Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2019-12-27/From the archives
- This issue brings with it the work of HaeB, Strange Passerby, and Ohconfucius; presented is a snippet of an article which originally ran back in 24 January 2011. A chapter of the long running Jimbo–Larry feud is well-documented with this piece concerning the origins of Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español. It stands perfectly timeless, so it always makes for good reading.
Concerns about ads, US bias and Larry Sanger caused the 2002 Spanish fork
A recent interview has shed new light on the 2002 fork of the Spanish Wikipedia and the influence it may have had on the development of Wikipedia as a whole, and ignited a controversy between Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales about the stance on advertising in the early phase of the project.
Edgar Enyedy, an early activist on the Spanish Wikipedia who describes himself as "some sort of unofficial leader together with Javier de la Cueva" of the fork Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español, was interviewed by Nathaniel Tkacz of the "Critical Point of View" (CPOV) Wikipedia research initiative, on whose blog the interview was first published on January 15 (" ". See also the recent Signpost interview with Tkacz and fellow CPOV member Johanna Niesyto).
Concerns about possible plans to use advertising on Wikipedia are often named as the main reason for the fork. Enyedy confirmed that remarks about ads in a February 2002 announcement by Larry Sanger triggered the exodus of the Spanish Wikipedians ("Bomis might well start selling ads on Wikipedia sometime within the next few months, and revenue from those ads might make it possible for me to come back to my old job"), but insisted that several other issues played an important role, including concerns about the insufficiently international nature of Wikipedia – an "American shadow [that] marked the first point of contention between myself and Sanger and Wales." As examples, he named the fact that "the basic pages ('what Wikipedia is not', 'be bold', 'how to start', 'sandbox', etc.) were all in English; we had the American logo in English and so on", but also referred to issues that are in some form still relevant today, such as the internationalization of the interface: "The software, for example, was not translated at all and it cast an English (language) shadow over the entire project", and cultural differences between Europe and the US regarding sexual images ("Former AOL users used to remind me that explicit biology images are widely accepted among us, but would be considered inappropriate on the American version"). The Spanish Wikipedians also differed from their English counterpart by introducing a stylebook, and an index based on the Universal Decimal Classification.
A main reason for the fork was objections to the leadership of Wikipedia's chief organizer Larry Sanger:
|“||Larry Sanger acted as a Big Brother. He was an employee, a Bomis-Wales wage-earning worker. ...
The American Wikipedia might have seen him as a "facilitator", but we regarded Sanger more like an obstacle. At that time he was not an open-minded person. I have to admit that he brought some good ideas to us, but the American Wikipedia was too caught up in the interests of Bomis Inc.
I engaged in head-on confrontations, open clashes, with Sanger. We were all working on a basis of collective creation, with peer-to-peer review. It was an open project, free in both senses. We were all equals, a horizontal network creating knowledge through individual effort – this is the most important thing to keep in mind. But Sanger turned out to be vertically minded. His very status as a paid employee led him to watch us from above, just waiting for the right moment to participate in active discussions in the (mis)belief his words would be more important than ours.
Also contributing to the decision to fork was a distrust of Jimmy Wales' intentions, who to Enyedy seemed reluctant to steer Wikipedia into a non-profit direction.
|“||All Wikipedia domains (.com, .org, .net) were owned by Wales. I asked myself ‘why are we working for a dot-com?’ I asked for Wikipedia to be changed to a dot-org. ... I didn’t trust Wales’ intentions. Not at all. We were all working for free in a dot-com with no access to the servers, no mirrors, no software updates, no downloadable database, and no way to set up the wiki itself. We were basically working for Bomis Inc., and asked in a gentle way to translate from the main Wikipedia.||”|
Asked by Tkacz how the right to fork (granted in principle by the Wikipedia's free license) looked in detail in this case, Enyedy said that the activists had to download and transfer the articles one by one. (The accessibility of timely Wikipedia dumps continues to be a point of debate today.)
Enyedy said that the Enciclopedia Libre, while still active today, "was not intended to last. It was merely a form of pressure. Some of the goals were achieved, not all of them, but it was worth the cost", and emphasized its continuing influence:
|“||as it is known today, the international Wikipedia that you all know and have come to take for granted, might have been impossible without the Spanish fork. Wales was worried that other foreign communities would follow our fork. He learnt from us what to do and what not to do. The guidelines were clear: update the database; make the software easily available on Sourceforge; no advertising at all; set up a foundation with a dot-org domain and workers chosen from the community; no more Sanger-like figures, as well as some minor things [...], such as free (non proprietary) formats for images.||”|
, Enyedy said "that he has been approached several times a year since 2002, but has never shared his story because the people contacting him were either mainstream journalists or people from wikimedia and he wasn't convinced they would let him tell his version of the story".
The abstract of a talk about the fork given at Wikimania 2005 also mentions issues that led to its creation.
Reactions by Wales and Sanger
On January 20, Wired UK published an abbreviated version of the interview (" "), which included reactions by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.
Sanger objected sharply to Enyedy's statements, saying that "the only sort of person who could seriously describe my role as an Orwellian "Big Brother" is a radical anarchist, for whom even the slightest possible exercise of authority is outrageous oppression. To be sure, Wikipedia had quite a few of such vocal characters in its early days. The story has not yet been fully told just how they essentially took over with the blessing of Jimmy Wales". But Sanger agreed that the fork "might well have been the straw that finally tipped the scales in favor of a 100% ad-free Wikipedia."
Jimmy Wales issued a much shorter statement:
|“||Sanger was absolutely adamant that Wikipedia must have ads, and it was my refusal to do so that led to Wikipedia being as it is today. The Spanish fork did not provoke any changes of any kind. We stayed the course. I didn't want to have advertising, and I found ways to avoid it – the Spanish fork was an important event in the history of Wikipedia, but not in the sense of "provoking change".||”|
Sanger objected even more sharply to Wales' statement, questioning the veracity of the first sentence, first on Twitter (""), then on