Will Wikimedia "run on Sun"?
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
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An internal Wikimedia communiqué was leaked over the weekend. Like many e-mails, the document is a chain of forwards, replies, and attachments. The attached Portable Document Format (PDF) file was from a PowerPoint presentation, entitled "Wikimedia Foundation: Past, Present, and Future". The presentation is watermarked confidential, do not distribute, and details the Foundation's recent financial, technical, and traffic history, outlines near-term forecasts for all three, and makes suggestions for slightly longer horizons as well. By itself the document led to several inter-connected news stories.
Wikimedia Foundation approaches donors
Sue Gardner was, in part, hired to find innovative routes to secure funding for the Foundation. What is interesting in this case is who she approached, and with whom.
This presentation was used during a meeting with Sun Microsystems. Sun has long been a supporter of Wikimedia, and has previously offered hardware and financial support. A loan of a Niagara machine allowed performance testing, which showed that hardware and software setup was not suitable for the Wikimedia environment which existed at the time, but both Wikimedia's environment and Sun's hardware and software have changed since those tests.
The document does not explain the details of the meeting, but mentions donation proposals for short term and long term. "In general, I don't want to have a conversation with the media (even friendly media!) about meetings we have with other organizations, until and unless there is something worth talking about," Ms Gardner replied to an e-mail inquiry regarding the presentation.
The software which underpins the Foundation's projects is constantly being developed, both from within and from third parties. Mediawiki is an open source software package, one with a significant share in its market; efforts to add functionality often have their own development projects and timelines. The presentation outlined some of these efforts and their respective timelines.
- Wiki-to-print is currently in testing, and is expected to deploy February to March, 2008
- Flagged revisions is currently in testing, and is expected to deploy before June, 2008
- Collaborative video editing is currently in testing, and is expected to deploy initially perhaps in October 2008
Other technologies were also shown in the presentation, but these specific examples show some of the types of projects and their ambitious initial completion dates.
Kaltura collaborative video
Some of these technologies are joint ventures with commercial entities, such as the "Kaltura widget"extension designed to support collaborative video on the Mediawiki platform. The code for this project is promised to be open sourced, and the main page of the Kaltura site has a link to sourceforge, but the http://sourceforge.net/projects/kaltura/ cvs is currently empty though it is marked to be GPL. An inquiry into the current output of the extension finds it is embeding a flash object into the output. The special page allowing video editing was not operational after creating a user account (8 Jan 2008). The Wikimedia Foundation is expected to release an announcement regarding this project on January 14, however the current Kaltura extension, which requires proprietary flash and Kaltura's proprietary server, won't be used on Wikimedia sites.
"The Wikimedia Foundation is strongly committed to open source, open formats, sustainability, and privacy," said Brion Vibber, Wikimedia Foundations Chief Technical Officer. "We're excited to see Kaltura working towards making their collaborative video editing system open source and more compatible with the open world, and look forward to further work in that area. The initial version of Kaltura's extension for MediaWiki is an early demonstration, and will not be used on Wikimedia's web sites."
An enthusiastic version of what was intended to be a joint announcement appeared for a time on the Kaltura website. At 13:29 on January 8, the page read, "The Wikimedia Foundation, and Kaltura, Inc. announced on _____ that the companies have joined forces to bring rich-media collaboration to Wikipedia. With the launch of this joint venture, users have been invited to test new functionality that will enable Wikipedia articles to include collaboratively created video, audio, animations, and slideshows as well as text and images. You are invited to experiment with this functionality at this Wiki, as well as at wikiducator.org/____."
Other projects have been initiated from within the Wikimedia communities. The Flagged Revisions extension developed from the German Wikipedia community's desire to have an approved version of an article being the default view, with registered editors able to choose whether to see the default view or the most recent revision. The code is primarily developed and maintained by Aaron Schulz and Joerg Baach on Wikimedia's SVN server. Quality.wikimedia.org and the external site wikixp.org/qa are involved in testing the extension and the concept implementation.
Flagged revisions allow the community to display versions of an article which have not been vandalised and do not contain misinformation. It is a part of several efforts to improve the quality of Wikipedia articles, spearheaded by the German Wikipedia. The German model is two-tiered, with a subset of users being able to select a "sighted version" or a "validated version". The former have been examined primarily for vandalism and simple accuracy, while the latter would involve an in-depth review of the article's content and quality.
The initial 1.0 release of the extension was in the first half of 2007, and it continues under active development as testing at the beta stages goes forward. Community models for its implementation have not yet been finalized, and they would be needed for every project and language.
Forecasts and financials
In addition to discussing technical forecasts, future expenditures were given general forecasts and a breakdown of salary growth were presented based on pre-audit details.
Costs between June 2007 and June 2008 were predicted to double, from US$2,650,000 to US$5,700,000 (normalized). The largest growth is expected in salaries as the Foundation undergoes re-organization and fills long-vacant positions, tripling the 2007 payroll.
Florence Nibart-Devouard, current Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, expressed pleasure at discovering the projections. "We have not [had] a complete financial picture for some time. It was requested of Carolyn while she was employed with us[, and] it was one of the priorities for Sue Gardner to give quarterly updates, but these did not happen yet because there is so much to do," she said during a phone interview on 7 Jan. "… The board did not request these projections, but I think it should be a good idea if they were informed of them. Especially when we prepare next year's budget, in April or May."
The Foundation's Chief Operations Officer, Carolyn Doran, resigned in July 2007. Although Ms Gardner was hired in July, Board member Michael Davis, former treasurer, provided financial information to the board through much of 2007.