Friday, August 31, 2018

"We're on the Road to Nowhere": Wikimedia Australia in retrospect

Before we can talk about the dual trainwreck that was/is Wikimedia UK, we should reveal what happened to a sister Wikimedia in a former British colony and present Commonwealth of Nations state, Australia.

A short prologue

Before there was a Wikimedia chapter in the country, Aussie Wikipedians posted what was going on to an "Australian Wikipedians' notice board" which was created in September, 2004. Except for announcements of Melbourne or Sydney meetups, it was rarely used from 2004 to 2008, and the main operators were Chris Sherlock and Ambi (Rebecca Leighton), well-known for their "abusive and arrogant behaviour" as Peter Damian put it in the notes I am working from. Beyond the "notice board" they also operated a mailing list called wikimediaau-1 they began in March, 2006. February 2006 saw the first "official Wikimedia Australia" meeting, which was on Internet Relay Chat for two hours. Angela Beesley made the event happen.


For whatever reason, possibly the drama over Essjay, possibly because Australian Wikipedia is as busy as the University of Woolloomooloo, but very little happened to WMAU until January 23, 2008 when an announcement was made that they were incorporating that year; they started a WMAU wiki on April 20th (not realizing it was Adolf Hitler's birthday.) Daniel Bryant (Daniel) was the first administrator, until he quit later that year. For some bizarre reason, Encyclopedia Dramatica has a page on Bryant's former girlfriend Riana (Riana K. Chakravarti). There should be some mention of Lankivail (Craig Franklin) who was a founder of Wikimedia Australia, he died this April. When he was alive he was one of those "deletionist patroller" users (joined Wikipedia in 2004); he ran for ArbCom in 2008 and didn't make the cut, but he was made an administrator in 2008. His Wordpress blog survives him.

By March of 2008 they had begun the incorporation process, which they documented (like everything else) on MetaWiki. They have a rules page, a page on how they voted to be an organization, eleven pages of their IRC logs, etc. We do not know if those rules were actually acted upon after approval. There was a bid for Wikimania 2009 to take place in Brisbane made by WMAU; Buenos Aires was chosen instead.

Things began to heat up in 2012 as "schisms" (as Peter Damian or Eric Barbour put it) began to form - John Vandenberg's protégé Laura Hale ran a slate of officers against Vandenberg's slate of officers in the WMAU elections that year, with Hale and Steven Zhang (Steve Crossin) nominating their slate. They lost on November 25th (34 votes were cast), then Laura Hale and her landlord Ross Mallett (Wikipedian Hawkeye7, who had run against Lankveil for the Treasurer's position) plus Bidgee (Robert Myers) jetted to a Colorado ski competition which would also include a stop at the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco. Before the election they had applied for a grant of $4,635 for the trip and were in flight when it was turned down. Hale quit WMAU, but somehow became an (unpaid) Wikimedian in residence with the Spanish Paralympic Committee, providing material on the Paralympic Games in London. She also got involved with Wikinews. There was a thread about the farcical election on the Wikipediocracy message board, which also brought up that there was a private WMAU mailing list.


Trouble in paradise: Tony Souter's Wikimediaau-1 email "AGM and new committee appear to have no legitimacy under the law and chapter rules" from November 2013 - Tony1 wrote the following:

At this point Crossin/Zhang was President of the WMAU. Of course there was a WO-MB thread on it. Souter was ignored, even though he tried to bring it up again.


This was where the dam broke, as  recounted in this Wikipediocracy message board thread:

Andreas Kolbe:  Recent disagreements on the wikimediaau-l mailing list seem to have led to a permanent split. As far as I can make out, all three wikimediaau-l list admins (Steven Zhang, Charles Gregory and John Vandenberg) have now resigned, to be replaced by David Gerard.

The March archive of wikimediaau-l is here; the relevant thread is "Apparently corrupt administration of this list".

At the same time, a new mailing list, wikimedia-au-members, has been set up by Steven Zhang, the current President of Wikimedia Australia. The March archive of that list is here.

The flashpoint was Steven Zhang's attempted banning of longstanding Wikipedia Signpost contributor Tony Souter (Tony1 (T-C-L)), who Steven felt was asking too many questions (sorry, let me translate that into newspeak: Steven called it "disrupting the list", "repeated personal attacks", etc.).

John Vandenberg immediately said he did not want to have anything to do with the new list. Steven Zhang on the other hand said he did not want to have anything to do with the old list, and encouraged everyone else to consider unsubscribing from it too.
Down the thread:
Silent Editor: ....I read on the old list that WMAU is probably not going to apply for FDC funds this year, but they haven't really made up their minds yet. Of course, it's likely that time to apply will run out before they make up their minds, anyway.

But of course, Steven Zhang posted the note saying they probably wouldn't apply for funds to the old list several days after he'd posted saying he was unsubscribing from that list...

Great illustration of Sayre's Law.
On Vandenberg and Steve Zhang, Kelly Martin had this to say:

.....I only have vague recollections of Zhang and Vandenberg, but generally thought that Vandenberg seemed less nuts than average for a Wikipedian. Zhang, on the other hand, is a froot loop; I remember him quite well when he was Steve Crossin. I'd say that I don't understand how someone like him got to any level of authority, but this is Wikipedia we're talking about.....


In October, 2015 there was the "2016 annual meeting" and the following people were elected: Gideon Digby (Gnangarra), Pru Mitchell (Pru.mitchell), Tom Hogarth (TomH), Bidgee (R. Myers) again, and Caddie Brain (Tenniscourtisland). Digby is a professional photographer in Perth, made a promotional video for the Wikimedia Foundation that was ignored; Mitchell is a librarian from Melbourne and an Adjunct Lecturer at Charles Stuart University; Hogarth, a "researcher" in Belmont near Perth who used undeclared sockpuppet accounts to make over 100,000 actions; Myers is some sort of aviation tech or pilot for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and also involved with Charles Stuart University; Brain is an ex-journalist, now librarian with a large vanity website who has only been involved with Wikipedia since 2016 - they were so desperate for people they elected a rank noob. Of course there was a WO-MB thread, started by our good friend tarantino, sniping at how bad the essay Gideon Digby wrote was (it reads more like a rough transcript of spoken remarks than an actual polished document). In the thread Greg Kohs linked to a Business Insider Australia article "Fair use, or free use? Behind the interests and alliances that stand to gain from changes to Australia's copyright law" by Chris Pash. The most important point from the article was this:

"Lobby groups behind a high profile campaign on Wikipedia urging a switch to US-style copyright law in Australia have links to interests, including multinationals such as Google, which will gain substantially from any change to a so-called “fair use” system......The links are undeclared when Australian visitors to Wikipedia, which is run by registered charity Wikimedia Australia, are asked to email their local federal member of parliament......The Wikimedia Foundation told Business Insider: “Google is one of many donors that contributes to the Wikimedia Foundation, and their contributions have not influenced Wikipedia’s involvement in the fair use campaign in Australia.”"
That's the real importance of these national chapters of Wikipedia - pushing for American-style copyright laws so that Wikipedia doesn't have to pay for material. Meanwhile, the people elected to run WMAU have pulled a game of musical chairs and all of them are still there in 2018, with the addition of two people: Sam Wilson (Samwilson) and Robert Whyte.  At least we don't have to bring up Stephen Bain anymore....

1 comment:

  1. Hah hah. Bain will return someday. The "movement" has many uses for insane obsessed followers.