[Wikimedia-l] The new narrowed focus by WMF

Jacob Orlowitz wikiocaasi at yahoo.com
Sun Oct 21 23:15:31 UTC 2012

*A letter in support of the Community Fellowship program, from past,
current, and prospective Fellows:*
The WMF has expanded profoundly over the past decade, and especially in the
last few years.  Recently initiatives to streamline and focus the WMF have
been undertaken; while these efforts are worthy in spirit and necessary at
some level, one useful if not vital program has been caught in that
process:  The Community Fellowship
 We would like to express our strong support of this valuable and important

The Fellowship program is first and foremost a community-based program.  It
selects editors to work on projects -- those which are novel and have yet
to be tried, those that have been tried but have not been rigorously
developed or tested, and those otherwise that need financial, technical and
institutional backing to succeed.  It represents a direct line of support
from the WMF to community-organized, community-driven, and
community-maintained projects.

We strongly believe that the Fellowship program is a great way to jump
start many projects cheaply, efficiently, and with low-risk.  Most
importantly, because Fellowship projects are community-organized, there is
high potential for their broad community support.

We recognize that the Wikimedia Foundation’s allocation of funding must
reflect the priorities of the Foundation’s annual and strategic plans, and
we understand that the future of the Fellowship program is at risk under
the justification that it does not fit within those plans.

The Fellowship program of course has a cost, but it is one we believe is
well justified by its impact.  The following reasons explain why we think
the program is a worthwhile asset to the WMF and one that will ultimately
help it succeed in its strategic goals:

1) The program has a track record of producing successful projects, with
promising upcoming efforts that would be interrupted by a loss of
funding.  Most
recently a new-editor community called the
Teahouse<http://enwp.org/WP:TEAHOUSE> was
developed directly through the Fellowship program.  The Teahouse, as well
as other projects have targeted goals which often match up with those
identified by the Foundation as urgent, such as new editor engagement and
editor retention.  Other projects besides the Teahouse have worked on
improving our dispute
our small language wiki development, improving the usability of help
and facilitating cross-wiki translation efforts.
 GLAM/Wikipedian-in-Residence positions were pioneered under the Fellowship
program as were studies in long term editor trends through Wikimedia Summer
of Research.  (See the full list of past
 These projects are of great value and exist in areas that the community
had or has not made sufficient advances in on its own.

In the works are projects to create a sense of community around the sorely
lacking female demographic, to build a game which would ease new editors
through the maze of skills needed to be effective, a Wikipedia Library
initiative which would outfit our most experienced editors with access to
high quality resources through a single sign-on portal, and a Badges
experiment to employ a proven approach to recognizing, motivating, and
rewarding the efforts of our users.  Without the Community Fellowship
program, those efforts may stall or collapse.

2) The Fellowship program's core strength is as a laboratory of agile,
community-driven creativity and innovation.  The program has nurtured
projects that require more investment and organization than the community
alone can support, but that innovate in areas of importance to both the
community and the Foundation.  The Fellowship program has the asset of
targeted flexibility and cost-effective implementation.  Fellowship
projects require few if any development resources, substantially reducing
their burden on the Foundation.  Through its varied portfolio of projects
the Fellowship program can address any number of key goals, and do so in a
lightweight but meaningful way.

3) The Fellowship program is committed to demonstrating results and making
data-driven recommendations that help meet Foundation targets.  Fellowship
research projects have set and maintained a high standard for reporting
results and making actionable recommendations.  The Teahouse pilot reports
and metrics reports, the dispute resolution survey results, and the
template A/B testing projects are excellent examples of this commitment to
transparency and accountability.  The Foundation has benefitted from these
data: results from fellowship projects have been featured at Wikimania.
 Deputy Director Eric Moeller’s presentation on supporting
extensively on Fellowship project findings, and E3’s template
testing presentation<http://wikimania2012.wikimedia.org/wiki/Submissions/Welcome_to_Wikipedia,_now_please_go_away:_improving_how_we_communicate_with_new_editors>was
based substantially on Fellowship research.  Fellowship research has
been a frequent<http://blog.wikimedia.org/2012/03/27/analysis-of-the-quality-of-newcomers-in-wikipedia-over-time/>
feature <http://blog.wikimedia.org/2011/05/02/neweditorwarnings/> on the
Wikimedia blog, and has generated
the Foundation.

4) The Fellowship program been instrumental to our understanding of the
editor decline, and how to stop it.  Fellowship projects have yielded many
valuable & actionable insights into the editor decline: such as the
negative impact of the gradual increase in newcomer
reverts <http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Research:First_edit_session>, and
the recent decline in participation in community processes by newer groups
of editors <http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Research:WikiPride>.  Fellowship
research has also refuted several prominent decline
such as the theory that the quality of new
decreased over time, or that the workload
of vandal fighters<http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Research:Vandal_fighter_work_load>has
increased.  In short, Fellowship research allows Wikimedia to
prioritize promising work and make decisions about which decline theories
to address based on actual data, rather than anecdotes, accepted wisdom, or

5) The Fellowship program builds good will between the WMF and the
community by spotlighting and bootstrapping community-driven
initiatives.  Fellowships
are devised by community members, endorsed by community members,
implemented with community involvement--and the community reaps the
benefits of those initiatives.  The Foundation gets to play the vital role
of supporting projects that otherwise may have floundered, sat idle, or
been ignored completely.  The community appreciates this and recognizes the
Foundation’s pivotal part in making these projects happen.  Also, not
continuing the program would mean not just removing funding from the
recipients of Fellowships and their projects, but also losing the community
infrastructure and networks that have been developed as a result.  The
Foundation is the keystone to continuing this progress.

6) The Fellowship program gives the Wikimedia Foundation one of the only
channels to directly fund individual editors.  And not just any editors but
some of the most active, engaged, driven, and enthusiastic editors
Wikipedia has.  Funding those editors directly enables them to devote a
degree of focus and commitment to Wikipedia that they might not otherwise
be able to balance while meeting other constraints in their lives.  The
Foundation has become a recipient of a great amount of donations, but much
of that financial support is unavailable to individual editors.  There is
not yet a grant-making process which doesn't run through Chapters.  The
Fellowship program is one lifeline to those editors, and it is a good one.

7) The Fellowship program provides a pipeline of trusted and knowledgeable
editors to contribute to the Foundation's efforts.  Many of those editors
would be ideal candidates for positions within the Foundation, and the
Fellowship program is a great way to identify, enlist, and onboard those
individuals.  Maryana Pinchuck and Steven Walling were Fellows, as were
Liam Wyatt, Lennart Guldbrandsson, Stuart Geiger, Diederik van Liere, Giovanni
Luca Ciampaglia, Melanie Kill, Aaron Halfaker, Achal Prabhala, Jonathan
Morgan, and James Alexander.  While being a training ground for future
Foundation staffers, advisors, or researchers is not the stated purpose of
the Fellowship program, it is nonetheless a positive side-effect.

8) The Fellowship program partners with and complements other WMF
initiatives.  The fellowship program enhances programs such as Editor
Engagement Experiments <http://enwp.org/WP:E3> by experimenting with
community features rather than just interface features.  Creating new
spaces for new editors to find help and build community, identifying
pain-points in existing community processes by surveying editors, and
organizing cross-wiki translation efforts are excellent ways of improving
the editor experience on Wikipedia.  Fellowship projects have also
benefitted existing WMF initiatives by providing necessary services: for
instance, the Teahouse has served the needs of students enrolled in Global
Education programs<http://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_Education_Program>that
do not have access to Classroom Ambassadors.  The impact of the
Fellowship program scales and exceeds the scope of the individual projects
to numerous other forums and facets of the community.

For these reasons, we urge the Wikimedia Foundation to reevaluate the worth
of the Community Fellowship program and to continue it in its original or a
similar capacity.   The Fellowship program is an impactful, flexible
laboratory of creativity which connects the Foundation and the community's
best and most passionate editors.  Having it has been a huge gain, and
losing it would be a significant loss.


* Anya Shyrokova User:Anyashy, prospective Fellow
* Jake Orlowitz User:Ocaasi, prospective Fellow
* Jon Harald Søby User:Jon Harald Søby, former Community Fellow
* Jonathan Morgan User:Jtmorgan, former Research Fellow
* Liam Wyatt  User:Wittylama, former Cultural Partnerships Fellow
* R.  Stuart Geiger  User:Staeiou, former Wikimedia Research Fellow
* Peter Coombe User:The wub, Community Fellow
* Steven Zhang User:Steven Zhang, Community Fellow
* Tanvir Rahman User:Tanvir Rahman, Community Fellow*

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