Feb 4, 2021 - Economy

Exclusive: The end of the Maher era at Wikipedia

Photo illustration of Katherine Maher and the Wikimedia logo. 

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer. Photo: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

Katherine Maher, the Wikimedia Foundation's CEO, will step down as of April 15, she tells Axios, leaving the nonprofit in a vastly stronger position than she found it when she joined in 2014.

Why it matters: Wikipedia is growing to become the most global and trusted source of knowledge in the world. Its base of active editors is rising, its number of women editors has increased by 30% just in the past year, and it has upgraded not only its website but also its app, which is now available for feature phones as well as smart phones.

Financially, the Wikimedia Foundation now has an endowment of more than $90 million, and has doubled its annual budget to an estimated $140 million in 2021.

  • It's hard to think of any other tech nonprofit that has been remotely as successful. OpenAI effectively became a for-profit in 2019, while Signal is still reliant on a single donor, Brian Acton.

Between the lines: One area that Wikimedia has been particularly successful is in garnering trust. That's also an area the news media could use some pointers.

  • Driving the trust: Maher is proud of her new Universal Code of Conduct, but also credits the diversity of Wikipedia's editors as a key ingredient creating trust in its content.
  • "Disagreement is the essential friction that produces our best content," she says.
  • A prime example: The magisterial 14,000-word article (plus 492 footnotes and a very detailed discussion) detailing the storming of the U.S. Capitol last month.

What's next: The Wikimedia Foundation board has created a committee to search for Maher's successor. Maher tells Axios that she hopes the next leader will "come from the future of knowledge" — by which she means Africa, the Indian subcontinent, or Latin America.

  • Maher herself says she intends to move back to the East Coast. She's up for a challenge — and there are some big jobs available.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Wikimedia Foundation has an endowment of more than $90 million.

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