Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’ auction of an NFT and the iMac he used to build the website has stirred up drama in the notoriously rigid Wikipedia community.
The trouble began 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 Wales’ announcement 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,” editor Floquenbeam said on December 3.. “This is self-promotion 101, right? I've told him if he doesn't remove it, I will. That's policy, right? There's no Founder carve-out, is there? Just because the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) told him to post to his user talk page…doesn't mean he can actually do it, overriding our self-promotion policy, right? Can I get some quick feedback on the appropriateness of my removing this thread, if he doesn't? And whether (I can't believe I have to say this) I'd be justified in blocking him from his talk page if he restores it? If any one of us tried to pull this, they'd get a warning and a block.”
Wales pushed back, saying he’d spoken to the WMF communications and legal departments and that they’d agreed a simple post about the auction on his user talk page would be fine. “Characterizing this as ‘self-promotional’ or ‘advertising’ is frankly silly, as I don't think anyone would plausibly imagine that I'm hoping some random talk page reader is going to be the buyer,” Wales said. “I can equally imagine that if I had defied the board and refused to communicate with the community about it, someone would be getting inflamed over that.”
The editors weren’t having it. “I wouldn't go so far as to call it ‘frankly silly,’ and I don't see how the latter part changes anything,” editor XOR’easter said. “Who would want such an NFT? A big fan of Wikipedia, probably, and one who's invested (emotionally) in its history and inside baseball.”
The conversation went on like this for about a day before another editor shut it down, saying it was “past the point of productive discourse.” The thread announcing the auction on Wales’ talk page was removed but another thread remains where he’s answering 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 is common with Wikimedia drama. Some users are concerned that he’s taking something from Wikimedia and could use the money to fund his commercial enterprise WT:Social. Another user said “The concept of NFT seems to go against the very principles of Wikipedia. On one hand, we share our work freely, both in terms of access and by using a copyleft license. On the other hand, this NFT takes something that was shared freely and then restricts it so that it can be sold.”
“I don't understand how a Wikimedia trustee using Wikimedia websites, Wikimedia branding, and this Wikimedia supported email list to promote a funding event for their own commercial project, i.e. ‘WT:Social,’ fits with the bylaws which include:
‘The property of this Foundation is irrevocably dedicated 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 compensation in a reasonable amount to its officers, employees, and contractors for services rendered.’
Could someone explain why the Wikimedia Foundation gave permission to one of their trustees to do this in contravention of their own bylaws? Hopefully asking questions does not automatically get you branded as an ‘idealogue’ 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 did in its fledgling moments, and whoever wins the auction can edit it as they will. The second big controversy among Wikipedia’s editors was whether Wales had the right to auction off something like this and if he was even recreating the site correctly at the moment of its inception.
The discussion devolved into a lengthy conversation about who owns the rights to what they edit on Wikipedia and the state of servers and timestamps from 2001. It’s worth mentioning here that Wales’ NFT is a recreation of a memory and not an actual editable bit of code that will be reflected on Wikipedia in any way. Eventually, all sides relented.
“There is at least one good thing that should be coming out of this,” editor Smallbones said. “The community has made it very clear that anything that is considered to be promotional or an advertisement, even if it is for a charitable cause, on any page in Wikipedia, posted by any editor—even the most senior and most respected—may be removed by any editor at any time.”
A blow-by-blow of the drama and discussion will appear in The Signpost, a monthly newspaper produced by Wikipedia users and published at the end of every month.