2010 was Wikipedia's tenth year, and the seventh year for the Wikimedia Foundation. In the tradition of previous Signpost annual summaries, we are presenting a review of the past year.
Growth and statistics
2010 has been a period of significant growth for the Wikimedia Foundation and its projects. On 16 April, the Wikimedia projects as a whole achieved the one-billionth edit, as measured by the edit counter (although which edit exactly was the billionth remains unclear).
Several of the Foundation's largest projects have achieved major milestones this year. The first was in January, with the upload of the six-millionth file on Commons. The image, "Sailing on Ullswater", was part of a mass upload from Geograph, a website containing at the time 1.5 million and now nearly two million licensed images of the British Isles. In a continuation of its explosive growth, Commons surpassed seven million files (albeit quietly), and ended the year with a bang by surpassing eight million files on December 30.
This year also saw an increasing degree of organization and improvements by the Foundation itself. At a board meeting in April, the Wikimedia Foundation laid out a preliminary five-year plan, developed by the Strategy Project to allow the Foundation to better lead its projects through 2010–15. The initiative had originally materialized in July 2009, setting up a wiki to invite community involvement, and by August 2010 had attracted "close to 900 proposals, 14 task forces, a repository for statistics gathered for the process, and a specialized community to discuss and influence the direction of all Wikimedia projects." By the end of the year, the final version of the 2010–2015 plan appears not to have been fully approved yet by the Board, but in its October meeting it already adopted the plan's summary targets.
These include a focus on the "Global South", which began to materialize with the Foundation's activities in India during the second half of the year, where it plans to open its first ever office outside the US. These plans and various visits by senior Foundation staff (including Barry Newstead, Erik Möller and Danese Cooper) generated prolonged attention by Indian media. In an interview with Mediaweek, Jimbo Wales praised the success of Indian-language Wikipedias; some 20 of these Wikipedias saw "a lot of success" in their recent endeavors, and Wales described them as a model of successful foreign-language growth.
Describing the planned developmental growth, Foundation chief Sue Gardner has indicated she plans to hire as many as 200 new full-time employees by 2015, with annual spending "reaching $40 million." Indeed, the 2010 end-of-the-year fundraiser was the biggest in Wikimedia history, with a fundraising goal of $16 million. This compares with a goal of $50,000 in 2004, 1/320th of the current figure. The 2010 fundraiser, which started on 15 November and is in its closing stages, involved heavy technical and logistical planning and achieved its $16 million goal by the end of 2010. It emphasized community involvement and data-based decisions, as exemplified by an (unsuccessful) "Beat Jimmy" challenge for Wikimedians to create banners that would perform better than the personal appeals by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales that had been most successful in previous years. Also departing from earlier fundraisers, it relied heavily on graphical banners, which may have contributed to adverse reactions and many parodies based on Wales' "creepy" persona. By December, the Fundraiser had moved to editor appeals featuring prominent Wikimedians.
Staff and Board changes
The Wikimedia Foundation went through several major staff changes this year.
After the hiring of Danese Cooper as Chief Technology Officer at the beginning of the year (see below), in June the hiring of two other chief officers was announced: Barry Newstead became Chief Global Development Officer, while various parts of the staff were regrouped to form the new "Community Department" under the incoming new Chief Community Officer Zack Exley, soon followed by the announcement of the departure of fundraising team members Rand Montoya and Anya Shyrokova, and of Volunteer Coordinator Cary Bass. On the other hand, various new staff members joined the Department, which also put out an experimental hiring call to community members, which resulted in almost 2000 submissions by September, the hiring of several Wikimedians as "Community associates" mainly for the fundraiser, and the start of the "Community Fellowship program", enabling volunteers to work full-time for a limited period "on solving and researching community problems".
In September, the hiring of Cyn Skyberg as the Foundation's first ever Chief Talent and Culture Officer (formerly described as Chief Human Resources Officer) was announced, thus filling the last open C-level position.
October marked the departure of the Foundation's legal counsel, Mike Godwin. Godwin had handled day-to-day legal issues in the Foundation since 2007, most recently an allegation by the FBI regarding the use of their seal. His feisty response earned him commendations from The New York Times and others, and silence from the FBI. The reason for his departure was not explained, but was noted as "personal." Sue Gardner, Kat Walsh, and other Wikimedians extended their thanks for his service, and the search is currently on for a replacement.
In July, several changes to the Board of Trustees were announced, primarily as a result of the chapter selection of Board members. The process was internal, with the chapters deliberating on nine candidates for the two seats, of whom several withdrew before the process was completed. The largest change was the departure of Michael Snow, Chair of the Board (and founder of The Signpost); noting his contributions, new Chair Ting Chen said he "has been a loyal and devoted leader in the Wikimedia movement."
In May, the Foundation announced its Public Policy Initiative, a 17-month pilot project for which preparations began at the end of 2009 and which is funded by an $1.2 million grant from the Stanton Foundation. In its first stages, it involved students of the subject of public policy at several US universities improving Wikipedia content as part of their coursework, aided by "Wikipedia ambassadors", a concept that is set to grow beyond the Foundation-led pilot project to a community-run program extending to other subject areas and countries. The Initiative also experiments with new ways of assessing article quality, including use of the new article feedback tool. It generated prolonged coverage by media, including major newspapers (example) and student newspapers (examples).
Another pioneering project concluded after three years: The "Nawaro" project, funded by the German government, achieved its goal of improving coverage of the subject area of renewable resources on the German Wikipedia, but mostly by getting existing Wikipedians interested in the subject and editing articles directly – the second goal of recruiting external experts as sustained contributors was largely missed.
The long-standing debates on the upload and use of potentially offensive images – especially those of a sexual nature – escalated in several events. In March, the German Wikipedia's main page showed an explicit image illustrating the day's featured article on the vulva, despite protests by Jimmy Wales. In April, Larry Sanger (known for his role in starting Wikipedia until 2002) announced he had reported the Wikimedia Foundation to the FBI and to his political representatives, alleging it might be hosting "child pornography" (a wording he later modified) in two categories on Commons. None of the images in question (mainly historical drawings) appear to have been removed from Commons after his allegations, which were rejected by Wikimedia's legal counsel Mike Godwin, and no reactions from the FBI are known. However, Sanger's accusations were given prominence by an article on FoxNews.com, which also added allegations against the Foundation's Deputy Director, Erik Möller, and was strongly refuted by Möller and the Foundation – its Communications department spent "much of late April" on the issue. In early May, Jimmy Wales advocated removing "all images that are of little or no educational value but which appeal solely to prurient interests" from Commons, but many of the deletions he and other admins carried out met with strong opposition, leading to a reduction of the extended editing privileges attached to Wales' "Founder" user status; this change in his privileges was widely reported (often in exaggerated form) by the media. Wales justified his deletions afterwards by stating that "we were about to be smeared in all media as hosting hardcore pornography and doing nothing about it", and the writer of the Fox News article, Jana Winter, claimed the deletions were done "in response to reporting by FoxNews.com" and its inquiries to Wikimedia donors. During May, Fox published four of Winter's articles on the subject, and followed up in June with an article on pedophiles and Wikipedia that led Wales to suggest that Winter "should be fired from her job. The story is idiotic nonsense from top to bottom." Also in June (after a resolution by the Board), the Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director Sue Gardner contracted an external consultant, Robert Harris, to conduct a study on the issue of potentially objectionable material on Wikimedia projects. Its recommendations were finished in time for the October board meeting, but not immediately adopted, with the Board forming a workgroup instead. Both Gardner and Ting Chen, the current Chair of the Foundation, have identified the issue as an important example regarding leadership and change at Wikimedia. In December, a poll on Commons failed to gain consensus to promote Commons:Sexual content to a policy.
Development work for a project like MediaWiki (which forms the basis for running the Wikimedia sites) is inevitably divided between big, obvious projects and those developments end-users never get to see (for example, bug-fixing and work on stable releases of the software for other sites to use). Undoubtedly the biggest development of the year was the roll-out (over several months) of the Vector skin as the default on all the many hundreds of Wikimedia wikis, concluding the initial phase of the WMF's Usability Initiative, begun in 2009 and funded by a $890,000 grant from the Stanton Foundation. Although, perhaps unsurprisingly, not all established editors preferred the new theme (and there was criticism of the way it was "imposed" on projects), in general it was well received. It is still a work in progress. It remains to be seen whether this first overhaul of the look of the site in most of Wikipedia's 10-year history can contribute to halting the long-term decline in the number of active Wikipedians.
Another high-profile case for the Wikimedia Tech team in 2010 was implementing the English Wikipedia's plans for a system of flagged protection and patrolled revisions, or, as it became known, "Pending changes". The development of this modified form of the system developed for other language Wikipedias was finishedahead of the prescribed two-month trial started in June. The interpretation of its results involved considerable debate. As an outcome, an update for the software was released in November, and discussion over its use is ongoing. Among the disappointments of the year, for some at least, is that the LiquidThreads extension, designed to make talk pages more user-friendly, has not yet been completed to a point where it can be released to Wikimedia sites on a large scale. According to the Foundation's November 2010 update, part of the problem was staff unavailability, which is set to be resolved in the new year with more hirings.
As one of the main outcomes of the Multimedia Usability project (a one-year project funded by a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation), Wikimedia Commons launched a prototype new upload wizard (and with it, the infrastructure for allowing uploads to be held in a non-public state while associated issues are fixed). A new Resource Loader to speed up page load times is slated for imminent release at time of writing. An increase in the default thumbnail image size (from 180px to 220px) was rolled out, first at Commons in April, then at the English Wikipedia, and over the next few months at all of the other WMF projects.
Among other Chief-level hirings at the WMF, Danese Cooper was named as the new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the beginning of the year, becoming – in rough terms – one half of the replacement for Brion Vibber, who was both CTO and Senior Software Architect. In December, she was joined by the new Director of Technical Operations, CT Woo. Other hirings included Zak Greant, a technology writer, to help with documentation issues. A full list of outstanding WMF projects, as of December 2010, is also available. The exact role the Foundation should play in driving development of the open-source MediaWiki software, which serves a number of big sites other than Wikimedia wikis, was one of the key issues of contention during 2010, with many observing a riftdeveloping between staff and volunteer developers. By allocating more resources to code review, the Foundation made progress with the backlog of unreviewed revisions, but the new position of "Bugmeister", intended to resolve the much-lamented problem of difficult bug reports and feature requests sometimes languishing for years, appears not to have been filled yet, even though the hire had been intended to be made during October. On a more positive note, 2010 may also be remembered as the year Wikimedians discussed how to best help rival Citizendium with its apparently excessive hosting costs, and as the year the very earliest revisions of the English Wikipedia were finally recovered.
In the news
The enormous amount of public attention for WikiLeaks had a considerable effect on Wikimedia and Wikipedia this year.
Since the whistleblowing site's founding four years ago, modeled after Wikipedia at the time, there have been some interactions between the two sites, including confusion in the media, but starting this summer Jimmy Wales and Sue Gardner reported that they needed to explain more often that they were not involved with WikiLeaks. With the release of US diplomatic cables from the end of November, negative effects became tangible (including the departure of the German chapter's treasurer, citing problems for his real-life job), and even the French president confused Wikipedia and WikiLeaks.
As in earlier years, the media covered various hoaxes and errors in Wikipedia articles, such as an article on the French Wikipedia about a supposed traveller, scholar and shipowner born in 1767 in La Rochelle, an article which fooled a prominent politician; also, tourists in La Rochelle were offered guided tours named after the nonexistent local hero.
Wikipedia's policy on spoilers found notable public critics in August, when The Independentkicked up a storm about the Wikipedia article on Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap. Christie's grandson said it was "unfortunate" that the article revealed the identity of the play's murderer, which the audience is asked not to reveal to anyone else.
In October, reports emerged of a 42-year-old Kenyan man, Gabriel Nderitu, who had built in his front yard a full-size aircraft he designed himself based, as he said, on Wikipedia as his principal source of information.
Requests for adminship
This year, Requests for Adminship saw a total of only 75 promotions to adminship, compared with 117 promotions in 2009 and 201 promotions in 2008. The number of nominations has dropped drastically; in 2009, a total of 351 Wikipedians requested adminship, while this year, only 227 Wikipedians did so. December 2010 has been the first month since Requests for Adminship began in which there was only one promotion. In a statistical analysis in August, WereSpielChequers also saw a "wikigeneration gulf emerging": "Over 90% of our admins first edited more than three and a half years ago." In recent months, many users have raised concerns at the talk page about the decline of the RfA system and the tightening of RfA standards.
Not all see it in such terms, however. "Areas generally considered urgent (CSD, AfD, Unblock requests, AIV) ... have not been experiencing significant backlogs recently, even though it is a very busy time of year for many, so I think we can all relax secure in the knowledge that ... the project is not going to collapse from lack of administration", wrote Beeblebrox. Iridescent added that "the number of active editors has fallen 10% over the last 12 months. It's entirely to be expected that the number of active admins would also fall by 10%."