Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Wikimedia Drama

I'm not one much for drama or gossip, so I've been trying to stay out of all the issues that have been popping up lately. Jimbo, the founder of Wikimedia, has been the subject of a lot of gossip, and there appears to be a little bit of an ongoing quarrel between Jimbo and Danny Wool. I had no idea who Danny Wool even was before Google Reader suggested that I subscribe to his blog. I certainly didn't know there was any ill-will between him and Jimmy. I'm also not entirely certain who Kelly Martin is, but Google recommended her blog to me as well. She also doesn't seem to have a lot of nice things to say about Jimmy. I don't mean any offense to these two individuals, I'm mostly lamenting the fact that as a Wikibookian I'm very well insulated from the pulsing nerve core of Wikimedia. I personally couldn't give a crap about Jimmy's personal life, or his love life, or his habits, or whatever. It's not news to me, and it shouldn't play a part in the way we all interact with Wikimedia.

Some people, notably Kelly and Danny, have also had some comments about how money is being spent by the foundation. I also have my concerns, although I'm not knowledgeable enough to point out any specific problems. In the last fund raiser I scraped together 100$ to donate, and that was not without serious consideration or consequences. I gave up lunch on more then one occasion when money started getting tight. Consider the case where the foundation allowed donors to specifically earmark their donation money for one or more of the following uses:
  1. Server operation and maintenance (includes salaries for devs and IT)
  2. Server expansion and hardware purchase
  3. Wikimania
  4. Administrative (includes employee salaries and benefits)
  5. Logistics (expenses, such as travel, for the board)
  6. General use
If this were the case, I think the foundation would find very quickly that they have more then enough money to operate the servers, expand the servers, and pay the developers and the IT guys, and possibly even start a nice little savings account for future hardware needs. I also think the foundation would find that not a lot of people are interested in donating money for board member air fare, or high-priced salaries, or Wikimania. The fund raiser advertisements invariably include mention of "help keep our servers running", and most people donate for exactly that reason. If you give people who are actually donating the money a chance to say where that money will be spent, I think you will see that the priorities are a little bit different. I won't harp on this too much for now.

Speaking of Wikimania, there has been a lot of fuss about it's location: Alexandria Egypt. And I mean A LOT of fuss. It turns out that Egypt isn't a particularly safe place, and that the Egyptian government and people don't share in the same values that your average Wikimedian does. An organization that champions freedom of information and expression is holding a conference in a land where people don't have the basic rights of free speech, freedom of expression, or freedom of religion (unless you are one of the three religions allowed by the state). It also turns out that not all Wikimedians are straight judeo-christian muslim males, and so your average conference goer is going to find themselves in a very uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situation. The next time somebody suggests "let's hold our annual conference in place where our most cherished ideals of freedom and diversity are forbidden by law and punishable by jail time", everybody needs to take a step back and reconsider our priorities.

Maybe I'm an old fashioned capitalist, but I think that the only real voice a person has is their actions. If you don't agree with the venue for this year's Wikimania, as I don't, then simply don't go. People can complain all day long about the security and safety issues, but if everybody goes to Wikimania, and it turns out to be a grand success, then no lessons will be learned and no changes will be made. I'm not going to say a single disparaging thing, not on foundation-l and not on meta, because words are not going to fix this problem. When Wikimania rolls around, I'm going to be safe at home, editing Wikibooks and focusing on what's really important: the content.

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