Interviews/Samuel Klein

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Interview with Samuel Klein, Board of Trustees member
Monday Sept 14, 2009
What do you see as major roles for Wikimedia in the next 5 to 10 years?

  • Wikimedia movement is in a position to develop and promote a defining a cultural movement of our time
    • For the first time, we have a generation that can work together and collaborate real-time and get immediate feedback; allows people to work at a larger scale
    • People can now organize to work like they did with barn raising, forming communities, working on a much greater scale and in the area of knowledge and technology
    • Capacity to build a broader movement that addresses all the aspects of sharing knowledge – right now there is a lot of information that is not in WMF scope
  • People don’t spend too much time thinking about what “education” means in the WMF mission – but most things that people publish or speak or capture fall under some piece of this – we should be having nuanced discussions about different components and understand what maps onto this Movement
  • This movement could define what freedoms people should have, what would be created, what the end goal is and who is it for?
  • 1M+ media wikis – we should be able to tag them so that those pages are available to other people who are running other sites today – could be quite valuable
  • There is a sense that Wikimedia allows for structured bi-directional links and structured data in a way that was the original vision for the internet – really large wikis allow for this, the web today does not allow for this

It sounds like you are advocating for opening up what the Wikimedia community focuses on rather than rationalizing and narrowing the set of Wikimedia projects like others have suggested.

  • I am suggesting broader projects, but more well-defined.
  • In the absence of any definition, we have what we have --- encyclopedias – people like it. It is easily structured and collaboration on other types of projects is hard (e.g. book collaboration vs encyclopedia article collaboration)
  • Initial call was for building an encyclopedia – all other projects got spun off because they didn’t fit in the encyclopedia. And they are successful in their own right, but we are care so little about the second largest project (Wiktionary) that no one has spent time to incorporate learnings on how to create an online dictionary

Given that the encyclopedia projects have taken off, but only in certain languages, certain regions of the world, and formats, what should Wikimedia focus on in terms of building out the different projects?

  • Would focus on basic tools vs. particular languages; even over the next 10 years, focus on specific languages does not need central guidance from WMF
  • Need central guidance on good tools: citation tools, translation tools, template sharing
    • Community groups feel powerless to do this, to develop these
    • Communities will grow on their own for their own language Wikipedias – the groups exist, need to focus on making it “ridiculously” easy for them so they don’t try to recreate tools on their own (slows them down, huge hill to climb)
    • Still not as friendly to people who are used to work with en tools
  • There are 2 ways that Wikipedias get started: 1) copy from an existing database; 2) creating/translating lists/articles from one Wikipedia to another – basic words to have in any dictionary, encyclopedia
  • All need scripts and tools – en, de, all have tools that have been developed to make it easier, but all the interfaces are in their languages, so they are difficult for others to leverage

We’ve had conversations with others who are against translation and believe that smaller language Wikipedias are about cultural preservation and that indigenous populations should build themselves.


  • There is a common misunderstanding that non-European language articles are copied from European languages –this is not true. But people do look at other languages as guidance. Will use different points of view, will edit in multi languages (e.g. take an

article in es and build upon it with a different point of view)

  • Need to track and compare articles across languages – especially as they evolve over time – any new facts in one language is reflected in another
    • Tools should allow for this - want facts to be the same everywhere, want inter-language articles to be linked

What about building contributor communities in smaller languages? (e.g. Swahili)

  • Path to building may be different – due to dominant colonial language, lack of written language
  • Wikimedia should be at the forefront to push search engines, libraries, etc to open access in all languages
    • Could forge meaningful alliances with libraries that are at the forefront for pushing search engines and digital tools
  • Perhaps we need a mentoring and ambassador network that help work with new contributors is needed to support nascent Wikipedias
    • Pan-language welcoming group would be good
    • Once had an international ambassador group, but not very active right now
    • We do need to recognize that some groups will choose not to participate in cross-language projects and issues

Tell us more about your thoughts on offline distribution of content – extending reach vs collaboration/sharing.

  • Need to let people to edit and collaborate no matter how often they connect to the Internet
  • Obvious need for tools to support collaboration when you are offline and on different devices (e.g. phones)
  • People who are working on this (and there are) are not working together, sort of in their own niche and they need to be more open and visible
  • There is nothing special about One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) vs. other projects, but the idea that a permanent internet connection is necessary to be part of online/digital world is not true
    • There are a lot of instances when you are not online even in a connected world like U.S. right now
    • OLPC, computer labs, educational platforms are all ways to get people involved and sharing
    • Kids have a hard time editing – the environment is not that friendly (wiki kid models in de, fr are having success) – need social connection

What are your thoughts on tool development for Wikimedia projects and how this is working today?

  • There is a big divide between people working on Wikimedia projects and others working on wiki tools and technology
    • 100X more tool development going on more broadly but not being captured, incorporated into Wikimedia
    • At least 100K sites using MediaWiki; most of the development never gets tested into core Wikimedia projects
    • Have not developed their own thriving community– they don’t feel there is a community that is open to them and developing new apps, tools, extensions – the community is just focused on projects
    • E.g. Wiktionary code is easier to integrate, but no integration of larger code, platforms, etc
  • The way to integrate into big projects is very difficult – process-wise, rule-wise, decision-making
  • Core developers are also very busy just focusing on needed patches, etc

What is the right level of the Foundation to engage? What is their role?

  • When the Foundation acts as a facilitating body that provides structure for community projects, channels funds in an orderly way, focuses and organize discussions, spurs activity (e.g. strategy project)
  • Real risk that as the Foundation starts to expand the scope of what it is taking on (e.g. working on or facilitating specific projects) it will drive away people that really care about it
  • Since all projects were bootstrapped by the community from scratch –they rightly feel this is their projects and the Foundation came afterwards
  • Foundation role is to prioritize and fill in gaps where there is a clear need, but there is no clear direction for the community – this is how the Foundation has acted to date
  • For the strategy process, make it clear that:
    • Every year the Foundation is responsible for its annual plans. Not developed with the community
    • Foundation will need to make priorities for itself which will differ from the priorities of some groups of the community, but should be aligned
  • Should be clear/transparent what the Foundation is working/focusing on
  • Foundation has limited resources compared to what the community can bring to bear and therefore the Foundation needs to plan and organize itself – great to keep this at the forefront
  • Great success of this process would be to keep the larger community to realize they are part of a large movement and

that they can and should organize, plan and move forward

  • People need to understand that there is piece being done under a calendar which is tied to Foundation planning cycle, but that

participation extends far beyond this artificial date --- community moves much more slowly and can’t come to consensus in eight weeks – a Task Force that doesn’t deliver shouldn’t be viewed as a failure