[Foundation-l] Wikia leasing office space to WMF

Anthony wikimail at inbox.org
Sat Jan 24 14:46:37 UTC 2009


I mostly agree with you that there's nothing wrong per se with the Wikimedia
Foundation sharing office space with Wikia.  From Erik's description of the
bidding process, I think the WMF is overpaying, though.  I think the "used
car salesman" analogy is appropriate.  There are lots of price points where
the WMF and Wikia both benefit.  The WMF seems to have gone out of its way
to help Wikia come up with the maximum such price point, while they should
have played harder to get.  Why wasn't Wikia made part of the bidding
process exactly like all the others?  Why were they given a suggested rate
which was then accepted?  How much of the process was explained to Wikia, or
known by anyone affiliated with Wikia, before the deal was accepted?  Why
does the press release describe the process one way (Wikia matched the
lowest bid) but Erik describe it another way (Wikia was offered the average
bid)?  From the descriptions provided it looks like the WMF decided to rent
space from Wikia, and then they took a bunch of bids to figure out a market

This said, there are others who have in the past expressed very different
opinions about this sort of thing.  When the announcement was made that the
Wikimedia Foundation was moving to San Francisco, I asked whether or not
Wikia might be willing to donate some office space to the WMF (
Florence Devouard quickly answered saying that even if they were, the WMF
shouldn't accept it (
In Florence's mind, the potential for conflicts and appearance of conflicts
was so great that the Wikimedia Foundation shouldn't even accept office
space from Wikia *for free* (

Jussi-Ville Heiskanen also responded, stating that he completely agreed with
Florence (
"Being perceived as tied at the hip to Wikia could potentially be
disastrous."  Then Angela chimed in, with the following:

"Wikia's donations towards the Foundation would be better spent elsewhere
rather than causing further confusion about the relationship between the two
companies by sharing an address.  Added to that, Wikia is in San Mateo which
is not ideal and not where Wikimedia is planning to be, and there is very
limited space in Wikia's office." (

Not sure if these three still feel this way, and are just keeping quiet
about it, or if they've changed their minds.  At least some of the details
of Angela's view have changed, and sharing some space is of course different
from sharing all of it.  But each of the three cited as one of the major
detriments to Wikia *donating* office space to the WMF, that it would be
perceived as a conflict of interest.


On Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 11:58 PM, Geoffrey Plourde <geo.plrd at yahoo.com>wrote:

> Mr Kohs;
> Some of your points have merit as there are many areas in which we can and
> should improve. However, I must respectfully note that your comments here
> serve only to divide a already fractured community even further. As a
> Californian, I disagree with your assertions of nepotism and favoritism most
> vehemently.
> Since you live in Pennsylvania, you may not be aware of this but rents in
> California tend to be fairly exorbitant. San Francisco is no exception.
> Office space has always been at a premium. When looking at bids, I assume
> that our hard working staff took many factors into consideration, as price
> is one out of many important items. One major factor would be the working
> dynamic and utilization. Wikia and Wikimedia, although different types of
> corporations, utilize the same software for similar purposes. This means
> that the Wikia office space would be usable by Foundation staff, as it would
> already be designed for those working with wikis. With another landlord, the
> Foundation might need to reconfigure the space, which costs time and money.
> Also, Wikia staff would be competent enough to assist with problems and
> capable of making changes. Another landlord might be difficult to reach or
> unable to work with staff to alleviate problems. Also they might not be
>  able to understand what staff would need and be difficult to work with.
> The real cost is never just the sticker price, its all the hidden surprises.
> Renting from a similar organization eliminates these hidden surprises and
> makes for a smooth transition.
> You also make the assertion of nepotism and impropriety. I fail to see why
> this is improper. Big whoop, Jimbo owns Wikia. Everybody knows it and it has
> never been hidden. He isn't going to profit from a simple subletting deal.
> Wikia has bills too and I assume has to pay rent. This makes the transfer of
> money moot, as money goes into private coffers all the time to keep
> nonprofits going. There is nothing wrong with this agreement, and it in no
> way means that Wikia and Wikimedia are joined.
> My final point is that you have made these allegations without access to
> Board and staff documents. You therefore do not have the whole picture and
> have no standing to criticize those who do. This attempt to create division
> has no place and distracts us from the Foundation's goal.
> Sincerely;
> Geoffrey Plourde
> ________________________________
> From: Gregory Kohs <thekohser at gmail.com>
> To: foundation-l at lists.wikimedia.org
> Sent: Friday, January 23, 2009 11:37:37 AM
> Subject: [Foundation-l] Wikia leasing office space to WMF
> I was very surprised to read on the Wikimedia blog a post from Naoko
> Komura,
> the WMF program manager heading up the Wikipedia Usability Initiative,
> funded by the Stanton Foundation.
> Post:
> http://blog.wikimedia.org/2009/01/21/a-note-on-the-wikipedia-usability-initiative/
> To quote Komura,
> "On the space front, we had outgrown our current space in the South of
> Market area of San Francisco, and we were in search of space specifically
> for this project. I am happy to announce that Wikia has agreed to sublease
> two of their conference rooms to the Wikimedia Foundation for the project
> duration (Jan'09-Mar'10). Daniel [Phelps] collected a dozen bids for the
> space in SOMA, and Wikia matched the best offer."
> I submitted a comment to the blog, but over seven hours later, it is still
> not published, and there is a history of my questions to that blog being
> ignored or censored.  So, I'm going to ask here, and I'll also advise the
> list moderators that this message is being copied to members of the press.
> Could we have more detail, please, on the note that "Wikia matched the best
> offer"?  Were the other ten higher bidders also given the opportunity to
> match the best offer?  Why was Wikia chosen on a "second and adjusted
> offer"
> basis, rather than choosing the good-faith firm that submitted the lowest
> offer initially?  Was the first low bidder given the chance to further
> discount their rate?  If so, what was their response?  If not, why not?
> I have to agree with Steven Walling's comment on the blog.  He said, "I
> find
> the idea of the Foundation working that closely with Wikia, literally and
> figuratively, discomforting. We already have enough people confused about
> the difference between the two organizations, and to be honest, this feels
> like nepotism."
> Actually, it's not nepotism.  And, there are no uniform laws regarding
> nepotism.  It's potentially worse.  Self-dealing, which is what this really
> smacks of, is covered in case law, judicial opinions, and some statutes.
> I have been assured in countless places that "Wikia and the Wikimedia
> Foundation are complete separate organizations" and that there were "no
> business relationships" between the members of a past WMF Board that was
> 60%
> comprised of Wikia employees/owners. Considering the past Wikia/Wikipedia
> fiasco of Ryan "Essjay" Jordan, I would have thought the WMF would be
> hyper-sensitive to working in concert yet again with their neighbor down
> the
> street.
> In summary:
> We know Wikia was recently laying off workers in the economic downturn.
> Presumably, Wikia now has excess office space per employee.  WMF gets a
> grant, presumably funded by tax-deductible dollars.  Expending that grant
> on
> office space is served up to an ostensibly "open" and "fair" competitive
> search among 12 candidate landlords.  A lowest bid is received.  However, a
> bidder who happens to have strong personnel ties to the Board of WMF and
> the
> Advisory Board of WMF, is given the opportunity to match the lowest bid,
> which they do, since they have empty office space doing them no good empty.
> Net result:  Tax-advantaged dollars will be transferred to a for-profit
> corporation with an "inside track" to the decision-making body of the
> non-profit organization.
> It strikes me as fishy, to use a gentle word.
> --
> Gregory Kohs
> Cell: 302.463.1354
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