Indicating that his work in his Ph.D. program was suffering, and frustrated by constant demands for developer attention to matters he didn't want to be working on, Starling said he would leave Wikipedia entirely. However, he did not swear never to come back, and Wales was quite sure he would return eventually. (The "ban" was imposed so Starling would "get things straightened out" with his obligations outside of Wikipedia. Wales added, "Now, if only someone would ban me.")
Recently, of course, Starling and other developers spent a difficult few weeks struggling to restore Wikipedia performance to acceptable levels. At one point, he commented, "I discovered over Christmas that I could work 40 hours per week on Wikipedia system administration, and I wouldn't be able to keep up with the demand".
As the website recovered, there was renewed pressure for filling developer tasks requested by various people. Some of the discussion focused especially on the idea of paying individual developers for handling particular requests, a controversial issue that several of the developers are reluctant to see implemented.
The only use of the system so far has been a proposed payment to set up member registration software for the Wikimedia Foundation. Starling did actually offer to program this at one point, but hasn't yet gotten around to it, and nobody else has tried so the proposal remains in limbo.
Starling's offer came despite his opinion that "paying me to work for Wikimedia would only change my priorities, not encourage me to do more work overall", which he and some other developers thought would be an inefficient use of resources. Nevertheless, other users have continued trying to influence developer priorities with financial incentives. In his departure, Starling cited in particular an IRC discussion with GerardM, one of the proponents of the Wikispecies project started last September over some vocal objections.
GerardM began pushing last week to have part of a $40,000 grant from the Lounsbery Foundation, awarded a few weeks ago, directed towards additional data functionality he considered necessary to boost Wikispecies. The grant application included launching the Wikispecies project along with covering regular operations cost, but it remains to be seen how some of the money will be used to help Wikispecies. Developer Jamesday questioned whether GerardM's idea was feasible, pointing out that "in practice, money doesn't talk when it comes to volunteer developers, and $20,000 doesn't talk very far when it comes to non-volunteer developers." After some further discussion of the idea, Starling then decided it was time to announce his departure.