Thursday, December 27, 2007

#wikimedia-ops going private

For those who aren't familiar with Wikimedia IRC on freenode, #wikimedia-ops is described in meta-wiki's channel listings as a place to "Contact Wikimedia channel operators for assistance." In practice, this generally means people will come and ask for help keeping people out of a channel, or help getting people into a channel -- setting and releasing channel bans is the name of the game. Other business includes sporadic discussion of troublesome users or policy matters which affect multiple channels. Each channel is operated independently, for the most part; but there are still cross-cutting concerns.

Many channel operators from various Wikimedia channels idle in #wikimedia-ops; they're set apart from other users by having a voice (+v). Recently, I saw a "regular" user asked to leave the channel because they had no "current business" being in there. I was not aware of such a policy existing, and argued that anything to that effect would be a flawed idea. I was told by several people that the channel needs to be "private" because we don't want trolls listening in on our discussions of how to deal with them; this does seem to be a legitimate concern, but I asked why anyone would consider having private discussion in a public channel anyone can join at any time. I was told that the channel is private, and that people are allowed to join only so that they can appeal channel bans and such. When I asked whose idea this was, I got a bunch of circular logic.

As with the blanket prohibition on public logging, it seems that it was always "someone else's idea" all along. Wonderful how people can make decisions without any risk of accountability, this way.

Now, this bothers me: the assumption appears to be that non-ops are bothersome twits who will only get in the way, and who have no business caring -- much less seeing -- how these channels are run. Governance issues are important to everyone in a channel or group of channels; it strikes me as malevolent or corrupt to suggest that regular users have no right to participate or opine in such matters.

Certainly there is some need for privacy, but that need does not include every discussion, every decision, by any means. As I said in the discussion on IRC, "I'd rather we not take care of private affairs in the public channel, nor public affairs in a private one."


Update 2007-12-29: From the #wikimedia-ops topic, today: "seanw would prefer it if people were not removed from this channel for idling..." Seems the group contact(s) have spoken on the issue.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Free hugs; or, not

Now that I'm done with finals week, it's time for a mad blitz of shopping before Christmas rolls around. Getting so many thoughtful gifts on short notice is no joke!

One of my numerous stops included the Sunvalley Mall. While walking through the common area, I saw a cheerful-looking young woman holding a simple sign stenciled with, "FREE HUGS." Didn't see anybody take her up on the offer, but I could see I wasn't the only person looking on with a smile. It was cute; it was an earnest thing: a good thing.

Lo and behold, the next time I walked past she was getting a stern lecture from mall security. Couldn't get close enough to hear what was said, but she looked rather nonplussed, and immediately folded her sign before leaving the premises in a hurry. Was she asked to leave? Can't say that reflects well upon mall staff, in my eyes; what's the harm in spreading a little cheer?

Wherever you are, sign girl, I salute you.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Clothes make the man

Considering how often I do this in a robe or something, it feels intensely odd to edit Wikipedia while wearing a suit and tie...

Now there's a thought

I realized something, while keeping tabs on the Durova and Jehochman (and Giano?) arbitration case: this is, I believe, the first time I've been consciously glad of both Wikitruth and Wikipedia Review. Not to say I've ever had any strong opinion on them – a few episodes aside, I've usually been more apathetic, I think, wondering why some people on both sides are so caught up and overheated in an apparently pointless battle for whatever; figuring it's only natural that a site as large and prominent as Wikipedia will get (and sometimes deserve) a lot of criticism; wishing these and similar sites spent less time focusing on drama, and more on providing some sort of neutral community oversight. So much of the effort is targeted at specific people, it's bewildering. Perhaps if I'd been more involved in past incidents, I'd feel differently.

Of course I periodically go and check if I'm mentioned. I'd appreciate some useful, evenhanded feedback, to be honest. Far too rare, on and off the wiki.

But getting back to the point I started on, if you're curious to see alleged copies of the infamous email, or lists of people who might have been on the wpCyberstalking mailing list, you're just not going to find them on Wikipedia. Readers can and should judge the sources and messengers on their own.

One other lesson, the outing of this list has helped me to better understand some of the objections I've seen to the #wikipedia-en-admins channel on freenode. Old problems aside, there are key differences: in the case of #-admins, the community at large is aware of the forum's long existence, aware of its membership and of the people in charge, and there are fairly clear qualifications to get in. Accountability is a concern, but no longer as rampant as it used to be, thanks to some community oversight. I certainly have never hidden the fact of my participation in the channel. In the case of this wpCyberstalking list, however, none of those seem to hold even remotely true. The community was not aware of chilling, highly controversial administrative decisions being made behind closed doors. The community had no hope of input, and no way of holding the people making those decisions accountable. The community was not – and still is not – allowed to know who was making these decisions.

The few who have come forward to identify themselves as (sometimes former) list subscribers have, as far as I can tell, denied any list-side participation in or responsibility for these recent events. Aside from Durova's candor, the only people giving straight answers have no answers. What does that say for the rest of them?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Metapedian, 2007-11-29

ArbCom elections underway (but you probably already knew that); self-nomination period ends tomorrow. Voting begins December 3rd.

Current adminship candidates: thedemonhog, Hbdragon88, Dlohcierekim.

New bureaucrat: WJBscribe.

A software bug lasting approximately 20 minutes caused many errors while saving edits to pages including tags such as , , and . More information, including cleanup effort, can be found at [[User:Splarka/UNIQ list]].

Seven cases currently before ArbCom. In the evidence phase: Anonimu, Episodes and characters, Winter Soldier 2. In the voting phase: Durova and Jehochman, Macedonia, Asgardian-Tenebrae. Current motion to close on Privatemusings.

Core Contest aims to encourage article improvement; offering $100 to authors of articles which see the most improvement before December 9th.

The Ombudsmen Committee, charged with investigating alleged violations of the privacy policy, has three new members; more information on foundation-l.

This doesn't quite feel like what I'm going for, but it's a first shot at it. May take me a bit to get into the swing of it. Feedback, comments? Feel free.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Scaling discussion: The Metapedian

Anybody who's spent even a small amount of time on Wikipedia could tell you that there's a huge number of discussions going on at any moment, between dozens of noticeboards, a hundred or more deletion debates per day, and a countless multitude of user talk pages and dispute resolution processes. It's easy to get lost, or have difficulty keeping track of some important discussions which have wider relevance across the project, or sometimes even across multiple projects. Over time, as the project grows, and more users become involved, this problem will only worsen.

People need to be able to find important discussions, so that they can offer their input, or just keep an eye on things. This, in turn, can lead to a second difficulty: scaling individual discussions to allow for more participants, so that the signal-to-noise ratio doesn't get too bad, and important comments are seen.

To put it more directly, there's two problems, here: people need to be able to find the most relevant discussions, and they need to be able to extract keystone comments from those discussions. The forum itself must scale, as must the discussions within that forum. That second problem is probably the harder one to deal with.

On Wikipedia, we've scaled the forum by splitting up discussions among multiple pages (more traditional forums do the same, organizing discussions into topical subforums), and while users can watch individual pages, that clearly doesn't solve the problem of sorting through thousands of discussions. We have some wonderful efforts at the Wikipedia Signpost, providing general project news on a weekly basis, or the centralized discussion linkbox, offering a quick peek at a dozen or so discussions at a time. But what about timely discussions which get some attention, without quite reaching that level of long-term, project-wide concern? At that sort of level, there's not really much more than keeping your own eyes and ears wide open, as far as I can tell.

Links passed around in mailing lists, IRC, and other areas can help us find discussions, but there's a bit much noise mixed in with the signal. Is there a more complete solution? I'd like to think a link aggregator of some sort might help. That way, at least, we're increasing the availability of these links to a wider audience, so that more people can see them, and reducing the amount of noise surrounding those links, so that they're easier to find.

So, yes, something vaguely akin to Fark or Slashdot, focused on Wikipedia. It seems to me like it could scale, if managed by the right people. Lacking the resources to do anything like that, at the moment, I suspect I'll be blogging about it. Call it “The Metapedian.” If people are interested and feedback is good, it could continue or grow, but we'll see what the future holds.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Startle me!

Something I've realized, after seeing the new Resident Evil film, even if it's not so much specifically about that: there's quite a range of films in the "horror" genre. Some of them achieve this horror by reaching deep into the human psyche, capitalizing on fears and anxieties we may not have realized we had, applying subtle technique to gradually build up a sensation that will truly stick with an audience. Others just take cheap parlor tricks, putting in dark room after dark room, always using the same quick music, always suddenly tossing something into the camera frame to startle us, time after time. We might as well call them "startle" flicks.

Could even make it a section at movie stores. Comedy. Drama. Startle.

There's no deeper feeling, no deeper meaning or realization to it. It's just a temporary adrenaline rush. Once you walk out the theater, nothing's changed. Nothing for me to wonder or worry about. No revelations. The basic adrenaline rush is over, and that's all I got out of it.

Such simple tricks may work once or twice. Used appropriately, they could certainly be part of a masterpiece. But if there's nothing to back them up, they only become tiresome and obvious. The craft of a film shouldn't be obvious -- if a movie doesn't stay a step or two ahead of the audience, it's in trouble. I don't want to have time to decide whether some gore and blood was put in for the sole purpose of grossing me out; it'll be obvious enough whether it has a purpose, but the fact that I have time to think about it means the content of the movie is getting too thin.

Work in layers. Stay ahead of the audience. Give us the right sorts of information so that we can get a rough understanding, the first time through, but make sure there's enough there for us to think about and watch again and again, and then you'll have something that might be more worth those millions of funding.

That, and people who talk in theaters are damned annoying.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On open proxies

Cross-posted from wikiEN-l:

Now, I don't know exactly where to begin, it's been awhile since I've really opined on this issue in public. Yes, sockpuppets are a concern. Yes, vandalism is a concern. As a Wikipedian who is no stranger to dealing with either, I take these problems very seriously. But -- and I'm sure you knew there was a "but" -- I'm just as torn when I see willing, helpful people prevented from contributing, sometimes people who have a lot to offer us, or even people who are already widely recognized on the wiki for their work, all on account of potential abuse from others.

There's been a lot Jimbo-quoting, lately. That's all well and good, but let's not forget that there are plenty of apt, eloquent comments on the matter. As Gmaxwell said, just recently:
We're not an anonymity service, but until the day we make giving your real name + DNA sample a requirement for editing we should try to be as friendly towards outside anonymity services as we can reasonably be.

If anything the ability to handle the good users coming through a set of anonymous proxies will allow us to be more aggressive at blocking sources of problems.
Hell, as part of the growing consensus among the community, the "policy" tag on [[WP:NOP]] has been "disputed" since mid-July, and even recently *removed* without any significant argument. I'm clearly not the only person who isn't quite satisfied with our current means and ways of dealing with proxies.

There has to be more we can do. On IRC, it's as simple as getting +e set on your nick, to overrride the general quiet on Tor users. Maybe we can to implement a new class of ipblock-exempt. Maybe we can to implement a new class of blocking for proxies, which certain users could circumvent. Such permissions could be granted by invitation, by discussion, by some community process to deal with requests. I'm no tech whiz, but I certainly hope we're open for suggestions, here. Our problem is with the abusive use of proxies, not with the helpful people behind them. There probably is no perfect solution.

But we should try.

(link to list post)

Onward bound

I'm moving! Scheduled to meet the new landlord at 15:00, tomorrow. Should be a "fun" few hours of driving, with the van so full. Repeat trips, and everything! Some of this furniture is way the hell heavier than I remember it being.

So, hard to guess how reliable my net access will be, over the next few days.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Gmaxwell's admin map

Just a quick note, here, but Gmaxwell's put some time into creating what we might call a "mapped tree" of en.wikipedia administrators, based on RfA nomination patterns -- here's a link. Pretty nifty. The data used to generate the table isn't perfect (difficult to parse), but Greg's invited people to have a look and correct any mistakes they can find.

Looking at some of the names and nominations, I see once more the importance of attracting and keeping the right people, for any project. I'm also reminded that I should put some more effort into nominating people (co-noms and failed noms weren't counted, both of which should have given me some links, if I remember correctly).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reflecting on VT

I recently got a note from somebody researching the history of Wikipedia's article on the Virginia Tech massacre. In part:
You were among the top 5% of contributors (either editing or on the talk pages) for that article, and I was wondering if you’d be willing to answer a few questions by email.
Hadn't been aware of that, at the time. I do remember putting in quite a few reverts, though. User:Geraldckane's questions and my responses follow:

1) What is your Wikipedia screen name? Note: optional, if you reply by email I will not be able to connect your email to your screen name.

I am a volunteer administrator, username Luna Santin.

2) On average, how many hours per week do you spend editing articles on Wikipedia?

That's hard for me to say. I tend to alternate between studying, coding (I'm a computer science major), work around the house, and general web surfing. Javascript tells me I've been making about 50-60 edits per day, this last month, but many of those are single-click reverts.

3) Why do you contribute your time and energy to developing Wikipedia articles?

Used appropriately, I think Wikipedia is an excellent resource for the world community. Helping out gives me a chance to do something I enjoy, and while it is productive, it also gives me significant opportunities to apply abstract lessons in building community, working collaboratively, and other, more technical issues related to web-based projects in general.

4) What types of articles to which do you typically contribute?

I tend to focus on internal affairs -- catching and dealing with abusive editors, including vandals, trolls, and sockpuppets, resolving or calming down disputes when possible, and the like. I also moderate one Wikipedia mailing list, and several IRC channels. When I do contribute to articles, I tend to focus on either local affairs in my area, or on subjects I've recently covered in school or otherwise have easy access to -- took a history class, this Summer, and the textbook proved valuable.

I also try to spend some time copyediting, cleaning up new articles, welcoming new users, and helping people who have questions.

5) Why did you choose to become involved in the Wikipedia article on the Virginia Tech Massacre?

Whenever we have news events this major, especially something like this that'll really get the emotions going, there quickly forms a veritable flood of people, and Wikipedia needs a quick response to that. Some people work to build up an article, other people work to clean it up. I guess I tend to be in the latter group.

It really is amazing to me how quickly these things can happen. As one example, several Wikipedia administrators and "recent changes patrollers" were aware of Steve Irwin's unfortunate death even before it hit the news tickers on BBC's and CNN's websites. We have to be quick.

6) What was your primary role in the process of creating the article on the Virginia Tech Massacre (e.g. copy editing, fighting vandalism, contributing news, managing a particular section, etc?)

Definitely cleaning up after vandals and other misguided people. Some people are angry and don't understand that they aren't helping anything, other people really are just looking to cause trouble. Primarily, I protected the article from these disruptive influences so that it could be allowed to grow more appropriately.

7) How was your experience with this article similar to or different than other Wikipedia articles to which you have contributed?

It wasn't all that different from other prominent articles -- Wikipedia features one article per day on its front page, for example -- except that the number of people involved made a lot of things happen *very* quickly.

8) What were some of the most challenging issues facing the successful development of this particular article on the Virginia Tech massacre?

Several people were, I think understandably, feeling very angry, and some of them felt a need to express that anger in the article. Not the best choice, but I don't know if I can blame them. We also had a number of people adding unverified (or conflicting) information, but that's more easily sorted out among the experienced users -- we were fortunate to have so many veterans watching over things.

Internally, I recall some lengthy debates over whether to include Cho as one of the "casualties" of the shooting, or whether to use the Westernized Given name-Surname or Eastern Surname-Given name constructions. There were also some arguments over what exactly to call the article -- "Virginia Tech shooting" or "massacre," for example? I believe we eventually decided to go with whatever the media predominantly used to refer to the incident.

Beyond that, a sudden and massive influx of new users, many of whom were actually quite helpful, brings in a lot of people who aren't too familiar with wiki syntax, policies, and practices, but it's also an excellent opportunity for us to *teach* them these things. I'd like to think we managed pretty well, given the circumstances.

9) What do you think were some of the primary reasons that this article was successful (i.e. cited in the press, rated as a “good article” by Wikipedia standards.)

Wikipedia's ability to respond to changes in real time, and to amalgate content from diverse sources and viewpoints. By having more eyes on the article, we'll hopefully get a more complete picture of what happened more quickly. The trick is avoiding confusion, and figuring out at what point being open to modification is helpful or hurtful.

Administrators can "protect" pages from editing, locking out all new users or all non-admin users, but the majority of admins involved with the article agreed that doing so (except for short periods when absolutely necessary) was the way to go. By carefully managing the situation, we were able to maximize the benefits of the wiki system, while hopefully mitigating its vulnerabilities.

Any time you have a dedicated core of people diligently checking every change to a page, the situation is intensely unique.

10) Is there anything else I should know about the Wikipedia article on the VT massacre?

Hm, tricky one. I can't immediately think of anything I haven't already said. While I did feel, and still do feel, that the incident itself was incredibly unfortunate, it was of some help to see the outpouring of heartfelt sympathy for the victims and students of Virginia Tech, and to see that most people are truly good at heart.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Guerrilla marketing

Between classes, lately, I've been hopping over to the school computer labs to take care of quick business on Wikipedia -- clearing AIV, skimming the noticeboards, answering a few unblock requests, and so on. Welcomed a number of people who'd edited the introduction page, today.

Getting on to the point, I've made it a habit to clear all my cookies and leave the browser window open on Main Page, when I leave for my next class. Nothing major, but I figure it's a harmless way to let people know we're out there. Been doing it for a few weeks, now.

So, today, I wandered over to the library after getting out of comsci early. Wound up getting the same machine. As I was logging in, I noticed the college's IP had some new messages, turned out it had been blocked after a little vandalism spree. Browser history was revealing.


Perhaps it's time for me to put more work into those talking points I've been musing over. It's amazing, the things some friends have told me when I casually drop that I'm active on the project.

I've done some tabling, before, usually for speech classes; it'd be interesting to really get out there to promote something I'm deeply committed to, in time and philosophy. Shame I'll be leaving the SF area, soon, or I might put more effort into getting involved with the fine group of Wikipedians out there. Time will tell what I find up north.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Notes on the 2007 board election

After the close of the 2007 elections for the Wikimedia Foundatin's Board of Trustees, it's time to congratulate Erik Moeller and Kat Walsh on their retained seats, and to welcome Frieda Brioschi to the board. See the results page for vote tallies and all that goodness.

My own tendency is to look back over the election, and try to evaluate what I know of it -- the lessons learned can and should be put toward improving future elections. Meta has an open request for comment on the matter, aside from the thread or two that've cropped up on foundation-l. There's a few issues I imagine should be taking center stage.

Gmaxwell's mass mailings to eligible voters at en.wikipedia proved to be controversial, but they also highlighted the inadequacy of previous, centralized efforts to get out the vote. Small groups of users from other projects were quickly able to adapt Greg's methods to send out mailings of their own. Just a few users, with access to the right resources and information, were able to have quite a hefty impact on voter turnout -- clearly, our goal should be to enable individual users to be bold.

To that end, and following a few discussions on IRC, I'd recommend a bottom-up effort over what currently seems to be top-down organization. Greg's effort demonstrated the effectiveness of small, tight-knit groups, the sorts of groups which already exist in ready supply on all of the WMF wikis. Meta could easily be used to provide a space where interested groups and individuals could make themselves known, to allow easy communication and coordination with their home projects. This "project contact" status needn't be an official position with any particular authority, but even knowing which people are interested in being directly contacted, how they can be contacted, who shares which languages, who will coordinate efforts, and the like, would seem to be pretty useful.

Set up each group with guidelines on neutrality, make sure they avoid endorsing particular candidate(s) over others, maybe even give them some basic source material, but on the whole, I imagine they'll be more productive if we just let them get to it.

I'm looking mainly at efforts to keep communities aware of elections and developments within them, there, but translation efforts are another concern. I wish it weren't so, but I don't have nearly the vocabulary I'd like, for German or Spanish, so it'd be difficult for me to help out. Some people have suggested hiring out some work to professionals, at least for the elections; I sincerely appreciate and encourage current efforts at Meta in this area, but I can't help but wonder what we might do to be more timely and complete. I can only imagine how left out I'd feel, if the foundation didn't do the majority of its business in English; my sympathies to those who have difficulty participating, due to language barriers.

As Dmcdevit pointed out, in #wikimedia, there's no reason to wait on some things. Sitenotices, emails, and all the like should really be produced ahead of time. The majority of these don't need to be produced in real-time, and doing so distracts from efforts to produce the things that do need to be produced on the fly. We can recycle prior notices, we can leave dates to be filled in later, but advance preparation is surely a must.

On a larger point, the timeframe of the election should be generally considered. Do we want more time between candidate selection and voting? How far in advance should the preparations and campaigns begin?

The use of approval voting seems to be an issue. It's been rightly pointed out that the race was incredibly close -- Oscar van Dillen lost his seat on the board by 20 votes, and was ahead of Michael Snow by only 5. Once a voter selects their "serious" candidates, they're faced with the option of supporting everyone they like equally (essentially, a null vote) or not supporting candidates they otherwise prefer. Some degree of preference voting might be interesting, but I do worry that some of the rather elaborate systems I've seen proposed would deter community participation. Even allowing people to allocate single-, double-, or triple-votes to candidates would allow for a great deal more flexibility, and allow for a more accurate measure of the community's will. I don't think I have the best answer, here, but it's definitely an area that should be discussed.

No doubt, there will be discussion of the "400 edits, 3 months" threshold, or the various other requirements for participation, but I think I'm content to let that one go, for now.

Beyond that, it might be great if people got past the trap of only caring about foundation issues at election time. But that'd be asking for quite the miracle, history tells me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

CharlotteWebb arbitration closed

A particular checkuser happens to run across a user while checking for Tor nodes. Not a problem. Checkuser reveals this private information on the wiki while user is running for adminship, user reacts poorly, candidacy is effectively torpedoed. Problem.

A lot of discussion followed in a lot of places. Personally, I do agree that there was no strict breach of the Wikimedia Foundation's privacy policy, nor the letter of the checkuser policy... but I'm also quite concerned that Jayjg seems to have refused to acknowledge that a large group of people have basis to be concerned or disappointed in his disclosure. A highly trusted user, recently involved a number of arguments regarding Tor blocking, revealed priviledged information at a very sensitive time, in a very sensitive place, and proceeded, essentially, to mock those who even suggested there might be a problem with this.

The lengthiest replies from Jayjg, at least at first, seemed to be on the wikien-l thread: "Jayjg: Abusing checkuser for political ends?" Apparently ignoring or rebuffing the users concerned by this, SlimVirgin and Jayjg preferred to respond with vagueness:
"What's to stop people from creating undetectable sockpuppet accounts using various proxies and anonymizers?" --Jayjg (wikien-l)

"We have issues with users running more than one admin account, and one of the ways they're allegedly doing this is by using open proxies. Being able to log an admin's real IP address is the only tiny bit of accountability the Foundation has regarding admins." --SlimVirgin (wikien-l)
Note the lack of any specific scenarios of that nature, or any direct response to the question, "Was it okay to reveal this information?" It seems they're assuming it was okay, and ignoring anyone who might think otherwise. Not that I can't sympathize with some of these concerns, or the desire to make decisions with the most information possible, but at the same time, I have to wonder if someone with such a cavalier attitude to releasing private, sensitive information should continue to have that sort of access.

Even on top of that, the association of "anonymizing proxies == suspicious and bad" has been questioned, and repeatedly, including this example:
"I think it would be fair to be particularly suspicious, not to give the benefit of the doubt, if the account smelled funny and it was also using anonymous proxies to edit. But using them in itself isn't an indication that someone wants to do harm, nor is someone intending to do harm much limited by the restriction." --Mindspillage (wikien-l)
As the Arbitration Committee became aware of the controversy, the eventually voted 7 to 0 to accept an arbitration case. I can only hope I'm not the only community member who hoped this might bring some resolution to the issues at hand. There's a huge number of statements from prominent Wikipedians, I'm not going to cover them in-depth at this time, but I do recommend taking a look at the comments from Geogre, JzG, John254, Chacor, Navou, ChrisO, and Rory096.

Arbitrator Paul August said, at the opening of the case, "There are many important issues here which might profit from an examination by this committee."

Nearly a full month later, the results are in. Looks like nothing is going to be done, after all -- at least not in the public eye. Let's have a look at the two remedies, both of which passed 7 to 0:
1) The Committee notes that CharlotteWebb remains a user in good standing, and is welcome to return to editing at any time.
Not even so much as a pat on the back. "Yep, you got screwed. You can come back, y'know, if you feel like it. But we don't really care, either way. Not our problem." I don't know if it's fair to expect a flowery message from something written by a committee, but I personally think we owe a little more than that, for a user who was recently forced out of the project when an unknown checkuser systematically blocked all of their IP addresses, proxy and non-proxy alike. Interesting this other checkuser isn't even mentioned in the results.

Even if I do feel this is a bit inadequate, I'm pleased they made sure to include something to this effect. The rest will have to be filled in by the community, I suppose.

On to the second remedy:
2) Jayjg is reminded to avoid generating drama by making public proclamations of misbehavior before attempting private discussion and resolution of the issue.
I guess that... sort of hints that he might have sorta kinda maybe done something just a little questionable and in bad taste. But there's nothing actionable here, nothing about what may happen the next time this comes up, and it's not even all that firmly worded. It's hard to even call this a slap on the wrist.

That all assumes there isn't a more serious exchange behind closed doors, and I could be mistaken on that count. I certainly hope I am.

Monday, July 9, 2007

San Francisco meetup

Funny thing, just a week or so ago I checked on the chances for any wikimeetup in the San Francisco Bay Area, and didn't see an impressive showing on the wiki -- looked like I'd have to push for it, myself, if I wanted anything to happen. But then today, on wikien-l, Eloquence mentioned he'll be stopping by this weekend, and suddenly things are falling into place.

Notice how things magically come together when a trustee is in town.

Yes, this is short notice, but if you're near SF and free this Saturday, you should consider making an appearance. See wikien-l for more coordination details.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Drama lamp

With thanks to SPUI for the post title.

The Register ran a rather quaint piece about OTRS, the other day. En.wikipedia's article on the lava lamp was stubbed for about two weeks, pending legal concerns. According to writer Cade Metz and interviewee John Barberio, there was no explanation.

It's rather apparent Metz didn't put much effort into researching the issue, and I'm a little perplexed why Barberio, described as a seasoned editor of Wikipedia, wasn't able to point him in the right direction. With just one click, we can take ourselves to the article's talk page, where we see numerous references to trademark concerns, all made shortly after the OTRS action. Inside another minute, we can use the whatlinkshere function to find this thread on the admin noticeboards, which in turn links to numerous user talk page discussions, including this one on the acting volunteer's talk page. This has been discussed a few times on IRC, including on public channels, and most or all of those discussions quickly reached the conclusion that legal concerns were afoot.

Now, I don't expect the vast majority of web denizens to immediately find and process this information. But I would expect that a Wikipedian with two years of experience, or a reporter hoping to investigate their story, would be more than able. That neither of them bothered to notice they were swimming in a sea of explanations seems to indicate they couldn't be bothered to check.

We can debate all day whether the aforementioned legal concerns should have led to the blanking of the article. As I write this, the article has been restored, and the legal complaint has evaporated (I'm told they stopped responding, when it was pointed out that a search of the US trademark database yielded no results, and they were asked to provide specific evidence of their claim). OTRS actions can always be discussed, and other OTRS members can (and did) participate in these discussions, to great effect. At the time of the incident, the Wikimedia Foundation was lacking a designated legal counsel -- with no one to fall back on, for legal matters, can we really fault one volunteer for playing it safe?

Hopefully, with Mike Godwin hired on as counsel, this sort of thing will be less problematic, now.

I'm still at a loss to figure how this ever became an issue where "censorship" was a rallying cry, or why one possible overreaction, from one volunteer, at a bad time, in a project which has been running for several years, somehow constitutes doomsday.

In closing, I do think this has demonstrated a need for improved communication, within the community, and is one more downfall of the foundation's recent staffing issues -- both of which are quite serious issues -- but I don't know if we should take it as any more than that.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Noticeboard bloat

Noticeboards are multiplying on en.wikipedia faster than I can count. There's the admin noticeboard, the incidents subpage, the 3RR subpage, the ArbCom enforcement noticeboard, the community sanction noticeboard, six sections of the Village Pump, a noticeboard or two for many WikiProjects, in addition to the WikiProject's talk page, active talk pages for several key policies and processes, including articles for deletion, images and media for deletion, miscellany for deletion, redirects for deletion, stub types for deletion, categories for deletion, and now even user categories for deletion -- all of these filled with active discussions and, more often than not, subpages.

This doesn't yet factor in the various abuse boards, including admin intervention against vandalism, ISP abuse reporting, long-term abuse profile pages, suspected sockpuppet cases, requests for checkuser, open proxy checking, and now a seperate usernames for attention page.

Don't forget dispute resolution! We have wikiquette alerts, requests for third opinions, requests for comment, straw polls, the mediation cabal, the mediation committee, the arbitration committee, and of course countless user and article talk pages.

This is before we even consider addressing the issue of mailing lists. wikiEN-l, foundation-l, wikipedia-l, announce-l, unblock-en-l, wikitech-l, and who knows how many others. Let's not even talk about IRC, for the moment.

This is all from memory, by the way. I'm probably forgetting a few.

If memory serves, the admin noticeboard's header template linked to about ten pages, when I first came to en.wikipedia. Since then, the conflict of interest noticeboard, the biographies of living persons noticeboard, the usernames for attention noticeboard, the community sanction noticeboard, the fair use galleries noticeboard, and now today the fringe theories noticeboard have all been added to that list. Only one has been closed, that I can recall, and there's sixteen linked, currently. That's a 60% increase in "central" noticeboards in about a year.

I get the feeling I'm really beginning to see what people mean, when they say it's difficult to get things to scale, at this level.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On IRC chanops

Close on the heels of the recent #wikipedia policy shift and access list shakedown, yet another argument over whether Blu Aardvark is (or should be) banned from Wikimedia IRC channels came to light. The full history here predates my participation in Wikimedia projects, I think; the vast majority of my experience with Blu has actually been in blocking a fair number of sockpuppets or imitators, on-wiki, and that's only one chapter in a long story.

A chapter which may be coming to close. Maybe. I'm not holding my breath, to be honest, but if there's a chance of redemption, I don't see why we can't give it a shot and hope for the best.

Currently, several channel operators will kickban Blu on sight. While I'm not sure if this is the wisest course of action, I feel my place in the majority of these cases is to let my voice be heard, and avoid using what access I may have to overturn the established will of the community. Petty squabbling isn't the right way to solve these disagreements.

There is one exception: the new community in #wikipedia-social. This channel was established in the past week or two, and is still getting started. I happen to have a high access level, in this channel, and I feel I should do what I can to help establish the best community possible, in it. In part because the channel is intended to be a distinct and informal forum, in part because the forum isn't serious and is unlikely to contain sensitive discussion, in part to give Blu one foothold where he might be included if he can play well with others (which seems to encourage redemption, in my view), and I must admit in some small part to get the new channel on the map, I've specifically declined to ban Blu from #wikipedia-social until he causes problems in the channel. I would prefer to use chanop tools for preventive, rather than punitive purposes.

If this goes well, maybe over time other bans can be released. If not, then I can at least say I've tried and learned my lesson.

For the most part, people don't seem bothered by this move. Some people seem to be upset over it. Earlier today, someone who has not been a regular face in the channel, and who does not have operator access was opped, in channel (by someone who does have access), and kickbanned Blu. When I asked about this, the acting user disconnected from IRC. A few accusations flew, but in the absence of evidence, I removed the ban in that channel. While I would like to assume good faith (one person may not have been aware of my prior decision), I'm a bit disappointed that someone felt the need to go behind my back by acting anonymously.

I have my suspicions, of course, but voicing them here seems inappropriate.

This entire scuffle could springboard into yet another discussion of the officially unofficial nature of Wikimedia IRC channels -- do on-wiki policies matter? What repercussions do on-wiki actions have, on IRC? What repercussions do IRC actions have, on-wiki? Does authority reside with freenode staff, the Wikimedia Foundation, channel users, channel owners, or even the Wikimedia community as a whole? What are the implications of these questions, and of their answers?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Tarnations of Mediation

The web, in general, is hardly a land of polite discourse and respect for one's fellow denizens. While Wikipedia's culture tends to do a good job of weeding out obvious trolls ("UR MAMA SO FAT"), users who are more subtle -- even sometimes quite productive -- but nevertheless problematic, can pose a significant difficulty.

Raul, I believe it was, had a lot to say on this subject at the Arbitration Committee panel of Wikimania 2006.

I've had a bit of a mixed bag, on this. I saw one Mediation Cabal case over linking to a school alumni group's website -- it had a wealth of source material, but the link was seen as promotional in nature (the main advocate of the link was involved with the group). After a week or two of tense negotiation, people had more or less agreed to link the site specifically as a source, and I thought things were going okay. Copyright concerns about the site were the last thing to sort through. And then a party in the mediation suddenly started trolling, accusing another party of anti-semitism, and all sorts of things -- out of the blue, as far as I could tell. I even remember asking them, "You're starting shit. You know you are. Why?" Guy never came back, and the whole agreement imploded.

So, that's one lesson: as a mediator, don't advocate. You're not there to see any person or any conclusion come out ahead, within the frame and goals of the project -- and if you are, you probably shouldn't be mediating. There's two important aspects, here: first, you have to be a neutral party, and second, people need to see you as as a neutral party. Unfair mediation should suck for obvious reasons, but if people don't think they'll get a fair "hearing," they won't bother to show up unless they have to. On a volunteer project, there's really no way you can force people into mediation (or anything, for that matter) unless they want to be there.

Then there was a time I responded to a request for third opinion, on whether a particular author qualified as being Jewish-Hungarian. Being an obvious outsider to the argument, I was actually perceived as a neutral party, and things were resolved quickly. Both parties accepted my opinion, by some strange miracle, since all they seemed to want was a tie-breaker. That was a good one.

I remember another case, also with MedCab, where somebody was offended that their article was deleted, and also hurt at the behavior of the users advocating deletion. I tried a sort of "fireside chat," talking things over with them for a bit. They only asked for an apology from one user, who -- once they became aware of the mediation request -- stormed in and continued the name-calling. Again, the newcomer left the project.

There's a few lessons I could draw, from that. One I usually try to look at is: encourage giving, get all sides in a dispute to make concessions, however small. This encourages people to play fairly, makes people see that everyone is committed to the mediation, and creates a feeling that progress is being made. Another lesson might be optimism: people need to believe that the mediation can work, and is working. If one person doesn't believe that, it's of the utmost importance to find out why, and fix the problem if at all possible. Users can almost always fix problems and arguments on their own; the trick is getting them to believe this, first.

Also be watchful for discussion. There are a lot of pages. People don't always run and grab the mediator(s) before arguing, so be proactive.

In a face-to-face mediation, people can't easily leave the table. In Wikipedia or any other online setting, doing so is not only easy but even sometimes difficult to notice. The biggest tip I've yet figured out is this, I suppose: get people at the table, both mentally and emotionally. Get them to vocalize this, encourage them to negotiate. Act as a middleman when they aren't willing to talk to each other.

And, of course, be careful with blocks, if you're an administrator. All too often, everybody in an argument wants everybody else blocked. If you ever accede to one of these requests, a lot of things can go wrong: (1) the blocked user feels wronged, and may not trust you to remain neutral as a mediator; (2) other users may see a chance to "win," and will probably badger you to block again and again; (3) while the user is blocked, circumstances may change dramatically -- be careful that their absense will help, rather than hinder, the mediation. Blocks can be necessary, to get someone's attention, to stop edit warring and attacks, but always be careful with them. We can afford to hurt a vandal's feelings, but good contributors are hard to come by. Be gentle.

Remember why you got into it -- with all the trials and tribulations, people yelling back and forth, and generally squabbling and refusing to work together until the most ridiculous concessions are made, it's important to keep your eye on the prize. Keep things together, keep the project together, and work for the best interests of the project.

This has been a bit of a ramble. More for my sake than a reader's, I suppose, just to get a few thoughts in order. But if you get anything out of it, all's well and good.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Republic of China (Taiwan)

Without delving too much into politics, let's just start off by saying that Wikipedia has two articles, one on Taiwan, the island, and another on the Republic of China, the country ("wayward province," if you're into the hilarious PRC interpretation).

In any article that mentions either of these topics, there's an incessant edit war over the link. One group obessively changes any mention of "Taiwan" to "Republic of China." The next group stops by and changes it to "Republic of China (Taiwan)." Then it'll usually get reverted back and forth between those two, until somebody eventually changes it back to "Taiwan" and starts the whole cycle over again. What's more, it seems to me that every fool who gets into these little wars is absolutely convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is evil.

The arguments clutter up page histories; instead of talking things over, people edit war. Instead of setting up a central discussion forum, people feel the need to re-hash the same battle across countless individual pages.

This is just one more case of ridiculous nationalism. Instead of having the argument they clearly want to be having ("Is Taiwan a country, or isn't it?") they waste their days away arguing over what we're going to call the thing. As with any discussion involving issues of international strife, every side wants the other sides banned for trolling and "POV-pushing."

Remember, the only neutral opinion is mine.

I suppose this is one example of an area where Wikipedia hasn't scaled so well -- it's prohibitively difficult to get everybody together into a forum of the nature that solves this widespread of an issue, and once they're all there, the discussion becomes difficult to manage. It becomes the proverbial tl;dr. Many Wikipedians helpfully respond to such wordy exchanges between large numbers of people by saying, among other things, "Oh, consensus is difficult to call, on this one. I see lots of productive discussion. Keep it up!" Off the top of my head, deletion debates on Esperanza and Fromowner were reaching this level. Certainly RfA reform has already passed it. Which isn't too surprising, really -- get a hugely visible website, pick an issue a lot of people at that site care about, and presto, you'll get a huge discussion with (left unchecked) little in the way of direction or conclusion.

It's all enough make me long for a few more Pastafarians, terribly offended that we're calling their deeply held, personal beliefs a "parody" religion.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

09 F9... 88 C0

As I imagine the few readers I have are pretty well "into" net culture, you've probably heard of this already; the few of you who haven't, I've probably mentioned it to in person or otherwise. For those of you who haven't yet heard of it, let's suppose the EFF's summary is as good a start as any: "09 f9: A Legal Primer"

I wasn't actually aware of this until somewhat recently, and I hadn't thought too much of it until just the other day, when it was suddenly exploding all over the place. I don't know exactly what prompted it -- possibly the MPAA & Co. sending out a series of takedown notices got some attention, or else that was a reaction that only got more press. It's hard to say. One way or another, the story was frontpaged on Digg, taken down, frontpaged again, and a perfect storm came together. I heard from a Slashdot admin that they were responding aggressively to the issue. On 4chan, of course, the key was up and down the threads (but we should've seen that from a mile away -- it's /b/, for chrissake). Couldn't say what was going on, as regards Fark or Something Awful.

Now that some of the preliminary dust has settled, the big story seems to center on Digg, where the staff have announced:
...after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.
Chilling Effects has posted copies of two takedown notices (linked above). I've seen some interesting stuff written about this, so far, including one blog calling it "Web 2.0 vs. The Cartel" -- I knew it was love at first sight when somebody linked me to iowahawk's take on things.

As far as my take on this as a Wikipedian, Gmaxwell has posted an essay at Wikipedia:Keyspam, and I heartily endorse this product or service. I was pretty directly involved in the efforts to cut down on the keyspamming; didn't participate directly in the on-wiki discussions regarding the key, just tracking down and cleaning up after vandals and spammers.

To those and a number of people, I can only expand on something I said on IRC, last night: oh, how I wish I were so noble as to put somebdy else's servers in legal limbo to show off how anti-censorship I am.

It always amazes me, the sense of entitlement some people have, and this incident has been no exception. They fully expect hundreds, thousands of people to just lay back or even cheer, as they put entire communities directly in the path of lawyers, subpoenas, and takedown threats. When the communities take steps to protect themselves, they're decried for selfishness and censorship. Never mind that articles like The Live Album, Gareth Batty, or Astronomical transit (to name just a few) have nothing to do with the issue -- we've got the key! We've got to spam it!

I lost track of how many people I blocked from editing. Some of them were abusing dynamic IP addresses to come back again and again. It reached the point I was literally checking every edit from some wide IP ranges. To be honest, I'm a little surprised I haven't been mentioned as some Nazi conspirator, given the tone and methods these spammers seem to favor.

Unfortunately, it's very easy to put someone else in danger, very easy to risk damaging or disrupting a community you've never contributed to or been a part of. It's very easy to take risks when you won't be anywhere near the people may have to deal with the consequences.

Now, a number of people have presented legitimate arguments for posting the key; these are people open to debate as to whether Wikipedia can fairly cover the subject with or without direct mention of the numbers themselves. These people are acting responsibly and in good faith. These are the people who have come out of the woodworks to improve Wikipedia, and I do appreciate those efforts.

To these spammers, though -- there's really no point in what you're doing. You're only damaging the situation for so many people. If you want to take risks and make stands, do it on your own dime, on your own behalf, and for a good reason.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wikipedia's (Sin)bad

Apparently, people got very excited when the Wikipedia article on Sinbad erroneously reported his death. As reported in the Washington Post's AP story, the story generated hundreds of calls, emails, and other condolences. I'd have made a few more news links, but I realized when looking to do so that it all seems to be just the one Associated Press story with a slightly different headline.

I thought Sinbad's reaction was interesting:

When asked if he was upset about the mix-up, Sinbad, whose real name is David Adkins, just laughed.

"It's gonna be more commonplace as the Internet opens up more and more. It's not that strange," the Los Angeles-based entertainer told the Associated Press in a phone interview.

Level-headed guy. Though I suppose being in the public eye for awhile more or less forces you to take on a sense of humor about these things, I appreciate the leeway he seems to be affording us. The next line in the article, though, caught my attention:
Sinbad, who is currently on the road doing stand up, said he hasn't received an apology from the Internet site.
I have a feeling he was prompted -- they probably asked him specifically if he had or hadn't. My initial reaction was to wonder if Wikipedians as a whole owed him an apology, but I think it's the least we could do. It'd be a bit of a stretch to say we're directly responsible for the mix-up, but if we the editors don't take responsibility for Wikipedia, who will? With that in mind, a belated apology to Mr Adkins -- I can't speak for everyone in the Wikipedia community, but I'll remember this incident, and will do my best to learn from it.

Judging from edit times, the fake death was up for about two hours before being removed; that's an awfully long interim period, and it managed to prompt this whole storm. I'm reminded of a post Kelly Martin made not too long ago, about article rot:
Rot gets in when an article is vandalized twice and the reverting patroller only reverts one of the vandalisms. This is relatively common, and is increasingly more of a problem as vandalism patrol has become even more of a "point and shoot" game for the people who play it: these people have such a sense of urgency combined with a lack of interest in actually reading the articles, that they often don't look to see if they've reverted to a vandalized version (or even look at what they've reverted at all).
And KM's right on that count, I think. I put in a lot of time on recent changes patrol, and I need to remind myself every so often that, while we're pretty good at what we do, we're not as good as we sometimes like to think. I didn't know anything about this affair until a very close friend linked me to a news report on Yahoo; sure, it's a big wiki, but when RC patrol slips up, I feel at least partially to blame.

It may be silly, but it keeps me motivated.

I think, ultimately, the best thing we can do in response to this sort of thing is to educate our readers. This sort of false report is all too common -- just the other day, I reverted the same sort of nonsense at Will Smith's article. So, people need to think critically about what they read, and we need to give them the tools to do so.

So, when you see any suspicious report on Wikipedia:
  1. Remind yourself that anyone can edit Wikipedia, and their changes will be visible immediately.
  2. Check for sourcing. Any report of that nature should be attributed to a reliable source.
  3. Check the history tab. This will show you a list of every change to the article, allowing you to quickly tell who changed what, when they changed it, and what they changed.
And please don't forget to make sure the celebrity's sudden death actually makes sense. For nearly half of the two-hour period mentioned above, the article reported that Sinbad had died on 14 March 2009 -- two years after today's date. That, at least, should throw up a few red flags.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Tila Tequila and feminism?

I'll hesitantly admit that I bought Tila Tequila's recent single, "I Love U". It was featured on the iTunes frontpage and packaged such that the video came free, so I figured, "how bad can it be?" I'm really more of a rock person, by and large, so a few little baby steps outside my usual territory can be interesting. Apparently, being the most popular person on Myspace (which is quite a feat!) doesn't imply you're all too good of a musician. She can certainly wiggle well, as demonstrated in the attached video, but the people have spoken, and here's what one thoughtfulsilence had to say:
She sings that she's got no shame. But I think sometimes, people should have a bit of it, to realize the toleration meter of humans has a limit. This is so over the limit. So embarassing!!
Based on some voting procedure I believe is similar to that of Urban Dictionary, this comment is currently ranked third out of 538 reviews. On reflection, that may be about all there is to say on the matter.

But I'm still listening to the song. As with My Humps -- I couldn't say why, it's a curious thing.

I'm reminded of something I remember reading a few years ago, along the lines of, "Hollywood has embraced pre-feminism, post-feminism, and even post-post-feminism, without ever actually really getting the point of feminism." I could've sworn it was the late Molly Ivins -- not her biggest fan, but I read her stuff, which is more than I could say for her right-wing counterpart (interesting thread on the Least I Could Do blog, by the way), but now that I'm thinking about it, it may have been Ellen Goodman. Woman writes brilliant editorials, in my opinion, but too rarely gets the sort of attention some other columnists manage to bring on through sheer dumb force of quotable controversy.

More to the point, are Cup-o-Noodle instant celebrities like this, cashing in sex appeal for their 15 minutes (or seconds), advancing or hurting the feminist cause? Some people might say she's being taken advantage of by the Evil Capitalist Boys' Club; others might say she's fighting The Man by getting while the getting is good. The point as I see it isn't that Hollywood (or the media) are in favor of or against feminism, but more that they're quite fully aware of these two tenets: (1) sex sells, and (2) they need to make money. Aspiring starlets like Tequila, likewise, crave attention and have figured out a very direct way to get it. They're not thinking about the political or social implications, at least not in the long term -- talk about Smith's invisible hand.

So, the question then becomes: how do we, as a society, look at this? How do we deal with it?

I've long said that, as with racism, feminism should emphatically not be a question of men against women. It's a question of people who want empowered women on equal terms with men, and those who don't, and why they do or don't. The "Battle of the Sexes" metaphor is tired, done, and long overdue for burial. It's not about empowerment for superiority, it's about empowerment for equality and even ground.

Browsing around, I've realized that I consider myself every bit a sex-positive feminist. I don't think all porn is inherently evil and degrading women, or to society. I don't even understand how someone could think that. I don't think sexuality is evil. I don't think everyone has the same wants, and with that in mind, don't see why we should all be expected to make the same choices about what we do or don't enjoy. That's one beauty, there: your sexuality is yours, and it is what you make of it. I, for one, would hope that everyone enjoys it as they please.

So, at what point is a wiggling starlet celebrating her form, and at what point is she being objectified? The line, as far as I can tell, falls here: is she valued for other aspects, the admiration of physical beauty among them, or is a quick peek at her ass the sole value seen? Does she have a character? Do we care what she thinks? Do we know how she thinks, for that matter?

Ten people looking at the same picture will have twelve opinions on it. But I'd like to think that's a workable guideline. We can celebrate sexuality without letting it be the sole aspect of a person. At least, I'd like to think so.

And in the meantime, this brief experiment is over, and I'm back inside my musical shell, listening to some Supertramp.

Monday, March 5, 2007

City of Largo firing transsexual manager?

I first ran across this in my local paper; here's the MSNBC version. In brief, Steven Stanton, Largo's city manager for 14 years, was recently pressed into announcing his intention to undergo a sex change. In the week following that announcement, city hall leapt into action, striking a swift blow for justice and equality by...

...oh, wait, they plan on summarily firing him.

Suddenly hundreds of people emailed, called, and wrote to Largo's City Hall. Around 500 people (in a city of 76,000) attended a meeting and demanded that the city fire Stanton ASAP. According to this story from the St. Petersburg Times, one Baptist Pastor, Ron Sanders said:
"He's not going to be a man, and he's not going to be a female. He's going to be an 'it.' It's going to be the most sorrowful decision he has ever made."
Thank you, sir, but I'd like to ask if this question ever stepped into your mind: is he running the city well? Of this mob, 500-strong, how many of you had ever even heard Stanton's name before? How many of you care that he's dedicated nearly two decades of service to you and your city, 14 of which as its manager? You've trusted him with over 1,000 employees and a million dollars, but the moment he makes a personal decision with no impact on his professional ability, he's to be taken out and fired?

What in the blazing hell does this have to do with Stanton's ability to do his job? Or her job, for that matter?

Thankfully, I managed to find some more rational voices pretty quickly -- Shakespeare's Sister seems to have a pretty good read, from my point of view, even pointing out a survey by the same paper that outed Stantion, where the majority of Largo's citizens believe he's been treated unfairly.

Likewise, this fellow had something to say:
Friends, it really shouldn't matter. The man has been the top administrator for 14 years in the Pinellas County city of 75,000. Noone stays around that long without racking up an excellent record at the job. As long as Stanton continues to do the job he was hired to do, it shouldn't matter if the name if Steven or Susan or if he wears a suit and tie or dresses.
Steven Stanton, soon to be Susan Stanton, is quoted in his interview with MSNBC (linked above) as saying:
The city commissioners [who voted to fire me] said I have no followers. Who the hell has been hugging me all week?
Well, Stanton, count me among your supporters. I think it's appalling and bigoted, that so many people are spitting on your years of service to your community. It's one thing if you're corrupt, it's one thing if you've damaged the city, but I just don't see how this has anything to do with your ability to manage a city well.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Stuff in a box

I've had this box of stuff in my room, for quite some time. Decided it was finally time to clean it out, and either put it to better use or get rid of it. Since poking through somebody's clutter can sometimes be interesting, here's the breakdown:

  1. Plastic bag. Fry's Electronics. Empty. Useful as trash bag.
  2. Old newspaper with good editorial about supporting troops, new/old sentimentalism. Kept column, recycled rest.
  3. Plastic pencil box. Empty. Set aside for later use.
  4. Old BSA handbook. Think it was mine, before the re-issue.
  5. Old photos, looks like prom.
  6. Spanish-English pocket dictionary. Random junk and receipts.
  7. HOW TO BUY SURPLUS, from the United States Department of Defense.
  8. AC Adapter for _____???
  9. Two tickets for Mission: Impossible 3.
  10. A bunch of receipts, notes to self, old work schedule. Includes: written copy of "Zed's dead" dialogue from Pulp Fiction.
  11. Blockbuster membership card. Not mine.
  12. Dorky green/white argyle bracelet. Got it at Old Navy on going-going-gone sale for $1, IIRC.
  13. Fortune cookie fortunes. (1) You will soon gain something you have always wanted. (2) Stop looking and you will find what you seek. (3) Promote literacy. Buy a box of fortune cookies today.
  14. Coins. Lots of them.
  15. Christs card from Eric. Inspire me to change my Livewire avatar to a THWOMP.
  16. Movie ticket. Da Vinci Code.
  17. Hello Kitty coloring book and stickers (long story)
  18. Broken watch. Feminine strap, analog display. Never found out who owned it.
  19. One of those little birdy things that balances on a peg. *So cool*
  20. Bank statement. Opened but not filed.
  21. Local leisure services folder. Filled with papers relating to Eagle Court. Not my Eagle Court. Doesn't appear to be my folder.
  22. American Eagle bag. Filled with junk mail I never got around the shredding.
  23. ONE DOLLAR. Woohoo!
  24. Old newspapers. One from high school, "Elections take place." One from college, "Fields beyond repair."
  25. The Teeth of the Tiger, by Tom Clancy.
  26. Vampire Hunter D: The Stuff of Dreams, by Hideyuki Kikuchi
  27. Coin jar. Was empty, now filled with coins (item 14)
  28. Base for wireless phone. Broken. Headset nowhere in sight.
  29. Pluto plushie. Probably from Draven.
  30. CD player. Broken.
  31. Picture of old co-worker, with boyfriend. Guess I'll keep that.
  32. Movie tickets. Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter 4 (Goblet of Fire..?)
  33. Old ID card (pre-driver's license).
  34. Movie tickets: Inside Man, Kill Bill Vol. 2
  35. Original iPod case.
  37. A clothes pin?
  38. Aeropostale bag. Nearly empty. Old gel pen inside, the kind I favored in middle school.
  39. Another old bag. Looks like I cleared out my car and shoved stuff in here. (1) Old candy, ew. (2) Receipts. (3) Old writing notebook. (4) Several Eagle court programs. (5) College tuition receipt. (6) Folded heart-shaped wuv note. (7) Car number sign from mechanic. (8) Another pen.
  40. Movie ticket, Serenity.
  41. Parking permit, Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
  42. Stuffed hippo. Gift from Emerald or Lisa, I forget which.
  43. Computer speakers.
  44. Some no-name security package that came with my laptop. Never installed. Laptop was already a good deal, and it happened to be included. Meh.
  45. Windex?
  46. "Got Milk?" chocolates tin. Probably kept because I thought it was "cool."
  47. More clothespins?
  48. Six feet of mesh rope.
  49. Old AT-AT toy. Turret missing. Both legs somehow still attached, despite years in box.
  50. Disposable camera. Probably from New York trip.
  51. Trophy! (seriously)
  52. Garish tour backpack, from New York trip. Last used while camping. Mostly empty, but not quite. (1) Plastic trash bag in side pouch. (2) Two glowsticks attached to outside. (3) Camp feedback sheet. Shouldn't they have that? (4) Backup physical form. (5) Set of assorted useful sharp things, etc. (6) Complete set of Scrabble tiles, stands, and board. (7) Hat. (8) Cup.
  53. Collector's coin. Or something.
  54. About eight feet of nylon cord.
  55. Old personal organizer. Pages removed, but never refilled. Since replaced with newer ones.
  56. Old toy. Either Gobots or Transformers. Happy, if vague, memory/feeling.

And that's it! Quick trip down memory lane, one box cleaner. Truth be told, I'm probably keeping a log of this mainly so I don't feel like I'm throwing away memories.

Unblock-en-l going private

The unblock-en-l mailing list, dedicated as a forum of appeals for user blocking on Wikipedia, is poised to go private, following concerns over past abuse and possible privacy issues. Archives access has long been limited to subscribed users only, but now subscription will no longer be a free deal. The reasoning, as I understand it:

1) Blocked users frequently subscribe to the list instead of sending their request. Limiting subscription should make the appropriate course of action for blocked users more clear.

Recently, some trolls have subscribed to the list, and send abusive mails to users in need of unblocking.

Users who send mail to the list frequently post potentially sensitive personal information.

Following off-list discussion about privatizing the list, which was later re-hashed on-list, the subscription rules for the list have changed -- all users requesting a subscription will now require moderator approval. Unsubscribed posters are moderated, but can still post to the list.

There was some debate as to the exact criteria for subscription. Some people proposed making it an admins-only list; I opposed that, and still do, pretty strongly. People need to be able to see and watch, if they so choose, to confirm that we're not abusing what small authority we might pretend to have. I'd prefer we let in any established editor who can tie their email to an existing account in good standing. Trust isn't a magical admins-only commodity.

At the end of that debate, the rule seemed to be "use your discretion," which works, but it's a bit more wiggle room than I was hoping for. So long as that is the rule, however, I expect to be fairly loose about who can get in. Brand new accounts, no, but anybody's who's been around for awhile should be fine. That's my story, and I'll be sticking to it.

So, that brings us to the next step of this process: purging the subscription list. Over the next week or so, all currently subscribed emails will be receiving a request to confirm their ownership of an established Wikipedia account. Those who don't reply by the deadline will be unsubscribed, pending further contact.

I'm uncomfortable about any possibility of creating a shadow government, but equally uncomfortable with the trolls we've been having problems with. The people who come into this mailing list are, more often than not, new and confused, and deserve a response from somebody who has at least a little credibility and familiarity with the community.

If anybody needs a subscription approved, let me know. ;)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Holy shit! Two big stories in one day.

New ArbCom members selected

In a recent post to the wikiEN-l mailing list, Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales has announced two new appointments to the Arbitration Committee. Mackensen, a former arbitrator, will fill Dmcdevit's now-vacated seat, following Dmc's resignation earlier this week. Essjay, a long-time user who has never run for a seat, has been appointed to the shortest of three tranches.

Three admins desysopped over Brandt wheel war

Another chapter in the long and tortuous saga of Daniel Brandt's article on Wikipedia has just ignited. Following a wheel war over whether the article should remain or be deleted, Wales has desysopped Yanksox, Geni, and Freakofnurture (action log on meta). A post to AN/I followed quickly after (diff), where Wales has referred the incident to the Arbitration Committee for immediate consideration.

The three administrators were part of a wheel war, repeatedly deletion and undeleting the page while discussion was ongoing, as shown by the article's deletion log.

The ArbCom clerks have posted a case page, but no further news is yet in.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Starslip Crisis @ Wikipedia

I haven't gotten involved in any of the webcomic deletion debates, but it's pretty hard to miss them going on. Wikipedia continues, business as usual, but the webcomics blogosphere is breaking out the torches and pitchforks at an increasing pace. One case that really got my attention, though, was Kristofer Straub's little "experiment" with the Starslip Crisis article:

I started the vote to delete Starslip Crisis using a freshly-registered user with no other edits under his belt.

I also used faulty logic to initiate the discussion: I said has no Alexa data, and isn’t notable as a result. ( is just a redirect: the comic’s URL is and has an Alexa rank.)

Then I registered ten more fake users to stuff the original delete vote. This is called “sock puppetry” in Wikipedia terminology, and is frowned upon. The names of the fake users I used in the AfD are: Salby, Incredulous, Banalzebub, Hammerabbi, LKeith30, Repromancer, Expiwikist, Floxman, YothSog, and

The AfD went on, and while I think some users caught on the ruse, it was eventually was deleted as being non-notable, that bane of inclusionists the whole wiki over. Straub blogged his feat, at which point the page found its way to Deletion Review faster than a pagemove bot. The discussion, archived here, had some tidbits:
Just to throw my hat into the ring, there's a question of just who it's meant to be notable to. Using the general press as measures of notability of a subject is fine for popular subjects, but it would lead to the conclusion that Feynman diagrams are not a notable subject. On the other hand using physics literature to justify the inclusion of Feynman diagrams would perhaps be akin to using webcomics blogs to justify the inclusion of any given webcomics article. And then you've got to wonder whether a general readership actually gives a damn about either. Sockatume 20:22, 15 February 2007 (UTC)
This next one brings to mind memories of the old CVU deletion debate, started by a user who was blocked indefinitely a little over a week later:
No it doesn't mean that we endorse sockpuppetry. If a sockpuppet says to do X, and they're right, should we then deliberately not do X and hurt ourselves, just so that they don't get to be right? -Amarkov moo! 15:50, 15 February 2007 (UTC)
I hadn't noticed until recently that Eloquence had commented:
Overturn. This needs to be debated without distractions and abuse.--Eloquence* 18:25, 15 February 2007 (UTC)
This seems to be getting more attention than I realized. ;)

What, then?

DRV overturned the AfD result; a subsequent discussion again deleted and redirected the article to Blank Label Comics. Straub has since made another post on the subject -- he's certainly gotten my attention, on this one, and I think he brings up some very good points.

On the other hand, I take away some different lessons, from this incident. The biggest lesson for me is: we really need to get on top of figuring out what the hell "notability" means. Everybody's got their own pet definition, and in some ways that's good, it keeps things interesting, and it keeps people thinking. In other ways, it's bad -- most obviously, we wind up in gaffes like this where our mission simply isn't clear.

But one hypothetical I'd like to point out is this: suppose that instead of a webcomic, somebody had tried this on an article like Martin Luther King, Jr. -- it just wouldn't work, and there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. When it comes to core subjects, the notability is so obvious as to be a nearly laughable question. All this talk about verifiability and reliable sources? The reason you're able to get away with sockfarms on webcomic AfDs is because they simply don't compare to the true core of an encyclopedia.

As Straub said, and I have a feeling he gets this point, and maybe even the problem, even better than I or most of us do:
However, in Wikipedia’s defense, there’s no real way to judge notability in an arena like this. A lot of people would say Wikipedia is non-notable because it’s user-edited and unreliable. But let’s face it, most webcomics aren’t trying to show up in Wikipedia because they think people need to be able to research their work. They want to be there because it’s neato. And that’s as good a reason as any to delete them. But how do you tell which is which?? I don’t know. They have their work cut out for them.
On the other hand, Wikipedia isn't paper, and I'm not a big fan of intentionally pissing people off when they're not otherwise doing any harm. The right answers to these questions will be discovered in time.

In the meantime, we return you to your regularly scheduled programming: Nidoran♂

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Who am I?

Where to begin?

I often wonder where we're all going, what we're all doing. I don't feel lost -- I know exactly where I am, but I don't know quite where I'm headed, or how I'll get there. I keep having this urge to think contemplative thoughts, but I don't know what over, or why.

It probably means I'm missing something. But what?

There's definitely more than a few niches for me. Currently, I'm a student at a community college, more than likely transferring after the Summer term; one school's accepted me, waiting on news from two others. I'm hoping for Chico. I used to be an active member at the Livewire Peer Support Forums. Prior to that, I was active for awhile at the Nuklear Power forums (home of 8-bit Theatre), and was (I guess?) an early member of the Avariel forums that branched off from there. I have some good friends, but truth be told, I'm more the sort of person to socialize in smaller circles. I am very happily involved with a lady. Consider myself politically moderate -- I love and hate both parties. At one point, I considered trying my hand in political columns.

In the last year, I became an administrator at a website you're probably more familiar with: Wikipedia. I seem to have made some small name for myself, there, and I've been mostly content with some simple tasks -- cleaning up after a steady stream of vandals, helping others navigate the intricate syntax and network that a wiki of that size becomes, reviewing and granting unblock requests, mediating disputes and helping out with random tasks where I can. I like to think I've done some good.

How silly to think, I'm probably half-inspired to blog here, because of all the SEO-bloggers that keep showing up on my Google Alerts. Handy system, that.

Majoring in computer science. What I really want to do, though, is writing, either novels or films -- keep telling myself that programming is something I'll be able to do to earn bready money, while trying to break through. Realistically, I never will fool somebody into paying me to write, but it'll be a fun hobby to try and see. And so, I have a Plan B that'll probably become a full time profession.

Career aptitude testing was always fun. I was the student where the counselor would always stop and say, "Hmm... that is truly ambiguous," to, before handing tests like the MBTI back.
Took a few others, too, but don't remember the names; they all said the same thing, "do anything you want, we can't figure you out."

That seems to be a pattern. I've always been a bit of a contradiction. Not in that savvy, intellectual way -- in the really annoying, self-defeating sort of way. I'm no genius, but I'm pretty smart. What I lack, most often, is ambition, or perhaps focus is a better word. Determination. I can dream big, but I don't think I have the personality to reach and achieve.

Maybe I'll prove myself wrong. Wouldn't that be something?

That's the trouble with tribbles.

Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I, now? Where am I going? These are some deep questions, and maybe those are the ones I need to be asking myself. The words we use to describe ourselves and the world around us all say a lot about the sorts of people we are.

Make a plan and stick to it. Sounds so easy in the abstract; one way or another, I find myself getting distracted with little things, "in the moment," and I lose sight of my plan, of the big picture.

And yet, the big picture is made up of details. Every time.