Tag results

The community is spiky

The community is spiky. It is pointy. It has sharp edges. On your very first amble into the community, you may well fall on one. You know this. I know this. But when we’re talking to everyone else (like, say, a potential external partner), isn’t it best we avoid mentioning this little fact?

Depends what your aim is. If you want your community to be genuinely welcoming, then you should try and reduce the spikiness. Pretty much the only way to do this that I can think of is by social (peer) pressure. Get respected people to visibly correct/reprimand other respected people who are too spiky. Make one of your communities’ most important tenets be “We are welcoming to newcomers”. This is likely to be slow going.

If your aim is to reduce friction in communication between the external partner and the community, you have a couple of options.

1): Get understanding people like yourself to mediate the entire communication.

This could be tough going. You must actually mediate the community’s spikiness. If you ignore it, it may not reach the external partner, but it is still likely to backfire.

2): Create a “safe space” in your community where the external partner acts.

Difficult and slow. You do get a chance to teach the external partner what it is like working with an open community, which may or may not be something they are actually interested in doing. May be better at building trust than the mediation method.

3): Just get the external partner to do whatever will suit your community, and let the community choose whether or not to engage with it.

Not what you’d really call a partnership, but almost friction-free.

Whatever you do, don’t kid yourself that everyone in the community is wired up with “The Mission”. An appeal to reason won’t produce good manners. Don’t kid yourself that the community’s reaction is entirely predictable.

26 July, 2009 •

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Charles Matthews: Evolution, not Revolution?

A guest post by Charles Matthews. See also his previous posts. —Brianna

After a quietish half-year, by the drama metric (one of the two unsubtle ways to talk about the English Wikipedia, the other being article count), July is heating up. The constitutional issue is traditionally one great big grey area with a few livid spots. It may now flare up, with results that are less predictable than usual. Where does this upwelling of political angst come from? And will there actually be change? Successful constitutional innovations are in fact few, and the traditional demand for a new, good-looking-on-paper constitution is equally traditionally disappointed. The wiki technology has seen substantial changes, such as logging in with one username on all the Wikimedia (WMF) sites; there is nothing recent you can point to that has smoothly upgraded the social side of the site. In a startling reminder that those at the heart of the matter, the embattled Arbitration Committee (ArbCom), are anything but complacent about the general direction, stalwart Arbitrator Kirill Lokshin resigned a few days ago over the hostile reception to a plan for a new ‘plug-in’ to the system, taking one of the 2009 intake with him.

The whole business is rooted in events of four or even five years ago: the period in which Jimmy Wales started to pull back from micro-managing the English Wikipedia (enWP). His role in the other language Wikipedias has always been largely symbolic, and one question is, with enWP still the flagship of the WMF, whether Jimbo should simply be a figurehead on the ship? This is not in fact a question the ArbCom has worried about too much about in the past (I should note that I have been out of the loop entirely for six months). If you take the issue of biography of living persons (BLP) as really concerning, much more so than constitutional niceties, the David Rohde story shows Jimbo still has a role as much more than a symbol: the editor of the New York Times phones him. BLP is vexed because there are hundreds of thousands of such articles, each one being a potential problem. When the ArbCom prompted a noticeboard to be set up the site for basic admin policing of BLPs in 2008, there was a predictable onsite row about the ArbCom overstepping its role in dispute resolution. (The OTRS email system gets something like 300 emails a week, typically complaints prompted by BLP troubles, but mere statistics cut no ice.) Jimmy Wales summarily deleted an article designed to attack a journalist writing about enWP: more attacks on him. The Rohde story was by remote control as far as Wales’s involvement went, but controversy raged. Was a life really at stake? Some people seem very certain about the answers to questions so indeterminate by nature.

So Jimmy Wales has pulled back some way, and the real point is not that he is still active on some fronts, but that there is no single replacement. The ArbCom is there to handle the worst disputes, but as an elected body has become the default object of constitutional debate. The politics can look simple, one-dimensional: picture an axis with hard-line administration at one end (people who would talk about “executive decisions” if they could get away with it), and at the other end extreme free-speeches and wiki purists. At first sight this looks no contest: enWP is not a purist wiki, because it has content policy (see On Notability), and if you get out of line, there are over 1000 admins to straighten you up. No one says that Wikipedia guarantees free expression. But once you mix special interests into the brew, you find greater complexity. Divisive talk about admins versus “article people” is one sign of this; fringe science and featured articles generate such strong feelings; such matters can constitute planks in electoral platforms for, what else, ArbCom. The way this all pans out can be sometimes be read in detail on Wikipedia’s criticism sites, if you feel it worthwhile to make it past the sneery misinformation which is their usual stock-in-trade (believe me, unless you have 90% of the story straight already it is essentially impossible to extract value).

What is hard to believe, right now, is that ArbCom+plug-ins, in other words the setting-up of some other bodies on the site to help management, is such a complete dog of a solution. In another part of the forest, there are people questioning Jimbo’s actual constitutional powers, namely (a) appeals from ArbCom decisions, and (b) implementing ArbCom election results by selection new Arbitrators. The scandal of User:Sam Blacketer shows that (b) is not a trivial matter: it’s the Internet, folks, and sometimes we’re in an episode of “House” with Hugh Laurie saying “everyone lies”. But in any case it is hard to see how to move ahead by evolution, not revolution, with (a) or with (b), without some sort of plug-ins. An impasse, and while I regret that Kirill resigned, I know how he feels. Wikipedia is taken seriously, now, something I wouldn’t change; I wish on occasion some of that seriousness would percolate into constitutional discussion onsite.

21 July, 2009 • , , ,

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WMF board election - who cares?

If you are usually logged in to your user account when you visit Wikipedia et al, you may have noticed this lately:

A call for candidates for the Wikimedia Foundation Board election. What is that? What do they do? Why would you want to be a candidate and what difference does the result make anyway?

The introductory notes say:

Being a Board member of a small organization like the Wikimedia Foundation, which faces immense challenges, can be time-consuming. The position is voluntary and unpaid. While board members are not expected to bring personal money to the organisation, they are welcome to help raise funds.

Board members are expected to attend at least 3–4 meetings per year in person, attend Wikimania (our annual conference), and attend other scheduled online meetings and votes. The Board communicates intensively via e-mail, wiki, and IRC. Individual trustees sometimes participate in strategic meetings with other organizations and companies, relaying results back to Board and staff.

Individual board members are expected to be involved in certain activities (such as fundraising, Wikimania, or auditing) and to help draft policies, charters and resolutions on such topics.

The election is to fill the first three slots in this graphic (also on Commons), the “community elected” seats:

So if you were elected, you’d be working with this lot. You should definitely also study the Staff page, because they are all the people who will actually be doing stuff. Other recommended reading: Values and Policies. The best overall guide should be the Board manual (and I hope it’s up to date!).

There are several bad reasons one might want to join the Board. They include:

What is hard to see clearly at the moment is clear information about where the board is at and what its role is these days. There are lots of staff now, so being a board member is much more about setting the direction and stepping back to let the staff carry it out. In fact my guess is that the major task for the next board will be the strategic planning, for which several staff are being hired to carry out.

Questions (in order) that I will look for answers to among Board candidates are:

Currently with ten more days for candidates to announce themselves, there are 11 that have already done so. Some are repeat offendersprevious candidates:

Now 2008 had 15 candidates for 1 position. With 3 positions up for election — on one hand I shudder at how many candidates there might end up with, but on the other, I’m disappointed to think we might not get enough good candidates. I would hate to see the community seats become a ghetto of the inexperienced/confused/axe-grinders.

For repeat candidates, my additional question will be: what’s changed? WMF has changed. Have you changed? Has your response or attitude changed? Or else has the community changed? If nothing’s changed, and the community did not previously give you significant support — why are you wasting our time?

10 July, 2009 • , ,

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Vote YES for licensing sanity!

The great licensing update is upon us. Or rather, the voting part of it is. This is the community consultation part of whether or not the Wikimedia Foundation officially chooses to make use of the “Wiki clause” that Richard Stallman so kindly gave us in the GFDL 1.3. (For background see the initial story in Wikipedia Signpost, Benjamin Mako Hill’s post, Richard Stallman’s open letter, Wikipedia’s Exit Permit on LWN.net).

Any user who has made at least 25 edits to any Wikimedia project (before March 15, 2009) is eligible to vote. That is a huge number of people. If you have ever registered an account at any Wikimedia project go check your edit count (special:preferences) because you very well may be eligible to vote.

So get your vote on and let the Wikimedia projects move forth under a sensible license! Yes, a modern license for a modern wiki!

My SVG is kind of whack so if you want to help me get rid of the black box and make the fonts behave, that would be nice, too. ;)

13 April, 2009 • , ,

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Like it or not, admins are community managers

The difference between good and bad moderators:

You’re angry. You make an angry post and go to bed. The next day, the post is gone. You have a message from the moderator. Your post was in violation of the terms and conditions, be sure not to do it again.

That moderator, should be fired.

Lets try another scenario. The next day the post is still there. You have a message from the moderator. “why do you feel that way…?” “how can we make this better for you?” …“have you spoken to xyz about this directly?”…“let me know if you want the post removed, it sounds very aggressive”,

Which response resolves the situation? Which response makes you feel you were listened that? Which response keeps you as an active member of a community and less likely to make the negative post again?

People do things for a reason. Your job isn’t to remove the symptom, but identify the reason. Get behind the problem and resolve it.

From the FeverBee blog by Richard Millington. I started reading this blog a few months ago and it is consistently insightful.

I rarely re-post things wholesale but gee, does this sound at all familiar to you? Substitute “three revert rule” for “terms and conditions”.

Of course, it’s often not that simple — some disputes cannot be resolved because of a fundamental difference in philosophy or aims between the user and the project — but shamefully often, a matter is closed as “resolved” when all that has happened is one or more people have been blocked.

As the mantra goes, “we” are here to build an encyclopedia (or whatever), but there’s no “we” if there’s no community. So while admins can block users, more importantly they can choose not to block users.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Wikimedia projects are in the business of community building/management. Whether or not they consider themselves to be so is another matter.

13 April, 2009 •

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Innovation and commerce on the French Wikipedia - WikiPosters

I recently learned of a most interesting project currently taking place on the French Wikipedia. It is called WikiPosters. At each image page on the French Wikipedia, an unobstrusive link is inserted that says “Get a poster of this image (new!)”. Clicking on it drops down a short menu that provides a link to purchase a poster of that particular image through the WikiPosters website.


The “purchase a print” menu on the French Wikipedia image page (link)


Ordering the poster on the WikiPosters website (link)

(And it works with SVGs!!!)

What’s interesting is that this project was organised by the French Wikipedia community, originally spearheaded by Plyd. The printer is a commercial printer. They make a small donation to Wikimedia France for each poster purchased, but they have no contract or arrangement with them. And why would they? Wikimedia France no more controls the French Wikipedia than the Wikimedia Foundation (or Wikimedia Australia :)) controls the English Wikipedia. It is right, I feel, that the agreement should be with the French Wikipedia community.

I emailed Plyd to get some more information about the project. He sent me an excellent reply that I have just copied below.

In my opinion, free knowledge should leave online-only.
Printers are ready to spread free knowledge,
demand of printed knowledge is big,
we have numerous valuable pictures :
let’s just link pictures and printers !

That’s what I proposed in 2007. A test-link “Get a poster of this picture” had a great success on fr.wikipedia.org (over 6000 clicks a day). Unfortunately, I did not spend enough time to get in contact with a first printer. But one year later, in May 2008, a French printer contacted me. He was convinced of the potential of such project and proposed himself as a pilot of the project. That’s how it really started. The project took long discussions on French Wikipedia, about how to respect free licences, about the donations the printers could do, about legal issues etc. We eventually draw an open partnership, without signatures.
Then, the pilot printer developed his specific Website that could receive links from Wikipedia. We made the menu and the generator of licence data to provide along with the poster.
The menu was activated for all accounted-users during one month and we just activated it for everyone yesterday. [that would be 2008-12-16]

Main points of the partnership :

We are impatient to know how many posters will be distributed…
If it works as much as I hope, there are many ideas for next steps :

I asked Plyd if he had had trouble getting the community to accept the idea. While it seems an obvious benefit to me, for contributors to a “non profit” project it can often be confusing that commerce might have any place at all.

Actually most (I’d say 90%) of the community was really defending the project, but some voices did not like the ‘for-profit’ aspect of the printer. We put a parallel with search engines on Wikipedia search page, the booksellers on isbn pages or the geolocalisation tools also provided on French Wikipedia. […] [T]he partnership does not require any donation. his is up to the printer. I think it’s a good point for the printer to help the project by a donation. In my humble opinion, his 1.50€ donation will more convince poster buyers, like the first 1000€ donation helps to convince the community.

[…] They (a really minority part of the community) did not like that some people could make some money from contributors work, without even telling them. This shows that the free licences important lines are still not fully nderstood by everyone. Fortunately, other Wikipedians helped me explain differences between commercial and non-commercial free licences.
I really appreciate that a large majority was supporting the project.

If the project turns out to be a success on French Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Commons community will just about have to look at implementing it. I think they would be crazy not to. Again it goes back to the mission — disseminating free educational content. What wonderful classroom posters would some of our SVG masterpieces make?

The tricky, or rather interesting, part, then, may be finding suitable printing partners in enough countries in the world. (Although WikiPosters does worldwide shipping, the cost is prohibitively expensive.) Interesting because understanding free content is difficult enough, let alone how to massage the caprices of an amorphous online community. The WikiPosters folk are brave — I commend them.

Purchasing statistics seem to be available (not sure how often that is updated), so it will definitely be an interesting thing to keep an eye on over the next few months.

The other interesting aspect is how Plyd managed to pull this off, that is convince the community enough to take part. It’s well known that the Wikipedia communities (maybe all online communities? maybe all communities?) become increasingly petrified as they age. Petrified in place, and petrified of change.

And why we may all rejoice at the joys of a volunteer-driven non-hierarchy (or something), we rarely recognise the missed opportunities of our leaderless groups. As an example, I think that Wikibooks may be floundering a bit without formal links to curricula, publishers and other open courseware folk. They are in a more crowded “open” field than many of the other Wikimedia projects and struggle to distinguish themselves. (On a side note, I wonder what will come of Neeru Khosla of an “open source textbooks” group joining the WMF Advisory Board. I could not help but think of Wikibooks, but it didn’t rate a mention.)

Maybe Plyd is one of those magical people who can draw people together and convince them to put aside their differences, like a wiki Mary Poppins. But I hope not. I hope he is an ordinary person and that his success in this “real world” endeavour, will convince other ordinary folk in all the Wikimedia projects, to think about how they might pursue “real world” engagements that, yes, disseminate our works effectively and globally.

17 December, 2008 • , , , , ,

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The need for community APIs

I was reading my feeds a few weeks ago when I realised it had been ages since I’d seen any images come through on the category feed for Category:Featured pictures. I was sure FPs wouldn’t have gone anywhere, so I thought maybe the Catfood tool was broken.

I went on-wiki and checked it out. It turned out that some bright spark had decided to move the entire category to Category:Featured pictures on Wikimedia Commons. The correct feed is now here.

MediaWiki at its base is almost entirely structure-free. The value comes from the structure created by the community, via categories, templates and links. The good and bad thing about that structure is that it can be easily changed. If Creative Commons releases a new license version, we can quickly incorporate that (well, if we want :)). But if someone decides to rename your category (and because categories can’t be renamed that actually means instructing a bot to manually edit each page in the category), if you’re a third party, you’re not going to notice.

Free content is only as good as its search ranking. Creating free works is good, but encouraging easy and innovative re-use is just as important.

For English Wikipedia, it’s not a big deal. They are already a destination. They don’t need people to take their content and use it elsewhere. They are a big enough gorilla that it doesn’t matter. For maybe five or ten other Wikipedias, it’s the same situation.

For every other project under the Wikimedia umbrella — we have serious problems.

Creating free cultural works is pointless if nobody knows about them, if nobody uses them. Maybe wiki-editing for yourself is soothing technological masturbation, but don’t pretend you’re helping anyone else.

So, search ranking. Part of the problem is that our projects often tend to be broad and all-encompassing. For example, if I’m researching Lewis Carroll, there are probably fan sites that only have Lewis Carroll content. Those sites will have much higher search rankings than Wikisource, which carries a few Lewis Carroll titles among hundreds. Unless you are, like, literally Wikipedia, being all-encompassing is not good for search rankings.

Second thing. Practically the whole point of the wiki thing is for people to be able to interact with the things we create. Anyone can edit. But that’s not enough. We should be working more on enabling people to interact with our works in a way that suits them. Currently we only support coming to our site and editing using our software and our syntax. (OK sure, we offer dumps, but have you ever seen anyone do anything with them besides create a mirror?) That’s lame support. Again, Wikipedia can get away with it, but the rest of are not so lucky. We shouldn’t be complacent and think that we’re doing good things. Doing good things is only half of it. People using them is the other half.

(Brief aside about APIs. If I tell you API stands for Application programming interface, that probably won’t be very enlightening. APIs are the things that enable mash-ups. They are the things that enable widgets, like thumbnails of your latest Flickr uploads on your blog. Or any of those Facebook applications. They would all be thanks to APIs.)

MediaWiki has an API. Write capability is slowly happening. Write capability is really cool because it means then you could edit a MediaWiki wiki without touching MediaWiki at all. Imagine that. You could build your own interface and make it as cool as all get-out. Like what? Oh, how about Flommons? That’s “Flickr-like Commons”. If that had write capability that would be pretty damn neat.

A good API is powerful. I signed up with identi.ca, Evan Prodromou’s baby, virtually as soon I heard about it. Evan choose to copy the Twitter API. That means that all these cool add-ons, toys, widgets, whatever, all those cool things that work off Twitter data, can instantly work off identi.ca data just by changing one line of code — the URL of the API.

Now imagine if the Commons API emulated the Flickr API. We would have an instant, humungous load of ways of easily distributing our content just by changing one line.

And because we (potentially) have a lot more metadata than Flickr, that would just be the start. We could extend it hugely.

Sure, parsing the descriptions is messy, but we keep the messiness on our side. It’s our thing, we’ll deal with it. Everyone else is welcome to just deal with our neat, stable community API.

C’mon, is there anything more sexy than a good API? :)

My previous post about the Commons API: APIs: Ask, and ye shall receive (01 April, 2008)

11 August, 2008 • ,

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Get Your FreeCon

Jon Philips:

Free Culture Conference (”Get your FreeCon”) would be a meeting of specific projects to hash out interrelationships and collective trajectories for the coming year. … The goal of the event would be to produce actual statements showing resolutions with implementation to back them up, and to announce the next 5-10 free culture priorities for the year.

Interested? Say so.

Check out also the Free Software/Free Culture Collaboration presentation given by Mike Linksvayer (Creative Commons VP) to LinuxWorld expo.

06 August, 2008 • , ,

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Life in blogland

This is my 100th post. Happy centenary, blog. I try to avoid talking about “the blogosphere” because people who write blogs in general talk way too much blog, other bloggers and blogging. But I figure for number 100 I can indulge.

Some posts I’m proud of (I remember the middle three in particular took a long time to write):

I started my blog in August 2007, after attending Wikimania in Taipei and being inspired by talks such as Joi Ito’s and Heather Ford’s. My feeling was that communication within Wikimedia was pretty ordinary, and communication between Wikimedia and like-minded external groups was very ordinary. We barely knew was going on in our own backyard, let alone being able to tell other people about it.

11 months later, not a lot has changed. It seems really hard, almost impossible, for the community to establish and keep good communication practices (remember the foundation-l List Summary Service?). A precious few resources have maintained themselves during that time:

Geoffrey Burling’s Original Research was also a consistently good read but he hasn’t posted as regularly as he used to for a while now.

Quite a few people have taken up blogging since then, but mostly in smaller scopes. I would still like to see dedicated blogs for each of the projects. The Wikinews blog contains Wikinews content rather than discussion and information about Wikinews.

And there is now, of course, the Wikimedia Foundation blog, which is a good initiative — but has maybe sucked some of the life out of foundation-l.

It’s kind of sad that foundation-l is dying, because as useful as the WMF blog is, it’s not a total replacement. Blogs are too much like shouting down a decree from a tower. Mailing lists are like hanging out in the street.

If I had the time and energy to try and rehabilitate foundation-l, I would make a page on meta outlining what a healthy list would look like to me. (Hint: It includes a wide variety of people from different projects and languages being thread-starters and repliers, with positive news and “open question”-style posts outweighing bitching.) I would try and find a small group of people who I thought also regretted the loss of foundation-l, and ask them to commit to starting maybe 2 productive new threads on foundation-l in the next month. See who else that encourages.

Here’s to another 100? — No, here’s to a wider variety of communication voices, trying to share their good news and challenges with a broader audience than ever before.

If you like this idea and want to help but you aren’t sure how, I have two suggestions: either write a guest post and send it to me, or volunteer for Wikizine. Seriously, it’s mega-useful, help it live!

26 July, 2008 •

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Micromanagement

WMF is occasionally, although rarely, accused of micromanaging the communities. (This would be something like: inappropriately detailed interference in the management of the projects’ development or processes.) But it occurs to me that the community is having incredible trouble letting go of micromanaging the Foundation.

I suppose slowly, eventually, people will let go – or more to the point, realise they have been made obsolete.

Either that, or the claims of the Foundation being “out of touch” will increase.

27 March, 2008 • ,

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Blog memes in translation

I discovered today that my post Templatology, an essay was partially translated, commented-on and adapted to the situation of the Spanish Wikipedia, by Drini: Templatología (versión eswiki). Even the screenshots are of the Spanish Wikipedia! Now that’s nice. :)

That we can have this kind of “cross-stream” communication between the different flavours of Planet Wikimedia (currently ar, en, de, pl, pt, ru and zh) is really lovely. (…eh! there is no Spanish one yet. Is there only Drini, then?)

The idea of learning from one another (as in the various wiki communities), while widely agreed to be a good one, is not often seen in practice. It has not worked well on meta or mailing lists. I wonder if it has a chance in the blogosphere? It will likely suffer from the same problem as in other venues – bilingual people have better things to do than constantly translate for lazy bloody monolinguals! :)

Wiki borrowing, on the other hand, is widespread (userboxes are like a virulent virus — Template:Userbox lists no less than eight interwiki links (and likely more that are unlinked exist). The concept gets borrowed, but I wonder if fall-out from the original conflict is absorbed, dully repeated, or not even an issue. Probably all three situations exist, for different kinds of borrowing.

Translation is such a fascinating practice. I wonder if sometimes skilled bilingual speakers get tired of being treated as translation engines. I suppose they can stick to a monolingual community if it is too annoying.

At its worst, the task of translation can be dull and mechanical — I have seen known mistakes faithfully transcribed, rather than corrected in the original (and yes, on a wiki!) — but at its best it is a seamless, creative and thoughtful work of art, no less effort than creating the original and sometimes, maybe more effort. For functional type text that I usually deal with (help texts), it tends closer to the mechanical than creative.

One of my favourite things about Wikimedia Commons is that it is multilingual — or rather, tries to be. It is really a joyful thing when you create a help text, for example, and notice translations spring up from unknown souls, unbidden. It is a small thing that usually no one asked the writer to do, and usually no one thanked them when it was complete. To see such a red link turn blue reminds me that I am part of a diverse world-wide community committed to the Wikimedia mission. Such reminders are heartening and make it easier to assess petty and unimportant issues for what they are.

If you are bilingual and are interested in regularly, or irregularly, summarising or translating content from one of the non-English Wikimedia planets, please leave a comment or contact me – I would love to help set up a blog for that, or have such posts on my own blog.

26 March, 2008 • , ,

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The myth of the 'big enough' volunteer community

Large communities naturally require people with skills that small communities do not. There are leaders and managers of various kinds required, and if a formal structure is developed alongside the volunteer community then it has a host of special skills that were not previously needed.

If no one from the community comes forward, but these positions still need to be filled, you may contemplate paying someone for their skills. At this stage it is common to hear someone something like, “But we have so many volunteers, surely one of them has this skill.”

It is true that if a community is large enough, there will more likely than not be someone with the desired skill. The fallacy is in assuming that person will be happy to volunteer their time for that particular skill.

People typically volunteer in what interests them, not in what the project needs. If they become particularly devoted, they may choose to spend some time working on things that they find less interesting but the project deems more needed. While that is commendable, it can’t be relied upon.

Therefore, you may well have to pay for people with finance skills, legal skills, PR skills, management skills, translation skills, documentation skills, who knows what else.

As for leaders — you better hope your community will actually allow someone to become, and then to be, a leader.

06 March, 2008 •

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The role of administrators

What are the possible roles of an administrator in a Wikimedia project? These are the roles I came up with.




The above is a link to a three question survey. [The Javascript seems temperamental. If you don’t see anything then just go directly
here.] The first asks which of the above roles are accurate in theory and in reality. (Plus the option “something else”, in which case you should leave a comment here saying what.)

The other two questions are:

Are you an administrator on your project(s) of choice?

What is the Requests for Adminship (RfA) process like on your project(s)?

The survey is open for two weeks. I will put up some results when it’s done if a few people answer it.

26 February, 2008 •

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The need for a self-documenting community

So I was about to make a reference to the recent Kaltura brouhaha, and I went looking for an appropriate summary blog post to link to, but I couldn’t find one. Ben Yates hadn’t written on it, nor Geoffrey Burling, nor Milos Rancic, nor Wikipedia Weekly discussed it. Wikizine seems to have gone on an unexpected hiatus (and en.wikizine.org suddenly makes my browser die :( ) and the Signpost only mentioned it in passing. So there’s all my usual suspects. The only blogger to give it non-cursory treatment was Kelly Martin.

Kelly does not really write with any pretence to balance, so I had to write it myself. Tch.

To the point: Why do we need a self-documenting community? To learn from our own history is an obvious one. I have been around Wikimedia for a while now and I still step in it because I am accidentally rehashing a debate that has been had many times in the past. But guess what? New community members won’t read mailing list archives no matter how much you plead. Even if you do do the nice summarising, plenty of times people still don’t read it. At least they have a chance, though. Saying “go read the foundation-l archives sometime in early 2003” is not quite an acceptable suggestion.

There is a second reason, more immediately of interest. Wikipedia has enemies. I don’t say this because I like getting my cult on, but because their unreserved and unmediated hostility towards Wikipedia could earn them no other title.

Sadly, these people frequently target individual Wikimedia editors. This is really troubling. It creates fear and pain in the experience of people who are otherwise enjoying a fun and rewarding hobby. I don’t know any other internet community where contributing in an enjoyable and positive way could lead to such targeted personal hostility. Being aware and cautious of that possibility is not something that is generally going to lead to a more open and healthy community, I think.

The work of these people thrives not because of the personal attacks (I hope), but because Wikimedia usually fails at sensible self-criticism, before the fact.

Wikipedia has many processes that have significant failings. Wikipedians know this. No Wikipedian thinks the processes of Wikipedia are perfect. (Other Wikimedia projects are the same, but they are less pressing as they have less visibility.)

If there is nowhere to turn within the community for seriously critical analysis, we cannot be surprised when enemies of Wikimedia thrive. A lack of internal mechanisms of criticism is like oxygen for them.

I don’t think the lack of internal criticism is intentional. As Wikimedians know, criticism is at times all-too-forthcoming: mailing lists, endless talk pages…However these things are particularly opaque, not easily accessed, and transient. (There is now also the WikBack forums, but I will wait a bit longer to see how the troll:insightful ratio ends up before judging its utility.)

I am not sure that blogs are that much more permanent, but I hope so. Mailing lists and wiki discussions are also the points of criticism themselves, rather than sensible summaries.

So this is a call out to the Wikimedia community, to write about your experiences — critically, but without cynicism. Do it so we can start to fix our own flaws without waiting for crises flagged by external parties.
If you want to write a guest post on my blog as a prelude to the real thing, just drop me a line.

13 February, 2008 •

Comment [7]

A side note on selling Wikipedia

I find the claims of Wikipedia ever “selling out” to Google or whoever quite hilarious because it would fail so spectacularly. Whoever “bought” Wikipedia would almost certainly get a bum deal, because ours is not a community that goes along quietly. The only thing that would be likely to be achieved with any certainty would be the destruction of the Wikipedia community.

13 February, 2008 •

Comment [3]

Links for 2007-02-04

04 February, 2008 • , , ,

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Commons POTY Finals voting begins

Well. After 31,000 votes were cast by over 650 users, I’m sure glad we didn’t count by hand this year. :)

The votes are in, the sockpuppets are discounted, and the finalists are decided. Twenty-eight worthy finalists await your consideration.

Voters cast, on average, about 48 votes. Over a third of voters chose each the tower, the squirrel and the turtle. Water strikes me as a strong theme, being present in 13 (nearly half) of the finalists.

Works by Wikimedians also dominate. Only four of the works are by non-Wikimedians: two from Flickr (the car and the NYC night shot), one (the mosquitoes) is from a Public Library of Science biology article, and one (the firefighting) is from our old friends at the US Air Force. So the odds seem good that this year’s winner wil be by a Wikimedian.

Of the 14 images created by Wikimedians, no less than three photographers have two entries:

It is no coincidence that seven of the Wikimedian photographers are featured on the Commons Meet our photographers page!

As with Round 1, eligible Wikimedians can get a voting token at the Voting page. Unlike Round 1, in the final you can only cast one vote. You can also optionally leave a comment about the image you vote for. The comments are collated for the presentation of the final winner, as seen in the 2006 results.

20 January, 2008 • ,

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Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year competition now open

I am happy to announce that the Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year competition for 2007 is now open!

There are a huge 514 images in contention, all of which became Featured Pictures (FP) during 2007. This is the second year the competition has run. The 2006 competition had around 350 images, so there has been a very impressive growth in the FP process during 2007.

When the competition was first proposed in late 2006 I was quite sceptical. But when I saw how much everyone enjoyed it, and what a good opportunity it was to demonstrate some things that Commons is doing really well, I was converted. It sounds shallow to say that it is a feelgood exercise for Commons but if people from other wikis come and spend some time looking at our images, and feel impressed or enjoy the experience, it can only be a good thing that they will take that good feeling about Commons back to their wiki.

So, I put a lot of effort into organising this one. As a result I am a core committee member and have dealed myself out of the right to vote. And we have complete translations and committee members in a dozen or so languages, and I am so indescribably happy that Japanese is one of them. I really hope it will encourage more Japanese speaking Wikimedians to participate at Commons.

So anyway, the point is that I CAN’T VOTE and therefore YOU MUST TAKE PART ON MY BEHALF so I can experience vicarious joy. :)

Round 1 is open for a week. Any Wikimedian with > 200 edits in a single account is eligible to vote. I will probably post a couple more times about it before it is over, so for now, all I can say is please vote and please enjoy it. :)

10 January, 2008 • ,

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Institutional change


WWII poster, public domain.

Something has seemed different for the past month or so. I don’t think it’s community change, but institutional change, or maybe relationship-between-community-and-institution change. The institution being the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF).

What has materially happened?

Foundation-l was starting to become a lame duck but the last few weeks have certainly changed that.

About leaks. They are so viciously harmful. For people who knew the information beforehand, they become distrustful of one another. For people who didn’t know, it is a terrible way to find something out (if you actually care about the organisation), because it says “we didn’t trust you enough to tell you before”, and look, here you are knowing something, and the sky is not falling in. To find out something from hostile sources, that they actually knew before you, really destroys your ability to dismiss them as obsessed jerks. It is like your worst enemy telling you you are adopted, and then it actually being true. Wikipedia generally prides itself on knowing its own flaws better than its critics (although acting on that knowledge is always more difficult), but I think the same cannot be said of WMF.

So, first there was the “secret mailing lists” saga. This is really an en.wp drama that spiralled into unbelievable proportions, not helped by a mailing list hosted on Wikia and having Board members as subscribers. I don’t think that drama was actually about anything meaningful but it did not, in a general sense, speak well for cultural openness.

Second there was the Carolyn Doran story. I truly felt a little bit wounded to find out about this from a hostile source. Which is a stupid, purely selfish reaction but there it is. The puerility of the story itself and the evasiveness with which her leaving was handled at the time did not help I suppose. Mostly I felt sorry that Doran was being subjected to such crazy scrutiny by strangers all over the globe merely because she was unlucky enough to work for WMF. I hope she was and is not aware of it. I don’t think WMF staff should have to have a bulletproof private life just because Wikimedia has earned enough enemies that they will muck-rake through it.
So generally I accept Mike Godwin’s stance that they cannot go into detail about staff issues, and that seems OK.

Next, although not really documented on foundation-l, was a couple of leaks (or rather teasers) through blogs.

Mike Godwin’s latest email says

I do think that reflexive criticism, conspiracy-mongering, and hostility is destructive, and I think we all ought to be as self-aware as possible about whether we’re saying things that promote destructive memes.

D’oh. I have no idea if I am “promoting a destructive meme”. Mike says “long-term recovery from institutional problems that are not unusual in growing organizations” but if that’s what this is, he doesn’t explain how to process it, for those who feel it not like a recovery.

I just love this thing we’re doing, Wikimedia, and I’d hate to see this ship go down because everybody accepted the crack-papering without speaking up.

Lately, the fundraiser ended. Several aspects of the fundraiser caused friction that could so, so easily have been avoided. For example the first banner, that was quickly redesigned after its unveiling, and the idea of representing donors rather than dollars. (Why wasn’t the banner “released” to the community before the fundraiser began? Ditto with the video.) The matching donations that came so late in the campaign. The extension to the fundraiser’s length that came like a day or two before it was due to end. The poor management of translators. Like really. None of that is rocket science. So I am glad that one of the new staff being hired is a fundraiser person.

I haven’t blogged about Florence’s posts, for literally weeks, because they are just sitting in my inbox and they have been rumbling around the back of my head as I try to process them while life continues on. But I have failed to date, so lest they don’t get recorded at all, I will just list some important posts from the last few weeks and encourage all Wikimedians to read them, think about them, talk about them.

I feel there are two paths for the future. Either we keep a board mostly
made of community members (elected or appointed), who may not be
top-notch professionals, who can do mistakes, such as forgetting to do a
background check, such as not being able to do an audit in 1 week, such
as not signing the killer-deal with Google, but who can breath and pee
wikimedia projects, dedicate their full energy to a project they love,
without trying to put their own interest in front. A decentralized
organization where chapters will have more room, authority and leadership.

Or we get a board mostly made of big shots, famous, rich, or very
skilled (all things potentially beneficial), but who just *do not get
it*. A centralized organization, very powerful, but also very top-down.

My heart leans toward the first position of course. But at the same
time, I am aware we are now playing in the big room and current board
members may not be of sufficient strength to resist the huge wave.

I do not share the same optimism than Jimbo with regards to Knol. I
think Knol is probably our biggest threat since the creation of
Wikipedia. I really mean the biggest. Maybe not so much the project
itself, but the competition it will create, the PR consequences, the
financial tsunami, the confusion in people minds (free as in free speech
or as in free of charge). Many parties are trying to influence us, to
buy us, and conflicts of interest are becoming the rule rather than the
exception. There are power struggles on the path.

1. Quality
2. Promotion of lesser known projects
3. Software development
4. License, international laws and compatibility
5. Wikimania, reinventing the wheel, and civility
6. Wikicouncil
7. Chapters and general assembly
8. Board membership, election
9. financial sustainability, controls and independance
10. Organization. Clarification of board role and limits to executive
authority

(see her post for details)

I very much like these goals. But they will only have a chance of succeeding if the community picks them up and pushes them whenever there’s a lull. We need more than “mailing list memory” to succeed with these.

09 January, 2008 • ,

Comment [3]

Of bots and conlangs: the Volapük Wikipedia


“Vükiped”: logo of
the Volapük Wikipedia

If you are after some good wikidrama reading as you settle in for 2008, it’s hard to go past the current Volapük Wikipedia. This tale is a potent combination of machine translation, bots, minor constructed languages, language advocacy and statistics. At heart it is a tussle over the answers to the questions, “What is Wikipedia?” and “Why do we create Wikipedias?”

I first became aware of the Volapük Wikipedia (vo.wp) in October when I was doing some planning for the Commons Picture of the Year competition, deciding which languages I should push as a priority. I looked at the meta page List of Wikipedias and found there was 15 Wikipedias with over 100,000 articles. That seemed like a neat cut-off point, and so I made my list.

Except, the 15th one was “Volapük”, and I felt more than a little embarrassed that I had never heard of this language before, because I love languages and linguistics…looking further along that table revealed vo.wp had only 5 admins and 250 users… that was a tenth or less the size compared to the others in the top 15 (compared proportionally). What were they doing?

At that time, SmeiraBot had made over 3/4 of the total edits on the entire wiki. So the disproportional growth was thanks to bots.

A month or so beforehand, someone had had some similar realisations to me, and made a proposal to close vo.wp. I commented on that proposal in favour of deleting the vast majority of the bot generated articles. In brief, Smeira’s actions offended my feeling of what Wikipedia was, because there would never be a community to maintain 100,000 articles in this language. Is Wikipedia just a free content encyclopedia, or is it an free content encyclopedia written and maintained by a community? That proposal ended up being closed as Keep. Despite all the heat and light, I doubt many of the commenters actually wanted the entire thing deleted.

Then on Christmas Day, Arnomane made a proposal for a Radical cleanup of Volapük Wikipedia. His proposal was not to close the project but just delete the vast majority of the bot articles. That set off a lengthy thread on foundation-l called A dangerous precedent which is still ongoing.

There are two red herrings that have been floating about in this debate. The first, if people are opposed to this bot bomb then they are opposed to all bot-generated articles. Of course not. Bots have a time and place. Seeding new wikis is certainly a very useful function of bots. But “seeding” provokes the idea that people will be around, a community, to tend to the articles after that. This was a seeding for a wiki bigger than the Romanian Wikipedia. Romanian has 28 million first- or second-language speakers. 28 million people to potentially tend to ro.wp’s 98 736 articles. Volapük has 20. Twenty. Total. vo.wp’s bot generated content is hugely out of proportion to the reality of its speakers.

Why do we create Wikipedias? This is where the “language ego” must come in. I don’t know the right term for it but I’m sure there is one… People want to create a Wikipedia, an encyclopedia, when they feel that their language is one worthy of communicating written knowledge. That is part of the reason why people get so hot under the collar when they get even a hint of a suggestion that someone has said a minority language does not deserve some X the same as other, larger languages. Linguistic rights belong to speakers of natural languages, I think, not constructed languages. If you want to disagree on that point, then OK, but they should definitely not just be swept together as “minority languages” of equal cultural and historical importance to the human race.

Is it OK for Wikipedia to be used as a conlang-promotional experiment if it is shaped like an free content encyclopedia, even one that is virtually doomed to permanent poor quality? That’s not a trick question…

31 December, 2007 • , ,

Comment [12]

New page: events

Last night I decided there were enough free culture-ish events happening next year that it would be worth creating a calendar for them. So now there is events.

I pondered for a while the Textpattern plugins for events and calendars, but they were overly complex. So I decided to make a Google Calendar and just embed it.

.. But there doesn’t seem to be a “year” view, so it looks a bit sparse. I decided it needed an event list too. A bit of googling revealed that FeedBurner actually had a point after all: they have some thing called “BuzzBoost”, and it turned my Google calendar feed into some drag and drop code and wala – updates:

Subscribe to RSS headline updates from:
Powered by FeedBurner

So the full list is here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/freeculturecalendar. And you can add the calendar to your Google calendar: Let me know if you spot anything missing I should include.

22 December, 2007 • ,

Comment [2]

wikimedia commonswikipedialinkscommunitymediawikiconferenceslinux.conf.auwmfcreative commonswikimaniapoty2008australiawikimedia chapterswikimedia australiavideo
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free culture

wikimedia...

...& other free content projects

interesting folk