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Class war! Wikipedia's workers revolt again

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Wikipedia's workers are in uproar again, this time about the cash-rich Wikimedia Foundation giving itself "superpowers" to override community decisions.

As a consequence of the ruckus, the head of engineering at the Foundation has had his community admin account suspended for a month on the German Wikipedia.

It's another example of the fascinating two-caste system at Wikipedia: the workers who put in long hours writing and maintaining the content are paid nothing, while the wealthy administrators at the Foundation devise schemes to spend the cash - to burn through the millions of dollars the charity raises every year.

By giving themselves a new "Superprotect" right, the Foundation's middle class have a new power with which to override community resolutions.

"It should be made very clear that the WMF are subordinate to the community, not the other way around," writes one miffed contributor.

The Foundation has always been able to override community decisions for some limited purposes, such as removing libellous comments. But the new powers take it into new and risky territory.

"I can't believe WMF really cares so much about the media viewer; they're just making a point that they hold the money and the power to use it… they were looking for a casus belli," observes another.

Trouble flared up a year ago when many senior community contributors refused to use a WSYIWYG editor the Foundation had spent several years developing. The editor, ("VE", or Visual Editor), was intended to make editing Wikipedia easier, thus addressing (it was hoped) both the long-term decline in the number of Admins and the gender imbalance, which skews heavily male.

But the software didn't work very well, and the community voted not to use it, replacing it with their own VE-free style sheet. The Foundation was forced into a humiliating climbdown.

This ruckus has its root in yet more shoddy software developed by the WMF's engineering team - a Media Viewer. A June survey [Google Docs] found that the new Viewer was more popular with readers than editors, but by a popular vote, the German Wikipedia community deemed it not up to snuff, and voted to make its use optional.

But this time the Foundation responded by imposing a "Superprotect" right on the German Wikipedia - forcing the community to use the software, whether they wanted to or not. As a consequence of ignoring their wishes, the Foundation's paid software supremo Erik Möller has been put on the naughty step for a month.

The Foundation recently hired Lila Treitkov as its executive director, so bringing in a professional with a background in commercial software: Treitkov was an exec at SugarCRM, an open source CRM service company. That's something that MediaWiki and Wikinews dev Möller, a programmer who owes his exalted position to being one of the first Wikipedia contributors in 2001, lacks.

There's a write-up here and more discussion and at Treitkov's Talk page here. ®

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