Whistleblower: Wikimedia has been squandering your donations.
Based on a certain inside informer I know, I have learned that in 2007, the Wikimedia Foundation has been squandering your donations. This is not a "conspiracy theory," like the stuff said about Overstock.com, Wikipedia Review, or Wikia. I also don't expect you to take my word for it, because what I'm saying here will be proven once the financial report for FY 2007 is released.
It's important to note: This is not even a conspiracy, because those running the Foundation did not do this intentionally ("Let's use the donations to buy the Eiffel Tower! Mwahahaha!"), but rather, it was just simply unintentional mismanagement by ineffective leaders, who are unwilling to even be open about these issues. They know what they've done, they're embarrassed about it, and they're afraid of criticism. If there was actually a conspiracy going on here, then the FY 2007 financial report would've been released on time with fraudulent information. The Foundation, though, is not run by criminals and their auditors are honest. As soon as this report is released, whenever it is released, my statements here will be confirmed. If you don't trust me, that's reasonable. Just wait for the report.
Now, here's how I came by this inside information. There were some startling facts surrounding the Wikipedia project (as I've remarked before):
* They don't have the resources to collect statistics and any reasonable explanation for this is rooted in some fault of the Foundation. Arguments that it's the server's fault, that it would cost far too much, that it's the community's responsibility, or would not be worth it seem spurious.
* Most of Wikipedia's resources, as I've heard, are donated by their tech support guy, Brion.
* From time-to-time, on regular Wikipedia, there are bizarre random errors. They usually go away, but still, an organization with well over a million dollars (if not several million) ought to be able to keep a clean database, with more than "one great tech guy" who never sleeps. Brion, as I understand it, is like the Greek god, Atlas, holding up Wikipedia on his back, while there are tons of people that aren't apparently pulling their weight or are basically resting on Brion's back.
* Several options were taken away from the Wikimedia Commons, again, on the grounds that there is a "technical problem."
* They're moving to San Francisco and, during this process, they've shuffled their staff around a lot, hiring and firing a fair amount of people.
* The biggest red flag of all: Their financial report for FY 2007 is over 6 months late in being published. They published the report on time, in every past year.
Based on these facts, I spoke with several members of the so-called "inner circle" of Wikipedia, did some digging, and one of them accidentally confirmed my suspicions, but then followed up by saying, "But don't tell anyone about this."
Well, now I'm blowing the whistle and telling the community, because they have a right to know. Those who truly believe in copyleft should expect this kind of thing to happen, because an inherent part of copyleft is recognizign the fact that information is intrinsically free. No institution, whether public or private, can truly keep secrets like this forever because information is intrinsically free and belongs to everyone.
* The Foundation should explain the above to the community immediately and apologize for their actions.
* Financial reports by Wikimedia should be more detailed than they are presently
* Criteria should be set to either reward or punish members of the board for either meeting goals or failing to meet them.
* A new board of trustees should be elected by the community. Of course, because I'm not a crazy guy who wants the current board members to be homeless, they should be given a reasonable amount of time to find new employment before being replaced, likely with some reasonable kind of Severance package.
* The Foundation should give back our membership, with a small monthly or annual fee for supporting Wikimedia.
* Archive.org should be allowed to archive Wikimedia for the sake of accountability to the public. It would cost a minimal amount of resources and it was cut in mid-2007, around the same time this nonsense with the funds started happening.
Any other recommendations are welcome. ☯ Zenwhat (talk) 07:29, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Proof? Aside from "it's coming", that is. Plus, there are better places to address mismanagement. — Trust not the Penguin (T | C) 07:33, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
For a guy who's so well-informed, you seem remarkably ignorant of the fact that trustees do not draw a salary for their work. Sarcasticidealist (talk) 07:39, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
(ec)My recommendation would be to wait and see what happens. If things are what you say they are, then eventually they will come out (like Enron) and we can't do anything to stop or reverse it. On the other hand, if we spend weeks prattling about how to prepare for something none of us can actually influence (ok, I mean those of us who couldn't found a foundation with Wikimedia's resource level), we'll probably forget about something like WP:ENC. MBisanz talk 07:42, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
That also might explain why this was posted today Wikimedia finance report for 2007 with a clean audit report and what appears to be normal financial disclosures. MBisanz talk 07:52, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
I've just read the relevant bits of the audited financials (in real life I'm the business manager for a non-profit with a budget of half a million dollars; take that for what it's worth). Expenses increased a great deal during the last year. This increase was nearly matched by revenues. The Foundation is, by any measure available in the financial statements, in much better shape than it was at the end of fiscal 2006. That's not to say that the Foundation isn't squandering donations - that's impossible to tell from just that financial statement - but if it is, it certainly doesn't appear to be doing so in a way that jeopardizes the Foundation's financial health. I don't see the smoking gun, I'm afraid. Sarcasticidealist (talk) 08:01, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Ah, I wasn't aware that they don't draw salaries, actually. Sorry for that.
As for the report: Awesome. This data should be reliable. Gimme several minutes, folks. Let me enter this data into a spreadsheet, generate some graphs, and you'll get to see how donations have been spent.
And yes, I do feel a bit silly for the "whistleblower" thread title, without realizing the report was just published. ☯ Zenwhat (talk) 08:03, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Well, you'll certainly be able to demonstrate to us that staff costs increased enormously (while costs in several other categories increased slightly less enormously). Does that equate to squandering? It might; there's no way to tell from the report. Sarcasticidealist (talk) 08:06, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Right, but the Foundation has to the best of my knowledge, announced the expansion of the staff to a large degree (I'm doubting there are any hidden employees or surprise! bonuses.) And I'm only getting my MBA in accounting, so I'll defer to Sarcasticidealist, but I'm fairly certain that auditors are required to report incidental fraud to the audit committee (which would be hard to hide in a place as small as Wikimedia) and factor in the going-concern ability of the org. If salaries were spiraling out of control, I'd expect to see that somewhere. MBisanz talk 08:19, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
(ec) Oh yeah, there certainly isn't any fraud here. And, like I said, there certainly isn't any evidence in the financial statement that suggests that the Foundation's ongoing viability is at risk (although the donations figures for calendar 2007 vs. calendar 2006 do give me some pause). I'm only conceding that it's possible that these spending practices are wasteful; we can't know that just from looking at the audit.
(And I suspect your accounting knowledge is superior to mine; I've taken to intermediate levels in both financial and managerial, and supplemented them with some on the job stuff, but nobody's anywhere near giving me an MBA.) Sarcasticidealist (talk) 08:24, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Is it ironic that the financial statement was just posted today, according to the history at http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Finance_report
? - ✰ALLSTAR✰ echo 08:21, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
No more than a black fly in your chardonnay. Sarcasticidealist (talk) 08:25, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Like I said, don't take my word for it: Read through the data in the recent financial report. If you have difficulty following it, I'm working on generating charts of the results right now.
I've known about this for several days now, but was asked not to share the information publicly.
Right now, I sorta flipped out and decided, "Rawrrr!! I'm going to tell everybody anyway!!!" and I find the report was already released. Which is a good thing, actually, because now nobody here has to assume Zenwhat is telling the truth. Just read the darn report. ☯ Zenwhat (talk) 08:27, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Also, I didn't suggest their viability is at risk: Donations for Wikimedia are very strong. They have a strong in-flow of donations and this is likely to continue. What I'm saying is that they aren't adequately funding the important stuff, it's getting worse every year, and their actual budget looks nothing like their proposed budget, which had 40% of spending being on "technology." ☯ Zenwhat (talk) 08:28, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
A category which, according to the graphical representation of their budget for fiscal '08 (I can't find the one for '07 - do you have it?) includes some salary. Since those categories don't correspond to the categories in the audited financials, it's pretty much impossible to draw conclusions from them.
Also, as noted above, I'm not sure I agree with you about donations; donations in calendary 2007 appear to have fallen almost by half from calendar 2006. Sarcasticidealist (talk) 08:32, 8 February 2008 (UTC)