The Signpost

2009 in review

2009 in Review

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By Phoebe

2009 was Wikipedia's ninth year, and the sixth year for the Wikimedia Foundation. In the tradition of previous Signpost annual summaries, we are presenting a quick review of the past year. 2009 saw major growth of the Wikimedia Foundation, global outreach and partnership activities, and more major grants and fundraising than ever before. At the same time, questions were raised over the health of the Wikipedia community, and debates over quality, content and sustainability continued.

Growth and statistics

The number of Wikipedia articles continued to grow, with the English Wikipedia passing 3,000,000 articles in mid-August, and the German Wikipedia passing the milestone of 1,000,000 articles in December. Commons also passed 4,000,000 files in March and then 5,000,000 files in September. The English Wikipedia's count of good and featured articles passed 10,000. Several new projects were also created, including the Pontic Greek Wikipedia, the Finnish Wikiversity, the Sorani Wikipedia, the Western Panjabi Wikipedia, the Mirandese Wikipedia, the Acehnese Wikipedia and the Turkish Wikinews.

However, despite continued content growth, there was discussion and research in 2009 over whether the editor community is still growing along with content, or if the number of active editors is declining. Ed Chi's research provided one study into this, finding that editor growth was slowing and new editors were commonly reverted. Statistics produced by community members also showed a decline in editor participation. Results from the first general user survey, conducted by UNU Merit, were also released, showing trends in the editor population. These studies provided the background for ongoing concern over Wikipedia's community health, which was a topic of discussion at Wikimania 2009, a focus of the strategy project, and a subject in the news again in late 2009 when Felipe Ortega's work on the decline of the editing community was profiled by the Wall Street Journal (see below).

Meetups and Community

Wikimania 2009 was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in late August. The conference featured a bilingual program and had several hundred attendees.

Other community conferences included a MediaWiki developer meetup in April in Berlin, colocated with the Chapters meeting; Wikimedia Polska's assembly in May; Wikiconference NYC in July; a working meeting for multimedia usability in Paris in November; Wikiconference Japan in November; and Wikimedia Brasil's unconferences, also in November. The only country in 2009 that had a meetup for the first time was Pakistan; other countries around the world also continued to host informal meetups. In February, Wikipedia Loves Art events were held around the United States and in London, with similar events in the Netherlands and Argentina.

Several new chapters were founded in 2009, including Wikimedia Macedonia, Wikimedia Danmark, Wikimedia Ukraine, Wikimedia Suomi, Wikimedia Portugal, and Wikimedia New York City, the first chapter in the United States. The second incarnation of Wikimedia UK was also recognized by the Board in 2009.

Community debates

One of the largest and furthest-reaching debates this year was over the future of licensing on the projects. Following the release of GFDL 1.3, which allowed large collaborative websites to switch to the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license, the Foundation formed a taskforce to study licensing options. In May, there was a Wikimedia-wide vote on whether to adopt new licensing terms to switch to Creative Commons. The switch was approved with 17,462 votes cast, the largest vote in Wikimedia's history. This resulted in new terms of reuse for all Wikimedia content.

While debates over content quality were not as prevalent in the media as they were in the past, work was done in this area, such as with an article that analyzed drug information in Wikipedia. BLP issues continued to be a concern, particularly on the English Wikipedia, and the BLP taskforce was formed. Projects to work on article quality also included a collaboration with Chemical Abstracts for chemistry data. Content contests included the third annual WikiCup, which was won by Durova.

The Foundation-l mailing list saw drama in late 2009 when debates over whether members were posting too much led to temporary full moderation; this in turn led to new posting rules (no more than 30 posts/month for each member). In addition to the mailing lists and IRC Wikipedians also began using Twitter and more to communicate in 2009.

On the English Wikipedia, Arbitration Committee elections were held and the results announced in December. ArbCom saw dispute this year over the Law/Undertow sockpuppet scandal. The long-standing dispute between Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales over Wikipedia's founding also flared up again this year.

Outreach and Partnerships

2009 saw a new focus on partnerships with cultural organizations, or "GLAM" organizations (short for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums). Following on the heels of the German Bundesarchiv donation in late 2008, there were several large donations of images in 2009 from external organizations, including the Deutsche Fotothek, Antweb, and the Mary Rose Trust. The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam also partnered with the WMF.

Relationships with archives took on a negative tone in July, when the National Portrait Gallery in the UK threatened a lawsuit towards an individual Wikipedian over images from the NPG that had been placed on Commons. This story was picked up in the news, and served to focus community discussion and work on relationships with GLAM organizations around the world. In August, Wikimedia Australia hosted a GLAM/Wikimedia conference, which was quite popular, and which discussed issues related to the dispute and partnership with GLAM organizations.

Also in 2009, there were several dedicated outreach activities put on by teams of Wikimedians around the world. One of the largest was the Wikipedia Academy at the NIH in July, where Wikipedians worked with scientists to teach editing. Outreach activity became a priority of the Wikimedia Foundation as well, which began a "bookshelf" project to develop educational materials about Wikipedia and Wikimedia. This in turn is part of the larger Outreach team and wiki.

Outside organizations continued to use Wikimedia content for new applications as well, for instance for the iPhone "augmented reality" app, Amazon's public data sets, Wikipedia articles in Google News, and the Openmoko Wikireader. The Wikimedia Foundation also negotiated a deal with Orange Telecom to display Wikipedia content on mobile phones.

Technical changes

Flagged revisions, under development for several years, is still not done. In January, Jimbo Wales requested that developers implement them on the English Wikipedia, and a community poll was held on the English Wikipedia in April. By the end of 2009, the process of launching flagged revisions on the English Wikipedia was not complete, although the Foundation invested more into the project by hiring a part-time project manager and developer. In the meantime, by February 2009 the German Wikipedia had made its first pass at flagging all articles as part of their implementation of flagged revisions.

Two major grant-funded projects to improve the usability of MediaWiki began in 2009, the usability project and a multimedia usability project. The usability project was funded with a $890,000 grant from the Stanton Foundation, while the multimedia project was funded by a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and focuses specifically on improving workflows for image uploading. Over the course of the year, the usability project conducted usability studies, developed a new skin (Vector) which currently has nearly 300,000 users, and developed other experimental features to improve the editing interface. Another $100,000 grant was also given to the Foundation by the Mozilla Foundation, specifically to improve Ogg Theora audio and video support.

In other technical news, the mobile gateway for Wikipedia,, was launched and refined. Liquidthreads was also further developed and deployed on some small wikis, including the Strategy project wiki. The books extension was enabled on English, and a new assessment class and namespace were created for it. The Abusefilter extension was enabled to allow preemptive filtering of vandalism. And in a long-awaited development, dumps of the English Wikipedia were finally fixed to allow new statistics to be produced about the project for the first time in several years.

Finally, in September long-time CTO Brion Vibber stepped down. The search for his replacement is still ongoing.

Foundation growth, strategy and fundraising

The Wikimedia Foundation grew this year, taking on new projects and hiring a number of new employees, including a Chief Program Officer (who subsequently left, and has not yet been replaced), several developers, and several people to work in the areas of fundraising, public relations and outreach. In September, the Foundation moved to new, larger offices in San Francisco.

The Foundation also began a year-long Strategy project, which is still ongoing. This led to a new wiki being started and two staff hired to manage the project, which consists of collecting community proposals, and gathering research from task forces and from Bridgespan, the firm hired to support the process, about the current state and future directions for the Foundation. Other major Foundation projects included the usability, multimedia, and bookshelf projects described above.

The Foundation received several major grants in 2009, including a $500,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation, a €300,000 donation of in-kind support from Dutch data center EvoSwitch, and a $2,000,000 grant from the Omidyar Network, along with the usability grants mentioned above. The Omidyar grant comes with certain conditions that must be met. However, spending also increased greatly beyond previous years, with a focus on supporting new outreach and communications projects, new staff, grants to chapters, and technical development.

At the end of 2009, the annual fundraiser was held. The fundraiser was controversial for its use of the "Wikipedia Forever" theme, a slogan which was developed by a marketing firm contracted by the Foundation. The slogans originally proposed for the fundraiser led to ire among Wikimedians, which resulted in some last-minute messaging changes. Despite the rocky beginning, however, the fundraiser resulted in over $8,000,000 in donations, with the single highest donation day of any fundraiser coming on the first day of Jimmy Wales' appeal letter.

In the Foundation Board elections this year, Samuel Klein, Ting Chen and Kat Walsh were elected to the three community representative seats, with 2940 votes cast. Arne Klempert took one of the Chapter-chosen Board seats, while Matt Halprin was appointed to the Board. Florence Devouard, former Board chair, was honored for her work on the Board with a Knighthood from the French government.

The composition of the advisory board also changed in 2009, with new members including Neeru Khosla, Roger McNamee, Craig Newmark and Domas Mituzas.

In the news

The slowing growth of Wikipedia's community was widely written about in the news. Ed Chi's research was widely quoted in the news in the spring of 2009, while at the end of 2009 a major story in the Wall Street Journal quoted research by Felipe Ortega about the declining editor community. This was picked up widely by other news outlets, and prompted a response by Erik Zachte that found that while community growth has leveled off compared to a few years ago, it is not declining at the rate reported.

Other major news stories throughout the year included ongoing coverage of flagged revisions (including many reports that they were "just around the corner"), the National Portrait Gallery controversy, the lack of information in Wikipedia about David Rohde's kidnapping, the block of Scientology activists by the English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee, the spike of pageviews and edits surrounding Michael Jackson's death (which briefly took Wikipedia offline), and a flap over Rorschach inkblots. Also in 2009, the comedy series Bigipedia debuted.

In Memory

Five Wikipedians that we know of died in 2009: User:Bradypus of the German Wikipedia, User:Glen Dillon of the English Wikipedia, User:Teenly of the English and Simple English Wikipedias, User:Nitelinger of the English Wikipedia, and User:Fg2 of the English and Japanese Wikipedias. They will be missed.

Past years in review

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One idea for future years in review:

  • include a summary of developments in wiki 'zines, contests, and {featured content / "* of the day" feeds}

The featured content stats probably need to be generated by a script. The zine and contest notes might be gleanable now. Each is an active community effort to foster or highlight certain types of contribution, and could be handy to one describing a project in 60 seconds. Size/scope of article and image contests, and development of communication channels like Wikimedium (and changes in the Signpost, however self-referential), would also make good reads. +sj+ 06:09, 12 January 2010 (UTC)[reply]

thanks for the suggestions. We need more stories about article contests ({{sofixit}}!). A quick summary of the changes in the signpost is in this week's letter to the editor. -- phoebe / (talk to me) 16:04, 12 January 2010 (UTC)[reply]
I added a sentence about the wikicup, too. Forgot to include. -- phoebe / (talk to me) 03:51, 14 January 2010 (UTC)[reply]


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