Wikipedia has now become one of the largest Free Culture organisations with a branches around the world.
Wikimedia Foundation provides the services that enable Wikipedia and other projects to operate. The Wikimedia Foundation can help other newer or smaller free culture organisations who want to follow a similar path.
One of the best things about free culture is that it is so open for people to try new things and reinvent old things in new ways. Wikipedia started as an experiment that most people thought wouldn't come to much. Eventually it grew so much that it needed to set up the Wikimedia Foundation to give it a legal identity and to carry out certain administrative functions.
The Wikimedia Foundation can provide similar services to other free culture projects. Note that I make a distinction between the Foundation and the Projects.
The Foundation is a legal entity, based in San Francisco, USA, with a small number of employees. The Foundation runs hosting services and provides professional advice and small grants to support the projects and supports itself via fundraising.
The English Wikipedia project is based in cyberspace where thousands of unpaid volunteers work together to create the worlds most useful and useable collection of information. Other projects supported by the Foundation include Wikipedias in other languages, and other smaller projects, including a software development project producing tools for online collaboration.
This distinction between the Foundation and the Projects is important. Each has a job to do and they are different jobs. I believe this distinction is crucial to the strategy discussion.
The Foundation should work on producing improved tools for massive online collaboration:
- text editing tools which are easier to use, especially in those languages which are poorly served by current computer technology.
- Video editing tools, especially tools to add soundtracks and subtitles in multiple languages.
- tools to produce animated diagrams.
- tools to organise information so that it's semantic content can be analysed by computer. This should open the door for a lot of innovative ways for others to use our information.
Administrative Services to existing Projects
As well as technical tools the Foundation has a function enabling and, to a limited extent, in watching over it's existing projects. This is a limited role, in line with the very limited power the Foundation has over these projects - all you can do is shut down a project and watch it migrate to Wikia. In practice the Projects should have more role in oversight of the Foundation.
Help for New Projects
The Foundation, together with it's existing Projects, should look at ways that we can share our experience, skills, organisation structure and help to smooth the path for the next thing.
This could take the form of legal advice, hosting, help in establishing charitable status, up to a complete takeover and merger. The Services provided would vary from project to project, whatever is most appropriate in each case with no one single model of how it should be.
This is already starting to happen with the recent cooperation with OpenStreetMaps and translate wiki. I'm suggesting it be formally mentioned as one of the things the Foundation does.
Notice the distinction between the Foundation and the Projects. Becoming the fourth most visited site doesn't really feature there. Each project aims to be part of the best in the world in their niche. If they achieve that by working with others or hosting information on a server that Wikimedia doesn't own, then that is still a success for free culture. The Foundation doesn't own the Projects. The Foundation serves the Projects.
Wikimedia is not going to come up with all the best ideas by itself. We need to be outward looking and open to cooperation with others.
We need to be careful we do not let our cooperantes do anything which might threaten us legally but Wikimedia has already shown itself able to work with groups of volunteers and still keep out of trouble - that may be the USP that attract them to work with us!
Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Wikimedia foundation to act as sponsor for free culture projects.
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