The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (WMF, or simply Wikimedia) is an
American non-profit and charitable organization headquartered in San
Francisco, California. It is mostly known for participating in the
Wikimedia movement. It owns the internet domain names of most movement
projects and hosts sites like. The foundation was founded in
Jimmy Wales as a way to fund and its sister projects
through non-profit means.
As of 2015[update], the foundation employs over 280 people, with
annual revenues in excess of US$75 million. Christophe Henner is
chair of the board.
Katherine Maher is the executive director
since March 2016.
3 Projects and initiatives
3.1 Wikimedia projects
3.1.1 Content projects
3.1.2 Infrastructure and coordination projects
3.2 Movement affiliates
3.4 Strategic plan
3.5 Usability Initiative
3.6 Public Policy Initiative
5.1 In general
5.3 Financial summary
6.1 Board of trustees
6.2 Advisory board
7.1 First appointments
8 Disputes and lawsuits
10 External links
Wikimedia Foundation has stated its 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. Another
main objective of the
Wikimedia Foundation is political advocacy.
Wikimedia Foundation was granted section
501(c)(3) status by the
Internal Revenue Code
Internal Revenue Code as a public charity in 2005. 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.
See also: History of
In 2001, Jimmy Wales, an
Internet entrepreneur, and Larry Sanger, an
online community organizer and philosophy professor, founded
Internet encyclopedia to supplement Nupedia. The project was
originally funded by Bomis, Jimmy Wales's for-profit business. As
Wikipedia's popularity increased, revenues to fund the project
stalled. Since was depleting Bomis's resources, Wales and
Sanger thought of a charity model to fund the project. The
Wikimedia Foundation was incorporated in
Florida on June 20,
2003. It applied to the
United States Patent and Trademark
Office to trademark on September 14, 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. There were plans to license the use of the
trademark for some products, such as books or DVDs.
The name "Wikimedia", a compound of wiki and media, was coined by
Sheldon Rampton in a post to the English mailing list
in March 2003, three months after
Wiktionary became the second
wiki-based project hosted on Wales' platform.
In April 2005, the U.S.
Internal Revenue Service
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 statutory law.
Accordingly,[according to whom?] the by-laws 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 move from
Florida was completed by 31 January 2008 with the headquarters on
Stillman Street in San Francisco.
In 2009, the Wikimedia Foundation's headquarters moved to New
Lila Tretikov was appointed executive director of the Wikimedia
Foundation in May 2014. She resigned in March 2016. Former chief
Katherine Maher was appointed the interim
executive director, a position made permanent in June 2016.
In October 2017, the headquarters moved to One Montgomery Tower.
Projects and initiatives
For the complete list, see foundation:Special:SiteMatrix and
m:Complete list of Wikimedia projects.
Content on most
Wikimedia Foundation websites is licensed for
redistribution under v3.0 of the Attribution and
Commons licenses. This content is sourced from contributing volunteers
and from resources with few or no copyright restrictions, such as
copyleft material and works in the public domain.
In addition to, the foundation operates ten other wikis that
follow the free content model with their main goal being the
dissemination of knowledge. These include, by launch date:
Description: online encyclopedia
Launched: January 15, 2001
Editions: more than 290 in over 250 languages
Alexa rank: 5 (Global, January 2018[update])
Description: online dictionary and thesaurus
Launched: December 12, 2002
Editions: more than 270 languages and in Simple English
Alexa rank: 503 (Global, January 2018[update])
Description: collection of textbooks
Launched: July 10, 2003
Alexa rank: 1,986 (Global, January 2018[update])
Description: collection of quotations
Launched: July 10, 2003
Alexa rank: 4,060 (Global, January 2018[update])
Description: travel guide
Launched: July 2003 as Wikitravel
Forked: December 10, 2006 (German language)
Re-launched: January 15, 2013 by WMF in English language
Alexa rank: 24,186 (Global, January 2018[update])
Description: digital library
Launched: November 24, 2003
Alexa rank: 3,673 (Global, January 2018[update])
Name: Wikimedia Commons
Description: repository of images, sounds, videos, and general media
Launched: September 7, 2004
Description: taxonomic catalogue of species
Launched: September 14, 2004
Description: online newspaper
Launched: November 8, 2004
Alexa rank: 70,278 (Global, January 2018[update])
Description: collection of tutorials and courses, while also serving
as a hosting point to coordinate research
Launched: August 15, 2006
Alexa rank: 11,687 (Global, January 2018[update])
Description: knowledge base
Launched: October 30, 2012
Alexa rank: 13,467 (Global, January 2018[update])
Infrastructure and coordination projects
Several additional projects exist to provide infrastructure or
coordination of the free knowledge projects. For instance, Outreach
gives guidelines for best practices on encouraging the use of
Wikimedia sites. These include:
Description: central site for coordinating all projects and the
Name: Wikimedia Incubator
Description: for language editions in development
Description: helps coordinate work on Media
Alias: Wikimedia Cloud Services (WMCS), formerly known as "Wikimedia
Description: technical projects and infrastructure
Further information: Wikimedia movement
Wikimedia movement affiliates are independent, but formally
recognized, groups of people intended to work together to support and
contribute to the Wikimedia movement. The Wikimedia Foundation's Board
of Trustees has approved three active models for movement affiliates:
chapters, thematic organizations, and user groups. Movement affiliates
are intended to organize and engage in activities to support and
contribute to the Wikimedia movement, such as regional conferences,
outreach, edit-a-thons, hackathons, public relations, public policy
advocacy, GLAM engagement, and Wikimania.
Recognition of a chapter and thematic organization is approved by the
foundation's board. Recommendations on recognition of chapters and
thematic organizations are made to the foundation's board by an
Affiliations Committee, composed of
Wikimedia community volunteers.
The Affiliations Committee approves the recognition of individual user
groups. While movement affiliates are formally recognized by the
Wikimedia Foundation, they are independent of the Wikimedia
Foundation, with no legal control of nor responsibility for the
The foundation began recognizing chapters in 2004. In 2010,
development on additional models began. In 2012, the foundation
approved, finalized, and adopted the thematic organization and user
group recognition models. An additional model, movement partners, was
also approved but as of 27 October 2015[update] has not yet
been finalized or adopted.
Main article: Wikimania
Each year, an international conference called
Wikimania brings the
people together who are involved in the Wikimedia organizations and
projects. The first
Wikimania was held in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2005.
Wikimania is organized by a committee supported usually by
the national chapter, in collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation.
Wikimania has been held in cities such as Buenos Aires,
Cambridge, Haifa, Hong Kong, and London. In 2015,
Wikimania took place in Mexico City. In 2016,
Wikimania was held
in Esino Lario, Italy.
Video explaining the 2011 Wikimedia Strategic Plan
Executive director Katherine Maher, 2016
In response to the growing size and popularity of, the
Wikimedia Foundation announced a Strategic Plan to improve and sustain
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. 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
In December 2008, the
Wikimedia Foundation announced a restricted
donation grant of US$890,000 from the Stanton Foundation, to improve
Wikipedia's accessibility. Later named the 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 Media
Wiki 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, ranging from small changes to
more complicated syntax such as templates. The study recruited 2500
people for in-person laboratory testing via the website,
which was filtered down to ten participants. The results were collated
and used by the technology team to improve'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
The initiative ultimately culminated in a new 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 US$1.2 million donation by the Stanton
Foundation. The initiative was set up to improve articles relating to
public policy issues. As part of the initiative,
collaborated with ten universities to help students and professors
create and maintain articles relating to public policy. Volunteer
editors of, known as "ambassadors", provided assistance to
students and professors. This was either done on campus sites or
In April 2017, the foundation was one of the founding partners in the
Initiative for Open Citations.
The foundation employs technology including hardware and software to
run its projects.
See also: § Hardware operations and support
Overview of system architecture, October 2015. See server layout
diagrams on Meta-Wiki
Wikimedia Foundation servers
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 database servers, 21 web
servers running the Apache HTTP Server, and seven Squid cache
Wikimedia currently runs on dedicated clusters of
(mainly Ubuntu). As of December 2009[update], there were
Florida and 44 in Amsterdam. The number of servers needed
to run the infrastructure has been mostly stable since then: 520
servers are used in the main cluster (eqiad) as of November 2015.
As of 2015, the system still runs on central master database and
application servers, but there are several cache layers with various
ever-changing technologies, as well as a multitude of subsystems for
DNS resolution, load balancing, metrics, monitoring, other system
The operation of Wikimedia depends on MediaWiki, a custom-made, free
and open-source wiki software platform written in
PHP and built upon
MySQL database. The software incorporates programming features
such as a macro language, variables, a transclusion system for
templates, and URL redirection. Media
Wiki is licensed under the GNU
General Public License and it is used by all Wikimedia projects, as
well as many other wiki projects. Originally, ran on
Wiki written in
Perl by Clifford Adams (Phase I), which
CamelCase for article hyperlinks; the present
double bracket style was incorporated later. Starting in January 2002
(Phase II), began running on a
PHP wiki engine with a MySQL
database; this software was custom-made for by Magnus
Manske. The Phase II software was repeatedly modified to accommodate
the exponentially increasing demand. In July 2002 (Phase III),
shifted to the third-generation software, MediaWiki,
originally written by Lee Daniel Crocker. Several Media
are installed to extend the functionality of Media
Wiki software. In
April 2005, a
Lucene extension was added to MediaWiki's
built-in search and switched from
Lucene Search 2.1, which is written in Java
and based on
Lucene library 2.3, is used. Wikimedia Foundation
also uses CiviCRM and WordPress.
The foundation published official mobile apps for Android
and iOS devices and in March 2015, the apps were updated to include
mobile user friendly features.
Financial development of the
Wikimedia Foundation (in US$),
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
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. In July
2014, the foundation announced it would be accepting Bitcoin
Since the end of fiscal year ended 2004, the foundation's net assets
have grown from US$57,000 to US$53.5 million at the end of fiscal
year ended June 30, 2014. Under the leadership of Sue Gardner, who
Wikimedia Foundation in 2007, the foundation's staff
levels, number of donors and revenue have seen very significant
Interview with Garfield Byrd, Chief of Finance and Administration at
the Wikimedia Foundation. Recorded October 7, 2011
Charity Navigator gave Wikimedia an overall rating of three
out of four possible stars
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. As of December 2016, the
overall rating was four stars.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (February
Wikimedia Foundation and chapters finance meeting 2012, Paris
In March 2008, the foundation announced a large donation, at the time
its largest donation yet: a three-year, US$3 million grant from the
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
In 2009, the foundation received four grants – the first grant
was a US$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 US$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 US$500,000
grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Lastly, in
August 2009, the
Omidyar Network issued a potential[clarification
needed] US$2 million in "grant" funding to Wikimedia.
Google donated US$2 million to the foundation. The
Stanton Foundation granted $1.2 million to fund the Public Policy
Initiative, a pilot program for what would later become the
Education Program (and the spinoff
Foundation). Also in 2010, the William and Flora Hewlett
Foundation pledged a US$800,000 grant and all was funded during
In March 2011, the
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation authorized another US$3
million grant to continue to develop and maintain the foundation's
mission. The grant was to be funded over three years with the first
US$1 million funded in July 2011 and the remaining US$2 million was
scheduled to be funded in August 2012 and 2013. In August 2011, the
Stanton Foundation pledged to fund a US$3.6 million grant of which
US$1.8 million was funded and the remaining was due to be funded in
September 2012. As of 2011, this was the largest grant received by the
Wikimedia Foundation to-date. In November 2011, the foundation
received a US$500,000 donation from
Sergey Brin and
In 2012, the foundation was awarded a grant of US$1.25 million from
the historians Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin through Charities
Aid Foundation, scheduled to be funded in five equal installments. The
first installment of US$250,000 was received in April 2012 and the
remaining were to be funded in December 2012 through 2015. In 2014,
the foundation received the largest single gift in its history, a $5
million unrestricted donation from an anonymous donor supporting $1
million worth of expenses annually for the next five years.
In 2015, a grant agreement was reached with the John S. and James L.
Knight Foundation to build a search engine called the "Knowledge
Wikimedia financial data through June 2016 (financial years run from
July 1 to June 30)
Board of trustees
Christophe Henner, the current
Chairman of the Board
The foundation's board of trustees has ultimate authority of all the
businesses and affairs of the foundation. It is composed of ten
four who are appointed by the board itself;
three who are selected by the community encompassed by all the
different Wikimedia projects;
two who are selected by the local chapters and thematic organizations;
and one emeritus for the foundation's founder, Jimmy Wales.
Three permanent entities support the board on its mission and
responsibilities: an executive director, who leads and oversees the
operational arm of the foundation; an advisory board composed of
individuals selected by the board itself that advise the board on
different matters; and standing committees to which the board
delegates certain matters while retaining ultimate authority. The
board has also at times created other orthodox entities[clarification
needed] to support itself, such as executive secretaries and ad-hoc
committees established for specific tasks.
The current board comprises Christophe Henner as chairman and María
Sefidari as vice-chairman, together with Alice Wiegand, Nataliia
Tymkiv, Kelly Battles,
Dariusz Jemielniak as members at-large, and
Jimmy Wales as founder's seat (installed as "Community Founder Trustee
Position" to the WMF bylaws in August 2008). James Heilman
was appointed as a community selected trustee in August 2017.
Raju Narisetti, CEO of Gizmodo Media Group, was appointed trustee in
October 2017, and Bahraini human rights activist and blogger
Esra'a Al Shafei
Esra'a Al Shafei idem in November 2017.
In a high-profile decision of 2015,
James Heilman was removed from the
board, with little explanation. (He returned in the
Board in August 2017). In January 2016,
Arnnon Geshuri briefly joined
the board before stepping down from the board following a controversy
about an agreement he executed when at Google, violating United States
antitrust law. The participating companies paid US$415 million in a
class action suit on behalf of affected employees.
The advisory board, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, 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
Background footage of Wikimedia's
San Francisco office in 2014.
In 2004, the foundation appointed Tim Starling as developer liaison to
help improve the Media
Wiki 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 seven more official appointments.
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 Wikimedia's
San Francisco headquarters in 2011.
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.
As of October 4, 2006[update], 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, found to have had a long criminal
record, left the foundation in July 2007, and
Sue Gardner was
hired as consultant and special advisor (later CEO). Doran's 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.
Exterior view of Wikimedia's
San Francisco headquarters at New
Montgomery St in 2014.
Danny Wool, officially the grant coordinator but also largely involved
in fundraising and business development, resigned in March 2007. He
accused Wales of misusing the foundation's funds for recreational
purposes, and said that Wales had his Wikimedia credit card taken away
in part because of his spending habits, a claim Wales denied. 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. 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 Veronique Kessler as the new
chief financial and operating officer, Kul Wadhwa as head of business
development, and Jay Walsh as head of communications.
As of June 16, 2017,[update] the foundation had approximately 280
employees and contractors.
Disputes and lawsuits
Litigation involving the Wikimedia Foundation
Wikimedia Foundation post-SOPA party, 2012
Many disputes have resulted in litigation while
others have not. Attorney Matt Zimmerman stated, "Without strong
liability protection, it would be difficult for 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.
In October 2013, a German Court ruled that the Wikimedia Foundation
can be held liable for content added to – however, this
applies only when there has been a specific complaint; otherwise, the
Wikimedia Foundation does not check any of the content published on
and has no duty to do so.
In June 2014, a copyright infringement lawsuit was filed by Bildkonst
Upphovsrätt i Sverige against Wikimedia Sweden.
On June 20, 2014, a defamation lawsuit (Law Division civil case No.
L-1400-14) involving editors was filed with the Mercer
County Superior Court in New Jersey seeking, inter alia, compensatory
and punitive damages.
In a March 10, 2015, op-ed for The New York Times, Wales and Tretikov
announced the foundation was filing a lawsuit against the National
Security Agency, calling into question its practice of mass
surveillance, which they argued infringed the constitutional rights of
the foundation's readers, editors and staff. On October
23, 2015, the
United States District Court for the District of
Maryland dismissed the suit
Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA
Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA on grounds of
standing. US District Judge
T. S. Ellis III ruled that the plaintiffs
could not plausibly prove they were subject to upstream surveillance,
and that their argument is riddled with assumptions, speculations and
mathematical gymnastics. The plaintiffs filed an appeal with
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on February
In February 2016,
Lila Tretikov announced her resignation as executive
director, as a result of the WMF's controversial Knowledge Engine
project and disagreements with the staff.
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