[Wikimedia-l] The new narrowed focus by WMF (cleaner version)

Jacob Orlowitz wikiocaasi at yahoo.com
Sun Oct 21 23:25:37 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 program.  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

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

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 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 resolution processes, our small
language wiki development, improving the usability of help
documentation, 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 projects).
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

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 Wikiprojects drew extensively on
Fellowship project findings, and E3’s template testing presentation
was based substantially on Fellowship research.  Fellowship research
has been a frequent feature on the Wikimedia blog, and has generated
good press for 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
warnings and newcomer reverts, and the recent decline in participation
in community processes by newer groups of editors.  Fellowship
research has also refuted several prominent decline theories, such as
the theory that the quality of new editors has decreased over time, or
that the workload of vandal fighters 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 intuition.

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 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 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


* 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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