Improve existing structures first

Originally I wanted to post this as a comment at the blog for a proposed Wikimedia Pennsylvania Chapter but it doesn’t allow anon comments (grmbl, there are cute captchas and the like). So I post it here:

I totally support the idea of locally involved Wikimedians but I think that a regional Wikimedia sub-chapter can only be the the last step if needed at all. There are many more important steps in advance:

At first: Why not just joining the Wikimedia Foundation as a (support) member? Regretfully the Foundation web site doesn’t give any useful information how to join formally as a real member (well we are all Wikimedia volunteers so the point on their web site is nothing new). This is a pity as a large scale official (support) members would maintain the role of the Wikimedia Foundation as grass root based and not going into corporate whatever and of course regular financial contributions by support member fees mean a constant and reliable source of donations (of course this can only be one part).

In contrast for example the Wikimedia Deutschland e.V. directly encourages people to join and get an official (support) member and people actually do so and Wikimedia Deutschland can partly base their expenses on member fees. And of course every member can publically say that he is a Wikimedian, which in turn opens doors in circumstances you mentioned.

So my advice is go and persuade the foundation to make it easier to get an official (support) membership and you won’t need a regional chapter anylonger.

The next thing are regional meetups: A brief look into Wikipedia:Meetup reveals that there is a huge distance between different US meetup cities and of course people don’t seem to meetup regularly.

In Germany (but also other German speeking countries) Wikipedians meet regularly and in quite some cities and towns. See Wikipedia:Treffen_der_Wikipedianer for a comparison. Each regular local meetup has its own page and people organize themselves rather efficient around that scheme.

And of course IMHO these very much interconnected regular local meetups are one of the secrets why the German language Wikipedia is the second largest (although languages like Spanish and French have a much larger potential). At local meetups people freely discuss their new ideas and past projects, start new projects like joined sightseeing for new free images, organize workshops and new article projects and motivate each other.


7 Antworten to “Improve existing structures first”

  1. Guillaume Paumier Says:

    The fact is the Foundation cannot have any members, unlike an association. All current chapters are associations, vereinen, etc. and their aim is to gather members to support and promote free content. The mission of the foundation is different: the foundation provides technical and financial assets to wikimedia projects. This is precisely the reason why a USA chapter is considered. But I agree with you an american chapter should be created before any regional sub-chapter.

  2. arnomane Says:

    Ok I must admit that I am not overly familar with legal stuff of US organizations but many US-based free software projects have their foundation and so they seem to me like a useful thing for online grass-root communities who can say: „We have a defined outside contact, legal and financial insurance for our project and I am an official volunteer part of the team.“ So I thought there must be a way for just beeing an official member if you want to otherwise the legal basis of an Inc. wouldn’t be so popular for non-profit organizations in the US.

    Initially Wikimedia Deutschland was mainly thought as an easy legal structure for passing German donations to the Foundation but German law turned out to be much more complicated and people also had a need to organize local events, buying hardware (still much less in number and less professional than the Foundation of course) and also needed legal protection (although Wikimedia Deutschland is not legally responsible for German language Wikimedia projects).

    Regardless the legal fine print I think it is clear that there is a desire in the US to be a „official Wikimedia member“ in order to support the community best and I really hope that the Foundation recognizes that desire – also in order to reduce their own work load.

    But most important is that such an organization doesn’t only exist on paper or only online, but that real life meetings, workshops, events and whatnot are a central part of it.

  3. llywrch Says:

    Two points:

    1. One of the primary challenges to forming a US chapter is the size of the country: getting a sizeable number of US Wikipedians together (let alone a majority of them) once a year in one place would be a daunting task — let alone even 3% on a monthly basis. Best to encourage the folks in Philadelphia to make a start — even a bad start — & hope that encourages the creation of other subnational chapters.

    2. Maybe WordPress is a better platform in this regard, but trying to make a blog work on blogger with a Captcha is an exercise in increasing futility, due to the increasing volume of spam. I was forced to enforce a Captcha on my blog for this very reason. And the spamming is unbelievably stupidly done: always to old articles no one reads, so on the spammer’s part whatever garbage he’s trying to push is never seen by anyone. (That makes me wonder if the spammer’s incmoe is not coming from the ad revenue, but from the suckers who pay for the spamming.)


  4. llywrch Says:

    Sorry, I clicked on „submit comment“ too soon.

    An addendum to my first point: I wonder how organizers in other geographically large countries (e.g. Canada, Russia) manage to cope with this challenge. Anyone out there working in such an environment want to tell your story?


  5. arnomane Says:

    At first I must admit that I wasn’t aware that the Foundation changed its bylaws to a non-member organisation in December 2006 (I only knew that they had very few official members and many „volunteers“ that infact were and are official Wikimedians despite a lacking defined legal status). In my eyes this was a wrong step but well the board did so and they surely did think a lot about that step, but none that decided that should complain about workload afterwards… 😉

    In reply to your points:

    Indeed the US has a much larger size than Germany and Germany in turn has a much higher average polulation density than the US which in together results in a not so small population number (82 Million) compared to te US (300 Million). These are two factors that make it easier to get in touch and to maintain a working Wikimedia chapter.

    But: Germany isn’t that small that every distance is neglectible. So Wikimedia Deutschland has an annual meeting for alle members and several smaller events where some interested people be they offcial members or not (like me) get together.

    Because of the travel distances we have many local groups our so called „Wikipedia Stammtische“ (local regular meetings in a cafe, restaurant or other appropriate location) but these aren’t and will never be official Wikimedia Deutschland activities. Even most of the people that attend such a meeting never are and probably never will be a member of Wikimedia Deutschland but still they are involved in many events and activities around Wikimedia (Deutschland).

    For example have a look in the timetable of both de.wikipedia and en.wikipedia (see above). I really hope that such things like the NYC meetups will become more in the US. Another thing are local events: I for example will do a wiki(media) talk/workshop next Friday within a much larger event of another non-profit cultural organisation (I am part of) unrelated to Wikimedia in Erlangen, Germany. I just inserted it into the timetable and asked Arne from Wikimedia Deutschland for sending me some additional info and promo material. This was official enough for me.

    So I suppose many US Wikipedians are part of some charity, non-profit, educational, whatever public organisation that organize events. Why not just doing there something related to Wikipedia (and asking the Wikimedia Foundation for some support, like info material) if it fits into the frame? That way you don’t need to organize a whole event.

    What I want to tell is that a chapter needs to grow bottom up. Sadly the Foundation did go their way and left a huge gap for many people that want to do local work and if the Foundations does not show more interest in local US work people will need an own US chapter. So how about a call for a US chapter founding assembly in that town or region most of the people that want it are based right now? Why not in Pennsylvania? If it happens that most of the US Wikimedians are from Pennsylvania, well then it deserves beeing the center of Wikimedia US right now. But I never would restrict a US chapter to this region. People from whatever US reagion shall be able to join as a member and do local work at their home town. If it happens that Wikimedia US people from other regions do more work well the center of gravity will move. This happened for example at Wikimedia Deutschland. Initially it was mainly Berlin based but now Frankfurt is the location of the office (as Arne lives there).

  6. ike9898 Says:

    I think that a US or North American chapter could draw a large crowd for an annual meeting. I think there are many like me who would travel anywhere in the US for an event ‚like‘ Wikimania, but can’t pratically take the time to travel to a place as far away as Taipei.

  7. Robert Horning Says:

    In response to the very informative reply by arnomane, I would like to point out that apparently the WMF doesn’t want to get into dealing with the issues of dealing with local groups like the Pennsylvania group, and acting as their „sponsoring organization“ in terms of dealing with more local face-to-face meetings and other kinds of activities of that sort.

    The prevailing attitude is that no such organization of Wikimedians will ever take place in the USA, and is a huge loss to Wikimedia projects in general.

    I also know that in terms of proportional numbers of users to the general population, that German speaking populations are actually over-represented in the Wikimedia community. I think this is a good thing too! One of the reasons I believe this may be the case is because Wikimedia users are better organized within places like Germany, and have done a much better job of getting the message out regarding what exactly are Wikimedia projects ad how they can be beneficial to the larger community.

    With no legal mechanism in place right now to deal with the creation of chapters within the USA, it is no wonder that many English-speaking communities are hardly aware of Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects. I’m serious here. Many news organizations in America only look on Wikipedia as an encyclopedia run by Google. Those of us who know better would like to correct that attitude and opinion, but it takes time and effort. With the WMF increasingly looking like a distant international organization, this distance to local media outlets (even with Jimbo’s work on that end) is only going to get bigger.

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