User:(WT-en) Hansm/Fork FAQ
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Julia Angwin, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, has asked me the following question: "I guess I would just like to understand your objections to the Internet Brands purchase of Wikitravel and what your plans are for taking the German content and starting a new site." --- A simple question that requires a complex response, just like "Explain me the meaning of live." I would like to respond in two FAQs, one about (WT-en) commercialisation and another about my (our) ideas about forking.
This FAQ is not about the reasons for forking (see User:(WT-en) Hansm/Commercialisation FAQ for those reasons related to commercialisation), but rather about how I do imagine a fork.
Did you already do the fork?
No, not yet. I know, there has been some confusion because I run a small wiki in order to organize a fork. But this is not yet the fork itself.
So you plan to fork from Wikitravel?
Do you only want to fork the German branch?
I was used to be admin and go-between of the German language version and I was one of the most active contributors almost 2 years ago when Wikitravel/de had been build up. Thus, I have a close relation to the German language version.
Back to your question: No, not only de:, but de: would be the first language version to fork. After having got some experience in running the servers and establishing an infrastructure, other language version may follow if there are enough interested contributors.
How will the content of the new wiki(s) be licenced?
Since we continue the work of Wikitravel, we must use the same licence, the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Licence in Version 1.0.
What would be different from Wikitravel?
The main differences will be:
- The domain, the wiki(s) and the server administration will be run by a beneficial non-profit association.
- The organisation will rely more on the democratic power of the wiki communities and members of the association.
- Advertising should be avoided.
What would be similar to Wikitravel?
- We will start with content from Wikitravel.
- We want to continue Wikitravel's basic ideas, policies and goals.
Do you think you are able to accomplish all the maintenance and organizational tasks as Evan has done on Wikitravel?
No. What Evan has done on Wikitravel was amazing. It's no secret that I often have critisized him in the last months, but beside those points, there is a lot of benefit Evan has brought to the project of Wikitravel. I'm sure, I never could bring up that huge amount of time as Evan has done.
How do you mean you could fork from Wikitravel if you do not have the time for it?
Wikitravel's organisation used to be run in a one-man operation. In the last months, Evan's working capacities came more and more to their limit. This was one reason for him to sell the wiki. I don't want to repeat that. I never would try to fork if I had to do it all by myself. There is a group of admins and main contributors to de: that want to do the fork together, and I'm just one of them.
A group is fine, but who is going to be the strong voice on the wiki as Evan is on Wikitravel?
That will be our voices in choir.
And if the choir sings dissonant? You will need a choir leader.
This is not our idea about community and democracy. For us, it is important to avoid a big boss. If there should be some dissonance, we have to discuss the different opinions and find a common way.
But who will make all the important decisions on new features, technical infrastructure and the wiki's overall organisation?
If you take the term "community" for serious, there is only one possible answer: We.
To be more precise: We believe that an organisation similar to the Wikimedia Foundation is the best for a project like Wikitravel. So, we are working on founding an association according to German law. All those overall organizational and technical decisions that Evan used to make on Wikitravel only together with Michelle, but not with the wiki community, will be made by the association.
Other more content or feature related decisions can be made by the wiki community. Is there any doubt, it's the association that decides as Evan used to do on Wikitravel.
How important is consensus for you?
It is very important to discuss all kinds of decisions in advance. If possible, we should try to come to consensus.
If there is no strong voice, who does decide whether something is consensus or not?
From my experience with Wikitravel I know, that for many questions it is not really evident whether there is consensus or not. The usual way on Wikitravel is that at some point Evan has to explain to the community what the consensus on some topic is. Here is a problem for me.
I think that there are floating limits between finding decisions in consensus and arbitrariness of a strong leader. If there is an obvious consensus, that's fine. If even after a longer discussion no consensus becomes visible, other concepts are needed to come to a clear decision. The usual democratic way are votings. That's what I want to propagate even for community decisions.
How does the association make its decisions?
The association will be legaly registered at German authorities and therefore needs to have some clear statutes, that regulate its way of decision making. The statutes are in work, but not yet ready. We intend to translate them into English as soon as possible.
There will be a board, that mainly has the task to represent the association outwards. It's internal authority in respect to decision making will be rather limited. The highest organ of the association is the members' conference. It elects the board members periodically, is able to change the association's statutes and makes decisions about everything, that is not especially delegated to the board.
In order to get legally consistent results, all organs of the association, i.e. board and members' conference, make their decisions by votings.
Who can become a member of the association?
Everybody. Well, everybody who pays his contribution. But I hope it will be rather low.
Really everybody, or Germans only?
Who can become a board member?
Basically everybody, but...
Well, there are some practical restrictions. At least some of the board members have the task to represent the association towards the German authorities. This means that you need to be fluent in German and need to be able and willing to travel to Germany, if you should life abroad, in order to do some legaly necessary executions for the association.
Why will German law be applicable to the association?
Since there is no international law for associations, you always have to choose some national law. Most of us are Germans that live in Germany. So, it's natural for us to found an association according to German law. That won't have any impact on the internationality of the association. Everybody can become a full righted member, no matter what citizenship you have. If the contributors to some language version would feel more comfortable when founding a sister assotiation according to some other national law, we would be happy to heavily cooperate and keep the national associations together below an international umbrella association. That would be the same as the Wikimedia Foundation does. The Wikimedia Foundation is an umbrella organisation with several national branches.
Do you really need all that organizational overhead of an association?
I don't see no other way.
Evan and Michelle have run Wikitravel as private persons. The wiki community had no choice but trusting into their good faith. There was no community control on the two owners of the server and you see what has happened. It was their personal decision to sell the wiki and so they did. They also could have decided to close down the wiki or whatever. Private persons are no good carriers for the wiki and its internet domain.
IB is a company. For the community, there is even less control on the wiki's carrier. If you want to know why I think that a company with commercial interests is not a good carrier either, please read the (WT-en) Commercialisation FAQ.
I think, the big advantages of an association are steadiness, transparency and controllability. There are statutes that regulate quite precisely what the association's targets are, how which decisions are made and who has control about what. These statutes are not just some other policies that might or might not be regarded, but they have legal status. An association is much less susceptible to moods and personal decisions. Everybody who wants to take part in any decision can do so. Another very important point: Since the association is a full righted person by law, it also can register internet domains. So, the owner of the domain would be the association itself and its statutes regulate whether domains may be sold or not.
One of the reasons for the amazing success of the Wikipedia is probably the fact that it is run neither by some company nor by some private persons, but by the Wikimedia Foundation, some kind of association.
An association has lot of advantages, but there is also some price to pay. In fact, there is more organizational work to do as if the domain would simply be registered on a private person who decides by herself.
The association holds the internet domain, but who would run the server(s)?
The association, too. I'm convinced that there will be enough skilled people in the community to technically administrate the server and the wikis. Just have a look at the Wikitravel community. There have been many proposals and ideas, even technical ones, out of the community. Most of them were not realized since Evan felt to do all by himself. I'm sure, there would be a rich potential of ideas and skills that just has to be allowed to develop.
The members' conference will appoint administrators for the server as whole or for the technical administration of the wikis according to the statutes.
Where do you think would the money come from?
A very basic question. Members have to pay a contribution. I hope it would not be too high, but if there are enough members, a remarkable part of the expenses could be paid from members' contributions. Encouraged by the large amount of donations the Wikimedia Foundation is able to acquire, we also hope on donations. If there is still too little money coming in, we would try to get sponsors. Many of us are against open advertising. If we really should come into the situation of needing more money urgently, the final decision is up to the members' conference.
Sponsors and maybe advertising sounds pretty commercial. Isn't it that what you actually wanted to prevent?
Sure, we will make strong efforts to keep advertising off the wikis. But for now, it's hard to predict how our financial budget is going to look like.
This is my very personal answer: We should be prepared for everything. If nothing else helps, there would be two options, either to close down the project or to take advertising into account. So, what's worse? I assure you, some of my fellows would like to lock me out of the association for this pragmatism. I have to say it again: this is my very personal view.
If the association ever would decide to include some advertising, would there still be a difference to wikitravel.org at all?
For sure, big differences.
First of all, of course, the project's organisation. See above for the advantages of having an association as carrier of the server. That's still us who would keep the control on all decisions. Especially, that's us who would decide how much, which and where ads are necessary to compensate the deficit in income. If users would decide to donate more, we could stop advertising immediately. We do not work for profit, we just have to pay our (comperatively low) expenses.
You claim not to work for profit. How can I be sure?
First of all, see our statutes (as soon as they are ready). They have legal character. Furthermore, German law provides a way to register organisations at the authorities, if the organisations run for beneficial, non-profit aims. That's, for example, what the Wikimedia Foundation Deutschland did. We want do get this registration, too. An registered beneficial non-profit association is strictly controlled by German financial authorities and is obliged to spend all it's income for their beneficial aims as defined in its statutes. There is only a very limited amount of capital that could be kept back as financial reserves.
Which ones? The incomes of the association will be made transparent to all members and the financial authorities. It's the members' conference that decides about the yearly budget. The very most part of it will run into the fees for the server(s). There won't be no employees until the members' conference decides anything else. If the members' conference ever should decide to close the association (nobody else could), all its capital must be donated to some other registered beneficial non-profit organisations.
Do you intend to make database dumps available?
Sure, as soon as we have built up the necessary technical infrastructure.
How do you want to organize the work on the wikis?
Most of the daily life on the wikis will not differ significantly from what you are used to from Wikitravel. We still keep working for the same goals. Thus, we want to keep the well proven geographical hierarchy of destinations and the structure of the articles. However, improvements are welcome. We also highly appreciate the soft security we have learned to apply when working on Wikitravel.
Differences will be rather in respect to the community's organisation:
- There won't be a big boss.
- There will be more autonomy for the language version wikis.
- On each wiki, not only sysops, but even bureaucrats will be elected.
- Not only admins, but all contributors can vote for elections.
- If we can find a technically save way, we plan to grant access to the server-sided configuration of each wiki to elected technical admins.
- Decisions should be made in consensus. If there won't be a clear result, votings will be necessary.
How do you want to organize the cooperation between language versions?
- We want to implement some technical features to ease the interlanguage cooperation.
- Decisions about new features and others that concern all language versions will be made on a non-language-specific wiki, like recently introduced by Evan on Wikitravel.
- There won't be a main language version where all other language versions are derived from. All language versions are treated equally.
Do you regard wikitravel as a rival?
Definitely not. I do like Wikitravel's basic ideas very much and want to see them continued in the new project. We will work on the same goal as Wikitravel does. We just want to give an alternative to those who feel uncomfortable with the selling of Wikitravel and the way it is organized and led. There will be a lot of occasions to cooperate, if Wikitravel's leadership agrees.
I do like your ideas, how can I help you?
Join us. Everybody who shares our goals is needed. If you have some new ideas for improvement, let us know.
At the moment, our focus is on founding the association. We are working on the statutes and need to come to consensus about the initial board members. Both requires a good knowledge of German language.
We also need donations for the startup. We need to be sure to be able to pay for the server before signing any contract. Donations should go directly to the association, not to some private person. For now, we only do ask for promisses of donations until the assotiation has been established. We plan to use an internet paying service like PayPal for international transactions.
If you have skills in server administration, programing (preferably PHP) or MySQL database maintainment, you are very welcome.