Report of Visit to Foundation November 2011

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San Francisco

Roger and I were given a warm welcome to the Foundation, provided with passes, desks and unlimited supplies of drinks and snacks. The staff were unfailing in their willingness to help and spend time answering all our questions. Nothing was too much trouble.

I did a short presentation to the Staff metrics meeting that was very well received though I think the mugs, T towels and biscuits might have been a deciding factor.

I am happy to talk in more detail about what we learnt but the key points are covered below.

Most important of all we met people and built bridges for the future whilst giving a direct account of what we aim to achieve next year. There was genuine enthusiasm for the UK Chapter.

This is in a mainly chronological order for the main interviews:

Jon Davies

James Owen - Executive Assistant and Board Liaison

Explained the set up of the office, briefed us on all the staff and arranged meetings for us.

Jay Walsh - Head of Communications

Meeting One He explained the focus of his role. 1/3 answering media enquiries 1/3 Project managing internal things such as the Annual Report 1/3 Communicating with the community

He knows there is a need for more communications 'often users have no idea about what goes on' behind the pages, but also the need to focus on what works and doesn’t. Better use of Social Media is one aim. Jay explained that comms is different from many companies in that Wikipedia sells itself and apart from during the fundraiser they have no message to communicate.

Good outcome as we were emailed details of a media request from a breakfast show on Radio Europe which covers Ireland and Spain.

Meeting Two

Discussed the need for a sensible approach to press management. Seeding stories but actually understanding what you hope to achieve and why. He has a good understanding of how to deal with ill-informed and negative coverage, which will be useful for us.

He expects a high standard of work in the written materials to ensure they get read and not just thrown away.

We discussed the uses of promotional material; to reward volunteers, promote the work, thank outside organisations and donors and help build the feeling of community. He is adamant that the products need to be well designed and of good quality. He is keen to cooperate with the UK chapter on this task. I have been given some samples.

Siko Bourtese - Head of Community Fellowships Programme

She explained the aims of the fellowship programme. There are short term projects of proven worth and others that are experimenting with new ideas. They can last from 2 months to 2 years. They are ideally full-time but can be part-time. They pay a living wage based on local circumstances. Originally people would come with their proposals but now the Foundation will also put ideas out there and ask for people to come forward. Siko sifts the applications and then takes them to a small committee. The aim is to make decisions within three months. Can be based in SF or elsewhere. The idea of basing someone in the UK office is attractive. UK talent should be sought. Need to avoid conflict between UK projects and Foundation projects. A recent addition is Lori Phillips who is picking up some of the hole left by Liam. Lori has created a part-time job which allows her to co-ordinate GLAM in the US which complements her other part-time work.

We discussed the problems of why we would encourage our best people to work for the WMF. She was sensitive to this issue and we discussed how this should ideally be driven by the project. e.g. A project focussed in the UK should be funded in the UK.

Global Education team

Annie Lin -Programme Manager
LiAnna Davis – Communications Manager
Frank Schulenburg – Programme Director

They explained the background to the project and its successes and pitfalls. There are big advantages to the students, new skills learnt, better projects within their courses and improvements to Wikipedia. About to start a project based in Cairo to see if model can work for other countries and languages.

Currently based in US and Canada with some of the institutions no longer needing any support. Some Universities see the advantages and have become evangelistic supporters. (They are sure speakers would come to our EDU conference and contribute.) The regional ambassadors (volunteers) are key to supporting the Campus Ambassadors. Campus Ambassadors chosen by rigorous application forms then challenging skype interviews. Looking for ability to engage and teach not primarily huge knowledge of Wikipedia. Keen to develop the on-line ambassadors role to support the students 24/7. Need for better training for them on their roles though. Lessons learnt –

  • Start in a restricted geographical area rather than spending all your time on planes
  • You don't need too much academic input – they originally set up a committee
  • Orientation (AKA training) essential for academic staff and support ambassadors.

We went through the material that Martin has recently placed on the WMUK pages and our experience and aspirations to establish EDU projects and an EDU conference next year. Alex Stinson had been very useful and it may be useful to bring another trainer to the UK if we need further help.

They have one successful university where they have c.60 professors running classes linked to Wikipedia. Franks says they are having to "pull this back" in order that they can keep control. Having 60 professors at one university shows that you need a scalable model. Initially they had tried to include paid staff but realised that this would create a bottleneck.

Asaf Bartov - Head of Global South relations and Grants

Grants Has been handling grants since 2009. With Barry's encouragement has tidied up the process. The August resolution about Chapters funded by grants was a major talking point but things are calmer now. He oversees grants ranging from US$3K upwards. His motto 'Make the easy things easy and hard things possible' He is positive about the participation grants. Not a huge uptake yet but a simple and fast way of working. Would welcome WMUK investment and participation.

Global South

Finds the term 'Global South' misleading but older term 'Developing World' scorned by U.N. India and Brazil key targets for the Foundation with teams allocated to support their development. Asaf covers the rest of the countries. His main aims:

  1. To find and cultivate local communities with financial support to local people (not just chapters) where progress can be made. In many places the chapters are non existent or have only very limited capacity.
  2. Creating partnerships with other NGO's to develop Wikis in new countries e.g. training teachers and librarians in Tanzania.

He hopes to have some support staff soon. As to our participation in Global South issues: 'Nothing is barred but keep me in the loop'.

Phil Chang – Product Manager Mobile

A difficult area to get developers in but much to gain. Hopes to get two engineers in to work on the possibilities. Wants an app that works across all platforms but really tricky to work out how to refine pages to work on little screens. Some mock-ups on Mediawiki.

Brandon Harris - Senior designer and fundraising star

Working on ways of improving the editor experience: Mood bars in the feedback dashboard and responses to them. New page triage to give new editors a sympathetic reception Systems to help people through editing e.g. Wizards Auto language picker for top five languages Global profiles for storing personal data and being able to tailor communications with them. In effect trying to create new social norms that reward good behaviour and reverse the 'Lord of the flies' tendency.

Trevor Parscal - Lead Features Engineer

Trevor walked us through progress on the new visual editor. It is being written from scratch but real problems with getting wikitext disconnected from the real text. He wants to create something that 'thinks like wikitext'. Key challenge is parsing the text. Developers working on a parsing tool in Germany. It is close to being 'good enough to start with' though not 100%. The benefits are obvious but the speed of vandalism will increase and safeguards need to be built in. The trials will start in December when the parser is ready with scope for feedback as the complexity increases. Some pages that are really complicated but seldom used may have to be jettisoned. This will only be where there are a very small number of pages using unusual media wiki extentions and its quicker to redesign them. It is imperative that they keep valid histories. Support for unicode characters fairly straightforward but some very special characters will be a challenge.

They have looked at Google docs as a brilliant piece of software that we can learn from. They have had meetings with Google and full co-operation was offered in but Google could not allow them to have "free" software. The new editor does not support simultaneous editting by more than one editor but its design allows for that improvement. A major issue with allowing multiple simultaneous editting will be attribution where a new sentence was created by 3 or 4 editors.

Zak Exley – Chief Community Officer

Zak is a lightning conductor for the Foundation along with Phillipe Beadette (unfortunately away during our visit). He explained his very wide ranging background and the public policy experience he has brought to the Foundation. He loves the way 'volunteers run the show' from the grassroots. There is less and less vandalism to be fought but fewer editors are doing more of the work. There has been a 75% decline in in new editors who become highly active since 2005. He is very interested in ways of reversing the decline in editors. Is keen to see 10 or 15 people from the community coming in for a while to try new ideas and experiments.

He pondered on the reason for the decline since 2005; Poor templates, the Wikilanguage, a feeling that 'the project' is completed? On the other had there are 60,000 new accounts opened on the English Wiki every week of whom a third go on to make an edit. How do we encourage them to do more and stay?

He noted that in one survey 66% of communications with newbies came from only 250 people some of whom were strict reverters.

We discussed how we can work together and Roger outlined the Monmouth experiment as a way of taking WMUK into the community and build new links and active Wikimedians. (It strikes me as a useful idea to write up the Monmouth experiment ASAP and send round).

Zak felt that a main strength of the chapters is that we can get closer to the users. He felt that the chapters are stepping up to that challenge.

at this point Roger left the building ... to go to Indianapolis Victuallers 10:57, 5 December 2011 (UTC)

Erik Möller – Deputy Director

He talked about his background in the community and his enthusiasm for engineering solutions. He would like the chapters to support the recruitment of editors. He warned about WMUK spreading itself too thinly. This is what WMDE did at the start and this limited its effect. Pointed to some good practice e.g. the Czech chapter who offer small financial amount to members for travel and incidental expenses when gathering material.

His aims for this year:

  • Get the new Visual Editor up and running
  • Reverse the decline in editors
  • Build happy relations in the community.

Dario Taraborelli – Senior Research Analyst – Strategy

Dario has come into the Foundation to help coordinate research. He has a background in Sociology and studying behaviour. He worked at UCL and Sussex before coming to San Francisco and was a page contributor on London local history.

His role is to support the tech team and coordinate research so that wheels are not constantly being reinvented. He is finding a lot of interesting variations in the way pages are written and edited for instance around the Japanese earthquake where the normal editing behaviour became more feverish.

He is currently commissioning a study from Oxford (Chris Davies) that is looking at the accuracy of our pages in three languages, English, Arabic and Spanish, by presenting blind copy of Wikipages and other sources to groups of academics for assessment. He suggests we keep close to this. It could be a model for future research. He believers that in the UK we are ' in the forefront of working with academics' which is nice. He is also aware that some hostility remains too.

We also met:

IT support department
Rayne MacGeorge
Chip Deubner

I discussed our needs and they gave me the advice that I used in part for the IT paper. They are a great resource for the future.

Laura James– office travel coordinator

From Bolton – arranged our accommodation as guests of the Foundation Her role is central to making lives simple for approaching 100 staff and trustees.

Charles Barr – Contracting Fundraiser Production Coordinator

He gave us some useful insights into the Foundation's programming for the fundraiser which has to be extremely sophisticated using as it does so many languages, so many currencies and so many forms of payment. Think of all the possible combinations and ways they can go wrong and you understand why he seldom seems to leave the office. Cries of 'The Philippines are OK again' or 'We've lost China' happen all the time.

Pats Pena – Community Development Operations Manager

Camps in the office for two months every year making sure the fundraiser software runs. Works from home the rest of the year.

Tomasz Finc – Director of Mobile and Special projects.

Tomasz spoke about the challenge of moving Wikipedia to the mobile platform where we had been late in delivering a good offering. We now had a credible functionality but compromises have been made to deliver this level of speed and simplicity. Recently they have offered language switching but the implementation was not obvious. Co-incidentally this change had been requested by Roger - if it had been delivered quickly then we would not have created QRpedia which was in some ways a work around for not being able to switch languages easily on a mobile.

Ediiting on mobiles is going to come although they are excited by "Wikipedia Zero" which will see mobile's delivering Wikipedia even when the cell phone has no credit. It is hoped that this will be offered in the Global South. Tomasz feels it is unlikely that Wikipedia Zero will make it to UK/US/EU etc.

Stephen Walling -Community Organiser
Geoff Brigham – General Counsel
Garfield Byrd – Chief of Finance and Administration

And of course Sue Gardner... A constant presence; she was racing round the whole time but very friendly and we are building a good relationship. And as a bonus as I left the building Barry was there for a quick handshake!

Jon Davies WMUK 19:09, 2 December 2011 (UTC)


A backstage pass - The Dinosaur store at Indianapolis Children's Museum. Lori Phillips and Roger Bamkin.

The reason for the detour on the way home was to visit Lori Phillips who was the first Wikipedian in Residence and the first in the U.S. She has recently been employed part-time by the WMF to co-ordinate GLAM activities in North America. Lori has also championed QRpedia and has the most successful implementation in terms of clicks per code.

This was a short visit of just half a day. We first went on a tour of the Children's museum where Lori is now employed as W-I.R. This is the largest Children's museum in the world. The whole museum is targetted at children so no artefact has a label that uses more than 50 words. They have found that QRpedia enables them to supply the extra information to adults.

They were given a presentation on the work that we do with GLAM targetting on the business case for involving Wikipedia in your museum. They reported that they were surprised at the volume of interest they were getting as they had tried QR codes in the past with less success.

Victuallers 10:15, 5 December 2011 (UTC)