German chapter asks for "constructive dialogue" with FDC
Wikimedia Germany (WMDE), the largest national affiliate, has authored an extensive critique of the Funds Dissemination Committee's process for issuing funding recommendations for the various large organizations in the movement.
The FDC is a major component in the Foundation’s global grantmaking apparatus, within the organization's annual plan grants. Composed entirely of volunteers and supported by WMF staff, the FDC makes recommendations to the Foundation's Board of Trustees on funding levels for large Wikimedia entities.
In the most recent round, WMF staff assessment scores for the 11 affiliates (10 of them national chapters) were largely positive, though they came with significant criticism. Four returning chapters' scores were sharply reduced compared with those a year ago—for the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Israel.
This year's FDC recommendations saw no affiliate receive all of its requested funding, with cuts of 6–70% to initial requests; even so, the amounts awarded to returning applicants were mostly significant increases over last year's allocations.
While the FDC recommended that WMDE receive €1,296,000 for its first round (2013–14; two rounds per year), the chapter had requested €1,800,000—losing roughly a quarter of its original request. The staff assessment, while downgrading WMDE's score from an enviable 53 last year to 44 this year (falling significantly in ratings of "impact", "ability to execute", and "measures of success"), detailed extensive risks in WMDE's budget proposal, including its planned staffing:
WMDE is planning to hire nine new positions in addition to increasing two positions to full-time status, bringing total staff to 51.45 part- and full-time staff. Adding US$742,500 in staffing cost seems neither prudent nor sustainable, given its current revenue plan. Only one of nine new positions is for its new focus area of software development, and five are devoted to evaluation, communications, and administration. This raises questions about how this staff growth corresponds to WMDE’s new focus areas. ... / ... Nine employees and more than [$1M] are to be allocated to the Volunteer Support program, but this significant investment may not have commensurate impact on the Wikimedia projects, especially considering WMDE’s mixed record in past community support work (for example, Fact Check and the community budget have had uneven results and response). ... / ... WMDE is not always forthcoming with sharing its challenges and lessons learned in its reports.
WMDE's message to the FDC focused on what they see as three key "risks" inherent in the FDC's approach to this round of funding.
With all of the chapters not receiving their requested funding, WMDE believes that this could lead to inflated requests, where chapters would ask for far more than actually desired in the hope they will get all they desire.
More seriously, WMDE critiqued the FDC's recommendations, which in their view reduced the funding requests without giving sufficient cause. "In general, it is not clear from the FDC’s explanations of its decisions what applicants should have done differently in order to receive the full funding amount. Its explanations often mention the 'growth rate', but how does one define healthy growth and unhealthy growth?", said WMDE. "It is difficult to grasp why a budget has been described as 'large' or certain metrics as 'poor' if no frame of reference is given. This prevents the entities in question—as well as future applicants—from learning from their previous mistakes."
Applying only to WMDE's funding request for this year, the last point emphasized that the FDC cut WMDE's request because, in part, it had not spent all of the funding granted in the year previous. Continuing such practices with other chapters could lead to an "end-of-year spending frenzy" from chapters unwilling to lose money.
Other complaints range from "inappropriate expectations" of small and/or young chapters and organizations, with the argument that they are currently held to the standards of the established chapters, and the expanded bureaucracy such an accountable process requires. Piggybacking on their desire to cut through the red tape is the issue of the FDC applications themselves: "An unbelievable amount of effort goes into this entire process—on the part of the chapter, the WMF and the FDC", WMDE stated. "Do we have any statistics on the number of staff and volunteer hours ... that the process entails?"
Wikimedia Germany's "way forward" combines "reworking" and simplifying the process with finding a "joint and truly global strategy that has been accepted by all members", a line that has received little comment but would presumably decentralize the Wikimedia grantmaking structure by requiring agreement from major players. The message closed with an invitation to the upcoming Wikimedia Conference with the aim of a "thorough reworking of the FDC process."
Reception to the proposal on its talk page ranged from Pundit faulting the German chapter in a bulleted list, noting that they did not mention that many of the chapters received more money than the year before and did not list what WMDE thought of as the FDC's "mistakes", though also praising the chapter for remarking on the amount of bureaucratic overhead. Jan-Bart de Vreede, the chair of the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees, commented that "I might not agree with all of [the feedback], but it is very useful to have nonetheless ... [an] evaluation [of the FDC process] is currently planned at the end of May. [WMDE's executive director] is a member of this group so I have no concerns that the experiences described here will get lost somewhere." Kevin Gorman remarked that "It's great to see sincere, good faith engagement between major movement entities about serious matters such as the FDC."
WMF looks to allow MP4 uploads to Wikimedia projects
The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has asked for comment (RfC) on the future of video formats in the Wikimedia movement. The RfC, which as of publication is failing, asks participants about the use of MP4 videos, which is the most popular video format used today and is prevalent on sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, but the use of it is encumbered by patents, and license arrangements would have to be made with MPEG-LA. The RfC asks the community to give opinions on whether to move forward with some steps: embracing MP4 in some form for uploaded files, transcoding them to open formats, or some combination of these.
If implemented in full, the change would allow the uploading and viewing of freely licensed MP4 videos on Wikimedia projects; there are also options to only allow their viewing or uploading.
Such a change has been prominent in the planning of the Foundation's multimedia team, because despite Wikimedia, Mozilla and Google's efforts, free video formats have yet to enjoy widespread use:
One of the major reasons why there are so few videos on Wikimedia sites is that we do not support the widespread MP4 standard. Instead, we rely on the lesser-known Ogg Theora and WebM standards, whose user base is vastly outnumbered by the many users of MP4 around the world. ... about 150 million of our users are still unable to view open video files on their browsers. For mobile phones and tablets, there is no practical way to play Ogg or WebM videos on the very popular iPhone and iPad devices, and only some phones can play WebM files. / By contrast, MP4 is installed by default on most mobile devices and desktop computers, typically including hardware support that is much more efficient than software solutions for video encoding and decoding.
Surprisingly, the proposal falls far short of what might potentially have been put to the community. A key part of the request—perhaps lost in the lengthy textual background—is that uploaded MP4 videos would be stored in both MP4 and a free file format, such as WebM or Ogg Theora. If the vote is successful, the Foundation has committed to developing tools that would convert uploaded files from MP4 to a free format, and vice versa.
However, the proposal faces significant opposition from Wikimedia users. The MP4 format is not free software; some of the patents on it will not expire until 2028. Their position is summarized by the Foundation as an ideological conflict: "They view MP4 support as a fundamental shift in our values—and a major setback for the open and free software movements. They are prepared to stick with the current status quo, even if this means that millions of users are unable to view or contribute MP4 video content on our sites." Martijn Hoekstra commented that adding patented formats to Wikimedia sites means stepping back from the goal of being a free repository, while darkweasel94 went farther: "We should apply pressure on others to support free formats, not surrender to others' pressure to support patent-encumbered formats. It's already bad enough that Firefox is going to support it—we don't need Wikimedia to become yet another traitor to the movement (free software/free culture, broadly construed). Then the companies with an interest in MP4 can really declare their victory."
Other opponents were far more pragmatic. Geni was the first to oppose the vote, quoting a camera manual's stipulations on recording in MP4 and contrasting it with the free CC-by-SA standard: "This product is licensed under AT&T patents for the MPEG-4 standard and may be used for encoding MPEG-4 compliant video and/or decoding MPEG-4 compliant video that was encoded only (1) for a personal and non-commercial purpose or (2) by a video provider licensed under AT&T patents to provide MPEG-4 compliant video. No license is granted or implied for any other use for MPEG-4 standard."
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