it would be great if someone could give us tl;dr version of this mail


On Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 5:21 PM, James Hare <> wrote:

> 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 strategy.
> 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.
> Respectfully,
> James Hare
> [1] I’m not counting their rare interventions—for legal purposes—as
> editorial control.
> [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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