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Wikimedia Foundation

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Background Information

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Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
Wikimedia Foundation RGB logo with text.svg
Logo of the Wikimedia Foundation
Founder(s) Jimmy Wales
Type 501(c)(3) charitable organization
Founded St. Petersburg, Florida, United States
June 20, 2003 (2003-06-20)
Headquarters San Francisco, California, United States / Los Angeles, California (registered Agent)
Key people Kat Walsh, Chair of the Board
Sue Gardner, Executive Director
Area served Worldwide
Focus Free, open content, wiki-based internet projects
Method Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikidata, Wikivoyage, Wikimedia Incubator and Meta-Wiki
Revenue US$10,632,254 (July – December 2009) (From donations)
Volunteers 350,000 (2005)
Employees 142 (as of September 2012)
The Wikimedia movement in 2012, an organizational chart

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is an American non-profit charitable organization headquartered in San Francisco, California, United States of America. It is organized under the laws of the state of Florida, where it was initially based. It operates several online collaborative wiki projects including Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikidata, Wikivoyage, Wikimedia Incubator, and Meta-Wiki. It also owns the now-defunct Nupedia. Its flagship project, Wikipedia, ranks in the top-ten most-visited websites worldwide. The creation of the foundation was officially announced on June 20, 2003, by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who had been operating Wikipedia under the aegis of his company Bomis.


The Wikimedia Foundation falls under section 501(c)(3) of the US Internal Revenue Code as a public charity. Its National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) code is B60 ( Adult, Continuing Education). The foundation's by-laws declare a statement of purpose of collecting and developing educational content and to disseminate it effectively and globally.

The Wikimedia Foundation's stated goal is to develop and maintain open content, wiki-based projects and to provide the full contents of those projects to the public free of charge. This is possible thanks to its Terms of Use (updated and approved on June 2009, to adopt CC-BY-SA license).

History and growth

Wikimedia Movement Strategic Plan
Jimmy Wales, Founder of the Wikimedia Foundation, in December 2008
Beyond the Encyclopedia: The Frontiers of Free Knowledge – presentation by Erik Möller about the state of the Wikimedia Foundation's projects in 2010

The Wikimedia Foundation was created from Wikipedia and Nupedia on June 20, 2003. It applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark Wikipedia on September 17, 2004. The mark was granted registration status on January 10, 2006. Trademark protection was accorded by Japan on December 16, 2004, and in the European Union on January 20, 2005. Technically a service mark, the scope of the mark is for: "Provision of information in the field of general encyclopedic knowledge via the Internet." There are plans to license the use of the Wikipedia trademark for some products, such as books or DVDs.

The name "Wikimedia" was coined by American author Sheldon Rampton in a post to the English mailing list in March 2003.

With the foundation's announcement, Wales also transferred ownership of all Wikipedia, Wiktionary and Nupedia domain names to Wikimedia along with the copyrights for all materials related to these projects that were created by Bomis employees or Wales himself. The computer equipment used to run all the Wikimedia projects was also donated by Wales to the foundation, which also acquired the domain names "" and "".

In April 2005, the US Internal Revenue Service approved the foundation as an educational foundation in the category " Adult, Continuing Education", meaning all contributions to the foundation are tax-deductible for U.S. federal income tax purposes.

On December 11, 2006, the foundation's board noted that the corporation could not become the membership organization initially planned but never implemented due to an inability to meet the registration requirements of Florida Statute. Accordingly, the bylaws were amended to remove all reference to membership rights and activities. The decision to change the bylaws was passed by the board unanimously.

On September 25, 2007, the foundation's board gave notice that the operations would be moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. Major considerations cited for choosing San Francisco were proximity to like-minded organizations and potential partners, a better talent pool, as well as cheaper and more convenient international travel than is available from St. Petersburg, Florida.

The one billionth edit to a Wikimedia project took place on April 16, 2010.

Original Board of Trustees

  • In January 2004, Jimmy Wales appointed his business partners Tim Shell and Michael E. Davis to the foundation's board. In June 2004, an election was held for two user representative board members. Following one month of campaigning and two weeks of online voting, Angela Beesley and Florence Nibart-Devouard were elected to join the board. In late 2004, Wales and Beesley launched a startup company, Wikia, affiliated with neither Wikimedia nor Bomis, except for their presence as principals/trustees. In July 2005, Beesley and Nibart-Devouard were re-elected to the board.
  • On July 1, 2006, Beesley resigned from the board effective upon election of her successor, expressing concern about "certain events and tendencies that have arisen within the organization since the start of this year," but stating her intent to continue to participate in the Wikimedia projects, and in the formation of an Australian chapter. A special election was held in September to finish Beesley's term, ending with the mid-2007 election. The election was won by Erik Möller.
  • In October 2006, Nibart-Devouard replaced Wales as chair of the Foundation. On December 8, 2006, the board expanded to seven people with the appointments of Kat Walsh and Oscar van Dillen. Effective December 15, 2006, Jan-Bart de Vreede was appointed to replace Shell.
  • In the June 2007 election, Möller and Walsh were reelected; van Dillen, who ran for re-election, was narrowly defeated by Frieda Brioschi.
  • Davis left the board in November 2007. Nibart-Devouard's elected term expired in June 2008. The appointed terms for Wales and de Vreede expired in December 2008. Brioschi's and Walsh's elected terms expired in June 2009.
  • In December 2007, Möller resigned from the Board of Trustees, and was hired as the foundation's deputy director by the executive director.
  • In February 2008, Florence Devouard announced the addition of two new board members: Michael Snow, an American lawyer and chair of the Communication Committee; and Domas Mituzas, a Lithuanian computer software engineer, MySQL employee, and longtime member of the core tech team.
  • In April 2008, the board announced a restructuring of its membership, increasing the number of board positions to 10 overall, as follows:
    • Three community-elected seats
    • Two seats to be selected by the chapters
    • One board-appointed 'community founder' seat, to be occupied by Jimmy Wales
    • Four board-appointed 'specific expertise' seats
  • In the June 2008 board election, Ting Chen was elected for a one-year term, then in September Frieda Brioschi resigned to be elected at the board of Wikimedia Italia.
  • In the August 2009 board election, Ting Chen was re-elected, while Kat Walsh and Samuel Klein were elected, effective until July 2011.
  • In the July 2010 board election, Michael Snow was replaced as chair of the board, although he retains his place on the Advisory Board.
  • In the June 2011 board election, Ting Chen, Kat Walsh and Samuel Klein were re-elected.

Volunteer committees and positions

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In April 2009, the Wikimedia Foundation conducted a Wikipedia usability study questioning users about the editing mechanism.

In 2004, the foundation appointed Tim Starling as developer liaison to help improve the MediaWiki software, Daniel Mayer as chief financial officer ( finance, budgeting and coordination of fund drives), and Erik Möller as content partnership coordinator.

In May 2005, the foundation announced the appointment of seven people to official positions:

  • Brion Vibber as chief technical officer (Vibber was also an employee of the Foundation, with other duties)
  • Domas Mituzas as hardware officer
  • Jens Frank as developer liaison
  • Möller as chief research officer
  • Danny Wool as grants coordinator
  • Elisabeth Bauer as press officer
  • Jean-Baptiste Soufron as lead legal coordinator

In January 2006, the foundation created several committees, including the Communication Committee, in an attempt to further organize activities essentially handled by volunteers at that time. Starling resigned that month to spend more time on his PhD program.


A workers area at the Wikimedia Foundation's San Francisco headquarters
The location of the Wikimedia Foundation's San Francisco headquarters

The foundation's functions were, for the first few years, executed almost entirely by volunteers. In 2005, it had only two employees, Danny Wool, a coordinator, and Brion Vibber, a software manager. Though the number of employees has grown, the foundation's staff is still very small, and the bulk of foundation work continues to be done by volunteers.

As of October 4, 2006, the foundation had five paid employees: two programmers, an administrative assistant, a coordinator handling fundraising and grants, and an interim executive director, Brad Patrick, previously the foundation's general counsel. Patrick ceased his activity as interim director in January 2007, and then resigned from his position as legal counsel, effective April 1, 2007. He was replaced by Mike Godwin, who served as general counsel and legal coordinator from July 2007 until 2010.

In January 2007, Carolyn Doran was named chief operating officer and Sandy Ordonez joined as head of communications. Doran began working as a part-time bookkeeper in 2006 after being sent by a temporary agency. Doran later left the foundation in July 2007, and Sue Gardner was hired as consultant and special advisor (later CEO). Her departure from the organization was cited by Florence Devouard as one of the reasons the foundation took about seven months to release its fiscal 2007 financial audit.

Danny Wool, officially the grant coordinator but also largely involved in fundraising and business development, resigned in March 2007. In February 2007, the foundation added a new position, chapters coordinator, and hired Delphine Ménard, who had been occupying the position as a volunteer since August 2005. Cary Bass was hired in March 2007 in the position of volunteer coordinator. In May 2007, Vishal Patel was hired to assist in business development. Oleta McHenry was brought in as accountant in May 2007, through a temporary placement agency and made the official full-time accountant in August 2007. In January 2008, the foundation appointed three new staff: Veronique Kessler as the new chief financial and operating officer, Kul Wadhwa to replace Vishal Patel as head of business development, and Jay Walsh as head of communications.

In June 2008, the foundation announced two staff additions in fundraising: Rebecca Handler as major gifts officer and Rand Montoya as head of community giving. Soon afterward, Sara Crouse was hired as head of partnerships and foundation relations. In fall 2008, the foundation hired three software developers: Tomasz Finc, Ariel Glenn, and Trevor Parscal.

In May 2011, the foundation had 65 employees. A list of Wikimedia Foundation staff can be found at the Wikimedia Foundation's staff page.


Board of Trustees

Board members at Wikimania 2012 in Washington, D.C.

These are the members of the Board of Trustees and the expiry of their terms, as of October 2012:

  • Kat Walsh, chair (July 2013)
  • Jan-Bart de Vreede, vice-chair (December 2012)
  • Stu West, treasurer (December 2013)
  • Bishakha Datta, Secretary (December 2012)
  • Jimmy Wales (December 2013)
  • Ting Chen (July 2013)
  • Samuel Klein (July 2013)
  • Matt Halprin (December 2012)
  • Alice Wiegand (July 2014)
  • Patricio Lorente (July 2014)

Advisory board

The Advisory Board is an international network of experts who have agreed to give the foundation meaningful help on a regular basis in many different areas, including law, organizational development, technology, policy, and outreach. As of August 2010, the members are:

  • Ward Cunningham
  • Melissa Hagemann
  • Benjamin Mako Hill
  • Mimi Ito
  • Mitch Kapor
  • Véronique Kessler
  • Neeru Khosla
  • Teemu Leinonen
  • Rebecca MacKinnon
  • Wayne Mackintosh
  • Roger McNamee
  • Domas Mituzas
  • Trevor Neilson
  • Craig Newmark
  • Florence Nibart-Devouard
  • Achal Prabhala
  • Clay Shirky
  • Michael Snow
  • Jing Wang
  • Jessamyn West
  • Ethan Zuckerman

Projects and initiatives


Each year, an international conference called Wikimania brings the people together who are involved in the Wikimedia organizations and projects. The first Wikimania happened in Frankfurt (Germany), in 2005. Nowadays, Wikimania is organized by a committee supported usually by the national chapter, in collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation. In 2012, Wikimania took place in Washington, D.C.

Strategic Plan

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Video explaining the Wikimedia Strategic Plan
The Wikimedia movement as a mindmap (2013)

In response to the growing size and popularity of Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation announced a Strategic Plan to improving and sustaining the Wikimedia movement. The plan was announced in July 2009, followed by a process of interviews and surveys with people from across the Wikimedia movement, including board of trustees, members of staff and volunteer editors. After wide consultation, the ongoing plan was intended to be the basis of a five-year plan to further outreach, improve content quality and quality control, and optimising operational areas such as finance and infrastructure.

Wikipedia Usability Initiative

In December 2008, the Wikimedia Foundation announced a restricted donation of $890,000 grant from the Stanton Foundation, to improve Wikipedia's accessibility. Later named the Wikipedia Usability Initiative, the grant was used by the Wikimedia Foundation to appoint project-specific staff to the technology department.

A series of surveys were conducted throughout 2009. This began with a Qualitative Environment Survey on MediaWiki extensions, followed by a Qualitative Statistical Survey focusing on volume of edits, number of new users, and related statistics. In March 2009, a Usability and Experience Study was carried out on new and non editors of the English Wikipedia. The aim was to discover what obstacles participants encountered while editing Wikipedia, ranging from small changes to more complicated syntax such as templates. The study recruited 2500 people for in-person laboratory testing via the Wikipedia website, which was filtered down to ten participants. The results were collated and used by the technology team to improve Wikipedia's usability. The Usability and Experience Study was followed up by the Usability, Experience and Progress Study in September 2009. This study recruited different new and non editors for in-person trials on a new Wikipedia skin.

The initiative ultimately culminated in a new Wikipedia skin named Vector, constructed based on the results of the usability studies. This was introduced by default in stages, beginning in May 2010.

Public Policy Initiative

In May 2010, the Wikimedia Foundation announced the Public Policy Initiative, following a $1.2 million donation by the Stanton Foundation. The Public Policy Initiative was set up to improve articles relating to public policy-related issues. As part of the initiative, Wikipedia collaborated with ten universities to help students and professors create and maintain articles relating to public policy. Volunteer editors of Wikipedia, known as "ambassadors", provided assistance to students and professors. This was either done on campus sites or online.


(dark blue) are existing chapters. (dark turquoise) indicates a chapter has been board approved but not yet founded. (green) indicates a chapter is in the planning stages. (light blue) indicates a chapter in discussion.

Wikimedia chapters are national (or in some cases sub-national) not-for-profit organisations created to promote the interests of Wikimedia projects locally. They support the foundation, the Wikimedia community and Wikimedia projects in different ways—by collecting donations, organizing local events/projects and conducting outreach. The chapters are independent of the Wikimedia Foundation with no legal control of nor responsibility for the Wikimedia projects. The organisations are recognised and overseen by a Chapters Committee; following approval they enter into a "Chapters Agreement" with the foundation. As of April 2012 there were 39 recognised Wikimedia chapters.

Disputes and lawsuits

Many disputes have resulted in litigation while others have not. Attorney Matt Zimmerman stated, "Without strong liability protection, it would be difficult for Wikipedia to continue to provide a platform for user-created encyclopedia content."

In December 2011, the Foundation hired Washington, DC lobbyist Dow Lohnes Government Strategies LLC to lobby the United States Congress with regard to "Civil Rights/Civil Liberties" and "Copyright/Patent/Trademark." At the time of the hire the Foundation was concerned specifically about a bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act.


Interview with Garfield Byrd, Chief of Finance and Administration at the Wikimedia Foundation. Recorded October 7, 2011
Wikimedia Foundation financial development 2003–2012

The Wikimedia Foundation relies on public contributions and grants to fund its mission. It is exempt from federal income tax and from state income tax. It is not a private foundation, and contributions to it qualify as tax-deductible charitable contributions. The continued technical and economic growth of each of the Wikimedia projects is dependent mostly on donations but the Wikimedia Foundation also increases its revenue by alternative means of funding such as grants, sponsorship, services and brand merchandising. The Wikimedia OAI-PMH update feed service, targeted primarily at search engines and similar bulk analysis and republishing, has been a source of revenue for several years, but is no longer open to new customers. DBpedia was given access to this feed free of charge.

Since the end of fiscal year ended 2004, the Foundation's net assets have grown from $57K to $34.9M at the end of fiscal year ended June 30, 2012. Under the leadership of Sue Gardner, who joined the Wikimedia Foundation in 2007, the Foundation's staff levels, number of donors and revenue have seen very significant growth.

Year Total Support and Revenue Total Expenses Increase in Net Assets Net Assets at End of Year
2003/2004 $80,129 $23,463 $56,666 $56,666
2004/2005 $379,088 $177,670 $211,418 $268,084
2005/2006 $1,508,039 $791,907 $736,132 $1,004,216
2006/2007 $2,734,909 $2,077,843 $654,066 $1,658,282
2007/2008 $5,032,981 $3,540,724 $3,519,886 $5,178,168
2008/2009 $8,658,006 $5,617,236 $3,053,599 $8,231,767
2009/2010 $17,979,312 $10,266,793 $6,310,964 $14,542,731
2010/2011 $24,785,092 $17,889,794 $9,649,413 $24,192,144
2011/2012 $38,479,665 $29,260,652 $10,736,914 $34,929,058

In 2007, Charity Navigator gave Wikimedia an overall rating of three out of four possible stars (one out of four in efficiency, which has been criticised). Charity Navigator gave three out of four possible stars in overall rating for fiscal years 2008 and 2009 which improved to four-stars in 2010. The current overall rating is four stars – three stars for Financial, four stars for Accountability and Transparency.

There are both supporting and opposing arguments regarding whether Wikimedia should switch to an advertising-based revenue model.


In March 2008, the Foundation announced a large donation, at the time its largest donation yet: a three-year, $3 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

In 2009, the Foundation received four grants – the first grant was a $890,000 Stanton Foundation grant which was aimed to help study and simplify user interface for first-time authors of Wikipedia. The second was a $300,000 Ford Foundation Grant, given in July 2009, for Wikimedia Commons that aimed to improve the interfaces and workflows for multimedia uploading on Wikimedia websites. In August 2009, the Foundation received a $500,000 grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Lastly, in August 2009, the Omidyar Network issued a potential $2M in "grant" funding to Wikimedia.

In 2010, Google donated $2M to the Wikimedia Foundation. Also in 2010, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation pledged a $800K grant and all was funded during 2011.

In March 2011, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation authorized another $3M grant to continue to develop and maintain the Foundation's mission. The grant is to be funded over three years with the first $1M funded in July 2011 and the remaining $2M is scheduled to be funded in August 2012 and 2013. In August 2011, the Stanton Foundation pledged to fund a $3.6M grant of which $1.8M was funded and the remaining is scheduled to be funded in September 2012. This is the largest grant received by the Wikimedia Foundation to-date. In November 2011, the Foundation received a $500K donation from Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife.

In 2012, the Foundation was awarded a grant of $1.25M from Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin through Charities Aid Foundation which is to be funded in five equal installments. The first installment of $250K was received in April 2012 and the remaining are to be funded in December 2012 – 2015.


The foundation employs technology including hardware and software to run its projects.


Diagram showing flow of data between Wikipedia's servers. Twenty database servers talk to hundreds of Apache servers in the backend; Apaches talk to fifty squids in the frontend.
Overview of system architecture, December 2010. See server layout diagrams on Meta-Wiki.
Wikimedia foundation servers

Wikimedia currently runs on dedicated clusters of Linux servers (mainly Ubuntu), with a few OpenSolaris machines for ZFS. As of December 2009, there were 300 in Florida and 44 in Amsterdam. Wikipedia employed a single server until 2004, when the server setup was expanded into a distributed multitier architecture. In January 2005, the project ran on 39 dedicated servers in Florida. This configuration included a single master database server running MySQL, multiple slave database servers, 21 web servers running the Apache HTTP Server, and seven Squid cache servers.

Wikipedia receives between 25,000 and 60,000 page requests per second, depending on time of day. Page requests are first passed to a front-end layer of Squid caching servers. Further statistics are available based on a publicly available 3-months Wikipedia access trace. Requests that cannot be served from the Squid cache are sent to load-balancing servers running the Linux Virtual Server software, which in turn pass the request to one of the Apache web servers for page rendering from the database. The web servers deliver pages as requested, performing page rendering for all the language editions of Wikipedia. To increase speed further, rendered pages are cached in a distributed memory cache until invalidated, allowing page rendering to be skipped entirely for most common page accesses.


The operation of Wikimedia depends on MediaWiki, a custom-made, free and open source wiki software platform written in PHP and built upon the MySQL database. The software incorporates programming features such as a macro language, variables, a transclusion system for templates, and URL redirection. MediaWiki is licensed under the GNU General Public License and it is used by all Wikimedia projects, as well as many other wiki projects. Originally, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki written in Perl by Clifford Adams (Phase I), which initially required CamelCase for article hyperlinks; the present double bracket style was incorporated later. Starting in January 2002 (Phase II), Wikipedia began running on a PHP wiki engine with a MySQL database; this software was custom-made for Wikipedia by Magnus Manske. The Phase II software was repeatedly modified to accommodate the exponentially increasing demand. In July 2002 (Phase III), Wikipedia shifted to the third-generation software, MediaWiki, originally written by Lee Daniel Crocker. Several MediaWiki extensions are installed to extend the functionality of MediaWiki software. In April 2005 a Lucene extension was added to MediaWiki's built-in search and Wikipedia switched from MySQL to Lucene for searching. Currently Lucene Search 2.1, which is written in Java and based on Lucene library 2.3, is used.