Sunday, July 15, 2007


Thoughts on the Wikimedia Board Election

Even though we were promised that the results would be announced today, on the 15th, Wikizine announced the results a few days ago. And keeping with my time-hallowed tradition concerning elections, most of the people I voted for were not elected. Since my reasoning was so out of tune with the majority, I'd like to ponder over what this election means. If you voted for one of the three who gained Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) Board seats -- Mindspillage, Eloquence, and Frieda -- you probably know what this election means. But humor this average editor who has been around Wikipedia for probably too many years.

One problem this election faces is that for most of the volunteers, the WMF is a shadowy group. I more than understand this: beyond keeping the servers up and running, this group has very little undeniable impact on how the WMF projects (i.e., Wikipedia, Wikinews, Wiktionary, etc.) actually function. As an example, when I happened to look at the archives of the Foundation-l maillist a few days ago, I found that the topic most passionately debated there was ... whether or not Board members should be reimbursed for day care while travelling on WMF business. My take is that this is just a reminder that despite becoming an organization known throughout the world, the WMF still remains very much a small-scale organization where everyone argues endlessly over every item in the agenda. It may not be professional, but it is who we are.

(On this "day-care-gate" issue, I will add my two cents: I think it's obvious that this affects one specific Board member -- who doesn't need to be named. I also think that the decision should be made in terms whether the contributions of this Board member are vital enough to justify this payment -- not whether it conforms to some other practice or precedent, either real or imaginary. But decisions that may benefit specific people are never made openly on such plain terms.)

Turning to the results itself, I am a little surprised at who won -- and didn't win -- this election. Point by point:

Frieda. I knew nothing about here before the election, and I still know almost nothing about her, beyond a vague and naive assumption that if she is the president of Wikimedia Italy, she must be qualified for the position. I am concerned that she answered so few questions during the election, similar to some of the other candidates, and in a manner that suggested she was having second thoughts about the position -- as it did for many of the ones who failed to be elected. I honestly would like to have Board members who communicate with the rest of us, and explain what the WMF is doing to help the volunteers and the projects.

Michael Snow. Michael had received several endorsements from bloggers, had an obvious track record (okay, obvious to us on the English-language Wikipedia) so I thought he would be elected. So why wasn't he? Was it due to fall-out from Gmaxwell's misunderstood solicitation to vote? (Which obviously failed -- in the end, less than 10% did.) Or perhaps fear of US domination of the WMF Board?

Oscar. Another person I knew nothing about here before the election, and I still know almost nothing about now -- except that he was a Board member.

Mindspillage and Eloquence. Both were re-elected incumbants, so there is no major groundswell of disatisfaction with the Board amongst those who care about the WMF.

However, Danny's and Kate's campaigns suggest that we shouldn't be so complaisant. At first I dismissed Danny's campaign as just the continuation of his personality conflict with one or more people in the Foundation; these things happen in every organization, and because it doesn't necessarily mean one or both people involved are bad, normally I wouldn't concern myself about it. Yet Kate's candidacy suggests that there may be more to this feud than meets the eye. It is unusual for an employee in a quasi-public organization like the WMF to run for office, and is almost always done in response to mismanagement of that organization. Combined with Brad Patrick's unexpected resignation earlier this year, and it's hard not to wonder if something wrong is happening with the WMF. Whether it's financial mismanagement, a lack of vision or a simple case of lousy communication between one or more people, this needs to be resolved either by bringing in a fresh set of eyes or more communication between the WMF and the grassroots.

I've touched on lots of problems and challenges in this post. I wonder which ones the Board will
address -- and work on.


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Your suggestion that practices are not relevant make me squirm. I think it is backward to consider that people have to be rich enough to pay themselves for basic entitlements. This attitude means that competent people will not be able or willing to stand and that functions can be bought by the affluent.

I also disagree with you on principle that entitlements should be there for some and not for others. Yes, it is a good thing when how entitlements work is written down in some resolution.

I am totally lost what link there could be between Danny's and Kate's campaign.

1. "Entitlements"? Who was talking about entitlements? I addressed this as a question about compensation: if the person is worth the compensation, pay it; if not, then say so. And be ready to accept the consequences.

(And for the record, I'm not going to comment whether the persn in question deserves that form of compensation.)

2. Danny has repeatedly complained --- in both his resignation & in his election manefesto -- about the WMF acting less than professionally. Now Kate enters the election, making IMHO a similar complaint. That is the link.

Whether or not there is one, Gerard, can be debated. I simply was voting to put a fresh set of eyes in place to help prove that there were no grounds for this suspicion -- it was all simply a conflict between strong personalities over the direction the Foundation should go -- & a conflict between personalities is not that uncommon in WMF projects.


I am talking about entitlements. This is not a matter of compensation.
"Yet Kate's candidacy suggests that there may be more to this feud than meets the eye. It is unusual for an employee in a quasi-public organization like the WMF to run for office"

River Tarnell is not an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation (see list: She is a volunteer. That she is a sysadmin with root access rather than just an editor does not, I think, make her candidacy any more indicative of anything, although it may be an interesting factoid nonetheless.
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