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Earlier this year, Wikimedia executive director Sue Gardner proposed to centralize fundraising activities and to move beyond geography-based chapter associations as the primary means of organizing (see “Redrawing the Borders of Wikimedia Governance: Turning the Money Screw“). Her move has inspired severe criticism and respective responses by prominent chapter organizations such as Germany, Italy and several chapters of Spanish-speaking countries. Specifically Wikimedia Germany, the largest chapter in terms of both members and fundraising, invested heavily in a detailed counterproposal entitled “Wikimedia’s culture of sharing: Remarks on common goals, localized fundraising and global action“.

A good impression of the intensity and the front lines of this debate is provided by the comments on a blog post by Wikimedia board member Stu West, where he explained “Why [he] supported the Board letter on fundraising“. The discussion thread also nicely illustrates the challenge of transnational governance, when West is accused of being US-centric:

There is a world outside the U.S. where people act according to different standards and think and decide differently. Our movement has to pay tribute to this fact.

After two months of discussion, Gardner has recently presented a revised version of her recommendations and asked the Foundation’s board to decide on it. The most controversial clause of her initial proposal is still part of her final list of recommendations: Read the rest of this entry »

We are late with posts on the issue that dominated the web over the last couple weeks, namely the two bills in the U.S. congress on SOPA and PIPA. Even Wikipedia, for the first time in its history, decided to join the protest blackout on January 18 to protest against the bills. (Which was, by the way, also exemplifying the difficulties of Wikimedia making decisions involving the community due to the absence of accepted and routinized participation structures within Wikimedia governance, see also “Redrawing the Borders of Wikimedia Governance“).

Nevertheless, this might not be all that much of a problem. Because if NYU’s Clay Shirky is right, SOPA and PIPA will come back with new acronyms but similar content. But see for yourself in Shirky’s 15 minute TED talk on the issue:


Two days ago, Sigrid and I have submitted a paper on community governance in the realm of Creative Commons and Wikimedia to this year’s Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Today, I have learnt about major upcoming changes in governance of the latter of our two cases. Wikimedia is at the brink of abandoning its decentralized and geography-based network of Wikimedia chapters and replace it with a much more centralized network of different types of movement organizations.

Logo of the Wikimedia Foundation

The current governance structure of Wikimedia, the formal organization behind the global community of volunteers responsible for Wikipedia, had emerged comparably unplanned. The focal Wikimedia Foundation itself was founded two years after Wikipedia had been launched as a side-project of the quality-controlled “Nupedia“. And while Wikipedia had been transnational from the very start with versions in German, Catalan, Japanese, French and Spanish only two months after its launch, the Foundation was not. The first local Wikimedia branch in Germany was founded independently from Wikimedia headquarters and only formally recognized as a formal Wikimedia chapter after the fact. Following the German example, so far 38 membership-based chapter associations have been founded and formally recognized. Together, these chapters nominate two members to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

With the exception of two US chapters in New York City and in the District of Columbia, all these chapters are related to countries. One of the main reasons for tying local chapter organizations to countries is a financial one. Many Wikimedia chapter organizations such as the German, the Polish or the Swiss chapter receive tax exempted donations. This is one of the big advantages of local chapter organizations and even a rationale for founding them as grassroots organizations in the first place. The same time, however, this also restricts the flow of funds within the organizational network. Donations to the German Wikimedia chapter, for example, cannot easily be transferred to the focal Wikimedia Foundation in the US due to legal restraints.

Read the rest of this entry »

Before the Wikimedia Foundation was established as the organizational carrier for Wikipedia and its sister projects, the Wikipedia trademark as well as the server infrastructure had been owned by the start-up company, which ran an ad-funded search engine mainly targeting a male audience. Wikimedia was founded over two years after Wikipeda and only after a substantial part of the Spanish Wikipedia community had started a Wikipedia-fork named “Enciclopedia Libre Universal” to prevent Bomis from including advertisments in Wikipedia. Bomis then handed on all Wikipedia-related intellectual property to Wikimedia.

In projects using open or free licensing standards such as Wikipedia (Creative Commons By-Share-Alike license) or Linux (Gnu General Public License)  a “fork” is always a (mostly: latent) option. In a way, the mere possibility of a fork should secure that an organizational carrier is attentive to the needs and positions of the community, whose contributions the project depends on. Of course, forking is also a way to resolve conflicts within communities, for example between sub-communities with different priorieties as the case of BSD Unix.

In the case of Wikimedia, choosing the organizational form of a non-profit foundatiofn allowed for community participation and tax-exempt donations (see “The Importance of Clear Boundaries for Community Participation“); but most of all it was a signal to the community of volunteer contributors that their content will not be exploited by a private enterprise. It is all about trust. Read the rest of this entry »

In spite of its regular portrayal as “anarchic”, “anything goes” was never true for Wikipedia. Beginning with the list of principles issued by its founder, Jimbo Wales, a continuously growing number of rules guides contributors to and hence development of Wikipedia. One of the most prominent rules is the aim of delivering a “Neutral Point of View” (NPOV). Other important rules deal with notability. While the NPOV is debated with regard to every single article, Wikipedia’s several “notability guidelines” try to resolve the question which information ought (not) to be included in the free online encyclopedia in the first place. Over the years, long lists of conventions have emerged for all kinds subjects. Regarding people, for example, the English Wikipedia lists in detail the notability criteria for members of different professional groups – ranging from Academics over Criminals and Diplomats to Entertainers (including actors, comedians, models, etc.).

But notability guidelines or, as they are called in the German Wikipedia “relevance criteria” (“Relevanzkriterien”), share the problem of all taxonomies, namely a certain degree of arbitrariness; an arbitrariness that makes them particularly prone to being criticized and challenged. In the English Wikipedia debates about notability even led to the formation of two antagonistic camps: The “Association of Deletionist Wikipedians” (ADW) sails under the banner of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his famous quote:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

The opposite camp assembles around the “Association of Inclusionist Wikipedians” (AIW), which goes even back to the old Romans for their motto:

“The motto of the AIW is Conservata veritate, which translates to, ‘with truth preserved.’ This motto reflects the inclusionist desire to change Wikipedia only when no knowledge would be lost as a result.”

While both “associations” exist since 2004 and their dispute seemed to be rather settled, recent controversies about “relevance” in the German Wikipedia demonstrate that and how such rules may still be re-negotiated: Read the rest of this entry »

For this year’s Wikimania (26-28 August, Buenos Aires) I submitted an abstract of a paper comparing transnationalization processes and community relations of Creative Commons and Wikimedia. In this series I present some work in progress.

While the now famous online-encyclopedia Wikipedia was founded shortly before Creative Commons in 2001, its organizational carrier – the Wikimedia Foundation – was founded about half a year after Creative Commons had formally launched its first set of alternative copyright licenses in December 2002. Both organizations share the fundamental vision of creating and promoting a global “commons” of freely available digital goods. Wikimedia hosts a framework of hardware (webspace and bandwith), software (the wiki-engine “MediaWiki”) and legal rules (copyleft licenses) for several projects of commons-based peer production such as Wikipedia, Wikibooks or Wiktionary. Creative Commons, in turn, delivers a set of open content licenses to – not only, but also – legally enable and foster such commons-based peer production projects as put forward by Wikimedia.

Interestingly, independent from one another, both organizations very soon after their foundation started to transnationalize by developing a transnational network of locally rooted organizations. In a way, this strategic coordination of legally and financially independent organizations resembles what is called “strategic networks” in the realm of business research (see, for example, Gulati, Nohria and Zaheer 2000). Their strategies of building such an organizational network were however quite distinct. Read the rest of this entry »

For this year’s Wikimania (26-28 August, Buenos Aires) I submitted an abstract of a paper comparing transnationalization processes and community relations of Creative Commons and Wikimedia. In this series I present some work in progress.

A few days ago, Wikimedia, the organization behind Wikipedia and its sister projects, announced the results of its most recent community vote: All contributors who had made at least 25 edits to any Wikimedia project prior to March 15, 2009 were invited to vote on the proposal to license Wikimedia material so it is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA), while retaining dual licensing with the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). This proposal is in line with earlier statements of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who repeatedly stated that “Wikipedia, had it been founded after Creative Commons, would have certainly been under a Creative Commons license” (see, for example, his speech at an iSummit party in December 1 2007 in the video below) The proposal was accepted by a solid 75.8 % majority (see results page). Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
March 2018
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All texts on governance across borders are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany License.