China and Africa

    China and Africa

    I was sadden to see that there was a statement saying the WMF should direct resources away from China and Africa. I feel that these ideas inappropriately encourage a systematic bias and would go against the founding principles of the WMF. China represents a significant portion of the world's population, and we would make a statement that they are not a priority? And African Wikis are being deleted because there is little promotion by the WMF of these projects. How does that really reflect on us when we are just systematically ignoring them? To make claims that it is because they lack internet access are very unfair, especially when there are many major cities throughout Africa. There are also many regions in Africa that have quite a few Wikipedians on various language projects, including South Africa. I do not like the position at all. Ottava Rima 04:12, 20 January 2010 (UTC)

    Ottava Rima04:12, 20 January 2010

    I have to agree with this, one of the biggest things the projects are meant to do is allow for the free spread of information, everywhere. Is China a tough market because of the government and problems that exist there? Of course it is, but I would think that would make the project even more needed. While we have competitors there they all censor and bow to the wishes of the government regardless and by bowing to them and stepping back from the wiki we run the risk of highly discouraging the great volunteers we have on the ground. We are asking them to pick up the slack without much support. As Mike said it looks horrible, even while I understand some of the sentiments behind it the very first thing that pops into my head is a failure of our basic mission. :(

    Jamesofur05:07, 20 January 2010

    I'm also saddened to see that Africa isn't a priority. Whether this is a right or wrong decision I wouldn't like to say, since I do not have even the experience of running a small business, so what $8m gets you in practice I couldn't even begin to speculate. Obviously priorities have to be decided. I just hope that Africa's time comes in 2015 when, perhaps, there will be such an explosion in Africa of mobile devices that it is seen as a valuable population to then target.

    I'm also disappointed with the decision on China, however I'm somewhat mollified in that it ties in with Google's recent decision and perhaps (sort of) boycotting a nation might yield positive results. On the other hand, if we don't make a determined effort to get a foot in the most populated nation on earth now, maybe we never will get a decent presence there... I hope it's not a decision we later regret.

    Bodnotbod13:52, 20 January 2010

    A clarification and a question: The WMF isn't proposing to direct resources away from China and Africa. It is saying (and remember, this is all a draft) that it will not prioritize these countries over the next five years. There's a big difference. That also doesn't mean that others in the Wikimedia movement could not focus their energies there. The best example of this is the work that the Wikimedia Chapters have done partnering with cultural institutions, which is something that the Foundation is also not prioritizing.

    So here's my question: Given the Foundation's limited resources, do any of you think China or Africa should take priority over other regions? If so, why?

    Eekim17:03, 20 January 2010

    I'm actually very interested in this as well. Eekim and I have lived and breathed this data for a couple of months, and sometimes being too close to the data gets you lost in the weeds. Given that there are limited resources, is there a reason to prioritize this in another way? What would that way be?

    For the record, there's a TON of information in Wikimedia-pedia at China and Africa. I had a very emotional reaction to choosing not to prioritize these areas, because I'm a true believer in the cause and the mission - but the truth is, for me, the Foundation would be spending donor money. When it's given to WMF, it's in the trust that we will make logical decisions that advance the mission in a way that provides the highest return on investment while staying true to our goals and mission. Investing in China and Africa are, for me, not safe gambles right now, and I don't feel like (if I were making the decisions, which I'm not) I could feel good about gambling with other peoples' money in those areas. We don't have the cultural competency or the institutional/governmental support to back it up. I want to extend there as badly as anyone - but with limited resources, it's not something I'm comfortable recommending.

    But with that said, I'd love to hear other opinions - but they should keep in mind that the Foundation doesn't have unlimited resources. In my opnion, if there's a strong desire to go in to China or Africa, we probably should figure out how to do it using another entity (chapters, some other part of the movement).

    ~Philippe (WMF)21:06, 20 January 2010

    I think that those areas should be high priority. When I donate money in the fundraiser, I do so very much with those areas in mind. Actually I could have bought a yearly account on an online commercial encyclopedia for the same money each year. But when I decide to use Wikipedia and donate money to Wikimedia instead, I do so because I know that my money can enable someone that doesn't afford to pay for a commercial encyclopedia to use Wikipedia free of charge. I think this should be considered too. Maybe a lot of donors actually reasons the same way and actually wants their money to be invested in less developed regions. Their might be a good idea to make a survey on the motivation behind the donations.

    At the same time I understand that investing in those areas not allways will have a very high effect. Some investments that would have high impact in for example Europe might not make a difference at all in Africa or China because the underlying infrastructure and culture that leads to succes in Europe not is present there. I do however think that every low cost-high impact solutions should have an essential priority in the strategy. I think such strategies are what we have aimed for in the Local Language projects Task Force.

    Dafer4521:47, 20 January 2010

    One issue here is that we should be simultaneously developing a five-year plan for the movement and mission, as well as one specifically for the Foundation, to put the latter in context.

    Another is that I haven't seen an explicit assessment of the cost & impact stats of various solutions or ideas. From my perspective, if we can define a major priority, whatever the cost, we can find people, networks, organizations, governments, and global superstars to make it happen. And 'low cost/high impact' proposals are always interesting, even when not targeting a core priority.

    If expansion in China, India, and Africa are important (simply on the basis of reaching all of manking, as well as current access to knowledge in those areas) but we don't know how to do it effectively, a meta-priority to find better ways to do that [rather than "investing" in a specific type of solution that may or may not work] would be appropriate., 21 January 2010

    What guided me in the research I did for the Local Language Project Task Force was precisly cost and impact. However, I found that it was very hard to find numbers that meassured the actual impact a strategy would have. For example the cost for localizing the MediaWiki software was estimated to be $0 (well maybe not zero realy), $90 000 or $900 000 depending on what method that was used to get that work done. But then, how do we know what impact that realy has on the local projects? I asked Siebrand at for data on the correlation between past localization and project growth, but such statistics didn't exist. Hopefuly it will be available in the near future though, as Siebrand told me that he had spoken with Erik Zachte about this in the past, and that work on trying to make this happen was sheduled to take place in January.

    Another recommendation where it is obvious that the strategy will cost a lot of money is the fourth recommendation about having more local servers to rise access speeds. Here it is possible to make the estimates about how much faster the loading times will be. You can have a gut feeling that if average article access time is lowered from 30+ seconds to 10 seconds or below you probably will have larger use of the projects, and thereby also contribution to the projects. But how can you be sure that this realy is so? Maybe other factors play a role as well that won't make the projects grow even if people have instant access to the material.

    So even if the price and some parameter that is likely to be correlated with project growth is quite easy to estimate. It is still very difficult to estimate the actual impact that the different strategies will have, because you don't know how strong the correlation between the actual impact and the "likely correlated parameter" is. I would therefore make clear that I am very unable to make any judgement about how large the different recommendations in the Local Language Project Recommendations actually will have, and my hope is that many with a greater understanding of the complexity of the problem can make such.

    Dafer4519:35, 21 January 2010

    You're right; it's hard to be exact. However, we can make good guesses. Take your example of localisation. We know that localizing our software affects projects across the board, whereas putting a person on the ground in a specific country most likely only affects that country. Now, maybe putting that person on the ground has a greater effect in that country than localizing the software. So the analysis does start getting more complex.

    I want to reiterate something. This letter is largely focused on Foundation investments. It makes sense, given the Foundation's limited resources, to focus on things that will have broad impacts. However, because we are a distributed movement, it makes sense for people on the ground to engage in local strategies. One of our big next steps is to flesh out the movement roles questions. Specifically, who in this movement should be doing what?

    Regarding cost/impact analysis: The regional analysis largely focused on impact and less on cost (other than China). There's another layer of analysis that still needs to be done. Help us flesh this out. A good starting point is Wikimedia market analysis.

    Eekim21:52, 22 January 2010

    Yes, I agree with both you and the letter that on-the-ground precense in Africa ain't something to strive for at the moment. One of the first lessons Gerard tought me when I arrived here was that general strategies that will have an impact on a large amount of projects are something to strive for. And I believe that such strategies not are pushed aside in this letter with point 4,5 and 6 under "Synthesis of the issues to tackle with the strategy" and point 3 under "Recommended priorities for the Foundation" supporting this. At least I believe these statements are sufficient for South America, Africa, Middle East and South Asia. How well they address the issues of reaching China and India I don't know though.

    What analysis is supposed to be collected? Under market analysis I find a lot of tables that allready are filled in. But is there some specific collection or analysis of data that needs to be done?

    Dafer4523:14, 22 January 2010

    When we put a person on the ground in a particular country, he or she CAN localise for the language he knows. When this person is not part of that countries language(s) and culture(s) he is likely not to be as effective as could be.

    When we put someone on the ground in a multi-lingual country, then it should be one of his/her objectives to remove all the roadblocks that exist.. Finding people to localise our software is one of the more obvious ones.

    The notion that these approaches are in competition is not that wise; as we understand the processes that promote editors to edit and readers to read, it is only natural to have a person on the ground make those the priorities. Thanks,

    GerardM13:43, 26 April 2010

    Fair point, Gerard. Many software companies put people on the ground to understand these obstacles, as you point out. This is something that should be included as part of the boots-on-the-ground experiment.

    Eekim18:27, 26 April 2010

    Perhaps the solution is to have a separate fund devoted to those who wish to have their donations put into regions like China and Africa in order to spread the base out of the Western world? If it is about relocating resources, I would think the donors should be the ones to determine such. After all, one of the classic concepts about Wikipedia was about giving poor children in Africa who have only computer access and not large libraries the ability to tap into a huge educational resource. It would be rather impossible if we turned our backs on them, no? Ottava Rima 01:26, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

    Ottava Rima01:26, 21 January 2010

    Nobody has suggested turning our backs on them. They would retain access to Wikipedia, our other projects, and the multiple languages thereof. It's just that the FOUNDATION - the legal entity - would not invest in new projects there, which it's not doing today. The status quo is maintained...

    ~Philippe (WMF)01:29, 21 January 2010

    Philippe - Proposals for closing projects at meta. Sango, Twi, Kirundi, etc. There are many, many African language wikis for languages that have millions of people. They are being closed because of lack of participation. I do not have figures on any correlation between amount of spending by the WMF to advertise about these wikis and in the African regions where the languages are predominate, but I am going off the assumption that there is little money invested. If the Foundation is unwilling to put as much money as it currently invests in Africa for these languages (assuming there is any at all), then the rate of drying up of African language wikis would only increase. That concerns me. Ottava Rima 01:55, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

    Ottava Rima01:55, 21 January 2010

    As to "investing in [projects]", it's not a zero-sum game. I see three interlocked groups: priorities, opportunities, and resources (are there more in that vein?). Other global efforts with their own priorities, in a position to point to or create opportunities, have resources that they don't always know how to direct; when we can identify ways to combine the three, everyone benefits. It would be helpful to see a breakdown of specific proposals along those lines:

     mission priorities   
          --->  proposals to accomplish each priority
                      ---->  costs of each proposal  
                      ---->  dependencies, shared components
          --->  proposals to take advantage of each opportunity
                      ---->  gains from each proposal (including new resources)
                      ---->  mission priorities furthered by each
     resources available 
          --->  ways to get more of each resource
                      ---->  partners
                      ---->  calls for help
          --->  proposals depending on each resource, 21 January 2010

    Separating priorities, opportunities, and resources would help avoid some of the current confusion, where "not a priority for investment" is being interpreted as "not supported from in terms of interpretation of the mission".

    Perhaps we can phrase "not a priority" better: divide opportunities into "funding and messaging priority", "important goal needing further analysis; way forward is not clear", "goal best achieved by regional groups, chapters, and languages", and "not a core priority". The first three should all be pursued enthusiastically wherever there are low-cost high-impact solutions. [the bottleneck is identifying those solutions]

    Very few areas that had a serious Task Force assigned to them fall into the last category -- they were selected precisely because they are a priority for some parts of our current efforts, or because they are representative of a large potential effort or audience not currently served but addressed by our mission.

    Sj22:17, 25 January 2010
    Edited by 2 users.
    Last edit: 19:12, 25 January 2010

    Echoing Philippe's comments above: The beauty of free culture is that people can invest in the countries of their choice without going through the Foundation. The Google Translation Toolkit project is a good example of this. They initially chose to focus on Indian languages, Arabic, and Swahili, and they're now focusing on Korean. Kenya/Tanzania and South Korea were not countries that emerged as "top priority" countries in the analysis on this wiki, but Google is doing great work in those regions for their own reasons. And everyone benefits from that.

    Eekim21:56, 22 January 2010

    I'm also worried about the non-prioritization of growth in China. The wording of not to invest more to "grow usage of Wikipedia in China" is very broad too. The obstacles to growth in China are not just censorship, and challenging censorship is not the only thing Wikimedia should or can do in China in the next five years. If Wikimedia does not do more (or brainstorming more on what to do) in China, it's almost guaranteed that in five years, Wikimedia will lose China to rapidly maturing competitors.

    It's clear that censorship poses a unique hindrance to growth in China, and Wikimedia has not encountered such a difficult problem in any other countries, and so far no corporations/organizations have been able to overcome this problem. It is also out of question to set up any uncensored server inside China (unless something big happens). But, censorship and governmental favoritism to other competitors are not the only factors to blame. Other aspects such as weakening local communities, scarce of public and promotional activities, inferior search engine results (including at Google), poor coverage on locally interested topics, cultural differences, lack of local partners/facilitators, etc, contribute greatly to the unsatisfactory development of Wikimedia in China and need attention and actions without delay.

    Wikipedia has been unblocked since the 2008 Olympics and is no longer targeted specifically by the censorship system (of course, the general filtration/firewall on all foreign websites continues and fortifies every day). Now, anyone in China can openly use Wikipedia, talk about Wikipedia, and promote Wikipedia without being singled out or punished by censors. Lots of work can be done and achieved in China by Wikimedia and/or its designees without clashing with or submitting to the censorship.

    Most importantly, China is different with Africa and other regions where Wikimedia is underdeveloped: in China, the IT infrastructure is developed and the market is vibrant, indeed, with fierce competition. In a garden where nothing has really started growing, one can wait until the climate is more temperate or friendly to enter and plant crops. However, in a garden where the soil is rich and weeds are expanding, one has no time to waste but to plant more crops and defend actively, even when it's still raining or blowing hard. If Wikimedia quits or stops trying more in China, it is almost guaranteed that in five years Wikimedia will lose the market to competitors and can no longer stands itself as a global project for all.

    The editor and promoter communities in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other places are probably growing and helping the growth of Chinese Wikipedia, but communities in mainland China are weakening and probably declining. Relying solely on the local communities without leadership or help from Wikimedia to achieve growth in mainland China is just unimaginable.

    In regards to donors' intentions and the prudential use of their money, I want to say that I donated in hope that Wikipedia will gather more knowledge and provide better service to all, including knowledge from and service to the people in China. I believe that many donors have similar ideas and definitely do not want to see Wikimedia missing the last chance and being replaced by competitors in China.

    Therefore, please reconsider the proposal and include priorities to grow (at least sustain) in China. --R.O.C 06:40, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

    R.O.C06:40, 21 January 2010

    Hello ROC, the following is my personal thought, it does not reflect the thought of the initiator of the letter (with whom I didn't talk about the letter), nor does it reflect the opinion of the board.

    At first I don't agree with the most important arguments in your message. If we do an indepth analysis, the final reason for us don't perform well in China is government favoritism: We cannot initiate community program from the Foundation because the chinese law prohibits foreign organisation to be active in China. If we set up an office in China, we must create a chinese affiliation and this affiliation must bough to the censorship. When Jimmy Wales met vice minister Cai last year and asked him about the possibility of establishing a chapter in China he got a very blunt No as answer.

    We don't get a good search engine ranking in China because the search engine companies purposefully ranked us low. and give totally difference ranking orders if you type in a word.

    Our community in mainland China is not dwindling. It is growing, this shows the statistics we gathered so far. It is growing in a low level, that is true, but it is growing. As the Task Force China analyzed, this is our basis, and we do have virtues that our competitor don't have.

    Even if the Foundation would not step in China and make China the focusing point for its investment it does not mean that China is not important for the Foundation. Jimmy and I was in China every year in the last years. China is always a topic, on every of our board meetings. Kul was also traveling through China and working out possible business contacts. The Foundation financed the half of the budget of last year's Chinese Wikipedia Conference and would not hesitate to finance further yearly meetings if such meetings can be hold. This all is more than what the Foundation had ever paid for a lot of other countries in the world. And it shows the dedication and the attention the Foundation is paying for China and would also pay for the future.

    If I have 100 dollars as WMF and I invest the 100 dollars in China, the possibility is big that I lost 99 of the 100 dollars simply because tomorrow the government can block my site totally and close my office. We do lost a lot of good participants by the last blocking, I can name without hessitation more than 5 very active users that we lost because of the last block, and there are surely more. We are not blocked since August 2008, that's true, but it is not granted that this would last for ever, or even for the next five years. The risk is too big for me to spend all the 100 dollars in China. As you said, our money come from people. To take such a big risk with these people's money is for me too big a risk.

    I have no doubt that if you are facing the same choice you would make the same decision.

    Wing18:34, 21 January 2010

    Wing, investments do not need to have any relationship with a chapter, nor do we have to have an official organization. Merely promoting the Chinese language projects in general by encouraging cross Wiki collaboration, discussions with Chinese universities, or collaborating with Chinese scholars who do not currently reside in China are just some of the many possibilities to not have to worry about government control. At my undergrad, there were 5 exchange professors from China. At my other schools, there were many exchange students and scholars. It would not be hard to tap into this vital resource.

    Ottava Rima18:58, 21 January 2010

    So do it. :) Really, that doesn't take investment from the Foundation. There's no reason chapters or other parts of the Movement can't do that. This is about empowerment, at its very base: by saying that "This is not a priority for the Foundation", the Foundation is opening the door for someone else to take it on as a priority, without worrying about whether they're competing with a program the Foundation has, or is making plans to have.

    It seems to me that this is a perfect opportunity for someone to really take this and run with it.

    ~Philippe (WMF)16:34, 24 January 2010

    1) "Areas the Wikimedia Foundation will not prioritize" Better would be "less prioritize", because negative words are not good.

    "Below are areas in which the Wikimedia Foundation has considered increasing investment, but will not." I would delete this and the following sentence. Better would be something like: the foundation will assist other actors (...) where necessary.

    2) You miss India

    3 a) In my view the main results of the strategic planning are not the recommendations, they are "business as usual", but the Call for proposals and the knowledge-base. You will find a lot of valuable information there.

    3 b) I read "Investing in" a lot. I hope, the foundation will assist the community - specifically the en:Wikipedia community in the US, which has no national chapter - with community projects. Remember that in Africa and India English is frequently spoken. I don´t know what the foundations Volunteer Coordinator has done so far, but it would be his/her job to assist the community (in my view).

    Goldzahn09:50, 24 January 2010

    I think we also have missed South America, their is even no reach and regional analysis for South America. If there is any places where on-the-ground precense should be considered I think that is in South America and India.

    Dafer4510:16, 24 January 2010

    There is significant analysis for South America at Wikimedia market analysis. Brazil is listed as one of the possible large markets with a high possibility for growth.

    ~Philippe (WMF)14:45, 24 January 2010

    Thanks! Seems like I havn't kept pace with the newly added material.

    Dafer4514:51, 24 January 2010

    No problem; there's no question there's a ton of it here. That's what I think is so cool about this project, and the Wikimedia-pedia; it's a wealth of information. :)

    ~Philippe (WMF)16:25, 24 January 2010

    At "Wikimedia market analysis" you will find sentences like "Supports community efforts to improve" and "Invest to accelerate growth". That match with the sentences in this letter: "We therefore plan to establish a temporary presence in priority countries" That could mean in my view South Korea (5%-7% of Internet users use Wikipedia, 50 Mio inhabitants, 125.000 articles). I suppose a good collaboration with other chapters in the region (Wikimedia Indonesia and Wikimedia Hong Kong) will help much.

    Goldzahn20:38, 24 January 2010

    In South Korea there are companies like Samsung (second-largest mobile phone maker) and LG (third-largest producer of mobile phones). I read that in South Korea the local phone makers are struggling because the iPhone is so strong. Maybe South Korea could be a test market for our mobile-strategy too? It is easier to transform a 100.000 article wikipedia into a one that looks good at a smartphone than the en:WP. And, if the creation of a new chapter fails, at least we would have more experience with mobile applications.

    Goldzahn22:03, 24 January 2010

    Goldzahn, what do you mean by "you miss India"?

    ~Philippe (WMF)16:35, 24 January 2010

    At "Areas the Wikimedia Foundation will not prioritize" you will find something about China and Africa, but we also have a task force India. So far they didn´t write a recommendation, but there is a lot of analyses and data (India). A summary in this letter would be a good thing.

    Goldzahn20:51, 24 January 2010

    I think it's fair to say that the reason it was not specifically listed as an area where the Foundation will not prioritize, is because the Foundation is considering it a possible area of prioritization. My read of the numbers (take this with a grain of salt because it's personal opinion and doesn't represent the view of the Foundation) would seem to indicate that India could be a rather large lift for a fairly reasonable financial allocation. There are, of course, issues with resourcing a country that large and the cultural competence to do it well, but those are things that the Foundation would consider when selecting where to place potential field offices. I know there have been discussions in the past about some quirky financial rules in India that make it a challenge for the Foundation as well.

    There's a new draft of the letter that will go up this week that will, I hope, clean up some of the verbiage based on the fantastic input from this group on this thread, and also hopefully spell out some of the countries that the Foundation will consider for these potential field organizations.

    ~Philippe (WMF)22:44, 24 January 2010