A new chapter opened in the controversial content saga this week, as fallout from an ArbCom ruling earlier this year regarding the handling of images of Muhammad (Signpost coverage). Among other parts of its decision, the committee approved by a 6–4 vote a remedy requesting the community to establish a final consensus on the content issue, which is beyond the authority of ArbCom. This request for comment (RfC) opened on March 20.
Request for comment
The discussion centers around ten questions and options for how to balance Wikipedia's policies and guidelines – which themselves require interpretation – with a view widely held in significant parts of Islam that prohibits the display of images of Muhammad.
The renewed discussion was quickly noticed by the German Wikipedia community, which has traditionally been very skeptical of the controversial content issue, and the Kurierpicked up the story within hours. The resulting discussions focused on the different tools employed by the English and German communities to deal with controversies, and how widespread problems are in relation to aniconism. It was quickly pointed out that this view is not only held in Islam but in other religions as well.
The RfC came shortly after debates on another controversial content issue: allegations of child porn. The debate had taken center stage since allegations on March 7 on Commons and the wide-ranging transwiki discussions, in which Germans also played a prominent part, led to office action against one editor, Beta M, and shifts in Meta policy.
The request for comment will close at 23:59 on April 19, after which a team of three uninvolved administrators are set to perform the task of consensus analysis. Editors interested in taking part should take into account that ArbCom has authorized the use of discretionary sanctions on "all pages relating to Muhammad, broadly interpreted."
New Wikimedia shop
The Wikimedia Foundation has begun the "community launch" of the new official Wikimedia merchandise store, offering Wikipedia T-shirts, hoodies, pins etc., with the goal "provid[ing] affordable high-quality merchandise to the project volunteers and the general public to reward its volunteers and spread the Wikimedia and project brands around the world", according to the FAQ by James Alexander, who recently became merchandise manager at the Foundation (moving from the Community Department).
Wikipedians have expressed the wish to be able to show their affiliation with the project by means of a Wikipedia T-shirt as early as 2001, and around the time of Wikipedia's first anniversary in January 2002, a T-shirt design vote was held (with one suggested slogan proudly proclaiming "20,000 articles created in one year"). A CafePress store was set up, but is now being discontinued in favor of the new outlet, because there "we had low-quality merchandise and made basically no money (while Cafepress made quite a lot and had rights to use our trademarks)", as Alexander explains. The new shop currently uses the Shopify platform and has a San Francisco–based contractor help with order fulfillment and shipping, but is hosted on a wikimedia.org domain.
Back in 2001, merchandise had been thought of as a possible source of income to cover the costs of hosting Wikipedia, but the annual fundraising has long been found to be a more effective means of achieving this, and the FAQ makes it clear that the shop is "not intended to become a profit center. The proceeds go back into the shop to keep costs low, subsidize shipping and help provide merch specifically to community members."
Other than through the old CafePress store, "the only normal way to get merchandise was specific real life events (Wikimania, Wiki10 etc.) or doing something special with the WMF or a chapter", says Alexander, referring to the tenth anniversary of Wikipedia last year, which – like the first anniversary – provided another impulse for the development of global Wikipedia merchandise: the Foundation developed "party packs" consisting of T-shirts, buttons and other items designed for the celebrations, and mailed them to Wikimedia chapters or other affiliated groups worldwide, gaining experience in the global delivery of such items (Signpost coverage). Affordable global shipping and the involvement of Wikimedia chapters continue to be objectives of the new shop.
James Alexander illustrates the outreach power of Wikipedia merchandise with an anecdote: "At a GLAM event late last year in NYC, four or five Wikimedians were outside the museum after meetings, talking. One of them had an old Wikipedia bag that was recognized by a girl walking by. She ran up and asked them if they 'really edited Wikipedia'. When they said yes she 'giggled', asked if she could hug them (and did), and then just said that they had no idea what the project meant for her, and ran off." To expand the current choice, community members' design ideas are being solicited, in particular for merchandise for Wikipedia's sister projects.
Foundation restructures to focus on editor retention
On March 21, Sue Gardner, the Wikimedia Foundation's executive director, announced a change in the structure of WMF departments and the creation of a new editor engagement experiments team to look at new options to tackle declining participation in Wikimedia projects.
The shake-up notably sees the disintegration of the current Community department, from which the new team's members are mostly drawn. The unit, created in June 2010 to engage with and support an expansive vision of the Wikimedia community that included readers and donors (Signpost coverage), will in the future focus on fundraising. Some of its remaining staff members will be moved to the Engineering and the Global Development departments.
The announcement sparked discussions on foundation-l, questioning whether it is wise to focus primarily on quantifying wiki activities rather than widening the focus to include the quality of new contributors and the costs of experimentation in the area. The departmental changes as such are aimed at pooling resources on issues related to projects such as the Visual Editor, a context in which the new team is supposed "to conduct many quick experiments", and will take effect on April 16.