Wikipedia:Statement by Larry Sanger about the Spanish wiki encyclopedia fork

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Dear Spanish Wikipedia contributors,

I understand that there is now an effort underway to start a new wiki-based Spanish encyclopedia--I would call this a "fork" of the Spanish Wikipedia. I also understand that some people involved in this new effort do not want to use the word "fork." It seems clear to me that it is a fork, however. Consider these points:

  • the encyclopedias will have very similar goals
  • they will both be released (or so I understand) under the GNU FDL and therefore will be able to use each others' content
  • they will exist concurrently under different management and with different sets of contributors (i.e., they won't be mirrors of each other)
  • the newer wiki project will be started by a subset of the contributors of the older wiki project

That certainly seems sufficient for calling this a fork. And that is very regrettable and, moreover, totally unnecessary.

I don't claim to understand fully why this effort has been undertaken. My vague understanding is that some people have objected to the fact that advertisements are planned. These people, however, seem not to have all the facts. Please, read the following--it's important. The mere fact that advertisements are presently being left open as an option should not be a reason for anyone to quit the project and start a competing one. Please consider:

  • The Wikipedia and Nupedia projects are soon to be given to a nonprofit organization for management and stewardship. This has been discussed publicly for many months; the only reason for delay, that I'm aware of, is simply that Jimmy Wales (CEO of Bomis) has been extremely busy, and we haven't made the time to do it. But there has been every intention of doing it, and an announcement to this effect will be made soon (within a few days, I hope--this is up to Jimmy).
  • Sponsorships of this nonprofit organization (call them "advertisements" if you want) are one of the ways we are considering for funding full-time employees. All money generated from these sponsorships would go to the organization; no one will, legally, be able to profit from this.
  • There are absolutely no plans to run any sort of advertisements anytime soon on any Wikipedia project other than the English language one.
  • If we thought, or rather knew, that the projects could be adequately funded without the use of advertisements, e.g., by grants, we would certainly not speak further about the use of advertisements. They are only one option among many for fund-raising.
  • Forking will not stop any GNU FDL wiki-based encyclopedia from being supported by advertisements! In other words, anyone will still be able to take the contents of Wikipedia, as well as this new Spanish encyclopedia project, and make money from it. The ability to do so is guaranteed by the GNU FDL. Microsoft, that icon of capitalist evil, will legally be able to make a copy of this new Spanish wiki encyclopedia, if you release it under the GNU FDL.
  • We (the management of Wikipedia--Jimbo and I) have long considered having advertisement-free versions of the encyclopedias. (We have considered using and for these purposes.) Moreover, anyone can (if they are willing, kindly, to do the coding for this) make a mirror of Wikipedia content and make that advertisement-free!
  • As of February 1, I am no longer a paid employee of Bomis; I am looking for other sources of income and can only spend a small amount of time each day helping to lead Wikipedia and Nupedia. I need financial support in order to continue to do what I was doing before. (To add to the stress, I just got married last Dec. 1, and my bride and I just moved to a new city, across the country.)
  • It is my well-considered opinion, as well as the opinion of Jimmy Wales and of many of the older (and a few newer) contributors to Wikipedia, that a full-time, paid employee (namely, me) has been absolutely essential in creating the success that Wikipedia is today. Wikipedia would not exist if I had not been paid to start and manage it. Working now as I am, as an unpaid, part-time volunteer, a number of us are of the opinion that the project is at risk of degrading in various ways.
  • Our concept of Wikipedia is not as a little fun project that amuses a few people on the Internet. For that, employees certainly would not necessary. Instead, we envision Wikipedia as--eventually--a serious competitor for all proprietary encyclopedias. We think that the concepts behind Wikipedia and Nupedia are so robust that, with proper guidance, within ten or twenty years, we might have the greatest encyclopedia in history. We believe that we will be able to produce cheap, reliable copies of the encyclopedia, sold for the cost of printing (or copying) or supported by donations, that can be used for educational purposes around the world, particularly in places that have few books or other educational materials available. It is, frankly, silly to think that this sort of large-scale project could be properly managed without paid employees. The notion that nonprofit projects should lack paid employees is just irrational and unjustified, and threatens to shoot the very success of this project in the foot.

In view of these considerations, I think that this recent fork of the Spanish Wikipedia is completely unsupportable. Forking ought to have some clear, solid reason behind it; but this particular fork has no good reason behind it at all, as far as I can tell. A fork, moreover, will weaken Wikipedia. Wikipedia does not deserve to be weakened in this way: it is a project that will benefit the world and provide a profit for none of the organizers.

Therefore, I urge you, please, to do what you can to stop this fork. Moreover, if those behind the fork will not relent, in spite of the arguments against them, I urge you please to put your efforts behind Wikipedia, where they will be much more beneficially used. The Spanish Wikipedia is part of a growing network of free, community-built and (soon-to-be) nonprofit-managed encyclopedias. It really does deserve your full, undivided support.

Thank you for your time and attention!

Best regards,
Lawrence M. Sanger, Ph.D. (Wikipedia home page)
Co-founder and chief organizer, Wikipedia
Editor-in-chief, Nupedia


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