Interviews/Summary of interviews

From Strategic Planning

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Opportunities to expand globally

Broad agreement that Wikimedia can and should be aiming for broader global usage

  • Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia): “I’m interested in expanding from 300M to 1B users.”
  • Achal Prabhala (Advisory Board member): “5 years from now, I would love to see […] ownership and representation on Wikipedia from people who live in the ‘broad global south.’”
  • Samuel Klein (Board of Trustees member): “[The Wikimedia community] has the capacity to build a broader movement that addresses all the aspects of sharing knowledge.”

Some concern that Wikimedia (the community and Foundation) is too North American- and Western European-centric at present

  • Advisory Board member: “The problem right now is that Wikipedia is largely the industrial world’s voice. We need to improve cost of connectivity, basic skills required, to connect the developing world.”
  • Advisory Board member: “The best place for the Foundation to be based is the U.S., but they need to attempt to be as international as possible. Right now, there’s a big focus on the U.S. and Europe.”

India and China are both strong opportunities to expand Wikimedia’s reach, but will present challenges in reaching

  • Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia): “My bias is toward globalism, focusing on small languages and the growth of smaller language Wikipedias. This requires getting India and China.”
  • Ting Chen (Board of Trustees member): “There are some problems in China. The freedom of speech is one thing, [and] the other problem is a social problem. We have in U.S. or in Europe a very strong desire to do something, to contribute. This is not yet so in China. There, people are thinking more in the category: ‘What can bring me more wealth or other advantages?’”
  • Achal Prabhala (Advisory Board member): “Part of the issue with India is that Wikipedia is seen as a project of certain countries (U.S. and Europe).”
  • Achal Prabhala (Advisory Board member): “In India, anyone who has Internet access has functional literacy in English, so language may be less of an issue.”

Disagreement about attractiveness of expanding offline opportunities to access Wikimedia projects

  • Samuel Klein (Board of Trustees member): “We need to let people to edit and collaborate no matter how often they connect to the Internet. [There is an] obvious need for tools to support collaboration when you are offline and on different devices. The idea that a permanent Internet connection is necessary to be part of online/digital world is not true.”
  • Achal Prabhala (Advisory Board member): “Offline is sub-optimal since the key is online collaboration. Do we need to go after non-Internet users while there [are] still so many Internet users we don’t have participating? Why don’t we focus on this?”

Differing views regarding the importance of various language Wikipedias and strategies to build these

  • Ethan Zuckerman (Advisory Board member): “[Some Wikipedias were formed] as a statement of cultural identity, like Icelandic and Welsh. This argues for not simply translating content from larger Wikipedias, since this is not what these smaller Wikipedias are all about.”
  • Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia: “In some cultures, the challenge is that the concept of encyclopedia is foreign: an OSI report on Arabic encyclopedia notes that there is less of a culture of reading in Arabic. And what about languages with no written history?”
  • Advisory Board member: “Building small language Wikipedias is going to take a totally different approach than was taken with building German and English. This does not mean translation—this is not acceptable—but potentially about linking into formal education systems, like high schools.”
  • Samuel Klein (Board of Trustees member): “We need to track and compare articles across languages, especially as they evolve over time. Any new facts in one language [should be] reflected in another. Tools should allow for this.”

The goals of Wikimedia projects

Disagreement regarding Wikipedia’s role as an advocate for open source technology vs. role as source of knowledge

  • Mike Linksvayer (Creative Commons): “Wikimedia should not look to host both open and closed content, as that will result in short term gain at the expense of the long term growth of the open content movement. Wikipedia is an exemplar of massively collaborative projects, and having it use the best license for content will make other projects gel around that license.”
  • Advisory Board member: “We have a situation where if people are not willing to throw content into the public domain, we won’t be an encyclopedia. That’s dangerous and limiting. We don’t need to limit ourselves [to only open-source content].”

Differing views regarding whether Wikipedia’s primary focus should be on readers, contributors, or both

  • Advisory Board member: “Focusing on readers (at expense of contributors) may be dangerous. Wikipedia works through intrinsic motivation. To suggest the readers are the target consumers of the articles risks that motivation, since it reframes the work from participatory to productive. Unpaid productive work risks the core set of motivations and works against people from doing work.”
  • Advisory Board member: “I’m concerned about growth that just increases the number of readers with no way to contribute (for example, mobile interfaces where there is no ‘edit’ button).”
  • Achal Prabhala (Advisory Board member): “The key is online collaboration, which may make offline options suboptimal.”
  • Advisory Board member: “This should not be a club for those who edit now, but a resource available to the world. It’s important to focus on readers.”

Quality of content

Quality of content appears to be a persistent issue within the community, particularly as new features such as flagged revisions are rolled out

  • Eric Goldman (Santa Clara Law professor): “Flagged revisions is a great example of the tension between credibility [immediate, identifiable quality of articles] and free editability, which is the ‘eventualist’ approach to quality—the belief that eventually, every articles will get good.”
  • Neeru Khosla (Advisory Board member): “The issue of quality control is still a big one. [M]any other web-based sites are facing that one issue.”
  • Mitch Kapor: "Wikipedia has an obligation to measure quality carefully. Mean time to fix errors would be a good measure"

Community growth is means to an end, with a better encyclopedia as the goal

  • Susan Gardner (Executive Director WMF): "We need to broaden our contributor demographic because that will increase quality. The end goal is not participation; the end goal is better quality."
  • Frank Schulenburg (Head of Public Outreach at WMF): "it may be time to shift from worrying about article count to quality concerns. This is what the German Wikipedia has done, and too intense a focus on growth may be missing the point."
  • Wayne Mackintosh (Advisory Board): "Quality issue is somehow also a barrier to participation. ...You need to be a reasonably experienced member to know all the processes which serve quality"

Limited concern that articles may be not presenting a truly neutral or unbiased point of view, which limits articles’ relevance to under-represented groups

  • Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States: “It should be acknowledged that even with ‘strictly factual’ accounts, bias enters through a back door by the omission or inclusion of certain facts. For instance, the entry on Christopher Columbus is full of indisputable facts, but by making only passing reference to Columbus' cruelties, creates a generally positive impression of him, in other words reproduces the conventional story. While you do say at the head of a sub-section that ‘The neutrality of this section is disputed,’ the article itself would, I am confident, be resented by Native American historians.”

Community health

Broad agreement that community is becoming more hostile and closed

  • Sue Gardner (Executive Director WMF): "people get burned out. They get tired of hostility and endless debates. Working on Wikipedia is hard, and it does not offer many rewards."
  • Misiek Piskorski (Harvard Business School professor): “Editors who have left Wikipedia have described the environment as ‘too hostile.’ People may do lots of work editing, but there is a high risk that it will just disappear with a revert.”
  • Frank Schulenburg (WMF Head of Public Outreach): “It’s a social aspect of the group of Wikipedia authors: They are getting more closed and creating their own language, and also are not is helpful to newcomers as they could be.”
  • Advisory Board member: “The community is getting a bit closed-culture. It’s become progressively harder to contribute, especially for the newcomers. The community needs to be more inclusive, and newcomers don’t have to fight their way into the community.”

Shared concern about the decline of community growth

  • Frank Schulenburg, (Head of Public Outreach at WMF): "If people write and create more articles, but the core community ... doesn’t grow, then fewer people will have more articles to watch. Ecosystem gets out of control."
  • Misiek Piskorski (Harvard Business School professor): “A small group making the majority of contributions is very normal for large-scale, Internet communities, but the absolute number of contributors to Wikipedia may be getting too small.”
  • External expert: “The community is not necessarily self-sustaining or self-replenishing. They may be an exhaustible resource, and action might need to be taken. It won’t just solve itself.”
  • Ed Chi, researcher: "dedicated 'elite' editors have also been growing their edits, but concern is major finding: middle class (10­-200 edits or so) have been declining in their influence over time. ... Pyramid shape is what constitutes a 'healthy' community."

Some belief that a difficult learning curve limits the entry of new users

  • Mitch Kapor (Advisory Board member): “Wikipedia needs on-ramps and training. Otherwise there will be a tiny priesthood of people who can edit.”
  • Neeru Khosla (Advisory Board member): "The plateau in contributions makes me think about reasons for that... Is it because people have reached the limit of what they want to write about? Or have more users taken over the contributors? ... Does the user interface make contributions and eventually usage difficult?"
  • Jennifer Riggs (WMF Chief Program Officer): "Very strong cultural norm. It's explicit -- all online. So explicit, huge transaction cost to participating. Only get people who are willing to give up enough of their own personal culture to participate."

Some suggestion that lack of diversity skews content creation

  • Eric Goldman (Santa Clara Law professor): “There are important diversity dimensions. Intellectual diversity helps us avoid group think (which very closely related to more traditional diversity measures like gender, age, and so on).”
  • Misiek Piskorski (Harvard Business School professor): “Content creation is driven by personal interest. This likely directly informs community makeup. Narrow demographics [combined with other factors] leads to a skewed content distribution.”

Mixed feelings about rules, and disagreement about their impact on community

  • Sue Gardner (Executive Director WMF): “I hunger for a structure of volunteers with authority to synthesize and simplify polices. It’s tough because every policy is there for a reason, and most have value. But they really deter newcomers: the deck is stacked against you. Something has to be done to reduce and simplify policies.”
  • José Felipe Ortega Soto (External Expert): “[Editors] put more difficulties to open new articles, edit the articles under 'their own control', and debate with other people. ... Our results just showed us that this is true: policies have no influence on this stabilization effects. Instead, what is changing is the behavioral patterns in the community.”
  • Jennifer Riggs (WMF Chief Program Officer): “We're an insular community. Anytime you have a mature community, you have a set of rules and guidelines. Everyone who participates has agreed to that cultural norm.”
  • Wayne Mackintosh (Advisory Board): “Quality issue is somehow also a barrier to participation. Wikipedia has matured as a community. But for newcomers, it’s a daunting community and has all kinds of barriers. You need to be a reasonably experienced member to know all the processes which serve quality."


Wikimedia’s technology may not be well-suited for all collaborative working styles

  • Misiek Piskorski (Harvard Business School professor): “The way the technology is structured is deeply, deeply masculine and does not fit with the way that women work together.”
  • Advisory Board member: “We need to improve the polling process. [We need] ways of getting approval and disapproval faster. The culture is against voting and wants to get to consensus. [Wikis] may not be the best way to do this.”

Widespread agreement that MediaWiki editing interface is a barrier to new editors and ongoing contribution

  • Mitch Kapor (Advisory Board member): “It’s absurdly difficult to edit. I think wiki mark-up is the problem. It’s not possible to have friendly tools and a more open community without different mark-up.”
  • Angela Beesley Starling (Advisory Board member): “[There are] big software challenges; and it is harder to try out new things since the site is so big.”
  • Matt Thompson (Knight Foundation): "Once it becomes technically easier to administer a Wikipedia page, the number of users will expand."

There seems to be a lack of awareness among readers that they can participate in content creation and discussion

  • Misiek Piskorski (Harvard Business School professor): “Many people don’t even know that you can edit.”
  • BalaSundaraRaman L (presenter at Wikimania): ” “This one is a very significant issue, characteristic of many Indian language wikis. [There is] low awareness about tools for typing in regional languages [like smaller Indian languages].”
  • Matt Thompson (Knight Foundation): "If you aren’t familiar with Wikipedia culture and structure, a talk page is completely unreadable. Most people can’t participate and understand what is going on (for example, obscure time stamps and notations, and [it's] not clear how to respond to something."

Some suggestion that there may be a need for an improved social aspect of Wikipedia, perhaps through software improvements

  • Frank Schulenberg (WMF Head of Public Outreach): “Social networking features [would help out] participation. Fight the ‘everything-is-done’ impression: Let new editors specify their areas of interest during account creation. Then create an ‘articles of your interest area that need help today’ feature. Connect new users to others in that subject area, and [add] features to keep track of what your friends do: ‘Articles your friends improved in the last X hours.’ Add a rating feature with an option to keep track of which articles your friends rate.”
  • Advisory Board member: “Wikipedia can be more social in order to become more inclusive. If people join a club to do hard work together, it’s more enjoyable.”

Questions regarding whether technology platform can withstand test of time

  • Advisory Board member: “We are the fifth largest website and we are held together with scotch tape and paper clips. It’s going to implode. If you neglect a system long enough it implodes. I don’t want this one to implode.”

Structure of the Wikimedia community: Foundation and chapters

Chapters are at different stages of development, with varying capabilities and needs

  • External expert: “There’s a big range in terms of chapter capabilities. The German chapter has a staff and an institutional reputation, which has enabled them to have a build up a strong academic reputation, too. This same type of structure doesn’t exist in the U.S. There’s no strong ‘public face’ for the English Wikipedia [in the U.S.].”
  • Rand Montoya (WMF Director of Community Giving): “Most chapters don’t [yet] have the skills and proficiency to be fundraisers, and they are focusing on outreach and Academies.”
  • Jay Walsh (WMF Head of Communications): “One issue is that the chapters are at different stages. We want to facilitate their success [and] give them tools [like] design templates, information they can use to tell their story.”
  • Frank Schulenburg (WMF Head of Public Outreach): “There was a PR component to [founding Wikipedia Academies through the German chapter].There’s a huge boost of confidence among attendees and eventually the public in their perception of quality and reliability.”

There is disagreement about the role of the Foundation

  • Advisory Board member: “I wonder if the Foundation should be doing less. Research that has shown that within large volunteer communities, the introduction of paid labor can actually result in less volunteer effort, and less work being done overall.”
  • Jay Walsh (WMF Head of Communications): “We get pulled between two worlds. We have the communications department of a small non-profit, but we are a top five website.”
  • Mitch Kapor (Advisory Board member): “The Wikimedia Foundation is understaffed […]The project is so big that the Foundation could be five or 10 times the size it is now, and it wouldn’t be too much. [The function is] not to replace the community, but to help mobilize and organize the community, and you may need that many people.”
  • Jennifer Riggs (former WMF Chief Program Officer): “The way to involve volunteers is to support them […] If the movement is a volunteer-run community, the Foundation serves the volunteers. […] But here's not a lot of volunteer support in the office right now, because everyone's doing more than 100% of their time on a job that's too big for them.”

Agreement that Wikimedia Foundation should secure sustainable business model

  • WMF staff member: “The challenge to find the business model. With Web 2.0, most people are giving content away for free, and then charging for a premium service, but this doesn’t seem consistent with the philosophy of the Wikimedia Foundation.”
  • Neeru Khosla (Advisory Board member): “The reality is the Foundation has reached that point where they need money for managing the day-to-day activities.”
  • Mike Linksvayer (Creative Commons): “Having enough money to keep everything running is obviously important.”