Being a board member at Wikimedia Foundation (part I)

Last Monday, I informed the community I did not intend to run for the board of Wikimedia Foundation this summer. I do not know if I ever would have the guts to be more specific, but here is at least the official announcement :-)

Dear community members,

Though it was a (very) difficult decision to make, I have decided not to be a candidate to the coming elections of the board of trustees of Wikimedia Foundation as a community representative.

After four years on the board, and over one year and a half as its chair, I observe that the organization has matured a lot.

In 2004 the Wikimedia Foundation was a tiny organization (total expenses 23 000 dollars) set up and led by Jimmy, running three servers from remote Florida and hosting projects with frequent denial of services due to unsufficient technical support, Wikimedia has now grown into a six million dollars organization, operating over 300 servers, led by an accountable board, with a new office in San Francisco and a staff of 15. Operations are now guided by a brand new mission statement, with defined values, procedures, policies, and charters. Fully independently audited, the Wikimedia Foundation receive the financial support of thousand of small donors, as well as support from commercial companies and major foundations.

Wikimania, our annual conference was first held in 2005, one year after I joined the board. Wikimania then travelled from Frankfurt to Boston, Taipei, and Egypt, with the great honor of being hosted by the New Library of Alexandria this year.

In the past four years, new projects were started (eg, Wikimedia Commons, Wikinews). Wikipedia rose from rank 500 in october 2004 to rank 8 in october 2007 of most popular websites in the world. As of April 2008, Wikipedia attracts 683 million visitors annually, reading over 10 millions articles in 253 languages. Other projects are thriving and made available in more and more languages every year (eg, Wikibooks, Wiktionary etc…). All Wikimedia projects are now freely available worldwide on the internet with an excellent quality of service.

Those are fantastic, tremendous achievements!

I am proud I was part of it.

Of course, all this was not my own doing, but was made possible by the dedication of all board members, of previous and current staff members, contractors, and most of all, of community volunteers. Good job, everyone!

I want to thank the 2004 voters, who elected me to participate at the organization level, and the 2005 voters, who confirmed me on the board for two additional years. My nomination as chair in 2006 and renewal in 2007 was probably more a stroke of luck :-) I was given the difficult task to help Wikimedia to mature from a Founder-led group to a mature organization with a dual board/executive set-up, various policies and procedures, as well as controls to prevent or limit damages. In short, I had a position of interim chair :-) The 2007 board trusted me to stabilize the transition to the new Executive Director. Twenty months later, I consider the job done. The disappearance of the previously recurring question "but what if Jimbo is hit by a bus this morning ?" is in itself a sufficient sign :-) The organization is more solid than it has ever been.

I would like to offer a special "thank you" note to Jan-Bart, the vice-chair, for the highly valuable work on the board. Jan-Bart is one of these “outsiders”, that some think should not be on the board. I could not disagree more. Outsiders may share our values deeply, bring expertise that does not exist within the active community, and provide an external view sometimes very refreshing on our in-house debates.

Building an organization that could accompany the exponential growth of the Wikimedia projects was, as you can imagine, quite a challenge, and did not always go without tensions. I read with much attention the community petition started after the board reorganization announcement. It would be a serious misconception to imagine that board members always fully agree on what is decided by the board as a whole. Board members can (and do) disagree. Sometimes, no decision is made because there are irreconcilable factions. But often, they agree to a compromise, so that a needed collective decision can be made. Directions are not set in stone and it will be the responsibility of the next board to deal with the future. Various trends are showing up right now, as pointed out in the petition or by various emails to this list.

After the decision over reorganization of the board, I was placed in a rather impossible situation. New blood is highly necessary to the board, but the unique position opened to an elected community representative places me in direct competition with these new, “third” generation leaders currently being candidates. If three positions had been opened, it would have been an entirely different matter, but this one position truly deserves to go to a brand new member, with fresh energy and ideas. I wish the candidates all the best of luck. The new board member can count on my support to welcome him or her after the elections, during our roughly 2 weeks of overlapping presence on the board.

Though I will reduce my participation, I will certainly not quit the projects. My heart is dedicated to them and to our love of knowledge. I intend to keep on “thinking global”, even if I act more “local”. Since my first days on the projects (February 2002), my focus has been on transparency, volunteer involvement, decentralization, bottom-up decision making, and love for cultural and linguistic diversity. I will stay available to share my time and energy with those who are, with pride but modesty, supporting our projects as well as their values. An organization is at the service of a cause, and the primary interest and focus of its members should not be the organization itself, but its mission and, even more important, the vision behind the mission and the values shared between all members. Our vision should be our credo, day after day: bringing knowledge to every single human being on Earth.

Love

Anthere / Florence Devouard


Since then, my throat is tight most of the day.

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