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By user:Anthere - september 2004

Letter from the Board
cf. the original French version

This newsletter arose out of a desire to share our activities and opinions with a broader audience; it is addressed to the tens of thousands of contributors to the Wikimedia projects, and to the many others who support our activities.

The Wikimedia Foundation was created as a result of the evolution of Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikiquote and Wikisource. The exponential growth of these projects has required the creation of new structures and new modes of functioning. These structures include the legal capacity to receive donations; the creation of systems for compensation, for requesting grants, for managing domain names and server clusters, and for publishing content via print, CD and DVD; and the coordination of new communication channels between the different projects.

Despite this evolution, the contributors continue to be the vital force and the greatest resource of the Wikimedia projects, and these new structures will continue to be decided on democratically. The Wikimedia Board has the role of organizing related debates and making decisions to ensure the best possible conditions for the development, maintenance, and wide distribution of our free content. We are governed by a desire to protect Wikimedia's founding spirit, based on openness (everybody can edit), trust (no need to have special qualifications), collaboration (via a wiki), respect for others (in attending to the contributions of others), and a gift culture (based on volunteering).

Over the past three months, we have built a solid base for Wikimedia's future. We have laid the groundwork for a membership system, made numerous contacts with people and organizations that will aid our projects over the coming year, and begun applying for grants and organizing regular fundraisers in order to ensure Wikimedia a stable financial future. Official positions have been given to Daniel Mayer and Tim Starling, to ensure transparent publishing of Wikimedia's finances and to increase communication with our developers, respectively.

In coordination with the German and French chapters, we have made contacts with publishers to distribute Wikipedia's content on CD and DVD, and started preparing snapshots of Wikipedia for such offline distribution. Meanwhile, a worldwide press release was distributed in celebration of our reaching the milestone of one million articles. We are establishing increased contacts with the press, and aim to further increase our projects' visibility with the help of a multilingual PR committee.

Finally, we are setting up a new official website dedicated to the Foundation. This will provide information to the public about our Foundation and its mission, our many projects and initiatives, and plans for the future. The website will also detail our financial situation (as the current site does), and offer online membership registration. Watch wikimediafoundation.org for updates over the coming months.

If you have questions or comments, we would love to hear from you. You can reach us on our talk pages (see [1]), or by email to: board (at) wikimedia.org.


Where can I find information about the Foundation?

Current information about the Foundation can be found in this newsletter, on the dedicated mailing list [2], on the Wikimedia Meta-wiki [3], and at the Foundation's website [4] (in progress).

How many people make up the Board of Wikimedia?

There are five members, including Jimmy Wales, the founder and chair of Wikimedia. Angela Beesley, secretary, and Florence Devouard, vice chair, are the two elected representatives. Michael Davis is the Board's treasurer and works on Wikimedia's financial matters (see Finance). The fifth member is Tim Shell, who participates actively in the English Wikipedia, and is often found on the #wikimedia IRC channel.

What are the official positions and committees?

Daniel Mayer is the Chief Financial Officer. He is responsible for finances, with the oversight of Michael Davis. In particular, he is in charge of establishing our budget [5] and balancing our books [6].

Tim Starling is the Developer Liaison, the primary contact between our Board and our community of developers. Developer activity falls into two main areas: server maintenance and development of the MediaWiki software, which is also used for many non-Wikimedia applications.

Tim Starling is setting up a Developer Committee [7]. This committee will be made up of the most active developers and, among other things, will help formalize a method for reaching development decisions, such as the direction of future development, the definition of necessary purchases, and the processing of technical requests.

There are no other official committees, but there are important groups that are much like committees, which form naturally, particularly relating to grants and public relations. For example, Danny Wool has been coordinating a number of grant applications. For other potential committees, see [8].

How does the Board communicate among its members?

Board activities are recorded on the Wikimedia Meta-wiki [9], and will in the future be on the Wikimedia Foundation's site [10]. Communication takes place via email, as well as, through the foundation-l mailing list, which is open to the public and publicly archived. Members of the board also frequent the #Wikimedia IRC channel on freenode [11], where they can be reached for a quick response. While three Board members -- the quorum required for a proper Board meeting -- are frequently present on IRC at the same time, such times are not generally official meetings.

There have been a few active meetings of board members over the summer. On July 4, 2004, Jimmy, Angela and Anthère met in Paris (summary: [12]).

Later that month, there was a meeting to discuss the creation of an official foundation website at www.wikimediafoundation.org; many took part in the discussion, including Angela, Anthère, Mav and Tim Starling (summary and results: [13]).

There was also a quick ad-hoc meeting on September 5 about the creation of a database for a tentative Wikispecies project, to let its enthusiasts discuss what they want it to become. All but one of the board members convened for around 20 minutes to discuss this (summary: [14]).

Do Jimbo, Tim and Michael dominate Board decisions?

Important Board discussion in Paris
Important Board discussion in Paris

To date, Tim and Michael have played a minimal part in board discussion and decisions, and there is no plan to change this. In order to ensure that the community voice is real, Jimbo has pledged, as a matter of convention, never to vote against Angela and Anthere, unless he feels that it is an issue of an absolutely fundamental change of direction for the project -- which is not likely to happen, since Angela, Anthere and Jimbo share the essential values of the community and the project. So as a practical matter, power is in the hands of the two democratically elected board members on most issues, and Jimbo defers to that.

How many board decisions are made by vote?

We prefer to discuss things, find proposals that we can all agree on, make compromises to accommodate each other, where necessary, and reach agreement. All informal votes taken, so far, have been unanimous.

Does the Board record or publish their activities anywhere?

Most of the time, we discuss things on #Wikimedia IRC channel on freenode. On this channel, everyone is free to not only follow board deliberation, but also to participate to the discussions and help us to make decisions. Logs of planned IRC meetings, such as the one regarding the Foundation website, are published on Meta and the Foundation wiki, along with summaries of other meetings. However we also meet on private channels and exchange private mails, as well. It's important for us to be able to speak freely, to think out loud, so to speak, without people taking our speculative comments and thoughts as being new policy or set-in-stone decisions. We hope that our activities are sufficiently visible through this newsletter, board meeting minutes, official announcements on the mailing lists and the Wikimedia website.

How can I become a member of the Foundation?

Anyone who is interested in supporting the activities of the Foundation and has contributed under a user name to any Wikimedia project is a Volunteer Active Member of the Foundation. Starting this year, it will also be possible to become a Contributing Active Member by paying membership dues.

Discussions in July regarding membership dues led to the following proposal:

Becoming a Contributing Active Member will cost 60 USD (or the equivalent), and does not require being an editor of a Wikimedia project. Volunteer Active Members may become Contributing Active Members for 6 USD, but are encouraged to pay the normal fee if they can. Members can choose how they wish a portion of their fee to be used (for instance, "30 dollars should be used only for hardware purchases").

There will be no obligation to pay dues; adding to and benefiting from projects will always be free. Contributing money is nothing more than an additional way of helping the project. The full membership proposal may be found on Meta at [15]; other questions about membership are answered in the Membership FAQ. See also [16].

Is Wikipedia planning to have ads?

Wikimedia does not plan to allow advertising on Wikipedia or any of its sister projects in the foreseeable future. We believe that suitable grants and donations from the public will provide for a secure future, without the need for advertisements. There are others ways, as well, to gather money, such a grants, prizes, gifts from our mirrors, donations of hardware etc... Running ads would likely raise money, but it would possibly lower other sources of revenues, in particular, donations, as well as, possibly upset some editors.

I hear developers are being paid now. Is it true?

In July 2004, the Wikimedia developers were polled about the feasibility of a bounty system for development tasks. The motivation for this was to improve the guidance of development in certain directions (for instance, by offering payment for developing certain software features). The results of the poll can be found at [17].

Working closely with the Developer Committee, we will be trying out a system of payment and other rewards for developers who choose to work on particular tasks. This will be a four-month trial run, after which we will step back and evaluate whether it was successful.

The proposed system allows for anyone to request new features, and for any developer to propose their own terms for filling a feature request. The developer committee will advise the Board about the feasibility and usefulness of requests and offers, and the Board will make the final decisions to accept or refuse offers for requested work.

Details of the trial run are available at [18]. All Wikimedia contributors will be encouraged to evaluate it when it is over.