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The 2002 Spanish fork and ads revisited (re-revisited?)

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This issue brings with it the work of HaeB, Strange Passerby, and Ohconfucius; presented is a snippet of an article which originally ran back in 24 January 2011. A chapter of the long running Jimbo–Larry feud is well-documented with this piece concerning the origins of Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español. It stands perfectly timeless, so it always makes for good reading.

Concerns about ads, US bias and Larry Sanger caused the 2002 Spanish fork

A recent interview has shed new light on the 2002 fork of the Spanish Wikipedia and the influence it may have had on the development of Wikipedia as a whole, and ignited a controversy between Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales about the stance on advertising in the early phase of the project.

Edgar Enyedy, an early activist on the Spanish Wikipedia who describes himself as "some sort of unofficial leader together with Javier de la Cueva" of the fork Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español, was interviewed by Nathaniel Tkacz of the "Critical Point of View" (CPOV) Wikipedia research initiative, on whose blog the interview was first published on January 15 ("'Good luck with your WikiPAIDia': Reflections on the 2002 Fork of the Spanish Wikipedia". See also the recent Signpost interview with Tkacz and fellow CPOV member Johanna Niesyto).

Concerns about possible plans to use advertising on Wikipedia are often named as the main reason for the fork. Enyedy confirmed that remarks about ads in a February 2002 announcement by Larry Sanger triggered the exodus of the Spanish Wikipedians ("Bomis might well start selling ads on Wikipedia sometime within the next few months, and revenue from those ads might make it possible for me to come back to my old job"), but insisted that several other issues played an important role, including concerns about the insufficiently international nature of Wikipedia – an "American shadow [that] marked the first point of contention between myself and Sanger and Wales." As examples, he named the fact that "the basic pages ('what Wikipedia is not', 'be bold', 'how to start', 'sandbox', etc.) were all in English; we had the American logo in English and so on", but also referred to issues that are in some form still relevant today, such as the internationalization of the interface: "The software, for example, was not translated at all and it cast an English (language) shadow over the entire project", and cultural differences between Europe and the US regarding sexual images ("Former AOL users used to remind me that explicit biology images are widely accepted among us, but would be considered inappropriate on the American version"). The Spanish Wikipedians also differed from their English counterpart by introducing a stylebook, and an index based on the Universal Decimal Classification.

A main reason for the fork was objections to the leadership of Wikipedia's chief organizer Larry Sanger:

Also contributing to the decision to fork was a distrust of Jimmy Wales' intentions, who to Enyedy seemed reluctant to steer Wikipedia into a non-profit direction.

Asked by Tkacz how the right to fork (granted in principle by the Wikipedia's free license) looked in detail in this case, Enyedy said that the activists had to download and transfer the articles one by one. (The accessibility of timely Wikipedia dumps continues to be a point of debate today.)

Enyedy said that the Enciclopedia Libre, while still active today, "was not intended to last. It was merely a form of pressure. Some of the goals were achieved, not all of them, but it was worth the cost", and emphasized its continuing influence:

According to Tkacz, Enyedy said "that he has been approached several times a year since 2002, but has never shared his story because the people contacting him were either mainstream journalists or people from wikimedia and he wasn't convinced they would let him tell his version of the story".

The abstract of a talk about the fork given at Wikimania 2005 also mentions issues that led to its creation.

Reactions by Wales and Sanger

On January 20, Wired UK published an abbreviated version of the interview ("The Spanish Fork: Wikipedia's ad-fuelled mutiny"), which included reactions by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.

Sanger objected sharply to Enyedy's statements, saying that "the only sort of person who could seriously describe my role as an Orwellian "Big Brother" is a radical anarchist, for whom even the slightest possible exercise of authority is outrageous oppression. To be sure, Wikipedia had quite a few of such vocal characters in its early days. The story has not yet been fully told just how they essentially took over with the blessing of Jimmy Wales". But Sanger agreed that the fork "might well have been the straw that finally tipped the scales in favor of a 100% ad-free Wikipedia."

Jimmy Wales issued a much shorter statement:

Sanger objected even more sharply to Wales' statement, questioning the veracity of the first sentence, first on Twitter ("He was long in favor; I long opposed. Apologize, pls!"), then on his personal blog, recalling or citing various statements by Wales about ads from 2000 to 2002 ("From the beginning, Wales let me know in no uncertain terms that, once it garnered enough traffic, Nupedia would become ad-supported"). Sanger said that in December 2001 (when all other Bomis employees had to be laid off and his own position appeared to hinge on possible advertising revenue), he "was still uncomfortable with the idea of ads being run to support me, even in a non-profit context". The discussion then continued on Jimmy Wales' user talk page, where Wales said that "I don't see what the discrepancy is supposed to be", and Sanger accused him of lying.

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