Sunday, September 21, 2008

WP:OFFICE and the Nielsen fiasco

It's been a fair while since I made a post, so maybe it's time I dusted off my keyboard and stepped to it.

Apparently the Wikimedia Foundation was recently contacted by Nielsen Media Research, regarding some information, copyrighted by Nielsen, which was posted on Wikipedia. By my current understanding, Mike Godwin was consulted and the material in question was deleted by foundation staff. As unfortunately sometimes happens with office actions, a small but chaotic tempest has ensued.

In a posting to the administrators' noticeboard, one user pointed out several templates had been deleted, apparently citing a DMCA takedown notice sent to Wikipedia's private OTRS system. Some users suggested such a notice should be forwarded to Chilling Effects; others insisted the message was private. Some users furiously debated whether the material in question was, or even could be, copyrighted. Others seemed lost simply trying to figure out what parts of which material were under debate. One user was reminded of last year's Lava Lamp incident. The story quickly made its way to Slashdot. Given the original lack of clear communication, comments from across the board have been getting increasingly chaotic and heated.

This is one of those cases where Wikipedia's usual "deny everything" approach has hit its limit.

How many times has this happened, before? In an information vacuum, the most sensational stories can gain traction they otherwise never would have. Key posts from Wikimedia staffers Cary Bass and Mike Godwin clarifying important details have been pretty prompt, considering this storm unfortunately happened over the weekend, but I worry they'll be lost in the crowd -- the sort of problem for which Wikipedia has no perfect solution.

Certainly we as a community should respect the office staff's needs, when they believe urgent action is necessary. In some regards, it is our respect for those needs that causes some of these difficulties: when a mass of editors, administrators, and OTRS volunteers enters the fray, either taking action to help or vocally interpreting the actions of others trying to help, it becomes less clear who did what, and who is allowed to do what moving forward. Users trying to resolve this confusion aren't helped along by the fact they will inevitably hold incomplete information, or by the lack of any easy way to distinguish important, clueful communication from mere noise.

This is just an idea, but I think there are a few problems we might avoid if we logged all office actions, preferably at a central location edited only by office staff. First, and most important, it would be eminently clear which actions are performed under the auspices of WP:OFFICE -- any action not specifically listed at the log, wasn't. Secondly, it would allow administrators to more easily enforce office actions, should doing so become necessary. Thirdly, it would allow staffers to -- if they choose to -- make prominent statements regarding office actions in a place where all interested parties will quickly be able to find them.

Such a log might attract troublemakers; I think the added clarity and reduced confusion would be well worth the cost, given the troubles we already face each time this sort of thing blows up. I believe an office log would be better for our own in-house communications, and possibly for our public relations as well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

#wikipedia-en: forking to ##wikipedia-signal

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

I can't be the only person frustrated by the recent levels of off-topic and frankly spammy conversation in #wikipedia-en on freenode. I've tried agitating for change, and have gotten nowhere; the hands-off approach taken by current operators is hardly helpful, here. Things have only been getting worse, and I've come to the point where I'm willing to fork the channel, if there's interest.

Tonight's topics of conversation in #wikipedia-en have included: womens' breasts, mens' breasts, lactating breasts, and other things that decidedly are not Wikipedia. Channel operators are often unwilling or unable to stop these trends, recently, and I'm sorry to say that what once was a useful channel is now even worse than #wikipedia ever was.

It used to be that #wikipedia was (mostly) off-topic and #wikipedia-en was (mostly) on-topic. Currently that's still the official story. Lately they're both off-topic, although surprisingly #wikipedia actually has the slightly more "intellectual" sort, where #-en is a more "frat" atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, I love social channels and generally favor a hands-off approach to moderation... but one on-topic channel hardly seems too much to ask for, and current chanops just aren't making this happen, it seems.

Wondering why I care? Just look at how effective #wikimedia-tech is. Currently I'm not aware of any public channel which regularly discusses the English Wikipedia with any degree of seriousness. Private channels are smaller, and less representative of the wider community.

With that in mind, I'm starting a ##wikipedia-signal channel for public, on-topic discussion of the English Wikipedia and its sister projects. Realistic concessions to social conversation will be made, but overall I'd prefer to keep a high signal-to-noise ratio (hence the name), and plan on backing that up with moderation as needed.

There are, however, a few options to consider:
  • Option 1: Good old culture and self-moderation. Allow anyone to join and speak, and encourage them to stay on-topic. Proactively kick or ban repeat problem users as needed, as other channels do (or should).
  • Option 2: Set the channel +i (invite-only), but keep trivial standards for access. Essentially an opt-in, semi-private channel. Repeat problem users could have their invite access removed. Easy to keep out misfits and botnets, but risks creating a barrier to entry, if users with the ability to access user flags are difficult to find.
  • Option 3: Set the channel +m (moderated), so that anyone can join but only "voiced" users may speak. Probably would set most regular users to be voiced by ChanServ on joining (+V flag), and might allow a smaller group to voice other users by request (+v flag). Repeat problem users could have their voice access removed. Similar advantages to Option 2, but creates a smaller barrier to entry if more users can be trusted with the ability to give others voice.
Currently I'm favoring the third course. Thoughts?

If the atmosphere in #wikipedia-en improves, so be it. This isn't a power play; I just want a decent forum for on-topic talk.


Update, 2008-07-25: Looks like ##wikipedia-signal hasn't taken hold. Thanks to the users who gave it a shot, and to those who offered feedback both positive and negative. However, it's worth noting that several concerned users have intervened in the affairs of #wikipedia-en since this post was made, and the situation there has improved. For now. Forking hasn't proved viable, currently, but it seems to have successfully drawn attention to the issue.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

BADSITES marches on

The loudest battle no one cares about.

Despite the community's clear and longstanding rejection of BADSITES as policy, some editors continue wield it or its cousins in debates, often seeking to discredit others in ways which may or may not make any apparent sense to the casual observer. The continued promotion of a siege mentality is, in my opinion, disruptive to progress on more important issues.

Yes, we should take steps to protect users who are harassed and victimized. When I'm able to, I try to do so. No, that does not mean I or any other Wikipedian should be obliged to support a divisive and jingoistic political agenda apparently based in anger and bitterness.

When users fail to unconditionally support a BADSITES siege, for whatever reason, they're often labelled "trolls." If site management doesn't support the siege, it's toted as evidence the site has been "taken over" by "troll enablers." For those who missed it, the line is quickly drawn between "us" (fighting evil BADSITES) and "them" (trolls and their sympathizers), with no room left for the subtle distinctions inherent in human relations.

I can understand why some people have come to view the situation that way, but they should know that they're also marginalizing their own position by painting with such wide brushes so often. Sorry to say, but not all users are just going to flop over and agree with everything a given editor says, especially when much of it is based in vague or secret evidence apparently discussed only in echo chambers.

All too often, the "them" in an "us vs. them" scenario does everyone involved a great disservice by playing along with the siege. The resulting squabbles can be quite discrediting to all involved. If we just saw a bit less of that, things might actually calm down. Sometimes the best response is no response.

For most of us, the project continues on without missing a beat. Remember that encyclopedia we're supposed to be working on?

Abuse on-wiki is actionable on-wiki. In extreme cases, off-wiki abuse with on-wiki effects may be actionable on-wiki. Absent evidence of such abuse, I fail to see how merely having an account on a given website could ever be considered inherently abusive and actionable on-wiki.

In short: let's talk about abuse, not siege.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wikimedia Foundation removes image of its headquarters from Wikipedia article

Image uploaded and added
Image speedily deleted and removed
Deletion review opened
Deletion review forcibly closed, citing WP:OFFICE

It may be worth noting that at the time of the DRV's closure, comments up to that point unanimously supported overturning the deletion. (ed: maybe not; see comments)

If the Wikimedia Foundation won't allow a picture of its headquarters to appear in the relevant article, so be it. I just wonder what justification there is that wouldn't likewise apply to headquarters images found in other articles, including Microsoft, Apple, or Craiglist.

It's not entirely clear that this is or is not an official office action, at the moment, but absent a demonstration to the contrary, the spectre of OFFICE has been invoked and will probably have its usual effects.


Edit 1, 2008-07-14: Added in-line note, referring to comment from Matthew Brown regarding comments at the DRV. See this post's comments for details.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

ArbCom fumbles the ball

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

This has been an interesting day on Wikipedia, to say the least.

First, arbitrator FT2 made a post to the admin noticeboard, mentioning that "A large amount of work has been in progress by the Arbitration Committee, in the background, for a considerable time, to look at a number of systemic problems deemed of importance, and possible solutions," before unveiling a hidden arbitration case where Orangemarlin has been sanctioned in absentia. FT2 also created a June 2008 announcements page, covering proposals including a new ban review group delegated by arbcom, activation of a new view-deleted-pages userright, the potential appointment of new checkusers, clarifications of the committee's role, an unfinished work on the BLP enforcement guidelines, and pages on old problems regarding skilled edit warriors and the consensus process.

This was sure to make some waves, all by itself. Kirill Lokshin, another arbitrator, made a post to the admin noticeboard several hours later:
The announcements made today by FT2 (including both the Orangemarlin issue and the various other matters) were posted without the approval or prior knowledge of the Committee as a whole. Further, no formal proceeding, secret or otherwise, has taken place regarding Orangemarlin or any other editor named in that particular statement.

As far as I'm concerned, these announcements have no authority or binding weight whatsoever.
Obviously, at least one of these fine gentlemen is wrong. After a brief attempt to archive the thread, pending news from the committee, the frenzied discussion moved to Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Orangemarlin and other matters. Given the unfortunate lack of concrete information, many confused and upset users immediately leapt into the fray with supposition and guesswork. Popular theories have supposed that one or both arbitrators have gone rogue, or that some effort is underway to destroy FT2's credibility. My theory is that we have a serious failure of communication.

This would not be the first time arbcom's penchant for private discussion and decision has been problematic. Just recently, arbitrator emeritus Raul654 filed a request to give Kingturtle checkuser access, on behalf of the committee; the issue was challenged, and then up in the air until FT2 offered some blunt clarification. It's been my experience that it's regularly difficult to tell whether an action is being undertaken by a single arbitrator, or the committee as a whole -- they sometimes seem to take advantage of this confusion. Often the only clear issues are those in which the committee has taken a formal vote on the wiki, and those are unfortunately quite rare; in many cases, it's difficult to tell even what the committee has or hasn't considered. It's a black box model at its worst.

Here, today, we have FT2 saying that there was a clear consensus supporting his announcement, and Kirill suggesting in reply that there was little or no discussion. It's hard not to be reminded or the arguments following Durova's block of !!, based on another private mailing list. I expect the committee will be discussing this extensively, but I find it disturbing that none of the other arbs have yet seen fit to make any prominent announcement to the effect of "We're looking at it, please stand by." No doubt they are currently unavailable, simply haven't thought to, or wish to avoid the storm of insistent messages any such statement would surely bring; it would take a certain strength of character to ask an angry mob to wait. Outside of FT2 and Kirill, do we have arbs of such character?

FloNight and Morven have both posted something to this effect, but I fear they'll be lost in the crowd. Still, they have my sincere thanks for saying something.

Obviously this is going to need clarification. We need word from the committee; silence simply will not do. Between FT2 and Kirill, the situation is chaos. In the short term, are these announcements valid? Are the decisions binding? What happened, here? In the long term, how can we avoid these problems in the future? Is there some way to make agendas or votes public, without necessarily revealing entire discussions? Do we need new policy or cultural reform, to deal with this?

If nothing else, communications breakdowns like this one can strike serious and unfortunate blows to the credibility of the committee and its members, and to order within the community. This confusion is damaging to the project. Perhaps it's past time that we as a community insisted on clarity from this committee regarding its decisions and operations.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

BLP special enforcement

Note: this was originally posted to wikien-l in this thread, but as I'm having technical difficulties (post keeps getting truncated), I'm posting it here and linking to it. For reference, it discusses the BLP special enforcement provision of the Footnoted quotes arbitration.

On Tue, Jun 17, 2008 at 8:26 AM, Sam Blacketer wrote:
It is headed 'special enforcement' rather than 'special policy', and I think the distinction is more than merely terminological. The policy basis is WP:BLP which has been in place for some time and has wide acceptance; I agree it would be wrong for Arbcom to change that policy.
From our own article on the subject: "A policy is a deliberate plan of action to guide decisions and achieve rational outcome(s)."

The distinction you mention is semantic and academic at best. We have here a committee which is not only manifestly decreeing policy in a way that toys with the philosophical foundations of this project, but even preparing itself to make content decisions, both things the committee was and is (supposedly) not supposed to do. I welcome you to make your case, but to pretend this isn't a big deal is an insult to the intelligence of the community that you represent -- it is a very big deal.

Administrator status is "not a big deal" precisely because we can self-police amongst ourselves. Reprehensible actions are less problematic on a wiki precisely because they can, in most cases, be quickly reversed. This ability of anyone to edit, more than anything, is what makes a wiki a wiki. Obviously, with blocking and protection, we have made necessary concessions to the reality that too much chaos can be damaging. As a community, we expect that consensus will show us a proper path, further reducing chaos. But here and now, we're providing an avenue by which adminship is absolutely a "a big deal" because any admin will, for any reason, be able to take any action of any kind against any user or article, without any need for petty things like consensus or discussion, and without any easy way to reverse that action. It takes that pesky "wiki" process out of the picture; so much easier to run the project when people can't easily edit, no?

We're even threatening dire consequences for any user, admin or not, who dares to challenge one of these actions without filling out the proper paperwork to request permission to do so. "Be bold!" we say -- just not if you're the second person on the scene. Specifically, I see a lot of mention that we should trust the good judgement of administrators, and yet this policy decree seems to do the exact opposite.

Where are the consequences for abuse or misuse of this power?

We as a community should be very careful when erecting systems which will inevitably become barriers to the creation of content and the free editing of the wiki, or which will enable users acting unilaterally to create such barriers arbitrarily and without easy oversight or accountability. We as individuals should be very careful to scrutinize the Arbitration Committee when it seems to overstep its bounds, as many users seem to think it has here.

The remedy is, as of yet, untested, and I believe predictions of impending doom are a bit overblown, but the fact remains: this is not a minor issue and should not be dismissed as one.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Metapedian, 2008-06-16

Board elections are open for another few days, if you hadn't been aware. You'll have until the end of June 21 to review candidates and submit any votes. Votes this year are being counted using the Schulze method, which allows voters to rank candidates according to their preferences -- a touch more robust than the approval voting used last year.

At the close of the "Footnoted quotes" arbitration, the Arbitration Committee has authorized administrators to apply new "special enforcement" provisions with regard to biographies of living persons, including the use of "any means at their disposal," and requiring appeals of any such action be directed to the admin noticeboard or the committee directly. Associated policy proposal is here. Many users are concerned by what seems to be a concentration of power, either into the hands of administrators or the committee.

On a somewhat similar note, the committee is currently voting 6-3 not to propose a "sourcing adjudication board" in the Homeopathy arbitration.

After a recent poll, the requirements to become an autoconfirmed user have changed: users will now need an account that is 4 days old with 10 edits. A new poll aims to increase the requirements to 7 days and 20 edits.

A new draft of the Wikimedia privacy policy is in the works at meta. Trimmed drafts are available on the talk page; other discussion is available there or on foundation-l.

The global sysops proposal (formerly Anti-Vandal Fighter) is currently up for polling at the metapub. Extensive discussion here.

Several users have begun an in-depth review of the requests for adminship process, and are currently seeking users to fill out a questionnaire.

An Ethnic and cultural conflicts noticeboard has been opened.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

New page countdown

Many users are aware of and make good use of Wikipedia's Special:NewPages feature, but there is a problem that's recently come to my attention: pages will only be listed for 720 hours (30 days), and dozens of pages are at risk of "slipping through the cracks" without ever being looked at.

A page which goes past this point is very difficult to track, until it shows up as again as a problem for recent changes patrollers, OTRS responders, or manages to attract enough attention to get some (most likely negative) media coverage. We shouldn't let this happen. DragonflySixtyseven has been working hard to patrol pages at the back of the queue, and to enlist the help of others, but he can't go it alone. Links like this one will show you the last 150 pages in danger of slipping off the list.

Currently, pages are coming within just a few hours of falling off the back end of the log. Help is needed.

I've long felt that patrolling deeper into or at the back end of the new pages log should be the default behavior for many users; when we're not screaming for deletion seconds after a page is made, we're that much less likely to bite (or argue with) newcomers. If we're going even thirty days after the fact, most POV-pushers have left the site and many diligent newcomers who've stuck around will be more likely to understand WP's policies and actually cooperate reasonably. To me it certainly feels less rushed, and I've actually had time to improve a few pages.

Stacks are simple, yes, but leave the bottom of the pile to rot and fester. Let's try a queue and mind the back, first, when we can -- it's not going to stick around much longer, after all.

If you already do work with new page patrol, consider looking at the back of the list from time to time; if you haven't worked in this area, consider taking a few minutes to try it out, and you may just find it can be quite rewarding. One more time, this link shows the pages in greatest danger falling off the list.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wikipedians are not neutral

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia only ArbCom can edit?

Are we working on a neutral encyclopedia, or aren't we? Sometimes I wonder.

Time and again, the question comes up. Usually it's asked in the context of outside influences "pushing" a point of view on some page or another; all too often, a POV is pushed from inside our community, subverting the neutrality content for our own ends.

In February, after questions arose regarding the relationship between the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and for-profit Wikia, Wikimedia UK chair Alison Wheeler created a template called "Wikia is not Wikipedia," a large banner linking the WMF's official press release on the matter,
and placed it atop Wikipedia's article on Wikia while making other "corrections" to footnotes. It's worth noting the template included lots of scare text insisting it couldn't be removed from any article without approval from the WMF Communications Committee. Several users questioned this, pointing out that it was hardly a neutral content decision and that no other article subject would ever be allowed such latitude. The template was removed and nominated for deletion, as it should have been. Alison's response? Rolled back the edit as vandalism and issued block warnings so stern the user was scared off the project. It took an angry mob at TfD to get the template deleted. She claimed to be acting on behalf of the Foundation itself, and ominously threatened to take the issue "higher up."

Not to worry, even though the template was deleted, Alison kept trying to insert it. Fortunately she dropped the ridiculous block threats, in later episodes.

Eventually, WMF chair Florence Devouard had a try at it.

This isn't the only time the Wikimedians have interfered with article content for their own ends. Take as another example the never-ending "sole founder" debate at the article on Jimmy Wales. Jimbo also appears to have successfully agitated to have his date of birth removed from the article about him. It's not clear to me whether WMF deputy director Erik Möller had a hand in anything similar, but it may be worth noting his date of birth is likewise absent at that article.

More recently, in March, advertising firm Modernista! implemented a rather minimalist website, one which simply placed their main menu around the page currently being viewed. One "about" link from this menu likewise sends readers to Wikipedia's article on the firm. Some readers apparently were confused by this, and thought Modernista somehow controlled the article. Initially, Jimbo asked them to stop, but soon enough other solutions were in the works: a technical solution might break out of the frame and subtly solve the problem; a big red banner would explain what was going on, but would get us into the business of trying to embarrass companies into doing what we want by leaving nasty notes on articles about them. Guess what happened? Alison Wheeler returned again to toss up another banner.

The latest episode I find troubling is at the freshly recreated Encyclopedia Dramatica article. There's a big hubbub about whether or not the ED website should be linked from the ED article. Never mind that we regularly link to a whole variety of websites with hateful content, as in articles on Stormfront or the Westboro Baptist Church, or iffy copyright status, as in articles on Pirate Bay, Youtube, or 4chan, apparently we plan on diverging from the common-sense rule applied at pretty much every article on the site because ED and Wikipedia don't get along well. What does this accomplish, exactly? We won't stop anybody from finding the site, we won't even deny them a PageRank boost, we'll just look incredibly petty by refusing to place a blatantly relevant link right where it so obviously belongs. What message are we sending, here? It's okay to break the law, but not WP policy. It's okay to harass people, as long as they're not Wikipedians. Way to establish our priorities.

A bit of explanation, the editors who want the link excluded are claiming that prior decisions of the arbitration committee in the MONGO and Attack sites cases support their position (they don't). They're also citing WP:BADSITES a lot, even though the "policy" was quite clearly rejected after a very long and painful argument. They'll just keep pushing until people are tired of arguing about it, I guess. Currently there's a painfully redundant request for clarification: can we link to ED at the ED article? Thank the heavens that arbitrator Kirill Lokshin displayed a hefty amount of clue when suggesting the prohibition on links to ED made a lot more sense when there wasn't an ED article. Too bad Wikipedians aren't listening to him. Administrators MBisanz, Hu12, and Sandstein have worked to keep the link out of the article. Even David Levy, who supports inclusion of the link and is doing his best to mediate the discussion fairly, seems to insist we cannot add the link without approval.

As you might expect, the article was put up for deletion the moment it saw daylight. I could go either way as far as having an article or not, but if we're going to have an article at all, we should be doing it right. We're after NPOV, not WPOV.

So I ask again: are we working on a neutral encyclopedia, or aren't we?


Edit 1, 2008-05-15: Had posted this, the other day, but apparently it got lost somewhere along the line, for reasons I don't quite follow. Worth noting the link is currently present but still being argued over.

Edit 2, 2008-05-16: NonvocalScream is not currently an administrator. He is a former admin. Pointed out by a few readers, thank you.

Edit 3, 2008-06-01: NonvocalScream contacted me to let me know I'd misstated his position, when I said he opposed the ED link. He did strongly advocate waiting for a go-ahead from Arbcom, but he also supported inclusion of the link. I've removed the brief mention of him above. My apologies once more, NVS.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Picture if you will

Picture, if you will, a scenario where a young man is walking through an apartment complex on a Saturday night while carrying the following: a spare coat, a laptop, assorted half-empty bottles of booze, and... a bright plastic plunger.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Noticeboard bloat, part two

Last year, I wrote about the rapid proliferation of noticeboards on Wikipedia. Shortly after that, the Editabuselinks template got trimmed down a bit. Unfortunately, the bloating has continued since then. Compare if you will between the 5 July 2007 and 28 March 2008 versions.

The linked July version sports two sections: Editing abuse, including Administrator intervention against vandalism, the 3RR noticeboard, WikiProject on open proxies, Long term abuse, Suspected sock puppets, Abuse reports, Requests for checkuser, and Usernames for administrator attention; and Noticeboards, including the Administrators' noticeboard, Incidents noticeboard, Community sanction noticeboard, Arbitration enforcement noticeboard, Biographies of living persons noticeboard, and Conflict of interest noticeboard.

Today's version has exploded into four sections: General help, including the Help desk, Department directory, Media copyright questions, Image copyright help desk, WikiProject User Page Help's own help desk, the New contributors' help page, and Village pump assistance subpage; Report abuse, including Administrator intervention against vandalism, WikiProject Spam, the 3RR noticeboard, Usernames for administrator attention, WikiProject on open proxies, Suspected sock puppets, Copyright problems, and Long term abuse; Request assistance, including Requests for page protection, ISP Abuse reports, Requests for checkuser, Requests for arbitration, Requests for mediation, the Mediation Cabal, and Requests for comment; an,d Noticeboards, including the Administrators' noticeboard, Incidents noticeboard, Arbitration enforcement noticeboard, Checkuser clerks noticeboard, Bot owners' noticeboard, Conflict of interest noticeboard, Biographies of living persons noticeboard, Fiction noticeboard, Fringe theories noticeboard, Original research noticeboard, Neutral point of view noticeboard, and Reliable sources noticeboard.

Notice a trend? From 14 to 35 pages linked, in about half a year. What once took two rows of text now takes at least five or six, depending on your display. Previously I mentioned a 60% increase in link count in roughly a year; here we're looking at 250% in half that time.

Looking at the template history, links added are rarely removed or get replaced in short order.

What's good about this growth? It allows people to focus on topics they're interested in, and as such may allow return users to address complex issues. The topical archives produced by subject-based pages may be easier to browse, when dealing with issues that come up repeatedly. Consensus on a given area of policy may become more clear if discussions are kept together.

What's bad about this? Because it's so hard to watch (or search) an ever-increasing number of pages, large portions of the community are effectively excluded from discussion at these boards. Where one perspective might see a group of experienced users addressing complex issues, another perspective might see a cabal or posse dominating a particular area by virtue of being the only users regularly active on a page. I worry newcomers will be overwhelmed -- I imagine the difficulty of figuring out where to go only grows as the option count increases, and I'd bet the rate of growth is more than linear. Consensus on a given area of policy may become less clear if discussions exclude a large number of users.

Do we have other options? I'd be curious about finding a happy medium, here, something that allows for quick temporal awareness of current discussion and topical browsing of pages and their archives. Even something simple like a list of thread links, sorted by topic, could be a great step in that direction. Efforts like Eagle 101's AN archive search tool or Messedrocker's RFC bot are definitely a help, here.

Mostly, though, I don't think this rapid proliferation of noticeboards and overcrowded navigation templates is any sort of indefinite solution.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another chapter in the Betacommand saga

By the time you wind up with an admin noticeboard subpage dedicated to your name, it should be clear you're a bit of a lightning rod. I won't go into an in-depth analysis of these long-standing controversies, aside from: Betacommand does a lot of wonderful bot work for Wikipedia, work that is direly needed and often thankless, but his abrasive handling of that work all too frequently leaves a wake of confused and angry users, which in turn leads to increasing controversy and argument. Rinse and repeat.

Isn't that the stereotype? "Skilled programmer needs to work on interpersonal skills." I somehow doubt that's going to make headlines as a surprise story.

Numerous proposals have come up, over the past few months: keeping BC in charge of the bots, but allowing other people to respond to complaints at User talk:BetacommandBot and the newly created Image copyright help desk; splitting up the various BCBot tasks into multiple bots, to allow for (hopefully) less fragmented discussion; moving some of the most-argued-over tasks to Non-Free Content Compliance Bot; finding ways to limit the frustrating, harassing effect of suddenly getting potentially dozens of rapid-fire, lengthy messages at bot speed regarding their image uploads, either by compressing duplicate messages, refining the content of those messages, or allowing users to opt out of receiving them. That last proposal seems to have caught fire, today.

Proponents of an opt-out list argue that it would significantly reduce problems: these messages seem to attract the most drama, out of all the things BCBot does. Users often find the sudden hail of messages frustrating or confusing. Experienced users should be familiar with policies, and may not even find the messages useful. Users who wish to receive the notifications, of course, needn't sign up for the list. Such a list might help to reduce the vicious cycle of aggravation going around. This seems to be a reasonable position.

Opponents of an opt-out list argue that such a list might actually increase problems, if users later complain that they "weren't notified" of impending image deletions. The notifications can be an important notice of policy problems, either for users unaware of problems or for users interested in tracking them. The messages direct users, especially new users, to review image policy and compose fair use rationales, potentially saving a large number of images from sudden deletion, or helping users to realize that their images aren't appropriate. All of this is important for the NFC policy. This seems to be a reasonable position.

For my part, I think such a fix could go a long way to calming down this little war. It's not a perfect solution, but it may be a quick one that gets us all working on the wiki again.

Last night, Betacommand created an opt-out list at User:BetacommandBot/Opt-out. According to BC, users signing up must agree to two provisions:
  • Keep in mind that when you sign this list, you fully are aware that you lose the right to complain about deletions, reversions, etc. because you were "not notified" about them.
Harsh phrasing aside, this seems more or less fair. Doc glasgow proposed what seems to me a much better version: "Keep in mind that if you sign this opt-out list, you should not later complain that you were "not notified" about deletions, reversions, etc performed by the bot." BC replied that the harsh wording was intentional.
  • You also lose the right to complain about BetacommandBot itself or the issues it raises.
This second clause has ignited edit wars and furious debate. Arthur Rubin speedily deleted the page, and initiated an MfD when it was restored. BC has reverted attempts to remove this clause, calling them "vandalism," and likewise removed the signature of one user who rejected the agreement (currently there are no signatures on the page). Numerous users have objected to such a requirement, and rightfully so: it goes against basic principles of fair play, and there's no way that we as a community can stand for such a proposition. Users cannot forfeit their right to participate in discussion, in this fashion -- trying to force them to violates so much of what a wiki is about, including open editing and participation, the assumption of good faith, even fundamental civility. Are we really coming to gang warfare and coercion, here? The only way for users to avoid what they perceive as harassment is by giving up their right to speak? How long before we're looking at demands for protection money?

I find it hard to believe BC would seriously expect such a two-faced offer to last. Was this a cry for attention?

BrownHairedGirl had some comments I found quite insightful:
Doc glasgow has put an alternative wording on the table, but while I'm sure he was trying to help, I don't think that was necessary. I doubt that it would take more than a moment's work for BC to edit this short document to remove the gagging clause if he wanted to do so. However, if Betacommand believes (rightly or wrongly) that anyone who criticises him is just a drama queen, I can't see any amount of discussion here changing his mind on that point or on this wording.

I'm afraid that this just a manifestation of the wider problem that BC seems to have got himself into a position where he doesn't trust the editing community, and this particular problem won't be fixed until the wider problem is fixed. The question of how it is fixed remains to be seen, but this document is just another symptom of a breakdown of trust between a bot operator and the comunity.
I don't know if there is a solution. We definitely have a problem.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Riana's RfB a referendum on Kelly Martin?

See: Wikipedia:Requests for bureaucratship/Riana, closure currently pending a closed but public "Bureaucrat discussion" -- the sort we see when a single crat isn't willing to close a discussion alone.

There are apparently two major points of contention, as described by WJBScribe in the bcrat chat:
  • The fact that Riana's decision to nominate Kelly Martin for adminship calls into question her judgment (emphasis mine)
  • Issues of temperament - with diffs cited of a couple of incidents involved the use of profanity/incivility
I won't speak to the second. In my mind, that's a legitimate reason to oppose, regardless of whether I agree.

The first, however, I have to take strong issue with. Since when did a single RfA nomination become a defining moment in anybody's Wikipedia career? Are we so bitter with ourselves, so divided into petty factions, that we deny a widely trusted and long-active user access on such a flimsy basis? Apparently some of us are so far gone that even the mere spectre of Kelly Martin becomes a deciding factor in bureaucrat discussion.

Sound nuts? Not everyone thinks so. After FeloniousMonk's oppose first linked Martin's second RfA from October 2007, several others including Guettarda, SlimVirgin, Jossi, Secret, OrangeMarlin, KillerChihuahua, B, and even Mailer Diablo stated the KM nomination as the primary or even sole reason for their opposition. Others, including MONGO and Ral315, later withdrew similar opposition.

Riana's been a Wikipedian for two years, now, and an administrator for about half that (see her hugely successful RfA). According to ST47's ADMINSTATS, she's logged over 17,000 admin actions. One failed RfA nom overrides all of that? We're not even discussing two years of dedication, here, because of one thought the community happened to reject.

There's one thing several in opposition seem to have missed: Riana is not Kelly Martin. If you want to oppose KM, fine and go ahead, but that's not the topic under discussion. The impression I get is that it's not what you do for the wiki that counts, but who you happen to bring forward for consideration by the community.

Mailer's comment about the "full gravity and consequence" of the nomination was rightly quipped down by Dorftroffel: "The full consequence was that Kelly was (of course) not promoted." Isn't that how we're supposed to look at these things? If "adminship isn't a big deal," as the saying goes, why is the mere nomination given center stage?

Personally, I don't keep track of who nominated whom. I don't consider it important, and definitely not in the long run. Doing anything else will only breed an atmosphere of political infighting and careful cabalism.

All I ask the community and the bureaucrats is this: show some sense of fair play and let Riana stand or fall on her own merits. It would be a damned shame to judge her on any other basis.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

An email mole

The other day, I got an email from User:Wikigender:
Dear User of Wikipedia,

You have created or modified an article related to gender. We would like to inform you that the OECD Development Centre ( has recently introduced a new wiki-based Internet platform exclusively focused on gender equality, called Wikigender (

If you are interested in joining this initiative and sharing your knowledge with other experts of gender equality, please contact us at [email removed].

Please be advised that you will need a password to enter the site prior to its official launch on March 8 (International Women's Day), which we are happy to provide upon request.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely, The OECD Wikigender Team
Perhaps I'm being naive, but I don't think I've run across any similar use of Special:Emailuser previously. Register an account without any/much editing, confirm an email, and wait silently for anyone to edit a relevant article... once they do, send them your email pitch. So long as there's no significant on-wiki activity or complaint, you can probably continue this behavior indefinitely. For lack of a better term, I guess I'll call it an "email mole."

I appreciate that this is at least significantly better targeted and tailored than everyday spam, but I can't help being a bit uncomfortable with what seems a possible misuse of account priviledges and resources. They won't have direct access to my email address unless I reply, but they can continue to make use of Special:Emailuser unless their access to it is revoked.

One more example of how marketers and politicians are gradually moving into narrowcasting, I suppose.

What do others think? Is this an acceptable thing to do? What happens if this sort of thing occurs on a large scale? Or has it, already, and I just haven't run into it, yet?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Metapedian, 2008-02-06

A recently created "Wikia is not Wikipedia" template intended for use atop articles relating to Wikia is up for deletion. The template was created in response to possible reader and media confusion regarding the relationship between Wikia and Wikimedia. Use of the template, including related administrative actions, has been controversial.

Extensive and widespread discussion continues regarding the use of images in Wikipedia's Muhammad article which depict the prophet himself. Numerous readers are upset by the inclusion of the images, citing religious taboos. The debate itself is not new, but is getting renewed attention. The article's talk page and wikiEN-l in particular are active forums. The article has recently been covered by the New York Times.

Following the deletion of Wikipedia's "Adult-child sex" article, numerous copies have appeared in userspace. A miscellany for deletion discussion regarding the subpage recreations is ongoing.

Membership of the recently founded Working group on ethnic and cultural edit wars has been announced.

Crazycomputers announced on wikiEN-l the creation of a tool to help search for active rangeblocks. At least one other similar tool exists, as is mentioned in the linked thread, but some users apparently have had trouble using it.

East718 and Betacommand worked together to add a large number of revisions to en.wikipedia's Main Page, which would prevent it from being deleted after the recent implementation of measures to prevent regular deletion of pages with several thousand edits. The action became controversial, including blocking and calls for other sanctions, with some editors preferring more discussion or a better technical solution. Tim Starling quickly altered some settings which will render it more difficult to delete any Wikimedia wiki's front page. Discussion is split between wikitech-l and wikiEN-l.

Current adminship candidacies: Remember the dot (2nd), Barneca (2nd), Master of Puppets (2nd), Aitis, TheDJ.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Metapedian, 2008-01-22

Following the closure of the recent arbitration regarding articles related to Palestine-Israel disputes, a new working group on ethnic and cultural edit wars has started.

The English Wikipedia has a new checkuser: Thatcher. Apparently responding to the appointment, Majorly created a proposal for granting checkusership (see original version) which would be driven by community, rather than by the Arbitration Committee. The original proposal has been withdrawn, but discussion continues on its talk page regarding some possible reforms. A list of current checkusers can be found here.

Seems it was a busy day for Meta's requests for permissions page. Aside from Thatcher's appointment, Newyorkbrad has also been approved for oversight access by the Arbitration Commitee, and Majorly requested removal of his bureaucratship on Meta.

New adminship candidates: Stormtracker94 (3rd), Smalljim, Jamesontai, Rodhullandemu, Wisdom89 (2nd), EncMstr, Lquilter.

Arbitration update... newly opened: Episodes and characters 2. Dismissed: Kingofmann.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Metapedian, 2008-01-20

In a post to wikien-l, Phoenix wiki cites several recent controversies over userbox and userpage content, and proposes wider discussion as to the acceptable limits therein. First post links several recent or ongoing discussions, currently has 23 replies. See also, on-wiki request for comment.

Possible landmark AfD: Adult-child sex (2nd nomination).

Ongoing discussion regarding a possible essay and/or policy supplement: Silence and consensus.

New adminship candidates: WeBuriedOurSecretsInTheGarden, Gwen Gale, DDima, Jauerback, Gonzo fan2007, MONGO (2nd), Malinaccier, Zeibura, John 254 (2nd), Urban Rose.

Arbitration update... moved into the voting phase: Bluemarine. Suspended by motion: Matthew Hoffman. Motion to close: Kingofmann. Closed: Palestine-Israel.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Metapedian, 2008-01-18

Bit late to cover the rollback dispute. This week's Signpost includes a story about that, and another on the end of Wikimania 2009 bidding.

Continued disputes over redirection of articles of TV shows has led to ongoing discussions at admin noticeboards, as well as a large centralized discussion and request for comment.

Following extensive discussion focused on blocking policy as it relates to Tor nodes, a new proposal aims to allow approved users to circumvent blocks on open proxies.

Tim Starling has announced that work on the new MediaWiki parser is nearing completion. Esoteric templates may need to be updated. New ParserFunctions will include #tag (allowing users to dynamically create pseudotags like <ref>, <gallery>, or <imagemap> on the fly) and #iferror (useful for detecting errors in some other functions).

Current adminship candidates: RC-0722, MBK004, Alexf, NASCAR Fan24, Triwbe, Esanchez7587, Wikidudeman (2nd), Victuallers, Islander (2nd), BritandBeyonce.

Arbitration cases in the evidence phase: Kingofmann, Waterboarding, Bluemarine, Highways 2. Voting phase: IRC, Matthew Hoffman. Motion to close: Palestine-Israel. Recently closed: R. fiend, Dbachmann, Zeraeph.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

NSA editing 9/11 article?

After a brief edit war over en.wikipedia's 9/11 Truth Movement article, an anonymous editor posted on the article's talk page that the article will be retitled to "9/11 denialism," citing NPOV concerns. I'd just been observing things, but the plot thickened a bit when another user claimed this IP address was associated with the National Security Agency.

Difficult to quickly assess the validity of that claim, of course, but the anon's reaction wasn't what I expected: they immediately removed the claim, first citing Wikipedia's harassment guidelines and then national security concerns.

I'm really not sure what to make of that, but it seems to be worth an arched eyebrow.