After the Wikimedia Board of Trustees last week published a letter threatening to withdraw direct funding from those chapters that do not conform to a number of criteria, including expectations on transparency, most discussion on the matter was on the internal-l mailing list, a private list now used for WMF-chapter communications (see also last week's "News and notes"). The news came just weeks after new fundraising agreements had been signed with several chapters, which require them to submit a budget to the WMF to have access to the funds. According to Wikimedian David Gerard, "quite a lot" of chapters complained about aspects of the letter, while none enthusiastically welcomed it. This week the discussion spilled over into the public mailing list, foundation-l, opening it up to the wider Wikimedian community, who responded with a number of viewpoints.
There is no desire or agenda to take away power and autonomy from chapters. But there is a strong moral duty to note that financial controls, reporting requirements, transparency, and evaluation of effectiveness are always at the top of our agenda.
— Jimmy Wales, writing on foundation-l
Some were critical of chapters' apparent resistance to the pro-transparency message. "What chapters seem to want is for the WMF to sign over the trademarks they need to do their own fundraising, and then simply hand over a portion of the WMF's own revenue on top of that. ... there's nothing particularly 'normal' or 'fair' about it" wrote Kirill Lokshin, an arbitrator on the English Wikipedia. Nathan agreed that the Foundation's position is understandable, noting that it has responsibilities to donors, said that "any misuse of funds by a chapter using Wikimedia marks would reflect back on the Foundation", anyway. "At least criteria are to be put in place now [which is better] than never. For chapters in good order they should not be an issue", wrote FT2.
There was also sympathy for the chapters. "Being on the board of a small nonprofit organization is both incredibly fun and rewarding and also totally not fun and thankless" commented Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Wikimedia Australia president John Vandenberg had numbers to show that chapters are influential in driving fundraising (and hence in supporting the Foundation itself), wrote David Gerard. Wikimedia UK member Chris Keating and French Wikimedian Anthere agreed with the sentiment that chapters are valuable institutions in terms of both fundraising and their ability to provide "local partnerships with institutions they know about". Likewise, Jimmy Wales added that he believes chapters should be "innovative, creative, and independent".
As a result, some of the pro-chapter support spilled over into direct criticism of the WMF Board's methods, if not their aims. For example, Gerard described the letter and its aftermath as representing "a potentially catastrophic failure of volunteer liaison". BirgitteSB went further, suggesting that attempts to centralise control over chapters could suppress their diversity. Among the solutions suggested were "a simple and non-controlling framework of accountability and responsibility" (Jimmy Wales) and a "well-developed grants program" that would prioritise the retention of low overheads (Phoebe Ayers).
Guerrilla skepticism on Wikipedia? Or more room for Latter Day Saints instead?
At The Amaz!ng Meeting 2011 (an annual US conference on science, skepticism, and atheism), Susan Gerbic gave a talk on "guerrilla skepticism on Wikipedia and how important that is as skeptics for us to get the message out there". She suggested that skeptics should seek to redress a perceived imbalance in the presentation of the skepticism–religion divide on Wikipedia.
Despite assurances from Gerbic that "it's not vandalism, which it kinds of sounds like, because we are totally following the rules", concern has already been expressed that editors may attempt to give otherwise neutral articles a pro-skeptic slant. Although in the past there have been crackdowns on religious POV-pushing (most notably the Scientology arbitration case), Gerbic was clear that what has been left behind is not sufficiently pro-skeptic, describing the "skeptical content" on Wikipedia as "not very good". A YouTube video of Gerbic's talk and an accompanying blog post are available.
Regional ambassadors announced: LiAnna Davis, the Foundation's Global Education Program Communications Manager, announced the line-up of American regional ambassadors for the 2011–12 academic year. Regional ambassadors help to guide the introduction of Wikipedia into higher education providers such as universities. There are plans to expand the program worldwide within the next few years.
The Best of chapters: In sharp contrast with this week's controversy surrounding chapter funding, Dutch Wikimedian Lodewijk published his slides from a Wikimania presentation on "Wikimedia Chapters and some of their coolest activities", with the video of his presentation expected shortly.
New issue of The Bugle: The latest issue of the most widely read WikiProject newsletter, WikiProject Military history's The Bugle, was published this week. Among content of interest to non-members is an op-ed encouraging editors to run for RFA by WereSpielChequers. He writes: "in my experience if you are a content contributor and have a year or so of block free activity, have done enough vandal fighting or newpage patrolling for people to see you either understand when someone should be blocked or when an article should be deleted then RFA isn't really that hard."
Wikimania praised: Praise for the organising team behind Wikimania 2011 continued to come in, including a message of thanks from WMF Executive Director Sue Gardner, who described the conference as "beautifully managed and enormously fun" (foundation-l mailing list).
WikiHistories – Hindi Wikipedia: Patricia Sauthoff, one of the Foundation's WikiHistories summer fellows, reported on her travels in the Hindi-speaking belt of India and how usage of native languages there compare with that of English, particularly in the online domain. She sees the utility of a Hindi Wikipedia increasing "as internet usage and media expands into rural areas".