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Berlin reforms to movement structures, Wikidata launches with fanfare, and Wikipedia's day of mischief

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By Jan eissfeldt, Resident Mario, Mathew Townsend and Skomorokh

Berlin annual conference heralds sweeping movement reforms

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Since 2008, the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees, selected staff, and chapter delegates have met for the Wikimedia annual conference in Berlin, Germany. This year's installment was held over the weekend of March 30 to April 1, after more than six months of tense relations between the board and chapters over governance and fundraising issues, including notions of pursuing the Foundation's goal of extending Wikimedia’s reach into the “global South” by reforming the distribution of Wikimedia funds. The board came to conclusions on finance, new organizational models and standards, and transparency.

Wikimedia Foundation transparency

The board unanimously agreed to publish how each of its members votes on proposed resolutions, reinstating a practice that was abandoned without discernible reason in December 2009.

Wikimedia “entity reforms”

Several resolutions emerged that define or improve the standards of Wikimedia movement committees and best practices for Wikimedia movement organizations. The role of the Chapters Committee was re-defined more broadly and it was asked to take on the additional role to look after new kinds of movement entities such as user groups, theme-specific entities, and sub-national Wikimedia organizations (Amendment to the ChapCom rules, Affiliations Committee resolution, New Models) according to the Wikimedia affiliation model principles. Additionally, the Board approved a Board Governance Committee charter to formalize the duties of one of its own committees.

To better fit the new models, the Chapters Committee is to become the Affiliations Committee, whose charter will have to be presented by the Chapters Committee to the Board of Trustees by June 15, 2012. The new committee-to-be as well as the new entity forms were recommended by the Movement Roles working group, which itself was dissolved in Berlin and whose topic is subject of a Signpost-interview this week.

Finance resolutions

The board approved two resolutions on the highly contested issue of finance, declaring basically a moratorium on the topic until 2015, while limiting the payment processing by chapters on Wikimedia project sites such as the English Wikipedia to the Foundation itself and under conditions to the four already processing chapters (France, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK). At the same time, the board asked the Foundation staff to come up with a new volunteer-run Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC), which shall handle all funds the movement receives through Wikimedia sites, by June 30.

While basically maintaining the status quo on fundraising, the resolutions nevertheless constitute a change of current procedures, since they significantly separate fund processing from money distribution and the introduction of the FDC. Thereby, the board, while making changes such as limiting and re-defining chapter processing, mainly followed the recommendations of executive director Sue Gardner.

Sebastian Moleski (chair of Wikimedia Germany) presenting the proposal for the Chapters Council
Founding of the WCA: Chapter representatives standing to indicate their approval of various amendments to the draft charter
Chapter affairs

On the chapter front, the weekend saw a major decision taken: to establish an entity, called Wikimedia Chapters Association, to improve and coordinate the activities of the chapters. The charter of the new organization, highly contested with 17 amendments, issues postponed until post-Berlin and with discussions by far exceeding the scheduled sessions, will establish a council to legislate, and a paid Secretariat to execute. Additionally, the council has to appoint auditors to ensure proper conduct. The participating chapters elected Tomer Ashur, the Chairman of Wikimedia Israel, as interim Secretary General, leading a team of four that takes care of the practical process up to the first council meeting at the upcoming Wikimania in Washington D.C. in July. A proposal for a similar organization had been made on December 11 2009 in the course of the strategic planning process by Pharos (today President of Wikimedia New York City):

but met with objection on January 31 2010 by Delphine Ménard (today Treasurer of Wikimedia Germany):

The topic of the ongoing process of selecting the two chapter-appointed members of the 10-strong Board of Trustees was also discussed, with representatives from a majority of the chapters participating in a straw poll on the slate of eight candidates for the seats as an early part of the decision-making process. The chapters have until May 15 to come to consensus on who to put forward.

Other topics and way forward

Additionally, sessions were held on content-related topics such as library outreach and Wiki loves monuments. Most topics discussed or decided in Berlin are expected to lead to follow up-debates on how to implement or develop them further. Decisions on issues such as the Funds Dissemination Committee, the Wikimedia Chapters Association, and the transformation of the Chapters Committee into the Affiliations Committee are scheduled to be finalized mid-2012.

Wikidata: a bold new step in collecting human knowledge

Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen, whose Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence provided a significant chunk of the funding for the ambitious Wikidata initiative

This week saw a press release by Wikimedia Deutschland on the topic of their latest pursuit, Wikidata. The newest addition to the Wikimedia Foundation family tree, Wikidata aims to be "a free knowledge base about the world that can be read and edited by humans and machines alike...[that will] allow for central access to the data in a way similar to what Wikimedia Commons does for multimedia files." With the potential to be the first Wikimedia family expansion in six years, the initial construction of Wikidata, if successful, would be the largest project a single chapter has ever undertaken.

So, how will it work? According to its current technical description, development will proceed in three stages. The first, expected to end by August of this year, will overhaul the language system by providing a central interwiki repository. The second, to finish by December, will use a similar method to standardise the content of infoboxes, allowing editors to add and use the data within the framework and allowing smaller wikis to share in localised versions of this data for their own infoboxes. Finally, the third stage of development will see the automation of list and chart creation based on Wikidata data, at which point Wikimedia Deutschland plans to hand over operation and maintenance to the Wikimedia Foundation itself, hopefully by March 2013.

In addition to the obvious internal benefits of the project, the Wikidata team has been keen to stress the benefits of a central data repository that could surpass existing Wikimedia-scraping data wiki dbpedia, attracting numerous donors in the process. One half of the €1.3 million raised (equivalent to US$1.87 million) will come from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, a supporter of long-range activities that have potential to accelerate progress in the development of artificial intelligence. A further quarter is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, established by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, in the hopes that it will be an "easy-to-use, downloadable software tool for researchers, to help them manage and gain value from the increasing volume and complexity of scientific data." Google provides the last quarter of funding, stating that "[our] mission is to make the world's information universally accessible and useful."

The money raised has been used to hire a team of eight developers (plus four support staff). The development team itself will be led by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology alumni Dr. Denny Vrandečić and Dr. Markus Krötzsch, the two co-founders of the Semantic MediaWiki project. Vrandečić stated on the foundation-l mailing list that although support staff have been in place for several weeks, the development team itself will first come together on Monday; following Wikimedia Deutschand's credo, he expressed his hope that "in the future we will be communicating about Wikidata much more, as the development is finally starting." Indeed, according to its timeline, previews will be presented as soon as feasible, probably in May or June, as a way to engage community discussion. In July, the team hopes to present at Wikimania 2012 on the topic of language links and to give updates on the project. Community communications will be handled by dedicated manager Lydia Pintscher, who has already introduced a communications roadmap. Look forward to an interview with Pintscher in next week's Signpost!

In brief

The portrait which graced Portal:Barack Obama during April Fools' celebrations this year. Not pictured: imaginary unit, which was subjected to a deletion nomination as not being verifiably real.
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  • The wording above seems to imply that the April fools incident alone was what caused Mabdul's RfA to fail, but it was probably the lesser of two issues that brought about the result (accusations of canvassing being the other). Kansan (talk) 13:18, 3 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]


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