Vitor Mazuco and the fandom that drives his Wikipedia editing

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Photo by Matthew Roth for the Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0.

His contributions to the Portuguese Wikipedia are impressive: To date, Vitor Mazuco has made over 270,000 edits and created more than 2,400 articles. 34 have been noted by fellow editors for their quality—and in turn, most of those are about the Canadian singer and songwriter Avril Lavigne.

Mazuco made his first edit on Wikipedia to Lavigne’s article at the age of 14 and dedicated quite a bit of time in the following years to improving Wikipedia’s content about her.

“I remember that in my first months of [contributing], I wanted to expand and improve all Avril Lavigne articles,” said Mazuco, 23, an instructor in the areas of computer, networking, and other tech-related areas. He faced many challenges, though, because “I did not know the rules … of Wikipedia. I did not want to read [sources about her], and I was only 14 … imagine the size of my immaturity.”

This juvenile thinking and failure to follow central policies extended to Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, where he was banned from editing for two years.

Along with his detailed upkeep of all pages about and related to Lavigne, especially those which have the “featured” and “good” quality markers, Mazuco contributes to other music articles, works to combat vandalism on the site, and leads several offline initiatives as part of the Wikipedia Education Program and the Wikimedia Brazil User Group.

“I show how the teacher can help [their] students with … Wikipedia inside the classrooms, and break the prejudice that our country has about [Wikipedia’s] reliability,” the native Brazilian explained. “It’s a job I’m very proud of.”

Mazuco believes that student editing will be the center of his attention for the next few years. He believes in everyone’s right to access “free and quality knowledge, regardless of their race, religion, status, or anything.” He explains:

“[Wikipedia] is a place, where I learn many things, every day. I meet new people in the meetings, at the conferences, I improve my skills, spelling, knowledge, about [any] subject. I am very curious person. I always want to know about something.”

Interview by Ruby Mizrahi, Interviewer
Profile by Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, Wordsmith, Communications
Wikimedia Foundation

 

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Pulling ‘Puppet’ strings on Discovery’s Dashboard framework

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Photo by Herzi Pinki, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In April of this year, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Discovery Analysis team began migrating the setup for the Discovery Dashboards from Vagrant and a shell script to use a configuration language and framework called Puppet. Puppet is a technology used by the Wikimedia Foundation to manage machine configurations almost everywhere—from data centers to continuous integration infrastructure and analytics clusters. We decided to make the switch because the previous setup created unnecessary overhead and made the server difficult to maintain.

Under the guidance of our awesome embedded technical operations engineer, Guillaume Lederrey, we took it upon ourselves to learn Puppet, and learn Puppet we did.

In this post, I’ll talk a little about Discovery Dashboards, a set of dashboards used by  teams like Search Platform and Wikidata Query Service to track various metrics. Then, I’ll describe the technologies involved—such as the programming language R, Shiny (a web application framework), and Vagrant (software that allows us to build and maintain portable virtual software development environments), before properly introducing Puppet and sharing our experience of learning it. Finally, this post concludes with an explanation of how the new configuration utilizes the r_lang and shiny_server modules, so that readers may use them in their own environments.

Discovery Dashboards

Our dashboards enable us and our communities to track various teams key performance indicators (KPIs) and other service/product usage metrics:

  • Search Metrics dashboard includes metrics such as the zero results rate (the percentage of searches that don’t yield results), engagement with search results, search API usage, and a breakdown of traffic to Wikimedia projects from searches made on Wikipedia.
  • Portal dashboards shows how many pageviews wikipedia.org gets on a daily basis (which is separate from how pageviews are tracked in general), breakdowns of traffic by browser and location, and which sections and languages visitors click on.
  • Wikidata Query Service (WDQS) dashboard shows the volume of WDQS homepage visits and requests to the SPARQL and LDF endpoints.
  • Wikimedia Maps dashboard allows the user to see the volume of tiles requested from Kartotherian maps tile server, broken down by style, zoom level, etc.
  • External Referral Metrics dashboard breaks down our pageviews by referrer (source), such as “internal” (e.g. when you go from one Wikipedia article to another) and “external” (e.g. when you click on a Wikipedia article from a Google search results page). It also breaks down our search engine-referred traffic by search engine.

All of the dashboards’ source code is also available in full under the MIT license and all of the datasets are available publicly, including the scripts and queries we use to generate them. The dashboards are based on a web application framework called Shiny, which enables us to develop them in the statistical software and programming language R.

R/Shiny

For a very long time, a lot of the focus of R has been on data-related tasks (such as wrangling and visualizing), statistical modeling, machine learning, and simulation. After Shiny was released in 2012, it became possible to write web applications using nothing but R. These days we have packages for:

  • Writing reproducible reports and academic articles with R Markdown
  • Including interactive visualizations in documents and Shiny apps via htmlwidgets
  • Running an HTTP server so you could have an R-powered API with plumber
  • Writing a whole book with bookdown, creating a website with a blog via blogdown, and creating interactive tutorials through learnr

We built our dashboards with R and Shiny. We added interfaces for dynamically filtering and subsetting data, for applying scale transformations, and for smoothing the data using the language and tools we already use on a daily basis as part of our job as data analysts. Anything you can do in R, you can make available to the user.

You can include the code for forecasting, clustering, and model diagnostics in the same file where you’re defining the buttons to do those things. Shiny applications can be hosted on shinyapps.io or hosted yourself using the Shiny Server software, which is what we do because we have the hosting resources thanks to Wikimedia Cloud Services team. We host the applications that were previously managed through Vagrant applications on Wikimedia Labs.

Vagrant

Vagrant is a tool for building and managing virtual machine environments (VMs) and is used in combination with providers such as VirtualBox and VMware. Our previous configuration, which used Vagrant, involved launching an instance (a virtual machine) on Wikimedia Labs and create a Vagrant container that would then run Ubuntu and the Shiny Server software. This created an extra operating system (OS) virtualization layer. We realized we could reduce the amount of overhead by switching to a different solution. This was the initial solution when our first dashboard (the search metrics one) was just a prototype—a proof of concept for tracking and keeping a historical record of the team’s KPIs.

Over time, we started to run into some technical issues and the configuration made it difficult for others to help us. We also started to have security concerns because updating installed packages involved logging into the machines and manually performing the upgrade procedure. Even deploying new versions of the dashboards was a hassle. The answer was simple: Puppet. In one swoop, we could run the Shiny Server software directly on the Labs instance, we could make it easy for Ops to debug and repair our codebase if there are system administration-type problems, and we could give Ops control over the OS and essential configurations.

Puppet

Photo by Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0.

We’ve actually written about Puppet and “Puppetization” of Wikimedia a few times before. Ryan Lane wrote about our Puppet repository when our Technical Operations (“Ops”) team made it public. In her summary of the New Orleans Hackathon 2011, Sumana Harihareswara wrote about our Ops team Puppetizing the caching proxy Varnish. Sumana also wrote a very thorough post about the Puppetization of our data centers.

What Puppet is

Luke Kanies provides the following succinct description of Puppet:

[It] is a tool for configuring and maintaining your computers; in its simple configuration language, you explain to [it] how you want your machines configured, and it changes them as needed to match your specification. As you change that specification over time—such as with package updates, new users, or configuration updates—Puppet will automatically update your machines to match. If they are already configured as desired, then [it] does nothing. (Excerpt from The Architecture of Open Source Applications, Vol. 2, released under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Depending on your library of modules, your Puppet configuration can have specifications such as a clone of a Git repository set to stay up-to-date or a cron job registered to a specific user. Suppose you have a package that needs to be built from source and links to a library like GSL or libxml2 but cannot download and install those libraries itself. When declaring that package, you can give Puppet a list of dependencies (of any resource type) that need to exist first, and Puppet takes care of making those dependencies available.

Learning Puppet

When we decided to switch to a Puppet-based configuration, we did not want to put the burden of migration on our embedded Ops engineer and instead saw an opportunity to learn an incredibly useful technology. Learning Puppet would mean that we would continue to have complete control over our dashboards and when we need to change something, we would have the knowledge to just do it ourselves. So instead, we asked Guillaume to be our guide and teacher. We would do the bulk of Puppetization and he would introduce us to Puppet, review our code, and show us how to test the patch.

Guillaume created some starter files for us to begin with and set Vagrant to use the Puppet provisioner. Having this setup enabled us to test locally with Vagrant. We could then write Puppet code responsible for installing an R package and run `vagrant provision` to see if it actually worked. At various milestones, we would upload our work for review and Guillaume would leave thorough feedback and criticism. Eventually, we were ready to work with Ops’ Puppet repository and we moved on to patching our stuff into that.

In addition to the official Puppet documentation, the following resources were especially useful in learning the new technology and, in some ways, the new philosophy:

Something that helped me learn how to write Puppet code was using a lint checker in my text editor. A lint, or “linter,” is a utility that reads your code and checks the syntax against a set of language-specific rules in order to find parts of code that might lead to errors (such as a missing comma between function arguments) or stylistic issues (such as lines that exceed a certain maximum character length). For example, our Ops team has a style guide in addition to the official Puppet style guide that I could have had open on the side, but I found that as a beginner it was less mental overload to just have a utility that performs syntax checking in background.

Puppetization

You declare what your machine should have and do via resources—e.g. a user, a file, or an exec (execution of a command)—and once you have your configuration full of resource declarations, you can set a machine to be an instance of that particular configuration, and Puppet will take care of making that machine look and behave like you declared it should. Similar to functions and classes in programming languages, if a resource type you want to use does not exist yet, you can just create a new one.

In our case, we had to define what it means to be a Shiny server, which includes running RStudio’s Shiny Server software and having R packages. So we had to write the logic for installing R packages from Comprehensive R Archive Network, Gerrit, and GitHub. The result was the shiny_server module, which is available for anyone to use as part of our open source Puppet code repository. If you’re learning Puppet, we hope the following breakdown of our configuration may be of help.

At the highest level, we have two roles: a discovery::dashboards role (which utilizes the discovery_dashboards::production profile) and a discovery::beta_dashboards role (which utilizes the discovery_dashboards::development profile). You can refer to this article in Puppet’s documentation to get a better understanding of differences between profiles and roles.

This diagram shows how one might use roles and profiles to configure their company’s computers in a reproducible, automated way. A node may only have one role, but that role may have multiple profiles. Adding or removing software in a profile will propagate to any roles that use that profile and to any computers that are instances of those roles.

The two dashboard profiles are where we clone the git repositories of our dashboards, the only difference being which remote branch is used. Specifically, the “development” profile pulls from the “develop” branch of each dashboard, which we use for testing out code refactors, new features, and new metrics. In contrast, the “production” profile pulls from the “master” branch—which is the stable version that we update once we’re satisfied with how the “develop” branch looks. It’s a common software engineering practice and is a simpler version of the branching model described by Vincent Driessen.

Both profiles include the discovery_dashboards::base profile, which is where we actually bring in the shiny_server module, copy the Discovery Dashboards HTML homepage, and list which R packages to install specifically for our dashboards. The shiny_server initialization file is what configures users/directories/services and installs Ubuntu & R packages, provides some resource types for installing R packages from different sources. While the Linux packages are installed using the existing code (require_package, rather than the built-in package resource in Puppet), we had to create the module r_lang for setting up the R computing environment (via this initialization file). The module provides some resources for installing packages from sources like CRAN and Git repositories (via r_lang::cran, r_lang::git, and r_lang::github), and it also includes a script for updating the library of installed R packages.

Because of the way we structured it, our team and other teams within the Foundation can write new profiles and roles that utilize shiny_server to serve other Shiny applications and even interactive reports written in RMarkdown that include Shiny elements.

Final remarks

The alternative, jocular title for this post was “I AM BECOME OPS…AND SO CAN YOU!!!” Obviously, writing Puppet code barely scratches the surface of Ops’ work and skillsets, but hopefully this post has at least helped demystify that particular aspect. I also don’t mean to say it’s remotely practical to step outside your role and job description to learn a brand new and (kind of) unrelated technology, because it’s not. It happened to make a lot of sense for us and we were very fortunate to be supported in this endeavor.

This project has made our job slightly easier because we no longer have to do a lot of manual work that we needed to before. And if we need to replace a dashboard server, we just launch a new instance, assign it the role we wrote, and Puppet takes care of everything. We are also working with the Release Engineering team to add continuous integration for our internal R packages, and that endeavor uses the r_lang module we wrote for this project. Furthermore, learning Puppet has empowered us to make (small) changes when we need to (such as making new software libraries available on our analytics cluster), rather than assigning them to someone else and waiting for our turn in their to-do queue.

Lastly, on behalf of the Discovery Analysis team, I would like to give a special thanks to our former data analyst Oliver Keyes for creating the dashboards, to Search Platform’s Ops Engineer Guillaume Lederrey for being an exceptional teacher and guide, and to Deb Tankersley, Chelsy Xie, and Melody Kramer for their invaluable input on this post.

Mikhail Popov, Data Analyst
Wikimedia Foundation

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We need transparency and permissive copyright in NAFTA

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Map by the Smithsonian, public domain.

Canada, the United States, and Mexico have started negotiations for a new NAFTA treaty. After a period of uncertainty, we now know that copyright provisions are among the items to be discussed by the treaty nations. This brings back memories of a trade treaty that seemed defeated just last year: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) included worrisome norms on copyright that would have seriously harmed the public domain in various countries and cemented long copyright terms for years to come. TPP was further problematic because of secrecy and a lack of transparency around the negotiations, which made it hard for civil society to stay informed, let alone voice its concerns.

Along with many other organizations who support and promote open culture and freedom on the internet – from all three countries—we have signed a statement urging the parties to the treaty to make the negotiations more transparent, inclusive, and participative. Meaningful transparency helps people understand and take action. At Wikimedia, openness and collaborative processes are the default. Only when this value of meaningful transparency is upheld in trade negotiations can we as a society make sure that the public interest is represented alongside powerful industry stakeholders. Increased transparency and active inclusion would also improve acceptance in society in general, especially in Mexico where some feel that the United States are exporting their business model to weaker states.

Our letter calls on Canada, the United States, and Mexico not to touch the intellectual property provisions in the existing agreement. In the digital age, the ways people access and participate in knowledge change rapidly and constantly. Therefore, it does not make sense to lock in new copyright rules that would prevent countries from adopting dynamic legislation or regulation that is appropriate within their respective ecosystem of knowledge production and consumption. Governments should be able to promote freedom of expression and access to knowledge at all times.

Given the fact that copyright now is part of the negotiations nevertheless, we urge governments to adequately promote creativity through permissive copyright and strong protections for the public domain. We believe that copyright should reflect the reality that people do not just read but create, share, remix information. The treaty should safeguard the rights of these new creators through strong exceptions and limitations, fair use or fair dealing rules, and a vibrant public domain. When volunteers contribute to Wikipedia or other Wikimedia projects, they become creators themselves and depend on copyright to empower them to collect knowledge online and to participate in the preservation of culture and history. Intellectual property provisions also need to be mindful of indigenous knowledge and folklore, which forms an important part of the cultural heritage of North America.

Finally, consistent with our continuous commitment to strong privacy rules, our letter points out that any provision in the agreement governing data flows on the internet with the goal of reducing barriers to trade must not restrict countries’ ability to protect the privacy and security of citizens. This is crucial, since we believe that privacy is the foundation of intellectual freedom and allows everyone to contribute to free knowledge.

The new negotiations for NAFTA will shape how people in North America share and consume knowledge for years to come. The negotiations must be transparent so we and other supporters of open culture and internet freedom can contribute and participate. It is in the public interest to make sure any new copyright provisions will allow free knowledge to continue to thrive.

Jan Gerlach, Public Policy Manager
Wikimedia Foundation

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Everything you need to know about photographing the solar eclipse and putting your photographs on Wikimedia Commons

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Photo by Luc Viatour, CC BY-SA 3.0.

This coming Monday, 14 US states will have the chance to witness a total solar eclipse. Other parts of the Americas, as well as spots in Asia, Africa, and Western Europe, will see a partial eclipse. It is the first time in 99 years that the entire contiguous US will see an eclipse at the same time.

According to Wikipedia’s featured article on the topic, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth in such a way that the Moon blocks or partly blocks the Sun. In practical terms, this means that on Monday the sun will completely disappear for about 2.5 minutes along a narrow band of the US, moving west to east. There will also be several hours in which the moon is covering and uncovering the sun.

All of this partial and total darkness will have significant effects on the weather here on Earth. Temperatures will drop as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit (9 degrees C), and the lack of sunlight will lower the high temperature for the entire day.

In the US, interest in the solar event is extremely high. Towns along the path of the eclipse are preparing for a large influx in tourists. Solar eclipse glasses, needed to view the sun without permanently damaging your eyes, are sold out or going for exorbitant prices.  But how should people document the eclipse to remember it for years to come? And how might we think about creating a public photographic record of the eclipse so that people in future years can experience the eclipse?

That’s where Wikimedia Commons comes in. Wikimedia Commons is a freely licensed repository for educational media content. It also hosts most of the images used on Wikipedia. By sharing your photographs on Wikimedia Commons (instructions below), you can ensure that your photos are part of a greater public record of the event, and that everyone across the world will be able to witness the event for themselves.

When taking your photo, consider safety first. Ensure you use proper protection when looking at the eclipse directly or through your camera.

Here’s the same steps, except with links attached:

  1. Create an account.
  2. Go to the Upload Wizard and select photos to donate.
  3. Select “This file is my own work”.
  4. Choose a title, describe what the photo shows, and add the category “Solar eclipse of 2017 August 21 in <US state/your country>”.
  5. Click next, and you’re done!

———

How should you approach photographing the eclipse, and what can you do to ensure you get the perfect shot? We talked with Juliancolton—a meteorologically focused article writer on the English Wikipedia and prolific photographer on Wikimedia Commons—about just that.

“I’m a landscape, nature, and night sky photographer,” Juliancolton says, “and my overarching goal is to capture familiar subjects or locations in striking or uncommon conditions.” In short, that means that Juliancolton does a lot of waiting around; uncommon conditions like dramatic light, intense weather, or rare astronomical events do not happen every day. “Much of my shooting takes place between dusk and dawn,” he says, “when most people are asleep and the world is, in my opinion, at its most beautiful.”

You can see some of his best work over on Wikimedia Commons, including a foggy sunrise in Rhode Island, lightning over the Hudson River, and a field of sunflowers set against the Milky Way.

For the upcoming eclipse, Juliancolton will travel to South Carolina’s Lake Marion, a body of  water frequently called the state’s “inland sea.” He’d like to get close-up shots of the completely covered sun and “capture wider views of natural scenery bathed in the dim, ethereal light of totality,” he says. His camera setup with involve three DSLRs, “each intended to capture a different aspect of the phenomenon. Automation and many test-runs will allow me to shoot all three cameras while still enjoying the eclipse with my own eyes.”

Here’s what Juliancolton advises for your photographic efforts (our questions in bold):

What equipment goes into taking the perfect sky shot? How specialized does it have to be?

The most crucial part of taking spectacular images of the sky – whether the subject is celestial or confined to Earth’s atmosphere – is simply knowing when to look up, and being intimately familiar with whatever photography gear you own (camera phones and disposable film cameras included). Preparation and knowledge is much more important than purchasing the most sophisticated camera systems.

The upcoming total solar eclipse in the United States presents an exciting opportunity for photography novices and masters alike; many astronomy and photography writers have speculated that it will be the most photographed event in history. For an observer in the path of totality, where the Moon will completely obscure the Sun for a few minutes, some very nice photos of the darkened sky can be taken with smartphone cameras. More advanced imagery, including detailed shots of the eclipsed Sun, requires dedicated cameras and lenses, and even specialised astronomy equipment like solar telescopes and filters.

What kind of photographic setup would you recommend for people watching the eclipse?

In all of North America, northern South America, and small parts of western Europe, photographers will have the chance to capture a partial solar eclipse. For this, the goal will be to capture closeups of the crescent Sun, so it’s necessary to use a camera with high optical magnification or a very long lens, along with a solar filter. Without such a filter, which can be made of extremely dark glass or a special light-blocking sheet, photographing a partial eclipse will be impossible and hazardous to attempt. Even after blocking some 99.999% of light, shutter speeds will be relatively fast and consistent, so it will be possible to handhold a camera during partial stages of the eclipse. Consider taking photos at regular intervals, perhaps every 10 minutes, to show the progression of the eclipse in a timelapse or composite image.

Things get more complicated when attempting to photograph totality, and the moments just before and after. The same long focal lengths will be desired for the fully eclipsed Sun, but the required exposure times are longer and will change drastically from one moment to the next. I suggest using a DSLR in “manual” mode, and bracketing your exposures extensively – that is, taking many different frames with varying shutter speeds, so you can select the best ones later. To capture the Sun’s faint, outer corona, you’ll need either slow shutter speeds or relatively high ISOs, so cameras with good low-light performance are ideal, and a very steady tripod is essential. If possible, fire the shutter remotely using a wireless or cable release to minimise camera shake. Don’t forget to remove your solar filters at the very beginning of totality and replace them as soon as the Sun reemerges.

For some parting advice, don’t let photography ruin your eclipse experience. Use only the equipment you’re most comfortable with, and if your camera starts to cause you stress during this unique event, just turn it off. Finally, please remember to upload any images you do capture to Wikimedia Commons, even if it looks similar or identical to the hundreds of other photos that will surely appear. Scientists are hoping to use this eclipse as an opportunity to confirm suspicions that the Sun is slightly bigger than traditionally thought, so with precise geotagging, your photos may just have a large impact.

And most importantly, be safe. Never look at the sun without specialized glasses, as you will damage your eyes. Avoid being a person quoted fifty years from now about your eclipse-caused eye damage. If you are not in the narrow path of totality, you will need to have your glasses on for the entire eclipse. If you are in the path of totality, see NASA’s explainer on when you can have your glasses off.

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation

Thanks to Blanca Flores of the Wikimedia Foundation for the infographics above.

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On the front lines in Venezuela and Ukraine, volunteers stand up for a future of free knowledge

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Photo by Carlos Díaz, CC BY 2.0.

Oscar, a Wikimedia volunteer in Venezuela, has witnessed years of political, economic, and social crises, and says that people invest “great effort” when leading their lives in the country today.

A thirty-year-old economist from a small town near the capital, Costero emphasizes that uncontrolled inflation, which has led to the decreased purchasing power of the Venezuelan bolívar, has left the majority of the country without basic goods like bread, toilet paper, flour, butter, and even medicine. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed, along with crime and corruption. Hunger and health care have reached what Human Rights Watch has termed a “humanitarian crisis.”

While Costero says that the conditions have made him and his colleagues feel “very lonely in delivering the mission of free knowledge,” he also takes care to note that “resiliency is vital in coping with the daily stress of living in such conditions.” One part of that is making sure that complete and informative Wikipedia articles are there for a country where nearly half of the adults in the country have never completed a year of secondary education, and less than half of the children attend a secondary school. “Filling this educational gap is a key part of building a new nation,” Costero says, “where education becomes an issue of national interest.”

It can also involve advocacy, in his view. Costero agrees with the broad goals of the demonstrators and actively participates in some of them; he believes that “The mission of bringing free knowledge to all citizens of a country is contrary to the precepts that a totalitarian regime may seek to impose on a society.”

Photo by Amakuha, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Some similar challenges are being confronted in Ukraine, which has gone and is going through a period of severe public unrest (“Euromaidan”), a revolution, the War in Donbass, and the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Ukrainian Wikipedia volunteer editors recall the violent challenges of a country in turmoil all too well, as one of their own was killed by a sniper while protesting against the government in February 2014. Several others participated in those same events, many of which carried cameras to visually document the protests—images that are now categorized by month on Wikimedia Commons, and available for anyone to use under free licenses.

Vira Motorko of Wikimedia Ukraine recalled some of her free time at the Euromaidan protests, and was surprised at how well they were run. “I once spent a night in a Euromaidan warehouse to sort clothes we received,” she said, and noted that the operation “was organized like a small country.” Motorko found that the developing conflict changed what readers came to read about on the Ukrainian Wikipedia, as they flocked to articles like “Blondeau slug,” a form of ammunition that was being used on civilians during the protests.

Even though the war is primarily confined to Donbass, located in the eastern portion of the country, 1.4 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced (as of 2015), and tens of thousands have been killed or injured (as of last month). That’s why volunteer editor Білецький В.С.—the individual with the highest number of edits on the Ukrainian Wikipedia—told us that the war has affected every Ukrainian in some way, including Wikipedians.

The local Wikimedia chapter has attempted to reach out to the war-torn part of the country with 21 different events, including a series of editing workshops at various libraries and schools in Luhansk Oblast, the province at the heart of the War in Donbass. “The tour was intended to show that Wikipedia cares about the region,” Motorko said. “It is sometimes said that different regions do not hear each other in Ukraine. In order to be heard, someone needs to talk, and there are few Ukrainian Wikipedia editors from the east.”

These efforts, and those of hundreds of other Wikipedians in conflict or crisis zones around the world, are not easy. But as Motorko says, “Wikipedia is a place for all kinds of information”—and that’s because of the people who volunteer their time to find reliable sources and document the world around them. You can join them today.

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation

Our thanks go out to everyone who responded for this piece; we regret that we were not able to include everyone contacted.

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Felix Nartey named Wikimedian of the Year for 2017

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Photo by Jason Krüger/Wikimedia Deutschland e.V., CC BY-SA 4.0.

Last Sunday in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Wikimania 2017 concluded. In the closing ceremony, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, announced Felix Nartey as the 2017 Wikimedian of the Year for his efforts to promote free knowledge sharing culture in Africa.

Nartey joined the Wikimedia movement in 2012, where he has been concerned about content gaps on Wikimedia projects—information about his native Ghana and the African continent is not on the same level as Europe and North America. “Information itself is useless until it’s shared with the … world,” he says. Nartey has researched possible ways to encourage people from his community to participate in a project like Wikipedia and its sister projects, and put them into practice through leading in-person initiatives and activities to help promote Wikipedia and help new participants find resources for their contributions.

The Wikimedian of the Year is an annual tradition to honor the efforts of one of the movement’s exceptional contributors. Wales announces the name of that person every year during his closing speech at Wikimania since 2011.

This year’s winner Felix Nartey wasn’t able to attend Wikimania, so he was notified about the honor in a video call with Wales and Emily Temple-Wood, who shared last year’s title with Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight.

Video by the Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0. You can also view it on Vimeo.

Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern
Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Foundation releases new transparency report, online and in print

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Photo by Angelo DeSantis, CC BY 2.0.

The Wikimedia Foundation partners with users and contributors around the world to provide free access to knowledge. We value transparency: that’s why we issue our biannual transparency report, publicly disclosing the various requests we receive to alter or remove the user-created content on the Wikimedia projects, or to request nonpublic information about the users themselves. The report also includes stories about some of the interesting and unusual requests we receive, and a useful FAQ with more information about our work.

The report covers five major types of requests:

Content alteration and takedown requests. In the first six months of 2017, we received 341 requests to alter or remove project content, four of which came from government entities. We granted none of these requests. Wikimedia project content is created and vetted by user communities across the globe, and we believe that decisions about content belong in their hands. When we receive requests to remove or alter that content, we refer requesters to experienced volunteers who can provide advice and guidance.

Copyright takedown requests. The Wikimedia projects host a variety of public domain and freely licensed works, but occasionally we will receive a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice asking us to remove content on copyright grounds. We analyze whether DMCA requests are properly submitted and have merit, and if so, whether an exception to the law, such as fair use, should allow the content to remain on the projects. From January 1 to June 30, 2017, we received 11 DMCA requests, three of which we granted. These remarkably low numbers are due to the diligence of the Wikimedia communities, who work to ensure that all content on the projects is appropriately licensed.

Right to erasure. The right to erasure (also known as the right to be forgotten) allows people to request that search engines remove links to results containing certain information about them. The process is best known in the European Union, where it was was established by a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014. The Wikimedia Foundation has long expressed our concerns about such rules, which have the potential to limit the access to and sharing of information that is in the public interest. Even though the Wikimedia projects are not a search engine, we do sometimes receive requests to delete information based on the right to erasure. However, we did not receive any such requests in the first half of 2017.

Requests for user data. The Wikimedia Foundation occasionally receives requests for nonpublic user data from governments, organizations, and individuals. These requests may be informal, such as simple emails or phone calls, or can involve formal legal processes, such as a subpoena. Protecting users is our leading concern, and we evaluate each request carefully. Unlike many online platforms, we intentionally collect very little nonpublic information about users, and often have no data that is responsive to these requests. We will only produce information if a request is legally valid and follows our Requests for user information procedures and guidelines. Even then, we will push back where we can, to narrow the request and provide as little data as possible. During this reporting period, we received 18 requests for nonpublic user data. We partially complied with three of these requests.

Emergency disclosures. On rare occasions, the Wikimedia Foundation will disclose otherwise nonpublic information to law enforcement authorities to protect a user or other individuals from serious harm. For example, if a user threatens harm to themselves or others, other users may notify us. In some cases, we may then voluntarily provide information to authorities where we believe there is a serious danger to one or more individuals and disclosure is necessary to keep people safe. Additionally, we have implemented an emergency request procedure so that law enforcement may contact us if they are working to prevent imminent harm. We assess such requests on a case-by-case basis. From January to June, 2017, we voluntarily disclosed information in 14 cases, and provided data in response to two emergency requests.

We invite you to read the full transparency report online, for more data and interesting stories. For the first time, you can also learn about our commitment to protect user privacy and project content in print: the print transparency report will be available from Foundation legal and public policy staff at conferences and meetups while supplies last. Additionally, printed copies of the report can be requested by emailing privacy@wikimedia.org on a limited basis.

James Buatti, Legal Counsel
Leighanna Mixter, Legal Fellow
Aeryn Palmer, Legal Counsel

The transparency report would not be possible without the contributions of Jacob Rogers, Jan Gerlach, Stephen LaPorte, Katie Francis, Rachel Stallman, Eileen Hershenov, James Alexander, Siddharth Parmar, Wendy Chu, Diana Lee, Dina Ljekperic, and the entire Wikimedia communications team. Special thanks to Alex Shahrestani for help in preparing this blog post, and to the entire staff at Mule Design and Oscar Printing Company.

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Honoring our friend Bassel: Announcing the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship

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Photo by Joi Ito, CC BY 2.0.

On 1 August 2017, we received the heartbreaking news that our friend Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil, detained since 2012, was executed by the Syrian government shortly after his 2015 disappearance. Khartabil was a Palestinian Syrian open internet activist, a free culture hero, and an important member of our community. Our thoughts are with Bassel’s family, now and always.

Today we’re announcing the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship to honor his legacy and lasting impact on the open web.

Bassel was a relentless advocate for free speech, free culture, and democracy. He was the cofounder of Syria’s first hackerspace, Aiki Lab, Creative Commons’ Syrian project lead, and a prolific open source contributor, from Firefox to Wikipedia. Bassel’s final project, relaunched as #NEWPALMYRA, entailed building free and open 3D models of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. In his work as a computer engineer, educator, artist, musician, cultural heritage researcher, and thought leader, Bassel modeled a more open world, impacting lives globally.

To honor that legacy, the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship will support outstanding individuals developing the culture of their communities under adverse circumstances. The Fellowship—organized by Creative Commons, Mozilla, the Wikimedia Foundation, the Jimmy Wales Foundation, #NEWPALMYRA, and others—will launch with a three-year commitment to promote values like open culture, radical sharing, free knowledge, remix, collaboration, courage, optimism, and humanity.

As part of this new initiative, fellows can work in a range of mediums, including art, music, software, or community building. All projects will catalyze free culture, particularly in societies vulnerable to attacks on freedom of expression and free access to knowledge. Special consideration will be given to applicants operating within closed societies and in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce. Applications from the Levant and wider MENA region are greatly encouraged.

Throughout their fellowship term, chosen fellows will receive a stipend, mentorship from affiliate organizations, skill development, project promotion, and fundraising support from the partner network. Fellows will be chosen by a selection committee composed of representatives of the partner organizations.

“Bassel introduced me to Damascus communities who were hungry to learn, collaborate and share,” says Mitchell Baker, Mozilla executive chairwoman. “He introduced me to the Creative Commons community which he helped found. He introduced me to the open source hacker space he founded, where Linux and Mozilla and JavaScript libraries were debated, and the ideas of open collaboration blossomed. Bassel taught us all. The cost was execution. As a colleague, Bassel is gone. As a leader and as a source of inspiration, Bassel remains strong. I am honored to join with others and echo Bassel’s spirit through this Fellowship.”

Fellowship details

Organizational Partners include Creative Commons, #FREEBASSEL, Wikimedia Foundation, GlobalVoices, Mozilla, #NEWPALMYRA, YallaStartup, the Jimmy Wales Foundation and SMEX.

Amazon Web Services is a supporting partner.

The Fellowships are based on one-year terms, which are eligible for renewal.

The benefits are designed to allow for flexibility and stability both for Fellows and their families. The standard fellowship offers a stipend of $50,000 USD, paid in 10 monthly installments. Fellows are responsible for remitting all applicable taxes as required.

To help offset cost of living, the fellowship also provides supplements for childcare and health insurance, and may provide support for project funding on a case-by-case basis. The fellowship also covers the cost of required travel for fellowship activities.

Fellows will receive:

  • A stipend of $50,000 USD, paid in 10 monthly installments
  • A one-time health insurance supplement for Fellows and their families, ranging from $3,500 for single Fellows to $7,000 for a couple with two or more children
  • A one-time childcare allotment of up to $6,000 for families with children
  • An allowance of up to $3,000 towards the purchase of laptop computer, digital cameras, recorders and computer software; fees for continuing studies or other courses, research fees or payments, to the extent such purchases and fees are related to the fellowship
  • Coverage in full for all approved fellowship trips, both domestic and international

The first fellowship will be awarded in April 2018. Applications will be accepted beginning February 2018.

Eligibility requirements. The Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship is open to individuals and small teams worldwide, who:

  • Propose a viable new initiative to advance free culture values as outlined in the call for applicants
  • Demonstrate a history of activism in the Open Source, Open Access, Free Culture or Sharing communities
  • Are prepared to focus on the fellowship as their primary work

Special consideration will be given to applicants operating under oppressive conditions, within closed societies, in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce, and in the Levant and wider MENA regions.

Eligible projects. Proposed projects should advance the free culture values of Bassel Khartabil through the use of art, technology, and culture. Successful projects will aim to:

  • Meaningfully increase free public access to human knowledge, art or culture
  • Further the cause of social justice/social change
  • Strive to develop both a local and global community to support its cause

Any code, content or other materials produced must be published and released as free, openly licensed and/or open-source.

Application process. Project proposals are expected to include the following:

  • Vision statement
  • Bio and CV
  • Budget and resource requirements for the next year of project development

Applicants whose projects are chosen to advance to the next stage in the evaluation process may be asked to provide additional information, including personal references and documentation verifying income.

About Bassel

Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-Syrian computer engineer, educator, artist, musician, cultural heritage researcher and thought leader, was a central figure in the global free culture movement, connecting and promoting Syria’s emerging tech community as it existed before the country was ransacked by civil war. Bassel co-founded Syria’s first hackerspace, Aiki Lab, in Damascus in 2010. He was the Syrian lead for Creative Commons as well as a contributor to Mozilla’s Firefox browser and the Red Hat Fedora Linux operating system. His research into preserving Syrian archeology with computer 3D modeling was a seminal precursor to current practices in digital cultural heritage preservation — this work was relaunched as the #NEWPALMYRA project in 2015.

Bassel’s influence went beyond Syria. He was a key attendee at the Middle East’s bloggers conferences and played a vital role in the negotiations in Doha in 2010 that led to a common language for discussing fair use and copyright across the Arab-speaking world. Software platforms he developed, such as the open-source Aiki Framework for collaborative web development, still power high-traffic web sites today, including Open Clip Art and the Open Font Library. His passion and efforts inspired a new community of coders and artists to take up his cause and further his legacy, and resulted in the offer of a research position in MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media; his listing in Foreign Policy’s 2012 list of Top Global Thinkers; and the award of Index on Censorship’s 2013 Digital Freedom Award.

Bassel was taken from the streets in March of 2012 in a military arrest and interrogated and tortured in secret in a facility controlled by Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate. After a worldwide campaign by international human rights groups, together with Bassel’s many colleagues in the open internet and free culture communities, he was moved to Adra’s civilian prison, where he was able to communicate with his family and friends. His detention was ruled unlawful by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and condemned by international organizations such as Creative Commons, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Jimmy Wales Foundation.

Despite the international outrage at his treatment and calls for his release, in October of 2015 he was moved to an undisclosed location and executed shortly thereafter—a fact that was kept secret by the Syrian regime for nearly two years.

 

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Wikimedians pack their bags and head to Montreal for 13th annual Wikimania

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Photo by Antonello, CC BY 2.0.

Roughly 1,000 volunteers and free knowledge leaders from nearly 70 countries gathered today for the start of Wikimania 2017—the annual conference celebrating Wikipedia and its sister projects, the Wikimedia movement, and the community of volunteers who make them possible. This marks the 13th annual Wikimania, which takes place on 11–13 August at the Centre Sheraton Hotel in Montreal, coinciding with Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

The event kicked off with an opening ceremony featuring Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Benoit Rochon of Wikimedia Canada, and Harout Chitilian, Vice-chairman of the Executive Committee for the City of Montreal.

Photo by Christopher Lee Adams, public domain.

During the ceremony, Maher joined Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley, Mozilla Executive Director Mark Surman, and representatives from the #NEWPALMRYA Project to announce the inauguration of the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship. The fellowship commemorates Bassel Khartabil, Syrian Wikimedian and global open culture advocate, who was recently confirmed to have been executed in 2015 after being detained by the Syrian government in 2012. To honor Bassel’s contributions, the fellowship will support the work of outstanding individuals developing culture under adverse circumstances.

Throughout this year’s Wikimania, attendees will explore sessions related to the advancement of free knowledge, the role of academia and cultural institutions, technology in free knowledge, privacy and digital rights, and Wikimedia’s future as part of Wikimedia 2030, a global discussion to define the future direction of the Wikimedia movement. Wikimania 2017, being held for the first time ever in Canada, is co-organized by the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Canada, the local Wikimedia affiliate organization in Canada.

Wikimania 2017 will also bring together a diverse mix of attendees, including seasoned volunteer editors; researchers and data scientists; members from the medical community; librarians; and other free knowledge leaders, including featured speakers Susan Herman, President of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Esra’a Al-Shafei, Bahraini human rights activist and defender of free speech. Their paths to Wikimania might be different, but they are all united by a passion for free and open information.

“There’s something incredibly unique about Wikipedia’s model,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. “At its heart, Wikipedia is about people coming together to connect across countries, languages and cultures to build a shared understanding of our world. Wikimania is a time when this global community can meet, share experiences and participate in conversations about subjects that matter most to us as Wikimedians.”

Over the course of three days, attendees will participate in workshops, conversations, presentations, panels, edit-a-thons and trainings that reflect a diverse and wide-ranging conference programme. Sessions span from practical skill-building like how to grow a Wikimedia user group, to experience sharing like editing wikis in more than one script, to sessions that ask attendees to reflect on critical issues of the Wikimedia movement, including threats to free knowledge and working with partners and allies such as OpenStreetMaps and Wikidata. For those unable to attend in person, select sessions, including the opening and closing ceremonies, will be livestreamed throughout the conference on YouTube and Facebook Live on the Wikipedia Facebook page. You can also follow @Wikimania and #Wikimania on Twitter.

Attendees of the conference can also experience #NEWPALMYRA’s 3D-printed Tetrapylon, a freely-licensed recreation of one of the most famous structures in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which was destroyed by ISIS forces in 2016. The exhibit honors the founder of the #NEWPALMYRA project, Bassel Khartabil. A passionate advocate for the free exchange of knowledge, culture, and heritage, Bassel’s contributions have been credited with “opening up the internet in Syria and vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people” by the European Parliament.

“Bassel was known in the free knowledge movement for his boundless enthusiasm and passion, always encouraging others to share, create, and connect with the world around them,” said Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “Like Bassel, we believe that a commitment to expression, openness, and creativity is a reminder of our shared humanity, and the foundation for a better world. Through the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship, we hope to carry on Bassel’s work to protect and preserve the values to which he dedicated his life.”

Photo by David Iliff, CC BY 2.5.

 

Wikimania also offers conference-goers time to experience the unique culture of Montreal. As the city honors its birth and growth over almost four centuries, there will be opportunities for attendees to explore the city’s rich history through cultural tours, music, and cuisine.

“Wikimedia Canada members will present inspiring projects at Wikimania 2017, the result of successful collaborations with several Canadian public and private institutions,” explains Wikimedia Canada president Benoit Rochon. “The archives of BAnQ (Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec) on Wikimedia Commons which have been viewed more than 30 million times, the first Aboriginal encyclopedia in Canada (Atikamekw, one of the largest and still active First Nations language) on Wikipedia and the WikiMed conference are all unique accomplishments we will proudly share with the international Wikimania participants.”

Other featured speakers include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in conversation with anthropologist, academic and author Gabriella (Biella) Coleman and moderated by internet entrepreneur Evan Prodromou; Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) Archivist-Coordinator Frédéric Giuliano and Hélène Laverdure, Curator and Director General of the National Archives at BAnQ; and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher, who will take the stage with Christophe Henner, the Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, to discuss the future of the Wikimedia movement as part of Wikimedia 2030.

You can learn more about the conference at: wikimania2017.wikimedia.org/.

About the Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation is the non-profit organization that supports and operates Wikipedia and its sister free knowledge projects. Wikipedia is the world’s free knowledge resource, spanning more than 40 million articles across nearly 300 languages. Every month, more than 200,000 people edit Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects, collectively creating and improving knowledge that is accessed by more than 1 billion unique devices every month. This all makes Wikipedia one of the most popular web properties in the world. Based in San Francisco, California, the Wikimedia Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity that is funded primarily through donations and grants.

About Wikimedia Canada

Wikimedia Canada is an independent nonprofit organization committed to the growth, development and distribution of free knowledge in Canada, mainly by supporting the development of content on the Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia. The organization’s work focuses on supporting and engaging Canadian individuals and institutions to collect, develop and disseminate knowledge and other educational, cultural and historical content in all languages of Canada, including Aboriginal languages, under a free license or in the public domain.

About Wikimania

Wikimania is the annual conference centered on the Wikimedia projects (Wikipedia and its sister projects) and the Wikimedia community of volunteers. It features presentations on Wikimedia projects, other wikis, free and open source software, free knowledge, and and more. Wikimania 2017 marks the 13th year of the conference.

About the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship

The Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship—organized by Creative Commons, Mozilla, the #NEWPALMYRA Project, the Wikimedia Foundation and others—will support the work of outstanding individuals developing the culture of their communities under adverse circumstances. Special consideration will be given to applicants operating within closed societies and in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce. Applications from the Levant and wider MENA region are greatly encouraged. The one-year fellowship, totaling $50,000 USD, is supported by funding from Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, and the Jimmy Wales Foundation, and facilitated by Creative Commons.

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Wikimedia 2030: A draft strategic direction for our movement

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Photo by Barrioflores, CC BY-SA 4.0.

At the beginning of 2017, the Wikimedia movement began a remarkable global discussion to consider our collective future, under the name Wikimedia 2030. We’ve been collaborating on building a broad strategic direction, with the goal of uniting and inspiring people across the world around our vision of free knowledge for all. This direction is the basis on which the Wikimedia communities will strengthen our work, challenge our assumptions, experiment with the future, build clear plans, and set priorities.

The process to develop this direction has been challenging, delightful, messy, and fascinating. More than 80 Wikimedia groups and communities have participated in discussions all over the world. Conversations were held across languages on-wiki, in person (including a 17-hour strategy track at the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin), virtually, and through private surveys. We complemented our discussions with research on readers around the world and conversations with more than 150 experts. We looked at future trends that will affect our mission on our way to 2030.

In July, a drafting group of Wikimedia volunteers and members of the Wikimedia 2030 strategy team took on the enormous task of compiling this information into a draft strategic direction. This drafting group aimed to represent the feedback from participants across the movement who contributed to Wikimedia 2030 — including individual volunteers, Wikimedia organizations, readers, partners, and donors. Their goal has been to produce an early version of the strategic direction that the broader movement can review and discuss.

Today, I’m delighted to share the first draft of the direction with Wikimedia volunteers and groups:

The strategic direction of the Wikimedia movement for 2030 is to become the roads, bridges, and villages that support the world’s journey towards free knowledge. We, the Wikimedia movement, will forge the tools and build the foundations for creating and accessing trusted knowledge in many shapes and colors. Our networks of people and systems will connect with individuals and institutions to share knowledge through open standards and structures, and support them on the journey to openness and collaboration. We will be a leading advocate and partner for increasing the sharing, curation, and participation in free and open knowledge.

As a movement, we will assemble through strong, sustainable communities that motivate us to contribute. We will welcome people from everywhere to grow fields of knowledge that represent human diversity. In doing so, we will contribute to human progress, and to a better understanding of the world and of ourselves.

This direction builds on our movement’s greatest strength, our local communities. It encourages us to expand our horizons, and builds on existing projects and contributors to add new knowledge and new ways to participate. It asks us to be bold and experiment in the future, as we did in the past. It remains rooted in the Wikimedia vision of “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

By 2030, we won’t yet reach “the sum of all knowledge”, but we will make it possible for anyone to join us in this effort.

This draft is not final, and we’ll be continuing to refine it over the next few weeks. We hope everyone will share their thoughts on our talk pages or in upcoming conversations with Wikimedia discussion coordinators. Based on your feedback we receive, the drafting group will continue to refine and finalize this direction through August.

As we have shared before, the strategic direction is not meant to be a strategic plan. For example, we know that plans are shorter term than ten years. They are much more specific: they focus on organizational capacities and resources, clear goals and executable approaches, and ideally give guidance on how to assess their usefulness at points along the way.

A strategic direction is something entirely different. It is meant to be ambitious, with a broad arc that offers plenty of room for aspiration and creativity. It should give guidance on the long term, but leave the goal setting up to interpretation. For Wikimedia, we knew the date 2030 would let people daydream about the future, instead of worry about what was next for their projects. The community will discuss strategic plans in phase 2, starting in November 2017.

As the Foundation Board Chair, Christophe Henner, has said, “a strategic direction is like picking what mountain we want to summit.” Once we know where we’re going, each person and organization can decide how to summit that mountain – ropes, pulleys, helicopters. We hope this strategic direction offers similar opportunities for creativity.

For those attending Wikimania this week, there will be many opportunities  discuss the insights and research which have been developed and shared during the Wikimedia 2030 process. We are hosting a strategy track that will offer the opportunity to learn more about the findings, and offer feedback on the direction.

Thank you to every single person and group that has engaged in this process. While we are not done yet, I want to express our gratitude and congratulations to everyone for your engagement, honesty, and contributions. It has been an interesting, challenging – and often fun – journey, and I am excited to see where it takes us next.

Katherine Maher, Executive Director
Wikimedia Foundation

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