Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wikimedia Board candidates: Mindspillage

Tonight's first candidate is Mindspillage, better known as Kat Walsh. I've previously stated that Kat is one of only two Board members who enjoys my complete trust. I was becoming somewhat worried that I would have to write a negative review of her based on a lack of answers on her questions page, but apparently she's had a burst of activity in the past couple of days, and her questions page is now mostly answered. Nonetheless, I still have some trepidations about Kat as a candidate, and my endorsement of her will not be nearly so clear-cut as was mine of Michael Snow.

Kat is one of the two people who I identify as personal mentors on Wikipedia (the other being Seth Anthony). Kat has consistently shown wisdom and careful thought in what she has had to say. My main problem with Kat is that she is too passive for my taste. Objectively, this is probably actually a positive characteristic, though; I am, myself, a terribly rash and impulsive person, and I tend to chafe at people who can merely stand by and watch in situations where I would not be able to resist acting. I consider Kat to be too reluctant to act by my standards, but I suppose my standards are perhaps not the best to use for such an evaluation. On the other hand, Kat herself acknowledges that she "stand[s] back where [she] should say something", so perhaps I am not entirely off-base here. Anyway, it remains that my main complaint about Kat is that she is too "timid", to use her own words for it.

Kat is popular and has stepped on relatively few (but certainly not none). The fact that her name is behind the recent resolution (which I drafted) that requires certain Wikimedia volunteers to be of legal majority and identified to the Foundation has probably cost her some support from the hard-core anonymists and certain others who feel squeezed out by this. Overall, she should get reasonably good support and stands a fair, but not great, chance of reelection.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wikimedia Board candidates: Michael Snow

I'm going to sneak this one in during lunch if I can, because if I take much longer on these the elections will start before I'm done. The next candidate to examine is Michael Snow, the well-known editor of the Wikipedia Signpost, a weekly newsletter published on the English Wikipedia. He has also long been the chair of the WMF Communications committee.

I've long respected Michael, ever since the time he cut both me and Jimbo off in the same discussion. (He even apologized to me for doing it later, even though it was entirely the right thing to do at the time.) I've been consistently impressed by his ability to remain calm and respectful when others around him are losing their tempers, heads, and self-control.

Michael's chairmanship of the Communications committee should, of course, be examined, and this is an area that does not, at first glance, speak well for him. The ComCom often fails to do a very good job of dealing with the communications needs of the Board. However, I blame the Board for this, and not Michael: the Board rarely tells the ComCom what it needs to know in order to keep the Board out of PR issues and so the ComCom spends most of its time reacting to issues that it did not know were coming because the Board has kept it in the dark. For example, when I broke the news about Sue Gardner earlier this week, the ComCom should have handled the situation; instead, it was handled first ineptly by Gerard Meissen, who has no formal relationship with the Foundation but is clearly a power broker, and then by Erik Moeller, a Board member himself. I don't know if the Board has requested the ComCom to prepare statements related to the hiring process, but it certainly should have done so. In any case, I doubt the ComCom has been kept appraised, which is why Erik is handing PR matters instead of the communications committee, and so the failure of the ComCom to properly manage the public relations for the Board cannot be fairly attributed to Michael.

Michael's answers to questions are without a doubt the best of any of the candidates. His responses are complete, coherent, and contemplative, and he is not skipping questions he doesn't feel like answering. I am especially fond of his comments regarding chapters as members, which is also my opinion of the proper direction for the Foundation to proceed in returning to a membership format.

Of all the candidates I've seen, Michael is the only one that wins my unqualified endorsement. I just hope that that endorsement does not ruin his chances, which I think are good but by no means assured, as I suspect that the Europeans will not be likely to support him. Michael's strong name recognition on the English Wikipedia and sterling reputation throughout the projects will definitely help him, though. His best hope is for high turnout on the English Wikipedia, since most of those voters (that is, editors who are not very much involved in day to day governance, but who are voting anyway out of a sense of duty) will be voting primarily on name recognition; he will do better with that electorate than virtually any other candidate.

Sorry for the delay

I'm sorry for not getting to the rest of the candidates yet, but I've been really rather swamped with work the past few days. I have a major deadline this evening, but once I'm through that I should have some free time to finish off the candidate reviews. I have a long list of things to do today, none of which have anything to do with Wikimedia.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wikimedia seems to have a new Executive Director

I'm going to take a moment out of the election series for this semi-breaking news item. It seems that the WMF has a new Executive Director, but of course there has been no announcement of this, at least not that I've heard of. Apparently, based on the anonymous comment at the bottom of this blog post, it's Susan Gardner, a former director at the CBC. Read the comments on that page to find out how the CBC people think about Ms. Gardner.... it'll be interesting to see how she gets along at the Foundation. Not to mention how long it takes the Foundation to get around to announcing it.

I've known about this for a few days now, and was going to wait until after I'd finish the election series, but my sources are telling me that she's actually started working in the office (the commute from Toronto to St. Pete must be quite the killer) and so decided not to wait any longer.

Update: Gerard claims in a comment that he announced her appointment on his blog, but I can't find the post; believe what you want. Still, how very typical of the Foundation to only announce a major change like this to its close friends only. It continues to amaze me that people donate to this organization at all.

Second update: Wikimedia Board Member Erik Moeller, also in comments below, refuses to either confirm or deny the rumor, stating that the "situation is more complex than [my] post suggests". Frankly, I don't see how it could be "more complex"; either they have hired her, or they have not. I don't understand why he can't make a definite statement on the issue, but obviously I am nowhere near as smart as Erik and, of course, could never understand the complexities of the possible answers to the question "Is Sue Gardner the new Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation?"

I must admit that I look forward to hearing more about the obviously complex relationship between the Wikimedia Foundation and Sue Gardner. This must be an example of the improved transparency in communication Erik promised to bring to the board when he ran the last time.

Third update: Reports are now in that Erik has announced that Sue Gardner has been officially hired -- on an IRC channel. Public, but not exactly the most effective of communication methods. I can only hope that there will be a more formal statement somewhere, since it's sorta hard to link to an IRC channel in a blog post. Still no word on the complexities that Erik hinted at, except for this tidbit: her apparent title is "special consultant and advisor", not the expected "interim executive director". Nice and vague, gives nobody any meaningful expectations as to what her role will be. Well, we can only hope that she and the Board both know what it means.

Fourth update: Fearless Leaderette announced it on the mailing list; here's the link. I'll save further comment for a subsequent post.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Wikimedia Board candidates: KingboyK

Rounding out today's batch of candidates is KingboyK. A rather inauspicious nickname for a thirty-four year old who goes by the name of Stephen Kennedy. I was surprised, in fact, to find out that he is thirty-four, as I would have expected someone with a nickname like that to be quite a bit younger. After looking over his comments, he actually appears to be one of the better candidates (which, when you think about it, is a really sad statement for the Foundation). But as an outsider, he has little to no chance of being elected.

Stephen's platform is more complex than that of most candidates; it includes a call for a fully democratically elected board and for the Foundation to take a more active role in cross-project coordination (something which it currently does not do at all). The apostrophic catastrophe near the end of his personal statement is quite unfortunate. After reading it, it's pretty clear that he's a well-meaning but underinformed editor from the English Wikipedia, volunteering himself in the mistaken belief that he could do some good.

Stephen was a late candidate, which means that his questions page is relatively short (notably, it doesn't have my standard questions on it). What questions there are he's mostly answered and his answers are not that bad. The part I found most interesting was Alison digging into him for suggesting that his experience as a student union board member is somehow incomparable to being a Wikimedia board member. And I must disagree with Alison on this point. I don't recall what school Stephen went to, but being on the board of a student union means playing a lot of complicated political games adeptly, while dealing with people demanding as big a slice of the money that the school gives you to play with. Frankly, sounds a whole lot like the Wikimedia Foundation; the only thing it's missing is the fundraising issues, but as the Foundation can't organize a fundraiser professionally anyway, his lack of experience here will not make things any worse.

Overall, I think he'd be decent, but he has no chance of being elected; he will get none of the Continental vote (he's a Brit, which is almost as bad as an American, and his lack of substantial participation on non-English projects also hurts with them) and not enough of the American vote to have a chance.

Wikimedia Board candidates: Kim Bruning

Well, after two relatively weak candidates it would be nice to have a stronger candidate to talk about. Sadly, Kim Bruning isn't it. Don't get me wrong. I like Kim (aside from his sexism, that is). Kim's a nice guy, very energetic, very enthusiastic. And unlike so many other candidates, he doesn't use the "Wikimedia is unlike every other nonprofit to have ever existed before; therefore there is nothing we can learn from them", and that's also a positive.

Kim's problems are twofold. First, Kim is too energetic. To use classical terms, his personality has too much air and fire and not enough earth. Anybody who has spent any significant amount of time around Kim knows what I mean: the guy is a SuperHappyFunBall that can't sit still for a moment. Kim's impulsiveness has gotten him in trouble a number of times already. I don't believe he's capable of restraining his impulsiveness enough to work effectively within the deliberative format of the Wikimedia board.

Second, I question whether he can manage the conflict of interest that would exist given his subordinate relationship to Erik with respect to OmegaWiki. I believe that Kim would be at risk to becoming a lackey for Erik -- and I've already had cause to question Erik's fiducial commitments to Wikimedia as it is.

Finally, I don't understand why Kim is running. In my experience, Kim is really quite unfond of formal governance systems, parliamentary structures, and the like. Why would he, of all people, run to be elected to Wikimedia's most rulebound, parliamentary-like entity? It seems very much out of character, and so I'm suspicious that he's been talked into running by someone else, perhaps someone with less than pure motives.

Kim is likely to popular with the social networkers in Europe: he's a lot of fun to be around, and I bet he's just terribly great at a party, so he'll fit in just great with the European party planners. He may do well because of his popularity; I'd give him a decent chance of being elected, despite the fact that he hasn't answered all that many of the questions that have been asked him. After all, this election is, fundamentally, a popularity contest.

Wikimedia Board candidates: Kate

Good morning, and welcome to the sixth installment in this ongoing series of comments on the candidates for the Wikimedia Board of Trustees. We start today with a look at Kate, the online nickname of River Tarnell. River is a MediaWiki developer and Wikimedia sysadmin of some reputation. River is explicitly running on a "support Wikipedia only" platform, a platform which is decidedly unlike that of many other candidates. River explicitly states support for closing (or at least pushing off the Wikimedia platform) all projects other than Wikipedia.

River has a reputation in the community for being difficult to get along with. River has walked off in a huff at least once that I can recall. River's also known for using particularily inappropriate nicknames on IRC, such as "_syphilis_" and "twincest", which leads to the suggestion that River is something of a shock jockey. The impetuousness of youth, I suppose. River seems to be running on the strength of technical experience. As a technical person myself, I fully understand the folly of letting the techs run the shop; they tend to focus too much on small details and are often very unwilling to delegate. As this is exactly the problem that the current board has, electing River to it is likely only to make matters worse. River also does not appear to have any real experience outside of being a Wikimedia sysadmin, and that position is (as far as I know) uncompensated.

River seems to have taken a "pick and choose" approach to answers questions. I find this quite disappointing; Board members have to deal with every issue before them, whether or not they want to and whether or not they have a simple or easy answer. I'm not convinced on why River is running, but I don't see this candidacy as serious, or at least of having any real chance of success.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Wikimedia Board candidates: Frieda

Well, the last installment certainly generated a good deal of attention; not only are there quite a few comments, but had more visitors today than in quite a while. I can't promise that the rest of them will be quite as interesting, simply because most of the rest of the candidates are not as interesting as Erik.

Take, for example, Frieda, our next candidate. I'm not familiar with her at all. It seems that her main areas of activity are various Italian language projects. She pretty clearly is running on the Wikimedia as social club platform: note specifically her preference for "more clearly defining" the organizational chart to include the chapters and her insistence that the chapters are essential to the Foundation. It is my observation that the main function of chapters is social networking, and so I tend to conclude that people who are pushing the importance of chapters are interested in the WMF mainly as a vehicle to further their social networking. This conclusion in her case is definitely bolstered by her choice to use a rather revealing cleavage shot as her candidate's picture (see image to right). Running on sex appeal, are we? Just how far has the WMF community descended into Clay Shirky's hell?

Frieda's questions page is notable for her total lack of answers. I think her candidacy was a late arrival, which explains why there are only two or three questions on her questions page, and if she really did just declare (at the last minute, apparently) that might explain why she has so few questions. But I really don't see her as a serious candidate.

I'm not likely to get any more of these done tonight, or tomorrow either. We spent most of the day running around town in a rented truck, buying lumber and other fun stuff, including a very nice marble table that we found on craigslist. I also put the primer coat on the table I built earlier this week; tomorrow I will sand it and put on the final coat, and I will probably also rip some plywood for the pantry shelves we're making. Wikipedia just doesn't hold a candle to the fun one can have with power tools.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wikimedia Board candidates: Eloquence

The next candidate in the ongoing series is current Board member Erik Möller, also known as Eloquence. Erik has been around about as long as Danny, and has been on the Board since last fall. Erik's statement talks mostly about the Board's accomplishments, and relatively little about his own or the details of his role in those accomplishment; his personal accomplishments are mainly things related to but not part of the Foundation's work. Erik's campaign platform is explicitly a repeat of his platform from the last election, which is in itself interesting; it begs the question as to why he has not accomplished what he set out to do nine months ago.

Erik has perhaps the most extensive answers to questions of any candidate, other than perhaps Danny. Given that he is a current board member, I would certainly expect more and more germane questions. There is more to be found in Erik's answers about his personal accomplishments as a Board member.

One thing that really struck me was Erik's statement that he spends about 20 hours per week on Board activity. This is highly dysfunctional; in a more properly run organization this would be 20 hours a month at most, and more likely 20 hours a quarter. Statements from Florence indicate that this is not unusual. That the members of the Board have to work this hard is, ultimately, an indictment of the Board and its inability, or mere unwillingness, to delegate. Erik, as a member of that Board, ultimately shares in the responsibility for that state of affairs. He's been a Board member for nine months; surely he could have done something about it in that time, or at least described what efforts he's made toward resolving it and why those efforts have not been successful.

Another thing I notice in Erik's answers is his tendency to take credit for other people's work. For example, Erik claims to have "worked closely with Philipp Birken on the coordination of the FlaggedRevs development project". However, VoiceOfAll, the primary implementer, states that Erik's contribution to the project amounted only to "a few comments", and that Erik's main involvement was to suggest that someone coordinate the project using a mailing list. For Erik to claim this as a significant accomplishment is disingenuous at best, and (for me, at least) it seriously calls into question the credibility of his other claims. This is consistent with my past experience: Erik is very willing to take full credit for anyone else's accomplishments, based on even the most tangential contact.

There are seven members of the Board of Trustees at present. In my mind, they are divided into three groups. The first group, consisting of Anthere, Jan-Bart, and Oscar, are trustees who I consider untrustworthy, incompetent, or otherwise useless. The second group, consisting of Jimmy and Erik, are people who seem generally interested in the basic principles of the project, but whom I also do not trust because their personal need to advance their own egos interferes with their commitment to the project. (The remaining group, consisting of Michael and Kat, are the only people on the Board who I believe are actually acting responsibly as trustees.) In Jimmy's case, this takes the form of celebrity appearances, speaking engagements, and so forth (who didn't wince all the way through his painful appearance on The Colbert Show?). In Erik's case, it consists of getting his fingers into as many pies as he can so as to be able to claim credit for any one of them should it develop into something important. Erik is a power broker, and a rather good one at that. Power brokers, however, rarely make good leaders, and Erik fails quite miserably in that regard. They are also notorious for putting personal interest first and foremost, and Erik does a lot of that too. Erik's failure at establishing appropriate institutional controls within the Foundation during his nine months as a Board member is telling; I do not believe that Erik actually intends to push for a more open Foundation (even as he promises to do so during this campaign) as that would interfere with his multifaceted approach to power manipulation. Power brokers want information to be controlled tightly, because (as we know) information is power, and those with access to the information will therefore have more power. This is reinforced by Erik's passionate defense of the so-called "secret minutes", and his excuse-making for the failure of the Board to maintain the records required of it by Florida corporations law. (What neither Erik nor anyone else will actually say, but which is hinted at by Erik's response to my question, is that the Foundation changed to a nonmember structure to avoid being sued by a member for failure to comply with Florida law. It's still possible that the Attorney General might sue them, but the AG probably won't do so unless given a really good reason, which at present it does not.)

One of the disquieting things I've noticed in the Foundation in recent months have been the expansion of staff positions without corresponding oversight of those positions. The Foundation has, in recent months, hired both Cary Bass as a volunteer coordinator and Vishal Patal as a business developer. As far as I can tell, both positions are sinecures. Neither person has any managed expectations on what they do, measured performance goals, or really any of the things that I normally associate with employment. These jobs appears to be "gimmies" to people who ingratiated themselves with the right people. Please note that Erik takes credit for both positions.

Erik waxes eloquent (double meaning intended) on the role of chapters in his response to Arne's question about chapters. Another questioner asked about Erik's attitude toward a US chapter. Erik is very supportive of the existing chapters, but not very much of a US chapter. This is not surprising. There is a significant element in the WMF community that exhibits strong anti-American attitudes. Also, the current governance of the WMF gives a great deal of power to the chapters, and especially to the German and French chapters, whose relationship to the Foundation is, in some areas, closer to superior than to the subordinate position one would expect. Unsurprisingly much of the anti-American attitude is aligned with the French and, to a lesser degree, German chapters. Erik's ambivalence to a US chapter is political fence-riding; he is telling his European friends that he won't devolve power to the dirty Americans while at the same time trying to paint a hopeful picture to the Americans who still comprise the largest segment of the Wikimedia community.

And while we're on the topic of chapters: does anyone really know what the chapters do? As far as I can tell, their main function is to hold parties. They seem to be little more than social clubs, with no real function otherwise, and as power centers. Erik talks a lot about how the chapters could do more, but I don't believe he actually expects them to. Their current incarnation serves his powerbrokering interests quite well. (There are other structural reasons why I think a US chapter has foundered when the European chapters have "succeeded", but I'll save that for a post after this series completes.)

I'll be quite honest; I don't like Erik and I think he's a poor choice for the Board of a functioning organization. (But seriously, if you've actually read this far you already know this.) However, the simple fact is that most of the voters in this election aren't voting for people to exercise oversight over the operations of the Wikimedia Foundation; instead, they are voting for the Grand Poobahs of the Wikimedia Foundation Social Club. As Erik is admirably suited for that role, he should win reelection easily.

Wikimedia Board candidates: DragonFire1024

The next installation in the ongoing series will focus on DragonFire1024, also known as Jason Safoutin. Jason is an active Wikinewsie who seems to be running on a platform of facilitating interproject communication and "developing new ways in gathering information and more efficient ways of delivering that information to the world". His campaign statement doesn't say a whole lot about him otherwise, and so this will be a short article.

Reading through his questions page, I get the impression that Jason is not really all that well-informed about the Foundation, or really anything not related to WikiNews. Most of his answers are expressed in terms of generalities, with nothing really significant actually being said. Overall, I'd say that Jason is running because it seemed like a good idea at the time, with no real goals or qualifications worth mentioning. Clearly a lightweight candidate who is unlikely to be elected; Wikinews doesn't have nearly enough constituency to bring him enough votes to make a serious showing.

Wikimedia Board candidates: Danny

Well, the first one was easy: Ausir wasn't a serious candidate. The next one to look at is very much a serious candidate, and in fact probably the most significant of the candidates. That would be Danny Wool.

Danny has long been involved in Wikipedia and the Foundation. Danny is one of the earliest editors on the English Wikipedia (2001) and is also quite active on Wikisource. He was also employed by the Foundation for a rather long time, recently resigning his position while refusing at the time to state his reasons. It has become quite clear that Danny is very dissatisfied with the leadership of the Foundation. His campaign slogan appears to be "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, Latin for "who watches the watchers?" and he speaks frequently of fiduciary duty and the need for independent oversight. Based on his questions page (including the parts that have been redacted), and comments elsewhere, it would appear that Danny believes that the current leadership is behaving unethically, possibly even illegally, and intends to (if elected) use his Board membership as a platform to launch an ethics investigation into the conduct of the other Board members. Danny is strongly campaigning on a platform of increased professionalism by the Foundation, including a much stronger commitment to oversight. It appears to be his position that the Foundation is in dire waters and headed in entirely the wrong direction.

My analysis: Danny likely brings more to the table as a Board member than any of the other candidates. He actually has relevant experience in a number of related fields as well as intimate knowledge of the Foundation, likely deeper than even most members of the Board. It is quite obvious that Florence fears Danny. GerardM, Erik's trained attack dog, is also very much opposed to Danny, even going so far as to call him a dirty American at one point. Gerard's suggestion that Danny should be disqualified from the election for a "conflict of interest" is ludicrous, and shows the depths to which Erik's coalition is willing to go to keep Danny out. Florence even went so far as to beg the wikichix list for astroturf opposition to Danny's candidacy, a thread that I admittedly stopped reading out of disgust rather early on.

There is a significant debate between Danny and Florence on Danny's question page. The two of them present "versions of the truth" that are quite incompatible with one another. At times it is hard to know who to believe; one has to fall back onto their personal experiences with the individuals in question to decide who is more credible. Frankly, for me I'm going to take Danny's word over Florence's. I have long had concerns about Florence's motivations as a board member and even more as chairman of the board. The information vacuum that the Board maintains around its activities doesn't help much; not only does it make it really difficult to tell what is really going on, but it also lends a lot of credence to Danny's allegations of misconduct. Erik's insistence on the value of "secret minutes" (you'll have to see his questions page for that discussion; I'll expand on that more later when I get to his candidacy) also raises red flags for me. Even if Danny's wrong and there is no wrongdoing lurking behind the shifty walls, the fact that these walls exist is disturbing. The Foundation needs to be far more open than it is.

Danny might squeeze by for the third seat. He is broadly known and well-liked by many people on many projects; at the same time he has some very powerful enemies lobbying very aggressively against him, and there are a lot of people angry at Danny for his dedicated efforts to keep spam out of the English Wikipedia. I suspect his final tally will land him somewhere between third and fifth.

Wikimedia Board candidates: Ausir

As promised, I am going to blog comments on each of the candidates. This here is the first post in this series. Note: My comments may be acerbic, even outrageous. My contempt for the Foundation, as it currently stands, should be plainly evident by the end of this series.

The first candidate to be examined is Ausir. Ausir is apparently a long-term editor at the Polish Wikipedia, and a student at the Wrocław University of Economics. He claims to support free content and calls for a minimization of non-free content. He also controversially suggested that "some" of the current Wikimedia projects were "bad ideas from the start" and that he only "generally" supports Wikipedia's sister projects. He also "strongly believes" in multilingualism and in "supporting local communities".

My analysis: Ausir is running to be part of the Wikimedia social club, and to give eastern Europeans more of a voice in planning Wikimedia parties so that he doesn't have to go to Germany to have a good wikitime. He has no meaningful qualifications for the position of Board member. He would likely gain some support from the "keep America out of Wikimedia" coalition, but not enough to have a chance of being elected, especially with his limited prominence on the English Wikipedia and his failure to answer most of the questions posed to him. (Then again, a lack of useful communication skills has been almost a requirement for Board members in the past, so he's right on the ball there.) His explicit declared support for OmegaWiki/WiktionaryZ is sure to earn him brownie points with Erik, but fortunately Erik only gets two votes (his own, and GerardM's).

In summary, Ausir does not appear to be a serious candidate; I'm not really sure why he ran and I can't imagine him getting much support outside of the Polish Wikipedia, which is such a small project that it cannot possibly swing the election.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why I am not running for the Board

One of my little groupies (yes, you know who you are) recently asked me if I intended to declare for the Wikimedia Board elections. Obviously, I have no intentions of doing so. Here's why.

First and foremost, I would have absolutely no chance of winning. I am widely disliked at the English Wikipedia, which is the largest voting constituency in the Board elections. I would be lucky to get 20% support out of the English Wikipedia, and with such poor support there I would need to sweep another large project such as the German Wikipedia, and that's simply not going to happen. Given this, any candidacy would be a Pyrrhic gesture at best, much as my ArbCom run last December was. And unlike then, there's no benefit to be had by the gesture. While declaring my candidacy would certainly draw a great deal of attention (that is, drama), it is unlikely that it would have any useful benefit. It's not like Geogre is running for the Board; none of the current candidates share his inability to control himself. (Things might be different if Florence's seat were up for election....) I can make my points just as easily by asking questions and making comment as I could by running.

Second, I have absolutely no desire to be a part of the Board at this time. Quite frankly, I have grave doubts that the Foundation will survive to the end of the year, and it's really not my desire to be one of the people in charge of a sinking ship. That's pretty close to taping a "kick me" sign to your ass -- or "sue me", in this case. I don't want to be caught in that crossfire. On top of that, I quite simply have better things to do than argue with Florence and Erik (assuming he's reelected, which I rather expect he will). I argue with them from time to time as it is, and it's really annoying. I can't imagine structuring my free time such that even more of it is spent in such an unenjoyable endeavor.

Third, I don't think I'd be all that good at it. I lack patience, diplomacy, and tact. An absence of any of these is not a good characteristic in a member of a deliberative entity, and especially not one in a great deal of distress as the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees is at the moment. I couldn't in good faith make the claim that voting for me would be better than voting for any of a number of the current candidates.

In short, running would create a great deal of drama, and very little else. It's simply not worth it.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm not paying attention. I do hope to find the time to blog some comments on the individual candidates and the election in general, and hope to do so over the next few days. I still need to go through the current slate (I understand a few more have popped up since the last time I swept through) and see if there's any more questions to be asked before I go analyze the candidates. Stay tuned.

Amazon river now longer than Nile

Just to throw a monkey wrench into the old argument, new research (here reported by the BBC) tells us that the Amazon really is longer than the Nile. This issue was the cause of any number of arguments when I was a kid, and I'm sure there'll be any number of people going "I told you so!" when they read this.

Wikipedia, however, still says that the Nile is "generally regarded as the longest river in the world", basing this claim on Encarta's article about rivers. This statement was challenged on the talk page (quite sensibly) in October of 2006, but not (as of yet) removed. Perhaps it will be now.

An example of transparency

What with the Wikimedia board elections coming up, I thought it might be nice to provide people a pointer to how a real nonprofit implements transparency. Of course, the NYSSCPA has members, which (as we've been told) are too dangerous for the Wikimedia Foundation to have.

The Foundation has done a perfectly terrible job of transparency, though. It's quite impressive how many things seem to be seeing the light of day now only that we're in an election cycle and the candidates are being peppered with questions. It's one thing to say "Well, we could be more transparent"; it's quite another to actually be more transparent.

"Crude" may not be so crude after all

This article on greenwood mortise and tenon techniques used by colonial Americans is very interesting for me, at least. I've often heard the techniques used by colonial builders described as "crude" or "primitive", usually by comparison to their contemporary European peers. The drawbored mortise and tenon joints in the article are a good example of this: the joints are, by the standards of machine-milled precision joinery using modern equipment and resources, or even hand-milled joints using contemporary European techniques, quite crude and sloppy. However, the problem here is that the European techniques are simply an inappropriate standard.

Furniture makers in the 17th century had the ability to produce finely detailed, precision joints in wood, as anyone who has examined European furniture from that era can attest. It's rather certain that at least some colonial woodworkers knew of the European techniques; many of them had been trained in Europe, after all. It wasn't out of lack of knowledge that they weren't use by the colonials; rather, they eschewed them because they weren't appropriate. These crude-looking, even ugly joints are actually precisely engineered for the specific requirements of the colonial woodworker. Colonial woodworkers didn't have the luxury of drying their wood under controlled conditions. They had little choice but to work with green wood, and that means using totally different techniques.

As the article shows, these supposedly crude joints are actually carefully engineered to take advantage of, rather than be ruined by, the changes in the wood as it dries. The shrinkage of the wood in the joint actually makes the joint stronger over time. Rather than being evidence of the lack of craftsmanship of the colonial woodworker, these are evidence of innovative genius under adverse conditions. To quote Peter Follansbee, himself quoting David Pye, "Because people are dead, it does not follow that they were stupid."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In case you weren't convinced that the College Board is evil...

A friend of mine, a college professor, has for the last few years gone to New Jersey to score CS AP exams for the College Board. His comments on this year's experience, found on his blog, really expose the assholery of the College Board.

I wasn't aware that No Child Left Behind provided an incentive for schools to coerce students to waste their time, money, and dignity taking AP exams they aren't prepared for or have any chance of passing, just to boost a meaningless statistic. The only people who benefit from this is the College Board; I'm sure they lobbied Congress quite aggressively to get that as a measured metric.

The only plausible reason for them to use a convention floor for the graders is a kickback from the convention center of some sort. Large-area convention floors are usually more expensive to rent per square foot than smaller spaces, and smaller spaces would serve their purpose better anyway.

Then you have all the general assholish treatment of the scorers. As Don points out, the people doing this generally aren't doing it for financial reasons; their interests are professional or social. I suppose they think that there will always be more graders available next year to replace the ones they lose this year. But I have to wonder how long before they'll be recruiting grad students to do this work.

Wikipedia and Webcomics

No fancy analysis here, just amusing links.

I'm not a regular reader of Sheldon, but xkcd and Wondermark are two of my favorite webcomics.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Strategic disruption?

Some of you are no doubt aware of Giano's latest drama tantrum; he took it upon himself to rewrite the page about the IRC admin's channel in a rather amusing way. It's such a shame that one of Wikipedia's better editors has this unfortunate tendency when he gets bored to do things like this. However, the thought that crosses my mind is that this isn't just a random Giano drama incident, but in fact is a strategic disruption intended to take pressure off Jayjg's current imbroglio (which I blogged about previously). We know that there's at least some sympathy between Slim's cronies and the G-Men.

I continue to believe that Giano should simply be banned from editing outside article space; while he is a perfectly good article author, I have yet to see him contribute anything other than drama by his edits in project space. Banning him from project space seems to be the most sensible course of action. (Not that he would observe the ban; it would have to be a software-enabled hard ban to actually work.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

The ethics of editing via anonymizing proxies: whose privacy matters more?

So today's big controversy is apparently the request for adminship of an editor by the name of CharlotteWebb. The controversy starts here, with this rather startling (and intimidating) question from Jayjg. Jay, by asking this question, revealed that Charlotte has been, apparently, known (to him, at least) to edit Wikipedia using TOR, an activity which Jay apparently believes is so heinous that it justifies violating the privacy policy. This has spawned a lot of rather heated discussion in the usual places, with Jay's little gang closing ranks to defend him, and a lot of other people (including many of those who would love to see Jay taken down) firing torpedos at him from all directions.

I personally think that Jay's disclosure was well over the line -- there was no credible allegation that Charlotte had engaged in any sort of misconduct other than violating a kneejerk policy against using anonymous proxies (and specifically TOR) that was recently established in the wake of an compromised administrator account that involved the use of TOR. The simple fact is that lots of perfectly reasonable editors edit Wikipedia via TOR and other anonymizing proxies every day, and we largely ignore them because they are not vandalizing Wikipedia.

What I don't understand is why Jay went after Charlotte. Charlotte appears by all lights to be a run of the mill admin candidate. She has apparently some minor problems with civility, but I can't find any evidence of any history between them or between her and any of the rest of the people who are known to me to be in Jay's little gang. I don't see what Jay gets out of torpedoing her candidacy other than the cold and sordid satisfaction of ruining someone else's day -- and while I have lots of issues with Jay's behavior in general, I've not known him to be maliciously nasty for the sheer sake of it. So I'm confused about Jay's motives here.

But more disturbing to me is Jay's hypocrisy about privacy. Jay is, as anyone who reads Wikipedia Review knows, assidiously careful about his privacy. What few personal claims he's made about himself don't add up, and it's likely that he's lying in order to misdirect inquiries into his identity. He's also very careful about protecting the privacy of his friends, such as when he oversighted every edit made by SlimVirgin's other account (User:Slimv) on the grounds that those edits might possibly allow someone to determine her identity. But his respect for privacy doesn't extend beyond the circle of his friends; he has no compunction against revealing information that comes to him under a bond of privacy (that is, checkuser data) when doing so serves his own interests.

And finally there is the stunning failure on his part to assume good faith. Jay ought to be able to discern that his question would be a bombshell, and that it would have been far more sensible for him to have asked Charlotte his question privately before making a giant scene about it. It's almost as if Jay wanted to maximize drama. It's certainly the course I would have taken if I wanted to create maximal drama and thought that my friends were strong enough to protect me from getting fried for stepping over the lines of the privacy policy.

Now, admittedly, revealing that an editor is using TOR is not the same as revealing where an editor lives or what their real name is. But it's still a breach of the privacy policy. There's nothing, even now, to show that Charlotte was disrupting the project or otherwise doing anything harmful to Wikipedia. And yet Jay released information that he only had by virtue of his use of the Checkuser tool, which means he is very limited in his right to release it. But what really bothers me is that Jay's little drama game (or whatever this was) is very likely to prevent someone who is pretty obviously a good editor from becoming an administrator, and may well end up in her leaving the project. Way to go, Jay. Just what were you thinking?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wikimedia Board Elections

Well, it's that time of year again. The Wikimedia Board is holding elections to fill the expiring terms of the seats currently held by Erik Möller, Kat Walsh, and Oscar van Dillen. (The other four seats are not up for election at this time, which is a pity.)

I'm not all that impressed with the current Board. Quite frankly, I don't trust most of them; the only ones who enjoy my complete confidence right now are Kat Walsh and Michael Davis. I'm not going to give detailed reasons why the other members of the Board do not have my complete confidence, but rest assured that I will not be voting for either Erik or Oscar in the upcoming election.

There are so many areas where I believe the Board has moved in the wrong direction over the past year, but there's one in particular that draws my attention more than any other, and it is the one that I believe will be largely determinative in who I vote for. On December 11, 2006, the Wikimedia Foundation restructured its bylaws to become a nonmember organization. I strongly disapprove of this action, although I perfectly understand why it was done.

In Florida, the members of a membership organization have certain rights against the board of that organization, including the right to demand accountings of funds, the right to eject the board or any member thereof, and certain other rights that amount to ultimate oversight of the organization. By restructuring the organization as a nonmember organization, all such oversight was removed. As a result of this restructuring, the only entity with the ability to exercise such oversight over the Foundation is now the Attorney General of the State of Florida.

I've still never gotten a good explanation for why the Foundation chose to rewrite its bylaws. The two leading reasons I can see were to (a) protect either the entire Board or certain members of it from having financial indiscretions discovered through a member exercising their right to review the financials or (b) protect certain members of the Board from being forcibly removed by a recall action under the relevant Florida statutes. In both of these cases, rewriting the bylaws to change to a nonmember organization does not serve the interests of the organization or of its (former) membership, but certainly does serve the interests of the members of the board. There's a legal term for when a trustee puts his or her own interests ahead of the interests of the owner of the property over which he or she has been placed in charge of, to the detriment of the latter. That term is "breach of fiduciary duty".

Sadly, at this point I do not have much trust that most of the members of the board are putting the organization's interests ahead of their own personal interests. (I've heard some quite shocking stories that I shall not share simply because I can't verify them yet.) And for that reason I think it is absolutely essential that the Board must return to a membership basis of organization, in order to ensure that the Board looks beyond their own petty personal interests. It is my impression that only the continual threat of recall by the members will force the Board to conduct themselves appropriately, and as a result I will not vote for any candidate who does not declare that he or she will support a return to a membership organizational structure.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Just how wise are crowds, anyway?

Alex Beam of the Boston Globe writes:
The proverbial bottom line is that the theoretical underpinning of Wikipedia, the fashionable notion of "crowdsourcing," or "the wisdom of crowds," is nonsense. There is no wisdom in crowds. The crowd drinks Coke. The crowd elects George Bush or — God forbid — John Kerry. The crowd accepts authority unquestioningly, especially when it's dressed up as a "cool" new information source. So who would you rather have write your encyclopedia entries? Bertrand Russell, T.H. Huxley, and Benedetto Croce, who wrote for the Britannica? Or ... EssJay?
However, the real interesting thing about this article is not that Mr. Beam's article contained garbage, because we're quite used to that, but rather that he wasn't able to get it removed until he called Larry Lessig. Jimbo's backchannels don't scale; there needs to be a better process for removing obvious crap from articles than waiting for someone to get so frustrated as to track down one of Jimbo's friends.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Google recommendations leave a bit to be desired

Google's "recommendation" thingy just recommended this image to me. I'm not quite sure why Google thinks I'm interested in seeing demeaning sexist content like this. The purported reason why I would be interested in this codswallop is that I visited both and Does Google think that people who use its own site and have some vague interest in HP computers are all sexist pigs?

You might want to work on fine-tuning that recommendations engine, Google.

It also somewhat bothers me that most of the people who have publicly tagged this in have categorized it under "funny", "humor", or both.

Looking for an article...

Sometime in the past year or so I read an article on the "five most common errors" made by geek groups. I haven't been able to find it. If anybody remembers this article, please drop me a line.

Update: The article has been found. Thanks for the pointers.