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jeudi 13 juin 2013

30in60 - Thirteenth letter - Patricio

I wrote Patricio's letter while sitting in the garden, looking at my kids play. And life was good. So the letter is a set of reflections upon how a letter really is something that we have lost a bit, and how life goes too fast and we want instantaneity and that everything happens right now, right there.

And then I talked about my kids, and being a parent. Just a letter.

30in60-13.jpg

  • Destination : Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Estimated time : 6-8 days
  • Pages : 3
  • Letter written on : 10/06/2013
  • Letter sent : 12/06/2013
  • Arrived : ?

What's this about?- I'm trying to write 30 letters in 60 days (and some), it's all explained here

mardi 11 juin 2013

30in60 - Tenth Letter - Erica

Erica is one of the few people I have never met and who have signed up for this experiment. I find that people I do not know at all seem to be the easiest letters to write for some reasons. Maybe because expectation management is fairly easy, they probably have little, and I have none about my writing. Well, I hope to write letters that are at least interesting enough to read to the end, but I don't think people I don't know expect me to tell them about my most secret feelings or adventures. However, I try to stay close to who I am and what moves me. This letter was about Italy, a sunny subject.

30in60-10.jpg

  • Destination : Bologna, Italy
  • Estimated time : 2-4 days
  • Pages : 3
  • Letter written on : 05/06/2013
  • Letter sent : 07/06/2013
  • Arrived : 11/06/2013

What's this about?- I'm trying to write 30 letters in 60 days (and some), it's all explained here

mercredi 15 mai 2013

30in60 First letter - Malcolm

First, an apology, in three languages.

[FR] J'ai écrit ici les multiples raisons qui font que j'ai du mal à naviguer entre plusieurs langues quand il s'agit d'écrire. Du coup, je vais raconter mon voyage 30-60 dans toutes les langues qui me vont bien, sans traduire. Je vous prie ici de bien vouloir m'en excuser si vous ne comprenez pas. La traduction Google peut être parfois rigolote, mais elle n'est pas si mauvaise que ça.

[EN] I have written here the many reasons which make it hard for me to navigate between languages when I write. I am going to document this 30-60 journey in all the languages I see fit, without translating. I beg you to forgive me in advance if you don't understand. Google translation can be funny at times, but it does an ok job.

[DE] Ich habe hier die verschiedene Gründe geschrieben, warum ich es schwierig finde, zwischen Sprachen zu wechslen, wenn ich schreibe. Dieses Experiment 30-60 werde ich in alle Sprachen, die ich geeignet finde, berichten. I bitte um Entschuldigung wenn ihr die Sprache nicht versteht. Google Übersetzungen können witzig sein, aber so schlecht sind sie auch nicht.

So today is the first day of my challenge to myself, write 30 letters in 60 days to 30 people. The last two days have been really interesting, as the addresses were trickling in. Friends I haven't seen in... for ever, family, friends I see every day, strangers, all wanting a hand-written letter. I have been thinking a lot about what I will write to all of these people and some letters are definitely going to be harder than others. Mostly because I have decided I don't want to stop at the penpal usual thing, ie. "My name is Delphine, I'm 41 years old, I have two kids..." etc. The idea is to make this challenging for me, and fun enough for those who receive the letters (which does not mean you're all going to receive a funny letter!) that they take something out of the experiment. It's 9.12, and I'm going to start my first letter...Have a good day.

[edit] The first letter goes to Malcolm, in the UK, whom I don't know.

  • Destination : UK
  • Estimated time : 2-4 days
  • Pages : 3
  • Letter written on : 15/05/2013
  • Letter sent : 15/05/2013
  • Arrived : 17/05/2013

lundi 13 mai 2013

How long is it since you've received a letter?

I'm talking real letter. A paper thing, with an envelope, a stamp, a hand-written letter. Not an invoice, not an ad, not an official letter from the bank or some government agency. A letter. Written with ink that maybe got stained by tears or just the rain, a letter that tells important things, or nothing. A letter in which someone tells their story, confides or only talks about time passing or the weather. A real letter. Not electronic, not virtual, a thing you can hold in your hand.

I am curious to know how long it is since you have received one. Or written one, for that matter. Poll in the comments.

<Digimax S800 / Kenox S800>So. I've decided to write a letter every other day for 2 months, 30 letters. I start the day after tomorrow, on the 15th of May. Others have done it I'm sure and as matter of fact the inspiration for this comes from my friend Consu who did it with hand-made postcards. But in order for this to work, I need people to write to. So that's where you enter, dear reader. Would you like to receive a letter ? If yes, I need your address (postal address, the physical thing, with post code and all). Send it to me via the contact form (or any other means you have to contact me and which suits best) and I will send you a letter, a real one. A blue-black ink letter, on paper, in an envelope, with a stamp.

A few rules:

  • In case you live in a country where international post might be subject to the sporadic goodwill of a not so reliable postal service, send me your email address as well. I will scan the letter and send it by email, just so that it does not get lost.
  • Post does not work on Sundays, so no letters on Sundays
  • If you want to add a keyword for me to use in the letter (like a specific topic for example, I will try to integrate it best as I can)
  • I will not publish the letters I send (except if I ask you first) but I will probably keep a copy.
  • [edit] If we know each other only under a nickname, please give your nick ;). If we don't know each other, that's fine.
  • I can change the rules whenever I want.

Go!

Version française ici >>

[EDIT 15/05] I am happy to say that all 30 letters now have an addressee. I can't commit to more for now (who knows, maybe I'll hate writing after this experiment...), so do not send your address any more.

mercredi 8 mai 2013

...Fertig...Los!

So. I've been challenged. Alice read my "obsolètes à prise rapide" and decided she'd play along. The obsolètes don't translate well, unfortunately, as they are issued from a dictionary of obsolete French words that machine translation does not know. But the definitions look funny in German. And in English too, actually.

The whole thing has originated sometime last year, where a bunch of French bloggers started doing the "366 réels à prise rapide", creative writing exercise along the lines of Raymond Queneau's Exercices de Style. Franck Paul then started the Obsolètes à prise rapide, along the same idea, but with obsolete French words. I love it that Alice plays along, the addition of a non-French speaker to the game makes it even more interesting!

mercredi 3 avril 2013

Itching

For a few weeks, my friend Consu has started putting her Art online. Maybe it has been longer than that, but I've only noticed it a few weeks ago. Her experiment wakes waves of longing in me. Itching for words, a pen in my hand, the sun in my face and that bloody Spring which just has decided to stay away. Today is a gray day, My son is playing in the living room, with his usual casual "I play all by myself and I love it" kind of way. He keeps saying, a litany of funny "Ça va pas la tête !" ("Are you crazy or what?" is the closest translation I come up with) and just made a train with two firetrucks which are putting out some fire somewhere.

I could write about my kids, they are growing so fast and are so beautiful. I could write about my not so great business adventures (a failure of my own doing, which I still need to process to make it not-so-failing), I could even write about writing (or not writing for that matter). I'm just not taking the time. And it's really about "taking the time", rather than "having the time". I've always said that reading, for example, is stolen time. I suppose writing time is exactly the same, stolen time. Time that you don't have. It's the "active" part of writing that I find so difficult. I need hours on end to come up with two sentences I like. And too many languages spoil the broth, as the saying goes. I'm always thinking of the audience and my audience (if I can call it that?) speaks too many languages. Even my son right now is stuck within two languages and switches, as he tells his firetruck story, between German and French (which, by the way, is simply fascinating).

I just wanted to break the silence. Wether it's for a minute or for a longer time, time will tell. Be good, take care.

vendredi 29 juillet 2011

All Your Money Are Belong To Us

Stu West, treasurer and vice-chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, published an interesting post about "Fundraising, chapters, and movement priorities", where he asks questions. Sebastian Moleski gives a very thoughtful and rational answer based on the idea of subsidiarity (Subsidiarity as a fundamental principle), one which I subscribe to.

There are however a few comments that come to mind while reading both posts, which I will try to bring to light here. To try and keep some clarity, I will structure this around Stu's questions. Note for those too lazy to read all the other posts (although you really should), we're talking about Wikimedia, and Wikimedia chapters (the national associations that foster free knowledge and support Wikimedia projects).

The infamous 50%: Where do we really need them?

Stu says

The issue is whether our approach to distributing funds to chapters should change along with all the other things that have changed over the past five years. Here are a few key questions I’m asking myself: Is it right that 50% of rich country donations stay in those rich countries?

Sebastian argues (with a few calculations at the top of his head) that the actual amount of donations that stay in the "rich countries" is much more than 50% of the overall money received (which, incidentally, I agree with).

But this conversation right here is a bit awkward, because it seems to me we are mixing apples and oranges. Let's try and remember where those infamous 50% come from. Actually, we don't really know where they come from, but they are the backbone of the fundraising agreement between Chapters and Foundation and have been for a few years. I'll pass on the details, but here is how it works: if 100€ are donated to a chapter, 50€ go to the Foundation, 50€ stay with the chapter. So the latter 50€ are the 50% which Stu says stay in "rich countries".

Well, since this 50% rule only applies to money raised through the chapters, what we're really talking about here are $2.15 million (50% of $4.3 million, which is the amount raised by the chapters), which, indeed do stay in "rich countries". Sebastian points out that if you actually look at the whole (donations to the Wikimedia Foundation included), much more than just 50% of the donations to Wikimedia actually stay in "rich countries". What I genuinely don't understand here, is why and how that would be wrong.

Actual figures are clear, Wikimedia spends most of its money in "rich countries", but if we're going to go that route, the amount that stays in rich countries due to chapters is actually only 7 or 8% of the total (the 2.15 million I mentioned above) 50% of 15% of the total amount of donations received by Wikimedia worldwide. Is that really insane? I personally don't think so. Also, I don't see anytime soon where the Foundation is going to spend 50% or even more than 50% of its revenue in the "Global South". It will, and should, as per the strategic plan, increase its investment there, but whether or when that amount will ever reach 50%+ of the total donations is, at least for now, and until the real need and impact are measured (as suggested by Sebastian), unlikely and/or unknown.

Now for the real question, which Sebastian hints at:

The emphasis on the Global South just started last year and there’s been, so far, no evaluation of how much impact Foundation spending in the area has actually had. We simply don’t know how much money needs to be spent on the Global South in total, or even within the coming year, to achieve the goals set out in the strategy. But if we don’t know that, how are we to decide whether 50% is enough?

How much money do we, as a movement, actually need to invest in the Global South? Stu seems to regret that money is staying in "rich countries" instead of going to the Global South,[1] but it is not clear to me what Wikimedia's investment in the Global South actually needs to be.

Whatever it needs to be, however, the next question is: are we actually short on money to invest? Is the money that stays "in rich countries" through chapters, missing anywhere else? And if that's the case, could it be an option to ask those chapters in rich countries to actually direct some money from their own programs to invest (or support the investments made by the Wikimedia Foundation) in the Global South? I have a hard time imagining that if the money is sorely needed and the programs make sense, a chapter would not consider this option.

Establish solid movement-wide financial controls

Stu asks:

How do we establish solid movement-wide financial controls to protect donor funds?

Sebastian's answer is one I would subscribe to. He points out:

My approach to „how to establish solid movement-wide financial controls“ would be to start conversations between Foundation and chapters both on a set of global minimum standards and a solid and independent reporting/enforcement structure.

The minimum standards are a must, and have been discussed in various places, not least within the development of the Wikimedia Charter started by the Movement Roles project. While the charter probably has a wider scope than just financial, it could actually contain the criteria for financial control needed to ensure our donors' money is used well.

Every time the subject comes back on the table, I can't help thinking about the International Non-Governmental Organisations Accountability Charter, which in my opinion is an excellent basis as to what we could be looking at for Wikimedia. I also started, in the frame of my work in the Chapters Committee, developing a set of chapter assessment criteria that could be used as measurement points somewhere along the line. In any case, I do believe, like Sebastian, that the standards need to be far reaching within Wikimedia, and that all Wikimedia organisations should be held up to them.

Who is ultimately responsible for stewarding donors’ contributions?

Actually, I find this to be the most interesting question of all. I find it interesting that in the past say 4 or 5 years, the question of "Shouldn't the Foundation be the one responsible to ensure transparency, financial control, and actually, complete control?" still is out there. It may be that I am old and remember a time where there was Wikipedia, and a very weak (not to say inexistant) Foundation. Because that's what history says. The Foundation was built to support Wikipedia, as were the Chapters. Wikipedia is not a product (in the generated sense) of the Foundation, nor is it a product of any Wikimedia organisation. As a matter of fact, it was there before all organisations. What I don't understand, and this is a genuine "not understand", is why in all of these conversations, I always have the impression that many Foundation affiliated people, be they staff of board, are under the impression that the money belongs to the Foundation. Does it? If yes, why?

I won't hide that for me, the elephant in the room is that the Wikimedia Foundation today acts both as an international coordinating body and a chapter. Seeing that the only existing chapter in the US is not allowed to fundraise, this makes the Foundation the national entity in the United States, and hence, a chapter by default, if not by design. Which to some extent skews the equation.

I am a strong believer that the money belongs to the projects, and that if an organisation is best placed to steward donations, it is indeed the Foundation, but not the Foundation as it exists. A truly international coordinating body would not actively fundraise in one country or another, since, if we agree with the principle of subsidiarity, a "local" organisation is best placed to do that. It might (and actually should) act as a fundraising recipient in countries where there is no organisation to apply the principle of subsidiarity, but would let local organisations fundraise where they can do it best.

I'll join Sebastian here to say that we (all Wikimedia organisations) are all responsible for stewarding donors' contributions. In a constellation where the Wikimedia Foundation is not a US chapter, but more something like a "Wikimedia International", it could then more easily steward donations and redistribute them appropriately, where needed. Each chapter (US included) would have a duty to finance operations and programs, and do so by giving X (where X could be 50%, 80% or 20% or whatever, depending on designed programs and needs) of the donations originating in their country to Wikimedia International. A truly international coordinating body would also have the necessary political power to develop a binding development strategy, which all entities in Wikimedia would follow. Whether the existing Wikimedia Foundation has that is yet to be confirmed.

I am convinced that having "Wikimedia international" in the US is a good thing for what we're doing (legal frame for hosting providers being one of the strongest points), and also convinced that the chapters should never argue about giving money to keep the projects up and advance the overall mission. But as long as the Foundation is effectively a chapter, I can understand why we're hitting the same wall again and again. After all, color me a French chauvinist, but why should the US rule the world of free knowledge and decide what's best for us all? And here, I am refering to returning intercultural problems in how to fundraise (you just don't fundraise in Germany, the UK, the Philippines, the US or India the same way), how to work on messaging (be it fundraising or overall presentation of who we are and what we are doing), how to develop organisations (should every chapter have an office? To do what?) etc. If, indeed, subsidiarity is king, then "Wikimedia International" should be empowered to make the high level strategical decisions, which local organisations would then have a duty to implement on a local level, and to fund where necessary on a global level (investments in the Global South, for example).

And what I still don't get, is that many other international organisations fundraise on a local level, see for example the WWF which claims on its international page: You can also donate to your local WWF office: they can do more with your donation! , or SOS Children's Villages which states Please select the country you live in from the list below in order to get tax advantages which could help you to give even more support to help children in need with your online donation. or again Amnesty which sends you to the local website to donate if there is one. Why couldn't we?

As a sidenote: I understand, and actually share, the concerns about newly formed chapters coming into way too much money in their first years, and this definitely is an attempt at putting together a set of guidelines which will prevent failure and ensure continuity in how chapters develop. But this is not solved by simply saying "All the money must go in one place". And since this post is already way too long, it'll do for another one.

More to read

I'll edit this section to point out posts or comments that I find interesting about this conversation

Note

[1] by the way, I dislike the term "rich countries" almost as much as I dislike the "Global South" thing, but I have found no satisfying alternative

vendredi 3 juin 2011

Do You Scale Well?


Lire la suite...

vendredi 11 février 2011

Wikipedia Is Ten Years Old: A Human Adventure

Wikipedia turned 10 about a month ago. For me, the adventure is about five and a half years old. I started editing Wikipedia in October 2004. I remember how I found Wikipedia, it was through the Firefox Crew Picks at the time, a bundle of links to cool open source/free websites included in the Firefox browser, which was then in its infancy. I remember why I contributed the first time, I found that there was no article about Greta Garbo on the French Wikipedia, which I thought was like "wow, this is an encyclopedia and there's no article about Greta Garbo? That can't be a good encyclopedia." What I don't remember, however, is how I found the edit button. I just found it. I registered right away, and started translating the Greta Garbo article into French from the English article. I had never looked at Wikipedia before, and I don't remember it taking me more than 5 minutes to actually get into the editing part of thing. It was, somehow, rather natural.

From my first edit, everything went very fast. I started editing like crazy, spending nights improving articles, translating a lot, correcting spelling mistakes, fighting vandalism. Very quickly, I ended up in the wikipedia-fr chatroom on IRC, asking here and there about how to edit, how to organize, basically how to go about being part of this adventure. I had no clue about Wikipedia being free content, and frankly, I didn't care. It was fun, and most importantly, it was full of cool humans I could interact with from my little Parisian appartment.

A few weeks into Wikipedia, I got to talk to "Anthere" (Florence Devouard), who was on the board of the Wikimedia Foundation. She asked me what I did for a living, and when I answered "event manager", she said "great! we're looking to organize an international conference, and we have no clue where to start, you're the right person for that". So two weeks into Wikipedia, I was brought into the "organisation", introduced to Jimmy Wales, and asked to help with the organisation of the first Wikimania (the name came later). What was but a virtual adventure became pretty quickly a human adventure. I kept on meeting people, at Fosdem first, then at various international and local meetings. The translation of a virtual world into a real-life world was quite a natural thing to me, as I had been a long-time chatter in other channels and had met a bunch of people on the internet, who had quickly become real life friends through meetings across the globe.

The more I got involved into organizing Wikimania, the less I edited. Parallel to the organisation of Wikimania, I followed the founding of the French chapter, and got more and more involved in the organisational part of things. I also got to understand more about open source and free content. I was very active on Wikimedia Commons at its beginning, as I saw in it probably the greatest achievement of the Wikimedia world. I still think that Wikimedia Commons has a tremendous potential, that is held up by the very thing it is built on, namely the "wiki" part of it. But that is for another debate.

The first Wikimania came and went. I met even more people, and edited even less, but got involved more and more in the organisational development. The Foundation, chapters, all of these things that made the whole virtual part of free knowledge less virtual, were the things that kept me there. And are the things that keep me here today. To me, Wikipedia, and even further, Wikimedia, is primarily a human adventure. That so many people around the world share the same ideal of bringing knowledge to everyone, and work together on making it happen, is the most important thing about Wikimedia. I am dedicated to the mission, but most importantly, I am dedicated to the people, because without the people, there is no wiki, no knowledge and no collaboration. I might not be the greatest contributor in the projects, but I am so conceited as to hope that my work (as staff, as a professional and of course, as a volunteer) has helped the whole Wikimedia ideal come a tiny bit forward.

I am extremely grateful to have been part of this adventure for the past 5 and some years and hope to be part of it for years to come. And I want to thank everyone who is making this adventure possible, because without them, well, you know... Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects would not have become the resource that they are today.

(This post was in the works, and got finished thanks to the prompt of Dieci anni di sapere (Ten Years of Knowledge) where it was translated into Italian.)

lundi 7 février 2011

Wikimedia Chapters: We Want to Hire Someone, Where Do We Start? (part II)

This is the second part of a blog post that got way too long to be just one. The first part, which details prerequisites, what Wikimedia chapters do and much more, can be found here.

So I left off at the three possible paths I see to professionalisation of a Wikimedia Chapter. Note that I don't necessarily believe that all chapters should professionalise to start with. But given that a chapter is thinking about it, here are three possible start points I can imagine.

Getting rid of administrative hurdles: The Secretary

The first direction I see is prompted by the growth of administrative burden on chapter volunteers. Whether it comes in the form of donations (lots of tax receipts and accounting to do) or members (keep lists up to date, take money in, prepare General Assemblies), or expense reports (many volunteers doing little events by themselves, sending in their train ticket and other bus ticket to be reimbursed), the administrative burden is the first one that usually becomes too heavy. It is also probably, some exceptions notwithstanding, the most boring part of running an association. When that takes too much of the volunteers time and motivation, the first thing that suffers is programs. Cool activities, outreach and such, which directly pertain to the objective of the chapter, are quickly put in second place, with an enormous guilt feeling. Not because they are not good, but often because the little administrative things have some fear factor engrained in them if you don't do them, as they are often tied with legal requirements that might threaten the survival of the chapter. So the first option is to outsource (here, outsource means take out of the hands of volunteers to a professional) those, in way of hiring a secretary-type person. A good option might be to start with someone freelance, when the workload does not justify having someone full time. The advantages of having a secretary is that all the administrative things are then taken care of professionally, by someone who can be held accountable. The drawbacks is that a secretary usually has little potential of "growing", of becoming more than a secretary, just because it's what they do well and they don't really want to do other things. In the mid term, a secretary might not be enough to ensure the chapter runs smoothly, especially if the potential for growth is important.Note that the secretary-type job might also apply to other areas such as accounting or press relations. Those are quite easily outsourced (this time, not hired in full, but buying a few hours of someone doing this as a freelance).

Supporting members and initiatives: The Project Manager

The second option to get onto the path of hiring someone is that of hiring a Project manager. In chapters wih active members that come up with lots of ideas, one of the bottlenecks might be that those ideas never see the light of day because the logistics or program management aspect of them never gets done. We go back to the "not having time" to do things. Having someone dedicated to implementing ideas might be a good option to make sure that nothing gets forgotten and that the chapter keeps a healthy level of programmatic activities (in direct connection with the objectives of the chapter). Often, events for example, will require some things such as finding a venue, keeping a budget and such, which not all volunteers are ready/able to do. However, without this part, the events just don't happen. Having someone who has an idea of what the timetable should look like, who is able to break down tasks and assign them, is a good way to make sure that as many people as possible see their ideas implemented. It also takes the boring-stressful part of putting together real-life projects which might put off volunteers. It also helps with talking to integrated bodies (such as local institutions, or even suppliers) as this gives them a sense of organisation which might reassure them. A project manager should be comfortable working with volunteers (not always an easy thing) and take the lead on organisational aspects without taking the lead on content aspects (you want to keep your volunteers in a state where they are actually doing something). They should also be comfortable with the very difficult step of making virtual things into concrete things (a particularity of Wikimedia crowds being that they live in a very virtual world and that going "back to earth" may be a difficult step). The advantages of having a project manager is that while not all projects might see the light of day, it is easier for the chapter to prioritize which initiatives they want to carry out by assigning one person to support the volunteers on a particular idea, rather than having only ideas implemented which have enough volunteers to be carried out. The drawbacks is that a real project manager needs projects, otherwise they get bored. They also need a strong management, which is able to give strategic directions as to which projects should be supported and which should not, in short, what the priorities are. And that kind of management takes an awful lot of time on the part of volunteers. On the longer term, the project manager could evolve into say a "program manager" overseeing a little team of project managers. However, I don't think a chapter can go on for ever with just project managers, there comes a point where more management strength is needed, which leads up to my third option.

Starting at the top: The Executive Director

The third and last option I am going to look at here is that of hiring an executive director. If a chapter is big enough (read: has the money), hiring an Executive Director is another option that they might want to consider. The idea being here that you introduce right away someone at the top of the management scheme, who will help the chapter implement its strategic decisions. Their role is then not so much to do things, but rather to have things done by building the chapter staff from scratch, addressing the right issues at the very beginning. This might be an option for chapters which come into a lot of money quickly (obviously, an executive director with the right skills will probably cost more than a secretary), or for those who are willing to invest in the future quickly. Note that I think that any hiring will mean investing in the future, but hiring an executive director right away is a way to push a chapter's volunteer body (the board, mainly) to evolve to a strategic planning role and take them away from the day-to-day business. Hiring an executive director as the first person is a tricky thing, as volunteer boards (in Wikimedia and otherwise) usually have a hard time getting away from the operational side of things. The advantages I see in hiring an executive director is that the chain of command is easier to build on the longer term. Hiring a project manager or even a secretary, and then imposing a manager on top of them is sometimes difficult, especially when they have been working alone for long. An executive director coming in first has the advantage that they can build their team from scratch, and avoid having to "manage" people who are not ready to see someone come and tell them what to do. The drawbacks might be that an executive director as a first hire will have well... nobody to manage. This situation depends on the chapter's means of course, but it might linger until the chapter actually have the means to hire someone else. Starting off with an executive director can also be problematic if the board is not ready to let go of operations, or on the contrary suddenly gives up everything they were doing until then, which might end up in an executive director doing tasks that should be done by others (read: doing the work of a secretary and/or a project manager, among others). An efficient executive director must be empowered from the start, not an easy thing to do.

The more I think about it, the less I know which option has my preference. I've seen all implemented, with more or less success, and I am not sure if I have a preference at all. I guess a project manager might be the easiest to handle as a first hire, simply because you can always have a secretary on an hourly basis if the need really arises, and because I believe that in the end, programs should have the highest priority. This said I believe that a project manager should be hired because they're good at what they do, and not in the light of them becoming an executive director at some point. Of course, it can happen, but managing an office and managing staff and setting up an office are not the same thing, so the project manager should probably be told at the beginning that the next hire might be an executive director.

Note that all of these options are thought up to answer the question of "who should we hire first". In the longer run, if a chapter is to professionalise, I think that all of these people should be part of the staff. Along with, later on, a person specialised in PR, someone to take care of fundraising etc. (which, however, I don't think should be the first hires). Of course, there's always the fourth option, which implies not hiring anyone. I think it's particularly true for Wikimedia that not all chapters will have to professionalise, even in the long run. But I'll talk about this in another post, maybe a part III. :)

jeudi 3 février 2011

Wikimedia Chapters: We Want to Hire Someone, Where Do We Start? (part I)

To this day, there are around 30 Wikimedia Chapters. Wikimedia Chapters, for those who don't know, are national organisations which purpose is to support the Wikimedia Projects. At this point in time, they are organized along national territories. The oldest Wikimedia Chapter, Wikimedia Deutschland (Germany), of which I am a board member at the time of writing, exists since 2004. It has now an office and around 12 employees. In the constellation of Wikimedia Chapters, it is the only one with such a strong presence of staff at all. Other chapters have hired people, but no other chapter, as far as I know, has more than 3 permanent employees.

I have been observing the development of Wikimedia Chapters for a while now, and I have been thinking a lot about what the best path for professionalization (read: hiring people and setting up an office) might be. I must say that I have no exact solution to the question, but here are three ideas I've come across, and the advantages/drawbacks I see associated with them.

Let me start with a simple question that bears answering before we get into specifics:

What do chapters do?

Chapters are usually non-profits established in a given country, whose general goal is to support free knowledge and/through the Wikimedia Projects (Wikipedia et al.). Their activities vary very much country to country, but here is a list of what a chapter may do:

  • fundraising (not all chapters are in a position to do fundraising, but those who are usually offer tax-deductibility and participate one way or the other in the Wikimedia Fundraiser)
  • real-life events: chapters may support community meetings, or organize conferences on topics related to free knowledge for example
  • outreach: chapters support community members doing presentations about Wikimedia projects in all kinds of settings, they pilot programs to acquire new editors on the Wikimedia projects (students, elderly people...), they explain Wikipedia to children, teachers, librarians, companies, you name it.
  • partnerships with local institutions: chapters work hand in hand with national/regional institutions, governements, museums, like-minded organisations etc. to either broaden access to free knowledge,

These, in no particular order, are the four main focus of Wikimedia Chapters. They certainly are not exhaustive, (one could add lobbying, support quality in the Wikimedia projects, technical development of tools to better the Wikimedia projects etc.), but they are, in my opinion, the main activities that may warrant sooner or later the need for staff and an office.

All of those, in the early life of a chapter, are taken care of by volunteers. All Wikimedia chapters to this day are member organisations, and have a board elected by a General Assembly of sorts. The details of how this works are country specific, but on the whole, the existing structures are rather homogenous.

When does a chapter need to professionalize?

Huge question, as a matter of fact, since this will as always vary with how a chapter evolves, what kind of activities it fosters (often driven by what kind of members it has), what kind of financial means it has etc. To cut a long story short, my assessment would be that a chapter needs to professionalize when the load of work is too heavy to be taken care of by volunteers (who, after all, only have a haphazard - if sometimes important - amount of time). More explicitely, I would say that a chapter should professionalize when the balance between doing fun stuff or boring stuff for chapter activities tips in the direction of the boring/stressful. In short, when administrative, accounting, organizing et al. becomes so important that as a volunteer, you feel you are lsoing the connection to whatever ideal/fun stuff brought you here in the first place (in many cases within Wikimedia, this will be contributing to the projects, but it can also be "meeting people", or "organizing cool events", or "challenging your brain", whatever). So first question to ask yourself as a chapter: which direction does the fun/boring-stressful balance tip? Mind you, I am convinced that for everything fun, there must be some boring/stressful, it's part of life, but the balance should stay...well, balanced. So let's say a chapter has decided that there is stuff to be done which the volunteers can't do anymore. How are they going to tackle the professionalizing thing?

Where do we start professionalizing?

Good question. I don't think there is one answer, of course, since there are too many things to be taken into account which could favor one way over another. But in the course of Wikimedia organisational development as I have witnessed it, I end up with three different directions a Wikimedia Chapter could take. And a fourth one which would be, don't professionalize at all (don't hire anyone, don't get an office etc.), which might be the topic of another post. But let's start with the prerequisites.

Prerequisite to professionalisation

Well, that one is an easy answer of sorts.

  • First, money. Because hiring someone means that you have to pay them. And to pay them you need money. In the case of Wikimedia chapters, this money might come from incoming donations, grants (from the Wikimedia Foundation or other organisations) or any other legal way of getting money. Without money, forget about hiring anyone.
  • Second. A clear list of minimum tasks that you expect your employee to carry forward. This ties in with the following point. Without clearly defining a basic task-list of what your employee should be doing, it's going to be hard to even find anyone.
  • Third, a willing body of volunteers who will "manage". Now, managing is a broad subject. But if a chapter is going to have employees, there needs to be some kind of managing body (it can be a person alone) which is going to tell the employee what they should be doing. Mind you, noone should prevent the employees from coming up with initiatives as to what they might be doing, but you need a sense of direction.

Once you have those, there are in my opinion three possible directions a chapter could go on the way to professionalisation, these are defined by the person they might first hire. And I'll detail them in another post, because this one is just too long already.

mercredi 22 septembre 2010

Everything He Sees

I was sitting in the garden with my son, taking pictures of him because everythinggoes so fast and well, you don't see time pass and should keep memories. He was looking at the house and I realized the morning sun made everything clearly mirror in his eye. I shot.

samedi 26 septembre 2009

Regression in Evolution, Where Open Source Fails

I seriously don't get it. I really don't. I have worked on finally upgrading my kubuntu from Hardy to Jaunty, and finally embracing KDE4, for better or for worse.

You see, I can understand that KDE4 is not perfect, I can understand bugs, I can understand unfinished migrations from 3.5 to 4.x. This all I can understand. What I can't understand (and it's not only here, but it happens a lot in Open Source Software), is regression.

The Network manager on KDE 3.5 was nothing fantastic, but for a mini-geek like me, it worked well enough. And most important, i could in 3 clicks get my network configured the way i wanted it, ie. get a static local IP for my desktop so I can synchronize with my laptop easily. Well, with the supposedly-improved network manager in KDE 4, I just couldn't get it working. Cryptic names for things where everything was crystal clear in KDE 3.5, text fields that are half truncated so that you can't even see what you're typing. Simply horrid (some people agree with me). And frankly, I am already spending enough time resetting my whole machine, I really don't have time to lose with this shit.

So I downloaded WICD. In two seconds, all my settings were taken into account. I already use WICD on my laptop, and it simply rocks.

This trend is something that I observe quite a bit in Open Source. Evolution actually brings on regression. It might make sense to some extent. Let's take KDE4 for example. It didn't work so well when the first version was put out, and that could have been seen as a "regression", but all in all, the whole rethinking of how a desktop should work was a real evolution, even a revolution.

What I really don't get, is that in its evolution, some piece of software loses its basic abilities and usability. Seriously, what are you going to do with a network manager, except 'manage networks'? So why couldn't the knetworkmanager retain at least its simplicity? Because it is on the way to "getting much better"? Well, tell you what. I'll stick with WICD for a while, give me a ping when knetworkmanager actually becomes usable again :).

lundi 16 février 2009

There Are Way Too Many Beautiful Pictures...

...on Wikimedia Commons. The vote for the Picture of the Year 2008 has begun and like every year, I am flabbergasted with the amount of amazing pictures that Commons reveals.

Vendeuse d'arachides - © Roman Bonnefoy, licence CC-BY-SA 2.0

I thought I would list here my criteria for choosing the pictures I supported this year. This is how I proceed:

  • Look at the gallery
  • Click on the pictures that catch my eye
  • Enlarge them to see them at full resolution
  • Go back to the credits page to see where the picture comes from.
  • Vote

And these are the criteria I keep in mind when choosing to support a picture or not.

  1. The picture needs to catch my eye. This starts with a thumbnail, so any picture that does not have enough contrast or does not present something "different" does not go past the first page.
  2. The picture needs to be of "good quality". This means a high resolution to start with, but also a picture with as little grain as possible and with details as sharp as possible. In the case of diagrams and animations, the smoothness of the animation or the fact that the diagram is in svg will prevail.Ammonite lamp post at dusk, Lyme Regis - © MichaelMaggs - License CC-BY-SA 3.0
  3. The picture should be of "encyclopedic nature". There are lots of debates about what is an encyclopedic picture, but I guess that for me it means that the picture should find its place as an illustration in one of the Wikimedia projects.
  4. The picture should be clear in its subject. This means that I pay attention to how the picture is cropped, what frame was chosen and whether it illustrates well the subject it is about.
  5. The technical skills that the picture entails. This goes especially for panoramas or macros.
  6. Who took the picture. I must say that I give plus points for pictures taken by "normal contributors" as opposed to pictures imported from Public Domain repositories (such as US governmental organisations). This is my little way of promoting the individual contributor. Mind you, I have supported some "imported" pictures when they were particularly to the point, or when they represent historical views or art pieces.
  7. My subjective opinion or emotion also plays a role, there are pictures I simply love, others I just like. This is the personal factor to my vote. However, there are a few pictures I love but which are in my opinion too far from all of the other criteria to catch my vote as "picture of the year".

You'll find on Commons the list of pics I voted for in the first round.


Crédits Images :

  • Vendeuse d'arachides - © Roman Bonnefoy, licence CC-BY-SA 3.0 - Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Ammonite lamp post at dusk, Lyme Regis - © MichaelMaggs - License CC-BY-SA 3.0 - Source: Wikimedia Commons (I didn't vote for that picture because although it is probably one of my favorite, I find it does not answer the "encyclopedic" criteria that I set myself).

jeudi 12 février 2009

Why Standards and Open Source Advocates Should Start Working in the Real World Again

No seriously, I am extremely angry right now. I've installed KDE 4.2 a few days ago and so far, I am pretty happy with it. Mind you, it's not for the faint of heart and I still think it was a huge mistake to ship it with Kubuntu Intrepid, because it is way too advanced (or not enough, depending on how you look at it) for the basic user, but that will do for another post. Screenshot Dolphin failure reading a CD with broken encoding What makes me angry right now is another matter entirely. Yesterday I received a CD from one of my clients. On this CD, one of the folders has a French name, with special characters, "dégustation". The CD was burnt by my client, probably on a Windows machine. I try to open it today with Dolphin. The folder with the special character won't open. I try with Konqueror. The folder won't open. In short, it is broken. I try it on a Windows box, no problem, the folder opens perfectly.

So I look around to try and find a solution to open the CD on my machine, because I need its content. Seems the only way to do this in KDE 4.2 is ... command line [1]. So much for usability.

And while I look around, I end up on this page and this comment, which I reproduce here :

We will no longer support broken encodings in KDE. We have had transition code for several years (at least since 2003) and I think 5 years is enough time for people to finish transitioning to UTF-8 environments.
This bug is about broken-encoded files. *Properly* encoded filenames should be working and if they aren't, please open a new bug report on the subject.
You will hate me for this, but this bug is a WONTFIX. 5 years is enough time. If in 5 years you haven't renamed all your files, you should use the terminal to do it.

So. There is a technical reason (which I cannot understand, way too complicated for me) why this won't be fixed. Fine with me. What seriously pisses me off is the excuse given why this won't be fixed, namely 5 years is enough time for people to finish transitioning to UTF-8 environments.. I find the argument outrageous. Here are my reasons.

  1. How many people even have a clue of what an "UTF-8" environement is all about? Probably 5% of the computer users, and I think I'm being large with that number. "Transitionning to a UTF-8 environment" is not something that has been advertised as the next trendy thing to do while installing your new computer. And I am pretty sure my father (and actually, even myself) has a few CDs from back in the days where file names had special characters and had broken encoding. Does that mean that we won't ever be able to open them again? (Well, my father runs Windows, so he probably does not have that problem to start with, but it's gonna make it harder for me to ever tell him to change for Linux and KDE. So much for usability.
  2. This works in one version, and doesn't in the next (see how that person found a workaround by installing the previous version of Dolphin). In my books, legacy should be one of the most important things that any software should take care of, and more importantly Open Source software. That InDesign (or Word?) doesn't do legacy is more of a commercial trick than anything else, I don't approve of it, but I can understand it. However, I find the fact that a piece of software as often used as a file manager does not allow me to open files from... wait... 5 days ago (this was when the CD was burnt!) completely unacceptable.

I take this example because it really hindered me in my workflow today, but I have encountered this kind of attitude many times over among Open Source advocates, in short, that people should just go along with progress and not look back. Well, guess what, I am an Open Source advocate, and I am also one of those basic users (ok, maybe a little more than that) who works close enough to the "everyday" user to have an idea of what people don't know and don't do. I will call my client and tell her that I couldn't open her CD straight away, and that she should maybe consider in the future not to use special characters because it makes for better cross-OS compatibility. That will be my little stone to the education of the general public into standards. Seriously though, I'll say that I'm on Linux and that it doesn't work. How does that sound? To me, pretty bad, and definitely not like a good advertisement slogan for Open Source altogether.

Basically, what I think we should be looking at here is not to "expect" anyone to have done "anything" that "makes sense", but look at ourselves and say if people haven't transitionned to UTF-8 yet, maybe it is our fault, because we haven't been good enough at communicating on standards and changes and progress. And failing at that will not get us, Open Source advocates, very far.

I think, for example, that Firefox and Open Office are a good example of a mix between "do with the broken" but also "teach people why it's broken and try changing their approach to these things". So yeah, the basic user might be really behind in their "transitionning", but that is where they are, it is the real world. And if we don't go looking for them, they won't come looking for us. To "do with the broken" does not mean "to further the broken", but it is a window of opportunity for us to teach people what good standards and practices are. And should be seen as such, not as a sign that everyone is behind, and we are soooooo ahead [2]

Notes

[1] Or through Nautilus, which I happen to have on my machine and which actually opens the folder, even with the broken encoding. Long live Gnome.

[2] [edit] I've just noticed that nautilus not only opens the folder, but does point out that the encoding is not valid, which is exactly the right behaviour, me thinks. Click on the image to see. nautilus opens a folder with broken encoding

mercredi 14 janvier 2009

Copyright and Free Licenses, Much Done, Still Much to Do

© - by Mikelo - CC-BY-SA It is interesting to see how far Creative Commons licenses have gone, and as interesting to note how much work there is to do in order to make free licenses enter everyday's world.

Netzpolitik reports that Al Jazeera put their video footage from the war in Israel under a CC-BY license, and that is great news indeed. It goes to prove how important free licenses are. In this conflict where so little footage is available, because journalists are not allowed to film, I find it fantastic that a news network, which primary goal should be to inform, allows others to use and reuse their information. The information is also of a critical nature, and although news networks are probably used to doing this, to engage in long conversations about what footage can be bought/used/reused would probably harm the quick pace at which this information should be made available. So kuddos to Al Jezeera for doing this, I can only wish more news networks and information sources would do so.

On the other end of the free license spectrum, I stumbled upon a completely different aspect of how people understand copyright while surfing on MakeTechEasier. I must say the last words in this post, which read:

Note: I have taken a lot of time and effort to write up this tutorial. You are free to link to this post, but please do not copy the whole article to your blog/website. THIS IS A COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL.

caught my attention. Especially this comment, which states:

I hope you don’t mind. i have added this as a howto on my webpage, and linked it back to you.

So I followed the link, and ended up on Dave Field's post about the same topic and there again, another line caught my attention:

The Writer has actually copyrighted his material, something i would never personally do, as its counter Open source [...]

The interesting thing here is the discrepancy between the intent (be more like Open Source) and the way copyright is understood (I would never copyright my work). At the time I wrote the commentary, the blog did not have any license information. As such, copyright in its strictest sense was enforced by default.

That is where there is so much work to do. Most people (and I don't blame them, it took me a hell of a lot of time to understand this copyright/free licenses stuff) are using the legal terms wrongly. A free license does not make the "copyright" disappear and you don't have to really "copyright" something since "copyright" _is_ there as soon as you are the author of anything. Of course, you can add a copyright on something provided there are no existing rights. But few people actually know that as long as there is no copyright/license information, any content should be presumed as heavily copyrighted. And few people know that "Open Source" does not necessarily mean dropping the copyright altogether, but rather making sure that the strings attached to the copyright allow better use and reuse of contents. It's interesting that the author of the MakeTechEasier post felt he had to add a warning at the end of his post. In an ideal world, everyone would know that since the source of the tutorial is clear (ie. he signed his post) his copyright should be respected.

And I guess it is our duty, as "open source" or "free content" advocates, to make these things clear and make sure that people understand tham. Hard task if any.

On a more personal note, I am glad and a bit proud that the blog's author decided to use a CC license for his blog after I wrote my commentary, and I can only hope one thing, is that he will spread the word ;-).

vendredi 21 novembre 2008

Some optimism

sky_not_falling.jpg

Source: Geek & Poke

mercredi 5 novembre 2008

It's an Honor, Mr President

There is something smug about having the next president of the United States follow me on Twitter. Even if I am one in tens of thousands and it's probably not him twittering and all.

mardi 24 juillet 2007

Why I don't always go for free

Résumé en français : Pourquoi je choisis pas toujours le libre. J'ai peu de photos sur Flickr, comparé aux nombres impressionnants de quelques-uns. La plupart de mes photos sont sous licence Creative Commons, cc-by-sa (paternité-partage à l'identique), mais pas toutes. Je garde la totalité de mes droits par défaut sur toutes les photos où l'on voit et peut reconnaître quelqu'un (que je connais ou pas), pour une raison qui vient d'être illustrée par l'utilisation par l'agence de pub de Virgin Mobile en Australie, qui a utilisé des photos de Flickr sous licence CC-BY (paternité) et en a fait... ce qu'elle a voulu, sans plus se soucier de demander quoi que ce soit, à qui que ce soit. Bien sûr, c'est "libre". Mais dans ces cas-là, je suis pour l'adage qui dit "la liberté des uns s'arrête où commence celle des autres.'"

Lire la suite...

dimanche 3 juin 2007

Give me a sec', I need to reboot

So I am back from Copenhagen, where I was at the 9th edition of Reboot.

Lire la suite...

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