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The 2002 Spanish fork and ads revisited; Wikipedia still failing to fail; brief news

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By Tilman Bayer, Ohconfucius and Strange Passerby

Concerns about ads, US bias and Larry Sanger caused the 2002 Spanish fork

A recent interview has shed new light on the 2002 fork of the Spanish Wikipedia and the influence it may have had on the development of Wikipedia as a whole, and ignited a controversy between Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales about the stance on advertising in the early phase of the project.

Edgar Enyedy, an early activist on the Spanish Wikipedia who describes himself as "some sort of unofficial leader together with Javier de la Cueva" of the fork Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español, was interviewed by Nathaniel Tkacz of the "Critical Point of View" (CPOV) Wikipedia research initiative, on whose blog the interview was first published on January 15 ("‘Good luck with your WikiPAIDia’: Reflections on the 2002 Fork of the Spanish Wikipedia". See also the recent Signpost interview with Tkacz and fellow CPOV member Johanna Niesyto).

Concerns about possible plans to use advertising on Wikipedia are often named as the main reason for the fork. Enyedy confirmed that remarks about ads in a February 2002 announcement by Larry Sanger triggered the exodus of the Spanish Wikipedians ("Bomis might well start selling ads on Wikipedia sometime within the next few months, and revenue from those ads might make it possible for me to come back to my old job"), but insisted that several other issues played an important role, including concerns about the insufficiently international nature of Wikipedia - an "American shadow [that] marked the first point of contention between myself and Sanger and Wales." As examples, he named the fact that "the basic pages ('what Wikipedia is not', 'be bold', 'how to start', 'sandbox', etc) were all in English; we had the American logo in English and so on", but also referred to issues that are in some form still relevant today, such as the internationalization of the interface: "The software, for example, was not translated at all and it cast an English (language) shadow over the entire project", and cultural differences between Europe and the US regarding sexual images ("Former AOL users used to remind me that explicit biology images are widely accepted among us, but would be considered inappropriate on the American version"). The Spanish Wikipedians also differed from their English counterpart by introducing a stylebook, and an index based on the Universal Decimal Classification.

A main reason for the fork was objections to the leadership of Wikipedia's chief organizer Larry Sanger:

Also contributing to the decision to fork was a distrust of Jimmy Wales' intentions, who to Enyedy seemed reluctant to steer Wikipedia into a non-profit direction.

Asked by Tkacz how the right to fork (granted in principle by the Wikipedia's free license) looked in detail in this case, Enyedy said that the activists had to download and transfer the articles one by one. (The accessibility of timely Wikipedia dumps continues to be a point of debate today.)

Enyedy said that the Enciclopedia Libre, while still active today, "was not intended to last. It was merely a form of pressure. Some of the goals were achieved, not all of them, but it was worth the cost", and emphasized its continuing influence:

According to Tkacz, Enyedy said "that he has been approached several times a year since 2002, but has never shared his story because the people contacting him were either mainstream journalists or people from wikimedia and he wasn't convinced they would let him tell his version of the story".

The abstract of a talk about the fork given at Wikimania 2005 also mentions issues that led to its creation.

Reactions by Wales and Sanger

On January 20, Wired UK published an abbreviated version of the interview ("The Spanish Fork: Wikipedia's ad-fuelled mutiny"), which included reactions by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.

Sanger objected sharply to Enyedy's statements, saying that "the only sort of person who could seriously describe my role as an Orwellian "Big Brother" is a radical anarchist, for whom even the slightest possible exercise of authority is outrageous oppression. To be sure, Wikipedia had quite a few of such vocal characters in its early days. The story has not yet been fully told just how they essentially took over with the blessing of Jimmy Wales". But Sanger agreed that the fork "might well have been the straw that finally tipped the scales in favor of a 100% ad-free Wikipedia."

Jimmy Wales issued a much shorter statement:

Sanger objected even more sharply to Wales' statement, questioning the veracity of the first sentence, first on Twitter ("He was long in favor; I long opposed. Apologize, pls!"), then on his personal blog, recalling or citing various statements by Wales about ads from 2000 to 2002 ("From the beginning, Wales let me know in no uncertain terms that, once it garnered enough traffic, Nupedia would become ad-supported"). Sanger said that in December 2001 (when all other Bomis employees had to be laid off and his own position appeared to hinge on possible advertising revenue), he "was still uncomfortable with the idea of ads being run to support me, even in a non-profit context". The discussion then continued on Jimmy Wales' user talk page, where Wales said that "I don't see what the discrepancy is supposed to be", and Sanger accused him of lying.

Five-year bet about Wikipedia's failure concludes: "My prediction is wrong"

In December 2005, US law professor Eric Goldman (User:Ericgoldman) bet his friend Mike Godwin (later to become Wikimedia's General Counsel) that within five years "Wikipedia inevitably will be overtaken by the gamers and the marketers to the point where it will lose all credibility", if it would not give up its open editing model. ("Wikipedia Will Fail Within 5 Years", Eric Goldman's blog). Godwin predicted that anonymous editing would still be possible, even though "I think part of the design of Wikipedia was to allow for the evolution of contributor standards, even though as a 'foundational' principle anonymous contributors will always be allowed to edit it. Such evolution ought to be enough to keep Wikipedia alive and vital in the face of a changing digital environment." ("Will Wikipedia Fail in Five Years?", In 2006, Goldman reiterated his prediction for 2010 (Signpost coverage).

The bet was to be decided on December 2, 2010. On January 14, Goldman revisited the bet on his blog, admitting that "My 2005 Prediction of Wikipedia's Failure By 2010 Was Wrong". He identified the introduction of Nofollow on Wikipedia and anti-spam techniques developed by volunteers as the main reasons that Wikipedia is still able to resist spammers and marketers, but also noted other changes that he sees as "less salutary". While remaining somewhat skeptical about the sustainability of Wikipedia's model (citing his 2009 article "Wikipedia's Labor Squeeze and its Consequences", cf. Signpost coverage), Goldman (who is also a participant in the Foundation's Public Policy Initiative) praised the usefulness of the site: "I visit it daily as part of satisfying my intellectual curiosity. Happy 10th anniversary, Wikipedia!"

In a recent blog post ("Wikipedia is not a place for promotion"), Wikipedia researcher Felipe Ortega (whose statistics on Wikipedia editing frequencies had started debates about Wikipedia's sustainability in 2009) voiced concerns similar to Goldman's, identifying "conflicts around self-promotion in Wikipedia" as one of the "main challenges for Wikipedia over the next 10 years".


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This is is the most interesting In the news is a long while. Nice write up of the Spanish fork issue! - BanyanTree 01:20, 25 January 2011 (UTC)[reply]

  • Not sure on that Imperial College thing. What was that Oxford University notice about? Simply south...... 02:21, 25 January 2011 (UTC)[reply]

The celebrity referred to by the New Zealand Herald is Martin Devlin, and submissions identifying him were rejected not directly due to the New Zealand suppression order, which has no jurisdiction over Wikipedia, but because no reputable news source could publish his name. Shortly after the Herald article, Devlin identified himself and so a reliable source became available for the Wikipedia article.-gadfium 04:07, 25 January 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Spanish WP fork

Link to the removed discussion. --Elitre (talk) 11:30, 25 January 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Interesting discussion. Until I read the interview, I had thought what caused the Spanish fork (based on what was written or said circa 2003) was that Jimmy Wales had proposed for discussion that Wikipedia be funded by advertising; once the Spanish group bolted, supporting Wikipedia by advertising was declared an unacceptable option -- not that there ever was any serious support for the idea. Sanger's role, or even if he was around when the idea was voiced, was not mentioned. But then circa 2003, Sanger was something of an unperson. -- llywrch (talk) 06:39, 28 January 2011 (UTC)[reply]


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