By Stanistani, with additional reporting from Nathalie Collida
Recently Wikipedia’s parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation, selected a new VP of Engineering, Texas University Computer Science graduate Damon Sicore. This may well mark a watershed in the WMF’s recruiting practices for its software team, given that until recently, a commitment to spending large amounts of time on Wikipedia was often deemed a more important qualification than actual professional training and experience. Some of the high-profile software hires at the WMF were not sourced from the considerable talent pool in the Bay Area, but from much farther afield. James Forrester, the product manager for the troubled VisualEditor, is a British Politics graduate and former civil servant who has been editing Wikipedia since 2002. Oliver Keyes, another British import, has a degree in Law but is employed as a “research analyst” for the WMF, with a special focus on Flow, a discussion system with severe teething problems. Another long-term Wikipedian, Ukraine-born Maryana Pynchuk, holds various degrees in Eastern European languages and literature. Yet, at the WMF, she earns her keep as a product manager for mobile web communications.
Damon Sicore, on the other hand, is not only local and without a prior history of editing Wikipedia, he also has impressive credentials, including six years as Vice President of Engineering at Mozilla, the corporation most famous for its Firefox web browser. But in spite of his wealth of professional experience, he got off to an awkward start by quoting Che Guevara, the controversial Argentinian/Cuban guerrilla leader, as an inspiration for Damon’s Call to Action. Okay, we all have different heroes.
A few days later, Mr. Sicore held what were whimsically described as ‘office hours’ using the ancient Internet Relay Chat (IRC) system.
If you comb through the logons, logoffs, dropped connections, miscues and other IRC cruft, you can find that Damon Sicore knows he has his work cut out for him.
The most urgent issue seems to be software quality and shipping what we say we are going to ship, on time. However, this urgency is compounded by the fact that we must be able to compete in mobile.
Sicore says he has roughly seven software engineers for the mobile Wikipedia product – but that a project that complex needs about a hundred and fifty. Clearly, this is a man who likes to think big. During his time at Mozilla, he expanded his team from 27 software engineers to over 600 people. However, at the time of writing, the Wikimedia Foundation already had 133 employees working in Product and Engineering. So far, they have produced little to endear themselves to the community of unpaid volunteers who write the content for the online encyclopedia. But those who create and maintain the articles on the various Wikipedia sites across the globe are really no longer all that relevant in the grand scheme of things.
What has become abundantly clear in the past few weeks is that the WMF now considers itself a technology and grantmaking operation first and an educational project second, something that few of its donors seem to be aware of. Given that the WMF is currently flush with cash, it is perhaps not surprising that Sicore intends to grow the WMF engineering team even more, if only to add some actual competence to the mix. However, he does not shy away from mentioning Wikipedia’s existential challenge – the not often-stated truth that Wikipedia may not exist in a few years unless it fixes its problems. New sites like Wikiwand present Wikipedia’s content in a more visually appealing interface and are costing Wikipedia readers and potential donors. According to Sicore, the WMF will have to “scale to a size that enables us to compete with the engineering shops that are trying to kill us. That means we need to double down on recruiting top talent, and steal the engineers from the sources they use… because… well… they are REALLY GOOD.”
I want everyone to keep this in mind: If we don’t move faster and better than google, apple, and microsoft (and their ilk and kin), they will consume us and we will go away. It’s that simple.
Although Mr. Sicore realizes he has major problems, he seems to feel that building better software will solve them. He does not address the issue of toxic, unpopular employees in the WMF engineering staff, starting with Deputy Director Erik Möller and cascading all the way down to their community liaisons. He is instead building on this staff. That’s a mistake.
Another part of the IRC ‘office hours’ is more amusing. A man who is familiar with Wikipedia criticism asks Damon about our site, Wikipediocracy.
Damon, you’re new here. The WMF is nowhere near as competent or honest an organization as Mozilla. You have a long, brutal haul up a cliff littered with abuse of the community and seething hatred of the WMF’s recent products. At Mozilla, your competent core community loved the products – your job was to maintain that love, not rebuild it from scratch.
Wikipediocracy as a site has only been here since 2012. Two and a half years. That’s misleading. The minds and audience of Wikipediocracy have been united in their criticism of Wikipedia, the WMF, and Jimmy Wales since 2005, and only moved their tent in 2012. Nine years we’ve been doing this.
You believe “Nothing ever comes of them if you build the right product and keep your promises.”
That first part is incorrect, as we help journalists all over the world create breaking news stories about Wikipedia. Not once, twice, or once in a while, but constantly. Many times we are not credited, so you never know when a reporter is using our research or not.
If you screw up, Damon, right here at Wikipediocracy is where your screw-up will be researched, converted to readable and interesting news, and distributed to dozens of reporters who know we often have the goods.
I believe you are an honest man, capable of outstanding changes for Wikipedia. I also believe you work with people who will do their utmost to prevent meaningful change, and others who lack the talent to implement such changes. You may have to be ruthless in overcoming these obstacles.
Build the right product. Keep your promises.
If you do, we’ll have no grounds to criticize you.
Above and below you and your work, Wikipedia will still be biased, inaccurate, and increasingly well-known for being a place where truth is impossible to find. The ‘free encyclopedia that anyone can edit‘ might be running on a modern, shiny new framework, with wonderful new tools, but even then, with any improvements you achieve, it will still reek of incompetence.
Wikipediocracy will still have work to do. We’ll still be around.
Don’t you worry about that.
For your edification, here are some examples of our influence at work (thanks to Andreas Kolbe for compiling this list, and Peter Damian for suggesting the presentation):
The college Wikipedia prank that left a top British judge red-faced (The Daily Dot, 6 Dec 2012)
After a half-decade, massive Wikipedia hoax finally exposed (The Daily Dot, 1 Jan 2013)
War is over: Imaginary ‘Bicholim Conflict’ page removed from Wikipedia after five years (Yahoo! News, 4 Jan 2013)
Hoax article on India-Portugal clash in Goa history fools Wikipedia for 5 years (The Times of India, 7 Jan 2013)
Plus dozens of other stories all over the world sparked by the Daily Dot article on the Bicholim conflict hoax
How vandals are destroying Wikipedia from the inside (The Daily Dot, 18 Jan 2013)
Wikipedia editors accuse professor of administering plagiarism (The Daily Dot, 4 Apr 2013)
The greatest movie that never was (The Daily Dot, 25 April 2013)
Don’t trust Wikipedia on Anselm (Baltimore Sun, 24 Sep 2013)
Despite what Wikipedia told you, there’s no ‘Breast Touching Festival’ in China (The Daily Dot, 30 Dec 2013)
Does Wikipedia need a medical disclaimer? (The Daily Dot, 1 Jan 2014)
Hustling in the Online Encyclopedia
Corruption in Wikiland? Paid PR scandal erupts at Wikipedia (c|net, 18 Sep 2012)
Conflict-of-interest scandal could imperil Wikimedia charity status (The Register, 20 Sep 2012)
Influence-peddling scandals rock Wikipedia (The Daily Dot, 20 Sep 2012)
Wikimedia UK trustee quits amid conflict-of-interest row (The Register, 25 Sep 2012)
Wikipedia charity faces investigation over trustee ‘conflict of interest’ (The Telegraph, 2 Oct 2012)
Wikipedia parent launches ethics probe into influence peddling scandal (The Daily Dot, 3 Oct 2013)
Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales breaks silence on resurgence of influence-peddling scandal (The Daily Dot, 25 Oct 2012)
Wales: Let’s ban Gibraltar-crazy Wikipedians for 5 years (The Register, 26 Oct 2012)
Wikimedia UK trustees have been ‘too involved’ to effectively govern charity (Civil Society, 8 Feb 2013)
Review urges major overhaul of governance at Wikimedia UK (Third Sector, 8 Feb 2013)
Review finds Wikipedia UK board needs major leadership overhaul (The Register, 13 Feb 2013)
Wikipedia’s Gibraltar ‘moratorium’ – how’s it going? (The Register, 18 Feb 2013)
Wikimedia makes changes after promotional scandal (The Daily Dot, 21 Feb 2013)
PR firm accused of editing Wikipedia for government clients (The Daily Dot, 8 Mar 2013)
BP accused of rewriting environmental record on Wikipedia (c|net, 21 Mar 2013)
BP Has Nothing Better to Do Than to Rewrite Its Own Wikipedia Entry (BetaBeat, 21 Mar 2013)
For Over a Year, BP Has Worked Hard to Clean Up Its Wikipedia Pages (Motherboard, 21 Mar 2013)
Much Of BP’s Wikipedia Page Allegedly Written By Company Employee Arturo Silva (Huffington Post, 21 Mar 2013)
BP edited its own environmental record on Wikipedia (Salon, 21 Mar 2013)
Big Oil’s Wikipedia cleanup: A brand management experiment out of control (ZDNet, 27 Mar 2013)
Is Wikipedia’s front page for sale? (The Daily Dot, 7 Jun 2013)
Are plastic surgeons nip/tucking ads into high-profile Wikipedia articles? (The Daily Dot, 20 Sep 2013)
Wikipedia Sends Paid Editors Cease-And-Desist: Sockpuppet Account Morning277, Not Wiki-PR (International Business Times, 22 Nov 2013)
Of Wikipedia, IIPM & Pay for Play (Next Big What, 12 Dec 2013)
Wikimedia staffer loses job over edit-for-cash scandal (The Daily Dot, 9 January 2014)
Wiki-paid-y a? (Times of India, 12 Jan 2014)
Belangrijkste sponsors Wikipedia schrijven hun eigen artikelen (Express, 12 Mar 2014)
Wikipedia considering rule change to expose paid editors (The Daily Dot, 14 Mar 2014)
Major Wikipedia donors accused of conflict-of-interest editing (The Daily Dot, 21 March 2014)
One of Wikimedia’s largest donors accused in paid editing scandal (The Daily Dot, 14 April 2014)
PR Tackles Wikipedia (or tries to) (O’Dwyer’s, 2 Jun 2014)
Chairman of Wikipedia charity banned after pornography row (The Telegraph, 31 Jul 2012)
Wikipedia chairman banned after pornography row (The Daily Dot, 31 Jul 2013)
Wikipedia charity chairman resigns after pornography row (The Telegraph, 2 Aug 2012)
Wikimedia U.K. chairman resigns amid pornography controversy (The Daily Dot, 3 Aug 2013)
Winners of Wikipedia’s biggest award still haven’t received prize money (The Daily Dot, 26 Apr 2013)
Wikipedia staffer at center of latest sockpuppet scandal (The Daily Dot, 12 Mar 2014)
I’m glad that net neutrality is dead (The Kernel, 2 May 2014)
Misogyny and Sexism
Does Wikipedia’s sexism problem really prove that the system works? (The Daily Dot, 1 May 2013)
In UK, rising chorus of outrage over online misogyny (The Christian Science Monitor, 1 Aug 2013)
¿Por qué las mujeres no escriben en la Wikipedia? (El Confidencial, 2 Sep 2014)
Perché Wikipedia non è un posto per donne, almeno per ora (Pronews, 3 Sep 2014)
Les informations personnelles de militants « antiféministes » publiées sur le Web (Le Monde, 11 Sep 2014)
GamerGate pushes Intel to pull ads over feminist articles (The Daily Dot, 2 Oct 2014)
Child Protection Failures at the WMF
What should we do about Wikipedia’s porn problem? (LarrySanger.org, 29 May 2012)
Keen On… Larry Sanger: Does Wikipedia Need To Be Censored? [TCTV] (TechCrunch, 5 Jun 2012)
Porn still No. 1 on Wikipedia, co-founder Larry Sanger warns (Fox News, 5 Jun 2012)
Does Wikipedia have a porn problem? Dad investigates. (YouTube, by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, 6 Jun 2012)
This Wikipedia Cofounder Thinks The Site Has Too Much Porn, And He Doesn’t Regret Quitting (Business Insider, 6 Jun 2012)
Wikipedia co-founder releases video of site’s ‘porn problem’ (Digital Trends, 11 Jun 2012)
Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger’s screencast of the online encylopedia’s porn problem (The Next Web, 11 Jun 2012)
Loads of porn on Wikipedia warns co-founder (Life Site News, 12 Jun 2012)
Exclusive: Wikipedia ignores solution to rampant porn problem (Fox News, 10 Sep 2012)
Fox News misses the point about Wikipedia and porn (The Daily Dot, 13 Sep 2012)
How Wikimedia Commons became a massive amateur porn hub (The Daily Dot, 25 Jun 2013)
Wikipedia abandons efforts to purge porn from online encyclopedia (Fox News, 17 Sep 2013)
Activism, Balkanisation & Politics
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales restricts discussion of Tony Blair friendship (The Telegraph, 24 Dec 2012)
Wikipedia’s odd relationship with the Kazakh dictatorship (The Daily Dot, 25 Dec 2012)
Kazakhstan Wikipedia Controversy Raises Questions About the Crowd (Eurasianet, 27 Dec 2012)
On Kazakh-language Wikipedia, Crowdsourcing Meets Crowd Mentality (Registan, 27 Dec 2012)
Critics question neutrality of Kazakh Wikipedia (Net Prophet, 8 Jan 2013)
The bizarre Wikipedia edits of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik (The Daily Dot, 2 May 2013)
Is a U.S. senator trolling Snowden’s Wikipedia page? (The Daily Dot, 3 Aug 2013)
Wikipedia Editor Traced to U.S. Senate Changes Snowden’s Bio to ‘Traitor’ (Mashable, 6 Aug 2013)
How pro-fascist ideologues are rewriting Croatia’s history (The Daily Dot, 1 Oct 2013)
Revenge, ego and the corruption of Wikipedia (Salon, 17 May 2013)
The unmasking of a troll, and Wikipedia’s Achilles’ heel (Washington Monthly, 18 May 2013)
Revenge is Best Served On Wikipedia (PolicyMic, 18 May 2013)
What Should We Do About Wikipedia? (talking writing magazine, 20 May 2013)
A Novelist’s Wikipedia Revenge, Roberto Bolaño’s Popularity, and More (Poets & Writers, 20 May 2013)
Nobel Tweets, and Other News (The Paris Review, 21 May 2013)
Wikipedia cleans up its mess (Salon, 21 May 2013)
Wikipedia’s anti-Pagan crusade (Salon, 24 May 2013)
Literary feuds in the digital age get ugly (The Rumpus, 24 May 2013)
Biased Editing at Wikipedia Causes Concern Over Accuracy (Santa Cruz Patch, 25 May 2013)
Revenge Editing and Wikipedia (Digitopoly, 26 May 2013)
Wikipedia and the scourge of “revenge editors” (New Zealand Listener, 5 Jun 2013)
危机中的维基百科:网络乌托邦在水军围攻中挣扎 (Xinmin Weekly, 5 Dec 2013)
Wikipedia editors hit with $10 million defamation lawsuit (The Daily Dot, 24 Jun 2014)
Canadian businessman sues Wikipedia editors for defamation (Metronews, 25 Jun 2014)
WMF’s Dirty Laundry
Wikipedia doesn’t need your money – so why does it keep pestering you? (The Register, 20 Dec 2012)
Sue Gardner, who oversaw Wikipedia’s rise, is leaving (The Daily Dot, 28 Mar 2013)
Wikipedia says its staffers are not vandalizing Wikipedia (The Daily Dot, 23 Apr 2013)
Wikipedians say no to Jimmy’s ‘buggy’ WYSIWYG editor (The Register, 1 Aug 2013)
Revolting peasants force Wikipedia to cut’n’paste Visual Editor into the bin (The Register, 25 Sep 2013)
Wikipedia faces revolt over VisualEditor (The Daily Dot, 27 Sep 2013)
Wikipedia Foundation exec: Yes, we’ve been wasting your money (The Register, 8 Oct 2013)
Where does your Wikipedia donation go? Outgoing chief warns of potential corruption (The Daily Dot, 17 Oct 2013)
Class war! Wikipedia’s workers revolt again (The Register, 18 Aug 2014)
Wikipedia is revolting (Fudzilla, 22 Aug 2014)
Cracking copyright law: How a simian selfie stunt could make a monkey out of Wikipedia (The Register, 24 Aug 2014)
Jimbo tells Wikipedians: You CAN’T vote to disable ‘key software features’ (The Register, 3 Sep 2014)
Wikipedia pot article loses bongs, gets OK’d in Russia (The Daily Dot, 9 Apr 2013)
Wikipedia co-founder Wales asks for info on Snowden edits (IT Pro, 26 Jun 2013)
Jimmy Wales causes trouble in Wikipedia paradise as he hunts for Snowden (Tech2, 26 Jun 2013)
Jimmy Wales sucht Edward Snowden (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 26 Jun 2013)
Spurensuche im Lexikon: Wikipedia-Gründer sucht nach Edward Snowden (Der Spiegel, 26 Jun 2013)
Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales Wants to Know If Edward Snowden Ever Edited the Site (Softpedia, 26 Jun 2013)
Jimmy Wales vows to resist PRISM, wonders if Snowden edited Wikipedia (The Daily Dot, 27 Jun 2013)
Plus many other reports on the Snowden story sparked by Gregory Kohs’ Examiner piece
This is the likely online alias of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza (The Daily Dot, 1 Jul 2013)
Black Twitter on Wikipedia? Thanks, but we need to define ourselves (The Daily Dot, 5 Sep 2013)
After Chelsea Manning row, Wikipedia bans transphobic editors (The Daily Dot, 26 Oct 2013)
Is Google accidentally killing Wikipedia? (The Daily Dot, 8 Jan 2014)
Google stabs Wikipedia in the front (The Register, 13 Jan 2014)
Google eating into Wikipedia page views? (Times of India, 20 Jan 2014)
Plus stories in multiple other countries and languages sparked by Gregory Kohs’ Wikipediocracy blog post on the Google Knowledge Graph
Wikipedia’s 10,000-word war over the word ‘f*ck’ (The Daily Dot, 3 Feb 2014)
Civil servants behind ‘sickening’ Hillsborough slurs identified (The Telegraph, 21 May 2014)
Hillsborough Wikipedia posts: Suspected civil servant a Merseyside resident (The Independent, 21 May 2014)
Civil servant fired after Telegraph investigation into Hillsborough Wikipedia slurs (The Telegraph, 17 Jun 2014)
How The Telegraph identified the Hillsborough Wikipedia vandal (The Telegraph, 17 Jun 2014)
Wiki slurs civil servant is sacked but won’t be named (Liverpool Confidential, 17 Jun 2014)
Civil servant sacked for offensive Wikipedia edits on Hillsborough (The Guardian, 17 Jun 2014)
Civil Servant Sacked For ‘Sickening’ Edits To Hillsborough Wikipedia Page (Huffington Post, 17 Jun 2014)
Civil servant fired over Hillsborough abuse on Wikipedia (The Times, 17 Jun 2014)
Hillsborough Wiki Entry Civil Servant Sacked (Sky News, 17 Jun 2014)
Worker sacked over online Hillsborough slurs (ITV News, 17 Jun 2014)
Hillsborough Wikipedia slurs: Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s full statement as civil servant is sacked (Daily Mirror, 17 Jun 2014)
Plus reports on the Hillsborough vandalism case in many other UK publications that day
Government issues new Wikipedia rules for Whitehall staff after civil servant posted Hillsborough slurs (Liverpool Echo, 20 October 2014)
See also the news archive of our own Gregory Kohs at Examiner; 23 articles since this site started in March 2012, some of which formed the basis of stories published elsewhere.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons