Tuesday, June 26, 2007

WMF Separation

There has been some discussion here and there, most of it only in passing, that perhaps the WMF will want to focus more of it's attention on Wikipedia, and less of it's attention on the other sister projects. There has even been some discussion floating around (notably among some of the board candidates) that the WMF should consider dropping the sister projects entirely, essentially becoming a proper "Wikipedia Foundation".

I don't want to propose to say that this idea is a particularly common one, and I am certainly not advocating that members of these sister projects become afraid or start to panic. However, considering the frequency with which it is brought up, it is worth some general consideration.

I would also like to point out that there are a few forces that seem to be pushing the opposite direction as well: The advent of Commons, as being a central shared media repository does seem to show that the powers that be are very interested in additional integration and collaboration of the various sister projects. Several projects have already specified that all image uploads must be made to commons, which makes all these projects intimately dependent on this central shared resource. Also, Single-User-Logon (should it ever be implemented) will have a very large effect on inter-community unity.

Perhaps there are some benefits that the sister projects could reap by being separate entities as well. Some projects, such as Wikibooks or Wikiversity would really benefit from more of a grass-roots advertising effort. In Wikibooks specifically, we won't realize our full potential until we are able to interact with schools, governments, and universities on an individual level. If you consider the amount of money that governments spend on textbooks for children, the cost of donations to Wikibooks in order to produce a free set of downloadable textbooks is small. Likewise, university professors could be writing textbooks for their students, and University students (especially students in the field of education or library science) could be writing and editing free textbooks as class projects. It's these kinds of relationships that we really need to foster, and we need to think about whether being part of the WMF is helping us or hurting us in this regard.

Even small issues, such as the use of Wikimedia logos or Brand names, have slowed down our ability to print and distribute our books at Wikibooks. The solution to this might be as simple as asking "may we do this", although discussions to that effect have not been fruitful historically.

And is there even a procedure now for the WMF to transfer control of a project to another entity? What if another organization offered to "adopt" one of the projects, or purchase one of the projects? What if one of the projects asked to leave? Would we be creating a bigger problem for everybody involved if somebody tried to do this? These are things that I think the board needs to think about, especially considering some of the candidates who very well might be elected in the near future.

This post is not meant to advocate for either viewpoint (I personally would prefer that Wikibooks remains under the umbrella of the WMF, at least for the foreseeable future), but instead to raise awareness that these issues are slowly bubbling to the surface.


  1. There are some people who just have no intellectual commitment to the goals of the Wikimedia Foundation. Other people have economic loyalties outside of the Foundation that make for conflicts of interest with the goals of the Foundation. I can see no reason for giving such people a role in running the Foundation. Other people work consistently in support of the Foundation and the projects. Those are the folks that we need on the Board.

  2. I agree with you entirely. People who talk about the goals of the WMF almost always mention the "Sum of human knowledge", but nowhere do we specify that the knowledge must be formatted as an encyclopedia.

    And beyond that, an encyclopedia fails when we attempt to teach people, and actually make them understand. Wikibooks and Wikiversity have the potential to do something that Wikipedia can never do: teach.