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Wikimedia Foundation caught self-promoting on Wikipedia

By Gregory Kohs



On Thursday, February 19, the organization that operates Wikipedia posted a blog article that proudly declared, “Research finds the Wikimedia Foundation to be the largest known Participatory Grantmaking Fund”. Shortly after this was published, the Wikipedia criticism site, Wikipediocracy.com, revealed how the Wikimedia Foundation had hired a French firm that has basically adopted the phrase “Participatory Grantmaking” as a proprietary discussion point, and the firm not surprisingly declared its paying client as the winner of sorts in the category it was hired to investigate. Even worse, several Wikimedia Foundation employees had created and enhanced Wikipedia’s own article about participatory grantmaking, using a white paper by the same consulting firm as its predominant “reliable source”. None of the employees had disclosed on Wikipedia that the Wikimedia Foundation was a paying client of the source’s author, which may have been a violation of the foundation’s own “Terms of Use” regarding disclosure on Wikipedia. After a long day of evasion by both the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) and the consulting firm, the foundation finally relented and published an attempted clarification on its blog, on February 20. But other evidence suggests the WMF may still be a long way from explaining itself.

The blog post, written by WMF employee Katy Love, described how the WMF had hired a consulting firm called The LaFayette Practice to write a report that in turn determines that its own client, the WMF, is the largest “Participatory Grantmaking” fund in the world. You may never have heard of this phrase, participatory grantmaking, because (according to Google Books and Google Scholar) prior to about 2009, the phrase had never been written in any book or any academic paper. It is a neologism. Indeed, if you search Google for “participatory grantmaking”, out of the top 10 results, eight of them are either written by or are about the LaFayette Practice, and the number 1 search result is Wikipedia’s article about the term, written by WMF employees who are clients of the LaFayette Practice. It is safe to say that practically speaking, the LaFayette Practice “owns” the trade term “participatory grantmaking”, and the Wikimedia Foundation solidified the consultant’s lock on that term by authoring a Wikipedia article about it.

When critics attempted to leave a comment on the WMF blog post, their comments were rejected. When a supporter left a glowing comment, though, it was accepted. Key executives at the WMF, which often describes itself as “open” and “transparent”, refused to comment for this reporter, as did the WMF employees who wrote the Wikipedia article in question. Attempted contacts with the LaFayette Practice also went without reply. One might conclude that the Wikimedia Foundation and its consulting firm were circling the wagons. One journalist, Dan Murphy, who read over the LaFayette report, commented: “I find no discussion of effectiveness of spending relative to what is claimed to be their core mission: Education and better encyclopedias. It’s all about ‘surfacing’ and awesome Wikipedians and ‘movement building’ and being ‘impactful’ (ugh).”

Then, late in the day on Friday, the WMF published an editor’s note on Love’s blog post. It read:

“The Wikipedia article on Participatory Grantmaking was written in part by Wikimedia Foundation staff in their capacity as Wikimedia volunteer editors. This was done on their own time, using their personal editor accounts, with the intent to share information with the larger philanthropic sector about a practice that is very much aligned with wikiculture. The article, which meets Wikipedia policies and guidelines, was developed based largely (but not exclusively) on the original report by the Lafayette Practice about participatory grantmaking, which was not funded by WMF. The study cited in the article did not include the Wikimedia Foundation. The subsequent report about the WMF’s participatory grantmaking approach was commissioned by Foundation in the months following the original report and is not referenced in any version of the Wikipedia article.”



Given that the WMF employees had authored about 98% of the article, describing their authorship as “in part” was rather disingenuous; but, to its credit, the WMF has again changed the addendum to read “primarily” rather than “in part”. What remains suspicious, though, is the claim that the article writing was done on employees’ “own time” in a “personal” capacity. The edit history of the article doesn’t lie (although one must rely upon an archived version — at Wikipedia, the edit history has been deleted, along with article itself, five days after the first appearance of the blog post you are now reading.) The article’s initial author was a Wikimedia Foundation employee who was editing Wikipedia on a typical Wednesday workday at 10:25 AM, then at 1:00 PM, and again at 1:09 and 1:39 PM. The substantial amount of content he had created is highly unlikely to have been produced only on personal break time. Another WMF employee came along to touch up the article at 4:15 PM. Can we believe the WMF when it says that the article meets Wikipedia policies and guidelines, when it is now plastered with warnings to readers that the article relies largely on a single source, that it may contain promotional material, and that a major contributor has a close connection to the subject?

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales was given an opportunity to respond to the ethical questions presented by this scenario, but as is his custom, he deflected away the query. Wales said, “As usual, I find hypothetical questions like this to be unsatisfactory. Please give actual information so that people can evaluate it.”


This article originally appeared in the February 21 edition of Examiner.com.

Image credits: Flickr/CarbonNYC [in SF!], Flickr/kla! ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

The Myth of Crowdsourcing at Wikipedia

By greybeard and Kelly Martin


According to Wikipedia,

Wikipedia is often cited as a successful example of crowdsourcing,[157] despite objections by co-founder Jimmy Wales to the term.[158]


For the largest audience, one has to be careful about the definition of the word “crowdsourcing“.

Wikipedia is a failed example of crowdsourcing, but there are also successful examples. The failure of Wikipedia as a crowdsourcing project is very interesting, but if one is to be — or are perceived as — decrying crowdsourcing more generally, one walks into a tarpit of contradictory evidence and conclusions that weaken one’s primary point.

Wikipedia’s model fails for a number of reasons. One we can call “entropy”. No fact on Wikipedia is ever fully-established. If we crowdsource (e.g.) a catalog of birds or a map of actual-vs-scheduled train times, then the facts are never (or seldom) in dispute. These projects rely on

…continue reading The Myth of Crowdsourcing at Wikipedia

The dream that died: Erik Möller and the WMF’s decade-long struggle for the perfect discussion system


By Scott Martin. Scott began editing the English Wikipedia in November 2002, and became an administrator in September 2007. He eventually resigned his position and left the project in distaste at its management in 2014.




The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has, in the last few years, embarked upon a number of major engineering projects intended to modernize aspects of its increasingly dated user interface, with the aim of attracting new participants to the ailing encyclopedia project. Referred to internally by the WMF as “Editor Engagement”, these have so far included VisualEditor, a “what you see is what you get” text editor, and Media Viewer. Both were foisted upon a largely unwilling audience of volunteer editors in an extremely unfinished and bug-laden state, leading to large amounts of discord and the generation of any amount of bad will towards the WMF’s “rock star” developers. The latest

…continue reading The dream that died: Erik Möller and the WMF’s decade-long struggle for the perfect discussion system