Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’s auction of an NFT and the iMac he used to build the website has sparked drama in the notoriously rigid Wikipedia community.
The trouble started when Wales posted an announcement about the auction on his user talk page, a kind of message board where users communicate directly with each other. Wikipedia has strict rules against self-promotion, and some editors felt that the Wales ad violated that rule.
“Am I crazy? Jimbo has posted a thread on his user talk page promoting an auction of some of his stuff, which he has refused to confirm would not benefit him personally,” publisher Floquenbeam said on December 3. “This it’s self-promotion 101, right? I’ve told you if you don’t remove it, I will. That’s the policy, right? There’s no Founder exclusion, right? The fact that the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) gives you you said to post on your user talk page…doesn’t mean you can actually do it, overriding our self-promotion policy, does it? Can I get some quick feedback on the appropriateness of you deleting this thread, if you don’t? What if (I can’t believe I have to say this) would it be justified to block him from his talk page if he restores it? If any of us tried to do this, he would get a warning and a ban.”
Wales responded, saying that he had spoken with WMF’s legal and communications departments and they had agreed that a simple post about the auction on their user talk page would be fine. “To characterize this as ‘self-promotion’ or ‘advertising’ is downright silly, as I don’t think anyone could plausibly imagine that I’d expect some random talk page reader to be the buyer,” Wales said. “Equally I can imagine that if I had challenged the board and refused to communicate with the community about it, someone would have been furious about it.”
The publishers didn’t have it. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘downright silly,’ and I don’t see how the last part changes anything,” editor XOR’easter said. “Who would want such an NFT? A huge Wikipedia fan, probably, and one who’s invested (emotionally) in its history and within baseball.”
The conversation continued like this for about a day before another editor shut it down, saying it was “beyond the point of productive speech.” The thread announcing the auction on the Wales talk page has been removed, but another thread remains where he answers questions about the auction and NFTs from other users. An email thread on the Wikimedia-L listserv is more measured, but still has some pedantic arguments that are common with Wikimedia drama. Some users worry that he is taking something from Wikimedia and could use the money to fund his commercial venture WT:Social. Another user said: “The concept of NFTs seems to go against the principles of Wikipedia. On the one hand, we share our work freely, both in terms of access and using a copyleft license. On the other hand, this NFT takes something that was freely shared and then restricts it so it can be sold.”
“I don’t understand how a Wikimedia trustee who uses the Wikimedia websites, the Wikimedia brand and this Wikimedia backed email list to promote a funding event for his own commercial project, namely, ‘WT:Social’, it complies with the statutes including:
‘The property of this Foundation is irrevocably devoted to charitable purposes and no part of the net income or assets of this Foundation shall ever inure to the benefit of any Trustee or officer thereof or to the benefit of any private individual other than as compensation in a reasonable amount. pay its officials, employees and contractors for the services rendered.’
Could someone please explain why the Wikimedia Foundation gave one of their trustees permission to do this in contravention of their own bylaws? Hopefully, asking questions won’t automatically qualify you as an “ideologue” or “attention seeker.”
The NFT Wales is Selling is a website that allows users to relive the moment of Wikipedia’s creation. The site looks like Wikipedia in its early days, and whoever wins the auction can edit it however they want. The second major controversy among Wikipedia editors was whether Wales had the right to auction off something like this, and whether he was recreating the site correctly at the time of its creation.
The discussion turned into a long conversation about who owns the rights to what they edit on Wikipedia and the status of servers and timestamps since 2001. It is worth mentioning here that the Welsh NFT is a recreation of a memory and not an actual editable code snippet. that will reflect on Wikipedia in some way. Finally, all parties relented.
“There’s at least one good thing that should come out of this,” publisher Smallbones said. “The community has made it very clear that anything that is considered promotional or advertising, even if it is for a charitable cause, on any Wikipedia page, published by any editor, even the oldest and most respected, can be removed by any editor in any moment”.
A detail of the drama and discussion will appear in The Signpost, a monthly newspaper produced by Wikipedia users and published at the end of each month.