[Foundation-l] NPOV as common value?

Michael Snow wikipedia at verizon.net
Wed Apr 22 04:52:08 UTC 2009

Brianna Laugher wrote:
> Hi,
> I think the Board's statement is quite commendable if unremarkable
> (which is I guess part of the reason for the silence - nothing new,
> which is as it should be!). Only one comment actually surprised me.
> 2009/4/21 Michael Snow <wikipedia at verizon.net>:
>> The Wikimedia Foundation takes this opportunity to reiterate some core
>> principles related to our shared vision, mission, and values. One of
>> these values which is common to all our projects is a commitment to
>> maintaining a neutral point of view.
> I find it a bit strange to talk of Wikimedia Commons as having a NPOV
> policy. Like Wikiquote, our "unit" of interest is something that
> typically has a strong authorial voice rather than being a synthesis
> of multiple contributions. (Unlike WQ, it does in some circumstances
> make sense to edit a file, unlike a quote -- but usually if the edit
> radically changes the meaning, it should become a separate, derived
> work.)
> We are also, like WQ, bound by the creations of others, especially in
> relation to past events.
Wikipedia is also bound by the creations of others (or the informations 
of others, if you will). This is expressed in principles like "no 
original research" and the expectation that assertions be backed by 
reliable sources. The commitment to a neutral point of view is not 
directed at what others have said, whether in text, visual presentation, 
or other media. Rather, it focuses on what we do with that material, how 
it is assembled, put in context, and presented to the audience.

For example, in Wikiquote, I think an expression of neutral point of 
view would be to focus on the question of what is actually "quotable". 
It should not be up to me to choose some passage Gandhi wrote, say in 
his autobiography, as a quote simply because it strikes my fancy. That's 
not a neutral approach to selecting what goes into Wikiquote. Properly, 
the passage should have been quoted already somewhere, and I can point 
to that to demonstrate its quotability. This extends also to tracking 
misquoted and misattributed material; we can cite usage of the purported 
quotation and present it alongside the real version where that is traceable.
> I also find there is some tension between the views of 1) "Wikimedia
> Commons as a service project" and 2) "Wikimedia Commons as a project
> in its own right".
I would suggest that because of our educational mission, especially with 
the focus on freely licensed material, all of our projects should be 
seen as "service projects" in some sense. They exist not for their own 
sake, but for the value others can draw from them. That may be by simply 
"consuming" the material, but it may also involve recasting or modifying 
it, or integrating it with other material. This is also why we are 
looking at the license situation, and every project should allow for 
these relationships, not just within Wikimedia but in the free culture 
movement generally. By its nature the service project aspect is 
particularly obvious for Wikimedia Commons, but this doesn't mean it 
cannot be a project in its own right as well.
> It *may* make sense to talk to NPOV for Wikimedia Commons, but I don't
> think it is necessarily obvious, or that it should be assumed everyone
> has a shared understanding of what that means.
> Of interest: <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Project_scope/Neutral_point_of_view>
As a relative youngster among our projects, I expect Wikimedia Commons 
will continue to work out its identity. This policy page is a decent 
basic start toward figuring out what neutral point of view means in the 
Commons setting.

In the context of biographies of living people, I did think it was 
important to tie the issue back to our shared values, especially 
maintaining a neutral point of view. And if that has sometimes been more 
in the background, I felt this was a good opportunity to have it stated 
clearly. It still remains for all of us to sort out its meaning and 

--Michael Snow

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