Thirteen months after the March 2013 announcement that Sue Gardner was planning to step down as the Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director, the Board of Trustees announce that Lila Tretikov has been appointed to the position, effective June 1. She previously worked as the Chief Product Officer at SugarCRM.
- Press release: Wikimedia Foundation names Lila Tretikov as its new Executive Director
- Wikimedia blog: Announcing our new Executive Director: Lila Tretikov
- Signpost: Foundation announces long-awaited new executive director
- New York Times: Open-Source Software Specialist Selected as Executive Director of Wikipedia
The Wikimedia Foundation roll out the Media Viewer, a software feature intended to provide a "more immersive multimedia experience". Following a community decision, a volunteer administrator disables the feature. He is reverted by a Wikimedia Foundation staff member, who threatens to remove his administrator status. Soon after, the Wikimedia Foundation rolls out a software change called "superprotect" that can restrict anyone but WMF employees from changing a page. These events result in an arbitration case on the English Wikipedia, as well as controversy on the German Wikipedia. The superprotect feature is eventually removed from all wikis on November 5, 2015.
Pete Forsyth, a Wikimedia community member, writes a letter to the Wikimedia Foundation leadership expressing concern about the recent events with the Media Viewer rollout and the superprotect change. The letter receives nearly 1,000 signatures, but receives no response from the Wikimedia Foundation.
Jan-Bart de Vreede, then the chair of the Wikimedia Board of Trustees, posts on Lila Tretikov's Meta talk page that "we are at a crossroads....Other internet projects (not limiting ourselves to websites) are passing us by left and right...All of this is going to require change, change that might not be acceptable to some of you. I hope that all of you will be a part of this next step in our evolution. But I understand that if you decide to take a wiki-break, that might be the way things have to be. Even so, you have to let the Foundation do its work and allow us all to take that next step when needed. I can only hope that your break is temporary, and that you will return when the time is right."
Steven Walling, (User:Steven Walling), Product Manager of the Growth team, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after four years of employment.
Terry Chay, Director of Features Engineering, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after two years and eight months of employment. He later writes a long response to a Quora question asking "What has caused so many people to leave jobs at the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) in 2015-16?"
Brandon Harris (User:Jorm), Senior Designer, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after four years of employment.
The "Call to Action" is discussed with the Board of Trustees and other attendees. This is a list of focuses for the Wikimedia Foundation, and one of the first clear statements of Lila Tretikov's vision. Meeting notes indicate she intends to present it to staff at the upcoming all-hands meeting on Jan 21–22.
Community Engagement team is created in response to Anasuya Sengupta's upcoming departure. The team is led by Luis Villa, who is promoted to Senior Director of Community Engagement. Siko Bouterse is promoted to Director of Community Resources to lead the Grantmaking team.
The Wikimedia Foundation asks community members to provide input on the "future of Wikimedia" to "inform the development of the direction and priorities for the Wikimedia Foundation". This takes the form of a two-week-long community consultation, announced by Philippe Beaudette. The consultation contains only two questions. Although it as identified as "the first step" in the consultation, it is never revisited.
Gayle Karen Young, Chief Talent and Culture Officer, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after three and a half years of employment.
Anasuya Sengupta, Senior Director of Grantmaking, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after three years of employment.
Terry Gilbey joins the Wikimedia Foundation as interim Chief Operating Officer. He had previously consulted with the Wikimedia Foundation. Before that, he was the Executive Director of Enterprise Operations at Kaiser Permanente (a healthcare organization), and in management at IBM Global Services.
Kourosh Karimkhany joins the Wikimedia Foundation as the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships. Previously, he was the head of corporate development at Condé Nast.
The "Call to Action" is first outlined publicly. The list is divided into subcategories: Improve technology & execution, focus on knowledge & community, support innovation & new knowledge.
The Wikimedia Foundation finishes a document to present to the Knight Foundation as the motivation for a grant to support the search and discovery efforts.
Erik Möller (User:Eloquence), Vice President of Product and Strategy and Deputy Director, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after seven years of employment.
The Wikimedia Foundation reorganizes its engineering team. Some of the April departures are suspected to be in relation to this shakeup. The reorganization is later described as poorly handled, and it is criticized for being based on assumptions of an impractically large budget increase. The reorganization occurred in a span of two weeks, and some WMF staff did not learn about it until the day it was implemented.
Wes Moran joins the Wikimedia Foundation as the Vice President of Search & Discovery. Previously, he was the Vice President of User Experience at SugarCRM and had consulted with the Wikimedia Foundation for several months.
User:Risker, a member of the Funds Dissemination Committee, posts a "Review from current FDC member" on the draft 2015–2016 Wikimedia Foundation Annual Plan talk page. She includes the comment, "Search and Discovery, a new team, seems to be extraordinarily well-staffed with a disproportionate number of engineers at the same time as other areas seem to be wanting for them. I don't see "fix search" in the Call to Action document; even if it fell into the heading "Improve technology and execution", this seems like an abnormally large concentration of the top WMF Engineering minds to be focusing on a topic that didn't even rate its own mention in the CtA. More explanation of why Search and Discovery has suddenly become such a major focus is required to assess whether this is appropriate resourcing."
Dariusz Jemielniak (User:Pundit), James Heilman (User:Doc James), and Denny Vrandečić (User:Denny) are elected to the three two-year-long community seats on the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees.
The term "knowledge engine" is first used publicly in a slide in the June 2015 Metrics meeting. Following a slide reading "Strategic Direction" is a slide reading "From Wikipedia and sisters → Open Source library of all Knowledge. A knowledge engine where users, institutions and computers around the world contribute and discover knowledge on Wikimedia every day, on every platform, in their own language."
Damon Sicore, Vice President of Engineering, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after eight months of employment. This is first brought to light when someone notices his account has been removed from the Foundation wiki and globally locked. Some Wikimedia Foundation staff clarify that Sicore is on leave for two weeks, though they have been instructed not to share this information in writing. Lila Tretikov subsequently reveals that Sicore will not be returning. Reasons for his departure are not provided; in an FAQ attached to her email, Lila states that "Damon's departure is a personnel issue, so we are not able to comment on it."
A presentation to the Wikimedia Board from June 30, 2015 uses the term "Knowledge Engine," as well as a rocket logo.
Fabrice Florin, Movement Communications Manager, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after three years of employment. This is originally announced on June 18.
Boryana Dineva joins the Wikimedia Foundation as the Vice President of Human Resources. Previously, she led the Human Resources Analytics, Information Systems, and Operation groups at Tesla Motors.
Philippe Beaudette, (User:Philippe), Director of Community Advocacy, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after six years of employment, citing health reasons.
The Knight Foundation approves a $250,000 grant to the Wikimedia Foundation, under the conditions that the money is used "to advance new models for finding information by supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet." The document titles the project "Search Engine by Wikipedia." The document details how the Knowledge Engine will "upend" commercial search engine structures. It cites development on similar projects from Google, Yahoo, and other "big commercial search engines" as a potential threat to the project.
Garfield Byrd, Chief of Finance and Administration, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after four years of employment to work at a "California-based foundation focused on public education."
James Heilman sends email to the rest of the Board of Trustees with concerns about the Knight Foundation grant
After the grant is presented to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, board member James Heilman writes an email to the rest of the board. In this email, he states, "We are at 6 days since being notified of the Knight Foundation grant. I at this point strongly oppose its acceptance. There are too many issues..." He goes on to detail his concerns, including that the WMF is "'selling' the Knight Foundation a search engine," confusion over whether or not the project will involve building a search engine, and "serious lack of transparency." He warns "it maybe a bigger issue than simply refusing a grant."
Lila Tretikov sends an email to staff, in which she states "[the Knowledge Engine] is NOT ... a search engine". This email is later provided to the Signpost by several staff members.
The Wikimedia Foundation removes the superprotect feature from all wikis. Lila Tretikov explains, "Superprotect set up a precedent of mistrust, and this is something it was really important for us to remove, to at least come back to the baseline of a relationship where we're working together, we're one community, to create a better process. To make sure we can move together faster, and to make sure everybody is part of that process, everybody is part of that conversation, and not just us at the Wikimedia Foundation." This change is rushed out in order to be presented at the Metrics meeting. Some Wikimedia community members involved in the August 2014 letter to the Wikimedia Foundation express concern that the underlying problem has not been addressed.
The Board of Trustees approves the $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Although Heilman supports the vote, he later states that he did so "following pressure which included comments about potentially removing members of the Board."
Lila Tretikov calls an all-staff meeting with herself and board representatives to discuss growing staff discontent at the Foundation's senior leadership and to provide an opportunity for open staff feedback. This meeting establishes that the board has provided Lila with a second chance and offered her their full support. Although the resulting airing of grievances is cathartic for some, many WMF employees are left frustrated by the lack of agenda and established outcomes from the meeting and are disheartened by the stream of frustrated and negative feedback. One staff member characterizes the two-hour meeting as "a combination of a guilt trip and a trial, with no set goals."
Asaf Bartov, Head of WMF Grants and Global South Partnerships at the Wikimedia Foundation, later writes on Facebook (non-Facebook mirror of the comment), "I confronted Lila about these falsehoods, and asked why we are being lied to. My concerns were dismissed (by Jimmy) as "harsh words", and a re-assertion that no search engine is planned." He also writes, "It was only after staff (outside the Discovery team, *who were also in the dark* regarding the grant and what was written in it) began asking persistent questions on the staff-wide mailing list about the mysterious and undefined "Knowledge Engine" that Lila shared any information at all."
Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees chair Patricio Lorente sends an email to Wikimedia Foundation staff, referencing concerns and a statement on the internal wiki. The email goes on to state, "We recognize there were legitimate concerns in certain areas, such as staff management, communications, and style of leadership. We acknowledge that many of those issues arise also from poor communication from the Board in setting expectations for change and the asks we have made to Lila, our Executive Director. We are working with Lila to put together a plan to address these issues. We are confident that she has the capability and the commitment needed for this challenging time, and we know that, at the present time, she is listening carefully to the Board, to you, and to the community. To that end, the Board remains unanimously committed in our support of Lila in her role and in her efforts to adapt her leadership and to address these issues. We ask everyone to move forward. We will continue working with the Executive Director and supporting her progress, and we rely on your help in this process and your personal commitment to the WMF and our shared vision."
The Funds Dissemination Committee include in their recommendations a request that the Wikimedia Foundation "improve its own level of planning transparency and budget detail." They state that they are "appalled by the closed way that the WMF has undertaken both strategic and annual planning, and the WMF's approach to budget transparency (or lack thereof). This sets a poor example for the affiliate organisations in the movement, decreases the moral authority of the FDC and decreases the general level of trust within the movement." They recommend that the Wikimedia Foundation submit their annual plan for review in the second round of the process.
The results of a staff engagement survey are announced internally. Although more than two dozen Wikimedia Foundation staff members supported releasing the survey results publicly, this has not happened. A staff member leaked the survey results to the Signpost, which provided a summary but did not publish the results in full. Among the findings, gleaned from 93% of staff members, were high levels of pride in working at the Wikimedia Foundation and strong confidence in line managers. More concerning were responses to other questions regarding the Foundation's senior leadership:
- Senior leadership at Wikimedia have communicated a vision that motivates me: 7% agree
- Senior leadership at Wikimedia keep people informed about what is happening: 7% agree
- I have confidence in senior leadership at Wikimedia: 10% agree
- Senior leadership effectively directs resources (funding, people and effort) towards the Foundation's goals: 10% agree
This apparently extends to members of the executive team: according to the Signpost, only one C-level has confidence in senior leadership.
The Board of Trustees vote 8–2 to remove James Heilman (User:Doc James). No explanation is given for the removal, which prompts outcry on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, Jimmy Wales' talk page, and in other venues. Wales responds to inquiries, but receives criticism for a response that seems to blame the lack of explanation on Heilman.
Kelly Battles and Arnnon Geshuri are appointed to Board of Trustees by the board. Kelly Battles is currently the Chief Financial Officer of Bracket Computing, a California-based company providing cloud computing. Arnnon Geshuri is the Vice President of Human Resources at Tesla Motors.
After a community member expresses concern over a high level of staff turnover at the Wikimedia Foundation, Vice President of Human Resources Boryana Dineva replies, "The HR team definitely keeps an eye on turnover on a regular basis. One of the first things I did when I started (approximately 3 months ago) is a stats health check including turnover trends, org demographics, compensation practices, recruiting stats, etc." She describes analysis her team performs on turnover and compares to market trends, and discusses regular surveys on staff engagement. She is later criticized for not disclosing the level of discontent with senior management that was reflected in the most recent employee survey.
The Wikimedia Foundation announces a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to "launch a new project to explore ways to make the search and discovery of high quality, trustworthy information on Wikipedia more accessible and open." This announcement comes two months after the Board of Trustees vote to accept the grant.
Days after Arnnon Geshuri's appointment to the board, a community member notes in an email to Wikimedia-l that Geshuri was involved in the High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation. Geshuri, then the director of staffing at Google, received a complaint from Steve Jobs that a Google recruiter had attempted to poach an Apple employee. Geshuri responded to say that the recruiter "should not have [contacted the employee] and will be terminated within the hour," and that "we will be very careful to make sure this does not happen again." Litigation on the issue later ended in a settlement involving both Google and Apple, amounting to $415 million.
With the February 2015 strategy consultation abandoned, a new one is opened. The staff managing the effort emphasize that "We also need to finalize the Foundation's strategy quickly, so that we can meet our 2016 Annual Plan deadlines and align our team and department strategies with the overall strategy."
At the January Metrics meeting, software developer Frances Hocutt speaks up to ask why the high level of discontent with senior leadership reflected in the staff engagement survey is not being discussed. Senior Research Scientist Aaron Halfaker follows up on the Metrics meeting talk page and posts on Lila Tretikov's talk page to attempt to get a response to the question. Tretikov says she will ask to follow up, but the question goes unanswered.
A request for comment is opened on Meta, proposing "In the best interests of the Wikimedia Foundation, Arnnon Geshuri must be removed from his appointment as a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation Board." Board member Guy Kawasaki is notably the first to oppose the vote. The vote eventually receives 292 votes supporting the no confidence proposal and 22 opposing. The issue receives broad coverage in the mainstream media.
- Meta request for comment: Vote of no confidence on Arnnon Geshuri
- Signpost: Vote of no confidence; WMF trustees speak out
- Signpost: Media coverage of the Arnnon Geshuri no-confidence vote
- Ars Technica: Wikipedia editors revolt, vote "no confidence" in newest board member
- BBC: Wikipedia editors sign vote of no confidence
Florence Devouard (User:Anthere), former Chair of the Board of Trustees, writes an email to Wikimedia-l about the controversy surrounding Arnnon Geshuri. She states that she supported the no confidence vote against Geshuri, and writes about how she waited for Geshuri or the entire board to speak about the decision to appoint him. She writes, "I can't sit and say nothing. Learning the whole story about Arnnon was a disappointment to me as it means the board selection process is not working as it should be.... I hesitate between two interpretations. Either the board is completely paralyzed and no more able to make any decision as to what they should do. Or the board has decided not to provide any feedback, which I consider completely disrespectful to the community and unhealthy generally. Either way, I consider this lack of responsiveness from the board an even WORSE consideration than Arnnon being a board member." She also discusses concerns about the conflict-of-interest policy for the board.
In a reply on Jimmy Wales' own talk page, Wales writes, "[Questions asking why Heilman was removed from the board have] been answered clearly. As a quick review - my vote to remove him was because of a pattern of behavior and actions that I viewed as violating the trust and values of the community. One example emerged clearly after he was removed - he made a false claim about why he was removed, and I got a unanimous statement from every board member involved that it was false. The community deserves better than that. James has made a lot of noise about why he was dismissed which is utter and complete bullshit. He wrote a nice piece for the Signpost about transparency which implied that the board got rid of him for wanting more transparency. Utter fucking bullshit."
Arnnon Geshuri sends an email to Wikimedia-l acknowledging the complaints that have been made about him. In his message, he states, "I know I have a longer journey than most new Board members to prove to the community and WMF alumni that they can put their trust in me." His pledges to work through the issues are later criticized by a community member, who writes, "What you describe as an *inspirational* experience, I see as an extremely painful event to watch as it damages the Wikimedia Foundation and the wikimedia movement."
The day after Geshuri emails Wikimedia-l indicating that he intends to remain on the Board of Trustees, board chair Patricio Lorente and vice chair Alice Wiegand send an email to report that Geshuri has decided to step down. In the email, they say, "To paraphrase his words, he doesn't want to be a distraction for the important discussions that the community and the Foundation need to face in the times to come."
Lila Tretikov responds to a thread containing concerns about employee intimidation at the Wikimedia Foundation. In her reply, she says, "Hi Pine, retaliation is strictly prohibited by WMF policy and will not be tolerated. A healthy discourse is important in any organization, especially within our movement which values free speech. We support feedback in our office. I ask anyone who believes they are experiencing retaliation to report it to myself, HR, or Legal. Allegations of retaliation will be investigated and we will take action."
In response to questions about the Knight Foundation grant, Lila Tretikov posts an explanation on her Meta talk page. It opens with, "As some of you know, I have been making concerted efforts to engage deeper on-wikis and to provide more insights into my thought process. As a demonstration of this commitment, I would like to share my thoughts on the Knight Foundation grant which has been called out for clarification." She goes on to take responsibility for not discussing the grant with the community sooner, and says, "Quite honestly, I really wish I could start this discussion over in a more collaborative way, knowing what I know today." In a later section, she explains that she cannot share the full content of the Knight Foundation grant paperwork because of "donor privacy."
María Sefidari (User:Raystorm) rejoins the Board of Trustees to fill the vacancy left by James Heilman. She was a member of the board from 2013–2015, and she earned the fourth-highest ranking in the elections for the 2016 board.
Jaime Villagomez joins the Wikimedia Foundation as the Chief Financial Officer. Before coming to the WMF, he worked as the CFO at two start-ups: AnyCOMM, a "smart cities" company, and Karum Group, a credit service company.
Frances Hocutt, a software developer for the Wikimedia Foundation, responds to a thread containing concerns about employee intimidation at the Wikimedia Foundation saying, "I have taken great care to speak with civility during these months of conflict, particularly when I have spoken in public. I have also expressed my concerns about the potential for retaliation to my manager and to HR. I have been repeatedly assured that I have nothing to worry about due to the care I take with my words, but the specific standards that are being used to define 'aggressive', 'unprofessional', and 'uncivil' are still unclear to me. I hear my colleagues' concerns and see some of them being censured for speaking in ways that I have found sharply critical but still fundamentally honest and civil, and I worry that someday I will be the one who is suddenly found to have stepped over lines which were previously invisible or unspoken. I fear that even making this reply with my volunteer account will be considered 'unprofessional': it is both critical and public, and no clarification has been given yet on the question of what constitutes 'professional' usage of our staff and volunteer accounts." The edit summary is, "reply to Pine: I'm still afraid." There has been no response from Tretikov.
On January 11, Lila Tretikov had sent an email to Wikimedia-l thanking Amy Elder and Boryana Dineva for managing the recruiting process that resulted in Arnnon Geshuri's appointment. On February 6, Ruslan Takayev sends an email including, "Are we any closer to having public comments from the BoT on how the Arrnon debacle was able to occur? I am especially interested in how Boryana fits in with this. Given Boryana's shared history t Telsa with Arnnon, she would surely have known about Arnnon's past at Google, but it would appear this past was never mentioned in the presentation to the board by her. At best this could be seen as an attempt to secure "jobs for the boys"; at worst it can be seen as incompetence on the part of Boryana." There has been no response.
Luis Villa, Senior Director of Community Engagement, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after three years of employment.
Anna Koval, Global Education Program Manager, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after three years of employment.
Jimmy Wales posts on his talk page that the Wikimedia Foundation will not be creating a general search engine
Jimmy Wales posts on his talk page: "To make this very clear: no one in top positions has proposed or is proposing that WMF should get into the general 'searching' or to try to 'be google'. It's an interesting hypothetical which has not been part of any serious strategy proposal, nor even discussed at the board level, nor proposed to the board by staff, nor a part of any grant, etc. It's a total lie."
James Heilman states that cost estimates provided to the board for the Knowledge Engine were in the "10s of millions range and were still likely conservative"
James Heilman writes on Facebook (non-Facebook mirror of the comment), "there are more complete estimates of costs that both you and I saw that were for all four stages of this project. These estimates were in the 10s of millions range and were still likely conservative. Yes I agree that a global search engine is going to cost more than 2.5M and cost estimates were well above that." He later mentions $32 million as a proposed amount.
Siko Bouterse, Director of Community Resources, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after four and a half years of employment. In her departure email, she writes, "Transparency, integrity, community and free knowledge remain deeply important to me, and I believe I will be better placed to represent those values in a volunteer capacity at this time."
Signpost reveals that the Wikimedia Foundation initially requested $6 million from the Knight Foundation
The Signpost examines internal documents to conclude that the Wikimedia Foundation initially requested the Knight Foundation provide a $6 million grant to fund the first stage of the project over three years. The grant was finalized at $250,000 for a year of development. The documents also state that "the remaining initial support will come from the Wikimedia Foundation's general fund or from additional restricted grants."
Jimmy Wales posts on his user talk page suggesting that people "[read] the actual grant agreement" and stating, "Media reports and trolling suggesting that this is some kind of broad google competitor remain completely and utterly false."
Wes Moran and Lila Tretikov publish a post on the Wikimedia blog titled "Clarity on the future of Wikimedia search"
Wes Moran and Lila Tretikov release a blog post describing the current state of search on Wikimedia projects, the Knight Foundation grant, and plans for search engines. The post seems targeted at recent press attention describing the project as a Google competitor. The post states, "What are we not doing? We're not building a global crawler search engine. We're not building another, separate Wikimedia project.... Despite headlines, we are not trying to compete with other platforms, including Google."
Brion Vibber, Lead Software Architect for the Wikimedia Foundation, writes a comment on Moran and Tretikov's blog post: "I know that former VP of Engineering Damon Sicore secretly shopped around grandiose ideas about a free knowledge search engine, which eventually evolved into the reorg creating the Discovery team. From leaked documents, we know at least some of those grandiose plans went into the early drafts of the Knight Foundation grant request, which eventually became a smallish grant to support Wikipedia's search capabilities. What we don't know is to what degree Executive Director Lila Tretikov was supporting the secretive "compete with Google" plan without putting it into WMF's public plans. It seems this would all be a simple case of "yes, there was some talk and we decided against it", so why the secrecy and stonewalling?"
A meeting about the Knowledge Engine was held with Lila Tretikov, Wes Moran, and others. In this meeting, they discuss the recent attention to the Knowledge Engine/Wikimedia Discovery project. Notes were taken during the meeting, and published about a week later. In this meeting, several people mention concerns about lack of communication with the community. Chris Koerner, a Community Liason who joined the Wikimedia Foundation under a month ago, expresses concerns about how lack of communication has resulted in outsiders discussing the stories before the WMF, "building up a sense of conspiracy." The notes describe Tretikov's response as, "That’s problematic that you don’t feel empowered to share what we are doing. You absolutely should feel free to say what we’re working on. Koerner brings up delays in responding to inquiries about the grant, and leaked documents, referring to things "spiraling." Tretikov's response is recorded in the notes as, "That was a problem.... We need you to step in and respond. And we need to make sure you are speaking with similar message to avoid confusion." Other members of the meeting express concern with the Knight Foundation grant documentation being published without their knowledge. Some question, after hearing Tretikov speak of all she has learned from this experience, exactly what she has learned. There is some concern about the relationship with the Knight Foundation; Tretikov's discussion of this is summarized as "They know this is troublesome, so they expect turbulence." At one point, a meeting member brings up concerns about the talk in the media; notes describe Lila's response as, "The press is wrong on issues, not necessarily bad." Moiz Syed, a User Experience Designer at the WMF replies with what is noted as, "But people reading it don’t know if it’s wrong or not. It is negative press."
Frances Hocutt, software engineer, goes on leave from the Wikimedia Foundation, saying in a public email that the leave is "due in part to stress caused by the recent uncertainty and organizational departures."
Steve Scheier, brought on on November 22, 2015 as a coach to Lila Tretikov to help with "leadership challenges," emails Wikimedia Foundation staff to clarify that he is no longer coaching Tretikov or working on projects with the Wikimedia Foundation. This directly refutes a statement from Tretikov that they are still working together.
Max Semenik, software developer on the Search and Discovery team, comments on the Moran–Tretikov post about whether the Knowledge Engine is a search engine, and on how the proposal has changed. He says, "Yes, there were plans of making an internet search engine. I don’t understand why we’re still trying to avoid giving a direct answer about it.... The whole project didn’t live long and was ditched soon after the Search team was created, after FY15/16 budget was finalized, and it did not have the money allocated for such work.... I don’t think anybody but the certain champion of the project has considered competing with Google with any degree of seriousness. The scrapping was finalized in summer, after said champion and WMF parted ways. However, ideas and wording from that search engine plan made their way to numerous discovery team documents and were never fully expelled."
Ido Ivri, a member of the Wikimedia Israel board, writes an open letter to the Board of Trustees and sends it to Wikimedia-l. He details his concerns with "deep, strategic change" in the Wikimedia Foundation that is not accompanied with transparency, honesty, or accountability; "concealment (rather than openness) as a default"; lack of communication and consultation with the community; and lack of communication and trust from and with the Board of Trustees. He adds, "If any APG-receiving affiliate conducted itself in such a non transparent, dishonest manner and with lack of clear, timely communication with its community and stakeholders, it would get seriously reprimanded by the Foundation."
Dariusz Jemielniak, member of the Board of Trustees, replies to Ivri's message. In his message, he praises the Wikimedia Foundation for submitting its Annual Plan to the Annual Plan Grants system, despite the FDC's criticisms. He also states, "There is way too much blaming/bashing/sour expectations working both ways - we almost forget how unique we are, irrespective of many slips and avoidable failures we make (and WMF is definitely leading here, too! ;)"
Ori Livneh, Principal Software Engineer at the Wikimedia Foundation, replies to Jemielniak. He outlines some successes of the engineering teams at the Wikimedia Foundation, then says, "This is happening in spite of -- not thanks to -- dysfunction at the top. If you don't believe me, all you have to do is wait: an exodus of people from Engineering won't be long now. Our initial astonishment at the Board's unwillingness to acknowledge and address this dysfunction is wearing off. The slips and failures are not generalized and diffuse. They are local and specific, and their location has been indicated to you repeatedly."
Moiz Syed, Design Manager at the Wikimedia Foundation, responds to Livneh's comment on Jemielnek's sentence about "sour expectations" to say, "That line from Dariusz disappointed me to, but I just chalked it up to just another case of a board member downplaying community/staff concerns and plea for help."
Dan Andreescu, Software Engineer at the Wikimedia Foundation, writes, "I hope people have the presence of mind, like you say - despite the dysfunction at the top, to stay and talk things out among each other. And to realize that the dysfunction at the top does not *really* matter."
Asaf Bartov, Head of WMF Grants and Global South Partnerships at the Wikimedia Foundation, responds, "Dariusz, I disagree with you: this *is* a time for "negativity". We have been laboring under significant dysfunction for more than a year now, and are now in crisis. We are losing precious colleagues, time, money, *even more* community trust than we had previously squandered, and health (literally; the board HR committee has been sent some details).... Please act. If for some reason the board cannot act, please state that reason. Signal to us, community and staff, by concrete words if not by deeds, that you understand the magnitude of the problem."
Edward Galvez, Survey Specialist at the Wikimedia Foundation, echoes those calling for Board action: "Second Asaf and Sydney. Please take these concerns seriously. If you truly *respect* us and this movement, please act."
Lila Tretikov responds. Her email, in full, reads, "For a few 2015 accomplishments by the product/technical teams you can see them listed here: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/2015_Wikimedia_Foundation_Product_and_Technology_Highlights"
Brion Vibber, Lead Software Architect at the Wikimedia Foundation, asks, "What is the board doing, going forward, to stem the tide of staff resignations?"
Gayle Karen Young, former Chief Talent and Culture Officer at the Wikimedia Foundation, replies to Andreescu, "People will leave despite how much they love a place, its mission, and its volunteers at the point it becomes too painful for them to stay.... I have been watching, even in pain and at a distance, the enormous toll it takes for people to go in day after day and keep doing their work when they have felt unsupported and unheard by the leadership, the board, and the movement, and uncertain of the strategy of the organization - and even worse, characterized as being the wrong people on the bus, so to speak - that this turnover is "normal" and part of leadership transition. This is not normal."
Delphine Ménard (User:notafish), former Chapters Coordinator at the Wikimedia Foundation and former member of the Funds Dissemination Committee, responds on Wikimedia-l. In her email, she writes, "I believe that this is what is missing today. Boldness. Boldness does not only translate in taking (un)calculated risks, it also comes in the capacity of admitting failure.... I'll tell you where I think we, as an organisation, have failed. It was already a long time ago, when we started to talk about efficiency. When the Foundation started working and acting like an American Global Corporation, and stopped cherishing our diversity and leverage it to do that thing we once all dreamed of "taking over the world"."
Dan Andreescu later replies to say, "I sincerely apologize for minimizing that pain, it was not my intention but I can see how what I wrote can be seen this way. This is not normal, and even if it was normal, it would still be awful."
Siko Bouterse, former Director of Community Resources writes, "I need to believe that the power of the collective leadership that so many volunteers and staff are showing here will ultimately be strong enough to ensure that the Wikimedia Foundation has the leadership that its mission deserves."
James Alexander, Manager of Trust & Safety at the Wikimedia Foundation, replies in the context of a dicussion about the speed of board responses, "Waiting a month, or two, or 3... to rethink decisions that were very clearly going to explode like this... eventually we start to think that you're not making a decision or that you're trying desperately to avoid it and hope everything just goes away despite the reality of the situation."
Brion Vibber writes in reply to an email discussing WMF successes, "I suppose I should be clearer: it is my contention that it is largely the people advocating for and implementing the improvements you cite that we are losing due to the management crisis."
Lila Tretikov sends a message that includes, "As I am sure you practice all too often in your own professional life this is required in a professional role: to take the heat and the arrows when something goes wrong, and to give away credit for what goes right. I would not have it any other way, but it is something people all too often ignore or forget."
Marc Pelletier, former Operations Engineer at the Wikimedia Foundation, replies to Tretikov, "That is... downright brilliant. Pretend to be caring and responsible, while at the same time make an underhanded implication that the people who left are villains and that you are a poor victim for being unable to speak the Truth. I hope you choke on shame for having the gall to even so much suggest that pillars of the staff and community like Siko, Luis, and Anna left for any reason other than your "exemplary" leadership.... If you have a single iota of integrity, please leave now before more of the foundation crumbles around you. Even if you were perfectly correct in all you did and everyone else was perfectly wrong, any supposed leader that has no trust from at least 93% of their staff should realize that - if nothing else - they are a bad fit and cannot possibly salvage the situation."
- Email from Dariusz Jemielniak to Wikimedia-l on Feb 18 at 12:47UTC
- Email from Ori Livneh to Wikimedia-l on Feb 18 at 18:33UTC
- Email from Moiz Syed to Wikimedia-l on Feb 18 at 18:48UTC
- Email from Dan Andreescu to Wikimedia-l on Feb 18 at 18:55UTC
- Email from Dan Andreescu to Wikimedia-l on Feb 18 at 19:54UTC
- Email from Edward Galvez to Wikimedia-l on Feb 18 at 19:56UTC
- Email from Lila Tretikov to Wikimedia-l on Feb 18 at 20:07UTC
- Email from Brion Vibber to Wikimedia-l on Feb 18 at 20:16UTC
- Email from Gayle Karen Young to Wikimedia-l on Feb 19 at 07:16UTC
- Email from Delphine Ménard to Wikimedia-l on Feb 19 at 16:17UTC
- Email from Dan Andreescu to Wikimedia-l on Feb 19 at 16:52UTC
- Email from Siko Bouterse to Wikimedia-l on Feb 19 at 19:34UTC
- Email from James Alexander to Wikimedia-l on Feb 20 at 23:41UTC
- Email from Brion Vibber to Wikimedia-l on Feb 21 at 00:58UTC
- Email from Lila Tretikov to Wikimedia-l on Feb 21 at 03:36UTC
- Email from Marc Pelletier to Wikimedia-l on Feb 21 at 03:54UTC
The Wikipedian publishes "Search and Destroy: The Knowledge Engine and the Undoing of Lila Tretikov"
The Wikipedian, a blog about Wikipedia written by William Beutler, publishes "Search and Destroy: The Knowledge Engine and the Undoing of Lila Tretikov". The article is also published in the Signpost. It opens with, "The Wikimedia Foundation is in open revolt." and continues to detail staff departures, dissatisfaction with WMF senior leadership, concerns about the Knowledge Engine project, and other unrest. It concludes, "For the sake of Wikipedia’s future, the Wikimedia Foundation needs new leadership. Lila Tretikov must resign, or she must be replaced." The article received many comments in both venues.
Erik Möller posts (non-Facebook mirror) a comment in Wikipedia Weekly explaining some background behind the Visual Editor, a software project that was widely criticized for being prematurely rolled out. In his comment he writes, "The Board independently had repeatedly pushed to meet the arbitrary schedule, and even the team itself was motivated at the time to finally go in front of a larger audience... So there was a general, shared feeling that we needed to do better. I take responsibility for not putting on the brakes; it was due to my own lack of experience and focus at the time.... I agree with Ori's point on the list, however, that most of this continuous improvement has been going on in spite of, not because of, what's been happening at the top. That's in many ways how it should be -- WMF's engineering organization has the capacity for independent self-improvement in all areas. But of course the drama that's going on right now is entirely avoidable and depressing, and if it continues, will damage existing capabilities and lead to regressions in important areas as key people leave.... I left voluntarily because it was clear things were going to just continue to deteriorate at the top. But if some of the key folks in engineering left, that would really really suck. You don't want that to happen, trust me. These are good, super-talented people, and the institutional/technical memory that would leave with them would set the org back severely."
Lila Tretikov sends an email to Wikimedia-l titled Why we changed. In this email, she states that, "After 15 years since the birth of Wikipedia, the WMF needs to rethink itself to ensure our editor work expands into the next decade.... The choice in front the WMF is that of our core identity.... We could either fully focus on building our content and educational programs. Or we can get great at technology as the force multiplier for our movement. I believe the the former belongs to our volunteers and affiliates and that the role of the WMF is in providing global support and coordination of this work. I believe in -- and the board hired me to -- focus on the latter. To transform our organization into a high-tech NGO, focused on the needs of our editors and readers and rapidly moving to update our aged technology to support those needs. To this end we have made many significant changes.... Many at the WMF and in our community believe that we should not be a high-tech organization. I believe we should." She includes in the email a list of accomplishments the Wikimedia Foundation has made. She ends the email by stating, "The world is not standing still. It will not wait for us to finish our internal battles and struggles. Time is our most precious commodity."
WMF Lead Software Architect Brion Vibber includes, "First, many staff members feel that the accomplishments you claim under "we" are not attributable to you. Complaints about lack of strategy and confusing management have come from all levels of the staff; the implication that people who failed to be promoted might be behind discontent seems not to hold water.... If your contention is that tech supports you as a silent majority, I have strong doubts that this is the case."
Development Outreach Manager Anna Stillwell and Research Analyst Oliver Keyes, reply to state their agreement with Vibber.
Former Vice President of Product and Strategy Erik Möller argues that Tretikov's claim to have "in the past year... for the first time since 2007... finally stem the editor decline" is inaccurate, or at least premature. He also questions which "pet projects" Tretikov was referring to when she pointed to "shutting down pet projects" as a measure of her success in setting standards for staff.
Lead Platform Architect Tim Starling writes, "I agree with your broad strategic goals (educate, innovate, retain volunteers, secure funding), I just doubt your ability to implement them. Because an ED of a non-profit organisation needs to be able to lead, not just dictate. And an effective manager should make decisions rationally and collaboratively."
Principal Operations Engineer Faidon Liambotis writes, "This is a pretty infuriating email, full of inaccuracies, FUD and unnecessary platitudes. We're in need of answers and actions, not essays. After such a failed record as an ED, I would expect you to acknowledge that we have indeed changed, but for the worst. Then, learn from your mistakes and work on fixing them (possibly silently; I'd undrestand that).... What you did instead was to sent a community-wide email making it sound like this was a carefully executed plan and the only reason people are revolting is because they're either change-averse or bitter for not getting a promotion. This is downright insulting. Finally, with all of your references to "community", it also sounds to me like like you're trying to gain some support from our community and effectively stategically place the (almost unanimously) revolting staff at odds with our community, in the hopes that you can get supporters and salvage your position. This would be a pretty desperate and selfish move. I hope I'm wrong."
Senior Operations Engineer Giuseppe Lavagetto writes, "Now, one easy way to read this, the most obvious one, is that the attitude towards work of the WMF employees was somewhat not right or unprofessional, and that we were lazy and not goal-driven. I would find this inappropriate in an internal email, but you went to state that in public, and I have to admit I find this is deeply offending on a personal and professional level."
- Brion Vibber's email to Wikimedia-l in the "Why we changed" thread
- Erik Möller's email to Wikimedia-l in the "Why we changed" thread
- Tim Starling's email to Wikimedia-l in the "Why we changed" thread
- Faidon Liambotis' email to Wikimedia-l in the "Why we changed" thread
- Giuseppe Lavagetto's email to Wikimedia-l in the "Why we changed" thread
In a response to a Wikimedia-l post questioning when the Board of Trustees will meet to discuss Lila Tretikov's role, Brion Vibber writes, "Rumor mill says they're meeting again on the subject at 9am pacific today."
Sumana Harihareswara, a former employee of the Wikimedia Foundation for three years and eight months, writes a blog post about the "leadership crisis" at the WMF. She writes, "I left WMF thinking that it was fine.... Lila Tretikov, the new executive director, was settling in and I perceived WMF to be on the right track, iteratively moving closer to reversing the editor decline, with solid management and plans in place to keep positive momentum going. I thought the conflicts and stumbles from summer 2014 were normal temporary pains, not unusually worrying. A few months after I left, when I caught up with old Foundation colleagues, I started hearing wariness about the new high-level management (the ED and some other newer executive hires). The worries progressed into stronger and stronger concerns, getting more and more disturbing." She goes on to say, "Fantastic colleagues are voting with their feet and leaving (and do you know how hard it is to find and hire the right people for an org this weird and this important?). People who would rather walk with rocks in their shoes than throw their coworkers under the bus are compelled to speak in public about dysfunction at the top... This is not just the ordinary grumblings of a transparent organization. This is dire.... If unaltered, this is the kind of dynamic that leads to schisms and forks. I would hate for the movement to have to pay that kind of cost but, unless the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees and Executive Director change course, I think that's a potential outcome."
Oliver Keyes (User:Ironholds), Researcher, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after five years of employment. In their departure email, they write that this comes after "12 months of continual stress, losses and workplace fear" and that they have "no confidence" in the ability of the Board of Trustees to effectively solve the current crisis.
Ariel Glenn, Software Developer and Systems Engineer at the Wikimedia Foundation, forwards to Wikimedia-l an email that they had sent to the Board of Trustees. The email opens, "A tale from the trenches" and goes on describe their daily experience checking email: "I gear myself up to learn who may have left today, what they will have said, to digest the outpouring of support and sadness from others, and the deafening silence from those who are in a position to put an end to all of this. I go over the reasons again in my mind that we're in this crisis: bad hirings, decisions in secret, dissembling and coverups about the processes that led to those decisions; refusal or inability to state a clear vision, let alone get buy-in or the involvement of staff/community in shaping that vision; restructuring the organization following these same broken processes. And so much more. Make no mistake, this is not just about an ED. It's also about failure of oversight, powerlessness of staff, and a culture of exclusion, among other things. If, as I hope, the Board acts decisively to remove the current ED, that will only be the first step in a mountain of work ahead of us. Hard, painful, exhausting work. But we can't begin to get started on it until that first step is taken."
Lila Tretikov resigns as Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation after one year and ten months.
Boryana Dineva, Vice President of Human Resources, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after six months of employment.
Katherine Maher, formerly the Chief Communications Officer for the Wikimedia Foundation, is announced as the interim Executive Director.
Frances Hocutt, who was previously on leave of absence, leaves the Wikimedia Foundation after ten months of employment.