Last month, I wrote an open letter to the Wikimedia Foundation, inviting others to join me in a simple but important request: roll back the recent actions—both technical and social—by which the Wikimedia Foundation has overruled legitimate decisions of several Wikimedia projects.
The context of the letter has been discussed in many venues, including the Signpost. In summary: Three of Wikimedia's most substantial projects clearly and formally rejected the full deployment of the Wikimedia Foundation's Media Viewer software, and declared that the deployment should be scaled back. The WMF disagreed, and created both technical ("superprotect") and social obstacles to those projects' decisions. In the letter, we requested, and continue to request, that the Wikimedia Foundation remove those obstacles.
I hoped that, if I contacted those who had previously spoken up on the topic, and diligently pursued my friends and close colleagues, I might earn as many as 200 signatures in a month, and thereby deliver a clear, strong message.
The response was astonishing.
In less than a month, the letter has been signed by 824 Wikimedians. An additional 82 people signed a copy of the letter published on change.org, totalling more than 900 supporters.
The signatures reflect broad support from those who have built Wikimedia's content, and who are passionate about our vision of freely sharing knowledge around the world; this group isn't narrowly centered on a certain range of experience or a specific language community. More than half of those signing began contributing between 2001 and 2007; nearly 100 started within the last 2.5 years. Wikimedians from 42 language communities signed. Volunteers have fully translated the text of the letter into 20 languages, and discussed it on various "Village Pump" pages across the Wikimedia projects. I have heard personally from Wikimedians around the world, in private emails and public talk page messages, about the letter's importance, and how it relates to local issues.
What the letter is not
Let me emphasize several things the letter does not request or assert.
The letter does not endorse the Request for Comment model, or any other particular model, for evaluating software suitability. It does not propose any specific hierarchy or power dynamic among the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia volunteers. And finally, it does not insist that software like the Media Viewer or the superprotect status can never exist.
When I wrote the letter, I took great care to maintain neutrality on points like these. Dedicated Wikimedians hold a variety of views on such issues. But the letter’s simple requests, if granted, will address an immediate and divisive issue, and will permit those of us who share the Wikimedia vision to deliberate topics like these calmly and productively.
Where do we go from here?
New software should bring celebration, not panic. Together, we need to work toward that reality. But before we can do so, we need an acceptable starting point.
900 people agree on what that starting point should look like.
The Wikimedia Foundation has the next move.
Pete Forsyth is the principal of Wiki Strategies, where he has advised organizations small and large in Wikipedia engagement, including design and recruitment for Wikipedian in residence programs.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author only; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section. Editors wishing to propose their own Signpost contribution should email the Signpost's editor in chief.