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CASE: SM-245
DATE: 07/22/15

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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015:
Changing How Humans Share Knowledge
Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.
1
—Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder

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As Lila Tretikov (see Exhibit 1) looked at her computer screen late one evening in March 2015,
she thought back over the last nine months since she had joined Wikimedia Foundation as
executive director in June 2014. The Wikimedia Foundation was the non-profit organization that
oversaw the administrative aspects of Wikipedia, the world’s largest and most comprehensive
encyclopedia, and also was responsible for finding funding to keep Wikipedia and its sister
projects operating. The Foundation was at an inflection point; since Wikipedia was founded the
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Internet had changed, younger generations were consuming knowledge differently, many people
were coming online for the first time, and the world was going “mobile.” Wikipedia was the
fifth most popular site in the world, and Tretikov found herself wondering what was next for the
organization. She had come into her role in order to bring fresh perspectives and move the
organization forward with technological innovation and new product development. The number
of potential projects her team of roughly 200 could take on to serve half a billion users around
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the world was almost endless. The team had too much to do and too little time, and Tretikov
wondered both what the organization was missing and also how to prioritize her roadmap.

BACKGROUND AND BUSINESS MODEL

Wikipedia
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In 2015 Wikipedia was the world’s largest and most popular encyclopedia. The information was
online, free to use, and contained no advertising. Wikipedia offered more than 34 million
1
https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jimmy_Wales (July 2, 2015).
Arla Xhaxho (MBA 2015), Lecturer Robert E. Siegel, and Professor Robert Burgelman prepared this case as the
basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative
situation.
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Copyright © 2015 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Publicly available cases are
distributed through Harvard Business Publishing at hbsp.harvard.edu and The Case Centre at thecasecentre.org;
please contact them to order copies and request permission to reproduce materials. No part of this publication may
be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means ––
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise –– without the permission of the Stanford Graduate
School of Business. Every effort has been made to respect copyright and to contact copyright holders as
appropriate. If you are a copyright holder and have concerns, please contact the Case Writing Office at
cwo@gsb.stanford.edu or write to Case Writing Office, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Knight Management
Center, 655 Knight Way, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5015.

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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 2

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volunteer-authored articles in over 288 languages, and was visited by more than 457 million

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people every month, making it one of the most popular sites in the world.2

Wikipedia was founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Originally it was a feeder
project for another project: Nupedia, a professional, free online encyclopedia founded by Wales.
Nupedia was meant to contain expertly written, peer-reviewed content by highly qualified

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volunteer contributors who underwent an elaborate multi-step peer review process, but this
process had proved too cumbersome and led to only 12 articles written during its first year.
Wikipedia, in contrast, allowed anyone to contribute through a wiki-based model. Wiki software
is collaborative software that runs a wiki (a website), allowing users to create and collaboratively
edit web pages via a web browser. This software, originally created by American computer
programmer Ward Cunningham in 1994, allowed Wikipedia to achieve rapid growth in content
publishing. By the end of its first year, Wikipedia contained roughly 20,000 articles. Three

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years later, it grew from under 500,000 articles in late 2003 to more than 1 million in more than
100 languages by the end of 2004.3

Wales and Sanger found themselves at a crossroads in March 2002, as they disagreed on how to
handle Wikipedia’s editors, the role of experts, and the organization’s future direction. Sanger
left both Wikipedia and Nupedia and Wales went on to focus on Wikipedia, establishing a
bottoms-up, self-directed model, empowering the editors of Wikipedia4 to make their own
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decisions about the site’s content and editorial direction. Wales removed himself from day-to-
day management and left it up to editors to self-manage. As several of the Wikimedia
Foundation’s employees were fond of saying:

It’s a good thing Wikipedia works in practice, because it would never work in
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theory.5

The Role of Wikimedia

The Wikimedia Foundation was the non-profit organization that operated Wikipedia and other
projects (Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, etc). The organization was started in 2003, two
years after Wikipedia was launched, in order to host and operate the infrastructure behind
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Wikipedia and its sister projects, and support the growing community of volunteer editors. The
Wikimedia Foundation described its mission as empowering and engaging people around the
world to collect and develop the world’s knowledge free of charge for anyone on the planet.6
The Foundation supported the community with essential infrastructure and resources to drive the
movement’s mission forward. The Foundation acted first as a hosting service for the various
online products, maintaining the websites. Later, it added other core functions including
engineering and development for new tools such as mobile apps, a grant-making program, and
teams responsible for legal, communications, and other aspects. The work of writing the
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encyclopedia, setting its editorial direction, and resolving disputes among editors remained with
2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia (June 21, 2015).
3
For more on Wikipedia’s history, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Wikipedia (June 21, 2015).
4
Volunteers who edit Wikipedia are known as editors.
5
Jonathan Zittrain video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxrMq-_JUZM (July 2, 2015).
6
https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Mission_statement (July 2, 2015).

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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 3

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the community of volunteer editors. Emphasizing the unique role of the Foundation with regard

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to the Wikimedia community, staff sometimes described the Wikimedia world as a “community
with a foundation, not a foundation with a community”7 (see Exhibit 2).

The Wikipedia Credo

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The volunteer editors who wrote Wikipedia worked hard to keep the encyclopedia and its sister
projects neutral, accurate, and reliable. Each language-specific Wikipedia (of which there were
288 as of June 2015) had its own set of volunteer-developed guidelines and policies. For
example, English Wikipedia’s editors established the “Five Pillars:”

The “Five Pillars” of English Wikipedia were captured as follows: 8

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i. Wikipedia is an Encyclopedia (not a publisher of original research, soapbox, advertising
platform or vanity press)
ii. Neutral point of view
iii.Content is free for anyone to use, edit and distribute—no one “owns an article”
iv. Treat each other with respect and civility
v. No firm rules; be bold, but not reckless. Do not agonize on mistakes as every past version
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is saved

Other important guidelines that existed included the importance of the verifiability of content,
which ensured anyone reading an article could check a fact against a reliable source, and
biographies of living persons, which established standards for writing articles about living
people. When rules were broken, the community, and not the Wikimedia Foundation, would
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step in to enforce guidelines. The rules had been thoroughly developed over the previous 14
years from users themselves, essentially creating the organization’s own court system. There
were detailed rules on enforcement, copyright, and procedural processes, along with multiple
committees ranging from mediation and arbitration to elections and funds dissemination.
Volunteers created and stepped into these roles because of their passion to contribute to the
world’s knowledge and were not compensated.
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Wikipedia and its sister projects ran on an open-source software platform called MediaWiki,
which gave volunteers tools to contribute and edit content. This software was available for
anyone to use and improve.

Anyone who edited Wikimedia projects was called a Wikimedian. For every article on the
website there was an “edit” button that enabled any of 75,000 active editors in a given month to
modify content. In the United States editors tended to be young, male, “geeky” types, who had
the passion and the time to contribute invisibly behind Wikipedia. More than 80 percent of the
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editors were men, though some studies estimated it might have been as large as 91 percent,9 a

7
Interview with Lila Tretikov and Juliet Barbara (February 4, 2015).
8
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars (June 21,2015).
9
The Wikimedia Foundation did not track demographics of the editors due to its broad privacy protections.

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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 4

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controversial point in some people’s eyes as the world’s largest encyclopedia appeared to be

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missing a female perspective.

Who Pays for This?

Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia sister projects had always been entirely ad-free. The

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Wikimedia Foundation relied on donations to run the organization and support the community.
The money required for servers, hosting, and administration came from millions of donors and
select grants. Though fundraising was open year-round internationally, the bulk of the revenue
came in December, usually in small donations from the five largest English-speaking countries:
the United States, England, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. The annual budget in 2015
was $58 million; $8 million came from other non-profit foundations and the rest came from
small donations through the website. On average each individual donation was $15.

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By 2015, the money raised by the Foundation was used to pay staff salaries, develop technology
(servers, hosting, etc.), and support country chapters. Some international chapters also raised
their own funds in addition to the Foundation’s support from San Francisco; for example, the
independent Russian affiliate raised money to fund their operations. The Wikimedia Foundation
itself was a 501(c)(3) non-profit in the United States, which allowed it to seek tax-deductible
donations from US taxpayers.
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Affiliate Organizations around the World

The Wikimedia movement was expansive and multi-faceted. In addition to the individual
volunteer editors who contributed to Wikimedia projects, there were a variety of affiliate
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organizations around the world led by community members, including chapters, user groups, and
thematic organizations. Wikimedia Chapters were independently run organizations that
promoted Wikimedia projects in a certain geographic area. There were 41 chapters that were
legally independent of the Wikimedia Foundation. They became recognized by Wikimedia after
entering into a “Chapters Agreement” with the Foundation following acceptance by the
Affiliations Committee. The chapters did not control the Foundation-run websites, but supported
the Wikimedia mission by collecting donations, organizing local events and projects, and
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spreading the word about Wikimedia and its mission. Similarly, user groups were groups of
Wikimedia users who supported and promoted the Wikimedia projects in the offline world by
organizing meet-ups and other projects. By the middle of 2015 there were 34 user groups.
Thematic organizations were independent non-profit organizations founded to support and
promote the Wikimedia projects within a specified focal area. The Wikimedia Foundation
supported affiliate organizations through donations and other resources, but these organizations
were separate from the Wikimedia Foundation.
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TRETIKOV’S BACKGROUND

Lila Tretikov joined the Wikimedia Foundation on June 1, 2014, succeeding Sue Gardner, who
had run the organization for the previous seven years. Gardner first joined the organization as a
consultant in 2007. A few months later she was promoted to executive director to steer

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Wikipedia into rapid growth. By the end of Gardner’s tenure, Wikipedia had become the fifth

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largest website in the world. Gardner had developed and refined the Foundation’s fundraising
strategy, increasing donations from $3 million in 2007 to $51 million in 2014.10 Her background
in journalism had allowed Gardner to support a culture of Internet freedom and openness in the
organization. However, Gardner did not have a technical background, and with changing
technology and a diverse global user base, technical expertise became more important for future

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growth. Gardner described the process of looking for her replacement as a “search for a
unicorn”11 as she did not think anyone with the requirements she had set for the role would be
easy to find.

We decided the new ED should be someone with a product/engineering


background, ideally in an open-source or other online community context. We
wanted someone experienced with organizations that were growing, who’d

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managed staff and budgets comparable to ours, and who had experience creating
continuous delivery of technology improvements in an agile context. We wanted a
person who was oriented towards collaboration, transparency and openness, with
some experience with complex stakeholder environments, and with an
international orientation. We knew we needed someone with courage and strong
personal integrity, who wouldn’t be intimidated by attempts to censor the
projects.12
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Tretikov’s Early Life

Tretikov lost her mother at the age of nine, which had a profound impact on her life. She chose
to step up to care for her elderly grandparents and manage the household. This experience made
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her strong and independent at a young age. Despite enrolling in a Russian university at the age
of 14, three years earlier than normal, she quickly grew bored:

I tried to imagine my life 20 years down the line, and I could actually imagine it. I
could see what would happen, or at least I could extrapolate what would happen
in Russia, and I didn’t want that. I wanted to have a wide range of opportunities
and unknowns to solve and to challenge myself.13
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Tretikov decided to leave Russia and move to New York, though she did not know English and
had no friends or close family members in the United States. With no financial and emotional
support, life was extremely hard in the beginning. This experience forced her to build
relationships and connections upon which she could rely, and to be industrious about finding her
life’s path.
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10
http://www.knightfoundation.org/press-room/press-release/wikimedia-foundation-executive-director-sue-gardne/
(June 21, 2015).
11
http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2014-05-13/woman-run-wikipedia-russian-born-former-
cal-student-seen (July 2, 2015).
12
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2014-04-30/Breaking (July 2, 2015).
13
Interview with Lila Tretikov (February 2, 2015).

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Career Pre-Wikimedia

Tretikov attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied computer science
with a focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence. She was fascinated by this field and
took advanced graduate courses, but before long she became more attracted to building her own

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company. She finished all of the work to complete her undergraduate degree but never went to
campus to pick up her diploma. In 1999, she started working at Sun Microsystems, a leading
workstation company located in Mountain View, California. A year later, she left and founded
her own company, GrokDigital, a technology marketing firm she ran for four years. In addition
to the rigors of running a company, Lila also had a baby during this period; she would often
work all night, finally taking a break to deal with morning sickness while she was
pregnant. Realizing that running her own firm was not sustainable with a baby, she transitioned

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to Telespree, a company that provided cloud-based wireless data services for mobile
carriers. After Telespree she joined SugarCRM, a small start-up where she spent seven years in
several executive roles — CIO, head of marketing, customer support and professional services,
engineering, and CPO. During her tenure with the company the CEO tapped Tretikov to tackle
the company’s hardest problems in order to keep her engaged and productive.

Wikimedia Finds Tretikov


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Tretikov had begun exploring starting a company in the medical field when Wikimedia knocked
on her door. Gardner had started searching for a successor, a process she believed would take
six months, but it was not until 13 months and 1,300 candidates later that she met Tretikov.
Gardner was looking for someone with the right open-source technology background and
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personality to handle the complexity of the position. Kevin Gorman, a Wikipedian who had also
worked for the Wikimedia Foundation, reflected on the role:

Wikimedia is a 207-person organization that is directly responsible to its


volunteer community in a way not many institutions are. If we do something and
people rebel, we don’t just have to answer to shareholders or employees, we have
to answer to the whims of the 80,000 people who contribute to our project, who
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might not always be the easiest to deal with.14

Tretikov had to make a decision whether to stay with her medical start-up, a field about which
she was passionate, or join the Foundation. As she thought about the Wikimedia opportunity and
reflected on growing up as a child in Russia in the 1980s, she realized the impact that experience
had taught her about the importance of the freedom of information. Tretikov observed
differences in humans when they had access to “truth” and how it changed societies. The more
she contemplated the complex challenges of Wikimedia, she wondered if she had always been
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wired to think about these issues:

14
http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2014-05-13/woman-run-wikipedia-russian-born-former-
cal-student-seen (June 21, 2015).

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The only real way to improve conditions of civilizations is to provide open access

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to information for education and culture, and to be honest about the past.
Otherwise we spend our lives siloed from each other and we repeat the mistakes
of our grandparents.

In the end, she decided to take the Wikimedia role.

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Tretikov takes over

Tretikov arrived at the Foundation on June 1, 2014. Her arrival signaled a big change for an
organization that had been run by Gardner for seven years. Under Gardner, the Foundation had
partnered with the Wikimedia volunteer community to create a five-year strategic plan. This
plan set very ambitious targets for 2009 through 2015:

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 Increase the total number of people served to 1 billion
 Increase the number of Wikipedia articles to 50 million
 Ensure information was of the highest quality by increasing the percentage of material
reviewed to be of high or very high quality by 25 percent
 Encourage readers to become contributors by increasing the number of total editors per
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month who made more than five edits to 200,000
 Support healthy diversity in the editing community by doubling the percentage of female
editors to 25 percent and increasing the percentage of Global South15 editors to 37 percent

By the time 2015 arrived most of these goals were far from being met. In April 2015, Wikipedia
had 495 million users, less than half of the goal set, and 35 million articles, versus the target 50
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million. Tretikov realized this top-down, long-term strategic approach would not work and
wanted to bring in processes that were more reactive in the short term. She had a bold vision to
execute that she shared with the world on her first day:

What I am after is our connection to the world and each other through knowledge.
What I’d like us to do is to think big. Think beyond ourselves. Think about
humanity as a whole. Because you can. Because Wikimedia is the place to
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transcend the now and to build the future.

This means that what’s ahead is bigger than any one of us. Yet, together, we can
make it happen. It means thinking beyond ourselves. It means thinking as a
student in Cambodia learning about Khmer poetry, or a doctor in France writing
about infectious diseases. This means empathy, altruism, and compassion. It
means making things accessible, friendly, and easy for everyone.
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This is what makes Wikimedia big.


This is what makes each of us bigger than we could ever be.

15
Emerging markets in Asia and Africa.

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This is the what. Our job, as the community and the Foundation, is to build the

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how. Where there is the will, there is a way. We are here to walk it. Let’s think
big.16

In order to get there, Tretikov knew she would need to really understand the Wikimedia
movement, the Foundation’s organizational and technical capabilities, and the emerging global

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trends impacting the projects and free knowledge.

Getting Started
In her first six months, Tretikov spent time learning all she could about the Wikimedia
movement and the Foundation. She wanted to understand Wikimedia’s “secret sauce,” which
she soon learned was the huge global community of volunteer editors who write for Wikipedia
and its sister projects. She also wanted to understand the Foundation and how it operated.

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Working with her management team, she assessed the organization’s core competencies and
processes. She determined that the most important thing was to listen to the employees and
community to fully understand what was going on—but not to act immediately. She had one-on-
one conversations with people throughout the Foundation, spoke to community members,
traveled to local chapters, and began to form an opinion on what actions would have the most
impact. She knew that her vision of Wikipedia as the ultimate source of free knowledge would
require innovation and new thinking, which would only be possible if the core of the
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organization was strong.

As she spoke with her staff, she felt some employees were losing sight of the broader
organizational mission and had instead begun focusing on the individual projects on which they
were working. For some people, the work at Wikimedia had been their first and only job, and
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the organization sometimes lacked best practices and scalable processes. The organization had
doubled in size in the last year and as it continued growing, better systems were needed to
improve transparency and accountability. Tretikov started wondering about the ways she could
realign the organization under its guiding vision and re-energize employees. She also started
wondering about what the organization should continue to hold as its internal values, and what
behaviors should be expected in order to hire, fire, or promote individuals. Ultimately, she
needed to show results, and wondered how best to define key performance indicators and set and
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measure operational goals.

The Wikimedia Foundation’s vision had always been to empower people around the world to
create and share freely in the sum of all knowledge. There were many projects on the roadmap
that would best serve this vision, ranging from infrastructure changes, mobile support,
international user growth, and new product development. Therefore, her top priority in 2015 was
to align everyone around what would have the most impact. She wanted every employee to come
to work every day and be able to answer the following question: “What are you doing today and
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how is that supporting what we’re trying to do this year?”

After six months of investigation, Tretikov was ready to start making changes. To kick off the
new year, she announced her 2015 Call to Action—a set of priorities designed to help strengthen

16
http://blog.wikimedia.org/2014/06/02/venture-beyond/ (June 21, 2015)

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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 9

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the core of the organization by improving execution, focusing on community relationships, and

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building the platform for experimentation and future innovation. These priorities would serve as
the roadmap for the entire organization’s work for the following year.

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2015 Call to Action

Technology & Execution


■ We will define our commitments—and deliver on-time and on-budget.
■ We will make our decisions based on data.
■ We will improve our process for community input and allocate dedicated technical

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resources to community requests.
■ We will update legacy architectures and deliver mobile-ready infrastructure and services
to support structured data, user security, and a simplified user experience.

Community & Knowledge


■ We will integrate across community engagement functions to improve communication
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and results.
■ We will create a central, multilingual hub for community support.
■ We will have a working plan to support emerging users and communities.
■ We will improve our measures of community health and content quality, and fund
effective community and content initiatives.
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Experimentation & New Knowledge


■ We will integrate, consolidate, and pause or stop stalled initiatives.
■ We will create spaces for future community-led innovations and new knowledge
creation.
■ We will facilitate and support new models and structures for knowledge curation.
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■ We will strengthen partnerships with organizations that use or contribute free content, or
are aligned with the WMF in the free-knowledge movement.17

Investing in Leadership
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Tretikov knew that for the organization to be truly successful it needed the right leadership in
place to help execute the Call to Action, empower teams, and contribute to future strategy. In
her first year she made a number of key leadership hires, with an emphasis on strong
management skills, commitment to quality, and deep technology understanding.

17
WMF = Wikimedia Foundation

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Key leadership hires and promotions included:

 Terence Gilbey, chief operating officer (interim)—A management consultant and


former executive director of enterprise operations at Kaiser Permanente, Gilbey was
hired in March 2015 to build rigor and discipline around the Foundation’s operational

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processes.
 Luis Villa, senior director of Community Engagement—Formerly Deputy General
Counsel in the Foundation’s Legal department, Villa was tapped to join the executive
team and lead the newly formed Community Engagement department in February
2015. Villa brought more than 15 years of experience in open communities.

FUTURE AND STRATEGIC IMPLICATIONS

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As she tackled the internal organizational issues, Tretikov was also recognizing emerging trends
in the external environment that she knew would greatly impact Wikimedia’s future. While the
organization focused on strengthening its core, she knew it also needed to be positioning itself
within the changing global landscape. Technology had advanced at unprecedented rates, with
mobile computing gaining traction around the world. User behavior was also changing, with
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shorter attention spans and different information needs for younger people. Generation Z was
becoming a focus with its own unique attitudes and needs. The next billion users of the Internet
were about to come online from around the world, and their desires and actions would likely be
very different that those that had gone online prior.

Tretikov also looked carefully at the previous quarter’s results and thought about the data:
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globally, page views were flat, but mobile had been growing while desktop views were shrinking
(see Exhibit 3). It became clear to her that the organization needed to focus more on mobile
apps. Fundraising was also showing promise on mobile, with mobile donations increasing
rapidly.

Mobile and Changing User Behavior


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By the end of Q1 2015 over 50 percent of Wikipedia traffic was coming from mobile devices,
and this percentage was continuing to grow. Wikimedia had been trying to learn about new
ways of creating and consuming content on mobile platforms and how best to engage users on
various mobile products. The organization’s native mobile app was relatively unknown and not
ranked in the top 1,000 downloaded apps on a daily basis.18

The Foundation learned that users were behaving differently on mobile than on desktops; for
example, users engaged more in articles with large images at the top on mobile devices vs. with
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desktop computers. The organization had tested an experimental project allowing readers of a
Wikipedia article to extract and fill in structured data from an article through yes/no questions;
(see Exhibit 4). The experiment had hinted at a potential future for Wikipedia on mobile:

18
Data from http://www.appannie.com (June 21, 2015).

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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 11

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engagement was high, as was quality (80-90 percent accuracy), and time spent on mobile

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platforms continued to increase positively.

The team focused the technology roadmap on mobile access for the iOS and Android operating
systems and, per the Call to Action, strengthening the core. As the organization moved into
2015, areas of focus for technology included:

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 Strengthening support for mobile web and apps development, building on
improvements made in 2014 to the mobile app and web experiences. This included a
focus on building content and contribution streams on mobile web and apps beyond
editing, including curation, short form text, classification, data, and more.
 Delivering reliable, quality software and products that meet the needs of Wikimedia

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readers and editors. For example, the organization refocused energies around one of
its core products: a visual editor for MediaWiki,19 a WYSIWYG way of editing
Wikipedia to improve the editing experience and offer an easier new way for people
to participate. The product had been in development for years, but under the clarity of
the Call to Action, the Foundation focused on processes for building and iterating
quality software that met user needs.
 Strengthening community input into product priorities and develop standardized
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update and feedback channels. This would include improving process for community
input and allocate dedicated technical resources to community requests, eventually
leading to the Wikimedia Foundation creating the Community Tech team and hiring
more community liaisons.
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Education and Diversity

After 12 years, the Wikimedia Foundation still faced a challenge in educating the world about
the resources and activities of both Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. Many people did
not know they could edit Wikipedia, so the Foundation and the community had to do a great deal
of education on this topic. Many people did not know that Wikimedia’s role was to support the
information community and “keep the lights on” as stewards of the movement, rather than act as
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editors and contributors. Tretikov and her team wondered how they could best educate key
constituencies on these topics as well as the overall purpose of the Wikipedia project.
Communications and branding would play a key role in this process, and the small but growing
Communications team shifted from reactive to proactive communications.

Additionally, the unique structure of the Wikimedia movement meant that the community
needed to be both global and diverse as it educated the world about Wikipedia and its sister
projects; for example “edit-a-thons” took place around the globe, where editors would get
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together to improve a specific topic. Many edit-a-thons were specifically geared towards
women, to encourage more of them to contribute to the platform, though it was too early to see if
these activities were actually having an impact. On diversity, 72 percent of the Foundation’s
employees in San Francisco (60 percent of the workforce) were young and Caucasian, but were

19
A way for Wikipedians to edit without having to learn wiki markup syntax.

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also serving a global community. Tretikov also wondered how she could attract a more diverse,

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mission-driven and hard-working set of talent in the Bay Area while competing with the myriad
tech start-ups offering generous equity and perks.

At the same time, the Foundation’s own Grantmaking team (now part of the Community
Engagement team) continued to focus on increasing diversity of content and participation

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through grants and programming. The team’s grants and project implementations had reached
more than 28,000 people across 61 countries and 33 language Wikimedia projects in 2014.
Priorities included expansion of content in multiple languages through grants and other
resources, empowering Wikimedia movement leaders to support community growth, addressing
key diversity gaps in Wikimedia content, and supporting research and experiments to increase
the quality of content.

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Generation Z, the Biggest Challenge

Even if the organization could prove itself to be a great product innovator in the transition to
mobile, the larger concern was around how people around the world were going to engage with
knowledge and facts. The biggest challenge for Wikimedia was to understand how individuals
and various cultures consumed both information and also the process of actively learning and
teaching others. The Internet had entered an era of “memes,” including GIFs and 15-second
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Vines, and this concerned Tretikov. She wanted people to think critically about topics, to
analyze and question issues, as that was how she thought the world could be improved. She
pondered what Wikimedia’s role should be in the future. Tretikov’s personal history had taught
her that information could be easily manipulated, and felt as though Wikipedia could play a role
in standing for knowledge and enlightenment.
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Particularly concerning was Generation Z (also known as “tweens,” or children between the ages
of 9 and 12), as Tretikov had also noticed changing patterns of behavior on the Internet. She was
witnessing the rise of the “Snapchat” generation that consumed content in small bits and images
and had too short of an attention span for long, academic articles. When this generation grew up,
it was unclear whether they would care to edit Wikipedia themselves and if anyone would be left
to feed the world’s tree of knowledge.
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Emerging Economies

Finally, the over four billion people in the world who still did not have Internet access were a
critical part of Wikimedia’s goal of making knowledge available to all people. A billion people
were expected to access the Internet for the first time in the next few years, mostly from Asia,
Africa, and South and Central America. Wikimedia was attempting to learn how these people
were going to interact with new technologies when they first had access to it. Some emerging
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countries were skipping the desktop phase of computing and accessing the Internet on mobile
platforms from the start. These people were using communication apps, such as chat services,
prevalently and frequently. Questions that dogged the organization revolved around what
information needs different people around the world would have. How would diverse cultures
around the world create and share in increasingly diverse knowledge? What role would machine
translation play in extending knowledge into the world’s languages? How could a global

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knowledge base best preserve local, regional, and national perspectives? What type of platforms

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would these people need to engage in to facilitate the sharing of knowledge?

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Wikipedia Zero

One project the Foundation started to address the issue of global access to free knowledge was
Wikipedia Zero, which launched in 2012 and remained a priority under Tretikov’s leadership.
Through Wikipedia Zero, the Wikimedia Foundation partnered with mobile carriers around the
world to waive data charges for users accessing Wikipedia via their mobile devices. This
allowed people to use Wikipedia for free. The program was operating in 48 countries with 56

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operators and was available to 450 million people.20 Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales described
the intent of the experiment:

Removing the cost of accessing Wikipedia may sound trivial, but it’s one small
change that makes a huge difference. Students will do their homework and
research careers. Doctors will study treatments. Small businesses will find
knowledge to innovate. People will better understand their own history, society,
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and culture. We invite mobile operators all over the world to make knowledge
truly free.21

Wikimedia wanted to learn through this experiment about user behavior in emerging countries.
Though the vast resources of Wikipedia were available to half a billion people, would
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individuals actually adopt this platform? Would they engage the same way the rest of the world
that had grown up with Internet? The Wikimedia team wondered what they would need to do
next to serve this next wave of users.

Involving Community in Shaping Strategy

In 2009, the Foundation had helped facilitate a highly collaborative, community-driven,


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exhaustive and lengthy strategic planning process that resulted in the 2009-2015 Strategic Plan.
Heralded for its innovative and groundbreaking process, the 2009-2015 Plan greatly shaped the
movement. However, as a downside, it was less adaptive to the changing nature of the Internet.
Having learned from the 2009 5-year plan, the Wikimedia Foundation under Tretikov decided to
adopt a more agile and adaptable process. This process involved more ongoing learning and
inquiry. As a first step, they decided to do a “Strategic Visioning” Community Consultation.
The team kicked off a 2-week community consultation by seeking the community’s advice and
perspective to shape the platform’s strategy for the next several years. The idea was to learn
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from everyone’s suggestions and use these ideas to inform the strategy. The program launched
simultaneously in all geographies and focused the team to ponder the two megatrends that were

20
http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Wikipedia_Zero (June 21, 2015).
21
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:What_is_Wikipedia_Zero%3F.webm (July 2, 2015).

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changing the Internet: the world was increasingly “going mobile” and the next billion Internet

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users were coming online.

The Foundation posed the following questions to the community:

 What major trends would you identify in addition to mobile and the next billion users?

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 Based on the future trends that you think are important, what would thriving and healthy
Wikimedia projects look like?

Revenue as an Option

Wikimedia had been adamant about not using advertising as a source of capital. In the fiscal year

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2013-2014 (July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014), the Fundraising team raised $52.6 million, exceeding
the annual plan goal by 5%. As of April 2015, in the 2014-2015 fiscal year (between July 1,
2014 – January 7, 2015), the team has raised $58.5 million from 4.2 million total donations,
meeting their goal six months ahead of plan. They had also been showing promising signs in
raising funds in non-English speaking countries, gathering $2.8 million in a two-week period in
France. Fundraising on mobile phones and tablets was rapidly growing, accounting for 16.1
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percent of fundraising in 2014 vs. 1.7 percent in 2013 (see Exhibit 5).

The Foundation’s fundraising model, which used banner-announcements on the site to request
donations, was grounded in a many-small-donor philosophy that supported organizational
freedom and independence (where no single major donor could negatively impact the neutrality
of the content or the freedom of the volunteers). This mode of fundraising had been immensely
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successful for the Foundation, and the fundraising team used extensive A/B message testing, user
research, and constant experimentation to continue to deliver their results.

Tretikov liked the many-small-donor ethos and what it represented. However, she was also
aware that with greater use and reuse of Wikimedia content by other sites and applications, and
the increased “skimming” of the content to be embedded elsewhere, meant fewer users being
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exposed to the Wikimedia sites themselves, and seeing the fundraising banners. Fewer eyeballs
might mean fewer donations, which meant that at a time when the Foundation’s budget was
growing, there would need to be priority around getting people to the site while exploring
potential ways to change the fundraising model.

WHAT NEXT?

The Wikimedia Foundation was going through a big transition both internally and externally. As
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technologies, devices, and people were rapidly changing, the Foundation recognized the pressing
need to organize itself in a way to be able to adapt and succeed in this new environment. The
team believed their mission to provide global access to free knowledge was as relevant as ever.
Tretikov had bold dreams and was beginning to implement organizational changes. For
example, the Community Engagement department looked to unite all individuals and teams
responsible for working directly with the community under one group. However, her main

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question remained around how to prioritize what projects the Foundation should focus on next.

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With new platforms and devices being launched, the organization recognized the need to
innovate beyond Wikipedia as it existed during that time. Wikipedia was considered a “distilled
type of knowledge,” which was very factual; what might follow? The teams needed to support
different media formats (e.g., images, video, etc.), as well as all types of devices and knowledge
systems. Tretikov did not worry about any competitor in particular, as no one was competing

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directly head-to-head, but she was alert to the limitations of the ‘cognitive surplus,’ and attuned
to other products (e.g., social networks) that took attention away from reading encyclopedias
with content that was not knowledge.

As Tretikov thought about prioritizing future initiatives around data architectural projects, better
editing tools, new device support and emerging economies Internet access, she thought about the

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new generation of Internet users not being inspired to contribute to the knowledge tree. She
thought about the Internet turning more into an entertainment system and about existential
threats such as corporations or governments using Wikipedia for self-promotion.

As she turned off her computer for the night, she wondered how she should prioritize what was
the most important thing to do next.
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No
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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 16

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Exhibit 1

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Lila Tretikov Bio on Wikimedia Page

Lila Tretikov is the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization
that provides equal access to knowledge through services like Wikipedia, the world’s largest
encyclopedia, available in 285 languages and the fifth most popular website in the world.

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Lila has been a leader in the technology space for almost 15 years. Most recently, she served as
the Chief Product Officer for the open-source, cloud-based software vendor, SugarCRM
sponsored an open-source project with more than 30,000 contributors and deployed by over 1.5
million individuals in 120 countries and 26 languages. Lila’s responsibilities during her tenure
included product strategy, engineering, operations, IT, product management, professional
services, marketing, and user experience.

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Lila began her career as an engineer at the Sun-Netscape Alliance working on the Java server.
She later founded and grew information technology startups to offer support for customers in
telecommunication, retail and banking. Her customers included Bank of America, Ameritrade,
and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Her work on the Human Genome Browser at
Berkeley allowed her to combine her passion for large data systems with intelligent user
interfaces.
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Born in the Soviet Union, Lila experienced first-hand the rise of openness and transparency in
government through the policy of glasnost. She developed a commitment to free and open
information made possible by passionate people equipped with technology; a commitment she
brings to her work at the Wikimedia Foundation and in the Wikimedia movement.
Lila studied Computer Science and Art at the University of California, Berkeley, where she did
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research work in machine learning; she holds patents for intelligent data mapping, dynamic
language applications, and other technology innovations. In 2012, she received a Stevie Award
For Women in Business. In 2014, Lila was named to Forbes’ list of “The World’s 100 Most
Powerful Women” and was on the San Francisco Chronicle’s “21 Most Powerful Women in Bay
Area Technology.”
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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 17

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Exhibit 2

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Wikimedia Mission

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Source: Wikimedia Foundation.
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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 18

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Exhibit 3

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Q4 Results

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Source: Wikimedia Foundation
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No
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Exhibit 4

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WikiGrok Experiment

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Source: Wikimedia Foundation.


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Wikimedia Foundation in 2015: Changing How Humans Share Knowledge SM-245 p. 20

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Exhibit 5

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Fundraising Device Distribution

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Source: Wikimedia Foundation. yo
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copyright. Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860