The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. ( WMF , or simply Wikimedia ) is an American non-profit and charitable organization headquartered in San Francisco , California . [111] It is mostly known for participating in the Wikimedia movement . It owns the internet domain names of most movement projects and hosts sites like Wikipedia . The foundation was founded in 2003 by Jimmy Wales as a way to fund Wikipedia and its sister projects through non-profit means. [3] [5]

As of 2015, the foundation employs over 280 people, with annual revenues in excess of US$ 75 million . Christophe Henner is chair of the board . [6] Katherine Maher is the executive director since March 2016.


The 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 . [7] Another main objective of the Wikimedia Foundation is political advocacy . [112]

The Wikimedia Foundation was granted section 501(c)(3) status by the U.S. Internal Revenue Code as a public charity in 2005. [8] Its National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) code is B60 ( Adult , Continuing education ). [9] [11] The foundation's by-laws declare a statement of purpose of collecting and developing educational content and to disseminate it effectively and globally. [12]


In 2001, Jimmy Wales , an Internet entrepreneur , and Larry Sanger , an online community organizer and philosophy professor, founded Wikipedia as an 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. [3] Since Wikipedia was depleting Bomis's resources, Wales and Sanger thought of a charity model to fund the project. [3] The Wikimedia Foundation was incorporated in Florida on June 20, 2003. [5] [14] It applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark Wikipedia 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 Wikipedia trademark for some products, such as books or DVDs. [15]

The name "Wikimedia", a compound of wiki and media , was coined by American author Sheldon Rampton in a post to the English mailing list in March 2003, [113] three months after Wiktionary became the second wiki-based project hosted on Wales' platform.

In April 2005, the U.S. 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, 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. [17] [19] [20]

Lila Tretikov was appointed executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation in May 2014. She resigned in March 2016. Former chief communications officer Katherine Maher was appointed the interim executive director, a position made permanent in June 2016.

Projects and initiatives

Wikimedia projects

Content on most Wikimedia Foundation websites is licensed for redistribution under v3.0 of the Attribution and Share-alike Creative 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 .

Content projects

In addition to Wikipedia, 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:

Name: Wikipedia
Description: online encyclopedia
Launched: January 15, 2001
Editions: more than 290 in over 250 languages
Alexa rank: 5 (Global, July 2017) [114]
Name: Wiktionary
Description: online dictionary and thesaurus
Launched: December 12, 2002
Editions: more than 270 languages and in Simple English
Alexa rank: 529 (Global, July 2017) [115]
Name: Wikibooks
Description: collection of textbooks
Launched: July 10, 2003
Alexa rank: 2,051 (Global, July 2017) [116]
Name: Wikiquote
Description: collection of quotations
Launched: July 10, 2003
Alexa rank: 3,733 (Global, July 2017) [117]
Name: Wikivoyage
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: 25,050 (Global, July 2017) [118]
Name: Wikisource
Description: digital library
Launched: November 24, 2003
Alexa rank: 4,362 (Global, July 2017) [119]
Name: Wikimedia Commons
Description: repository of images, sounds, videos, and general media
Launched: September 7, 2004
Name: Wikispecies
Description: taxonomic catalogue of species
Launched: September 14, 2004
Name: Wikinews
Description: online newspaper
Launched: November 8, 2004
Alexa rank: 60,341 (Global, July 2017) [120]
Name: Wikiversity
Description: collection of tutorials and courses, while also serving as a hosting point to coordinate research
Launched: August 15, 2006
Alexa rank: 14,505 (Global, July 2017) [121]
Name: Wikidata
Description: knowledge base
Launched: October 30, 2012

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:

Name: Meta-Wiki
Description: central site for coordinating all projects and the Wikimedia community
Name: Wikimedia Incubator
Description: for language editions in development
Name: MediaWiki
Description: helps coordinate work on MediaWiki software
Name: Wikitech
Alias: Wikimedia Cloud Services (WMCS), formerly known as "Wikimedia Labs"
Description: technical projects and infrastructure

Movement affiliates

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 Wikimedia projects.

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 has not yet been finalized or adopted.


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. Nowadays, 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 , [22] Hong Kong , [23] and London . [24] In 2015, Wikimania took place in Mexico City . In 2016, Wikimania was held in Esino Lario , Italy .

Strategic plan

File:Wikimedia Strategic Plan.ogv
Video explaining the 2011 Wikimedia Strategic Plan

In response to the growing size and popularity of Wikipedia, 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 infrastructure.

Wikipedia Usability Initiative

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 Wikipedia Usability Initiative, the grant was used by the Wikimedia Foundation to appoint project-specific staff to the technology department. [25]

A series of surveys were conducted throughout 2009. This began with a qualitative environment survey on MediaWiki 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 Wikipedia, ranging from small changes to more complicated syntax such as templates. The study recruited 2500 people for in-person laboratory testing via the Wikipedia website, which was filtered down to ten participants. The results were collated and used by the technology team to improve Wikipedia'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 Wikipedia skin.

The initiative ultimately culminated in a new Wikipedia skin named Vector, constructed based on the results of the usability studies. This was introduced by default in stages, beginning in May 2010. [26]

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, Wikipedia collaborated with ten universities to help students and professors create and maintain articles relating to public policy. [27] Volunteer editors of Wikipedia, known as "ambassadors", provided assistance to students and professors. This was either done on campus sites or online.

In April 2017, the Foundation was one of the founding partners in the Initiative for Open Citations . [122]


The foundation employs technology including hardware and software to run its projects.


Overview of system architecture, October 2015. See server layout diagrams on Meta-Wiki

Wikipedia employed a single server until 2004, when the server setup was expanded into a distributed multitier architecture . [30]

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 servers.

Wikimedia currently runs on dedicated clusters of Linux servers (mainly Ubuntu ). [31] As of December 2009, there were 300 in 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. [33]

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 administration etc.


The operation of Wikimedia depends on MediaWiki , a custom-made, free and open-source wiki software platform written in PHP and built upon the MySQL database. [34] The software incorporates programming features such as a macro language , variables , a transclusion system for templates , and URL redirection . MediaWiki is licensed under the GNU General Public License and it is used by all Wikimedia projects, as well as many other wiki projects. Originally, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki written in Perl by Clifford Adams (Phase I), which initially required CamelCase for article hyperlinks; the present double bracket style was incorporated later. Starting in January 2002 (Phase II), Wikipedia began running on a PHP wiki engine with a MySQL database; this software was custom-made for Wikipedia by Magnus Manske . The Phase II software was repeatedly modified to accommodate the exponentially increasing demand. In July 2002 (Phase III), Wikipedia shifted to the third-generation software, MediaWiki, originally written by Lee Daniel Crocker . Several MediaWiki extensions are installed to extend the functionality of MediaWiki software. In April 2005, a Lucene extension [35] was added to MediaWiki's built-in search and Wikipedia switched from MySQL to Lucene for searching. Currently Lucene Search 2.1, which is written in Java and based on Lucene library 2.3, [123] is used. Wikimedia Foundation also uses CiviCRM [37] and WordPress .

The Foundation published official Wikipedia mobile apps for Android and iOS devices and in March 2015, the apps were updated to include mobile user friendly features. [38]


In general

The Wikimedia Foundation relies on public contributions and grants to fund its mission. [39] It is exempt from federal income tax [39] and from state income tax. [39] It is not a private foundation, and contributions to it qualify as tax-deductible charitable contributions. [39]

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, [39] 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 donations.

Since the end of fiscal year ended 2004, the Foundation's net assets have grown from US$57,000 [124] to US$53.5 million at the end of fiscal year ended June 30, 2014. [42] Under the leadership of Sue Gardner, who joined the Wikimedia Foundation in 2007, the Foundation's staff levels, number of donors and revenue have seen very significant growth.

Wikimedia Foundation servers

In 2007, 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. [46] As of December 2016, the overall rating was four stars. [47]


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 . [49]

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. [50] 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 US$2 million in "grant" funding to Wikimedia. [51]

In 2010, the Google corporation donated US$2 million to the Foundation. [52] The Stanton Foundation granted $1.2 million to fund the Public Policy Initiative, a pilot program for what would later become the Wikipedia Education Program (and the spinoff Wiki Education Foundation ). [125] [126] Also in 2010, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation pledged a US$800,000 grant and all was funded during 2011.

In March 2011, the 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. [53] In November 2011, the Foundation received a US$500,000 donation from Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife.

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 Engine ". [127]

Financial summary

Wikimedia financial data through June 2016 (financial years run from July 1 to June 30)
Fiscal year Revenue Year-over-year ratio
Expenses Year-over-year ratio
Net assets Year-over-year ratio
(net assets)
Steady US$80,129
Steady N/A
Wikimedia Foundation and chapters finance meeting 2012, Paris
Steady N/A
Steady US$56,666
Steady N/A
Increase US$379,088
Increase 373.1%
Negative increase US$177,670
Negative increase 657.2%
Increase US$268,084
Increase 373.1%
Increase US$1,508,039
Increase 297.8%
Negative increase US$791,907
Negative increase 345.7%
Increase US$1,004,216
Increase 274.6%
2006–2007 [55]
Increase US$2,734,909
Increase 81.4%
Negative increase US$2,077,843
Negative increase 162.4%
Increase US$1,658,282
Increase 65.1%
2007–2008 [56]
Increase US$5,032,981
Increase 84.0%
Negative increase US$3,540,724
Negative increase 70.4%
Increase US$5,178,168
Increase 212.3%
2008–2009 [57]
Increase US$8,658,006
Increase 72.0%
Negative increase US$5,617,236
Negative increase 58.6%
Increase US$8,231,767
Increase 59.0%
2009–2010 [58]
Increase US$17,979,312
Increase 107.7%
Negative increase US$10,266,793
Negative increase 82.8%
Increase US$14,542,731
Increase 76.7%
2010–2011 [39]
Increase US$24,785,092
Increase 37.8%
Negative increase US$17,889,794
Negative increase 74.2%
Increase US$24,192,144
Increase 66.3%
2011–2012 [59]
Increase US$38,479,665
Increase 55.2%
Negative increase US$29,260,652
Negative increase 63.6%
Increase US$34,929,058
Increase 44.4%
2012–2013 [60]
Increase US$48,635,408
Increase 26.4%
Negative increase US$35,704,796
Negative increase 22.0%
Increase US$45,189,124
Increase 29.4%
Increase US$52,465,287
Increase 8.6%
Negative increase US$45,900,745
Negative increase 28.6%
Increase US$53,475,021
Increase 18.3%
Increase US$74,536,375
Increase 44.5%
Negative increase US$52,596,782
Negative increase 14.6%
Increase US$77,820,298
Increase 45.5%
2015–2016 [110]
Increase US$81,862,724
Increase 9.8%
Negative increase US$65,947,465
Negative increase 25.4%
Increase US$91,782,795
Increase 17.9%


Board of trustees

The foundation's board of trustees has ultimate authority of all the businesses and affairs of the foundation. It is composed of ten members:

  • 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 . [61]

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 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. There is one vacant seat in the board.

In a high-profile decision of 2015, James Heilman was removed from the board, [62] [63] with little explanation. [62] (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.

Advisory board

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 outreach.


First appointments

File:Wikimedia Foundation Offices in San Francisco.webm
Staff and workplace at Wikimedia Foundation's San Francisco office

In 2004, the foundation appointed Tim Starling as developer liaison to help improve the MediaWiki 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. [66] Starling resigned that month to spend more time on his PhD program.


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, the foundation had five paid employees: [68] two programmers, an administrative assistant, a coordinator handling fundraising and grants, and an interim executive director , [69] 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 [70] until 2010.

In January 2007, Carolyn Doran was named chief operating officer and Sandy Ordonez joined as head of communications . [112] 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, [112] 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. [112]

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. [72] In February 2007, the foundation added a new position, chapters coordinator, and hired Delphine Ménard, [112] 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, the foundation had approximately 280 employees and contractors.

Disputes and lawsuits

Christophe Henner, the current Chairman of the Board

Many disputes have resulted in litigation [112] [112] [112] [112] while others have not. [112] Attorney Matt Zimmerman stated, "Without strong liability protection, it would be difficult for Wikipedia to continue to provide a platform for user-created encyclopedia content." [8]

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." [8] At the time of the hire the Foundation was concerned specifically about a bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act . [8]

In October 2013, a German Court ruled that the Wikimedia Foundation can be held liable for content added to Wikipedia – however, this applies only when there has been a specific complaint; otherwise, the Wikimedia Foundation does not check any of the content published on Wikipedia and has no duty to do so. [8]

In June 2014, a copyright infringement lawsuit was filed by Bildkonst Upphovsrätt i Sverige against Wikimedia Sweden. [8]

On June 20, 2014, a defamation lawsuit (Law Division civil case No. L-1400-14) involving Wikipedia editors was filed with the Mercer County Superior Court in New Jersey seeking, inter alia, compensatory and punitive damages. [8] [8]

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. [8] [8] [90] On October 23, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed the suit 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. [9] [9] The plaintiffs filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on February 17, 2016. [9]

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. [17]