The Wikimedia Foundation is in no danger of collapse. There’s all sorts of deeply problematic things about it, but no more than at any other small charity. Situation normal all fouled up.
But it would be prudent to be quite sure that the Foundation failing — through external attack or internal meltdown — would not be a disaster.
The projects’ content: The dumps are good for small wikis, but not for English Wikipedia — they notoriously take ages and frequently don’t work. There are no good dumps of English Wikipedia available from Wikimedia. (I asked Brion about this and he says the backup situation should improve pretty soon, and Jeff Merkey has been putting backups up for BitTorrent.)
The English Wikipedia full text history is about ten gigabytes. The image dumps (which ahahaha you can’t get at all from Wikimedia) are huge, as in hundreds of gigabytes. It’ll be a few years before hard disks are big enough for interested geeks to download this stuff for the sake of it. What can be done to encourage widespread BitTorrenting right now?
The easiest way for a hosting organisation to proprietise a wiki, despite the license, is simply not to make dumps available or usable. And to block spidering the database fast enough to substitute. This is happening inadvertently now; it would be too easy to do deliberately.
Who are you? The user-password database is private to the Foundation, for obvious good reason. But I really hope the devs trusted with access to it are keeping backups in case of Foundation failure.
In the longer term, going to something like OpenID may be a less bad idea for identifying editors.
Hosting it somewhere that can handle it: MediaWiki is a resource hog. Citizendium got lots of media interest and their servers were crippled by the load, with the admin having to scramble to reconfigure things. Conservapedia was off the air for days at a time just from blogosphere interest. Who could put up a copy of English Wikipedia quickly and not be crippled by it?
Suitable country for hosting: What is a good legal regime for the hosting to be under? The UK is horrible. The US seems workable. The Netherlands is fantastic if you can afford the hosting fees. Others? (I fear languages going to the countries they’re spoken in would be a disaster for NPOV.)
Multiple forks: No-one will let a single organisation be the only Wikipedia host again. So we’ll end up with multiple forks for the content. In the short term we’ll have gaffer-and-string kludges for content merging … and lots of POV forking. A Foundation collapse would effectively “publish” wikipedia as of the collapse date — or as of the previous good dump — as the final result of all this work.
(The English Wikipedia community could certainly do with a reboot. Hopefully that would be a benefit. It could, of course, get worse.)
In the longer term, for content integrity, we’ll need a good distributed database backend. (There’s apparently-moribund academic work to this end, and Wikileaks note they’ll need something similar.)
Worst case scenario: A 501(c)(3) can only be eaten by another 501(c)(3), but the assets of a dead one (domains, trademarks, logos, servers) can be bought by anyone. Causing the Foundation to implode could be a very profitable endeavour for a commercial interest, particularly if they smelt blood in the water.
Second worst case scenario: The Wikimedia Foundation’s assets (particularly the trademarks and logos) go to another 501(c)(3): Google.org. Wikipedia’s hosting problems are solved forever and Google further becomes the Internet. Google gets slack about providing database dumps …
What we need:
- Good database dumps more frequently. This is really important right now. If the Foundation fails tomorrow, we lose the content.
- People to want to and be able to BitTorrent these routinely.
- Backups of the user database.
- A user identification mechanism that isn’t a single point of failure.
- Multiple sites not just willing but ready to host it.
- Content merging mechanisms between the multiple redundant installations.
- A good distributed database backend.
- The trademarks to become generic should the Foundation fail.
I’d like your ideas and participation here. What do we do if the Foundation breaks tomorrow?
(See also the same question on my LJ.)
Correction: Google.org is not a 501(c)(3). So it couldn’t gobble up Wikimedia directly.