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.