Communications in the Wikimedia movement

Sad clown (Melissa Wiese CC BY SA)

Today I read another complaint in German language Wikipedia about the Wikimedia Foundation. Someone said that he found many of the candidates to the WMF board incompetent, and that he had candidated himself if he was capable of that difficult commercial English they use at the Foundation.

One might put this on the pile of easy reproaches: leaning back, let the others work and take responsibility, and complain that ‘I was not informed sufficiently’. But this sorrow has a true and honest ground. For a non native speaker of English, or even a native, it is difficult to follow discussions on Meta Wiki or the Foundation mailing lists. The language there

  • is full of colourful colloquialisms, nice for the natives, terrible for the rest
  • delivers a lot of Wikimedia jargon which you have to learn separately for every language
  • often contains an aggressive tone

When the Foundation asks volunteers to translate something, then the texts are not always as comprehensive and concise as they should and could be.

In theory, the Wikipedia language versions have ‘ambassadors’ who are supposed to link the national or ethnic level with the international level. In practice, this hardly happens because the ambassadorship is non-binding, it bears no obligation. People put their names on the list and then forget about it.

Such a position, a contact person for a single language version, should be assigned by the concerning community, maybe by vote. And it must be clear to the ambassador what people expect from him: translating the most important messages from the Wikimedia blog, giving feedback from the community to the international level.

It should be obvious by now that the pure wiki way does not work.


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