German chapter creates new body to meet Foundation's fundraising requirements
Last week, it was revealed that the German Wikimedia chapter is creating a new limited-liability non-profit corporation (in German, gemeinnützige Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, or gGmbH) to replace the existing membership-based association (Verein) as the recipient of donations from Wikimedia fundraisers. This will enable the direct transfer of donation money to the Foundation, which has so far been impossible due to local charity laws.
Founded in 2004, Wikimedia Deutschland is the oldest Wikimedia chapter. Its legal status does not allow it to transfer funds to an organization abroad without risking the loss of its charity status (this problem already became apparent in its first year, according to a long-time member). To some extent, this restriction was overcome by the chapter's providing funding for several endeavors of Foundation-wide relevance, including the Wikimedia Toolserver, the cache-server cluster in Amsterdam, and gatherings such as the 2009 and 2010 Wikimedia Conferences in Berlin. According tonotafish, other chapters (including Wikimedia France) are currently grappling with similar narrowly framed regulations in their own jurisdictions.
The new gGmbH non-profit corporation, called "Wikimedia Fördergesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung", will be entirely controlled by the membership-based Verein, and will split fundraising income equally between the Verein and the Foundation. Donations to the gGmbH will be tax-deductible for German donors, unlike direct donations to the Foundation. Last week's announcement was made by the chapter's treasurer, prompted by and confirming a rumor that had been brought up on the Verein's mailing list. It appears to have caught most members by surprise; many expressed concern that they had not been informed earlier, even though the process of establishing the new organization had been going on since August. The treasurer explained it had been necessary to act quickly, without extended public discussion, because of the Foundation's position on fundraising since this year:
Without the gGmbH [structure] we will receive virtually nothing in this year's fundraiser; seeing that, the Verein [Wikimedia Deutschland] could then only resolve its own disbanding.
The current solution was negotiated between the Foundation and the Verein in early August during a visit to San Francisco by Wikimedia Deutschland's CEO Pavel Richter and its Chair, Sebastian Moleski (User:Sebmol). Sebmol has acknowledged that the Foundation's new focus on "community giving" (small donations as the main source of income, rather than grants and few large donations), an outcome of the Strategic Planning process, means that it will need to rely on chapters more, and that a direct revenue stream is important to retaining the Foundation's independence. According to the WMF's deputy director Erik Möller, the fundraising aspect of the relationship between the Foundation and the chapters was discussed extensively at a fundraising summit held last May in Bristol, UK.
These negotiations between the Foundation and the German chapter appear to have gone on for some time, and have also concerned the renewal of the chapter agreement between them, which ended by default in 2009. In the chapter report for March/April 2009, Sebmol reported he had retained a San Francisco law firm pro bono to develop a response to a draft new agreement prepared by the Foundation's legal counsel Mike Godwin, which Sebmol regarded as disadvantageous for Wikimedia Deutschland. In the Foundation's most recent monthly report for July 2010, it was stated that the legal department "re-engaged a charity-specialist attorney" for various issues, and that "we confirmed that there are ongoing structural issues, particularly in Europe, with transferring charitable funds to WMF – we're looking for holistic, comprehensive ways of resolving these issues."
The Foundation's deputy director, Erik Möller, denied the Foundation had made a particular model a precondition for Wikimedia Deutschland's participation in the upcoming fundraising. He described the relationship between the Foundation and Wikimedia Germany as "excellent" and said that the WMF regards the chapter as "a model for professional organization and development of projects to support free knowledge", highlighting the Bundesarchiv image donation (see Signpost coverage) as "one of the most important developments in the Wikimedia universe in the last two years", and WM DE developer Daniel Kinzler's "WikiPics" project as "one of the most innovative ideas to make media files accessible".
Study on controversial content concludes: Part Three of the 2010 Wikimedia Study of Controversial Contenthas been released (see also last week's Signpost story on Part Two). The third part contains remarks about the relationship of the Wikimedia projects to children and their parents, about images that are considered "sacred" by a religious group, and about the conflicts inherent in Wikimedia Commons' "dual mission": as a resource for other Wikimedia projects, and as a general source of educational material. The third part concludes the three-month review, compiled by consultants Robert Harris and Dory Carr-Harris. All three parts of the study will be presented to the Board of Trustees at their next meeting on October 8.
Wikimedia Sweden Chapter Report: The chapter report for Wikimedia Sweden covers a major book fair, from which more than 300 pictures of prominent writers were produced, the publishing by the Nordic Africa Institute of 65 author biographies under a CC-BY-SA combination license (see separate announcement), an August photo hunt in Scania that has resulted in 193 images (four of them promoted to "quality" images), a board meeting, the passing of the 250,000-article mark by the Finnish Wikipedia, and of the 500-article mark by the Romani Wikipedia (both languages are spoken in Sweden).
Instructional screencasts: The Wikimedia Foundation is developing resources for the creation of instructional screencasts, as part of its Bookshelf Project to create outreach material for new Wikimedians. The goal is to enable Wikipedians to create screencast tutorials on various aspects of contributing and using Wikipedia. WikiProject Screencast has been created on the English Wikipedia, a Screencast Factory welcomes ideas and offers for collaboration, and a Screencast gallery has been set up. The screencast project was launched with a kickoff event (called "Screen sprint"), gathering around 12-15 volunteers in San Francisco on 25-27 September, resulting in video and wiki-based tutorials about creating screencasts.
Fellows develop wiki-historiography: The Wikimedia Foundation has announced the hiring of two new Community Fellows, Victoria Doronina (ru:User:Mstislavl, who gave an an overview talk on the Russian Wikipedia at this year's Wikimania) and Maryana Pinchuk, both of whom had applied through the "Community hiring" program (see earlier Signpost coverage). Their eight-week project is to develop methods for writing histories of Wikimedia projects, with the objective of experimenting "in several directions toward developing a more in-depth plan for writing the histories of particular Wikipedias." In his announcement, the Foundations Chief Community Officer Zack Exley explained that novel methods are needed because wiki-based projects "are the complex, somewhat chaotic product of anonymous contributors and prolific, highly public online figures alike". According to Exley, earlier attempts to study Wikimedia history "have tended to focus on the English Wikipedia as their primary model, neglecting the individual historical evolution of other projects and the contextualization of all Wikimedia communities within a real-life geopolitical space."
Preliminary data on article feedback: Preliminary data for the Article feedback tool trial has been published. Part of a set of changes tested by the Public Policy Initiative, the tool allows passing readers to rate an article on linear scales based on its sourcing, neutrality, completeness, and readability, and was deployed on many WikiProject United States Policy pages (see earlier Signpost story). The data analysis is of the tool's first week, drawing from around 1,470 ratings on 289 articles. An interesting early result is that ratings by registered users appear to be significantly lower than those by anonymous users (especially regarding sourcing and completeness), suggesting that experienced Wikipedians might on the average be "tougher" on articles than casual readers.