Michael Snow interview

Signpost interview: Michael Snow

On February 13, Wikimedia Foundation Chair Florence Devouard announced the appointment of two new board members: Michael Snow, and developer Domas Mituzas. This week, the Signpost interviews Michael Snow; we hope to interview Mituzas for a later issue.

In her announcement, Devouard touted Snow's personal accomplishments, and his candidate statements in prior board elections:

The members of the board of trustees of Wikimedia Foundation have recently agreed to add two new board members, both being members of our community, for a term which will expire at next board elections (June-July 2008). The first is Michael Snow, long time editor of Wikipedia, and twice candidate to the board. Rather than presenting him, I recommend that you go read into detail his candidate statements, back in 2004 or in 2007. Michael is an American lawyer, has been the founder of the Signpost and is currently the Chair of the Communication Committee. He is noticeable (somehow) for being very calm and wise.

Wikipedia Signpost: First of all, Michael, congratulations on joining the Board of Trustees.

Michael Snow: Thanks.

You've served as the chair of the Communications Committee, serve as an attorney and textbook writer in real-life, and, of course, were the original creator and editor of the Wikipedia Signpost. How will those experiences help you as a Board member?

Being a lawyer gives me familiarity with some important issues for the Wikimedia Foundation (copyrights, licensing and contracts, operation of non-profits), and this training should help me contribute to the board's oversight of the organization. My background as a writer gives me an understanding of educational publishing, which broadly speaking ties in quite closely to Wikimedia's projects. Meanwhile, from my direct involvement in Wikimedia I've built up a knowledge of its history, culture, and values. I'm proud of the Signpost as an example of identifying a glaring need, then putting forth the initiative and effort required to fill that need. There are many challenges still being struggled with (Wikimedia or the Signpost, take either one), but I hope some of my future work can come close to that accomplishment.

Over the last 6-12 months, the Foundation has made considerable strides toward a larger organization, with more full-time employees handling Foundation duties. How do you think this process has gone so far? Do you have any concerns about this transition?

In terms of the transition to professional support, my sense is that things are improving. I think it speaks volumes about the progress being made that recent staff turnover can be attributed entirely to the relocation to San Francisco, not organizational dysfunction. I have some concern about the amount of effort that's been needed to catch things up from the more dysfunctional period, such that only now is the staff getting to a position where it can even start to look forward and not backward. That's largely a surface evaluation, but it's about all I'm prepared to give at the moment.

When it comes to fundraising, what do you see as the Foundation's primary strength? What do you see as its primary weakness?

So far, the obvious fundraising strength is the goodwill the projects have fostered, such that a large number of donors willingly respond to appeals for assistance. The cumulative effect of mostly small donations mirrors the impact of small individual contributions to the overall body of work on the projects. Financially this is only a base, however, not an inexhaustible resource, so it must be melded with other sources of funds.
This brings us to the corresponding weakness in other areas: seeking grants, cultivating large donors, and developing outside sources of income. The number of truly substantial donations and grants in Wikimedia's history hardly needs more than one hand to count. For the people who control such funds, it is important that Wikimedia be a demonstrably capable steward of the money.

As a board member, how will you ensure a balance between openness and necessary privacy in board matters?

Although the Wikimedia Foundation is not a government agency, one concept I think is worth looking at is how such bodies conduct business when required to have publicly open records or meetings. Generally they set aside certain material as privileged, or hold a portion of discussion in private, while making the rest available. It would help to determine in advance what needs to be discussed in "executive session", as this is often called, so that other things can be made public by default instead of having to be screened first.
Beyond that, I'm open to inquiries from the community, as well as suggestions for how to address the issue. I also have some specific ideas in this area that I hope to implement in the near future.

Finally, your position expires in June. At this point, are you planning on running for a full two-year term?

I'm just barely getting my feet wet, so I'd rather not try to plan for an election now. Then again, it's not that far away either, meaning I can't ignore it completely, so I'll attempt to outline my thought process and then get back to work. As you may know, I ran in the very first board election as well as the most recent one, but passed up the elections in between despite being urged by many people to run. This was because the time was not right for me and/or it did not seem right for Wikimedia. I don't know what things will look like in June, but unless I feel that both those criteria are met, I would pass.

Also this week:
  • Michael Snow interview
  • Controversial RFA
  • Sockpuppeting administrator
  • Print encyclopedias
  • WikiWorld
  • News and notes
  • In the news
  • WikiProject report
  • Dispatches
  • Features and admins
  • Technology report
  • Arbitration report

  • Signpost archives

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