do 
its best to provide the technical tools (to identify quality versions), 
the public relations support (to communicate more efficiently on success 
stories and lessen PR crisis when they occur), better OTRS and legal 
support (to answer complains and legal threats), but also the leadership 
to make sure that more projects adopt rules leading to better quality 
(eg, living people biographies).

For now 2 years, since the Seigenthaler controversy, the english 
wikipedia has been in full gear toward better quality, and have received 
much support in that regard. It does not seem to me that other projects 
have received as much attention and support from the Foundation, and the 
size reached by several other languages, as well as the increasing 
number of legal requests in some of the biggest Wikipedia (such as 
french and german languages) suggest that it is high time to expand the 
focus beyond the traditional english territory. I also recognize that 
languages barriers and diversity of national laws are making this a big 
challenge, but it is in such challenges that we will prove really being 
an international organization.

2. Promotion of lesser known projects
Whilst Wikipedia has probably reached the top of its fame in the press 
of many nations, and enjoys the largest communities, other wikimedia 
projects are being increasingly successful. Commons has now over 
2.000.000 free objects and is a unique case of multilingual 
community-based project. The largest Wiktionary is not english speaking, 
but french-speaking, a unique situation in wikimedia project and 
probably a showcase for the francophony. Wikibooks now hosts several 
high quality books, and also receive as donations, books originally 
under regular copyright protection and released under a free license, 
again, showcases of the interest of the educational world for the free 
I would like these projects to be shown more attention by the 
Foundation, including more promotion efforts in conferences, press 
release and promotional leaflets, more interest to their specific 
technical needs, and more representativity of their communities.

3. Software development
I am pretty sure it is an evidence to anyone that our software 
development is much behind, not because of a lack of great ideas, but 
rather of human power.
I would like to see this year a system implemented to collect technical 
wishlists from each project; outreach to developer open-source 
communities; a well-outlined technical roadmap, with goals, resources 
and deadlines. And yeah, results. It might be worth also seeing how the 
Foundation could help on the tool server side.

4. License, international laws and compatibility
In the past year, new policy regarding media object has been 
implemented, but I still see many questions coming in from communities, 
which do not always know how to implement our policies with regards to 
different laws. It seems that often, the answer proposed is "as long as 
it fits the american law, all is fine". I do not consider that a valid 
answer, unless we are trying to build a freely-licensed content for 
american citizens.
My wish would be that these communities receive clear and constructive 
answers, in a timely fashion.

Very recently, the board took some steps making it possible to migrate 
in the future to a CC license, in order to improve compatibility with 
other freely-licenses works as well as to facilitate re-use of our 
content. I hope this evolution will happen along with our longstanding 
traditions of strong community input and control over major decisions 
affecting the projects.

5. Wikimania, reinventing the wheel, and civility
Next summer, Wikimania, our annual conference will take place in Egypt, 
at Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in 2002 to recapture the spirit 
of the ancient Library of Alexandria, one of the oldest libraries of the 
world. The new Library and its affiliated research centers are devoted 
to using the newest technology to preserve the past and to promote 
access to the products of the human intellect. Choosing that place 
provides us with fabulous opportunities to increase awareness in the 
region about Wikipedia, its sister projects and the libre knowledge 
movement, but also to anchor our projects, based on very modern 
technologies, with ancient spirit of wisdom and traditional knowledge.

I would be quite amazed if this could not be a very neat PR opportunity 
and could not be in particular sponsored by governments, non profit 
educational organizations and big international organizations. In 2007, 
a lot of work has been provided for WMF to be recognized as a charity, 
and for WMF to be involved in various decision-making circles for global 
education. I hope WMF will be able to take benefit of this recognition.

Regarding participation and program, my wish would be that WMF makes 
real efforts to fund participation of many of our core participants, and 
use this opportunity to make "transmission of experience", and 
discussion and improvement of "civility" on the projects, a major part 
of Wikimania program. In the past year, I remember a very interesting 
workshop on this topic in Wikimania Taipei, several projects suffer from 
limited civility, in particular toward newcomers, and several of our 
members suffer cyberstalking in 2007. This is unacceptable. We must take 
the time to think about wikilove, and work to improve relationships 
between participants. Arguably, our projects are an example of peace 
making process (seriously :-)).

6. Wikicouncil
I would like the Wikicouncil idea to be revived and implemented. For 
past discussion, please have a look at
The Wikimedia Global Council would be a body of representatives for all 
projects who could serve alongside the elected members of the Board.
Our projects are now far too big to easily permit circulation of 
information between community and organization. My belief is that we 
need an intermediary body. Please join the discussion.

7. Chapters and general assembly
The relationship between chapters and Wikimedia Foundation has improved 
over the past year. There are now guidelines for creation, some chapters 
have received the permission to use trademarks within certain limits, 
several chapters were created etc....

However, it is still not sufficient. My wishlist is that further work be 
done to clarify relationships and lines of authority, and that a meeting 
be held annually with the chapters. I had hoped this assembly would 
occur in winter 2007, but this was delayed. I would like the board to 
agree to a meeting with wmf and chapters in spring 2008.

8. Board membership, election
The board recently lost two members, Michael and Erik, who need to be 
replaced. The board also agreed to an expansion of the board, up to 11 
members. However, to be transparent on this topic, there is strong 
disagreement on the board about what the board should be in the future.

Some members consider that the priority is that the board stays 
primarily a body representing the community, so that the community stays 
in control of the projects future. Missing skills would be then 
completed by senior staff members, many of which have recently joined 
the team and more senior staff being expected. Professionalization of 
the Foundation would mostly concern the staff, but not so much the 
board, who would have in turn to heavily rely on staff.

Other members argue that most community members lack the proper skills 
to be good members of a non profit organization the size and importance 
  of Wikimedia Foundation, and lack the experience of american 
non-profits. They wish that the board professionalize as well. This 
would mean cutting down pretty severely in the number of community 
members, in particular elected, and would mean the arrival of various 
american big shots in replacement. In the same vein, these members argue 
that officers of WMF (chair and treasurer in particular) should not be 
community members, but rather individuals experienced in various skills 
(finances, legal, fundraising, management etc...), but also seasonned 
experts to deal with the high level companies and individuals we are now 
facing (as potential partners or competitors).

Needless to say, these two visions of the future are not totally 
compatible, and both visions hold a certain truth, which makes it doubly 
difficult to deal with.

One thing is certain, the past is well behind us, and the time when we 
could quietly grow is over. Key questions are "which view will dominate" 
and "how much does the community want to be involved in that decision".

I stand noisily and strongly in the first view, as I believe in
1) an editing community in control of the projects they are creating
2) a need for independence, which excludes adding to the board many 
outsiders, tied by multiple conflict of interests
3) building an international organization, which seems incompatible with 
adding many outsiders all coming from the same nation (not to say the 
same city).

The risks of that position is that limited skills on the board might 
make us easy preys and might make us easily fall in legal or financial 
pits. We might also exhaust the professional team ;-)

Switching to a more professional board, with professional officers might 
make us stronger and might reveal a good idea in the long run. Risks are 
mostly loss of control and loss of independence. Another aspect is that 
the current board is willing to give a lot of its volunteer time. As our 
quest for a treasurer has shown, most professionals will either only 
accept to join against a stipend, or will mostly rely on the staff, 
merely becoming rubber stampers.

What should really be my wish list on this point ?
I am not quite sure, but I think my wish list would probably be that we 
take time through each of the steps of our evolution. Professionalizing 
the staff means most of the staff is brand new and have to be introduced 
to our projects. Switching to a professional board means most of the 
board is also brand new and many have to be introduced to our projects.
Doing both changes in a matter of couple of months, strikes me as more 
than unsuitable. It is "dangerous". My wish list would be that 
revolution be achieved in at least a year. As such, I would like that 
the board is expanded including mostly community members, as an interim 
board if necessary, and the brutal professionalization currently 
proposed be delayed until the end of the year.

9. Financial sustainability, controls and independence
By now, it should be obvious to everyone that the audit of our previous 
fiscal year is taking more time than we would hope for, but it is all in 
audit firm hands now. Last fiscal year was difficult both because of the 
amazing growth of our projects, our limited revenue not making it 
possible to hire all the necessary staff at first, followed by high 
staff turn-over in spring 07.
However, as the organization matures, the Wikimedia Foundation has begun 
implementing more necessary policies and procedures, considered normal 
practices for any healthy organization. The hiring of Sue Gardner, 
executive director, and Mike Godwin, our general counsel, has played a 
central role in ensuring that these new checks and balances are 
implemented properly. Sue also brought in Mona Venkateswaran, a former 
auditor and a CA, to assess Wikimedia's internal financial controls and 
systems, and recommend improvements. In summary, the Foundation has 
enacted many new controls, employee processes and procedures, and 
accountability systems. A first wish will naturally be that we keep on 
improving :-), that audit next year be done in a couple of weeks and 
detailed budget be voted before next summer.

My second wish is related to financial sustainability and independence. 
I would like that no decisions be taken on the paths to follow to 
achieve sustainability, without the involvement of the board and of the 

10. Organization. Clarification of board role and limits to executive 

Last wish is actually clearly related to several points listed above, 
but I chose to mention it as a goal again, to insist on its importance.

In fall 2006, the board chose me as chair, in a courageous move to 
evolve from a foundator based organization, to a more mature, group-led 
organization. At that time, the organization had only a couple of staff 
members. No real formal policies or procedures. Less than one board 
meeting a year. No agendas etc...
I believe I helped the organization grow to the next step, which is just 
in front of us: moving from a group-led micro organization with a 
working board, to an organization with clear delineation between staff 
and board. I hope that the coming year will show a smooth and successful 
transition to our new professsional organization, where roles and 
responsibilities of all parties, board, staff and community, will be 
better understood and acknowledged, for the benefit of our project, in a 
shared vision.

In wikilove


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