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Fundraisers start for Wikipedia and Citizendium; controversial content and leadership

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By Resident Mario and Tilman Bayer

Unofficial "technical testing" start of fundraiser already breaks donation records

See last week's Signpost for a full background report on the annual fundraiser: "November 15 launch, emphasis on banner optimization and community involvement"

A screenshot of one of the fundraising banners featuring Jimmy Wales (as used during testing last month)

Despite being labeled as mere "technical testing" (see also this week's Tech report) before the official launch on November 15, the initial days of the Wikimedia fundraiser since November 12 have already seen a new record for the most revenue on a single day, with $517,938.57 coming in from 18,246 donations on Saturday 13th.

The fundraising "SM [social media] team" collected numerous supportive messages from donors on Twitter on their WikiContribute feed. On the other hand, it appears that the increased use of graphical banners featuring a personal appeal from Jimmy Wales (which had proven to be the most effective during testing, to the point that at least initially none of the community-submitted text banners will be used) was found too intrusive by many readers – staff member Deniz Gultekin acknowledged that "the banners are big, but they are effective", while SM team volunteer fetchcomms reported "seeing a lot of ... 'no-Jimmy-appeals-please' sentiment on Twitter" and pointed out that feedback was welcome on the design of other, upcoming graphic banners. Some readers reacted humorously to finding Wales looking at them from the top of Wikipedia pages, one juxtaposing a banner with the article Scopophobia, another interpreting a banner as "Jimmy Wales, Undead Scourge of Wikipedia".

For logged-in users on the English Wikipedia and Commons, a gadget to suppress the display of the fundraiser banner is available under Special:Preferences.

Liam Wyatt (User:Witty lama) has posted several photos from his visit to the Foundation's offices in San Francisco last week, some of them showing the fundraising team at work during the first day. The fundraiser was officially announced in a November 14 blog post by the Foundation's Community Department ("2010 Contribution Campaign launched") and a November 15 press release from its Global Development Department ("Seventh Annual Campaign to Support Wikipedia Kicks Off").

Ten-foot lifeline for Citizendium?

Following the discovery of Citizendium's dire financial situation by its newly appointed "Management Council" (see last week's Signpost: "Citizendium's finances running low"), the possibility of the Wikimedia Foundation throwing the wiki a lifeline has been brought up on the Foundation's mailing list. User:Geni suggested that the Foundation provide temporary support to Citizendium, in the form of "[an] offer to host Citizendium on our servers at no cost for a period of 1 (one) year offering a level of support equivalent to our smaller projects." Citizendium, which aims to become "the world's most trusted encyclopedia and knowledge base," was created in 2006 by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, and went public on March 25, 2007. More recently, Sanger has been involved in several controversial conflicts with the Wikimedia Foundation, most notably accusing Commons of "knowingly distributing child pornography". Following his planned resignation from his post as editor-in-chief, the project's new leadership discovered and published details about its financial situation, most detailedly in a November 12 "Message to the Citizendium Community", which among other expenses noted Internet hosting costs including $750/month for servers "with significantly more processing power than we need", and expressed the intention "to move to a more reasonably provisioned configuration."

On Foundation-l, the proposal has been garnering some opposition but also tentative to enthusiastic support, assuming that the Foundation has the technical capacities; one editor offers his advice: "In business I have found that the most successful companies are those that reach out, build relationships with, and where possible help others that are compatible."

On the Citizendium forums, the new Managing Editor (who happens to be a member of the Wikimedia Foundation's Research Committee) noted the suggestion with caution: "I think we should be attentive to that discussion, while continuing to explore other options". The Chief Constable added that "regardless of whether we have financial issues, having a healthy relationship with wikipedia is a good thing", to which other members of the Management and Editorial Councils agreed, one of them saying that "the antagonism that has been occasionally voiced is very strange to me". A tech staff member cautioned not to "get too excited about this": "Having briefly worked with some of the WMF people responsible for their systems, I think the probability of them allowing CZ to run our modified [ MediaWiki ] code on their systems is pretty low (near zero). They have too many problems of their own to take on ours". And in a comment to the Signpost on Twitter, Larry Sanger rejected the idea outright – "we aren't THAT desperate", later clarifying that he was speaking only for himself, but that "I wouldn't touch [Wikipedia]'s nest of vipers with a ten-foot pole".

In the meantime, Citizendium gained some breathing space through an internal fundraising drive that was started on November 10 ("We are in urgent and serious need of funds to pay for hosting our servers"). The drive, though hampered by the lack of an incorporated entity (donations have to be collected on the private account of a member of the Management Council and are not tax-deductible), collected $1,882 from 22 donors by November 14, among them Sanger with $250.

Controversial content and Wikimedia leadership

Sue Gardner in September 2010
Ting Chen (Wing) in 2009

At the Board of Trustees meeting last month, the study on controversial content was presented and discussed, but its recommendations (Signpost coverage) were not immediately adopted, with the Board forming a workgroup instead.

The minutes for the meeting haven't been published yet, but Board member Phoebe Ayers posted an update last week, summarizing the three hours of the meeting that had been devoted to the topic, laying out further steps and inviting more community participation regarding the recommendations, e.g. by summarizing earlier discussions. On the same day, the Foundation's Executive Director Sue Gardner published a posting on her personal blog that started out from the same issue (noting that "we’re the only major site that doesn’t treat controversial material –e.g., sexually-explicit imagery, violent imagery, culturally offensive imagery– differently from everything else") and went on to identify "nine patterns that work" in making change at Wikimedia (the first pattern being "The person/people leading the change didn’t wait for it to happen naturally – they stepped up and took responsibility for making it happen"). She based these on an examination of three earlier cases of "successful change at Wikimedia": the Board's statement on BLPs in 2009, the Foundation's strategy project, and the license migration concluded in 2009.

These three examples, along with the controversial content study and the usability project, had already been mentioned some days earlier by Ting Chen, the Foundation's Chair, in a blog post titled "'Leadership is ...", where he saw them as reactions to changes both in the Wikimedia projects themselves and in the outside world, such as that "almost all governments, western free ones as more restrictive ones, are changing their laissez faire politic to the Internet and imposing more rigid policies for the web". He interpreted the controversial content discussion as "a result of our strategic planning (development and adaption in the nonwestern cultures) and the response of the changes in public policy and in our responsibility".

The posting was the first of several ones that Ting Chen wrote on occasion of attending a four-day intensive course at the Harvard Business School on "Governing for Nonprofit Excellence - Critical Issues for Board Leadership". The others were titled "Vision, Mission, Strategy" (interpreting the controversial content discussion in terms of the Foundation's mission statement), "Theory of Change" (considering various measures of change and success in the case of Wikimedia), and "Scale Up" (concluding that "the course was a good investment for the Foundation" – according to the HBS website, the course fee is $3,900).


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  • Let Citizendium hang. Honestly, while Jimbo wasn't ideal in his behavior towards Larry, Larry has outright attempted to sink Wikipedia, and shamelessly promoted his project it its place, among other highly unethical actions. From a purely market perspective, if Citizendium cannot support itself, it doesn't deserve to exist. Harsh, but that's how a competitive market works. If Wikipedia has 99% of the market share, and therefore 99% of the funding, it has no obligation to bail out the competitor that has the other 1%, with Wikipedia funding, at no cost ever to Citizendium, especially if Citizendium plays dirty. Let Citizendium hang. Sven Manguard Talk 06:32, 16 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
Information is NOT just a product like you treat it in economics. If Citizendium has ways to create free information in a way that is more effective and leads to higher quality than Wikipedia (and it probably does), we have the moral obligation to rescue it. The fight between our founders should have nothing to do with this. We are not talking about a hostile take-over here, but about a way to reach/accomplish our own values, goals and policies. Woodwalkertalk 08:22, 16 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
I'm not impressed by Citizendium, which disappoints me because I initially favored their methods. However, in practice I've found the articles there are often worse than the ones here. For example, if you compare our George III to theirs, ours is better. I see no provable increase in quality as a result of their editing model. DrKiernan (talk) 10:46, 16 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
I'd like to see some hard data before extending a hand or sitting back and laughing. What would it actually cost us to host them? If nothing else, I think the goodwill alone might help with the brain drain we've been suffering lately. bahamut0013wordsdeeds 12:50, 16 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
Citizendium was a great idea a few years ago but it really just has not panned out. It needed a lot more promotion to be able to work. It's basically a dead site that nobody uses (and why would they, their articles are a joke). Having a fund drive for it is like having a funds drive for Montgomery Ward. They also have pretty much the ugliest website ever. I can't stand reading their articles because the layout is so hideous. - Burpelson AFB 13:55, 16 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
They designed their site so it would be the anti-wikipedia. They even went so far as to using PostgreSQL rather than MySQL for their database. I agree with you on their design. It's a hideous cluttered layout. Sanger shouldn't take all the blame for this though - it was a group decision by the few individuals remaining over there to do it. Czobserver (talk) 07:56, 17 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
It is way too early to write off Citizendium, but it would be far better for the Foundation to pay for three to five years of its very meager expenses than it would be to try to merge projects so different and between which there is so much obvious animosity. The way this years Jimbo-stare-fest fundraiser is going so well, it's easily affordable. Ginger Conspiracy (talk) 16:20, 16 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]

There's noting wrong with us helping Citizendium in principle, however I see trouble in the future if the assistance was ever withdrawn "WP finishes off CZ" and they have not much that we don't in terms of approved content (see Wikipedia:WikiProject Citizendium Porting), and significant problems with special interest groups owning articles last I looked. Also about 1/3 of their approved articles are by one editor who is no longer active in either project. If they simply cut their hosting costs to what is needed they should be able to keep going more or less indefinitely. Rich Farmbrough, 17:21, 16 November 2010 (UTC).[reply]

There's nothing wrong with Citizendium in principle. It's an attempt to fix a major problem on Wikipedia, which is the gap between the quality of different articles. Look at Volcano as compared to Tropical cyclone, for instance. There's an obvious gap in quality there. Most Wikipedia articles are either patchwork efforts that don't stand out in quality or well-written, singular efforts. Individual editors and groups make large dents in their chosen areas, but overall with the rapidly increasing number of articles, quality simply cannot keep up; try playing with Special:Random, for instance, to see what I mean. The average quality of Wikipedia is, sorry to say, very low.

However, in practice, it's a disaster. For the one part, the project tries to directly compete with Wikipedia, and given our great size, that's very difficult (Google's Knol does a better job circumnavigating us, by purposely avoiding being a set-and-stack encyclopedia). Secondly, it attempts to fix the quality problem by forcing the writership to conform to professional standards. They will, but at a great cost—experienced writers without degrees in a particular subject, like me, cannot hope to achieve much there, but can on Wikipedia. Third, the project was and continues to be (intellectually) led by that character, Larry Sanger. Comments along the lines of "won't touch with a ten-foot pole" and "We're not that desperate" don't help his case, and neither does trying to storm down Wikipedia with such acts as the FBI scene and the whole escapade on Jimbo's talk page a while back.

So, I'd say that if we have the techs to do this easily, then if we can get Sanger to get out of his aggressive mentality, then why not. Sorry for the editorial, but I had to put my opinion out on, er, e-paper. ResMar 22:08, 16 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]

  • I'd be against helping out Citizendium - hell, if Sanger can only give his baby $250 (I'm sure he's got a hell of a lot more than that in his bank available for him to give), then why should we help them? They need $9000 a year for their hosting? Well, going by the figures above, then they should be able to get the money to keep going from donations. If they can't, sorry, that's the way the world works - the only way I could see it getting help from the WMF was for it to become a WMF project, and no way will Sanger allow that! I see no real advantage in helping them, and plenty of reasons for not doing so -- PhantomSteve/talk|contribs\ 23:15, 16 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
As noted on the CZ forums, Wikipedia is already supporting Citizendium in another way, by being "the number 1 site linking to CZ" (according to Alexa). And this is an important way of helping them, because Citizendium is not only lacking contributors and money, but also inbound links.
My personal view, which I advocated in a talk at last year's Wikimania, is that exactly because of their different approach, Citizendium has great value for Wikipedia, as a long-term experiment testing several fundamental policy changes in the real world (things that thousands of people have been discussing over and over without actually trying them out, like introducing stable expert-approved versions of articles). A value that would easily justify a Foundation grant over a few thousand dollars. However, as I hope the Signpost article has indicated, that hosting suggestion wasn't much more than an idea, with important details not yet being thought through.
Regards, HaeB (talk) 13:22, 19 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
Wikipedia's David Gerard has apparently been banned indefinitely from citizendium after criticising one of its members. One assumes it was Larry Sanger. See here. Czobserver (talk) 06:49, 20 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
It wasn't. See [1].—Thomas Larsen 07:44, 20 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, I've been banned from a project I last made an edit to nearly three years ago. Well, I guess that'll tell me what-for. Not to mention its valuable signaling power to properly dissuade others from writing about CZ on RationalWiki and give Citizens confidence their constabulary are doing useful things and that their money is being spent wisely - David Gerard (talk) 12:54, 20 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]
Just set up (as Thomas Larsen notes): RationalWiki:What is going on at Citizendium? And discussion - David Gerard (talk) 12:54, 20 November 2010 (UTC)[reply]


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