Archive:Board letter/April 2005
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It has been one year since Angela and I were elected to the board of directors; an exciting year, but also a difficult one. And, it was the first year of real operation of the Foundation and its board.
In June 2004, the Foundation's birth was, above all, a declaration of intent by Jimbo. Its aim was to create a legal structure to provide for the needs of the Wikimedia projects and to help these projects in their development, while promoting their free and open qualities. In short, it aimed to remove the commercial tinge of earlier times, such as, associations with wikipedia.com and bomis.com, and to fully assume a certain ideological stance.
One year ago, the Foundation existed on paper, but it had no real existence. Jimbo had a certain idea of what the board would be like. He imagined quarterly meetings and some agreements on principles. All things considered, not a demanding activity...
- Quote : "The role of the board is *not* generally to get involved in the day-to-day operation of the website. The board is a legal entity entrusted with ultimate decision making for the Foundation. Website governance is a different matter altogether. I don't anticipate that the board will be a difficult or demanding position." — Jimmy Wales
This was not exactly Angela's or my point of view; Angela and I had both planned to do a little more than "take part in some meetings"... and, I am afraid that we made a little bit more exciting position :-)
Whereas Jimbo took care of a good part of the technical and financial management, we slowly endeavoured to bring our conceptions of our roles to life: to relay to Jimbo the opinions of the editors; to organize the general operation of the Foundation; to announce decisions taken by the board; to support editor initiatives; and to gradually to help Jimbo in certain tasks, which he could not reasonably continue to become yet more involved in.
I often hear people ask But how do you operate? And, well... this evolved over the course of the year. During the summer of 2004, all three of us were relatively available, and could discuss issues all day on the IRC channels. The three of us had occasion to meet three times, in July, in November, and in December. Jimbo and Angela worked together with the BBC in London during the autumn...
For Angela and myself, the most difficult thing was to find our place and, yet, to avoid stepping on each other's toes. This was not always easy; we both had a very strong wish to be useful and to see our work appreciated.
Today, things are different. Angela and I are also very involved in our professional activities and our personal lives. Our hours of presence on IRC now coincide only partially. Jimbo is frequently gone during the week, as the worldwide success of our projects has led to ever-mounting requests for presentations about the project. And, he devotes his weekends to his personal life.
What could be a negative point, that is, less availability for Wikimedia, and increased stress due to tighter management of our time, has also, I think, become a positive point; we have devoted much time to the Foundation, yet we also have our own private existence. We do not depend entirely on the project.
Currently, we, therefore, function much more asynchronously, by mail and by one-on-one discussions on IRC. It happens more frequently that Angela or I let ourselves occupy a role previously managed by Jimbo, such as responding to local conflicts or following up on legal requests. Since the tasks are numerous, we try division of labour... at the risk of sometimes lacking information about some issue already being handled by another member of the board.
Some board activities are visible to editors. Among the most conspicuous are the signing of a partnership with Yahoo! or the participation in a Wikipedia meeting. But, more generally, its actions are visible neither on the wiki, nor on the most-known discussion lists. Our daily activities may consist of managing innumerable emails, drawing up a budget, contributing to the organization of events, taking part in the development and the diffusion of the Quarto and press releases, updating the Foundation Website, promoting the creation of new departments and their discussion lists, following the proceedings of legal accusations of slander or copyright violations, considering the legalities of logo use, mediating conflicts on the individual projects, tapping developers for information, organizing grant meetings, signing petitions, presenting the projects at conferences, responding to interviews and the press, ordering hardware, inquiring after not-profit status, organizing income tax returns and fundraising, analyzing and commenting on contracts with partners, following and supporting the creation of local chapters, relaying requests from editors, etc....
As all this could not be managed by one tiny group alone, which is sometimes badly informed on the grounds for and the outcomes of each decision — for example, none of us has legal training. Therefore, it is necessary to weave a permanent fabric of collaborators and hope that all turns out for best.
And generally, THAT WORKS! Unfortunately, the multitude of daily tasks also pushes back significant decisions concerning the proper evolution of the Foundation.
The Foundation has functioned this year on the model described above — with failures, partial successes, and successes. Its role has been created day by day, according to changing needs, by striving for a constant but reasoned growth: through striving for decision-making by consensus, not by vote; and through supporting the suggestions of many people and listening as much as we could. I hope that it will continue to grow according to this model, gradually and continuously building the solid basis of operation, which it needs.
Florence Nibart-Devouard, "Anthere" 17:58, 24 May 2005 (UTC)
To start with, here is a brief summary of our financial state at the end of 2004:
In 2004, our global revenues were US$150,000, while expenses reached about US$123,000 dollars. The full bank history for 2004 is available on the Foundation Website. The most striking financial trend for 2004 was the amazing growth of our needs. In just one year, our server farm grew from 3 servers to 50! Naturally, this meant increasing costs throughout the year, to purchase new equipment and to support bandwidth requirements.
A budget meeting was held in early 2005, to estimate our growing needs. Following this estimate, a successful fundraising drive was held in February, yielding over US$90,000 dollars.
To date, most of our income has come from individual donations, ranging from US$5.00 to US$20.00 dollars. These donations have come from editors and readers who appreciate what we are doing. The success of our fundraising suggests that our growth can still essentially be supported by individual donations.
Other revenues included grants and sponsorship. Our most recent grant was from the Lounsbery Foundation. An important issue with regard to grants and donations is that the Wikimedia Foundation has finally been classified as a public charity, and granted tax exempt status by the IRS. This will certainly offer new incentives to potential grantors. During the first months of 2005, an IRC meeting was held on grant issues, and we considered looking for a Grants Manager for the Foundation. Later in the quarter, Wikimania, the first international meeting organised by and for Wikipedians (taking place in August), was granted its first sponsorship, from Gurunet.
With our existing funds, we purchased some technical equipment in January. Numerous hosting proposals this quarter allowed us to purchase less hardware than expected. The donor of the first set of French squids donated three more, soon to be hosted by Lost Oasis for free; other propositions are currently being studied (see Wikimedia partners and hosts). In particular, discussions are ongoing with Google, but no agreement has been reached. The general trend is to multiply our partners, insuring independence; while making agreements that are technically relevant.
A new expense is salary. Since early 2005, the Foundation has been employing two part-time developers, Chad Perrin and Brion Vibber. The board has also decided to hire a person full-time to do secretary work, such as physical paper work, sending out packages, purchase of tech parts, phone calls. The position will be local to Florida. Discussions are ongoing about hiring other people but no decision has been taken at that point.
Finally, the legal organisation of the Foundation has been strengthened in the past few weeks, with the creation of a page to coordinate discussions of legal issues.
See also this recent list of open questions to the board.
Summary on collaboration
We worked out a number of collaborations with other organisations in the first quarter, and are discussing many more. Belnet is providing free hosting and 22U of rackspace. This agreement has been signed recently.
Kennisnet is collaborating with Wikimedia in many ways; both by sponsoring software research and development, and by offering local hosting and the use of their servers. (For more information on Kennisnet collaborations, see Kennisnet, pg 7.)
We reached an agreement to provide a live feed of our public data to Answers.com. Brion Vibber is currently working with them to make this happen. Ask Jeeves (a search engine) and Opera (a web browser company) are interested in such a feed as well, and Amazon.com has expressed some interest, but no agreements have been reached with any of them.
We have also reached some collaborations with content owners, who have provided their content for reuse in the project. The European Environment Agency has agreed to license their General Multilingual Environmental Thesaurus (GEMET) so that it may be included in Wiktionary; Voice of America agreed to make the 5000 terms of its Pronunciation Guide available for use in Wikipedia; and the original publishers of the Whole Earth Catalog agreed to make the content of the first 5 years of Whole Earth Catalogs available for use in Wikisource and (in updated, wikified form) in Wikibooks.
Another dozen hosting offers, both large and small, are under discussion. Some are tentative, some want "co-marketing opportunities," etc. Right now, we are telling most of them that we are interested but that we will not be technically ready for a few months; so we should talk now to plan ahead but are unlikely to announce anything soon. We must first organise the deals recently concluded, and take time to think and organise, rather than proceeding in haste.
Top rank sales for Directmedia DVD of German Wikipedia
After the successful distribution of the German Wikipedia on CD, the German publishing company Directmedia has released a DVD edition. The DVD is based on a snapshot of the wiki from March 3, which was quickly reviewed to remove potential copyright violations, vandalism and templates which are only useful in the online version of Wikipedia. Structured bibliographic information about key people, a new feature added for the CD distribution, was also added for more people.
The DVD contains 203,000 articles and thousands of images. It includes software for browsing the content with a fast full text search and features for annotations, bookmarks and so on. The DVD is shipped with software for running on Windows, MacOS and Linux; although the latter is still new and under heavy development.
The DVD was the best-selling software product at Amazon Germany the day after it was announced. Two days later, the 10,000 copies made for the release had sold out and a new set were ordered from the factory. These will be delivered within the next few weeks.
The DVD also contains data packages for Tomeraider and Mobipocket, allowing it to be installed on PDAs, as well as a "bonus CD-ROM." This CD is a bootable LAMPPIX-CD containing an Apache server, a MySQL database and Mediawiki. This runs a Mediawiki installation directly from the CD-ROM, which you can boot from in order to have access to over 200,000 articles from your web browser.
The DVD's ISBN is 3-89853-020-5; it can be ordered for 9.90 Euros from every book shop in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. For each DVD sold, one euro is donated to Wikimedia Deutschland. Both the DVD and the CD-ROM are available for free as ISO images, via P2P networks and on several FTP servers, encouraging sharing and broader distribution.
An increasing part of the Board's activity is related to public relations. Jimmy Wales is travelling or offline more frequently, due to invitations to talks all over the world. A quick view of his schedule is probably the best summary of this. Other presentations have taken Angela and Anthere offline for days at a time (most recently at PixelAche for Anthere and A Decade of Web Design for Angela). For more on these conferences, interviews and press reports, see Press (pg. 6) and International (pg. 7).
Effort has recently been put into improving the public collection of presentation materials. Anthere crafted a leaflet in French with Notafish for the TIC21 meeting in January 2005. Elian later released a collection of leaflets to be translated for the Fosdem meeting.
The full collection of current material may be found in three collections, for presentations, promotion, and leaflets. Most of this information may now be found in English, German, French and Dutch. Please add to these in other languages.
The road ahead
Board elections... :-)