Interview with recent Wikimedia Foundation board appointee Domas Mituzas
Thursday, March 6, 2008
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Domas Mituzas is a Lithuanian software developer recently given a temporary position on the Wikimedia Foundation's board. The position lasts until June this year, after which he has stated he will decide whether he will run for a full term of two years. As well as working for the Wikimedia Foundation, he is employed by MySQL AB.
In light of his recent appointment to the board, Wikinews conducted the following interview with Domas Mituzas.
((WN)) Congratulations on your new board position! Can you tell us a bit about your background - previous work with the Foundation, what you do with MySQL AB etc?
Domas Mituzas: Thanks! Though my first edits to Wikipedia were in 2003, I became actively involved in site technology back in 2004. Then I was working for a major IT company in the Baltic States, and was leading the systems group there. Back then I could apply quite a bit of practice I had from my job to maintain Wikipedia in its technology infancy. It became increasingly involving, and eventually the things we started doing became far more complex, especially when the exploding growth hit us. Managing the growth and sustaining the site up was quite stressful at that time, and we started both lots of optimization and resource expansion work. Eventually I got involved in the MySQL community, and was suggested to apply for a job in MySQL AB. There I work in services division, assisting our customers with their problems, helping to grow their operations. Now as part of company acquisition I'm joining Sun Microsystems, and I'm eager to see what possibilities can that provide.
Back in my childhood I was deep into encyclopedias, first dead tree ones, later CDs and online version of Britannica. I had a dream, that once I get my own home, I'll get full dead-tree version of Britannica on my bookshelves. It didn't happen, as I got into Wikipedia the same year I bought my apartment. Life is full of irony :-)
Actually, back in 2000 I approached university professor and tried to explain him a concept of dynamically edited news repository, where every concept could be explained deeper and deeper into elemental knowledge particles, and later that can be assembled in many dynamic ways. His first question was "Is that some kind of website?", and I was angry at him for not getting the generic concept of knowledge at all. Year or two afterwards I was discussing same concepts with a colleague, and he provided with far more practical visions of all that. Seeing Wikipedia for the very first time was a dejavu, so it was easy to get into the project. That is different from what I imagined, but far more useful.
((WN)) Why do you think you were chosen for this position, and what do you think you can contribute?
DM: One of reasons was both my long-term presence in site operations and communicating about our work, spreading our ideology, providing opinions. I try to be able to explain difficult topics in human language, and that is quite well appreciated. Additionally, I was being a bit of outsider - more of a reader than writer, so I feel that my views are slightly less community centric, more of value centric. My experience in a technology team is quite similar to what I expect to see in the board - wide array of issues to work on, and maintaining consensus is incredibly important to keep the productivity high. So even though I have deep roots in the project, I feel that I can bring in lots of fresh ways to the board. Of course, I will try to provide best possible technology advise, if the board needs it.
((WN)) Will you continue doing your previous technical work at the same time? If you do, how will you find a balance?
DM: I would really avoid to do all previous work - but it is not needed any more. Years ago we were monitoring the site 24/7, shortage of resources was causing all sorts of difficult problems. Now everything is way more steady and reliable, so I have way much more free time. I used to do lots of other activities too, so I think I can scale my time just fine. And still, of course, I'll provide as much work to technical part as needed, it just isn't as demanding as it used to be, and we're really happy about that.
((WN)) What major actions do you expect to come your way during your term in office?
DM: Though my term is quite short for now (until June elections), the biggest work will be done in understanding how the foundation should function to establish a really long-term presence, to support the projects far into the future. It may need changes in how we get external experience, how we interact with other organizations, how we do interact with office staff and each other. Foundation did lots of work to get to stable and reliable state, now it is time to think more about the future sustainability and expansion.
I have operations experience, so of course I will want to maintain high efficiency of overall operation, but on the other hand I want to work on scaling other parts of the foundation - especially reach out, evangelism, and of course - fundraising.
((WN)) Do you expect any major upgrades to be needed to hardware or software anytime soon, and if so what?
DM: Projects are always growing - pages, pageviews, revisions, users, media, archives - to facilitate that there will always be major upgrades. We still have some of the solutions that allowed us to survive for years, but are not suitable for a whole millennium. There will always be new features, that will need more resources, so we definitely won't stop improving our hardware or software platform. I have to take off the board member hat to answer these questions, as they should be really directed to technology team, instead of board. I won't mention exact projects, but we have a trail of features that have to be implemented, and will be, soon. But indeed, that is very much operational issue, that the technology team and foundation staff is known to handle well.
((WN)) What do you expect lies ahead for the Foundation in the long run - say, the next ten years?
DM: My generation is already forming the 'Wikimedia Alumni' - the readers, consumers of our content love us. It is amazing to realize what powers they may have in the next ten years, and how they will be able to assist us.
The biggest work to be done - maintaining the loyalty of our community, continue being the good guys of the Internet. Next ten years will be years of continued Internet penetration, and us being the major beneficial part of that process is especially exciting.
I really want to believe, that our offline activities will be just an intermediate step, and we will have whole world using our online resources, and of course - contributing to them.
Also, I'm not sure if we will be capable to achieve in next ten years, but besides digital divide, we will have to break information isolationism that certain countries or communities maintain - and the best way to achieve it is by providing the best knowledge resource possible. Opening up communities and having them work together may really become the next great wonder of the world. Who doesn't want to be part of that? :)