Sunday, December 14, 2014

Roshuk asks: "Was Wikipedia Ever Meant to be Transparent?"

Seven years ago Alex Roshuk, a lawyer who was also one of the first Wikipedians, decided to bare his soul about the project he was no longer a part of. He did so on a blog with only two posts. Below is the second one:

"When I first became aware of Wikipedia sometime in 2002 I did not fully realize the potential it might have offered. It took me until the late winter of 2003 to begin to appreciate the option I had to contribute to a collective work. At first I just started writing or editing a few articles and slowly, after a few weeks I began looking around at various user and talk pages and I began to discern that there was a definite community forming. I learnt the names of individuals like Mav and others. There seems to be a few people who must have been spending an enormous amount of their time on Wikipedia (which I calculated based on the amount of time I had spent). I began reading the archives of the mailing lists (really there was one main list at that time) and started making comments about things relating to copyright, mostly the issues of fair use which popped up quite often on Wikipedia and the issues relating to page histories and copyright infringements (something that I think most people really did not understand). What I began to glean from these early reviews of the Wikipedia database that what was being offered was a truly transparent opportunity to work as a community.   As a Canadian and communitarian I saw the possibility of people working together even on their disputes as many of the early discussions on Wikipedia (mostly on the wiki called meta that was distinct from any of the other encyclopedia projects and designed as a place of debate) that there were healthy transparent debates going on between Wikipedians. I found this refreshing and I found the talk of transparent governance on the mailing lists also refreshing. Being a jaded New York and litigation lawyer I really did not have much faith in the world in general any longer.

So I volunteered to help with some legal tasks. I helped Jimbo pull together some information regarding the organization's application for tax exempt status (which was supervised by Jimmy Wales) and I spent time discussing the options of making Wikipedia a membership or non-membership board controlled organization. What we came up with was compromise solution based upon the need for input from all the volunteer editors (whom we also called members) to reach up to the top of the organization's board of trustees. I convinced Jimbo to put a dispute resolution mechanism into the board structure (that was not the same as the arbcom and mediation committee structure that had been developed on the mailing list to deal with editorial disputes) and I think Jimbo had an appreciation of the need to have an organizational feedback mechanism to deal with member disputes or management issues.

While it was true that some of the structure aspects of the bylaws (which were submitted to the IRS) were never implemented by the Board (who was originally Tim Shell, Michael Davis and Jimmy Wales) it was clear that there were members because the organization had several elections.  I personally don't think these elections were valid because no proper notice was given to the many members who were eligible to vote and the only people who did vote — I believe — were mostly administrators who were active. I actually never voted on these "elections" because I did not know about them. I had never received any notices of these elections (even though I monitored my email from the foundation) because I don't think any email was ever sent to the "members". How these people got elected I will never understand because Jimbo and his appointed CEO Brad Patrick announced in 2006 that there had never been members of Wikipedia or Wikimedia. Suddenly with the appointment of Mr. Patrick all the openness of Wikipedia's early years had disappeared.

What was the reason for this? I cannot be sure but when I looked at Brad Patrick's talk page and various information about Wikia, Inc. (the for profit start up that Mr. Wales created after starting Wikipedia) I discovered that what was going on was that Mr. Patrick and his law firm had been hired by Mr. Wales to start Wikia, Inc. and help it get venture capital funding (Mr. Patrick was an associate in a top corporate law firm).  It seemed that his law firm decided that Mr. Patrick was not needed at the firm and that he would better serve the legal interests of the partners if he was appointed a paid employee of Wikimedia Foundation Inc. Strangely enough he became both the CEO and Corporate Counsel even though there is a clear issue of conflict of interest that was never addressed.

What really started making me upset was that Jimbo Wales had stated on the foundation mailing list that sounded like was part of the discussion to hire Brad Patrick.  About a year earlier I suggested that he might talk to someone locally in St. Petersburg to act as standby in case someone filed a lawsuit against Wikimedia Foundation not hire a full time lawyer.  Mr. Patrick was not very forthcoming about anything he was doing in the foundation even though Jimbo had promised that Mr. Patrick would be working with all us volunteer lawyers to continue to do what we had done in the past. Nothing of the sort ever happened. The private lawyers mailing list became dormant (until six months later when I tried to discuss my dispute with Wikimedia on it and I was kicked off the list by Eric Moeller because I was "hurting" the foundation by being critical about it.

This is exactly the problem. Around the time that Mr. Patrick became CEO and General Counsel (two jobs that I believe are fundamentally incapable of being handled by the same person) communication really stopped happening in the "internal" wikis of Wikimedia (this was also the point that Angela Beesley resigned)."

(5 Dec 2007, on the defunct


More abuse of Wikipediocracy, talking about ancient Wikipedia article tags, Eastern European politics, and pointless "naming names" sessions to come.....

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