OPINION by Sandister Tei
This post reflects the author’s personal opinion and not that of the Wikimedia Ghana User Group.
As far back as March 2019, the Wikimedia brand team contacted Wikimedia Ghana User Group to get our thoughts on the ‘global perceptions of Wikimedia brands‘ and ‘how our Movement’s brand system could be refined‘.
I was supportive of some kind of name change because being a coordinator of a user group; I knew the difficulty of this Wikipedia and Wikimedia confusion for affiliates.
However, I don’t remember it occurring to me that the foundation itself was struggling with this as well and would be considering using Wikipedia in its name as an option.
Fast forward to June 2020; the Wikimedia brand team have sent out Naming Convention Proposals surveys.
I thought completing the survey would be a breeze; after all, I support naming change. But the more I think about it, the more I get unsure, especially about Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) adopting Wikipedia in its name.
Associating with the word Wikipedia is the easiest way out. But I would like to encourage WMF and in-fact, the entire movement, to aim to be more notable than Wikipedia.
I will explain why.
Wikipedia may seem like the poster child of our movement now, but the future isn’t always certain. Look at how a viral infection – COVID-19 has shaken up models of digital products, services and communities. Thereby minting new winners like Zoom, and new losers like Airbnb and forcing Wikimedians to cancel a summit that concerned our future.
The shift may not be permanent, but the digital ecosystem has forever been taught that global factors can shatter models with a snap of the fingers.
WMF might want to be careful about putting its eggs and eggs of an entire movement in Wikipedia’s basket.
Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and others are all diversifying at a fantastic rate, offering a buffet of exciting products and services which further lock-in users of their flagship products.
Meanwhile, the majority of the sister projects of Wikipedia, which can put us in the game for a diversified portfolio, get to watch the mother WMF choose a favourite sibling.
Is that to say the current projects and even future projects per our 2030 forecast will never surpass or measure up to Wikipedia? No matter the investments?
There are even general opinions on the Wikimedia General Chat on Telegram concerning the creation of separate foundations for Wikipedia and the other projects, if Wikimedia insists on this name adoption.
Could it also be that we are trying Google’s model? The word Google is a search engine (the flagship product), a verb, and at the same time, the name of the corporate parent company.
But then, there is a plot twist. Google created Alphabet, so their products and ideas that don’t fall under internet services are not estranged but can have a place for better governance.
Larry Page explained the restructuring and the naming. It looks like for now, and they want to be known for what they indeed are, not just the mother company of the flagship and cash cow Google Search.
This even proves WMF acted way ahead of its time when it chose not to call itself Wikipedia earlier. That was a visionary move and WMF should not look back.
Alphabet is Google’s way of saying, we aspire to be bigger, more diverse than our most dominant division Google. That is their message. What is WMF’s message? WMF certainly isn’t wishing for external stakeholders to think limitedly of it as Wikipedia when it is indeed more than that.
WMF should look at the relationship Wikipedia has with the other wikis, besides the shared model and technology behind content creation. Can Wikipedia, though famous, sustainably be the gateway into the movement, with 2030 in mind?
After all, it is also possible to imagine a world where accessing the sum of all human knowledge starts from wikimedia.org or whatever we end up calling it, not wikipedia.org.
It is all embedded in strategy and not haste. Perhaps, WMF should wait for the 2030 strategy implementation, before it commits to branding the structures and ideas that may arise.