The Signpost

In the media

Is the Wikimedia movement too "cash rich"?

Contribute  —  
Share this
By The ed17

The Register swings at the Wikimedia movement's finances, and misses

A recent poorly researched and poorly written story in The Register highlighted the perceived "cash rich" status of the Wikimedia movement.

The author of the piece, Andrew Orlowski, opened the piece strangely, bringing up an unrelated story from 2005 and several early missteps by the Wikimedia Foundation.

He paraded several examples to support his argument. He first targeted one of the Wikimedia chapters: "In the UK, the local chapter of WMF, Wikimedia Foundation UK [sic], admitted to racking up a bill of £1,335 on business cards, calling it 'a failure to make the most effective procurement choices'." Yet in this claim he confused chapters, which are independent, with the WMF. Worse, he wrongly attributed the quote to the chapter (it was a question from WMUK trustee ). The actual chapter response states, "We do not believe this represents a failure to make an effective procurement choice, as alternative suppliers were sought, and a sensible decision was reached ... [but in the] future, we will ensure that business card purchases are more thoroughly researched."

Orlowski next questioned Wikimedia Germany's €18,000 funding for editors to attend and photograph concerts, along with €81,000 to photograph many politicians. This of course fails to note that freely licensed, professional photographs of government figures are rare outside the United States, whose federal government releases its photography into the public domain.

Last, Orlowski conflated Omidyar Network's $2 million donation (2009) with winning a seat on the WMF Board of Trustees. The trustee in question, Matt Halprin, was appointed on 24 August 2009, just one day before Omidyar's donation. However, Halprin has since left Omidyar and continued to serve as a trustee until last month, and there is no evidence of a 'donation for board seat' agreement.

This superficial journalism was a substitute for what could have been more valid and useful criticism of the movement, of which there are many such opportunities, such as the repeated delays in the development of the visual editor, which is viewed as essential for the continued health of Wikimedia projects. WMUK, too, has many areas that could be examined, such as the Gibraltar controversy (see Signpost coverage: "UK chapter rocked by Gibraltar scandal"). Bringing up only three examples, one from three years ago, another misquoted and extremely minor, and the third necessary to obtain high-quality photographs to headline Wikipedia articles, Orlowski missed a chance to offer real, constructive criticism on the WMF and its chapters.

The Telegraph and Daily Dot, among others, have alleged that there are many links between the WMF, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and Kazakhstan's government, which is for all intents and purposes a one-party non-democratic state.

The controversy began when the background behind Wales' first "Wikipedian of the Year", Rauan Kenzhekhanuly (see Signpost coverage) was publicized. Before becoming the head of a non-profit organization, Wikibilim, he served in Kazakhstan's Russian embassy and as the Moscow Bureau chief for the National TV Agency, which is viewed as a Kazakh government propaganda outlet. Additionally, his organization is backed by Kazakhstan's sovereign oil wealth fund, which is run by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's son-in-law.

Wales has vocally supported both Kenzhekhanuly and Wikibilim, and the WMF gave the latter a US$16,600 grant to hold a Wikimedia conference in Kazakhstan in April 2012.

Wales defended himself and the WMF, saying: "The Wikimedia Foundation has zero collaboration with the government of Kazakhstan. Wikibilim is a totally independent organization. And it is absolutely wrong to say that I am 'helping the Kazakh regime whitewash its image.' I am a firm and strong critic. At the same time, I'm excited by the work of volunteers, and I believe—very strongly—that an open and independent Wikipedia will be the death knell for tyranny in places like Kazakhstan."

Whatever Wales' culpability, there is an inherent problem in this awkward situation, as Eurasianet's Myles Smith points out:

Later comments on Wales' talk page, led by Andreas Kolbe, tried to forge a link between Wales and the Kazakh government through Wales' friendship with Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom and the head of a public relations firm that has been contracted by the Kazakh government in the past. Wales, saying that Kolbe's tenuous allegations were "weird and irrelevant", hatted the discussion and banned Kolbe from his talk page.

The Signpost mentioned the Kazakh Wikipedia developments in June 2011.

This article was retitled on 5 January, as the previous title was too strong and therefore did not accurately portray the position of the news coverage surrounding the event.

Brief notes

+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.

Perhaps a link to the top-viewed articles? Just so people can more easily find them? ···日本穣? · 投稿 · Talk to Nihonjoe · Join WP Japan! 07:36, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Ack, thank you for pointing this out. A link has been added. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 07:39, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
If Wikipedia has enough money to set up a "Wikimedia Foundation Grants Program", then it appears to me that they are indeed 'cash rich'. Either that or very foolish. JRSpriggs (talk) 09:54, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
The grants program is what funds the chapters. Kaldari (talk) 10:52, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
You mean the chapters are mostly funded by the Wikimedia Foundation, but Andrew Orlowski was "confused" by not saying that the chapters are "independent, with the WMF"? (See above.) Guys, get your stories straight. The chapters can't be "independent" when the media finds out they spent way too much money on business cards, but then be "funded" by a WMF grants program when you think they're doing a lovely job. I think the Wikiculture needs to take a long, hard look at what the words "independent" and that other favorite, "completely separate", actually mean. -- 2001:558:1400:10:241F:CEB4:6921:8249 (talk) 15:57, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Honestly, the register article reads like a direct attack article (which given register's history with Wikipedia is not surprising. Seriously, they're still harping on about Doran which is beyond old news at this point). However this signpost article doesn't do much better, coming off super-defensive. I don't see any claim in the register article that Wikimedia UK is controlled by the WMF. (Other then "In the UK, the local chapter of WMF, Wikimedia Foundation UK" which is incorrect because the organization is called Wikimedia UK, not Wikimedia Foundation UK, which has very different implications [to people familar with Wikimedia's structure, the rest of the world probably didn't notice], and because Wikimedia UK is a local Wikimedia chapter, not a WMF chapter. These may seem like picking at word choices, but they really do have different meanings for some people). As for chapter independance - they are separate organizations, run by different people then the WMF is run by and hence mostly independant. Much of the chapter's money does come from the foundation's piggy bank from what I understand, which does influence the independance claim, but the funds are mostly distributed by FDC, which is independant body, so its not like the WMF is telling the chapters to jump for money. Bawolff (talk) 16:19, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

What Wikimedia conference will be held in Kazakhstan? --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 10:46, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

It was in April 2012. The grant for it is located here. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 10:56, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

By some folks' accounts, it seems we should shut down Wikipedia in languages spoken in totalitarian countries, just because these languages' digital development is also on the regimes' agenda. Actually, developing Wikipedia as an independent, objective, neutral, and in most extent quite propaganda-resistent media, might very well give a free medium for the democratic opposition - in any debate, Wikipedia supports the side that speaks the truth. That's why some regimes tend to block it (e.g. Uzbek Wikipedia in Uzbekistan). --Oop (talk) 14:16, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

While some questions have been raised, for better or worse, about the Kazakhstan initiative, I don't think the word "corruption" should have been used in the headline. Newyorkbrad (talk) 17:58, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

One thing I became aware of recently is that Jimmy Wales co-chaired a Middle-East conference attended by both Blair and Kazakh President Nazarbaev. I hadn't known Jimbo was in the habit of chairing conferences like that. Andreas JN466 20:58, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
“One Fatherland, one Fate, one Leader of the Nation”. Andreas JN466 18:52, 5 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Wikipedian of the Year

As referenced here and reported in the Signpost of 8 August 2011, "Jimmy also announced the creation of an annual award—Global Wikipedian of the Year. This was given to Rauan Kenzhekhanuly of Kazakh Wikipedia and consisted of a $5,000 award to Wikibilim, the chapter in Kazakhstan, to pay travel expenses to Wikimania next year. This would be presented to Kezhekhanuly at a ceremony in Kazakhstan with the country's prime minister Karim Massimov". Who was the recipient of last year's "annual award"? Did I miss the Signpost's coverage of that event? Delicious carbuncle (talk) 03:37, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I believe it was the Yoruba Wikipedia's Demmy. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 07:27, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0