Wednesday, January 09, 2008

On leaks

Finally, someone at the Foundation has some sense: Florence recently posted on the topic, ending her post with the implied question, "No one has suggested to actually look at reasons why there are leaks". Finally, someone involved with Wikipedia who actually stops to think about what motivates people!

People leak stuff to me on a regular basis. There's at least five people who are consistently leaking stuff to me, and several more who do so on a less frequent basis. In most cases, it's plainly obvious to me that the reason they do it is because they are upset either with the process or the result, and by leaking to me they're hoping to raise public awareness of, and public outcry against, whatever decision or action the leaked communication relates to. Fundamentally, this is because (as Brianna Laugher notes) the Foundation's ability to communicate about its own activities to its stakeholders, let alone to the public at large, has been grotesquely lacking of late.

Seriously, folks, do you really think that my blog ought to be the source people go to in order to find out what is going on in Wikimedia? There ought to be a better channel available for that. Far from being a culture of transparency (I nearly choked when I read Jimmy's comments regarding Google's lack of transparency in conjunction with the launch of Wikia Search), Wikimedia has, for quite some time, fostered a culture of opacity, with very strong information controls even internally. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide who is to blame for this state of affairs.

I believe the leak that prompted this most recent discussion was the leak of what appears to be a PDF-wrapped powerpoint presentation presumably prepared by Sue in order to woo a partnership with Sun. On first glance, there is nothing particularly remarkable in the PDF or the email. What is remarkable to me, however, is apparently that the Board had never seen these documents. Florence told Wikinews that she had not seen the financial projections or staffing plans in the PDF prior to being shown them by Wikinews. Jimmy told me that he had not seen the document before and could not authenticate it, although he did say that nothing in it appeared "alarming or controversial". This is very interesting in light of the fact that the Board has been demanding financial projections from Sue for some time now, but Sue has refused to provide them claiming that she hasn't had time to produce them due to "the audit" and other demands on her time. Obviously, she had time to prepare them for Sun. So the real question raised by this seemingly innocuous leak is, "Why is Sue lying to the Board?" Don't expect an answer on that any time soon. (Just where is the audit, Sue?) I suppose there is a cold irony in the way that the Board's own past failures to be transparent are now biting them back, as the staff they've hired has apparently decided to cut them out of the loop, merely taking the culture of opacity to the next level, as it were.

(David Gerard, by the way, has descended even further in my estimation, by suggesting that the reason for such leaks is to make one "sound cool". It surprises me slightly to see someone who has put so much effort into fighting one cult descend so far into another.)