<CPOV> RS: Wikimedia evolution in terms of governance and thecreation of a Foundation (Fuster, Mayo)

andrew.famiglietti at lcc.gatech.edu andrew.famiglietti at lcc.gatech.edu
Fri Mar 12 01:45:59 CET 2010

Hello everyone, 

I'm going to interject in this very interesting conversation in an informal and somewhat sloppy way, I hope everyone will forgive me. I don't have time to sort through my notes on the very early Wikipedia right now, I'm working on another piece! However, I just can't let this thread go by and not respond, it is too interesting! 

[Snipped section on Sanger and "governance"] 

I consider the Spanish Fork played a role in the creation of the Foundation. But it was not the only element, but in combination to other aspects: the Spanish Fork and the voices in favour of the non-profit character of the activity and the trust of the community as organizational form, the uncertainty of the governance structure, and the increase of costs (such as the one you mentioned on salaries of Sanger and other employees, or the servers) linked to the growing popularity and participation. In sum, it seems to be important, but in conjunction to other aspects that all together determine the creation of the Foundation. 

Yes, I'm sure the fork wasn't the only thing that brought about the change. What I would like to know if it was the fork that made all these other things manifest? Whether all these others factors had been there and even acknowledged, but that it wasn't until the fork that all the issues were put on the table and confronted? I hope your knowledge of the history of Wikipedia governance might be able to shed more light on that question. 

I'm curious about the time frame for the "Spanish Fork" incident. This was after Sanger's departure from the project? My reading of the Wikipedia mailing list around the time Sanger left the project suggests to me (I'd be more sure with my notes!) that the move towards organizing the foundation starts here, with the rejection by Wikipedians of placing advertising on the site to raise Sanger's salary. Perhaps I'm misreading these archives? 

Nate you mention you are looking to FLOSS forking, I would be very happy if you could comment (or other people on the e-list) on this and particularly how the forking relates to scale. Such as: is forking less of an option when the community growth? I think the risk of forking is a source of power of online platforms participants in front of platforms providers, however as the community scale (for several types of reasons) the possibility of forking become more complex. Any input on this would be much appreciated. 

My current writing is very much a critique of the way people understand forking - both in terms of capacity to fork as well as the political function of forking (which supposedly is a kind of safety net or exit strategy). One thing I've found is that there is a lot of uncertainty as to what actually constitutes a fork. Whether, for example, there has to be intent not to re-integrate with the original community at a later stage or whether forks have to eventually become completely "incompatible" with the original. Can Citizendium be considered a fork of Wikipedia? Many people would think not, although this is how the project was framed. Is a fork necessarily about source code or "source content"? Can it be about key members in a project who take a competing vision of the project and create it from scratch? In my own writings I've tried to avoid these concerns by simply accepting something as a fork if it has been described as one. 

I certainly agree that forking is increasingly difficult when a project scales. I'm tempted to say it is now impossible to fork the english wikipedia, for example. I'm also tempted to say that forking itself has always been impossible, a fiction made possible only by a generalised fetish, or at least a misguided privileging of code as the site of politics. I think Wendy Chun has made this point about software, but I might be putting words in her mouth. My main interest in forking however, is that is reveals existing asymmetries in FLOSS and related projects. Not everybody has an equal capacity to fork. Moreover, forking represents a moment when conflict is manifest and also clearly articulated. It reveals key principles of a project that might not have been voiced previously. Of course, it would also be a mistake to think that forking is necessarily Clint Eastwood-style gun fight! I've been reminded in the past that many forks are rather harmonious occurrences. 

It certainly seems difficult to fork a large project, and I would agree that forking the English Wikipedia at this point is probably impossible. However, it is interesting that, again based on my reading of the Wikipedia-L mailing list during 2001-2002, that early Wikipedians understood that project forking was not a realistic way to "exit" the project. Instead, they talk about the "threat" of forking, and thus disrupting the project, as a sort of check on the power of Wales and the other owners and adminstrators of the site. That is to say, they seemed to understand forking as destructive, rather than constructive, a way of withdrawing labor power... almost like a sort of wildcat strike! 

Anyway, as I said... just some quick and dirty thoughts. Who knows, when I find my notes I may have to correct myself! 

- Andy 
Andrew Famiglietti 
Brittain Fellow 
School of Literature, Communication, and Culture 
Georgia Institute of Technology 
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listcultures.org/pipermail/cpov_listcultures.org/attachments/20100311/f46d695b/attachment.html>

More information about the cpov mailing list