Wikipedia needs new leadership
Wikipedia needs new leadership: Column
A thick skin, a psych degree, infinite patience and your help is all a new executive director will need.
Let me tell you about Wikipedians, who write and improve Wikipedia articles.
Wikipedians take this role — self-appointed, uncompensated, largely unrecognized — more seriously than you probably take your full-time job. When your Congressman’s staffer tried to whitewash a Wikipedia entry ahead of the election, erasing well-cited coverage of an illegal campaign contribution, Wikipedians noticed, undid the change, and shooed him away. That probably all happened while you were watching a 30 Rock rerun. And when your daughter clicked Google’s first link about the Pythagorean Theorem, arrived at Wikipedia, and finally really “got” how it worked — a Wikipedian wrote that article. The article was a collaboration, some Wikipedians knew the math, others knew how to communicate it and others just fixed typos.
Why am I telling you this? Because — as much as they drives me nuts — we need them.
I’m another one of Wikipedia’s 100,000 volunteers . I’ve been at it since 2006. Like all the others, I do it for free.
If you care how information moves — and whether your grandchildren get an Internet that welcomes their active, creative engagement — you may already know that Wikipedia is the only top website that shares that passion, front and center, ahead of anything like a quarterly earnings report or a buyout by a Fortune 500 company. So if you care about the Internet’s future, please listen closely.
For the last year, the Wikimedia Foundation — the non-profit organization that supports Wikipedia in hundreds of language editions — has been seeking a new executive director.
Sue Gardner has held the post since 2007; but she announced her resignation in March 2013. Her successor has yet to be named.
Why has the Wikimedia Foundation struggled to find a suitable successor? In case you haven’t been paying attention, I — and all the people who make Wikipedia’s content and defend its values — are a pain in the butt. We have strong opinions. We love to hear ourselves talk. And as long as there’s something to be fixed on the Internet…well…we’re not quite ready to move on to something else.
While you ponder what data the NSA, or Facebook or your insurance agent is collecting — and wondering why or whom they might share it with — don’t worry about Wikipedia. Wikipedia doesn’t require its readers or its 100,000 volunteer contributors to reveal a shred of personal information — let alone store or sell that information.
And in transparency, Wikipedia truly has no equal among large publications. When its articles change — even when its editorial policies and software change — the reasons are extensively discussed in open forums and preserved for all to see.
Oh yeah, and there are the 4 million articles you won’t find anywhere else — or at least, you wouldn’t find elsewhere if Wikipedia didn’t actively encourage other sites to copy, translate and improve its work.
You’re relying on us almost every time you do a Google search. Your doctor relies on our work, more than she relies on any other publication. (Look it up. I’m not kidding.)
Whoever fills Sue’s shoes needs to “get” us, as she has. She needs to know how to filter out the bull hockey we will surely send her way, and see her way through to the wisdom we possess. That helps us remember we are in this together.
If all goes well, Wikipedia will be healthy, and its community of volunteers will continue to make it ever more accurate, ever more comprehensive, and ever more accessible to new readers and new contributors.
But for that to work out right, we’re going to need you.
Set aside an hour or so, and poke around Wikipedia. Get a feel for how it works. What’s that “Talk” tab all about, or “View history?” You might just find those links tell you more than the article they’re connected to — who created it, what they’ve been arguing about. Maybe you’ll notice some really good work on an article you care about. Maybe you’ll even figure out how to say “thanks.” If you do, you’ll make a Wikipedian’s day.
Pete Forsyth, a Wikipedia volunteer since 2006, teaches the free online course “Writing Wikipedia Articles,” and runs Wiki Strategies. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.
This version originally published at www.usatoday.com on March 31, 2014. (See this mirror to confirm free license.)