discussions/Future of Camerapedia

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  • This page has been created to host a debate on the future of Camerapedia.
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Initial discussion

I have created this page to host a debate on the future of Camerapedia, and more specifically to discuss how to incorporate the informal community into some sort of structure, in order to raise fundings to pay for the hosting service.

As you may know, the website's founder Lbstone has generously paid for the server for a number of years, out of his own pocket, and has taken care of the technical maintenance. This is a situation that is not sustainable, and the community needs to find alternative ways to guarantee its future.

A few weeks ago, I have offered Lbstone to enter a private discussion with him on that matter (see this message of mine). Through this discussion, I have learned developments that I wish had been made known to the general community earlier.

I am now setting up this page so that Lbstone can explain what are the options he is currently exploring, and into what sorts of negotiations he has already entered with third parties.

I have asked Lbstone to launch the debate himself, but this has not been done and I now feel like this cannot wait any longer. I will give more specific details of the situation myself tomorrow if he does not jump into the public discussion.

--rebollo_fr 07:29, 15 January 2011 (EST)

Here's a quick response from me on the mailing list. I hope it helps. My family has had a cluster of birthdays recently, so I'm busy focusing on them at the moment. Will jump in on this as soon as I can. Thanks!
--Lbstone 11:25, 15 January 2011 (EST)
I'm supposíng that we'll find a way keeping this great non-commercial encyclopedia alive, but if it needs a kind of rebirth I hope that we'll have reason to celebrate that birthday together ;-) U. Kulick 14:13, 15 January 2011 (EST)
I am waiting for Brandon to post his views and comments before I respond in detail. Unless that is known, much will be just stabbing in the dark. That notwithstanding, it should be noted that Camerapedia is a unique web resource that has been built by all contributors, myself included, pro bono publico (for the common good) without any remuneration--and under the implicit, and on occasion explicit, understanding that the intellectual property which has been donated by the contributors is not 'owned' by a party for commercial gain.--GitzoCollector 13:19, 16 January 2011 (EST)
I see you have already started pulling your Flickr images (see: User talk:GitzoCollector#Flickr images?) You are free to do that. You should however not mess around with GFDL licensed Camerapedia content, as you did in Made in Occupied Japan. -- Petri Krohn 02:17, January 30, 2011 (UTC)

Organization proposal

I am still extremely interested at hearing Lbstone explain his plans for the website's future. Waiting for that, I would like to make my own proposal to the community.

  1. The money currently needed to run the website is in the order of $60 per month. This amount may be moderately revised upwards in the future if the traffic increases.
  2. Some sort of structure is needed to raise that money. One option is to create a non-profit organization (see important note below); this is what looks most reasonable to me.
  3. The members of the authoring community would have the choice to become members of the organization, by making a small contribution on an annual basis, with a low minimum amount.
  4. The organization's founding board would be made of volunteer contributors with a good track record of constructive edits. The organization's statutes would be public, and elections might be organized later.
  5. Donate tags would be placed on the website, and fund-raising campaigns would be made in order to drive more money if necessary.
  6. In case of absolute necessity, unobtrusive advertising space or easily recognizable sponsored links might be sold on behalf of the organization. This would only be made after a public debate has been run.
  7. The organization would compromise itself to function on a non-profit basis, and not to sell the website to a commercial third-party.
  8. It is absolutely necessary that all the legal trademarks and domain names be transferred to the organization. Of course this would require that their current owner Lbstone either donates or sells them.

Important note: I have no particular knowledge of the US law, and I have no clear view of what is the legal status of a "foundation". However I do understand the inner workings of non-profit voluntary associations in my own country (France). Under that system, associations are tax-free and do not require any capital, provided they are not making a profit. I know for sure that Sylvain Halgand's huge French camera collecting site is managed through a system similar to that proposed above.

Here are further thoughts on more specific points:

  • The technical maintenance of the website is certainly doable by volunteers. It is done by Halgand, and in many other websites involving complex databases. However this is a non-trivial task. I have a limited experience of running a Mediawiki site myself, but I would like to make an appeal at other volunteers who have experience of Mediawiki, PHP or MySQL.
  • The amount of time needed to run the association is certainly not negligible. (Though any affirmation that running the association would actually cost money or require to hire staff would be ridiculous.) I may have to take advice from Halgand or from other associations that I know here. In any case, people having some accounting experience are welcome to come forward and give advice too.

--rebollo_fr 17:08, 17 January 2011 (EST)

Founder's response

That's an ambitious plan, and something I considered in trying to decide how to best continue to guarantee the future stability of this site. It's also a risky plan. The costs of running a wiki are not insignificant, and will only get larger as we continue to grow. In addition, the resources needed will increase too... and yes, that may include staff time. Volunteers are key to any wiki of course, however a growing site also needs an organization that can provide stability and consistent staffing over the long term. There is always the risk that any one person we rely on will move on over time. The best option for a the long-term is a stable, established, and reliable host with professional staffing to support the wiki and it's growth. I've been looking in to that and should have more information soon. --Lbstone 15:15, 18 January 2011 (EST)

Answer and Review of preceeding communication

I wished that Lbstone had made a honest address to the readers and authors, instead of those generalities.
I have taken the difficult decision to disclose extracts of my e-mail correspondence with Lbstone. I am deeply sorry to make this inelegant move; I only invite you to read and judge the elegance of Lbstone's own projects, and his sincerity towards the wiki community.
(Prior disclosure: 1- any emphasis is mine, 2- these extracts are taken out of larger e-mails, 3- Lbstone has my explicit consent to disclose any other part of that correspondence, 4- I perfectly understand that I will break the wiki rule "Assume good faith", but I sincerely believe that I have enough reasons to do so.)
  • Lbstone on Dec.3: "[...] When I first started the Camerapedia, I decided to put it on one of my existing servers. It didn't take up much traffic, so it was no big deal. After a while, though, the Camerapedia was taking up most of the traffic on that server and the other sites were slowing down. Now that I have completed the server switch, Camerapedia is on its very own server, which I think is the best way to go."
  • Rebollo_fr on Dec. 3: "I think it would be fair to share some of the cost with other users or passers-by. We can certainly add a "donate" button somewhere on the site, enabling payments to be made to a Paypal account. I've suggested creating a fundation [...] That said, two important questions are: how much is needed per year to host the server? and how much do you think can be raised through donations?"
  • Lbstone on Dec.3: "Sounds good. Going to give this some thought and get back to you on the details."
  • Silence from Dec. 3 to Dec. 14
  • Lbstone on Dec. 14: "Some interesting things have occurred recently. I wanted to come to you first to get your thoughts on this. A very well-known company has asked to buy the domain from me."
  • Rebollo_fr on Dec. 15: "can you tell me what is this company?"
  • Silence from Dec. 15 to Jan. 8
  • Lbstone on Jan. 8: "Since you and I last spoke, I've also been in touch with representatives from that company. [...] The plan would be for me to stay on to make sure that the transition moves smoothly and to ensure that the needs of the community are represented. [...] This last server migration proved to me that I'm simply not able to maintain everything on my own anymore. This stage of growth is where things complicated. :) I need to hire contractors and professionals who can do server maintenance, and handle accounting and legal issues. That takes real money. [...] I'm currently working on building my own internet company and much of my time is being taken up by that, so I need to move quickly to get Camerapedia in a good place."
  • Rebollo_fr on Jan. 8: "First, I need to know what is the current cost of the hosting service [...] Second, I need to know what are the other maintenance tasks [...] Third, I can't make a precise idea without knowing the name of the company we're discussing."
  • Lbstone on Jan. 10: "I'll get in touch with the company and lay out your specific concerns right away. I want to work out a deal that will benefit everyone, so I'll continue to work hard on this and consult with you until we get to the point of consulting with the greater community. (I want to make sure that I have a chance to do some preliminary work before the whole community is involved. It's easy to create confusion if the group is brought in too early.) [...] To answer your first question, the current hosting and bandwidth cost is around $60/month. [...] I'm at a point where I need to be compensated for my time. Working on this takes more time than anyone realizes and I need to justify it. If the site continues to grow, this will become equivalent to a part-time job for me. (One where I've never been paid.) Also, I have my own startup company and the board requires that I justify how my time is spent. [...] I would be happy to have Camerapedia as a legitimate part-time job, if the funds are there. Do you think annual fund drives could make this work? [...] I'll be talking to the potential buyers soon. Any more thoughts you may have will help me to steer the process in the best direction."
  • Rebollo_fr on Jan. 12: "In case you choose to sell the website to a company, I'm not sure of my future position, and I cannot guarantee that I will stay. [...] Of course for now I'm completely in the dark, because it looks like the company does not want you to disclose their name or even business model in advance. I think this is completely foolish on their part, and I take this as a first hint that they do not really understand how to manage the website. It also looks like they are asking you to make the final decision and make some preliminary work without asking the community first (but maybe I've misinterpreted your words). This would be preposterous, and I wouldn't go that route." (The same e-mail also included the plan I'm proposing above.)
  • Lbstone on Jan. 13: "I worry that you underestimate what is fully required in order to do this right. Yes, we could scrape by on a shoestring budget, but that will most certainly cause problems in the future. [...] You're welcome to disagree with my assessment, but I feel that the project needs more than you're willing to concede."
  • Rebollo_fr on Jan. 13: "The site's main asset and condition for future growth is its community of writers. [...] In that view, I think that entering funding negotiations with a third party without discussing it in advance with the community was a mistake. To express disrespect by refusing to disclose essential information is another. How do you want me, or any other, to discuss your future projects if we don't even know the company's name or business model? Finally, to actually make a final decision and sell the website before having had a real debate with the other contributors would be a recipe for disaster. [...] What I'm really trying to explain is that you cannot just figure this out alone, then trying to build a favourable consensus afterwards. You need to build a consensus first with the authoring community, and this involves disclosing information. If the company is not prepared to see a public discussion, then it is not prepared to run the community, period."
  • End of discussion.
Now here are my comments:
  1. A third-party commercial company has actually offered to buy the domain name, not just take over the maintenance or sponsor the website (see Lbstone, Dec. 14).
  2. The name of the company is still unknown, as well as its business model.
  3. Lbstone somehow wanted me to believe that the commercial company spontaneously made an offer between Dec. 3 and Dec. 14, just after the website started to cost him actual money and while we were discussing possible fundings. He may as well want me to believe he received a visit from E.T. or Elvis Presley during the same period.
  4. Lbstone is creating his own Internet company and needs to get rid of Camerapedia quickly (see Lbstone, Jan. 8). He might also welcome some funds, such as those obtained from the sale.
  5. Until Nov. 2010, the website was hosted in one of Lbstone's servers and was not actually costing him any real money (see Lbstone, Dec. 3). As a sidenote, Lbstone has made only two Mediawiki upgrades since 2004 (from 1.5 to 1.6 in 2006, and from 1.6 to 1.16 in 2010). Any talk that he has made huge technical contributions has to be taken with a grain of salt.
  6. Nonetheless, he wanted me to believe that the website will suddenly need to hire people to "do server maintenance, and handle accounting and legal issues" (see Lbstone, Jan. 8). Remember that the website is currently running on a $60 per month hosting budget, has seen two software upgrades in five years plus two or three downtimes implicating a database repair, and that its contents was entirely built by volunteers.
  7. Maybe Lbstone is sincere about having given much time to the project through hidden maintenance tasks. But readers might be interested to check his actual contributions to the contents. Please take notice of his level of activity between 2006 and Nov. 2010, and compare with his assumption that Camerapedia has become a sort of part-time job.
  8. Lbstone actually planned (or was asked) not to disclose the sale to the wiki community until it was a done deal (see Lbstone, Jan. 10). His last post to this page indicates that he may still envisage doing that. To me, this is the ugliest aspect of all that story, and this is what prompted me to launch the debate myself, then to publish that correspondence.
I want to make clear that I don't want to work with Lbstone any more, whatever this implies. And Ι specifically ask him to answer two simple questions:
  • What is the name of the company involved?
  • How much money are they offering for the domain name?
In spite of these negative developments, I still encourage readers and other authors to give their views, and to discuss plans for the future of the website. I'm still ready to take the non-profit route, if enough volunteers come forward to help me. This would require Lbstone to donate the domain name and trademarks to the non-profit organization, and provide minimal technical help so that the transition runs smoothly.
I hope all this will be resolved in a way or another, and that this non-commercial resource will keep in existence.
--rebollo_fr 17:33, 18 January 2011 (EST)

Further discussion


I think that your embarassing plan is much riskier than fr_rebollo's sound suggestion. A wiki that was explicitely launched as non-commercial wiki project can't be transformed to something else in hands of a big private company. It's a matter of trustworthyness to keep it running as non-commercial as possible. All the contributions made to date were made by people who trusted in this principle, who believed in the indepency of this project.

Details of fr_rebollo's plan should be discussed.

What we need is a team. If a wiki server is set up there's usually a way for enabling remote admin work for a second and a third technical admin. We already have fr_rebollo as contents admin. There should be more (active!) contents admins, and not the attempt to drive out the last active contents admin and busiest wiki contributor by plans which sound horrible or which are made without him!

Who says that the team needed can't be built with volunteers? The world is full of wikis, forums, blogs and so on with volunteering admins. But this concept is only justified if the related projects are non-commercial anyway. And we are obliged to keep the non-commercial concept - the trustworthyness of the whole project is based on that.

I myself was asked by a commercial organization to offer my camera images to it. I withstood, since my camera images in our pool are explicitely dedicated to this, to Your, to our fine independent non-commercial wiki project. Please don't destroy it!

But then there are still costs for organizing stuff like the server, a friendly correspondence with a friendly institution that might offer us a read-only backup database location, and some necessary communication with Flickr. There must be no fear to start asking the community for some funding. A report about the achieved amount and its usage must be made every year. The wiki community itself helps to create the necessary pages about the funding topic. If You, Lbstone, are not able to maintain such a sound transition to a well-funded and better maintained project, or even further towards fr_rebollo's fine democratic approach, then You should help the project to be thouroughly transferred onto a server which has to be found by the community, the community in which You will always be welcome as honorary founding member. Best regards U. Kulick 20:12, 18 January 2011 (EST)

Announcement from Brandon

As I mentioned before, my goal here is to make sure that Camerapedia continues to be stable, available and open for all of us. The problems I've talked about in my emails to rebollo_fr are real and immediate, and I see it as my responsibility as founder and host to make sure that this wiki has an infrastructure in place that will keep it going long-term. That's what I'm currently working on getting set up. I'm sorry if the delay in writing about this has worried people, but I wanted to be sure we had everything in place and organized fully before I jumped ahead with an announcement. I think everything is together now, so please see A New Home for Camerapedia for more.