Friday, December 14, 2007

 

Uh, what?

Like the rest of you, I just read about the fate of Carolyn Doran. And like most of you (except for the few who revel in schadefroh over any mishap involving Wikipedia or its associated groups), I'm shocked.

I've never quite understood just what Doran's role in the Foundation actually was, and never did shake the assumption that she was little more than a glorified office manager -- someone whose duties consisted of ordering supplies, answering the phone, and reminding other employees about their appointments. Outside of one fluffy but friendly message announcing herself to the Wikimedia community towards the beginning of her brief tenure, her presence was otherwise remarkably unremarkable. It could be said that this was a good thing, that her presence didn't harm the Foundation -- but that's just spin. If nothing else, she received a paycheck that could have gone to someone who actually made a tangible contribution -- so her presence did harm the Foundation by squandering scarce and badly needed resources.

Then there is the problem that she was hired in the first place. Not too long ago, we Americans learned from the legal experiences of Martha Stewart that felons could not legally become corporate officers -- so I am puzzled that no one made the effort to determine whether Doran was one. Yes, the Foundation is currently strapped for money, but at the very least they could have asked her, on penalty of losing her job immediately, if she was one. And instead of providing a non-answer when someone belated noticed she had vanished and asked what happened to her, the Foundation could have simply stated at the time that she left "for personal reasons" -- which is true. Those three simple, intentionally ambiguous words would provide enough of an rationale the faithful would accept when the truth surfaced, something that Wikipedia's many hostile critics Wikipedia could be expected to make happen.

Maybe they knew about her past, but hired her anyway -- for skills that she never had a chance to demonstrate. If they did, didn't it occur to anyone that there are a number of restrictions on her ability to travel? A number of countries (for example Canada, and ironically Australia) do not permit felons to legal entry -- there are a lot of places Doran could not go. Then there is the fact that some legal official would expect to be informed when she left the country, if not his jurisdiction -- which is what landed her in jail.

I'd like to hope that this scandal will be handled much better than it has been because I know there are good and intelligent people at the Foundation, but I find this hard to do. In the past year, Jimbo Wales has twice demonstrated a disturbing lack of skill in handling a situation, and I have enough of an inflated sense of self-worth that I half-expect to receive some angry words from him for my frank post. Even if Wales and the board were to avoid the familiar bunker mentality and publicly say something along the lines that they made a mistake, that they learned their lessons and now they want to move forward -- this is not enough.

I have several posts I've been working on but not yet posted; my reason until now is that I have a hard time deciding which is more important. So if I lapse back into silence on this blog, the reason is that I'm still trying to process this latest challenge to my faith in Wikipedia. If I were truly ready to toss in the towel on this important undertaking, I'd instead end this post proposing a pool to see which Wikipedia critic would be first to make a joke about the dangers of inviting Doran to the Foundation Christmas party.

Geoff

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Comments:
Only twice that Jimmy has displayed a disturbing lack of skill this year? I count a minimum of three: Zscout's first desysopping, the mailing list drama, and then this.

My thoughts at wikilaw.blogspot.com
 
SWATJester, my count differs from yours these ways:
* The first was about the "Mzoli Meats" stub. As I have written elsewhere, the original article that Jimbo Wales wrote was a problematic stub: it failed to explain why the subject was notable. His stinging final words from that episode rang in my ears as I wrote this post: "the assumptions of bad faith in this argument are just shocking. Some people should excuse themselves from the project and find a new hobby."
* The next was ZScout's desysopping; since we're in agreement there, nothing more needs to be said.
* I don't know which "mailing list drama" you're referring to. On WikiEN-L? The "secret" list that Durova was on? I the latter, the problem wasn't the list but what Durova did -- & from what I've seen, she's done everything she can to make amends. This one is not Jimbo's fault.
* The fault for this incident can't be laid on Jimbo's doorstep -- at least the part that concerns me the most. (IIRC, he was at least 8 time zones away when this happened.) When Carolyn Doran was let go, the PTB should have simply stated that she was let go & not that they were bound by some confidentiality agreement. Considering just how that incident was handled, now that a part of the truth has come out, I see no way to understand this as an example that the Foundation would favor the interests of one former employee who misrepresented herself to them over everyone else -- editors, volunteers, people and organizations making donations, and the users.

Of all of the people who have commented about this on WikiEN-L, I believe Sheldon Rampton is the most on target. But even he misses the point that the Foundation's instinct was to suppress all information about the end of her employment and not even let us know that she had gone. I'd like to think that had Jimbo Wales or Mike Godwin been present at that earlier moment, it would have been better handled -- but I may be wrong about that.

Geoff
 
From my perspective, there have been many more missteps including the revealing of Slimvirgin as an MI5 nark called Linda Mack now known as Sarah McEwan, the continuing thoughtcrime of Judd Bagley and the unexplained Wikipower of Gary Weiss/Mantanmoreland/LastExit/TomStoner/SamiHarris and the next scandal waiting to break, the outrageous conflict of interest between Jimbo Wales, "God-King" of not-for-profit Wikipedia and Jimbo Wales, "God-King" of for-profit Wikia which is heavily dependent on Wikipedia traffic for its business model.

Wikipedia is like a runaway train - and far away in the distance, people are waiting at the buffers for the trainwreck to happen.
 
John A.: I'm not buying what you're selling. The fact I've been an active contributor to Wikipedia for over five years should have told you that.

Frankly, I'm bored with the SlimVirgin story -- as well as the rest of your rant. Kindly take that stuff somewhere else.

Geoff
 
Essjay. What about Essjay? Clearly, while Essjay's lie was not Jimbo's "fault", how he handled it after he knew was completely abominable. "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it." Not to mention, the lip-service he paid the press about instituting some form of "credentials" process, which in reality was dead out of the gate.

I could think of TEN MORE idiotic things that Jimbo has done over the past 18 months, but I'm not going to name them here. Oh, I'll get you started, though...

1. Blaming the ArbCom for the "unanimous" endorsement of Essjay.

2. Hiring Essjay at Wikia.

3. Ignoring the discrepancies on the WMF Form 990 regarding "business relationships" between trustees (which they deny on the form, even though Jimbo, Angela, and Michael "I don't owe that man $800,000" Davis all sit on the board of Wikia).

4. Telling Giano that HE is the problem with revealing secret/private mailing lists.

5. HOSTING the private lists on the Wikia, Inc. servers.

6. Going back on his promise to MyWikiBiz that writing GFDL articles for payment and posting them off-Wikipedia would be "mutually beneficial".

7. Denying that he gave Brion Vibber the order to switch on "nofollow" on external links, even though a majority of community polled that they did not want this.

8. Dismissing the conflict of interest that Interwiki links to his Wikia, Inc. site were NOT affected by his "nofollow" order.

9. 10. You fill in the blanks with your favorites. Go to twenty. Don't forget the "blinky eyeball" fundraising video that has left the WMF 60% short of its projected 2008 budget.
 
Yawn.

Geoff
 
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