Usability Yes. Social Features, Uh-Oh.

    Usability Yes. Social Features, Uh-Oh.

    • Usability is a fantastic idea.
      • Interactive tutorials.
      • Interactive wizards (better than tutorials?)
      • WYSIWYG editing
      • Quick citation tools, such as a browser toolbar
      • A search engine that only gives you hits from reliable (e.g.: peer reviewed) sources
      • Sortable tabbed watchlist
      • A "reader recruitment" wizard that matches their skills/interests to different work. (Not just articles, but peer review, research, etc.)
    • Social networking is a dangerous idea. It's one thing for neutral editors to collaborate. But what about editors who share a political, ideological, or promotional agenda?
    • Reputation ratings also make me a little weary. It makes sense on eBay, for anonymous, infrequent business transactions. But in a social environment, it risks becoming a popularity contest, and then a way for users to attack/support different cabals.

    ... Not to say that community-building is a bad way to use technology. But you want to be careful that you've imagined the potential for abuse, and thought about ways to prevent it.

    Randomran20:56, 7 December 2009
    • No to reputation rating, unless we want to see its ravage when applied in the inclusionists-deletionists tensions.
    • No to social networking, we don't need another myspace and the like even if some user page look like shrines dedicated to their respective ego.
    • Yes, to anything that increase accessibility & usability.
    • Missing point is the human factor. Even the best softwares & most didactic tutorials can't replace a more experienced editor assisting a new one in its edits. --KrebMarkt 11:23, 9 December 2009 (UTC)
    KrebMarkt11:23, 9 December 2009

    It is nice to post conclusions.. what are the arguments for them. As they are non obvious and not universally shared.. there is already reputation rating.. how else would you call the "barnstars"? When you say that we do not need another "myspace" it should be clear that any of the social networks do not really work for our projects. They do not distinguish for one the different Wikimedia projects or its languages.

    When we work on social networks, we can define roles that makes sense to us, to our practice. Consequently I think you should reassess your point of view. Thanks,

    GerardM16:14, 14 December 2009

    I think barnstars are an interesting lesson. They make people feel warm and fuzzy, but they amount to a personal message. And honestly, they have been devalued. I've seen people get barnstars for producing 3 Featured Articles, and then I've seen people get barnstars for reverting an article. I've seen great editors get barnstars from respected people, and I've seen cabals throw barnstars at each other every time they "win" a battle.

    Anything we do to reward people and build that sense of social camaraderie... it needs to have some objective basis. It needs to have some kind of guideline. Otherwise the awards don't mean as much, and they can even become a way to further a battle between factions.

    That's why it's a dangerous path to walk down.

    Randomran18:39, 14 December 2009

    I have the right to raise my skepticism on social networking knowing how much time some editors spent fine tuning their user pages.

    For "Barnstar" there is no direct relationship between quality of your contributions and the numbers of barnstars you received. I had the very dubious honor to give a first barnstar to an editor who counted 2 FL, 5 GA & 13 DYK. Barstars are useful if people care of their fellow editors which is something that can't be decreed.

    For reputation system based on editors rating, it won't work because it will be biased by ideological stance inclusionist/deletionist and personal feuds.

    I will mitigate my previous post: Yes there will be benefit from "social networks" but i believe the benefit for effort ratio isn't worth the enthusiasm around it. Its usefulness won't be worth the hype around it.

    Sorry i'm an unbeliever on the social network subject.

    KrebMarkt16:56, 14 December 2009

    Adding to Randomran's post: His task force (Community Health) has compiled a lot of great ideas at Social features.

    Eekim19:36, 9 December 2009

    Some of the scepticism surrounding social features centres on the idea that it will enable people to set up cabals. I feel that provided our policies remain in place we have the means to identify and combat those. I would reject any social features that allow people to form groups and discuss things in private (such as "let's all go vote 'oppose' in this poll"). All activity should generate a history/contribution log that can be examined by everybody.

    Anything that makes collaboration more efficient will be open to abuse. My position is that we have to support the good faith user and just accept that anything positive we do will have some negative consequences. Examples:

    WYSIWYG editing will make it easier for vandals to disrupt templates in less obvious ways than merely breaking them.

    Easier upload of pictures will make it easier for users to upload a picture some might judge obscene.

    Nevertheless I would see both innovations as net gains. I think social features as currently outlined in the recommendation will be a net win, with the instances of abuse being outweighed by the advantage of attracting new users and making WP a more appealing place to spend one's time on the internet.

    Whilst I have sympathy with the view that people spend too much time on their user pages, I actually see that some of our most trusted and valuable users have indeed gone to a great deal of effort to make their user page very attractive (though they also tend to make them more useful to themselves by adding shortcuts to oft-visited pages). I've spent quite a lot of time on my own en:wp user page and I like sometimes to revisit it as it's like a record or history of my time spent at Wikipedia. Sometimes it's almost like a friendly face to return to when you feel a little alone in the community. In short, it's more desirable someone spend an hour moving toward a featured article than fiddle with their own domain, yet it's a pretty harmless activity and keeps the person in touch with their account, which is better than the person not being on-wiki at all since such a person may drift away for good.

    When I get interested in a new topic I quite like to visit the page of a user who has contributed heavily to that topic and I'm somewhat disappointed if I don't find out at least a little about that person from their page.

    Bodnotbod12:55, 19 January 2010


    I'm just questioning the "Excess of Expectations" toward Social features. They won't turn Wikipedia unto a "Happy World". We are going to invest way to much resources in them while "others" more pressing & efficients recommendations will have dog meals. From the load of interviews praising Social features, it is likely to end up as a foundation top recommendation regardless what we may object.

    To summarize my position: Crazy Hype but moderate return on investment.

    For users pages if people could avoid awarding Barnstars just for great users pages, i will be less acrimonious.

    KrebMarkt15:04, 19 January 2010

    I think the thing that makes social features less appealing than WYSIWYG is that the side-effects of social networking are much worse. WYSIWYG might make vandalism easier, but we've never had much problem dealing with vandalism, and it's not really a huge disruption too the community. Social networking will make it easier for cabals to organize, which might be one of the biggest threats to community health right now. It's one thing to cure cancer where the side effect is nausea. It's another thing to cure cancer where the side effect is heart failure.

    So what's the way forward?

    Contain the side effects.

    I posted this on your usertalk page just a moment ago... One idea I had was to have some kind of group formation policy.

    • "You can only create and join a group if that group is neutral. In general, groups that focus on a broad area of content will be considered neutral. But neutrality can be disrupted if the group's purpose is to take a position on an issue of controversy, or if its active membership mainly consists of people that share such a position. Neutrality can also be disrupted if the group has a very narrow focus, giving a certain goal undue weight. A group that is not neutral may lose certain privileges, including the privilege to exist. New groups will be approved by consensus."

    It may seem harsh, but I know it would give me some peace of mind. Hopefully it would satisfy some of the other critics too. Who knows? Maybe this could actually bring certain cabals out into the open, and make it easier to monitor their behavior. What do you think?

    Randomran16:10, 19 January 2010

    I would suggest that imposing a set of community norms for a system that's not designed or implemented yet is a fool's errand. :)

    Let's wait and see whether it's funded and how it's designed.. then let communities develop systems around it.

    ~Philippe (WMF)16:18, 19 January 2010

    You're right that it would be foolish to design out specifics. But we can definitely state as a principle: if you have a social networking system that allows the creation of groups, then there has to be some community expectation that the group's purpose and active membership will be neutral.

    Randomran16:51, 19 January 2010

    The recommendation currently proposes trying to create groups around categories. So, to try and find potential flashpoints I looked at category:abortion where you will find sub categories "pro-choice movement" and "pro-life movement".

    So I can see the potential for groups to form around both those categories and start hurling rocks at each other. But we have WP:CIVIL, WP:NPOV, WP:3RR and I'm sure many other policies and punishments in place to deal with problems that may arise.

    Essentially the aim of the recommendation is to grow the community and make them inclined to spend more time on the site. More people and more edits means more drama, more arguments... but also more recent changes patrollers, more admins (more arbs if necessary), more content.

    If the community grows everything grows, good and bad.

    But the fact is the software, as it stands, doesn't give users easy ways to interact with each other as a group. People bond in groups and like to keep up with people in that group. Anything we can do to facilitate groups will bring people back to the site.

    But I'm repeating my arguments: I think either you're a group pessimist or a group optimist. Whilst recognising the dangers of groups I remain an optimist.

    Actually, an idea has just occurred to me; the recommendation suggests that you effectively join "a category" (each category would have a 'join' function). So why not say that if any category becomes host to a troublesome group you simply switch off the functionality for that group? A sort of 'groups for deletion' style process?

    I'll add something to the recommendation...

    Bodnotbod19:08, 19 January 2010

    The English Wiki have Miscellaneous For Deletion (MfD) that plenty enough to dissolve "problematic" groups.

    Fears come from how much damages such groups will do before being stopped. There will be some groups which will require local Arbitration Committee sanctions :(

    That said there will also some positive gains, we are all just crossing fingers that "issues" will be kept in check.

    KrebMarkt19:18, 19 January 2010

    The thing that makes a category different from a group: there is no central talk page or noticeboard for someone who labels themselves with a category. But if you have a group, you can post a notice that says "this article has been edited by Bodnotbod and is clearly anti-(our point of view). Let's go in there and restore balance (by pushing our point of view as a conglomerate of 20 people)!"

    I can definitely get your idea to delete groups, not unlike MfD. But we should aim for removing certain privileges first, at soft solutions where it makes sense. We might want to list a few things that might make a group disruptive: a non-neutral goal, or active membership who aren't neutral, or a group that has become just plain incivil.

    Randomran21:41, 19 January 2010

    I think it's too much to ask that people in their hearts are neutral. What's important is that the articles themselves are neutral. I think neutrality in articles can often arise from (let's say) two editors who each have opposing views, know about their side of the argument and present that argument, and the other guy knows his side of the argument and presents that. So neither party is in themselves neutral but the article ends up being so.

    Bodnotbod12:13, 20 January 2010

    I'm just worried about cross article activity. It only takes 12 editors to push a new policy under stealth... or for one of those 12 editors to find another consensus that has emerged among 30 editors, and invite the rest of their group to disrupt that policy. Or to bring that group to an AFD. Or to bring that group to a discussion for merger.

    I agree with you that we can't expect every individual in the group to be neutral. But the hope is that there is enough diversity of viewpoints among the active group members that it doesn't become a think tank for a single POV. If we have a group that is assembled of handpicked editors who all believe that minorities have a scientifically lower IQ than whites, then that group can use their strength in numbers to do a lot of damage. That's different from having a group where some people are card carrying communists, but they are balanced out by several active members who are libertarians.

    Randomran14:23, 20 January 2010

    I understand your position and I'm sure you understand mine.

    They're irreconcilable, so I think we'll have to agree to disagree.

    To my mind, without some feature to support people gathering in groups there is no social networking recommendation. Groups are at the heart of all social networking sites. Even Twitter, which doesn't explicitly group people, will have tacit/loose groups simply by virtue of the fact that people share friends and interests with each other.

    So really the question now becomes whether you are willing to allow this recommendation to be submitted. If you're firmly against it being submitted then that leaves us at stalemate, since obviously I'm equally passionate about the opposite view.

    I guess that means we'd have to draw on input from others and see what the consensus is.

    As I understand it, Philippe has been calling for more input for this wiki and inviting people to look at the recommendations. So, if we do get new eyes looking at it, we can hope to see which way the wind blows.

    Apologies, this post sounds like a bit of a huffy, almost ultimatum like post. It's not meant to be. I definitely understand your concerns and I enjoy your contributions and our discussions. But, as I say, I feel that it is impossible to provide networking without enabling groups (both good and bad). I hope I'm on the winning side of this argument as it's something I think could be quite spectacular. But I respect your opposition.

    Bodnotbod15:13, 20 January 2010

    Truth is we know there will be "Social Features" in the future, the Foundation want it and put enough incentives already to make sure Task Forces get that point.

    The debate is more around potential damages & safety break system.

    We know we have MfD as safety system and also local Arbitration Committee ruling if necessary. Not sure that could deter motivated PoV pusher groups.

    KrebMarkt15:45, 20 January 2010

    Yeah, for better or for worse, KrebMarkt is right. The foundation decided before they began this process that they want social networking features. Pushing back would just create a lot of controversy and anger, without any guarantee that it would stop it. And I don't want to do that. I want to make it work.

    Imagine if somehow I created a group about "social networking" that seems neutral on the surface. (Pardon the paradox.) Then I look for Wikipedians with the category "Wikipedians against social networking", and recruit all 50 of them to the group. Then I post a message to the group and say "hey, me and Bodnotbod are having a discussion about social networking, please offer your opinion". Then you are debating me, and 50 people who are against social networking. Do you think that's going to represent a reasonable range of viewpoints? Do you think that's going to result in a consensus?

    Nothing I've said is against fundamentally against groups. We just need a way to review the conduct of groups and sanction them if they get out of hand. Part of that is if a group takes on a fundamentally non-neutral or incivil purpose. But part of that is if people are recruited *because* they share a point of view, essentially creating an opinion-cartel. The idea is to get groups that share a common interest, but have some diversity of viewpoints. Not even total equality. Just something to prevent them from becoming a vehicle for partisanship and divisiveness. We have enough trouble building consensus as is.

    Another approach is to have an approval process for groups. We don't have to make this an argument about whether to do it or not. We can brainstorm ways to do it well.

    Randomran16:06, 20 January 2010


    I want to address one point in your post, where you said "The foundation decided before they began this process that they want social networking features". That's not correct.

    It's true that as research began, that emerged as a very strong recommendation from a number of experts and users, but when the process started it wasn't really something that was even on my mind. As I read more research and looked more closely, I've come to believe that it's a smart thing for us to do (even with the caveats that you and others have raised). "The Foundation" is a nebulous concept, and I can't really speak for it, but I can say this... there were no preconceived notions starting this process. Everything went on the table. Sue was very clear as we started that there were no "sacred cows" beyond the very core beliefs of the movement. Social features certainly aren't one of those. :-)

    I'm going to fade back into the background now and continue reading (I enjoy very much reading the LiquidThreads posts that this task force and so many others are generating - it makes me very very happy) but I don't want there to be any misunderstanding of our motives coming into this.


    ~Philippe (WMF)20:57, 20 January 2010


    I think that "Social Features" making it into the recommendations short list was close to 100% from the very beginning. You simply can't ignore the Enormous rock disturbing the flow of the river.

    Just permit some of us to express theirs resentment that "Social Features" recommendation emerged clearly from a movement from Top to Bottom rather than Bottom to Top as expected from the premises.

    If "Social Features" screw up, Experts and People at the top should take the blame.

    That said we are moving over and prepare for the worst while hopping for the best.

    KrebMarkt gives a cookie to Philippe because Philippe has a hard job ;)

    KrebMarkt21:39, 20 January 2010

    Thanks Philippe. I remain skeptical. I doubt that a dozen well-reasoned and well-researched criticisms could stop the organizational inertia that is behind social networking. But I still found your post somewhat reassuring, and I know this job is hard.

    That said, I don't want to stand in the way of social networking. Maybe if resources are finite. But if other priorities are taken care of, I'm okay with social networking. My concern is making sure that the foundation does it right.

    I think a big part of that really is making sure that we're very selective about how group features are used, since group misconduct is actually a big part of the problem that our research identified. The other part is focusing on other aspects of social networking (e.g.: profile pages, cleaner one-to-one communication, cleaner ways to follow your friends...).

    Randomran04:13, 21 January 2010

    Random, I completely agree that the situation you outline were groups supported could come about and would be deeply undesirable.

    I'm not sure if this will work, but I'll throw an idea out: so, going on the assumption that groups were linked to categories, I outlined a potential issue giving the example of our categories "pro-life" and "pro-choice" as relates to abortion (obviously there will be many such oppositional categories on WP).

    Both of those categories are under the broader category of "abortion". So perhaps if people were unable to join either of the subcategories but could only join the broader one it would effectively mean that both sides are on the same ship and would be interacting with (and opposed to) each other. The fact that both warring tribes are in the same place means that they may tend to police each other.

    Anyone see any merit in this idea? Could that work?

    KrebMarkt, I actually wouldn't have so grave a perception that social features has been a top down imposition. I've been putting in a lot of the work related to it on this wiki and I'm just a regular volunteer (I'm not even an admin on en:wp which is pretty much the only project I contributed to before this Strategy wiki began).

    I honestly can't remember how I first came to think about social features. It may have been something I got from the collection of interviews (some of which were with the WMF board). It may, though, have been something I picked out as an emerging trend in the hundreds of proposals that were submitted (at the beginning of the process I spent hours and hours trying to review as many of them as I could).

    Either way, what inspired me to create the page social features and then draft the recommendation was emphatically not that I felt "it's what the board wants" or "it's going to happen, so somebody may as well write it up". It came from a genuine interest at the possibilities and from my sense that such an innovation would be a pleasure to use AND genuinely improve community numbers and contributions.

    So, although the WMF are very keen on social features, much of the work done on this Strat wiki to that end was taken up by me; an average and unremarkable volunteer. Obviously the fact that I was able to draft the recommendation headed by quotes from those higher up or more well-known was gratifying because it gave me a rather powerful way to start the recommendation but it was coincidental; I made my draft out of a personal passion for the concept, not because I felt pressured or obliged in any way.

    Bodnotbod20:32, 21 January 2010

    No problem. We can't know who influenced who and when. It's simply mutual influence between community & the Foundation. In this case the interviews acted as both a catalyst & amplifier. I consider the "Social Features" issue settled.

    Personal opinion wise i'm for "Social Features" however i'm clearly against the excess of enthusiasm around it. It may be detrimental to others less glamorous recommendations.

    Now all we have to do is make sure it won't screw up on "unacceptable" magnitude. Damages control duty for everyone.

    @Bodnotbod I trust you in both neutrality & integrity and appreciate your efforts writing the recommendations. :)

    KrebMarkt21:15, 21 January 2010

    Bodnotbod, I really like that idea. The overall idea makes sense. We can't stop people from having a POV. But we can make sure that groups aren't organized around a POV. That people with multiple POVs end up in the same group.

    How do we generalize it into a statement of principle? I'm not sure. But let me try a few "assertions":

    • Groups are organized around areas of content, to allow editors with diverse viewpoints to collaborate.
    • Groups should otherwise be neutral and civil in their purpose.
    • Groups must not take on a partisan purpose, whether through the scope of its mission or its recruitment practices.

    Not sure if that's too aggressive, or not aggressive enough. I hope it's close to the mark, though. I think it describes why putting the abortion and anti-abortion people into the same group could ensure neutrality overall.

    Thanks a lot for your work so far. The CH task force couldn't have pulled it off without you.

    Randomran00:59, 22 January 2010

    Cheers Random, the feeling's entirely mutual.

    Hmm, so it sounds like we're concluding that the ability to join a "category/group" should not be switched on by default. And that, instead, the formation of such a group should be applied for and then approved. Would it please folk if I make an effort to build this into the recommendation?

    Bodnotbod10:35, 22 January 2010

    I don't know that it has to be "invite only". Just that we want to keep track of who is doing the inviting, and if there is a pattern to the editors they are recruiting. A wide recruitment of active editors is good. But a systematic recruitment of editors who all share a specific POV would give the group undue weight.

    But the creation of a group in the first place should definitely have some kind of approval process. And a recall process, too, for extreme cases.

    Randomran16:36, 22 January 2010


    I don't see why anyone could not join any groups as long he/she is an autoconfirmed user. There should be groups log showing who joined or left and when.

    The less strict for someone to join a group and broader range of opinions it will permit within this group. So i'm against the idea of "invite only".

    KrebMarkt17:03, 22 January 2010

    Definitely agree. We want groups to be very open. That said, there are people who notify users to join groups already, and we want to make sure they're not canvassing a particular POV to dominate a group.

    Randomran17:19, 22 January 2010
    • Groups creation should require "rationals" to be filled (Groups must have a purpose)
    • Groups created should all be listed in a centralized place (no hidden group)
    • Groups specific to a project should be listed to the project page (no hidden group & no concurrent groups)

    There should be one group per subject/scope to avoid concurrent groups with same scope but different PoV.

    Anyone is free to join any groups unless the groups scope require special privileges (example: templates admins).

    Removing an editor from a group can by requested by others group members however they must not have the power to decide the removal. (that to avoid "Happy few cabal club").

    KrebMarkt08:11, 22 January 2010

    There is a natural tendency for human beings to be aware of each other, keep track of each other and form groups. This natural tendency manifests itself in Wikipedia/media, and it can have a wide range of effects, both positive and negative, with a strong correlation with topics.

    Introducing "social features" will strengthen such effects. The basic question thus becomes: what measures should be put in place to curb the negative effects (without affecting the positive effects); this should be itemized per "social feature" that is considered.

    I have not yet seen this happening on this page. - Brya 05:27, 23 January 2010 (UTC)

    Brya05:27, 23 January 2010

    It's definitely something we're discussing, and your concern is something that is raised by a lot of people.

    Do you have any ideas to curb the negative effects, while protecting/promoting the positive?

    Randomran17:28, 23 January 2010

    Well, as I said, it looks to me that this should be discussed per proposed "social feature", in relationship to the characters of that particular feature. The logical thing to do would be to deal with this social feature by social feature. Actually, in-depth experience with that particular social feature in another environment would be very useful in identifying potential disavantages. - Brya 05:14, 24 January 2010 (UTC)

    Brya05:14, 24 January 2010

    Like I said, we've been discussing the disadvantages of groups on social networking. You only have to look at some of the groups in the "beliefs and causes" column to understand what it would mean for Wikimedia projects:

    • "Official Petition To Remove 'F**k the Troops' Groups"
    • "Groups called 'FUCK BULGARIA' to be REMOVED from facebook"

    It's not just the vulgarity or incivility. It's the advocacy -- there groups are organized around identity, politics, and ethnicity. Even if the groups were to use more civil language, it's not likely that it would lead to the improvement of content or community. You'd have subcommunities that are organized to "fight back" against other groups, and use their strength in numbers to overwhelm normal discussion and "win" the argument. Equally as bad would be if Wikipedia divide into "pro" and "anti" groups, and the groups turn every article into a battleground.

    We don't want groups to become rally points so that editors can organize a cabal with a common point of view. We want groups to be more like Wikiprojects, where editors of many points of view discuss and arrive at a consensus.

    Randomran17:18, 24 January 2010

    The most well know group disbanded by MfD is the Wikipedia:Esperanza see the MfD here.

    It can do it but i agree we need a graduated sanctions scale.

    KrebMarkt22:19, 19 January 2010