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News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

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Sue Gardner to receive first Knight Innovation Award

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner

The Wikimedia Foundation is delighted to share the news that Sue Gardner will receive the first Knight Innovation Award from the Knight Foundation, in conjunction with City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and its Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.

“Sue’s extraordinary vision for Internet freedom and openness has helped guide the rapidly changing world of journalism into the digital age,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president of journalism and media innovation. “Her outstanding accomplishments, first as a journalist and then as leader of the Wikimedia Foundation, have set a firm footing for the future of media.”

Sue began her career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After her time as a reporter, journalist and producer, she became the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation in 2007, utilizing her insight while overseeing a period of extraordinary growth both in the readership of Wikipedia – now the fifth most visited website in the world – and in donations made to the Wikimedia Foundation. In recognition of her bold international leadership in media and universal Internet access, Sue will receive a $25,000 award and will grant another $25,000 to a startup of her choice in support of innovation and entrepreneurship in news and information.

Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, said, “We are committed to supporting new models for sustainable journalism and to incorporating technology developments as our industry transforms. Sue’s work clearly demonstrates her alignment with these goals. We are delighted to honor her for her brave and creative actions and accomplishments.”

The Wikimedia Foundation would like to thank Knight Foundation for publicly recognizing Sue’s leadership and dedication throughout her career. Sue is set to receive her award and speak on innovation today, Dec. 16, at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Tilman Bayer
Movement Communications

Announcing the search for the Wikimedia Foundation’s Chief Communications Officer

A few weeks ago, Jay Walsh stepped down as head of Communications for the Wikimedia Foundation. I was sad to see Jay leave — for nearly six years he’s guided WMF communications activities with unerring judgement and poise. He’s been a trusted colleague and a good friend to the movement.

Today, we’re announcing an international search for his replacement: a Chief Communications Officer (CCO) to lead the WMF’s small communications team.

It’s a unique job. Wikipedia is super-famous and the press and general public are highly interested in us. We’re likelier to turn down press opportunities than to seek them out. Unusually for an organization representing a famous brand, we tend to speak freely, rather than aiming to restrict access to information about us, and we do it in collaboration with a decentralized global network of volunteer spokespeople. We don’t try to significantly control or shape people’s perceptions of Wikipedia because we believe brand perception emerges organically out of users’ day-to-day experiences with a product. People love Wikipedia, and so do we: that means we’ve got no reason to be overly controlling about our public image.

We want a CCO who believes in the WMF vision and shares our values. He or she will manage communications at the WMF and across the projects we operate, ensuring a fast and easy flow of information in multiple languages, both internally within the Wikimedia movement and externally with the press, readers, donors and general public. The full CCO job description, including required qualifications, can be found here.

To help in the recruitment process, we’ve engaged Chaloner Associates, an executive search firm specializing in communications roles. If you’re interested in the role, or want to suggest potential candidates, you can write to Amy Segelin (amy@chaloner.com) or Kassie Wilner (kassie@chaloner.com) at Chaloner. You can also apply online here. If you’re a Wikimedia community member, please say that in your application since it’s a plus for us. Also please note we don’t discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin, nationality, religion, political perspective, sex, age, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation, and we particularly value international experience and fluency in languages in addition to English.

We expect to begin interviewing candidates in December, and hope to have a new CCO in place in January.

Please join me in thanking Jay for his many years of service to the Wikimedia movement, and please share this post with your networks.

Thanks,
Sue Gardner

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s response to paid advocacy editing and sockpuppetry

Editors on the English Wikipedia are currently investigating allegations of suspicious edits and sockpuppetry (i.e. using online identities for purposes of deception). At this point, as reported, it looks like a number of user accounts — perhaps as many as several hundred — may have been paid to write articles on Wikipedia promoting organizations or products, and have been violating numerous site policies and guidelines, including prohibitions against sockpuppetry and undisclosed conflicts of interest. As a result, Wikipedians aiming to protect the projects against non-neutral editing have blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.

The Wikimedia Foundation takes this issue seriously and has been following it closely.

With a half a billion readers, Wikipedia is an important informational resource for people all over the world. Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way. Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem. We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options.

In the wake of the investigation, editors have expressed shock and dismay. We understand their reaction and share their concerns. We are grateful to the editors who’ve been doing the difficult, painstaking work of trying to figure out what’s happening here.

Editing-for-pay has been a divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years, particularly when the edits to articles are promotional in nature. Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic. We consider it a “black hat” practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.

What is clear to everyone is that all material on Wikipedia needs to adhere to Wikipedia’s editorial policies, including those on neutrality and verifiability. It is also clear that companies that engage in unethical practices on Wikipedia risk seriously damaging their own reputations. In general, companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia’s educational mission.

Being deceptive in your editing by using sockpuppets or misrepresenting your affiliation with a company is against Wikipedia policy and is prohibited by our Terms of Use. We urge companies to conduct themselves ethically, to be transparent about what they’re doing on Wikipedia, and to adhere to all site policies and practices.

The Wikimedia Foundation is closely monitoring this ongoing investigation and we are currently assessing all the options at our disposal. We will have more to say in the coming weeks.

Sue Gardner
Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation

What’s missing from the media discussions of Wikipedia categories and sexism

Last week the New York Times published an Op-Ed from author Amanda Filipacchi headlined Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists, in which she criticized Wikipedia for moving some authors from the “American novelists” category into a sub-category called “American women novelists.” Because there is no subcategory for “American male novelists,” Filipacchi saw the change as reflecting a sexist double standard, in which ‘male’ is positioned as the ungendered norm, with ‘female’ as a variant.

I completely understand why Filipacchi was outraged. She saw herself, and Harper Lee, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Judy Blume, Louisa May Alcott, Mary Higgins Clark, and many others, seemingly downgraded in the public record and relegated to a subcategory that she assumed would get less readership than the main one. She saw this as a loss for American women novelists who might otherwise be visible when people went to Wikipedia looking for ideas about who to hire, to honor, or to read.

In the days following, other publications picked up the story, and Filipacchi wrote two followup pieces — one describing edits made to her own biography on Wikipedia following her first op-ed, and another rebutting media stories that had positioned the original categorization changes as the work of a lone editor.

For me–as a feminist Wikipedian–reading the coverage has been extremely interesting. I agree with many of the criticisms that have been raised (as I think many Wikipedians do), and yet there are important points that I think have been missing from the media discussions so far.

In Wikipedia, like any large-scale human endeavor, practice often falls short of intent.

Individuals make mistakes, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t call into question the usefulness or motivations of the endeavor as a whole. Since 2011, Wikipedia has officially discouraged the creation of gender-specific subcategories, except when gender is relevant to the category topic. (One of the authors of the guideline specifically noted that it is clear that any situation in which women get a gendered subcategory while men are left in the ungendered parent category is unacceptable.) In other words, the very situation Filipacchi decries in her op-ed has been extensively discussed and explicitly discouraged on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is a continual work-in-progress. It’s never done.

In her original op-ed, Filipacchi seems to assume that Wikipedians are planning to move all the women out of the American Novelists category, leaving all the men. But that’s not the case. There’s a continuous effort on Wikipedia to refine and revise categories with large populations, and moving out the women from American Novelists would surely have been followed by moving out the satirical novelists, or the New York novelists, or the Young Adult novelists. I’d argue it’s still an inappropriate thing to do, because women are 50 percent of the population, not a variant to the male norm. Nevertheless the move needs to be understood not as an attack on women, but rather, in the context of continuous efforts to refine and revise all categories.

Wikipedia is a reflection of the society that produces it.

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia anyone can edit, and as such it reflects the cultural biases and attitudes of the general society. It’s important to say that the people who write Wikipedia are a far larger and vastly more diverse group than the staff of any newsroom or library or archive, past or present. That’s why Wikipedia is bigger, more comprehensive, up-to-date and nuanced, compared with any other reference work. But with fewer than one in five contributors being female, gender is definitely Wikipedia’s weak spot, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it would fall victim to the same gender-related errors and biases as the society that produces it.

Are there misogynists on Wikipedia? Given that anyone with internet access can edit it, and that there are roughly 80,000 active editors (those who make at least 5 edits per month on Wikimedia projects), it would be absurd to claim that Wikipedia is free of misogyny. Are there well-intentioned people on Wikipedia accidentally behaving in ways that perpetuate sexism? Of course. It would be far more surprising if Wikipedia were somehow free of sexism, rather than the reverse.

Which brings me to my final point.

It’s not always the case, but in this instance the system worked. Filipacchi saw something on Wikipedia that she thought was wrong. She drew attention to it. Now it’s being discussed and fixed. That’s how Wikipedia works.

The answer to bad speech is more speech. Many eyes make all bugs shallow. If you see something on Wikipedia that irks you, fix it. If you can’t do it yourself, the next best thing is to do what Filipacchi did — talk about it, and try to persuade other people there’s a problem. Wikipedia belongs to its readers, and it’s up to all of us to make it as good as it possibly can be.

Sue Gardner, Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikidata revolution is here: enabling structured data on Wikipedia

The logo of Wikidata

A year after its announcement as the first new Wikimedia project since 2006, Wikidata has now begun to serve the over 280 language versions of Wikipedia as a common source of structured data that can be used in more than 25 million articles of the free encyclopedia.

By providing Wikipedia editors with a central venue for their efforts to collect and vet such data, Wikidata leads to a higher level of consistency and quality in Wikipedia articles across the many language editions of the encyclopedia. Beyond Wikipedia, Wikidata’s universal, machine-readable knowledge database will be freely reusable by anyone, enabling numerous external applications.

“Wikidata is a powerful tool for keeping information in Wikipedia current across all language versions,” said Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner. “Before Wikidata, Wikipedians needed to manually update hundreds of Wikipedia language versions every time a famous person died or a country’s leader changed. With Wikidata, such new information, entered once, can automatically appear across all Wikipedia language versions. That makes life easier for editors and makes it easier for Wikipedia to stay current.”

The Wikidata entry on Johann Sebastian Bach (as displayed in the “Reasonator” tool), containing among other data the composer’s places of birth and death, family relations, entries in various bibliographic authority control databases, a list of compositions, and public monuments depicting him

The dream of a wiki-based, collaboratively edited repository of structured data that could be reused in Wikipedia infoboxes goes back to at least 2004, when Wikimedian Erik Möller (now the deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation) posted a detailed proposal for such a project. The following years saw work on related efforts like the Semantic MediaWiki extension, and discussions of how to implement a central data repository for Wikimedia intensified in 2010 and 2011.

The development of Wikidata began in March 2012, led by Wikimedia Deutschland, the German chapter of the Wikimedia movement. Since Wikidata.org went live on 30 October 2012, a growing community of around 3,000 active contributors started building its database of ‘items’ (e.g. things, people or concepts), first by collecting topics that are already the subject of Wikipedia articles in several languages. An item’s central page on Wikidata replaces the complex web of language links that previously connected these articles about the same topic in different Wikipedia versions.

Wikidata’s collection of these items now numbers over 10 million. The community also began to enrich Wikidata’s database with factual statements about these topics (data like the mayor of a city, the ISBN of a book, the languages spoken in a country, etc.). This information has now become available for use on Wikipedia itself, and Wikipedians on many language Wikipedias have already started to add it to articles, or discuss how to make best use of it.

“It is the goal of Wikidata to collect the world’s complex knowledge in a structured manner so that anybody can benefit from it,” said Wikidata project director Denny Vrandečić. “Whether that’s readers of Wikipedia who are able to be up to date about certain facts or engineers who can use this data to create new products that improve the way we access knowledge.”

The next phase of Wikidata will allow for the automatic creation of lists and charts based on the data in Wikidata. Wikimedia Deutschland will continue to support the project with an engineering team that is dedicated to Wikidata’s second year of development and maintenance.

Wikidata is operated by the Wikimedia Foundation and its fact database is published under a Creative Commons 0 public domain dedication. Funding of Wikidata’s initial development was provided by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence [AI]², the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Google, Inc.

Tilman Bayer, Senior Operations Analyst, Wikimedia Foundation

More information available here:

Some of the first applications demonstrating the potential of Wikidata:

  • http://simia.net/treeoflife/ – a (still very incomplete) “tree of life” drawn from relations among biological species in Wikidata’s database
  • “GeneaWiki” generates a graph showing a person’s family relations as recorded in Wikidata, example: Bach family

Wikimedia Foundation winner of Knight News Challenge

We’re very excited to announce that the Wikimedia Foundation was named a winner in the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight News Challenge for our work to expand and improve Wikimedia mobile projects, particularly for users in developing countries.

Knight Foundation supports expansion of access to Wikipedia via mobile

As mobile technology is increasingly the primary opportunity for billions of people around the world to access the Internet, our mobile teams are working to remove the two biggest hurdles to access free knowledge: cost and accessibility. The $600,000 News Challenge grant will be utilized in four areas:

  • Improving the way that users experience our mobile platform on feature phones;
  • Expanding Wikipedia Zero, which gives mobile users free access to Wikipedia on their phones;
  • Developing features to improve the mobile experience regardless of how feature-rich the device is, including new ways to access Wikipedia via texting;
  • Increasing the number of languages that can access Wikipedia on mobile.

“Knight Foundation’s funding will support us making the mobile version of Wikipedia easier to use, as well as enabling us to expand Wikipedia Zero, our project with mobile operators that lets their customers access Wikipedia for free,” said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “I’m very happy Knight has chosen to support us; it’s an important affirmation of our mobile work.”

The Wikimedia Foundation is one of eight mobile projects to receive a total of $2.4 million today through the Knight News Challenge, which aims to accelerate projects with funding and advice from Knight’s network of media innovators. A full list of the News Challenge Mobile winners is at knightfoundation.org.

“Wikipedia has helped define the way that people collaboratively create content. Making the site available to more people  across the world will help foster and spread that culture,” said John Bracken, director for journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.

The $600,000 News Challenge grant is for two years and follows a general support grant of $250,000 that Knight Foundation awarded to the Wikimedia Foundation in December 2012.

The Wikimedia Foundation and the other winners of the challenge will present their projects from a gathering on the future of mobile at Arizona State University via live Web stream at 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT, Friday, Jan. 18 at knightfoundation.org/live. (Follow #newschallenge on Twitter.) For more, visit knightfoundation.org or newschallenge.org.

Matthew Roth, Global Communications Manager, Wikimedia Foundation

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner named to the Board of Directors at Global Voices

The Wikimedia Foundation is happy to announce that Sue Gardner has been named to the Board of Directors at Global Voices.

Global Voices is a community of more than 1300 authors and translators in dozens of countries around the world that publishes reports from global citizen journalists, with an emphasis on voices that aren’t ordinarily heard in major international media. Through various language websites, their volunteer editors, authors and translators provide links to blog posts, social networks, podcasts, photographs and videos from their respective regions and they translate and explain what’s happening around the world in citizen media.

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner

“Global Voices does great work, and I’m really looking forward to sharing experiences and expertise with the people involved there.” said Sue Gardner. “The Wikimedia Foundation and Global Voices hold a lot of the same values, and for me the most important is our shared commitment to freedom of expression. The world needs strong voices advocating for internet users’ right to express themselves and to access information without impediment.”

Global Voices was founded in 2005 by anti-censorship advocate and former journalist Rebecca MacKinnon and technologist and media scholar Ethan Zuckerman, while they were both fellows at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

“Sue brings to Global Voices a unique combination of knowledge and experience that is particularly beneficial to the organisation. We’re really happy to be working with Sue, learning from her experience at the Wikimedia Foundation,” said Ivan Sigal, Executive Director of Global Voices. “We’re also looking forward to having her presence and creative thinking enlivening our board conversations.”

The Global Voices nine-member board meets four times per year, and has been an active, engaged and vital part of their community since its inception. The board is composed of its two founders, three community representatives and four external members.

Matthew Roth, Global Communications Manager, Wikimedia Foundation

Wikimedia Foundation raises $25 million in record time during 2012 fundraiser

The Wikimedia Foundation is happy to announce the successful completion of our ninth annual fundraising campaign in record time. Wikipedia readers donated $25 million and once again affirmed the value of the project by guaranteeing that the online encyclopedia will remain ad-free.

Donations help the Wikimedia Foundation maintain server infrastructure, support global projects to increase the number of editors, improve and simplify the software that supports our projects, and make Wikipedia accessible globally to billions of people who are just beginning to access the internet.

More than 1.2 million donors contributed to the campaign, which ran on English Wikipedia in 5 countries (United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand) for only 9 full days, down from 46 days in 2011. The most-successful 24-hour period for donations this year brought in $2,365,564 from 145,573 donors. Messages and formats optimized in this year’s campaign will be used in another short fundraising drive for the rest of the world in April 2013.

“I’m grateful that the Wikipedia fundraiser was so successful. Our supporters are wonderful and without them we could not do the job of delivering free content worldwide,” said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “We’re thrilled to be able to introduce our readers to the editors around the world who create Wikipedia and to invite our readers to join in editing.”

Volunteer contributors are the heart of the world’s largest encyclopedia. To highlight the tens of millions of hours they put into the projects each year, the Wikimedia Foundation has started a thank you campaign with short videos that showcase some of the roughly 80,000 volunteer editors, photographers and free-knowledge advocates from around the world who regularly contribute to Wikimedia projects. The campaign started today and will run through the end of the year.

You can meet the Wikimedians who we’re profiling in our thank you campaign here and continue to tune into the Wikimedia blog for further profiles of volunteer contributors.

Matthew Roth, Global Communications Manager

Wikimedia Foundation’s Sue Gardner named to World’s Most Powerful Women list by Forbes

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Garner in San Francisco.

We are very excited to share the news that Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner was named to the Worlds 100 Most Powerful Women list by Forbes Magazine yesterday. Citing her role in transforming the Wikimedia Foundation from a small non-profit into a thriving organization with over 120 employees, a complex technical product roadmap and a consistently rising pool of revenue from a global donor-base, Forbes lists Sue in the company of her technology peers, as well as significant political figures, philanthropists, media magnates, leaders of aid organizations and celebrities.

As Forbes writes, the Wikimedia Foundation “pre- and post-Sue Gardner are two completely different organizations. When she arrived at Wikimedia [Foundation], the nonprofit behind Wikipedia, in 2007, the organization had under 10 employees and was raising less than $3 million dollars annually. In 2011, Wikimedia’s number of donors had increased ten times over, raising $23 million.”

Everyone who works at the Wikimedia Foundation is proud that Sue’s leadership and dedication to the Wikimedia movement over the past five years has been recognized so publicly, but as she would remind us, power in the Wikimedia community doesn’t rest in one person. The success of the Wikimedia projects is shared by the hundreds of thousands of contributors from all over the world who have made Wikipedia the 5th largest web property and a household name.

Jay Walsh, Head of Communications

Wikimedia welcomes $3 million gift from the Sloan Foundation

Today we are very pleased to announce a great gift from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  For the second time since 2008, the Sloan Foundation is providing us with a $3 million, unrestricted grant to support the Wikimedia Foundation in pursuit of its main goals as outlined in our recently published strategic plan.

As described by our Executive Director Sue Gardner in today’s press release:

“Three years ago, at a time when cultural elites were ambivalent about Wikipedia, the Sloan Foundation took a risk by supporting us. I will always be grateful to Sloan for its courage in doing that,” said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “Today the academic community in particular has begun to appreciate Wikipedia, and is starting to work closely with us to make it even better. I’m grateful to Sloan for sending an important signal that helped make that happen, and I’m thrilled at this renewed expression of confidence in our work.”

The grant comes to us as part of the Sloan Foundation’s Access to Knowledge component of its Digital Information Technology program. Sloan Vice President Doron Weber reflected on their perspective on Wikipedia:

“Wikipedia embodies the ideal values of the world wide web and we are proud to be part of this bold endeavor to use the wisdom and the altruism of the crowd to create the biggest, most up-to-date and most open global encyclopedia in human history.”

This is great news for Wikimedia Foundation as we push into our strategic planning priorities: increasing Wikipedia’s quality, increasing the number and demographic diversity of its editors, and reaching more readers, particularly in the global south.

Our thanks to the Sloan Foundation for their continued support!

Jay Walsh, Communications