Who's behind Wikipedia?

Computerworld takes you on an in-depth look at the world’s largest and most celebrated open encyclopedia – Wikipedia

The Wikimedia Foundation

Officially founded in 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation is a non profit charitable organization based in the USA. It is charged with operating Wikipedia and its sister projects (collectively referred to as Wikimedia projects) with a goal to develop and maintain open content, wiki-based projects provided to the public in full and free of charge.

"You wouldn't say they run Wikipedia because they do not maintain ultimate editorial control over the content. The key phrases are they provide the essential infrastructure and organizational framework," Laugher said.

Wikimedia projects generally depend on donations to survive, but the Foundation also organizes fund raisers, grants, sponsorships and brand merchandising in order to keep its servers running.

"So in one sense they are not much more than a glorified Web host at the moment, and that is kind of intentional as we are a grassroots community, not a top-down one. But they will intervene in extreme situations, such as to remove libelous content when it's brought to their attention," Laugher said.

According to Laugher the Wikimedia Foundation has for a long time run "on the smell of an oily rag", and is just beginning to expand and professionalize with the addition of more software developers and fundraising staff. Sue Gardner, former head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Web site, has recently been appointed as the Foundation's executive director.

The Wikimedia mentality

The Wikimedia Foundation's core principles are common to all projects under the Foundation's umbrella. The first and foremost being the idea that anyone can edit without registration or provision of personal information, can enjoy free access to that material, and have no claim of ownership under the copyleft policy. Equally as important is the ideal of consensus decision making, being that decisions are made from the bottom up and not the top down.

"One thing you could call it is the world's largest grassroots bureaucracy," Laugher said.

Neutral point of view - or letting the facts speak for themselves - is also a major principle, particularly applicable to Wikipedia and Wikinews. The idea of increasing the volume of content through incremental progress is also a fundamental element of Wikipedia. "It comes out of the very nature of a Wiki in that you don't have to submit a completed, finished and polished work. You can make just a little change, someone else will add another, and another, and it will get there eventually. The whole thing is a constant work in progress," Laugher explained.

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Andrew Hendry

Computerworld
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