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.