Executive Director's travel report: enlightenment in Dubai and meditation in India
Sue Gardner has published an "Executive director trip report: Stockholm, London, Dubai, Delhi", describing her activities and personal impressions while travelling to these cities on Wikimedia-related business from November 20 to December 6, and also including a subsequent three-week vacation with a 10-day silent meditation retreat organized by the Indian Dhamma Institute ("the McDonald’s of Buddhist meditation retreats"), her first extended holiday since being hired by the Foundation in 2007. "I chose to vacation to India because it’s a strategic priority for the Wikimedia Foundation, and I wanted to get a little more exposure to the country and its people."
In Stockholm, Gardner gave the keynote at the Swedish chapter's "Wikipedia Academy" and in London at the GLAM-WIKI conference (Signpost coverage). In Dubai she was a speaker at the local TEDx event, and as in the other cities, met with local Wikipedians, which meant their first-ever meetup (Signpost coverage). Gardner remarked that she found it "always interesting to get a sense of how Wikipedia is being received/understood in different parts of the world", e.g. "Wikipedia has always seemed to me best-loved and most-accepted in Germany", comparing media attitudes toward Wikipedia in particular (with UK journalists being the least friendly). She related an observation from her talk in the United Arab Emirates (a region which had been considered for a possible expansion of the Wikimedia Foundation, after India):
I gave my standard talk, in which I describe how Wikipedia works and talk about its impact, including giving examples of readers whose lives have been significantly changed by access to Wikipedia. ... [These include] references to an Israeli Wikipedian and a gay Wikipedian. I’d considered using different examples for the UAE audience, but decided not to. The audience reaction was interesting: there was a small kerfluffle of about 30 tweets criticizing the talk as culturally insensitive (particularly the homosexuality reference), and afterwards people told me they found it ‘challenging,’ ‘brave’ and ‘provocative.’ I found this a bit dismaying, particularly because I’d chosen my words carefully to try to avoid offence. I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says Wikipedia’s an Enlightenment product that can’t thrive in non-Western cultures, but I’d say following my talk in Dubai, my view shifted just a notch or two closer to it.
Videos from the TEDx event are currently being uploaded, with Gardner's talk not yet available at the time of writing.
DMCA take-down notices
The Wikimedia Foundation acted on two separate DMCA take-down notifications this month, in both cases removing images from Commons where apparently an image creator or purported rights holder had withdrawn or amended a previous permission for usage. (DMCA takedown notices are legal procedures under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, whereby a copyright owner notifies an online service provider such as the WMF of an alleged infringement on its servers, and the provider can retain immunity from copyright violations committed by its users if they remove the allegedly infringing material promptly. Last year, the Foundation's former legal counsel Mike Godwinstated that "I typically get only one or two true take-down notices a year. I always thought I would get more, but our community is very good at removing infringing material before a copyright owner complains to us.")
The second DMCA notice was issued against the Wikimedia Foundation by classical music label Deutsche Grammophon, concerning an official portrait photo of the singer Placido Domingo. It appears to have been the same photo as one used by DG on the tenor's Facebook page, where it celebrated his 70th birthday on the day the undated take-down notice was enacted (January 21st). According to the image description page as still available in Google's cache, the photo had been uploaded "with permission from the company that owns and holds the rights for the photo", as documented in an OTRS ticket dated September 2008. However, in November 2009 the uploader already requested the removal of the image, saying it had been "received with written consent from Mr. Domingo's PR, who are also incharge of his website (www.placidodomingo.com). I have just received e-mail from his PR asking me to remove "File:DomingoJ1.jpg" from Wiki. It is a request from Sheila Rock. Could you please remove it as soon as possible? (I think partly because it is not entirely belong to Sheila Rock, the photo was taken for Deutshe Grammophon)".
As reported earlier ("New Wikimedia fellow to research sourcing problems in local languages"), Achal Prabhala recently became a "Wikimedia Foundation fellow" for a project to conduct field research in South Africa and India on how Wikipedias in local languages might deal with the lack of printed sources in many such languages. Since then, the brief announcement by Chief Community Officer Zack Exley was complemented by additional information about Prabhala's project and his previous Wikimedia-related work, in a discussion thread on Foundation-l which included postings by several senior Wikimedia people, and clarifications about Wikimedia fellowships in general.
WMF Deputy Director Erik Möllerexplained that (unlike previous fellowships announced by the Community Department) the project is being funded by a Wikimedia grant (of $21,500, approved on December 17) and will result in the creation of a video documentary:
In the same way that the usability videos showing the experiences of real users editing Wikipedia helped the community to have conversations about the editing interface, we hope that the film documentation that Achal will create will help the community have conversations about citations and sources, and offer practical approaches to deal with lack of published materials in many of the languages in which Wikipedia is available.
Exley and former Wikimedia chair Anthere (Florence Devouard) stressed that the Foundation's Advisory Board indeed has a purely advisory role and holds no powers within the organization, i.e. that there is no conflict of interest if an Advisory Board member is receiving a grant or being hired by Wikimedia (Prabhala had been an Advisory Board member since its inception and among the original members "has probably been the most active in the past years", according to Devouard). Likewise, to alleviate such concerns, Indian Board of Trustees member Bishaka Datta described the process that led to her appointment as a Trustee in March 2010, which involved interviews with five senior Wikimedians but not with Prabhala, who however mentored her and did "some serious handholding in the first three months" after her appointment. The Foundation's Chief Global Development Officer Barry Newstead also expressed his appreciation for Prabhala's help in launching Wikimedia in India, and other issues: "I, personally, have found him to be an excellent advisor and not someone who expects anything in return."
On January 27, The Hindu published a portrait of Prabhala ("One among the clan of Wikipedians"), where he described how he was introduced to Wikipedia by Angela Beesley and Erik Möller ("they looked like college students") in 2005 while working as an activist against restrictive copyright and for affordable school textbooks in South Africa, recalled "making nervous, anonymous edits to the entries of obscure sci-fi writers who I thought deserved more attention" and attending the first Wikimania in Germany. He said that after moving back to Bangalore, Wikipedians became one of the reasons for him to like the city (which has an active Wikipedian meetup and is the seat of the recently incorporated Wikimedia chapter): "... hundreds of encounters with Wikipedians later, I'm kind of excited about being home. I've been witness to some extraordinary, selfless, tireless and downright funny instances of community work, and I've seen people turn Wikipedia into something local and lovable."
About the fellowship program in general, Möller said that while it was being scaled up, "it would be good to have more open conversations about the criteria and process through which fellowships (but also Wikimedia Foundation grants) are awarded. ... I do think it's important to give the community more of a voice in both proposing and selecting individuals and projects, perhaps through some form of review committee which makes a preliminary recommendation, and which strongly interfaces with WMF to align the program with our strategic priorities." Newstead agreed that there was "room for improvement in our processes at WMF": "we have used the title of Fellowship for different types of activities e.g., hiring someone on a contract for general staff-like purposes, providing a grant to someone for a specific activity. We should figure out how to distinguish between these (and other roles) more clearly."
On the Foundation's wiki, a page about fellows was subsequently created. Human Resources Manager Daniel Phelps clarified that the "Community" in "Community fellow" was "a misnomer, Achal isn't specifically a Community fellow and as the fellowship program expands this will likely contain fellows from multiple departments" and said that unlike the other five fellows, Steven Walling "is on payroll and is set to work in the office during the duration of his fellowship as a staff member. We have to process each Fellowship currently based on several criteria as to how we engage with them. Much of this is based on HR [Human Resources] law." At the time of its introduction in September (Signpost coverage), the program - where community members were to "lead intensive, time-limited projects focused on key areas of risk and opportunity" with some of them possibly joining the permanent WMF staff later - had been called the "Community Fellowship program"; it followed the Community Department's earlier "Community hiring" call (Signpost coverage).
Newstead also announced that he was "planning on introducing a community input mechanism into the grant process for 2011/12."
State legislature recognizes public art project: This week, work done by Wikipedian RichardMcCoy from the WikiProject Public art and his fall 2010 course at IUPUI to document the artwork in and around the Indiana Statehouse will be honored by the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives, who have issued a Concurrent Resolution (sponsored by Senator Jim Merritt and Representative Tom Saunders) to recognize the "valuable work being done by Richard McCoy and the students enrolled in the IUPUI Museum Studies Collections Care and Management course." See also McCoy's description of the project on Witty lama's blog, and coverage in the upcoming Signpost issue.
Sue Gardner's Office hours: The log of Sue Gardner's IRC Office hour on January 27 has been posted. Topics included the ongoing search for the Foundation's new legal counsel (following the sudden departure of Mike Godwin); Gardner said that it was in its final stages and an announcement was likely within 2-3 weeks. The process also involved a re-thinking of the job description. The search for the National Program Director in India (who will head the Foundation's new office in the country) is expected to conclude soon, too. A member of the Indian chapter asked about overlaps between the tasks of the office and those activities usually done by a Chapter (including fundraising). Sue Gardner replied that "what we're going to aim for in India is to have the two entities complement each other, rather than just overlapping. So, the Indian office will focus on the kinds of things that paid staff are better suited for, and the chapter will focus on the kinds of things that volunteers are better suited to". Replying to concerns that the Indian presence would expose the Foundation to strict local laws and prosecution, Gardner said that "obviously this is a big deal for the Wikimedia Foundation: it'll be the first time we've opened an office outside the United States, where we are comfortable and familiar with the legal context. We don't have that comfort and familiarity anywhere else, including India. So the goal is for us to have a plan that will 1) mitigate risk in advance, by structuring our work there to avoid unnecessary exposure, and ii) have a plan in place to defend our interests, should we need to."
Indian language milestone: On January 22, the Malayalam Wikipedia crossed the one million edit milestone, the first Indian language Wikipedia to do so.
Egypt protests and Wikipedia: During the 2011 Egyptian protests, the country has been cut off almost completely from the Internet, visible from the perspective of Wikimedia sites as a sharp drop in traffic from Egypt on approximately January 27, 11 PM UTC, per diagrams provided by the Foundation's Data Analyst Erik Zachte. Arab TV news station Al Jazeera, which is an important source of information on the events, has been releasing media under Creative Commons licenses for a long time, but usually with non-commercial and non-derivative restrictions that make them unusable for Wikipedia. On the suggestion of Aude, Al Jazeera agreed to relicense video footage showing clashes between police and protesters at Cairo's 6th October Bridge under the freer CC-BY-SA license. A "quick and dirty transcode" of the video has been uploaded to Commons.
Founding of the Czech Wikipedia: Following his series of blog posts on the founding of the Esperanto Wikipedia, Chuck Smith has published a (translated) interview with Miroslav Malovec, the "founder" of the Czech Wikipedia, who in 2002 translated the wiki's user interface from the Esperanto version into Czech.
Wikimedia IRC meeting: Board member Phoebe Ayers has called to resume regular Wikimedia IRC meetings, with the next one on February 5, 2011 at 17:00 UTC in the Freenode channel #wikimedia.
Public Policy Initiative: On the Foundation's blog, LiAnna Davis from the Public Policy Initiative has concluded her series of profiles of some of the participating university students and their Wikipedia experience with a summary of some common themes that "echoed across the students in all of the 14 classes we worked with last term", describing a few changes that the Initiative has made, based on them, for the upcoming spring term.
German Wikipedians reject author payments scheme: As reported earlier ("German Wikipedia debates payment schemes"), since 2008 there have been debates on the German Wikipedia to join the "METIS" system by German collecting societyVG Wort, which pays royalties to authors of web pages. The money – an estimated €15 million in 2008 – comes from fees imposed on the sale of CD and DVD burners in Germany. The rationale for including web pages is that, according to consumer surveys, around half of the copyrighted texts that are copied using these devices have been downloaded from the Internet. To be eligible, the web page has to be registered with METIS and usually needs to carry a web bug from their server (the payments are based on page impressions). METIS had indicated that the system might include the German Wikipedia, too; its free license notwithstanding. A new poll on the issue was started on January 25 by Achim Raschka (the "quality officer" of Wikimedia Germany, an unpaid position focusing on ways to improve content quality). It is to run one month, but as of January 31, a very clear majority (130:12) against the use of METIS was already apparent. Many "no" voters gave reasons such as these voiced by Kurt Jansson (former chair of the German chapter): "The potential destructive impact on the project is immense. Overall, the incentives provided by METIS are counterproductive and can have devastating consequences within just a few years; fueling edit-wars and discouraging dedicated non-authors", or by the chapter's current chair Sebmol: "contradicts meaning and purpose of free content". At the moment, however, METIS also allows users to claim authorship of Wikipedia articles without the endorsement of the site owner (and the installation of a web bug). Achim Raschka reports that under this separate payment plan, he had already received 300 Euro for "his" Wikipedia articles.