The quarterly report Foundation "scorecard", an integral new part of new self-assessment efforts.
Annual plan expenditure comparisons for 2015–16, set against the 2014–15 figures; figures are in millions of USD. The largest change in relative terms is in the communications department, which doubled its stake from 2% to 4% of the overall budget, following through with prevailing themes at the Foundation regarding the need for closer community integration and making sure "the story" is told correctly.
The Wikimedia Foundation recently switched to a quarterly report structure to better align reporting with the generally quarterly planning and goal-setting processes. This week's publication of a January–March 2015 quarterly report marks the second such report to be released since a switch was made earlier this year from an older monthly to a new quarterly internal reporting structure. The change was made to better align the contents of these reports with the Foundation's generally quarterly goal-setting processes, and in March the Signpostcovered the contents of the first such report, as well as some of the reasoning behind the reformatting. These reports are still reasonably new in structure and remain a work in progress; in an email to the foundation-l mailing list, senior operations analyst Tilman Bayer and chief operating officer Terence Gilbey spoke of some of the changes and new features introduced into this second report.
The principal change has been the creation and organization of a new departmental "scorecard"; this is a new organizational assessment system spearheaded by recently hired chief operating officer Terence Gilbey as a part of an effort to increase the rigor of the metrics the Foundation uses to keep track of its progress—a major theme in last month's publication of the mammoth State of the WMF report. The scorecard is typified by a system of goals drafted at the beginning of a reporting period that are either met (successes) or "missed" (failures) over the course of quarter. The first quarter saw 130 objectives split across 32 teams, with a roughly even distribution of successes (52%; 67) and misses (48%; 63). At this month's metrics and activities meeting, Gilbey, new leader of the meetings in the stead of now-departed vice president of engineering Erik Möller, somewhat clarified the vision behind the scorecard: the hope is for about 75% of goals to result in successes, while a 100% success means that the team is probably not setting goals aggressively enough. He attempted to mollify concerns from a member of the audience about what use a binary pass/fail departmental assessment system could serve in the organization, stating that many of the teams which missed their objectives "came very close" and that further refinements in the system remain under consideration.
In related news, the Wikimedia Foundation this week also published a draft version of its 2015–2016 annual plan. The first Foundation annual plan appeared in 2008, and the Foundation has been openly publishing its annual plans, with various changes in format, ever since then. Last year's annual plan drew criticism for indigestibility: as the Signpostreported at the time, the plan was published and reviewed via the annual plan grants process, an awkward arrangement given that the process's stated mission is reviewing grant proposals to the Wikimedia Foundation by far smaller affiliated national chapters, not those of the organization itself.
In contrast to last year's 22,000-word proposal, this year's plan—now again released independently of the FDC—clocks in at just 3,600 words. Thus, although the plan does provide current data on WMF projections about its activities and budgets for the coming year, in contrast with last year's report it provides little in the way of explanation of its intent. Indeed, in the "background and context" section, the report outlines its new format. A SWOT-style "Risks" section will be prepared as a separate document, one that, alarmingly, only "may be released" in a public version (our italics). The plan says nothing more about the Foundation's progress against its current year's plan: instead it is meant to serve as "a 12 month high-level overview of organizational priorities as guided by the 2015 Call to Action and a forward-looking spend forecast ... it re-aligns organizational focus around communities and technical deliverables."
What to make of the new format? The WMF is currently in the process of overhauling the way it measures itself (hence the report's secondary focus on "key performance indicators", to be defined), and as part of that it has been attempting to re-align its reporting periods against its assessment periods and to cut procedural waste and duplication. This year's annual plan, then, is a plan only in the fiscal sense: it provides board-approved numbers on how the Foundation plans to spend its money, but little else besides. Organizational intent is to be read elsewhere: in the Foundation's quarterly reports, and in particular, in this year's publication of the enormous State of the Wiki report. Though the plan is up for community review, there is little (though not nothing) for the community to review here, as much of the action takes place elsewhere.
Worthy of particular attention is the last section of the report: an appendix on the Foundation's newly restructured engineering department. Engineering—or things that are to be construed as engineering under the aegis of the "product" department—makes up the bulk of the WMF's expenditure; there is good reason for this, since surveys again and again show that stakeholders believe this should be at the core of the Foundation's purpose. Vice-president of product and strategy and extremely long-time Wikipedian Erik Möller, retired from the Foundation last month—a move that was soon followed by a public email to the mailing lists by executive director Lila Tretikov regarding high-level reorganizations in the WMF, principally a restructuring of the engineering team (and the re-merging of product into the engineering department). R
Bad news from China: At 14:19 UTC on 20 May it was announced in Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, that "the Chinese Wikipedia is temporarily unable to be accessed by mainland China; the reason is unclear; other Wikimedia projects (such as the English Wikipedia) are currently not affected." (Translated; top cell, right side.) Two days later the story was picked up by Forbes, among other mainstream news outlets. The action comes as part of a history of blocking WMF sites by Beijing for various periods; it is still unclear when the current blocking will end. The Signpost notes private speculation that it may be related to the 4 June anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. T
Good news from China: NetEase, a major Chinese internet content provider, has announced that as of Wednesday 20 May it is hosting content on its popular 163.com portal from both the English Wikipedia and Baidu Baike, the Chinese-language collaborative online encyclopedia, with the claim that there will be a combined "20 million encyclopedia entries" (Google translation of announcement). The new service has come about largely through the efforts of the Wikimedia user group China, in particular one of its coordinators, Addis Wang. He told the Signpost: "for Youdao Dictionary App, they simply mirror ... articles from en.WP in their local server and people have full access to the content. Youdao only [supports] iOS at this time, but is working on [also supporting] Android. I've heard no plans for a desktop version, though I'm going to push for that." T
Sue Gardner on life after Wikimedia: Former long-time Foundation executive director Sue Gardner this week posted on her personal blog about her post-WMF career trajectory. Gardner was hired on as executive director in December 2007, overseeing the organization the WMF's formative years as it expanded from fewer than 10 to more than 160 employees (and millions of dollars of revenue) at the time she announced her retirement from the organization in 2013 (current executive director Lila Tretikov has been serving since mid-2014). In the post, titled "Why I'm working with Tor and First Look", Gardner explains the reasoning behind the two projects on which that she is currently embarking: R
The first is narrowly focused on Tor, where I’ll be developing a strategic plan for and with the Tor Project. I’m doing that because Tor is important — it’s the most secure and widely-used anonymity-supporting software that we’ve got. Tor is controversial because (like phones and cars and banks) its users include criminals. But what matters more to me is its use by people like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. I want the organisation behind Tor be as strong and effective as possible, and so I am going to put some energy towards helping make that happen.
My second project will be to research the broader state of “freedom tech”—all the tools and technologies that enable free speech, free assembly, and freedom of the press. I want to figure out, from a user-centric perspective, what kinds of freedom-enabling technology products and services people have access to today, what impediments they’re running up against in trying to use them, what functionality is needed that’s entirely missing from the current landscape, and what kinds of interventions would need to be made in order to start getting it built. Do we need easier, faster funding, and/or other forms of support, for individuals and tiny teams? Or bigger, better-funded organisations, with expertise the space currently doesn’t have? What would move the needle? That’ll be my focus.
"We" in the Wikipedia Movement: A discussion of interest occurred on the wikimedia-l mailing list this week after Wikimedian Micruauthored a post titled "Building a 'we' in the wikimedia movement". The post is a retrospective on Wikimedia Conference 2015 and on the Wikimedian community process overall. He stated, in part, that: R
Our movement is not only a "knowledge movement" or a "open movement", it is above a "social movement" which depends very much on the strength of our social connections to advance and thrive. The most obvious connection is between contributor and reader, it is the most singular one which differentiates us from other platforms like Facebook, however it is far from being the only one. Contributor-to-contributor is another key one which has been underestimated, and it is the salt and pepper of the community.
[…] In the wikimedia movement there is a serious lack of said expression spaces. For instance, during the WMCON 15, it was the first time that user groups representatives seated down together, also with some WMF employees, to discuss user groups in an open manner. I think it is a big step forward which paves the way in other areas too. Problems of the past like VE deployment schedule, and the upcoming Commons reform could profit of the "sit-and-talk" approach. It is costly, it takes time, however in the end there are more smiles, less drama, and the general feeling that besides of the you and me, there is a we, which is created together.
Das Referenz: Wikipedia for iPad: In a detailed blog post, UI design consultancy Raureifunveiled a new iOS application meant to make Wikipedia more readable on-the-go. It reads, in part:
Let’s get this straight: UI-wise, Wikipedia teleports its audience into the year 2004. Not surprisingly, there has been vibrant discussion recently as to how Wikipedia could be updated to feel contemporary. We’ve seen a few good (and even more mediocre) design ideas, but many feel like eye candy without substance.
On a different note, changing this established platform’s design and selling that to a conservative community is likely to be hard, or even impossible, even if the changes are tiny. Too many stakeholders will always ensure that things never really move forward. Apparently, some people are already fed up with the whole discussion and are begging designers to stop whining. But at Raureif, we don’t think this should be the end of the story.
The good news is that Wikipedia’s license allows anyone to take the great community content and shape it into something completely different. So we figured: instead of joining the crowd of designers who are whining and making sexy Dribbble shots, why not actually build the Wikipedia iOS app we’ve always dreamt of? Why not build a sleek app with Wikipedia’s content, but with a reimagined UI and a typographic treatment that is as thoughtful as the hand-crafted design of 100-year-old encyclopedias? (Digital encyclopedias do not have to look like unstyled HTML from the 90s.)
So build it we did, and we called our app Das Referenz. Yes, we’re based in Germany.
Wikipedia's struggle for relevancy in the increasingly media-saturated market (and the difficulty which the roll-out of Foundation-developed technical initiatives like Media Viewer and VisualEditor, meant to address these shortfalls, have had in the past) are a (even the) principal focus behind the Foundation's currently ongoing efforts to re-invent itself (for more information see last month's letter to the mailing list by Lila Tretikov and the publication of the State of the Wiki report). This is likewise not the first effort to bemoan Wikipedia's visual interface in the hopes of offering a better alternative: as the Signpostreported at the time, another similar effort, called Wikiwand, received strong press late last year. R