The Signpost

News and notes

WMF–community ruckus on Wikimedia mailing list

Contribute  —  
Share this
By The ed17 and Tony1

Dear [admin's name],

Thank you for your work with the Foundation wiki. At this time, we are formalizing a new requirement, which is that administrator access is given only to staff and board. I am having administrator access to accounts that are neither staff or board be disabled, effective immediately.


Gayle [Karen Young, the WMF's Chief Talent and Culture Officer]

Thus came an email to community volunteers who until last Friday had been administrators on the Wikimedia Foundation's (WMF) official website, In a torrid week for Foundation–community relations, this sparked a highly emotional reaction on the Wikimedia-l mailing list—one of the largest off-wiki methods of communication for the Wikimedia movement.

The Foundation's site has been around since 2004, when its home page described Wikipedia as "the award-winning online encyclopedia". However, unlike all other WMF sites, which are freely editable by anyone, the Foundation's official site has never been fully open to community editing. Its "Welcome" page states that "this wiki does not exactly follow the same rules as the other Wikimedia projects, since it is not open to all for editing, and in case of disagreement, the organ of decision will be the Board." The WMF uses the site to publish its Board of Trustees' resolutions, to present information about its staff and contractors, and as part of the fundraising process, among other purposes.

The desysopping was a source of considerable upset among participants on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, with some community members accusing the Foundation of intentionally pushing the community away. The motives for the action were initially unclear, even after an explanation from Young on her Foundation website user talk page:

I'm limiting admin rights on this wiki to Foundation staff and board members. You'll still be able to do everything a normal user can do, and if you have a particular project you're working on which brings with it a good justification for admin rights, I'm sure people will be happy to give you those rights for the duration of that project.

The abrupt action and its accompanying email was likened to being summarily terminated from a place of employment—the key difference being that those fired were volunteers, or people who edit because they believe in the movement and its mission. Community members characterized it as "tactless and rude", a simple "thanks, bye", and as the "corporate version of ordering someone off your lawn". The situation was apparently exacerbated by the unfortunate timing of the actions—at the start of the weekend break in the US—and the lack of an early response intensified the mounting furor on the mailing list.

Community members used the incident to remark on what they perceived as centralizing actions being taken by the Foundation in recent months. MZMcBride noted that these have included restricting blog access, Bugzilla adminship, and shell access, the latter leading to the loss of volunteer system administrators. The Foundation's Executive Director, Sue Gardner, said the incident was in the interests of simple efficiency. Gardner said it was her understanding that volunteer editors on the Foundation's site have reverted changes made by Foundation staff, and vice versa. The resulting long discussions, typically one-on-one (as opposed to large community debates), have occasionally taken an inordinate amount of time away from the Foundation's paid staff. Gardner said that the staff working on the website have been assigned tasks to complete, and these discussions are not an ideal use of their time.

Gardner does not believe that the Foundation revoked administrators' powers to spite the community. "This decision is not about 'the community' versus 'the WMF'", she said, but about enabling the WMF's paid staff "to do their work on the WMF wiki with some reasonable degree of efficiency and effectiveness." It also clarifies the proper structure on the Foundation site, where the Foundation takes the editorial lead, in contrast with the projects, where the editing community takes the editorial lead and the Foundation provides background assistance. Returning to the removal of administrative rights, Gardner said, "People can disagree with this decision, and that's okay. But ultimately, the Wikimedia Foundation is responsible for the Wikimedia Foundation wiki: it's our job to figure out how best to manage and maintain it. That's what we're doing here."

WMF has not identified any specific incidents that prompted its decision, though staff interactions with MZMcBride may have been a trigger. In January 2012, a disagreement with a contractor led WMF Deputy Director Erik Möller to threaten deactivation of MZMcBride's WMF wiki account. In March 2013, MZMcBride proposed deletion of over one thousand pages. In response to that proposal, Director of Community Advocacy Philippe Beaudette hinted at the possibility of removing userrights, saying that Senior Communications Director Jay Walsh "has requested that I not issue any further userrights here until a conversation has been had about the direction of the wiki and its management." Conversations in these incidents raised the same points about the WMF wiki's unique purpose and Foundation control as Gardner's recent explanations. The event also brought up the question of merging the WMF site into Meta, the coordinating website for the Wikimedia movement, including the Foundation, the projects, related entities, and community members.

Gayle Karen Young apologized for her handling of the incident, and continued with her thoughts on the divided community that the Foundation faces every day:

In brief

The former Chapters Committee voted in Berlin in March last year to become the current Affiliations Committee

+ 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. wiki

  • The notification seems very abrupt and despite the thank you, quite hollow; "I am having administrator access to accounts that are neither staff or board be disabled, effective immediately". Had this have been run through publicity or anyone with experience running a volunteer program, they would have pointed out the gratitude expressed was kurt and not proportionate to the service and hours given by the community. Furthermore, the announcement should have been made months in advance and some reasonable explanation should have been given. Mkdwtalk 06:02, 16 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • WMF wiki versus Meta wiki. I haven't read any of the discussion on the Wikimedia-l mailing list. My opinion though is that I don't have a problem with how the WMF handles its own wiki. My problem is with Meta. It is a near useless wiki that few people use relative to the number of Wikipedia editors. Meta should be moved to a subdomain on English Wikipedia. Maybe This way the WMF can get some much broader interaction with Wikipedia editors than with just the few willing to use Meta and its separate watchlist. English is the international language and Meta operates mainly in English now. Saying Meta is more international and accessible is ridiculous. Far more editors from around the world use the English Wikipedia watchlist than use the Meta watchlist. --Timeshifter (talk) 14:57, 16 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    • As Tony points out below, you're kind of displaying your ignorance here (in a few ways). :-) You should read the mailing list discussion to better understand the underlying issues regarding control of

      Regarding Meta-Wiki, whether the wiki is located at or returns to its previous home of, it makes absolutely no difference if features such as cross-wiki watchlists aren't implemented, according to the view you put forward. Simply moving the wiki would be both disruptive and harmful, with no benefit.

      There's great virtue in having a global site that can serve a global movement made up of Wikipedias, Wiktionaries, Wikisources, Wikiversities, Wikidata, Commons, Wikivoyages, etc. And many people, across all Wikimedia wikis, see that. I hope one day you're among them. --MZMcBride (talk) 13:19, 17 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I was assuming that would utilize the English Wikipedia watchlist. If not, then might be used as the URL. That would definitely be on the English Wikipedia watchlist. Both you and Tony missed my point. My point was that pie-in-the-sky beliefs that Meta's current location, and separate watchlist, will somehow magically involve people from more Wikimedia Projects, and "serve the whole Wikimedia community in all of its linguistic and cultural diversity" is wrong. Just believing something does not make it so. The evidence is that Meta discussions, and I have participated in some, do not get as broad participation as on almost any discussion on English Wikipedia. English Village Pumps for example. Many people from all over the world, who speak a large variety of languages, have user pages and user talk pages on English Wikipedia. They check their English Wikipedia watchlist far more than the Meta watchlist. --Timeshifter (talk) 19:38, 17 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Those of us who have read Yochai Benkler's Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and the Nature of the Firm might like to consider to what extent this action is an affirmation of WMF as a Firm. In end it is not so much about how conflict is handled, but more about whether the trajectory of WMF will inevitably develop in a way at odds with the community because it has a fundamentally different way of being organised and of how it sees the world.--Leutha (talk) 16:29, 16 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]

  • Timeshifter, Meta began as an offshoot from en.WP, but now has grown to (supposedly) serve the whole Wikimedia community in all of its linguistic and cultural diversity. Tony (talk) 03:03, 17 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
See my reply above to MZMcBride. --Timeshifter (talk) 19:37, 17 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Timeshifter ... Meta would benefit from your presence. Tony (talk) 11:46, 18 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Meta would benefit from the presence of many people. There have been many recruiting efforts to get people to go to Meta. They haven't worked over the long term due to its separate watchlist. People stop checking it. Meta needs to go to the people. The people are at English Wikipedia. Including people from around the world, who speak many languages, who have user pages and user talk pages on English Wikipedia. --Timeshifter (talk) 12:43, 18 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Wikimedia Germany

  • German chapter report in the "in briefs"—it says $8.6M, but I remember seeing a graph with a projected €8M, and a table immediately below with 7 point something million euros. I was confused. Tony (talk) 09:05, 16 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]

$40,000 Travel Budget

As a donor and someone who travels frequently, $40,000 is an excessive amount of donor money for 10 people. I hope Wikimedia learns to make more reasonable expenses in the future. I do think this issue needs more exposure. (talk) 19:52, 16 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Your post here (and some of the related discussion about this issue) reminds me a little of <>. In a vacuum, $40,000 for ten people means very little. Does that only include lodging and airfare? What does it include or exclude? And, as I understand it, the budgeted amount may not reflect the actual amount eventually spent (money can usually be returned).

There's a newly created Funds Dissemination Committee (including an ombudshuman position that's currently vacant and undergoing an election). If you want "more exposure," perhaps you should consider getting involved. :-) --MZMcBride (talk) 13:26, 17 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]

It appears that the $40,000 figure was an estimate used for costing purposes. When developing costings for something like this its actually good practice to assume relatively high costs to ensure that enough money is allocated. The story notes that the actual expenditure is likely to be lower. It's not terribly difficult to rack up a $4000 per person estimate for a trip involving intercontinental airfares as well as a week's worth of three star standard accommodation in an expensive city. Nick-D (talk) 05:31, 18 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]


I still have no idea why "ombudsperson" isn't acceptable. It's gender neutral, it's in the OED, it has a million hits in Google Books. What's the problem? Ah well. Maybe I'll run for office and mandate that change. Drmies (talk) 00:15, 17 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]

... yeah, because that's how the Board works. You get a seat and then you can just mandate change. In reality, a name change for the Ombudsman commission presumably requires the consent of the current commission and a Board resolution.
As I said in the relevant discussion, the overall name could use reconsideration. "Ombudsperson" is a very awkward word and the idea put forward by some scholars that "ombudsman" is sexist is genuinely offensive to some portion of Wikimedians, I think, as it defies a basic understanding of English, Swedish, history, and common sense in favor of hyper-political correctness—in their view. --MZMcBride (talk) 13:10, 17 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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