Monday, January 21, 2008

Mandatory diversity training, or how to discriminate and get away with it

An article in yesterday's Washington Post reveals:
A comprehensive review of 31 years of data from 830 mid-size to large U.S. workplaces found that the kind of diversity training exercises offered at most firms were followed by a 7.5 percent drop in the number of women in management. The number of black, female managers fell by 10 percent, and the number of black men in top positions fell by 12 percent. Similar effects were seen for Latinos and Asians.
This should come as no surprise. Every mandatory diversity program I've been to has basically been a workshop in how to conceal discrimination. The harassment awareness programs have been workshops in how to harass someone legally, and how to cover it up when it happens. These programs are designed to mitigate liability for the employer; they are not the least bit concerned with ending discriminatory or harassing practices themselves. Small wonder that the result of such programs is to make discrimination and harassment more efficient.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More on Kaltura

I downloaded the "source" (such as it is) to Kaltura's product today, just to look at it. As I suspected, the open source component of Kaltura is just a relatively thin "glue" layer between MediaWiki and Kaltura's proprietary hosted content repository. In order to make any use of this product, you must accept that all of your video content will be hosted on their site using proprietary software which is not being made available to you, and which they may take away, destroy, or discard at any time without notice to you. In short, you can use it as long as you hand over all control to them.

I didn't see anything in the terms of service that would forbid them from inserting advertising into your content, either, but I could be mistaken on this. Nor do I see any way for you to export a mashup you've created with their tool into a fixed product that you can then host yourself, either, so this is a commitment that will be difficult, if not impossible, to back out of.

I don't have a problem with that in general; I'm sure this is great if all you care about is creating mashups and letting other people see them without using your own bandwidth. It should be obvious to the casual observer why the above terms and conditions would be grossly unsuitable to any of Wikimedia's projects, though.

Calling this project "open source" is disingenuous, too. The only part that is open sourced is the thin client, which they've only open sourced in order to make it compatible with MediaWiki's licensing, and to allow them to offload the hosting of the client to Sourceforge. Basically they're open source pretenders.

Now, maybe they're "planning" to make the video editing and transcoding functions open source "in the future", but I haven't found any evidence of that. These people are only open source to the minimum extent that they have to be in order to interact with MediaWiki. The commitment to open source doesn't appear to extend one jot past that. It's almost as if they've made one little piece of their project open source just so they can claim to be "open source" for the PR benefit that would provide.

There are other projects, which really are open source, in this arena. Brion Vibber mentioned one of them, Metavid, in a comment on this blog earlier today. I still don't understand why the Wikimedia Foundation would announce a partnership with such a poor excuse for an open source video editing project when there are other, far more deserving, candidates out there for them to partner with.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why is the Foundation funding someone else's startup?

I just heard about Kaltura, which apparently has been the topic of much discussion on the various mailing lists. I took a brief look, and I'm appalled.

This is a mashup editor, yee, fun. I see no use for this product in developing content for any Wikimedia project; all it does is allow you to mash together hunks of existing content in a superficial way that doesn't even come close to enabling content that would be of any real merit to Wikipedia or any other Wikimedia project. The examples on Kaltura are embarrassingly bad (although I suspect they're on a par with the crap mashups that Larry Lessig and his Creative Commons friends are inordinately fond of). In addition, at least one of them (the one on Naruto) is so clearly falsely licensed (it contains obvious content from the original works, which cannot possibly be relicensable under CC-BY-NC-SA) that it's evident that the Kaltura people have no concept of free content.

Nor, apparently, free software. Their product, which is released as open source, requires an activation key for use. What the hell? It's open source. You can just hack out the code that checks for the key. Furthermore, you can then take the version that has had the key check removed and republish it yourself. That's what open source means. Not to mention the fundamental contradiction of writing open source software in an inherently nonfree medium like Flash, but anyway....

It's pretty blindingly obvious that Kaltura is someone's attempt at a startup, appealing to Larry's mashup crowd, hoping to get bought by someone or another. Hey, that's fine, best of luck with that. What bothers me, though, is that the Wikimedia Foundation is providing seed capital, or at least its name and reputation, to someone else's startup.

So, Sue, what's the quid pro quo for the Foundation, here? If the Foundation is going to be supporting this startup, how much stock in Kaltura does WMF get in exchange? Cash? What's the deal here?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Do as I say, not as I do

During the Late Great Userbox Wars, Jimmy Wales reminded us all about how it's a bad idea to use your userpage to forward a political ideology, that one's user page should be about oneself as a Wikipedian, and not for some other purpose.

Reminding us once again that the rules don't apply to him, Jimmy has subverted his user talk page from its proper purpose to use it as a political statement regarding the death of Wei Wenhua. (Jimmy has also protected his talk page so nobody can use it to leave him messages.) Now, I have no question that Wei's death is a horrific thing. But Jimmy has an obligation as the leader of the community to set an appropriate example. The message he's just sent is "it's perfectly ok for you to disable your talk page for a political protest".

I'm reasonably certain if anyone else had done this, they would have been subjected to various levels of sanction depending on how close to the center of the cabal they were. Jimmy, however, can do whatever he wants.

Hypocrisy in action.

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.)