Gender-gap conversation links with sexual images controversy
The "gender gap" discussion about the low rates of participation of women in Wikipedia continued last week, and extended to overlap with another much-debated topic where the Wikimedia Foundation has been pondering changes: controversial content (sexual images).
On 17 February 2011, the Foundation's Executive Director, Sue Gardner posted "a quick note recapping the basics about Wikipedia's gender gap and Wikimedia's response to it." She recalled the widespread media coverage that was triggered by a January 31 New York Times front-page article on the issue (cf. Signpost coverage), and revealed that the Foundation had actively sought it out, based on the insight that the gender-gap problem is complicated because "solutions don’t lie entirely within the Wikipedia editorial community, because important voices are missing there. We knew we would need to bring in voices from outside, and support them in making themselves heard."
In 2009, after the presentation of the UNU-MERIT study (whose estimate that only around 13% of Wikipedians are female also formed the basis of the recent debates), Noam Cohen, the author of the recent NYT article, had already written about the same topic (cf. Signpost coverage: "Wikipedia's changing culture, and gender statistics"). Indicating an explanation for how the same topic made it to the paper's front page, Sue Gardner recounted how last month she and Moka Pantages (the Foundation's Global Communications Manager) had "used the occasion of Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary to have an off-the-record lunch with New York Times staff", talking with them about Wikipedia's gender gap. Summarizing the state two and a half weeks later, she said: "[w]e've leveraged Wikipedia's visibility to develop public awareness of the gender gap, resulting in a flurry of decentralized activity in expected and unexpected forums, brainstorming potential solutions".
For example, on 17 February 2011, a list participant announced that she had started the website Women4Wikipedia.net, aiming "to organise Womens Wikipedia Hackfests between now and International Womens Day (8 March)" and is hosting weekly chat sessions on the topic. A Facebook group has been started as well. Since its inception on February 1, the "Gendergap" mailing list has reached over 600 postings at the time of writing. The gender gap page on Meta collects material on the topic.
Two days later, Gardner listed "Nine reasons women don't edit Wikipedia (in their own words)" on her personal blog, based on an extensive reading of online conversations generated by the NYT article. It mostly quoted comments made outside Wikimedia sites, with an exception being reason 7 – "Some women find Wikipedia culture to be sexual in ways they find off-putting". There, Gardner listed some answers to a question that was posed on the Gendergap list by George Herbert and herself to women editors: whether they had "come across explicit material on the Wikimedia projects that...[they found] offensive, degrading or discouraging". This was triggered by a current debate on the English Wikipedia about an essay by Herostratus.
The essay (in its current version) argues that "Wikipedia should not include images from hardcore pornography", and has been cited with regard to the article bukkake. After conflicts with users who disagreed with that view, it was userfied, but this decision was overturned by Jimmy Wales. Gendergap list members chimed in, such as Wikipedia researcher Joseph Reagle, who – somehow reminiscent of Gardner's "bring in voices from outside" –
asked: "Is this the sort of thing that would benefit from public pillory? For example, a posting on Geek Feminism blog or elsewhere?"
Last November, Gardner herself had already touched on that topic in a blog post (cf. Signpost coverage: "Controversial content and Wikimedia leadership"), where she noted 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 that the Board of Trustees had aimed "to probe into whether that was helping or hurting our effectiveness at fulfilling our mission" at its October 2010 meeting. On that occasion, the 2010 Wikimedia Study of Controversial Content was presented, commissioned by the Foundation after widespread debates over the deletion of sexual images. It had been expected that the Board would adopt its recommendations immediately, but about half of them proved controversial (cf. last week's Signpost coverage), and a working group was formed instead. On Sunday, an update on the group's progress was posted by one of its members, Trustee Phoebe Ayers (Phoebe). She reported that she had asked the Wikimedia Tech Department about possible specifications to implement the study's recommendations for features that would enable users to block content they find offensive, for themselves only. However, no actual development of such features would commence without a request from the Board. Two of the original group members, Jan-Bart de Vreede and Kat Walsh, had stepped down and were replaced by Matt Halprin, Jimmy Wales and Bishakha Datta. Phoebe said "the board does not yet have a formal position on this whole issue".
Foundation appoints "consultant for National Programs" in India, following search for National Program Director
The Wikimedia Foundation has appointed a "consultant for National Programs, India", whose role will be "to design and implement specific pilot programs that encourage many more Indians to become contributors to our projects in Indic languages as well as English." The new position is being filled by Hisham Mundol, who worked on "large-scale national programs on HIV/AIDS prevention" when he was a consultant for the Public Health Foundation of India. As Hisham Mundol said in his first IRC office hours, he speaks Hindi, Malayalam and English, and is currently based in Delhi.
The announcement by the Wikimedia Foundation's Chief Global Development Officer, Barry Newstead, explained that Mundol is "a newcomer to the Wikimedia movement [who] will be spending the coming weeks (not months!) in learning mode". In an FAQ on the new position, it was explained that among the 179 applications, there were only seven from active Wikimedians, who do not have the required experience.
The Foundation had not been advertising a job opening for a consultant for National Programs. Instead, the job opening in last August was for a "National Program Director, India", who would have been "the Wikimedia Foundation's chief representative in India". Newstead did not mention the previous job title or explain the modifications, except to note in the FAQ that the new position was as consultant rather than a staffer, partly because "we want to keep our options open in regards to the potential structure of future Wikimedia Foundation operations in India". It is likely that concerns about such a director's exposure to legal liability for Wikimedia content may have played a role. Asked in the IRC office hour about "the strategy we have for dealing with legal issues in India", Newstead emphasized that the Indian chapter and "Hisham, who is an independent contractor, have NO control over Wikimedia content as organizations." Discussing such concerns further, he advised the Indian chapter to get a good legal counsel, and align with organizations like the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), which might be inclined to support Wikipedia.
Google Art Project upload:Dcoetzee, who started to extract high-resolution reproductions of artworks from the Google Art Project two weeks ago (cf. Signpost coverage), has announced on Commons Village Pump that the upload is complete. He added that certain files were deleted or not uploaded because they were specifically identified as files which are not yet in the public domain. The upload comprises more than 850 files, and he has called for help in categorising and disseminating to projects. In distantly related news, the German Wikimedia chapter's monthly report for January mentions that Harriet Bridgeman, whose surname is well-known from the losing party in Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. (the US court case on which Dcoetzee's uploads and the use of countless other artwork reproductions on Wikimedia projects rely), has been visiting Wikimedia GLAM events. She is in contact with Wikimedia Deutschland's Mathias Schindler about possible collaborations – "despite differing views about some questions of copyright" – where the chapter is aiming for the release of digital reproductions of public domain works.
Swedish chapter reports: Wikimedia Sverige has published brief monthly reports for November and December 2010. Among the topics is a blog post (in Swedish) presenting "mwhistory", a tool to visualize article histories on the Swedish Wikipedia, representing each revision by a vertical line and distinguishing the amount of text contributed by each author with different colors (similar to the "history flow" software developed around 2002–03 by IBM researchers).
Rich-text editing and newbies as top priorities: The draft of a "Product Whitepaper for the Wikimedia Foundation on the Strategy wiki was completed by priority recommendations last week, sorting possible "product-focused" development efforts by the WMF into four categories of differing priority ("Great Movement Projects", "Strategic Opportunities", "Frontier Projects", and "Red Links"). For the top category, it nominated the development of a rich-text editing interface, and improvement of "the −1 to 100 edit experience" (which might include "welcoming strategies, user account creation as a key vector mentoring programs, changes to policies, procedures and implementations"). In related news, the Outreach team's "Account Creation Improvement Project" announced that it is starting to test different versions of the "landing page" that greets newbies after they create their account.
WMF mid-year financial report: A PDF file containing the Wikimedia Foundation's mid-year financial report for July to December 2010 has been uploaded.