Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (WMF) is a not-for-profit Florida corporation with its principle place of business in San Francisco, California. It operates several online collaborative wiki projects including Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikimedia Incubator, Meta-Wiki, Wikidata, Wikivoyage, and owns the now-defunct Nupedia online encyclopedia. Its Executive Director is Russian-born Lila Tretikov.


The creation of the foundation was officially announced on June 20, 2003, by the atheist and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales,[1] who had been operating Wikipedia within his adult entertainment company Bomis.[2] At the time, Wikipedia was operating out of Bomis' offices in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The name "Wikimedia" was coined by American author Sheldon Rampton in a post to the English mailing list in March 2003.[3] At the start, Wales transferred ownership of all Wikipedia, Wiktionary and Nupedia domain names to Wikimedia along with the copyrights for all materials related to these projects that were created by Bomis employees or Wales himself. The computer equipment used to run all the Wikimedia projects was also donated by Wales to the foundation, which also acquired the domain names "" and "".

In April 2005, the US Internal Revenue Service determined that the foundation was an educational foundation in the category "Adult, Continuing Education", making all contributions to the foundation tax-deductible for U.S. federal income tax purposes.

On September 25, 2007, the foundation's board decided to move to the San Francisco Bay Area. The Board said its major reasons for choosing San Francisco were proximity to like-minded organizations and potential partners as well as cheaper and more convenient international travel than is available from St. Petersburg, Florida.[4][5][6]


For a more detailed treatment, see Wikia.

In January 2004, Jimmy Wales appointed his business partners Tim Shell and Michael E. Davis to the foundation's board. In June 2004, an election was held for two user representative board members. Following one month of campaigning and two weeks of online voting, Angela Beesley and Florence Nibart-Devouard were elected to join the board. In late 2004, Wales and Beesley launched a startup company, Wikia, affiliated with neither Wikimedia nor Bomis, except for their presence as principals/trustees. In July 2005, Beesley and Nibart-Devouard were re-elected to the board. On July 1, 2006, Beesley resigned from the board effective upon election of her successor, expressing concern about "certain events and tendencies that have arisen within the organization since the start of this year," but stating her intent to continue to participate in the Wikimedia projects, and in the formation of an Australian chapter. A special election was held in September to finish Beesley's term, ending with the mid-2007 election. Erik Möller won the election. Möller was subsequently hired as Deputy Executive Director of the WMF. On December 8, 2006, the board expanded to seven people with the appointments of Kat Walsh and Oscar van Dillen. Walsh was elected Chair of the board in July 2012. Walsh was not re-elected to the WMF Board in 2013.

Wales and Beesley continued to develop Wikia as a for-profit alternative to the WMF projects, and some critics allege that by deleting very specialized articles and content from Wikipedia, a core team was pushing people to develop specialized wikis on Wikia. When Wikipedia community voted 61-39% percent to treat all links to other sites equally by removing nofollow (Google-ignored) tags for all of them, the Wikipedia co-founder overruled this decision and Wikipedia now favors Wikia in its treatment of nofollow tags.[7][8] Michael E. Davis, a former business partner of Wales who served for years as a founding member of the WMF board and was MWF's Treasurer, was named Treasurer and Secretary of Wikia in January 2006. In January 2009, Wikia subleased two conference rooms to the WMF.

Wales continues as a voting member of the WMF Board and serves as its spokesperson.

In 2006, Wikia received a major round of venture capital funding from Amazon.[9] Although a large number of payment processors are available, as of 2013, the WMF uses Amazon to process donation payments.[10]


Doran scandal

In January 2007, WMF named Carolyn Doran chief operating officer and Sandy Ordonez joined as head of communications.[11] Doran began working at WMF as a part-time bookkeeper in 2006 after being sent by a temporary agency. Doran later left the foundation in July 2007, and Sue Gardner was hired as consultant and special advisor (later becoming the Chief Executive Officer). It was later disclosed[12] that Doran was a convicted felon, with a DUI arrest during her tenure at the foundation and a substantial criminal history, including shooting her boyfriend and complicity in credit card forgery.[13] Her departure from the organization was cited as one of the reasons the foundation took about seven months to release its fiscal 2007 financial audit.[14]

2014 Staffing controversies

One of the growing pains that organizations experience is that paid staff can be hired and perhaps perform their job duties well, but their off-duty conduct brings discredit to their employer. This is particularly challenging for the WMF, who hired staff from the pool of Wikipedia volunteers, with many staff continuing to edit Wikipedia outside their regular WMF job duties.

In January 2014, Sarah Stierch was discovered to have written Wikipedia articles for hire while being a full time WMF employee. The WMF promptly announced her departure as an employee without any official explanation.[15][16]

In March 2014, Ryan Kaldari, who has been working for the WMF for almost four years and is a Wikipedia administrator, got into an editing battle with another editor. Kaldari then made complaining comments about that editor under a second assumed name. For that policy violation, Kaldari lost his administrator privileges. However, the dispute caused Wikipedia users to research Kaldari's background and discovered that for years he has been the owner and operator of several other websites including "", which was intended as a parody of Friendster, but soon became a haven for Internet trolls to mock murdered children and to glorify the butchering and burning of women. Kaldari has been paying for the site for 10 years and has actively added comments to various threads on the site that evidence poor moral character, to say the least.[17][18] Kaldari poor judgment in owning and operating this site was called to the attention of Jimbo Wales, who dismissed it out of hand.[19]

Tretikov Administration

In March 2013, Executive Director Sue Gardner announced that she would leave,[20][21] and an extensive search did not produce a satisfactory candidate. After a second search, Lila Tretikov was selected as Gardner's replacement, and she took office on June 2, 2014. The WMF appointed a transition team to assist her in learning her new role, and there was a three week transition period following the announcement of her selection. Tretikov and Will Sinclair are raising a child together, out of wedlock. Both Tretikov and Sinclair attempted to become emersed in Wikipedia culture, and Sinclair quickly found his way to the noted criticism website Wikipediocracy, where he registered an account. On May 30-June 1, 2014, the WMF sponsored a conference called "WikiConference USA" at the New York Law School which welcomed everyone to attend including "the curious, the skeptical, and others wishing to engage in meaningful conversation about the Wikimedia movement in the United States."[22] However, the afternoon before the conference began, Greg Kohs who had proposed to give a presentation on "paid editing" had his registration cancelled and was told not to attend.[23] Sinclair defended Kohs' right to attend and started a blog and an online petition to advocate these views. He also expressed his views on a WMF listserv. In response, the WMF insiders turned vicious and openly suggested that Tretikov should break up their family and leave Sinclair because of his support for Kohs.[24] On June 15, Sinclair announced on Mr. Wales talk page that he would no longer participate on Wikipediocracy.[25] Efforts to get Mr. Wales to clarify why Kohs was banned from the conference were met with censorship.[26]

Sinclair later in 2014 started his own "Off-Wiki" Wikipedia criticism site.

As Executive Director, Tretikov gave speeches and participated in meetings and conferences around the world. Her travels may have made her less accessible to the WMF staff. One important initiative that Tretikov started was improving the WMF's efforts in child protection. Previously, the WMF left the decision to take disciplinary action against users was left to untrained volunteers on individual projects. The project leaders complained that they were not properly trained to handle allegations that a user was a child predator. Under Tretikov, the WMF legal staff began handling such complaints and banned a number of users from all WMF projects.

In 2015, the WMF Board and Tretikov reorganized the "Advancement" fundraising staff and secretly entered into an agreement with the Tides Foundation to establish a separate endowment fund. The Tides Foundation was established by liberal George Soros. Under the arrangement, the Tides Foundation will invest and control the endowment until it reaches its goal of $100 million at which time the WMF and Tides will agree on how to handle the money in the future. The WMF has hired staff to solicit and process gifts for the endowment, and the endowment was publicly launched on January 15, 2016.[27] Many people have questioned how the WMF could embark on a $100 million endowment fund drive just a few weeks after a banner ad campaign on its website begging for money to keep its servers running.

In 2015, Tretikov reorganized the staff and launched a secret project to develop a "Knowledge Engine" which some planning documents said would compete with Google as a means of searching sources beyond the WMF projects. Tretikov applied for a grant of $2 million per year over three years from the Knight Foundation, but only received a one-time $250,000 grant to explore the concept. In July 2015, James Heilman, MD was elected to the WMF Board by the editing community. Heilman brought staff dissatisfaction with Tretikov's leadership to the Board and pressed for more information on the Knowledge Engine and the Knight Foundation grant. In November 2015, the WMF Board reaffirmed its support of Tretikov's leadership and retained a management consultant to mentor her. On December 28, 2015, on the eve of two members leaving the Board, the Board held an emergency meeting and removed Heilman from the WMF Board by a vote of 8 to 2. The Community responded to his dismissal by pressing for the release of the Knowledge Engine grant application resulting in a public apology from Tretikov for pushing the project without first gaining consensus. In addition, a number of senior WMF staff (including Deputy Director Erik Möller) departed, some making critical public remarks as they left.[28]

The WMF Board appointed two new people to fill outside Board slots effective January 1, one of which was a Google executive, Arnnon Geshuri who was a central figure in an antitrust case. Community outrage over this improperly vetted appointment resulted in his resignation from the WMF Board.[29] On February 25, 2016, Tretikov announced her resignation as the Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director.[30] She will continue until March 31. An interim ED will be announced in the meantime, and a full search will be conducted by the WMF Board.[30]

Site shut downs

As a section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, the foundation must not be "carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."[31] However, WMF has repeatedly used shutting down its website or threatening to shut down its website as a tactic to pressure specific legislative outcomes.

On October 4, 2011, the WMF servers were reprogramed to hide the contents of the Italian langauge version of Wikipedia were hidden, as a protest against paragraph 29 of the "DDL intercettazioni" (Wiretapping Bill).[32] The proposed bill would empower anyone who believes themselves to have been attacked by the content of a web site to enforce publication of a reply, uneditable and uncommented, on the same web site, within 48 hours and without any prior evaluation of the claim by a judge or to face a €12,000 fine.

On October 4 through 6, 2011, the WMF redirected all pages on the Italian language version of Wikipedia redirected to a statement opposing the proposed legislation.[33] This was true for all users, not just those IP addresses based in Italy. On October 7, the Italian Wikipedia pages were again available, but a notice about the proposed legislation was still displayed at the top of pages.

The success of the Italian shut down whetted the appetite of people seeking to influence legislation in the United States. In December 2011, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales discussed a possible coordinated blackout by Wikipedia and other United States websites to protest anti-piracy two bills pending before the United States Congress: SOPA and PIPA. After committing the WMF to join a larger boycott, Wales initiated discussion with editors about his plan. Editors and others[34] debated the alternatives of completely interrupting service for one or more days, or alternatively presenting site visitors with a blanked page directing them to further information before permitting them to complete searches.[35][36] On January 16, the Wikimedia Foundation announced that the English-language Wikipedia would be blacked out for 24 hours on January 18.[37] The Simple English Wikipedia voted to continue full service and did not join the blackout.[38] Many editors complained that the blackout decision was not made in a democratic fashion and undercut Wikipedia's objectivity and non-political mission.[39]

The SOPA/PIPA issue is so important to Sue Gardner, the WMF Executive Director, that in March 2013, she announced that she will be leaving her position to pursue the issue in another capacity.[20] She left on June 1, 2014.


WMF's fundraising and expenses have grown at a very rapid rate. Some critics claim that WMF is taking in money faster than it can spend wisely.[40]

Year Total Support and Revenue Total Expenses Increase in Net Assets Net Assets at End of Year
2003/2004[41] $80,129 $23,463 $56,666 $56,666
2004/2005[41] $379,088 $177,670 $211,418 $268,084
2005/2006[41] $1,508,039 $791,907 $736,132 $1,004,216
2006/2007[42] $2,734,909 $2,077,843 $654,066 $1,658,282
2007/2008[43] $5,032,981 $3,540,724 $3,519,886 $5,178,168
2008/2009[44] $8,658,006 $5,617,236 $3,053,599 $8,231,767
2009/2010[45] $17,979,312 $10,266,793 $6,310,964 $14,542,731
2010/2011[46] $24,785,092 $17,889,794 $9,649,413 $24,192,144
2011/2012[47] $34,800,000 (prelim.) $27,200,000 (prelim.) $7,600,000 (estim.) $31,800,000 (estim.)

If the WMF has $31 million in the bank, those funds could produce (at 4%) $1,240,000 in annual income, which is more than enough to fund the Wikipedia web servers in perpetuity. So, people are questioning the need for the WMF's annual fund raising campaign.[48][49][50]

Each year the WMF conducts a fundraising drive to keep the webservers working on that popular liberal website. They claim the donations go to "Servers, bandwidth, maintenance, development."[51] Yet, in the period July - December 2012, the WMF took in $30.9 million but spent only $1.3 million on internet hosting.[52] During 2012, the net worth of the WMF grew by $11 million. Yet, liberal Wikipedia users continue to donate in response to the WMF's urgent appeals.

In spring 2014, Jimmy Wales began to pander for bitcoin donations at websites where bitcoin investors were seeking ways to lend legitimacy to the digital currency. He promised to ask the WMF Board to allow bitcoin donations on the Wikipedia website. In the summer of 2014, the WMF made arrangements with Coinbase, who promised to convert bitcoin into dollars without charge. Thereafter, a bitcoin option was added to the WMF donation page.[53] Seth Meyers noted on his Late Night program, "Wikipedia is now accepting donations using the online currency Bitcoin. So now you can support information you're not sure is true with currency you're not sure is money."[54]

Dispersed accountability

A major factor in preventing accountability is that the fundraising conducted on the Wikipedia website links to a number of different solicitation pages depending on the nationality of the donor. Although the WMF collects the funds from donors located in the United States and other nations, fundraising in many countries is conducted by the country's own national chapter. The chapters then share the revenues with WMF. However, each chapter adopts its own spending practices and accountability standards.

The German chapter spends a portion of its funds on technology, but most of the other chapters focus on conferences, travel and other soft costs. Needless to say, with so much money being spent on non-technology / infrastructure items, the WMF and its chapters have drawn critics from within their own organization. However, internal dissent is quickly deleted.[55]

The WMF has two chapters in the United States: Wikimedia New York (which has a 501(c)(3) status from the IRS) and Wikimedia District of Columbia, whose 501(c)(3) exemption application was abandoned. The Treasurer of the UK WMF chapter suddenly resigned in 2013.[56] The outgoing vice president of Wikimedia Australia (who was an unsuccessful candidate for President in its 2012 election) applied for a travel grant with two of her friends to visit Colorado ski resorts in December 2012 and sought the funding retroactively.[57]

The President of Wikimedia Australia has spend so much time traveling with the President of Wikimedia Indonesia that the two married.

A number of departing WMF employees have left comments on the Glassdoor website, citing problems with senior management creating a very confused work environment. The WMF suffers from a high staff turnover rate.[58]


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