Yesterday was the yearly meeting of the Wikimedia Germany, the German Verein that supports open and free knowledge - among other projects, the Wikipedia.

The joke goes that where ever seven or more Germans discover a common interest, they set up a Verein. And a Verein has to have a chairperson and maybe a deputy and a recording secretary and a treasurer and they have to register with the local court so that they are recognized, and then they have to hold at least one meeting a year. If the Verein does "good works", and can prove it, then they can set up a deal with the tax office so that people can donate to the Verein and take the donation off their taxes.

Which is something amazing that happens in our Verein - people donate smallish amounts of money, but since there are many, many people donating, we can actually hire people to do things like teach teachers about the free knowledge available online or badger German officials to give us copies of text and pictures that the taxpayers have already paid for, and so on.

But as the new treasurer so nicely put it yesterday, we are currently in the process of moving from a Kleingärtnerverein (an association of people holding allotment lots in one particular area) to a mittelständischer Firma, a medium-sized business. We took in over 800.000 Euros last year, so if the growth rate keeps up, we break a million next year.

And that brings on lots of headaches, as the money does not flow continuously, but shows up when we have our campaigns, or when something political happens that makes people realize why it is grand to have free knowledge repositories around. We love politicians of minor parties trying to shut us down, or public brawls about relevance criteria, as this seems to inject extra cash into the project. But when you have to pay rent and salaries every month, this is also a problem.

So we had the Vereinsmeierei, all the stupefying discussions on how we want to proceed forward, and how to do it in such a way that politicians can't shut us down.

We met in a charming, 50s meeting hall that unfortunately did not have electricity at the tables or WLAN, so we rather had to focus on what was happening up front. I'm sure that this prolonged the discussions!

The best part was the breaks, talking with people you've know for ages. I ended up being a founding member by attending the meeting where they were discussing setting up the Verein. I was hiding in the back, only using my Wikipedia pseudonym, when one of my former students spied me and loudly welcomed Prof. WiseWoman. Okay, cover blown, and they wanted some non-students in there, so I signed on the dotted line.

The next few years will be rough, I hope that we manage to establish free knowledge. I think we are on the right track, even though there are lots of stones in the way - and lots of very, very long meetings.

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