Wikimedia Board candidate recommendations

Since I withdrew from the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees election, a number of people have asked for my opinions on the remaining candidates. With just a few days left to vote, I have read through all the question-and-answer pages, and I am ready to publish a fairly comprehensive list of recommendations. With 20 candidates and three positions, there are many close calls; however, there are certainly some standout candidates I am happy to recommend, and several who, despite admirable records in the Wikimedia world, are clearly ill-suited to address the issues the Board must face in the next two years.

Although I am publishing this late in the voting period, please note that any who have voted can re-submit their ballot up until Sunday, with new votes. If any of this (or anything) sways your opinions, you can update your ballot.

Before listing my recommendations, a few words about how I arrived at these decisions. I consider the question about “superprotect,” — a software feature that even a Trustee standing for reelection (Samuel Klein) has conceded “opposed our wiki values, distracted the projects, and did not solve any pressing problem” — to be of particular significance.

This illustrates the outlook I'm most seeking in a Trustee.

This illustrates the outlook I’m seeking in a Trustee.

The answers to that question reveal a great deal about how a candidate regards the delicate relationship between the Wikimedia Foundation and the volunteers, and I place strong importance on it in my assessment. I have of course found much of value in the various questions and answers; but I have also tried, wherever I have information, to factor in a candidate’s background, and consider their ability to deliver on compelling statements. My friend Chris Lowe asked an especially important question relating to that; I recommend reading the answers. I have had numerous discussions with fellow Wikimedians and other colleagues, which have helped fill out my impression of the candidates. Mike Linksvayer made some public recommendations, which I highly recommend, and which I find align well with mine. Wikimedian Federico Leva (Nemo bis)’s evaluation helped as well. Qualifications, with a focus on participation levels in Wikimedia projects, are addressed in this question; while I am disinclined to put too much importance on edit count, I do have concerns at the lower end of the scale (more or less, those six candidates with fewer than 10,000 edits to any project); involvement in non-editing Wikimedia activities mitigates my concern in some cases. I wish the Board had more members from the “global south,” and more women; addressing these through an election is challenging, but it did influence my decision in a few cases. Finally, in the hopes that it will help evaluate where I am coming from, I have preserved my own answers to most of the candidate questions here.

One note about language: I worry that some non-native English speakers hurt their candidacy by trying to answer in English. I believe candidates are permitted to answer in their native language; I would prefer to see that approach used more. This would put some burden on the WMF and/or volunteer community to provide timely and effective translations, but that is a challenge that can and should be met.

Also, a brief word about the voting format. Please keep in mind that those with the highest ratio of support votes to oppose votes will be the winners. By my interpretation, this basically means you can be confident simply voting according to your conscience; while I see some faults with this model, I recommend keeping tactical considerations to a minimum. But do keep in mind, “neutral” and “oppose” have very different consequences; choose among all three options carefully.

And with that — on to the specifics. I have tried to order these to reflect the strength of my opinion; so you will find “strong support” and “strong oppose” near the top, and the ones I have the least confidence about near the bottom. Green indicates my clear support, red indicates my clear opposition.

  • Denny Vrandečić (Denny): I give Denny my unqualified support. His answers to both the questions I noted above are exemplary; and in the Wikimedia movement, he has the unique distinction of having launched a major software project (Wikidata) which decisively disproves the (unfortunately widespread) notion that Wikimedia volunteers are opposed in general to software changes. Some, I fear, are overly concerned by Denny’s employment status. While it is of course possible that Google would try to exert influence over him, Google — or any other entity — could find numerous ways to influence any board member; what matters is not so much the employment status, but the maturity and strength of conviction of the individual. Anyone concerned about this issue should take a close look at Denny’s answer to this question.
  • James Heilman (Doc James): I consider James a friend and a strong ally — there are many strong parallels in how we approach our Wikipedia work, and I have no doubts about his intentions, his critical thinking, and his dedication to the Wikimedia vision. But I reserved judgment when I saw him enter the race. Some people, after all, are excellent at producing Wikipedia content, and provide valuable leadership in that role — but may lack the experience or the skills to work effectively in a role like the Board of Trustees. But his many fine answers soon persuaded me. James has done excellent work establishing the Wikiproject Med Foundation, and has effectively aligned his work there with the Wiki Education Foundation. He is deeply committed to the quality of Wikipedia content, and to responsibly handling issues around copyright. That dedication sometimes leads him to approach things differently than I would — but I have also found that he has a strong capacity for careful listening and deliberation. The board can only be more effective with his engagement.
  • Cristian Consonni (CristianCantoro): I know less about Cristian than those listed above, but I have found his answers consistently favorable. His statement on Superprotect is refreshingly concise, hitting the essential points. In fact, his concise approach to many questions impressed me: he does not dodge the important points, but neither does he add unneeded words or ideas. To me, this conveys a sense of efficiency and respect to voters’ time. I was also pleased to see him explicitly reference the 2010 five year strategic plan, something that few candidates mentioned. His service on the FDC is surely good preparation for the responsibilities of a Trustee, and I have heard good things about him from colleagues more familiar with him than myself.
  • María Sefidari (Raystorm) and Phoebe Ayers (Phoebe): I will address these two candidates, both incumbents, together, since my reasoning is the same in both cases. I should say, I do not enjoy opposing the candidacy of two people who have such impressive records of service to Wikimedia — one of whom I consider a friend and colleague, the other the partner of a friend. But to me, the Superprotect clearly embodies the reason why we need community-elected Trustees. Neither of these Trustees had any public comment about the feature, even when presented with a letter signed by 1,000 people — substantially more people than cast votes for them in the previous election. When asked about Superprotect in this election, both wrote a great many words — and yet I find their words barely intelligible. This, quite simply, is not leadership — and this is an issue that demands leadership from the Board.
  • Samuel Klein (Sj): Samuel, also an incumbent, gives an answer to the Superprotect question that I understand, and can even find common cause with — making his candidacy slightly more appealing than Maria’s or Phoebe’s. However, in the approximately 10 months since the Superprotect feature was launched (and the nine months since he received a formal letter about it signed by 1,000 people), he has had ample opportunity to say those things; but the only thing that finally prompted him to do so was a question in an electoral campaign. Again, this is not leadership — and the issue demands leadership.
  • Mohamed Ouda (Mohamed Ouda) and Syed Muzammiluddin (Hindustanilanguage): No answer whatsoever on the Superprotect question.
  • Nisar Ahmed Syed (అహ్మద్ నిసార్): No substance to his three-sentence answer to the Superprotect question.
  • Dariusz Jemielniak (Pundit): Dariusz is clear in his opposition to Superprotect. He wrote an ethnography of Wikipedia, which — although I must confess I have not yet read it — suggests he places appropriate importance on the social dynamics behind the Wikimedia projects, and brings expertise to that issue. He served on the FDC, and surely has a good understanding of the responsibilities of a Trustee, and would bring valuable experience to the board.
  • Peter Gallert (Pgallert): Good answer on Superprotect; good answers in general. African perspective is valuable.
  • Ali Haidar Khan (Tonmoy) (Ali Haidar Khan): Superprotect answer is adequate; south Asian perspective is valuable. Low participation level may be a concern, especially when he does not (yet?) answer the “why are you running” question (on page 4).
  • Francis Kaswahili Kaguna (Francis Kaswahili): Superprotect answer inadequate.
  • Houcemeddine Turki (Csisc): Superprotect answer inadequate.
  • Josh Lim (Sky Harbor): Superprotect answer inadequate.
  • Sailesh Patnaik (Saileshpat): I like Sailesh’s answers and spirit, and the South Asian perspective is valuable. His weakness is lack of experience; but in this election, an inexperienced candidate who holds the right positions is vastly preferable to many of the alternatives.
  • Edward Saperia (EdSaperia): Superprotect answer inadequate.
  • Tim Davenport (Carrite): Highly productive Wikipedian; writes frequently on social media about his Wikipedia efforts, which offers rare and valuable insights to potential new editors and allies. I am unconvinced, however, that he is serious about his candidacy. He is unlike any other candidate, and would bring certain valuable perspectives to the Board. I disagree with some of his positions, but I believe he is a good listener and engages thoughtfully, which may be more important than initial positions.
  • David Conway (Smerus): Superprotect answer is OK, not great. Answer to the “why are you here” question is uninspiring. Under other conditions, he might make a great Trustee; but at the moment, he does not appear to bring the kind of passion I believe is necessary.
  • Mike Nicolaije (Taketa): I am not convinced this is a serious candidacy. Answers are all very short, do not take strong positions.

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About Pete Forsyth

Pete Forsyth is the principal of Wiki Strategies, and a Wikipedia expert. Full bio here: wikistrategies.net/pete-forsyth
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