Sue Gardner To Depart Wikimedia Foundation, ‘Uncomfortable’ With Where Internet Is Heading

    March 28, 2013
    Chris Crum

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation (the organization that runs Wikipedia) announced today that she is stepping away from her position. She’s not leaving right way. She expects it to take at least six months to find her replacement, and she will remain in her position in the meantime.

She’s been with the foundation since it was small, and has helped lead it to the Internet force it has become. But why is she leaving? She doesn’t like where the Internet is headed. Gardner, who says the decision wasn’t easy, says it comes down to two things.

“First, the movement and the Wikimedia Foundation are in a strong place now,” she says in her announcement. “When I joined, the Foundation was tiny and not yet able to reliably support the projects. Today we’re healthy, thriving, and a competent partner to the global network of Wikimedia volunteers. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t feel okay to leave, and in that sense, my leaving is very much a vote of confidence in our Board and executive team and staff. I know they will ably steer the Foundation through the years ahead, and I’m confident the Board will appoint a strong successor to me.”

“I feel that although we’re in good shape, with a promising future, the same is not true for the internet itself. (This is thing number two.) Increasingly, I’m finding myself uncomfortable about how the internet’s developing, who’s influencing its development, and who is not,” she adds. “Last year we at Wikimedia raised an alarm about SOPA/PIPA, and now CISPA is back. Wikipedia has experienced censorship at the hands of industry groups and governments, and we are –increasingly, I think– seeing important decisions made by unaccountable, non-transparent corporate players, a shift from the open web to mobile walled gardens, and a shift from the production-based internet to one that’s consumption-based. There are many organizations and individuals advocating for the public interest online — what’s good for ordinary people — but other interests are more numerous and powerful than they are. I want that to change. And that’s what I want to do next.”

More on recent developments with CISPA here.

Gardner says she intends to do something else aligned with the values of Wikimedia, which might surface in the form of a book, a non-profit, or work in partnership with something that already exists.

“Either way, I strongly believe this is what I need to do,” she says. “I feel an increasing sense of urgency about this. That said, I also feel a strong sense of responsibility (and love!) for the Wikimedia movement, and so I’ve agreed with the Board that I’ll stay on as Executive Director until we have my successor in place. That’ll take some time — likely, at least six months.”

In the meantime, she says, nothing will change.

The Board has appointed a transition team, which will be meeting over the coming weeks, with a face-to-face meeting scheduled for mid-April.

Here’s an interview we did with Gardner back in 2009 about keeping Wikipedia relevant.