Hello everyone,  

Of the many issues, real or perceived, currently under discussion, one of them 
is the matter of strategy: of the Wikimedia Foundation and of the movement in 
general. I’ve been editing Wikipedia since November of 2004 and have noticed 
that the general points of tension have revolved around who has authority or 
responsibility to do what. I will explain what I mean by that.

There is no one “strategy.” Or rather, strategy has different components to it, 
and it is important to note and understand these different components because 
they have their own histories and associated arguments. There is no possible 
way I can capture every nuance of this, but when we say “strategy” we should 
think of at least three things: content strategy, program strategy, and product 

Content has, almost exclusively, been a prerogative of the communities of the 
various Wikimedia projects, and not that of the Foundation. [1] English 
Wikipedia, for example, argues bitterly over what is notable, what is not 
notable, and what should and shouldn’t be deleted on a given day, but the 
Wikimedia Foundation is not involved in that. While the Wikimedia Foundation 
does fund content creation initiatives from time to time, it does not decide, 
for instance, which monuments are worthy of Wiki Loves Monuments, or which 
artists should be the focus of Art+Feminism. I’m not pointing this out because 
it’s remotely interesting, but because it’s so widely agreed upon that the WMF 
has no editorial authority that we don’t even need to talk about it.

There are other areas that we do need to talk about; not necessarily to devise 
a master plan, or to draw lines in the sand, but to at least understand who 
thinks what and where our opinions diverge. This brings me to my second point: 
programs. I am referring to initiatives to get more people involved in the 
Wikimedia projects, to build bridges with other organizations, to make 
Wikimedia as much a part of the offline world as the online world. The 
Wikimedia Foundation did some of the original programs in the late 2000s, with 
mixed success. Chapters came along and also came up with programs; GLAM, for 
instance, was developed outside of the Wikimedia Foundation. Over time, the 
Foundation decided that it was not so interested in running programs directly 
as much as they were interested in funding others to carry them out and serving 
as a sort of central hub for best practices. As far as I can tell, as someone 
who has served on the board of a Wikimedia chapter for almost five years, there 
seems to be a general consensus that this is how programs are done. This 
operating consensus was arrived at through a combination of the Wikimedia 
Foundation’s “narrowing focus” and by the enthusiasm of chapters, groups, and 
mission-aligned organizations to carry on outreach work.

Then there is the product strategy, which is the most contentious of them all. 
By “product” I am referring to the subset of technology that readers and 
editors interact with on a day-to-day basis. The sacred workflow. (Much of the 
arguments about technology are out of my depth so I won’t be commenting on 
them; they also include rather arcane infrastructural stuff that I don’t think 
most Wikimedia users or contributors care about.) All of our arguments, from 
the usability initiative to the present day, have focused on: who is in charge 
of the user experience? I have heard different things; one perspective holds 
that “the community” (usually not further specified) gets to make the final 
decision, while I have also heard from some that technological matters are 
purely the prerogative of the Wikimedia Foundation. [2] I am not sure what the 
present-day company line is but I suspect it’s somewhere in the middle.

I do not know what the “true” answer is, either. There is a lot to be said for 
treating the user experience as products to be professionally managed: there 
has been tremendous study in the area of how to design user experiences, and 
Wikipedia is notorious for being difficult to edit as a newcomer. With this in 
mind, the Wikimedia Foundation did the best it could, with limited resources, 
and despite some successes managed to create some ham-fisted products that did 
not address the needs of the users and—at worst—threatened disruption. This has 
gotten better in time; the visual editor, for example, has made tremendous 
progress on this front. But not every issue is settled. What about the products 
that need substantially more improvement before they can be used at large? What 
about things that we should be working on, but aren’t, or are doing so at a 
glacial pace because we are being stretched too thin? And now that WMF grantees 
can develop code for deployment in production (such as MediaWiki extensions), 
what is the relationship between these projects and the overall product 
strategy of the Wikimedia Foundation? On the Reading half of the equation, who 
gets to decide how content is presented, and how are these decisions made?

I am sure we each as individuals have answers to these questions, but we do not 
have a common understanding, whatsoever, the same way we generally understand 
that the Wikimedia Foundation does not do editorial policy, or that the 
Wikimedia Foundation generally avoids doing on-the-ground program work the same 
way chapters do. We do not even agree on how much the Wikimedia Foundation 
should focus on the software product aspect as opposed to other aspects.

Nor do I think we will arrive at this conclusion through developing a grand 
strategy and an overall movement framework. We’re big and decentralized, and we 
need to accommodate opportunities where they exist. Exhaustive planning 
documents do not lend themselves to that. And it is unlikely we can all come to 
a happy solution that accommodates everyone and everything.

This is why it is up to the Wikimedia Foundation to define its own role within 
the movement. My hope is that they do so by actively seeking out the needs of 
the entire movement, since they are in the unique position where they can 
support a large share of the movement. But it will need to define its role in 
the development of products—whether they be editing products, or products that 
present Wikimedia content. Whether it will seek to control the presentation of 
content or merely advise on the community’s own decisions. The most feasible 
way forward I see is that the Wikimedia Foundation decides what it is best 
suited to do, set its own boundaries, and call on the rest of the movement to 
fill in the gaps. This will help the Wikimedia Foundation focus its work: by 
explicitly saying “no” to some things and determining they are not within their 
remit, it opens the doors (through grant funding or some other mechanism) for 
other people or groups to do things that they are best suited to do. With 
programs being handled by non-WMF entities and some software development 
(including my own work at WikiProject X) being handled outside of the 
Foundation, this is possible.

The Wikimedia movement is a broad movement, and it would not be practical to 
come up with a movement-wide strategy. However, the Wikimedia Foundation 
specifically should try to define its own role with respect to software and 
call on the rest of the movement to fill in the gaps based on its needs.

James Hare

[1] I’m not counting their rare interventions—for legal purposes—as editorial 

[2] I honestly do not remember who said it or when. My point is not that 
someone out there has (or had) a heretical (or righteous) opinion, but that 
people have very divergent opinions on this.
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