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Barriers to Quality at Wikipedia (and potentially other Wiki projects)

Barriers to Quality at Wikipedia (and potentially other Wiki projects)

Edited by 3 users.
Last edit: 00:26, 14 December 2009

I had suggested earlier we stop working at such a micro level and instead work at a larger macro level. No one took my bait so I decided to draft what I consider barriers to quality as Wikipedia currently functions. This list is from a negative, critical viewpoint that is not obviously capturing everything, neither is it focusing on the positives of some aspects.

I am hoping that others can flesh this out -- in fact, I would like it to be a wiki that everyone can contribute to, in an addition type of format, rather than in an overwrite fashion, but I do not know how to do that on LT, and I do not know how to lock what is already written but allow additions on a wiki. (Pardon my inexperience.) So I am putting it here, in hopes to focus our efforts to a more macro level that all the micro discussions can fit into.

It is just a beginning.

and Kudos to MissionInn.Jim's QualityTF1. I feel that the following information can easily work in his framework.

@MissionInn.Jim: can you organize your QualityTF1 more like an outline?

Barriers to Quality at Wikipedia


  1. Narrow demographics of communities probably leads to an imbalance in project coverage (with respect to the information demand as well as overall quality content) ([1]; [2])
  2. Quality users become disappointed and leave the projects.
    1. Rude behaviour leads to quality users leaving the project ([3], # 1.1, 1.2, 1.7 & 1.10)
    2. Technical, "political" and informational elitism may have a discouraging effect on less active or technically adept users ([4], # 1.3). Part of this barrier are the models of policy-driven policy and content (see here) and maintenance-driven policy and content (see here).
    3. Status of the user is defined by quantity, not quality of contributions ([5], # 1.4, 1.5 & 1.6).
    4. Quantity and speed of talk contributions rule discussions, at the cost of the quality of arguments made. ([6], 1.8)
  3. Tool set of WikiMedia software is limited and user-unfriendly, it discourages new users ([7]).
  4. Problem of "wiki-erosion": quality of content will erode to a level related to community size ([8]).

Narrow Population/Demographics[edit]

  1. Mostly male
    1. Men have a different working style in general
      1. Men frequently work non collaboratively or in parallel
      2. Men tend to be less community based than women
    2. Men’s goals are frequently different
  2. Mostly 20-35
    1. How do they identify themselves?
      1. Technically astute?
      2. Not knowledgeable to contribute in a meaningful way?
    2. Where are they in their lives?
      1. Job hunting?
      2. In their first or second position?
      3. Single/married/children?
    3. Their personal goals are not necessarily community oriented
    4. They do not necessarily have the maturity necessarily to successfully collaborate
  3. Mostly tech-heads
    1. Profile includes individualistic behavior not conducive to collaboration
    2. Profile includes a certain amount of possessiveness over knowledge
    3. Profile includes picking contributions apart rather than external vetting of proffered information leading to attrition of contributors who have different working styles
  4. Very few women
    1. Mature female users have more barriers to contribution
      1. Will tend to have a job and a family, as well as other responsibilities including extended family and community
      2. Will tend to have a higher stress load than men, even when given the same workloads, i.e. job and family
      3. Will tend to be the caregivers for extended family, i.e. older parents, aunts/uncles vs. male involvement in caretaking, even when male caretakers are available
      4. May have less tolerance for a process in which their work is gutted, because of time constraints and other pressing responsibilities perceived as more important that a contribution that may not exist soon after it is created
    2. Younger female users may also have barriers to contribution
      1. How do younger female users “see” Wikipedia
      2. What are the demographics of young female users/potential users and what is the likelihood they are using Wikipedia based on education, marriage at a young age, children at a young age
      3. How do younger female users identify themselves
        1. What is their focus in life
          1. i.e. contributing to a greater good
          2. getting on with getting their degree
        2. In the case of younger users who are not academic track, what are their responsibilities in life that may keep them from using/contributing to Wikipedia?
          1. Is Wikipedia likely to attract young female users who have already married/started a family?
          2. What sort of time constraints are younger females under that would restrict their participation in Wikipedia?
    3. Older females
      1. May have more time to contribute because children are grown and most have lost their parents or other relatives that they may have taken care of
      2. Immense knowledge base to draw from
        1. Academic subject matter experts
        2. Professional subject matter experts
        3. Personal subject matter experts, i.e. cooking, recipes, teaching younger people how to budget or manage finances
      3. Technology barriers likely more pervasive in this group
    4. Because of women’s collaborative skills and community/caring/nurturing orientation, it is likely that Wikipedia would not only benefit from their contribution, but should actively pursue involving more women
      1. Women tend to be community based
      2. Women tend to more easily work collaboratively
      3. Women tend to be less worried about “ownership”
  5. Young people
    1. How many under 18’s are involved?
    2. What is their barrier to contribution?
    3. What is Wikipedia actively doing to bring them in and get them to participate?
  6. Disabled population
    1. What barriers do they encounter?
      1. Mental illness/Brain chemistry disorder
        1. Processing
        2. Linear
        3. Argumentative tone may limit participation
        4. Contribution task a long process, i.e. someone with depression may have difficulty sustained a prolonged task, what can we do to engage them anyway and get them to contribute?
      2. Mobility
        1. Typing ability
        2. Ability to spend a lot of hours in front of a computer
      3. Sight
        1. What will a reader such as JAWS do with pages as currently set up on Wikipedia?
        2. How can we improve layouts or host alternative pages and keep them updated so sight impaired users/contributors have minimal barriers?
        3. Are we doing this work already?
      4. Hearing
        1. If there is an audio clip on any of the Wiki’s are we providing a transcript for hearing impaired users?
    2. What are we currently doing to engage this population?
    3. What can we do to remove existing barriers and encourage their participation?
    4. As a good community citizen, what responsibility does Wikipedia have to reach out to this community?

Wikipedia Culture[edit]

  1. Positive Observations
    1. Everyone is welcome
    2. Anyone can start anywhere to use or contribute to Wikipedia
    3. You don't have to be an expert to contribute, you can, and are encouraged to, gather work to illustrate your points
    4. Wikipedia can become a way to learn how to properly do research because it's demands for citations reminds contributors that information must have a solid basis
    5. Personal opinion discouraged/banned -- as a substitution for fact
    6. Hard work encouraged
    7. Ability to only minimally participate welcomed
    8. No entry is sacred or fixed
    9. Everyone with online access can benefit from Wikipedia
    10. Wikipedia seeks to “do good”
  1. Negative Observations
    1. Everyone is welcome, no matter how they behave
      1. Blocked users can return if they apologize
      2. Some blocked users learn to be good, but others just get better at gaming the system and wikilawyering
    2. Entire entries can get wiped out – it is as if someone’s work does not matter/never existed
      1. When entries inappropriately wiped out, time consuming for contributor/editor to restore the information
    3. Technical and informational elitism
      1. Interface and tool set allow/can encourage people who are more technically astute to control Wikipedia
      2. Being technical and logical trumps anything else
      3. The more you can pick apart an argument/knowledge, the smarter you must be
    4. Focus on value of contribution vs. just being a part of the community by using Wikipedia
    5. If you do not contribute you are somehow not part of the community
    6. Award system
      1. You have to have stars/awards/recommendations to “move up” in the chain of responsibility
      2. Much recognition is awarded without consensus or objectivity, making it hard to judge merit
    7. Some Disruptive Behaviors Are Allowed or Difficult to Eradicate
      1. Infighting
      2. Flaming (not allowed but still happens and is not necessarily cause for ban)
      3. Vandalism
      4. Reactionary responses sometimes based on incomplete reading of a post or incomplete knowledge of a subject.
      5. Even if the disruptive editor is sanctioned, the damage that they have done is not repaired
      6. Civility becomes a defense against all kinds of disruptive behavior
        1. Civil, but stubborn and uncooperative in discussions
        2. Civil, but pushes a point of view long after it has been discredited
        3. Civil, but frequently makes untruthful statements, intentionally or recklessly
        4. Civil, but constantly pushes Wikipedia to become something that it is not
        5. Civil, but tries to control an article or discussion by exhausting other editors
        6. Civil, but travels with a pack of likeminded editors who can overpower an article or discussion
    8. Picking apart knowledge without going outside the current discussion to independently vet
    9. Forcing contributors to defend knowledge, similar to academic defense of a thesis
    10. Current mindset may not be conducive to what Wikipedia portrays as its brand

Limited tool set[edit]

  1. Tool set inadequate for the job
    1. Clunky
    2. Linear
    3. Must understand coding to use it
    4. Not user friendly
    5. Newbies have difficulty with it
    6. Tool set gets in the way of contribution
  2. Tool set limited
    1. Media linked across projects
    2. Abnormal constraints for a web based encyclopedia
    3. Cannot replicate other websites due to limited tool set
  3. All Communication must be in writing
    1. Written communication is slow and cumbersome
    2. Written communication does not allow for facial expression and gestures
    3. Written communication does not allow for vocal and tonal variation
    4. Written communication does at least force it to be documented

Information base[edit]

  1. Not well rounded overall
  2. More even coverage in some languages than others
    1. What languages have the biggest deficits?
    2. Should all languages have the same kind of coverage?
    3. Should coverage be skewed to the amount of the world population speaking/using that language?
    4. How to determine what needs to be focused on for coverage?
  3. Big gaps in coverage
    1. What are these gaps?
    2. What subjects need to be covered?
  4. How does Wikipedia ask its users what else it needs to see on Wikipedia?
    1. People have ideas that they will not create pages for, that someone else may have expertise to provide content
    2. How to reach a younger audience and get them to participate in creation/ideas?

Recommendations (with critiques in italics)[edit]

  1. Wikipedia is at a cross roads
    That is not a recommendation, and "Wikipedia's Brand" has no relation to quality.
    Likely it would if only such a Brand existed.
    1. Wikipedia needs to decide what its brand is, so the brand can drive behavior
    2. It needs to decide exactly what it is doing and how it is going to do it
    3. It needs to take a hard look at how it has been operating and what is not working, consistent with its brand, values, mission and goals
    4. All policies, rules and procedures need to be consistent with the brand, not as lip service but as something that is lived
    5. Wikipedia needs to lead by example
  2. if Wikipedia wants to truly be a world encyclopedia it has to start reaching people who are offline
    That recommendation has no relation to content quality.
    Nor does it relate particularly to Wikipedia; its online character dominates its nature.
  3. perhaps Wikipedia needs to work at furnishing computers to areas of the world that do not have many, and to poor kids who need access, whatever area of the world they are in
    That recommendation has no relation to content quality.
  4. Wikipedia needs a more diverse contributor base
    That is not a recommendation and there is very limited data supporting the idea that diversity has any relation to content quality beyond content coverage
    It is a recommendation, and depending on the direction of expansion of the contributor base it could contribute hugely to quality.
    I agree, and stand corrected. I am copying the recommendation below.
  5. Wikipedia needs to be more even handed in the information that is covered
    That recommendation is so unclear (what does "even handed" mean?) that it's impossible to say whether it relates to content quality.
  6. Wikipedia needs to start cultivating a kid audience for contribution
    I agree with this recommendation: I believe we should support beginning editors of all ages
    In many ways, Wikipedia already is an educational project rather than an encyclopedia (and losing the struggle to educate). I do not see any benefit in bringing kids into an environment where they will be shot at, or where they will form child packs doing the shooting.
    1. This brings them in earlier
    2. It teaches them how to use and contribute
    3. They have an immense ability to learn the curve of participation, help contribute for households and bring in an older audience by showing them how to participate or helping them participate
    4. Kids need knowledge, it’s the only thing that elevates their life and their purpose in life
    5. By collaborating early in a safe environment with the right rules and policies, Wikipedia is in a position to teach kids skills they need in their entire life, not just online at Wikipedia
  7. Wikipedia needs to show by example
    I agree with this recommendation, but it is too vague for me to be able to endorse it. We need specific Foundation and project policy changes to support continued increases in quality.
    1. It needs to be the gold standard of collaboration
    2. Rules and policies need to be forged that make it not only a safe place to collaborate but also teaches people how to collaborate, and improves overall culture not only with knowledge but with skills

Another attempt at breaching barriers to quality[edit]

  1. Wikimedia projects need to support beginning editors of all ages;
    Perhaps, but what does it have to with quality and especially barriers to quality?
    That proposal is carried forward from the ideas above. This will cover inclusion of new users, our only renewable source of editorial talent, inclusion of beginning English language users, and the developmentally disabled. These proposals are intended to breach the barriers to quality.
  2. Wikimedia projects need to treat their top-line volunteers at least as well as established educational, communications, and other respected nonprofit organizations treat their most important volunteers;
    This is hopelessly vague. What "established educational, communications, and other respected nonprofit organizations": there are myriads of them. And in what respect?
    That is currently under Quality Task Force discussion. Cash may have advantages over community recognition, especially for volunteers who want to stay anonymous, perhaps because they were threatened or do not want their employer to know that they edit
  3. Wikimedia projects need to take concrete steps to ensure that they do not contradict established policies; for example:
    Very vague: what established policies?
    As below, avoiding these barriers to quality:
    1. Implying that the elimination of anonymity could improve content quality; or
      Nobody real is implying that? Looks like a side issue.
      It has been implied, repeatedly. It is one of the issues recognized as "Foundation" and "perennial."
    2. Allowing obvious exceptions to established policies to stand.
      Vague. (BTW: I do not expect to live to see the day when the English Wikipedia will start to enforce NOR, NPoV and V)
      We've already seen the start; I'm sure we'll not see the finish.
  4. Wikimedia projects should use flagged revisions for biographies of living people
    That would be Wikipedia projects?
    On the contrary, I believe the encyclopedia would be best served if all Wikimedia projects adopted that policy.
  5. Wikipedia needs a more diverse contributor base, and can achieve that by implementing outreach proposals, e.g.:
    1. Proposal:Publicize reference desk services and article readership statistics
    2. Proposal:Tutorials for finding peer-reviewed secondary literature
    3. Proposal:Volunteer Toolkit

Note: I have moved this outline to Task force/Wikipedia Quality/Barriers to quality [link updated - FT2]. Please make additions/change suggestions there. - Philippe

Bhneihouse17:31, 30 November 2009

Bhneihouse, this is really good :-) I'd like to add/elaborate/refine, but I'm not sure A) if you want people to edit this, and if you do B) how to do it in LT.

More broadly, I have noticed we all seem to be using LT for everything -- discussions, but also "documents." I wonder if that's deliberate: I think non-LT wiki pages might be better suited to some kinds of work.

Sue Gardner17:52, 30 November 2009

FYI, you edit a post in LQT by hitting the "more" drop down arrow (next to reply) and selecting "Edit". It then changes the post status to "Edited by other users" and your edits are recorded in the post history.

You're welcome to use new pages to edit documents, that don't have to be LQT based - we'd ask you to be sure they're linked from the task force page or a LQT discussion page so that it's transparent work. :)

~Philippe (WMF)18:08, 30 November 2009

Sue, yes, I would very much like edits, but if you would, I would like them, per my paragraph at the beginning of the post, to be in an ADDITIVE fashion vs. an overwrite fashion, as would be the norm for a wiki page. If you disagree with something, perhaps you could follow an outline format and add the information with a question mark after it so we know that it is a question or questioning a statement.

Also, per my "Beginnings" thread, I would very much like a Wiki for this process, but again in an additive fashion, because I think we need a framework/outline to fill in.

What I am looking for is a place to cull ALL ideas about a topic, whether they are all vetted/not vetted, and then have the bunch of us discuss them. If anyone has cites or wants to cite anything I have written, please feel free. If not, that is also fine. I dont have time to do this and I think much of what I wrote is common knowledge to a large esxtent. (A question: how seriously do we take information we know to be true but that isnt cited? that is also a question for Wikipedia in general.)

If someone wants to make this a wiki, feel free, as long as it is clear up front that it is ADDITIVE. I just dont have time to learn how to create a wiki right now.

I am glad you like it Sue. It was one of those "I went to sleep frustrated with this and woke up knowing I had to write a document" sort of moments.

Bhneihouse18:46, 30 November 2009

Good work, keep going! This actually helps to share your outlook a lot more than descriptive words.

I have a major observation here: quality "forks" multiple ways (it's a big topic!). The forks overlap and are part of a whole, but are best examined as separate issues in their own right. We need separate dialogs for the following, because "quality" is too broad a word in retrospect.

If we were redoing this, I would suggest 2-3 more specific quality taskforces, focusing upon:

  • External (reader/user) quality -- quality of our public face. Includes both quality of content (our wikis) and quality of contact (the ability to reach all, communicate with all, involve all). The quality of our offering.
  • Internal (editorial) quality -- the way our editorial related processes work, how we invite new people to edit, who should/should not edit, content and sources, disputes, breadth of knowledge and coverage in the wikis, breadth of experience and interests in the editorial community, skill development and sharing to keep interest high, helping good content to stay, and the like.
  • Perception of quality -- what matters to the perception of quality, in the minds of third parties, readers, and editors, and in the media that they glean impressions from.
  • (And perhaps, quality as a guiding concept -- what matters in terms of "quality" for us, and which groups are looking at these.)

Originally, I thought (and still suspect) "quality" for this purpose designates 1/ the quality of our written content and 2/ the processes needed to create quality content. If it's going to include a very wide sense of the term, then it's subsuming all other taskforces and we have no chance of anything useful in the time allotted. We may need to assume that other teams will look at other aspects, and focus on a more narrow and "everyday" sense of the term. Just saying' !

FT2 (Talk | email)18:40, 30 November 2009

FT2, and all:

I like the idea of addressing quality as subcategories however, I think they all still belong here as they are, as you suggested intertwined (overlapping in your parlance.) Also, this is a Quality taskforce. No one said to us: just look at quality of content. I never saw it as such, although some of us may have. If we dont address quality on a basic structural level then its like building a beautiful house on a shaky foundation -- it won't last.

Yes, it is a very big task for the time allotted, which is why I keep trying to focus everyone to the bigger picture, which is where I think that quality comes from. If we refocus to the big picture, then we have a set of benchmarks to assess all suggestions, policies, rules, etc. against. (that benchmark is the "brand" work but I did not say the word "brand" here...mumble mumble mumble.)

In a way this asks the question: What should we be addressing as the Quality Taks Force? Should we be addressing minute details of how admins do their jobs or should we be addressing the larger quality issues and making recommendations that will later lead to addressing the minute details.

I go for door number two. Can we vote or try to come to some consensus on what we are doing? perhaps a supermajority?

I want to address what is standing in they way of making Wikipedia what it wants to be because that is the ultimate quality issue. (Of course that assumes we know what Wikipedia wants to be. mumble brand mumble.) (mumble see Beginning thread for outline/framework mumble mumble brand mumble.) Then I would like for us to craft a set of recommendations and continue the process after the recommendations are "shared," of crafting specific "fixes" for problem areas, for example: identifying what teenage girls want on Wikipedia, what kind of tools they might want/need to utilize and crafting a Wikipedia in the Schools program to expose kids to engaging in learning on Wikipedia.

All of this is going to drive new inroads into the minute details. For example: while rules and policies need to be consistent, there may be a different mentoring/rule approach to teen centered content or teen users/contributors. They may get a bit more oversight until they get the heng of how they should appropriately contribute. For self identified technophobes, we may have a mentoring/wizard approach that allows them to do very little other than type and choose something graphically, and those people may need editors who look at the content/wikis for different things such as obvious newbie non tech types of mistakes. Do you see how defining who and what you are, and what your purpose is drives actions? And it is those actions that create or negate quality on Wikipedia.

And, a last point, I cannot and will not assume that other task forces are handling big picture in their work. I don't have time to comb their LT and I feel that overall quality belongs here.

Yes, I admit it, I am a structure girl.

Bhneihouse19:09, 30 November 2009

If there is that big an uncertainty on the remit, we urgently need to pull in those who set up the taskforce and discuss, not assume. At the least we need to note the prospective scope and ask if they had understood we might look that widely before doing so.

And if we do look that widely, we still need to specifically look at quality of content. I would feel very disturbed to discover our recommendations were high level and not directly targeting content matters, all other taskforces looked at their areas, and therefore the collective conclusion of us all, included no actual actionable specific views on content quality as a result despite that being perhaps one of the main desirables of the whole process.

FT2 (Talk | email)19:22, 30 November 2009

Brenda here on Blackberry.

Tentatively yes and yes. I agree that it may be time to go back to the task force group for clarification. And if the job isn't "ours" I will ask that this job be given to an existing taskforce. More when on a computer.

And FT2 I decidely don't want to disturb you mumble brand mumble. ;), 30 November 2009

On your post: we're apparently considering _three_ doors here, but one seems to be agreed not helpful. Door #1 is very low level (how admins should act, etc), #2 is quality of content (and what approaches will have most substantive impact on it, and on the community's ability to create and sustain it), #3 is quality of project (ie what is Wikipedia's core and what does that drive elsewhere). I think we agree #1 isn't a suitable level, but we probably all agree that 2 and 3 are each valid and very useful.

So, a further possible thought: - I notice that new taskforces are easy to set up. Perhaps one option when seeking clarification, would be to spawn a specific sub-task, purely for quality of content. Same team, same membership, same users still contributing to both, but the approaches, focus, and such are very distinct.

Gut instinct. If we do have to consider broad quality remit (which I'm not averse to at all provided we don't overlook content quality by doing so)... then I think we will have so much to do that the big stuff for each is best worked out in its own "space". Their focus is very different (in scale and perspective). And both sets of conclusions will independently be very valuable.

FT2 (Talk | email)19:40, 30 November 2009

Will you do the "going back and getting clarification" bit?

FT2 (Talk | email)04:37, 1 December 2009

should it be me getting clarification?

Admins, content, big picture -- I dont see them as three doors, I see door number one as the micro level including admins and content and I see door number two as the macro or big picture.

I reread our mandate from the quality task force Wiki twice today. There was a large blanket statement about quality, not specific just to content. I still think we need to have a "talk" with those holding the strategy cards about what the concept of Wikipedia Quality covers to them, and then pitch a case for a wholesale look at the big picture if we feel it is necessary (obviously yes in my book.)

And, I never assumed quality of content would be subsumed by anything. If the quality of content is not there, then my mandate to myself to help Wikipedia be cite-able by college students will never come to fruition. :)

Bhneihouse07:40, 1 December 2009

Yeah. "We know what we mean" :) Go for it.

FT2 (Talk | email)19:01, 1 December 2009

Anyone else want to weigh in on this before I bring it up to the powers that be who set the task forces up?

Thanks for your vote of confidence, FT2. (I think that is what it was ;) )

Bhneihouse21:27, 1 December 2009

Please go ahead and ask them, more clarification is always welcome I guess :-)

Woodwalker06:36, 2 December 2009


Please do not let me forget your first few points in this post -- discuss and not assume; clarify the prospective scope with people before involving them; keep focusing on content; look cross task force to see if others are doing similar high level work.

) thanks.
Bhneihouse07:08, 4 December 2009

Just want to say this is fantastic. Keep working on this list. I always find that I come up with better solutions when I have a complete picture of the problem.

Randomran20:11, 30 November 2009

thanks, the feedback makes it worth the time spent writing it and formatting it so it would look right on here. :D

Bhneihouse04:30, 1 December 2009

Bhneihouse: Great job outlining the Barriers.

I placed the outline at Task force/Wikipedia Quality/Action Plan. If has anything to add, please feel free to do so. I wasn't sure what to name it or where to place it. I don't mind if anyone feels it should be renamed or relocated.

MissionInn.Jim04:47, 1 December 2009

I might try my hand at something similar on content quality, with a view to seeing if it can inform or integrate into it. I hope it compliments, rather than tangents, that approach -- quality is a big word! :)

FT2 (Talk | email)07:17, 1 December 2009

MissionInn.Jim, perhaps a link to the Wiki Eugene/Philippe set up rather than including the text wholesale on your wiki? this way, edit once, everything updates.

FT2, good idea about content quality! perhaps a what is working, what isnt working, recommendations, summations/inclusion of ideas from this dialogue? a similar format may help to keep it readable for people coming in new to this.

I think the content quality wiki should be linked somehow to the Barriers Wiki so it shows we are addressing the content issues, i.e. breath of content, etc.

Could someone work on something akin to a "culture" wiki that might start to cull the comments on this discussion regarding admins, rating contributors/editors, etc.? that will show we are addressing issues regarding making the culture more amenable to new users and offsetting deficits in the culture as exists. Any takers?

Eventually I see all these different wikis linked together and underpinning our recommendations as a group re: Quality.

Bhneihouse07:48, 1 December 2009

Started Task force/Wikipedia Quality/Content quality. Will review this page and summarize the issues there to resume from where it got up to.

FT2 (Talk | email)14:34, 1 December 2009

Part of the reason I put it in its own wiki page is because people can work on it independently of the barriers page. I'm OK with combining the two, but then we would need another name for the "Barriers to quality" wiki page. It would no longer be just "Barriers to Quality". Having them separate we can start a discussion about on that page's own discussion page. I am finding that when I call up this discussion page, it can take several minutes and several warning messages to get it displayed. It is very annoying to have to wait so long. Everytime something is added, it seems to take longer.

MissionInn.Jim04:05, 2 December 2009


Just link to the Barriers page, you can still continue to work on your threads separately. My concern is that the Barriers information will be posted in several different places with the challenge of revision control.

Bhneihouse15:50, 2 December 2009

Oh and I forgot, I am having the same problem with the page loading and had to turn off checking scripts on this page for it to open on its own without my intervention.

Anyone know why this slow down with LT may be happening when it handles more information?

Bhneihouse15:51, 2 December 2009

The magic of transclusion can help with that... instead of reposting the info, just use {{:Barriers to quality}} and then it's actually displaying the info from the original page. :)

~Philippe (WMF)19:08, 2 December 2009

Bhneihouse: this is a good list. Some things I agree with wholeheartedly, others are less realistic/important imho. We do have to find ways to get this more practically applicable though, and for that we need better analysis of many things. For now I'll just comment on your recommendations:

  1. (Wikipedia is at a cross roads): That's why we're here. I agree.
  2. (if Wikipedia wants to truly be a world encyclopedia it has to start reaching people who are offline): I agree that Wikipedia has a certain average contributor profile and that it would be good to have other groups represented more equally. For that we need a better PR! More social communication, try to reach beyond the PC screen - send promotors to schools, homes for the elderly, etc. But how, if the average contributor is a technically adept, socially narrow-focussed male? The foundation and chapters should take the lead imho. New technically digibetic users could get more personal supervision too.
  3. (perhaps Wikipedia needs to work at furnishing computers to areas of the world that do not have many): nice ideal, but is it practically possible to make a serious impact in say, ten years?
  4. (Wikipedia needs a more diverse contributor base) as per #2
  5. (Wikipedia needs to be more even handed in the information that is covered) We're back at the idea of the 1000 topic lists? I'm all in favour of that. Some information is universal and universally important to include, even if it doesn't attract the flocks of readers like Harry Potter or Rihanna.
  6. (Wikipedia needs to start cultivating a kid audience for contribution) That's simply a great idea. See also per #2 -> PR at schools.
  7. (Wikipedia needs to show by example) -> Yes, people should start to read guidelines and each others talk contributions instead of reacting on one mere word. Discussions turn sour because people don't take the time to read well and understand each other's position.
Woodwalker16:09, 1 December 2009

This needs more serious thought than I can give it right now but in principle I seems to agree with most of it.

NOTE: can someone set up the Barriers wiki so that only additive content is allowed? I dont want to go to history to see what is changed, and I dont want overwrites. I know this is a new way of working but it is similar to what we are doing here on LT but without the overwrites so people can see what is said, what is agreed with and what is disagreed with.

also, the one subhead "Wikipedia Culture" needs to be put back in place and a sub sub heading of "Some Disruptive Behaviors Are Allowed" needs to be put in place. THINK OUTLINE. Dont even think Wiki, just think DISCUSSION OUTLINE that happens to be a Wiki.

Other than seeing what we as a group, everyone represented think, this is a pilot for a concept that FT2 proposed off-LT and that I am trying to create and have us refine to see if it works prior to making it a recommendation.

Bhneihouse16:46, 1 December 2009

No, there's not a way to set it up so that only additive content is allowed. Wikis are about allowing people to edit and not restricting editing. They're about the community as a whole writing a better article than one person.  :)

~Philippe (WMF)00:19, 3 December 2009


I do understand how wiki's work. I am trying to understand if Wiki's can be used as additive discussion boards where the information is better organized and easier to load, i.e. less computer resource intensive, and thus perhaps more productive that the LT type of forum.

It has been tossed around that content may need to be locked at some point after it is authored and edited. That led me to believe that a strategic planning wiki may have the capability of being partially locked and being edited.

The point of the type of wiki I am talking about IS about MANY people contributing. I think you are not understanding what I have been proposing. If someone can contribute, like on LT, but the content is then uneditable, the wiki/LT becomes a cummulative "idea sheet" rather than a place where someone posts an idea and it might disappear or become changed because someone did not agree, did not like it or wanted to refine it. to How about, instead of editing capabilities on a strategy wiki, people could comment on that in an outline level on a wiki? that would take away the ponderous nature of LT that many of us are not liking and would allow us to better organize and more easily organize our thoughts. It would also leave a "trail" that was not in history, making it easier for non-wiki-warriors to see all the information without reading through code.

I am TRYING to put in place some procedures right here and now to test their usability prior to making recommendations of new ways to work to improve quality on Wikipedia. It seems to me that this would be a really good place to try some things out. I would really like to start seeing people thinking outside the box, as cliche as that is, to put themselves in other peoples' shoes to get a better understanding of what the non-wiki-warrior experience is like and how we might improve the experience to attract and retain those Wikipedia NEEDS to progress.

I am identifying a problem I keep running into. Wikipedia wants contributions, it wants strategic reocmmendations, it wants us to work to make things better. But it seems that every time I propose something that isnt currently part of the Wikipedia culture or might be an experiment someone pushes back at me and says "no, that isnt the way we do it here." Well if what Wikipedia DID HERE was so successful then we wouldnt be having these strategic task forces. So how about someone says YES to me once in a while instead of NO. I am very tired of hearing NO. I am just like all of the other new users who get "pissed off" on Wikipedia. After a while of hearing NO I will start to think that my contributions have no value, that the system really isnt interested in change and that Wikipedia is just a bunch of young single guys with nothing better to do that to write content for an encyclopedia whose approach and interface is already outdated. The fact that I have to get outraged is not a good sign. Outrage is NOT my M.O. it is what i USE to push appropriate change.

If I am going to get outraged, I can meet with Mayor Heidi Davidson about not enough handicapped parking spaces in Athens and my time might be better spent.

Please do nor write me any placating emails or posts. DO SOMETHING ABOUT the fact that it seems all I am hearing is NO's.

And by the way, I still assert that you do not give an otherwise untested technology, i.e. LT, which is time consuming, clunky and inappropriate, to a strategic group charged with fixing things. I don't think it is an issue of "eating our own dog food." I think it is an issue of if you want a quarterback to do a good job, you give him good shoes and good gloves. It just took 30 seconds for LT to give me a page preview.

Bhneihouse15:24, 3 December 2009

btw, I just waited another forty seconds for the page to save and refresh from adding the prior post. I am on a Dell Mini 10 which is my road warrior take anywhere laptop, lightweight, incredible battery life. This is the future. Smaller, less powerful computers, rather than larger more powerful computers. How can/does Wikipedia satisfy the Quality needs of users who are not using dual or quad processor systems with a ton of RAM? Why should I have to wait almost a minute for a page refresh on a project where I am contributing as a volunteer? What incentive to do I have to continue to work when the actual process of contributing is so cumbersome it makes me want to shut my computer and get a cup of coffee?

Someone say YES, that this issue matters, and fix it so we can have a more effective platform to contribute on.

Bhneihouse15:29, 3 December 2009

Put on your seatbelts, this is gonna be long...

Woodwalker: “We do have to find ways to get this more practically applicable though, and for that we need better analysis of many things.” Yes, which is why I keep going back to analyzing what currently exists, taking the user experiences we wish people to have at Wikipedia and using them as a litmus test to see if what currently exists fulfills those experiences and if not, what needs to be done to ensure that the Wikipedia experience is appropriate and meaningful in a positive way. '

  1. “(Wikipedia is at a cross roads)…I agree”' YES!
  1. “But how (do we change?)The foundation and chapters should take the lead imho. New…users could get more personal supervision too.” Yes and Yes
  1. “(perhaps Wikipedia needs to work at furnishing computers…): nice ideal, but is it…possible…in say, ten years?” I am not sure but what I do know is that every day hundreds of users at our county library utilize computers in the Gates Computer lab – many of whom would not otherwise have use of a computer. I am pretty good at getting corporations and people to give to those who need, I am certain there are thousands more people like me who have this skill. All we have to do is focus it and we can attain this goal.
  1. “ (Wikipedia needs to be more even handed in the information that is covered)…I'm all in favour of that...” This is a long term project. There is a lot of information in the world. The Guttenberg project has something similar going on with literature and from seeing their results I know that this is doable. Perhaps we need to section topic areas off and try to fill in a bit of each and then more of each and then…until those topic areas are better populated. I think this is an area worth discussion – how to approach more comprehensive content – as appropriate for a quality team. Breadth of content creates better quality.
  1. “(Wikipedia needs to start cultivating a kid audience for contribution) That's simply a great idea.” Thanks. I also wish Wikipedia to be host for working groups for school and university kids. Why not a Wikipedia style “wave”? and Wiki groups? (of course once we get more basic issues under better control.)
  1. “(Wikipedia needs to show by example) -> Yes, people should start to read guidelines and each others talk contributions instead of reacting on one mere word. Discussions turn sour because people don't take the time to read well and understand each other's position.” This is where a 24 hour rule is good. Some of my profs won’t allow us to discuss our grades on a test or a paper for 24 hours so we really think about what it is they have “said” and what we really want to say. This is but one example. People who regularly can be shown to not actually read content yet react to it can eventually get a negative rating score of some sort. (I am certain yall can work this one out – I have seen great discussions of metrics/procedures on here.) Teaching people the power of forgiveness, of flexibility, of all the tools they need to be good collaborators is truly KEY if Wikipedia is going to exist in ten years. This how we become the gold standard – by teaching. If knowledge is power then those who teach are truly great. We teach others what we know about how to work together. We figure it out, we define it, we create wizards, we create videos, we do whatever it is we need to do to ensure that people can learn what it is they need to know to participate. And we remove barriers to participation.

I know this is a really long post, but I want to share something that ties into this post.

I am incredibly late on a paper on civil disobedience for a key class in my major. Today, after class, I showed my professor of Social Justice, Dr. Alexander Kaufman, http://www.uga.edu/pol-sci/people/kaufman.htm, the Barrier Wiki. I told him how angry I got at first at how LT wasn’t working right, how I felt the group wasn’t working in a way that I felt productive, how I had the choice to do “civil disobedience” and walk away to make a point or how I could choose to stay. I told him I was working out the principles in the paper on this Wiki and on this Task Force. I also told him that what he has taught me about Rawls and Social Justice is the foundation for my work on this Task Force – that everyone needs to be included and everyone is worthy of consideration and respect, and that the benefits of natural and social endowments need to positively impact those with the least. And the cool thing is that you guys/gals are responding to what I am sharing that he taught me.

Everything Kaufman teaches me I can share with someone else. Teaching a student may be the single greatest thing that Kaufman can give to all of us, as long as we continue to share that which we learn with others and they share with more people. Teaching, whether it is how to collaborate, or what social justice is, may be the single biggest gift we can give to someone. And this is how knowledge lives on.

And this is why Wikipedia is powerful.

I think it may be possible to challenge the existing community to be teachers. I think there may be a myriad of ways to entice them to play by rules not of their own making to create a just result. We just haven’t explored them all. So while we are adding to the community, we can also heal the community. Each of us has a teacher inside of us. We just have to figure out how to harness all of those Alexander Kaufmans, give them the tools they need and take away the barriers to participation.

Oh and guys/girls, all of this is about Wikipedia’s brand, as I perceive it.  mumble brand mumble. (Okay, I give up on trying to get the format of this to be any more readable.)

Bhneihouse03:36, 2 December 2009

Thanks, this was like educating me, since I'm only a geologist and know nothing of the sort. I'd like to give two examples from my own experience, that gave me the faith the wiki-concept can work if people are shown the way how to better communicate/contribute. I'm myself not a technical type, besides I don't have experience with internet apart from Wikipedia, the occasional news site and email. Last year I started a facebook profile, only because my wiki friends asked me. So I probably don't fit in the average contributor profile we discussed. I started contributing when a friend took me behind a PC and showed me how Wikipedia works (letter by letter). If that hadn't happened, I would never have edited.

My first example is about content and about the 1000 article list. When I started editing Wikipedia, we had a list of all subjects covered by Encarta at wp-nl. I began by writing one or two articles about geology from red links in the list every day. Without the list, I wouldn't have known where to start. Even if contributors have the knowledge to add content, they often don't know how to start logistically/structurally or even what things are needed because of the information demand of the readers or the coverage of the project. Without the list, I would've lost interest pretty soon, just because I couldn't have come up with all these subjects myself. A month ago I scrolled through the 1000 article list at meta, and I found the geology section pretty bad, even though it contains only about 20-30 subjects. Then it occurred to me I would, with the help of other geologists active on Wikipedias, be well able to make a separate list of 1000 articles about geology alone (100 rock types, 100 minerals, etc - 1000 seems a lot but it is still only enough to include general topics). Besides, we could make a list of articles with other subjects that should have a section on geology as well (for example: the Rocky Mnts, the Atlantic Ocean). Other users with specialist knowledge could make similar lists for their specific areas of expertise. Some knowledge is universal and should be included in all wikipedias. Such lists would be beneficial for small and medium-sized projects, but probably also still for the larger ones. Users will then have a way of knowing where to start adding content, even without needing to have the knowledge themselves (they can translate from larger wikis), instead of getting lost in policies/rules/talk pages, which is so easy on wikis.

Second example is from my experience as an admin/arbcom member. In contrast to most of my colleagues, I'm not often for blocking problematic users, unless there is clearly bad intent. Rather, I'd go for other restrictions or make 'deals' with them ('you do this or else I block you'). For example: don't do more than 5 edits at talk pages every week, don't edit the village pump or election debate pages, etc. The results have been mostly positive. Most of these well-intending problematic users can become good contributors when they just have a little less freedom/choice where and when to edit. The most surprising aspect to me is that many of them were afterwards thankful and told me they'd never have figured out how to get constructive for themselves. I think your ideas of 24 hour reaction time and teaching users how to communicate/contribute are super. Editing Wikipedia shouldn't be a matter of simply signing in and then having total freedom, it should be a learning process that only begins with signing in. I understand this doesn't seem compatible with the liberal ideals and mentality of the founders and many of the current incrowd of Wikipedia, yet I think this is a misconception. I think guiding contributors to more constructive ways is in a way even more compatible with our ideals than the total freedom to behave, edit and do as you like we have now. Yes, why not have anonymous ratings for every talk contribution? That would really force people to become more constructive in discussions and help the consensus building process.

I think all of us agree something has to be done about behaviour. The question is mainly how to convince the communities and how to make a recommendation that will have impact.

Woodwalker08:55, 2 December 2009

Ok I officially hate LT. foty five minutes of typing and organizing lost because I was working on the web page. I have to run to take my daughter to the doctor, but this is a reminder to myself to come back and edit this message to respond to Woodwalker.

Woodwalker, for now my comments are: great post.


Bhneihouse17:17, 2 December 2009

It would be most helpful if you could document what happened. For instance, what behaviors were experienced? What happened? What did you do immediately prior? Were there error messages?

~Philippe (WMF)17:46, 2 December 2009

I had the same experience (lost ~15 minutes of writing) when I wrote my long message above (8:55, 2 December 2009). I was patrolling vandalism at the same time and accidentally clicked and opened a link in the same window. I went back to this page but my text was gone, which normally doesn't happen in Firefox.

Woodwalker19:40, 2 December 2009

Yeah, Andrew told me this morning that he's working on EXACTLY that issue - making sure that the text is buffered or something so that it's there when you hit the "back" button.

~Philippe (WMF)21:34, 2 December 2009

same issue. working on a Mini 10 with small keyboard and literally grazed the mouse pad, the page went forward and when I went back I had lost everything. At one point I had copied it to clipboard but I had just copied a URL from another window to share and that knocked my buffer for the clipboard. :( Will rewrite in a bit. Busy day.

Bhneihouse23:51, 2 December 2009

btw who is Andrew?

Bhneihouse23:52, 2 December 2009

Andrew is Werdna, who developed LiquidThreads. He monitors this wiki closely.

~Philippe (WMF)00:25, 3 December 2009

ah. I guess we're special. ;) LOL

Bhneihouse03:55, 3 December 2009

It's ok, I've had a word with him too...... :)

FT2 (Talk | email)12:51, 3 December 2009

@woodwalker, this was good stuff. I have been trying for a few days to respond to this and will when I am caught up.

Bhneihouse15:22, 5 December 2009

Good points. I'd suggest adding something to recommendations to deal with "Some Disruptive Behaviors Are Allowed" (in particular, 1,4). You mention: "t needs to be the gold standard of collaboration". Certainly - but with the increasingly more poisonous atmosphere, due to the failure of community to stop flaming/harassment/etc., it is becoming worse and worse...

Piotrus19:48, 1 December 2009

Piotrus, please add what you feel is appropriate, but treat it as ADDITIVE.

Bhneihouse21:29, 1 December 2009

Piotrus, IMHO, I think that the community itself needs to radically change, it needs to diversify, it needs to feel empowered to police itself and it needs to have policies and guidelines in place that support the community members in acting correctly in the first place and empowers them to police themselves.

That is a HUGE statement, I realize this.

  1. to radically change, an external body is going to have to engage in behaviors that will encourage new members of target populations, whether it be Wikipedia in the Schools/Universities, Wikipedia in the Workplace, or general PR and Marketing efforts to encourage a wider variety of users. The external body may be a group of Wikipedians or it may be another group. If the group itself will not come in line with Wikipedia’s policies and goals, then some force has to reshape the group.
  1. to draft those policies, certain things need to be identified that will guide the creation of those policies and rules. Again, that may happen from a small body, an external body or by a general “vote” of some kind. However, it is tricky when the body that is “voting” is the one causing the problems.
  1. remember this, no matter what the result of the Wikipedia project, it was a small group that originally got it started. If something external needed to rein it in and reshape it in order for it to become what it was originally intended to be, that might not be a bad thing.

What I do know, is that the demographics I see at Wikipedia are a bit like an implosion waiting to happen. If something doesn’t change, Wikipedia has the potential to be the best idea with the worst implementation people ever heard of. Sometimes, we give up some of our “freedoms” i.e. the freedom for every user to have a say in every decision, in order to get what we wanted in the first place.

I fear that many Wikipedians aren’t willing to engage in trade offs.

I, like many of us on this task force, have been a part of many online communities. All of us have seen people with the wrong mindset destroy projects with great potential. We have a choice. We figure out how to fix it and make it better for a lot of other people, in this case, billions of people; or we say it’s too difficult to make it work and we let the jerks take over. Personally as much as I hate conflict and fighting, I’m for proving we can make this work. So, Piotrus, go fill in the Barriers Wiki, add to the lists and let’s see where we get with this.

Am I being too optimistic?

Bhneihouse02:25, 2 December 2009


FT2 (Talk | email)02:37, 2 December 2009

You're imho too pessimistic. I think we don't need to take away freedom to solve the particular problem of rude/non-constructive behaviour. Feedback to every single talk edit can probably solve the thing without having to force people not to participate in every discussion. For example, multiple choice (definitely yes/yes/a little/not at all):

Do you think this contribution:

  • Is relevant for the discussed subject?
  • Is relevant for the project's goals?
  • Is friendly/nice?
  • etc

If a small mark shows next to all your talk edits, you will think twice before commenting. I think the whole problem of rude behaviour can be erased without having to forbid participation.

Woodwalker09:05, 2 December 2009

Hi all:

I am in the middle of finals and making up work for being out of school for three weeks earlier this semester due to H1N1 (swine flu.) As such I am behind the eight ball. There are things I see that might benefit the task force to look at and integrate but I have limited time and would like to keep my focus on structural quality issues. Would someone be willing to run with an idea I have? I was wondering if it might be good to go through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Perennial_proposals#Prohibit_anonymous_users_from_editing to see if there are any past usable suggestions relating to quality both structural and content, and if going through this document might lead us to answer the question "what has been tried in the past and what has worked/failed?"

I apologize because I know we all pull our own load here but I have a sick kid and finals/remediation for the semester and I would hate to not be looking at articles like this and integrating them just because I am short of time. I think articles like this have immense value.


Bhneihouse15:06, 4 December 2009

Hi, I'm sorry, but at the moment I'm very sad and disappointed in Wikipedia. I was already on a wikibreak at wp-nl because I got irritated by my colleagues. Things I wrote were misinterpreted constantly (or just not read at all - even so they all had an opinion about what I wrote), others were just aggressive and incredibly rude.

Now I got into the same situation at wp-en. I don't mind loosing a discussion, I don't mind if I don't get my way. I can distinguish between important things and minor unimportant problems that aren't worth the fuzz or irritation. But what I can't stand is to be misunderstood because people don't take the time to read what I write; what I can't stand is people being too stupid to understand what a discussion is about yet contributing in those discussions in an often aggressive, personally directed and provocative way. I can't stand to be framed every time, being called names even after leaving a discussion.

At the moment Wikipedia is an irritating experience to me. I think it's the idiots that can't communicate in a constructive way we should worry about, not the IPs. As I said, vandalism is probably not the worst problem for quality, the worst problem is wide-spread ignorance combined with self-over-estimation among the most active users.

Woodwalker18:54, 4 December 2009

Just wanted to show a little solidarity with Woodwalker.

There's too many people on Wikipedia who are more opinionated than smart, and there's too many people who are more self-serving than they are cooperative. And when someone is opinionated AND self-serving? You see the quality of the encyclopedia suffer. And there's no downside to being opinionated and self-serving so long as you can find a few passive aggressive people to support and protect you.

Randomran19:06, 4 December 2009

I am so glad both of you shared your experiences. I am not happy you experienced them.

I believe we can change the demographics and this will help to alleviate a part of the issue as people with different ideas, opinions and ways of behaving start to "infiltrate" in a good way.

I also believe that crafting procedures for admins and empowering them to be vocal, to teach, to ban on actionable offenses, etc. will start to change the culture to this behavior is not tolerated.

As we can all see, the culture drives the content. If you aren't happy with how you are treated it's hard to contribute. If people infight, etc. it gets in the way of quality content. If you are so unhappy that you go away, we as a community lose and the content suffers.

There is a possibility for change, don't give up. Our words and our actions matter. We can give up and walk away or we can dig in for the fight for the right -- the right focus for Wikipedia, the right way to do things that take everyone and all the priorities into account, the right to be treated respectfully while we try to help others.

Bhneihouse20:31, 4 December 2009

Actually, the admins are doing a good job of warning and sanctioning people on actionable offenses. The problem is the inactionable offenses.

First, passive aggressive behavior is not actionable. "That doesn't even make any sense. Is English your first language?" "You're a liar. You have zero credibility on this discussion." "My point would be clear to anyone who was at least slightly intelligent." "Quit wasting everyone's time." Most of the time, you can shrug those off by saying you weren't attacking anyone, but were trying to state a firm point. Are they really going to ban or block someone for those? No, that's reserved for people who are stupid enough to lash out directly. If you're indirect enough, you get a warning, and then you go back to your business.

Second, large patterns of borderline behavior are impossible to deal with in practice. That's if you can get passed the argument "but I didn't cross the line. I followed every policy to the letter." Then you have to deal with the large counter-pattern of behavior. If you want to look at their 6 month record, they get to use 6 months of virtually any one else's record, and it only takes one troll to make them look good. "See? In February, a troll told me to shut up. Ever since, all I've been doing is standing up for myself." Every big attack gives them license to make dozens of smaller attacks.

Finally, you can get away with more than passive aggressive behavior if you have a team on your side. Imagine that every AN/I incident turns from a 2 person discussion to a 20 versus 20 discussion. And if an administrator jumps in, God help them. There's so much bickering back and forth that it's almost impossible to figure out who is at fault, so usually it ends with "knock it off, both sides", which is completely ineffective. What's worse, no matter what they decide, there will be 20 angry people ready to accuse them of being biased, of misreading the situation, of being incompetent. No wonder we've been hemorrhaging administrators. It's shitty work.

I'm not even sure what the solution is. We could tighten the grip, go beyond the obvious jerks and start targeting the stubborn people, the passive aggressive people, and the self-serving opinionated people. But then I doubt there would be anyone left on Wikipedia. That's the culture we have.

Randomran22:05, 4 December 2009
Edited by another user.
Last edit: 23:09, 4 December 2009
  1. If someone insults someone else they should be put on warning and their contributor privileges should be taken away. We should take a firm line on RESPECT as the basis for all online transactions including collaboration.
  2. The argument "I didnt cross the line" has no basis if someone is disrespectful. A log should be kept of the remarks to back up the actions just like a corporation would keep a record of borderline transgressions to support a firing.
  3. no user is compared to any other user. Policies are consistent and consitstenly applied. Precedence in one case becomes precedence in all. This is an equity issue. Just because someone else yelled at someone online and it wasn't punished doesnt mean I can yell at someone. Just because I speed and get caught doesn't mean everyone who speeds will get caught.
  4. It is made clear that anyone who supports the "wrong" side, as in the one who has not followed policy, will end up in the same shape as the person who created the mess -- that is with limits on their participation, blocking or banning. At first this will have to be extremely strict so make the point that Wikipedia is very serious about transgressions of the RESPECT and other policies, but after a while, this can ease up a bit.
  5. If those 20 people want to not obey the rules/policies/procedures, tell them their access to Wikipedia will be moderated.

In a short time Wikipedia can go from a community where many seem to not respect anyone to a community where people know there are rules and policies they must abide by.

The CAVEAT in this process is involvement. In the book, "The Fog at the Season's End" by Alex Leguma, about apartheid in South Africa, Leguma writes – “if the community is given the opportunity of participating in making the law, then they have a moral obligation to obey it.” “ but if the law is made for them, without their consent or participation, then it’s a different matter.””if the law defends injustice, prosecutes those who fight injustice, then I am under no obligation to uphold it.” The key to just law/procedure/policy/rules is:

  1. participation by the community affected
  2. alternatively, consent by the community for agents to act in their stead
  3. creation of justice, support of equity

This may sound strict or rude depending on your perspective. However, when anyone is left with limitless freedom and no responsibility to anyone else, anarchy is King. Perhaps it is time to stop supporting anarchy and time to make the community responsible to itself. After all, what good is a limitless encyclopedia that supports an online space where users are abusive to each other?

Bhneihouse23:03, 4 December 2009

Those are some strong recommendations, but they have the potential to work.

I think that a little collective responsibility could reign in the cabals. But you have to keep in mind, they usually have 3 or 4 members who do the dirty work, and 15 members who have solid reputations to back them up. They're only human. Sometimes we forgive someone who fights hard for something we believe in, and get angry at someone who politely pushes for something we are against. So the problem isn't that 20 people are all disruptive, but that 3 disruptive people can be forgiven because there are enough good people who kind of appreciate what they're doing.

I also think that precedent could be a huge change. But there are Wikipedians who are hostile to that approach, because it's kind of legalistic. Moreover, the old Wikipedia culture (which used to work) was one where you would forgive, and give second and third chances, and assume good faith... so you always wanted to find the most soft sanction, and try to get them back to editing as soon as possible. A lot of people get a break because "oh, but he created 100 articles", or "he's been a victim in the past". People are eager to give out breaks.

I think this is going to be harder in practice than it is in theory.

Randomran23:43, 4 December 2009

These are very interesting suggestions, and are things that are being considered by the Community Health task force, which has as its mandate consideration of these things. Rather than work in "smoke stacks" of parallel thoughts, could I suggest that you glance at the work they're doing? I think you'll see a massive amount of crossover.

~Philippe (WMF)23:49, 4 December 2009

Well, when two or more task forces come to the same conclusions in parallel without consulting, then the likelihood is that there is a valid recommendation brewing. After all, in science, more than one team should be working on the same project to validate results.

I am writing up the Weekly report and behaviors and how to deal with them seem to effect a lot of content issues.

Bhneihouse02:27, 5 December 2009

The morning after. I have been thinking. The problem I encountered yesterday was with what Piotrus called "true believers", the type of user that unknowingly introduces POV in Wikipedia content. There is no bad intent, we can assume good faith in them, yet they can't be trusted and will get rude when their "holy cow" is discussed. They block attempts at intelligent inquiry of the thing they believe in.

Is this the bankruptcy of AGF? I hesitate; I think not. There is nothing wrong with assuming good faith, it is a principle of civility that is vital for cooperation on any wiki project. Rather than leave this principle, I'd think of adding to it a second, more strict principle. If somebody is a true believer, he/she needs to get a topic ban immediately. Unlike Randomran, I believe true believers are often identifiable:

  • They ignore others arguments in discussions or refuse to discuss them, yet keep their own stubborn positions in that discussion;
  • They simply don't read sources, or simply don't read what their opponents write.
  • Occasionally, they can be rude or directly insulting (however, as Randomran wrote: that's reserved for people who are stupid enough to lash out directly).

In the discussion that made me leave wp-en temporarily I can clearly show that some of the contributors were exhibiting the first two ways of behaviour. These contributors form a direct barrier for quality increase in that case, therefore an immediate topic ban would have been in the interest of the project. In most cases, this doesn't happen. Why? Because POV is more difficult to remove than vandalism. It requires more time to analyse. We're all volunteers, no admin wants to spend time on something that is likely to be unrewarding, unpopular or tiresome.

We have been talking about having a "senior editor status". I think it would help, if true believers have no access to or will be stripped of this status. It sounds harsh and elitist, but I think in the end better distinction between user types will raise quality.

Woodwalker09:32, 5 December 2009



this is a perfect example of how having a negative experience but turning it around to analyze it as a "problem ticket" helps all of us better understand.


topic block for true believers with an "agenda" (even if they do not recognize it) is NOT elitist.

What is elitist is being a "true believer" because it assumes "you" know better than everyone else. Ultimately, we are all just learning here on this planet. Even world renown scientists will tell you they do not know everything about their field of expertise. Perhaps the more mature we become in knowledge, the more we realize how much more there is to know.

Your post is in line with my post about contentious users wherein Wikipedia starts to quickly identify problem users and hold a hard line about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It is not that not everyone can play, it's that everyone can play as long as they play nicely.

Bhneihouse15:31, 5 December 2009

I'm really glad you guys are discussing this, because now I think you're in the heart of the problem. But I think there are legitimate practical challenges here.

A true believer really tests the limits of good faith, because a true believer IS acting in good faith. They, in good faith, believe that they are helping the encyclopedia, and protecting it from an enemy. That becomes part of their defense. "Yes, they were adding original research to the article. But they believe in good faith that our original research policy is ruining the encyclopedia. Banning them would be akin to censorship. They have the right to contribute to Wikipedia." You won't even find ArbCom willing to shut down a user like that.

Furthermore, if two editors are arguing about where the encyclopdia should go, who is the true believer? The one who insists that Wikipedia needs to allow original research? Or the one who insists on reverting and removing original research? A really stubborn editor is going to get a really stubborn response... so which stubborn person are you going to ban?

I'm being devil's advocate. But I have direct experience with these kinds of editors, and you can't underestimate how hard it is find a solution.

Randomran17:23, 5 December 2009
Edited by another user.
Last edit: 05:25, 6 December 2009

Truly excellent points, Randomran. I distilled your points below.

Legitimate practical challenges.

  1. I agree

True believer acts in good faith

  1. I agree

True believers feel they are protecting Wikipedia from an enemy

  1. I agree with their perception, in light of their view point, but their perception is based on a specific perception of the BRAND of Wikipedia which is clearly not in line with Wikimedia’s perception of Wikipedia’s brand or the perception of the vast amount of dedicated users/contributors/editors/admins.

True believers believe Wikipedia’s original research policy to be ruinous

  1. because they do not fully understand Wikipedia’s brand.

Is banning true believers akin to censorship?

  1. banning anyone who does not obey the rules of Wikipedia, which are/should be in line with Wikipedia’s brand is fair as long as the rules and policies are evenly applied and equitable.

Do true believers have a right to contribute to Wikipedia from their point of view (non-neutral)?

  1. no, not if neutrality is a key tenet of the brand of Wikipedia. However, if non-netural POV or original research IS a part of the brand of Wikipedia, then banning them is not appropriate or constructive.

What are ArbCom’s tolerances for non-neutral viewpoints?

  1. My understanding is that non-neutral viewpoints are not in line with Wikipedia’s brand or mandate/mission/goal so it would seem to me that ArbCom should not tolerate non-neutral viewpoints.

If Wikipedia has no clear direction/no clear brand/goal/mission, then who is correct and who gets banned?

  1. Then there is no clear direction, which leaves admins, etc. in a quandary. Clear BRAND, clear direction/mission/goal is crucial or chaos reigns.

Does Wikipedia allow original research just because everyone is invited to participate? Or is banning original research consistent with the Wikipedia brand/mission/goals?

  1. No, original research is banned for a reason, to ensure neutrality and to ensure that Wikipedia is not utilized as a soap box or platform to promote a specific POV.
  2. Banning original research is consistent with Wikipedia’s STATED mission and goals.

This is a BRAND argument. Brand drives goals/mission and it directs behavior. The key here is to keep “testing” policies/rules/procedures against the brand. Does it fit the brand? Is it consistent with the brand? Will it further the brand?

I have been saying all along that BRAND drives behavior, as it drives the mission, goals, etc. Without a clear brand statement, it is easy for users to misunderstand Wikipedia’s purpose. Stating a brand, making choices is all within Wikipedia’s purview. I believe that many at Wikimedia/Wikipedia are fearful of saying Wikipedia is “THIS” for fear of leaving people out, but the reality is that everything in this world has to be something, and each something leaves out other people and things.

And ultimately, everyone knowing what the BRAND of Wikipedia is, and how it is to be deployed, i.e. neutral POV, is what makes quality content, which in turn helps to make Wikipedia the largest, most comprehensive online encyclopedia. Everyone “being on the same page” or having the same page to get onto stops true believers in their tracks because what Wikipedia exists to do, what Wikipedia is and the behaviors expected of all users/contributors is all clearly stated. Also, there is something to refer to in cases of disputes (which doesn’t really exist currently.)

So, back to my argument from last week: I believe Wikipedia does not have an identifiable brand. Sure it has the word “Wikipedia” but words and logos alone are not brands. Brands are the cumulative non-tangibles that, as an aggregate, stand for something. Brands are expressed through tangibles, like logos or content, or rules/policies/procedures. I believe that Wikipedia has ideas and beliefs that it follows. I want to see, as part of creating quality at Wikipedia (including quality content), the drafting of a brand statement – not some hollow rhetoric about how cool it is to build a comprehensive online encyclopedia, but a real, living, breathing brand statement that encompasses all the values that Wikipedia has or should have. Then let’s create policies/procedures/rules that are consistent with the brand. Then let’s create quality content that is consistent with the brand and the mission and goals of the brand.

Meanwhile, let’s do some short term work on behavioral problems, as I stated earlier, by putting in places rules/policies/procedures that are consistent with what the brand SEEMS to be. That way, we attack the problem top down and bottom up. As changes happen, and the community starts to change demographics, this will allow an “opening” for the larger changes to be put in place over time, “priming the pump” so to speak. (I cannot take full credit for all of this, FT2 has been arguing the bottom up argument with me and making me see the light of day of short term solutions to keep things “running” and changing the culture as it stands in place.)

Bhneihouse05:08, 6 December 2009

Brenda, you say: "Meanwhile, let’s do some short term work on behavioral problems, as I stated earlier, by putting in places rules/policies/procedures that are consistent with what the brand SEEMS to be."

How would you suggest that the policies be put in place? It's not a trick question, I'm curious about that.

~Philippe (WMF)05:22, 6 December 2009

Governance I believe is the immediate issue. Do I, or anyone else here, make a recommendation and we apply it? Do we discuss it, do we put it to a vote?

I am going to put aside issues of governance, and assume that we just create a world that no one else will comment on, and that is the model I will work from here.

  1. Immediate actions
    1. Take all of the policies/procedures/rules and distill it down to six key principles/behaviors
      1. i.e. respect all other users, no original content
      2. it has to be short, remember-able and enforceable
        1. i.e. disrespecting someone is pretty clear and enforceable
        2. posting original content with no adequate cites is also pretty clear and enforceable
          1. use the “peer review” mandate to keep things like advertisements out
          2. if a peer hasn’t reviewed it or if there is no second, third or fourth source backing up information, it can probably be treated as a primary source
    2. Make this “distilled list” available all over Wikipedia
      1. It can optionally be a term of participation, i.e. a screen that comes up and is agreed to in order to read/contribute (I know this seems contrary but at least you know there is a tacit “agreement” even if they don’t read it)
    3. Empower all admins
      1. Three warnings rule
        1. Warn – regular “voice”
        2. Caution – a bit “louder”
        3. Last chance – the equivalent of “yelling”
      2. After the third “warning” the user is blocked
        1. Remediation by admins
        2. Explanation by admins of applicable rules
        3. Apology from blocked user
        4. “second chance” if appropriate
        5. If no “second chance” appropriate, consideration of ban
      3. Three warnings circumvents the “ignorance of the law” concept
        1. People are fairly apprised
        2. They are given ample time/opportunities to change unaccepted behaviors
        3. They are treated fairly and treatment is also consistent
      4. Fair and even application of this is key
        1. No outs even for “key” people
        2. No variance, no wavering
        3. All admins have to comply with this, no “outs” or they cannot admin
    4. Change the procedure for creating Wikis
      1. Any topic can be a wiki if it meets the guidelines – this is good
      2. Any one can come up with an idea for a wiki
      3. The user creates a discussion page first
      4. Discussion is additive with no editing of any post
        1. This forces people to be more careful in what they post
        2. This also forces the “history” to be public and easily read/interacted with, rather than someone you have to know how to use
        3. No users can overwrite anyone else
        4. admin watches over the discussion, guides and facilitates, and uses the three warning rule
      5. After all the discussion/arguing/culling information has been done (this may take a while), the wiki is created
      6. On the wiki is only that which fits Wikipedia’s guidelines
        1. Verifiable
        2. Neutral
        3. Any other information can be noted in the discussion for possible inclusion in the wiki once it is vetted
      7. The wiki is, as usual, editable, except in the cases of truly contentious discussions, which can be locked, and additions to locked wikis can go through the “discussion” process
      8. This turns the process a bit inside out
        1. The discussion takes place and then the wiki
        2. Instead of the wiki exists, then let’s discuss it
        3. It is closer to the process of say building a house or normal planning for any project
        4. It utilizes teaming, collaboration and planning
      9. In the wiki world I am proposing
        1. everyone can learn how to collaborate in the discussion
        2. the rules are clearly communicated
        3. some sort of loose “team” is created
        4. trust is built in the discussion process
        5. by the time the wiki exists, there is something to build on, factually, and in community
        6. the current process brings together anonymous people with no/little trust and that in itself gets in the way
        7. the trust that is built in working through problems will provide cohesion when the actual wiki is posted
        8. that trust/team/collaborative effort will help in and of itself to ward off potential problems once the wiki is posted if things go “wrong” (vandalism, non neutral POV additions/changes)
        9. the downside is that a team is built and then needs to open up
        10. the upside is that everyone learns
        11. there is a shift from just giving/contributing to a focus on teaching/educating/mentoring (perhaps more in line with the perception of the current brand of Wikipedia)
        12. this helps to make less competition and more collaboration/teaming (also perhaps more in line with the perception of the current brand of Wikipedia)

I think this is a good place to start.

Bhneihouse19:14, 6 December 2009

My point in asking how you'd make the policy happen wasn't rhetorical. It seems to me that if this group proposes a bunch of policy shifts and they prove to be impractical because there's simply no way to change the policy, then it's wasted effort on everyone's part.

It's important that recommendations be actionable (and it's also important that we say who the party is that can take the action"). For instance, I see almost no way for the Board of Trustees or the strategy plan to force new administrative policies on any project, nor should they, in my opinion. With very very few exceptions (cases of privacy, etc), the Board and Staff don't create policy. To do so would violate what seems to be a core belief in project self-governance. Maybe that should change. If so, it should be a recommendation from one of the task forces.

But to create a hypothetical world with zero chance of being enacted is not helpful, probably. I think it's best if we focus on what can be done. It may be that one of your recommendations (or Community Health task forces') is that the English Wikipedia select a team of editors to rewrite the policy on X, Y, or Z. That makes sense. But us attempting to impose a series of rules is likely to end in rebellion or (worse) out and out rejection of them because the community's cultural mores (yes, Brenda, the Brand) was not respected and honored.

That's why I'm saying this is delicate work. We can't start from a zero basis point, because we already have some policies in place. So, ideally, I'd like to see this task force take a deep dive into those policies that affect content quality and determine where the conflicts are, how to resolve them, a path to resolution, etc.

We can't pretend there aren't already policies in place, and they're policies that are worked with daily by about 1000 administrators and hundreds of thousands of users. There's going to have to be a migration path, practically speaking.

~Philippe (WMF)21:10, 6 December 2009

@Philippe: I accept the fact that there are guidelines in place already. However, all major Wikipedia projects have different guidelines and problems due to a different culture and way of working. Advising wp-en to appoint a commission to rewrite a certain guideline is a good practical idea, but can only work for that project. Wp-de has different problems. As we have only 2-4 recommendations to make, I would prefer to make them beneficial to all projects. On the other hand, we shouldn't be too general either. How to solve this paradox?

Woodwalker23:24, 6 December 2009


I am going to apologize up front if this seems disjointed. I am exhausted and it’s been a rough day. The last thing I needed to read was something that seemed like double speak to me – “here, brainstorm, but do it quickly.” Brainstorming is a time consuming process, especially when people are volunteers and have lives. I feel I am having to repeatedly explain things that should be self evident. Unfortunately, much as I wish to continue on this project, if the PM's don't understand or support where I am trying to go, then it makes it difficult to feel there is a point to my continued contribution.

That said, I will try to explain this in more detail in case I made assumptions I should not have made.

My thoughts:

It takes guts to stand up and persuade people that what you are suggesting for them is right for them. It also takes grounding in the background tradition or brand. My suggestions are gutsy and they are grounded in both the principles of Wikipedia and its brand.

Saying that it’s a wasted time to brainstorm on ideas to fix the massive problems that Wikipedia is experiencing if we are not sure they are actionable is a total loss of faith. How many nonactionable ideas did the Wright Brothers work on before they finally flew their first plane? I don’t know, but I have seen a few of them in the Smithsonian. If they had not wasted time thinking about something everyone else said was non-actionable (flight) none of us would be flying today.

There is no reason to create any actionable recommendations until we can all agree on certain end results we are after such as: if all users respect each other we will have better quality content. This might be followed by admins having a three warning rule for enforcement of respect. That might be followed by a policy of how we give admins that responsibility or how we teach the community to accept this flows from that. However, agreeing that all users have to respect each other no matter what is the first step. We are barely at that step at this point. Asking for us to be three steps down the process chain at this juncture isn’t appropriate.

In my own defense, in your post you didn’t give me the same direction you are now sharing. Also, this is the first I am hearing about what you expect, as far as how the recommendations should look or at what level they should be. Honestly, that should have been communicated up front.

Now, in defense of my suggestions:

  1. What I have suggested is rational and sane.
  2. It takes into account existing brand and existing polices/procedures/rules.
  3. It makes it immediately clear that something is changing, which helps people who are fed up with the problems at Wikipedia and which gets the media off Wikipedia’s back while they watch and wait for Wikipedia to lose more editors/contributors.
  4. It answers the need of most of the constructive editors/users/contributors to have a safe working space, and communicates that we take their needs seriously.

How about before I go back over these points and make them actionable, we get some feedback from the rest of the taskforce to see if they think:

  1. They make sense, given everything we have discussed
  2. They seem reasonable for Wikipedia
  3. There is some agreement about taking the time to make them actionable
  4. They seem to reflect the current and perceived brand of Wikipedia
  5. Streamlining existing policies and giving them “bite” makes sense
  6. That distilling existing policies creates a migration path

Rebellion? Wikipedia is ALREADY experiencing a wide spread rebellion. When people like me refuse to contribute because of the climate on Wikipedia, there already is a big problem. And people like me are just the tip of the iceberg. It is all the rest of the people who want to contribute who are much less experienced with the online workspace who avoid Wikipedia completely except to read it; or the college professors who marvel at how inaccurate Wikipedia is – which is far worse than people not contributing because it denigrates the brand in front of millions of students every year. In fact, the comments from professors may be even worse than all the users we may piss off.

The people who care about what Wikipedia is and what it was meant to be may be smarter than you think when it comes to understanding enforcement of existing policies. The people who will likely rebel the loudest are the people who are vandalizing and spreading non neutral POV. It’s not like this is a free speech area where rights are respected. They cannot yell about Wikipedia denying them free speech – that is not a right on Wikipedia due to its mandate as an encyclopedia. So are you saying that Wikipedia is worried that people will say “Oh, no, you cannot curb my right to do X?” Wikipedia already does, it’s just that nobody enforces it. Wikipedia is already a hostile environment. What are you taking away from them if you ask them to abide by some modicum of civilized behavior?

In order to process all of this, I wrote down everything I did as a PM to write a PM manual for a company I worked for. I made myself rethink the process of engaging everyone, defining scope, etc. The way you make policy happen is to talk to al the stakeholders and find commonalities. Then you agree on the end point you are going towards. Then you back up a bit and figure out how to get to that end point. Then you figure out how to get people to buy into the process it takes to get to that end point, if they have not already been involved in the process.

It seems to me that we keep getting pushed to jump a logical step in the process. It took Wikipedia how long to get into this mess? Can’t we have a little more time to figure out how to get Wikipedia out of it?

Let’s wait for everyone to weigh in first. Then we can hopefully agree on some of the ideas and figure out how to make them actionable. Personally I do not think admins enforcing rules in a volunteer community with a shared purpose when the rules make it easier to do your “job” will create a rebellion. I think, as I said above, that Wikipedians are already rebelling. . The Wikipedia brand doesn’t say “we wont have any rules.” The brand says “we will be the best, most comprehensive online encyclopedia.”

Bhneihouse23:44, 6 December 2009

Brenda, if I had more time to offer you, I would gladly do so. Unfortunately, I don't.

The strategy project is funded to a particular dollar level, and the Board needs recommendations by a particular time in order to meet the financial planning requirements for the next year, so that they can allocate our sparse resources. It is, quite simply, a hard deadline. Unless someone comes up with the $$$ to extend the strategy project, we have an obligation to have recommendations ready to go in mid-January. That's not a "soft" deadline, it's a very firm one.

I'd love to give more time for this to be worked on, but the time simply isn't there, because the project's funding evaporates, and the Board does this time of financial budgeting one time per year, in order to publish and meet the budget. There's simply no additional time to give. The deadline is mid January.


~Philippe (WMF)02:41, 7 December 2009

I'm actually really sympathetic to your vision. But as someone who has tried to fix policy and fix the culture, I think you have to recognize just how hostile that Wikipedia has been towards authority, and it's a more than a significant minority. There are already numerous people who feel that we shouldn't have administrators, let alone arbcom... or at least that we shouldn't entrust them with very much power. Arbcom is absolutely terrified of tackling any content or policy issue, aside from enforcing the behavioral norms that already exist. And they're elected by the Wikipedians! Can you imagine their reaction if a few random Wikipedians on an unelected task force got to change the rules to whatever they thought would work? There's no way that the trustees would back it. For better or for worse, it's a non-starter. (And I honestly believe it's for the worse.)

So knowing that the trustees are not going to make Wikipedia a markedly more authoritarian place... what can we get the trustees to do? Maybe empower some administrators? Create some processes that will let the community settle issues more effectively, so that true believers will have a harder time obstructing the process? Change the organizational structure a little?

We have to take a surgical approach. Can we achieve a big impact with something small and strategic?

Randomran02:51, 7 December 2009

Once again, Randomran says what I mean better than I do. :-)

~Philippe (WMF)02:59, 7 December 2009

Hmm... I just had another thought.

Given that most of what you've suggested isn't so radically different from what the vast majority of administrators do every day (multiple warnings, etc), I wonder if it would be at all helpful to you (as someone not deeply involved in the administrative culture) to follow me around as I do an administrator shift? I'd be glad to take an hour or two and do a shared screen with you (we can do that on skype) so that you can see what the current culture for administrators (or at least the ones who are - like me - I think the silent majority) is.

I'm not 100% sure that you're operating off a totally informed viewpoint about what administrators do, because I'm not sure you've walked the mile in their shoes. I still have administrator rights on the English Wikipedia. We could set up a telephone call or a shared skype-cast so that you can see what it's like... would that be helpful to you? I think you'd find that some of your ideas are exactly what the vast majority of administrators do on a daily basis.

I'm just trying to come up with a shared understanding of the role...


~Philippe (WMF)03:08, 7 December 2009

Philippe --

as a volunteer, Wikipedia may just have worn through my last nerve.

I am going to anger some people and frustrate some people, so if feeling good right at this moment matters more than hearing what I have to say, you might want to skip this post.

Let me put together a timeline:

August, Bridgespan/Wikimedia meet for a strategy session. November, I am asked to be on this task force and facilitate. I receive no comprehensive list of URL’s to familiarize myself with, Two weeks later I am expected to help shape 2-4 recommendations. These recommendations are not end results, they are recommendations of how to affect results that in 8 years of existing, Wikipedia has yet to be able to produce.

There is an incredible disconnect not only in what is being asked of us, and how it is being asked of us, but of the timeline itself.

As far as I knew, the recommendations were due mid January, not today. (And this is the first I am hearing that this is a hard deadline.) Despite the due date still being a month away, we are being pushed to create hard and fast recommendations on how to affect results two weeks after joining this team, with no support to get up to speed, and using an interface that is clunky at best.

Here comes where I piss people off. However, if what I say is true, then it existed before I showed up here and will continue to exist after I am gone.

This project is poorly managed. It may even have been poorly concepted if Wikimedia thinks a volunteer task force that has lives of their own will in less than two months go through a think tank type of process and come up with the type of recommendations it says it wants. If Wikipedia hasn’t been able to do this in 8 years, how are we supposed to do this in two months?

In addition, and please correct me if I am wrong, Wikimedia has not reached out to a diverse demographic as project managers. We need people who know how to nurture and support the team, including providing everything we need to do our “job” especially if there are tight deadlines. We need both men and women who are experienced project managers who work in a change environment. Two of my past clients, both ex IBM-ers, do this. They did it at IBM and then they did it for large organizations like HP. I am well aware of the type of skills that change management takes. It is not apparent in the exchanges that our PM’s have this kind of background. Yet that is the demand of the task forces: change management masquerading as content quality or health of community or…

I have been around long enough to know that if something smells like a fish it is probably a fish. At first I thought it was me, then I thought it was my newbie status. Then I started realizing that Wikimedia is asking volunteers to roll a rock up a hill in a hurry. Why? Not because it’s the right thing to do and will best serve the project, but no, because they need to know how to budget money.

How about this? This is my recommendation:

Wikimedia needs to work with a brand consulting agency, preferably someone like Al or Laura Ries who really knows his/her stuff. That is probably where the budget should go. Then after Wikimedia has engaged in the correct process to assess, qualify and state its brand (which may take a little time given there are millions of stakeholders all around the globe and Wikimedia seems to want a totally inclusive process) Wikimedia can strategize how to reenergize its base, get all the users on the same page and iron out all the horrible messes that it has allowed to happen with its Holly GoLightly attitude that everything will work out fine if everyone just has access and a say. This is the part where the change consultants come in. Once Wikimedia strategizes about base, users, contentious users and the like, then it can put policies in place like a responsible brand so that the brand is consistent (and the content quality is consistent and the user experience is consistent) across the many projects.

Right now, Wikipedia is adrift. It is a great idea waiting for a group of people ballsy enough to say “hey, well that really didn’t work, but the idea’s great so how do we save the idea?” Willingness to admit that you have made a mistake is frequently the first step towards enlightenment on any project. Until adequate time is given to process driven and framework (brand) conscious solutions, it is just another bandaid and you are wasting the time of your volunteers.

I am a full time student, a single mother of a disabled child and have a number of disabilities myself. I am trying to get through finals. In addition, I am involved in my community, I am mentoring a teenager, I am teaching someone how to start a business, and I am doing a lot of other change work. I have time to give when it is appropriately utilized, but I do not have time to waste on poorly concepted projects.

You cannot save Wikipedia in sixty days. And you cannot expect results in two weeks with a team that doesn’t know each other. Time to grow up and face the music: not only are you going the wrong direction, you have not structured the journey properly.

Feel free to ban or block me. At this point, while I am still interested in how this turns out, as I said above, Wikipedia, as represented by the PMs, the time table, the unrealistic expectations, has worn through my last nerve.

Bhneihouse04:23, 7 December 2009


surgical and elegant take time and familiarity to form. I have neither. And in reality, it really isn't what is needed.

In addition, if Wikipedia really wants to be the best online encyclopedia it may just have to suck it up and admit that it needs rules and regulations and policies and procedures to ensure a livable workspace.

It's funny, you go anywhere else offline and psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that people need boundaries. You study Political Theory, Kant, Rawls, Dworkin, etc. and you will find out that in civil society there has to be balance so all can work together. But somehow, Wikipedia thinks a huge project can function without the rules of civil society and self regulate with no offset for greed, etc. Anyone hear of the Tragedy of the Commons or the Prisoner's Dileman. I am certain there are Wikis on both, as well as Rawls. In fact, Rawls' 1984 book, I believe his last, talks about what society can do when the opinions of its citizens are so divided, how overlap can be assessed and it can be utlized to create just institutions that create just law. I actually talked to Dr. Kaufman about its application to communities like Wikipedia. However, trying to explain it to you guys, after watching this task force take two weeks to approach the concept of brand, and when I am being pushed to focus only on recommendations, is probably pointless. If you want to look it up, chekc out teh Wiki on Rawls which should list his last book. However without reading "A Theory of Justice" you might be lost.

The irony is that my entire life is about social justice and upholding rights. I just don't believe that veritable "home rule" at Wikipedia is consistent with its brand or its mission. And I do not believe in any of us not being able to participate because Wikipedia refuses to enforce its own rules.


Bhneihouse04:35, 7 December 2009

I can really empathize. Things are a little crazy in my life right now, and it's hard for me to imagine that this strategic planning process can be effective in a short timeline. The process can be frustrating at times, without much guidance. But we have to do the best that we can.

I agree that the lack of boundaries has actually hindered Wikipedia, because it has become tolerant of too many problems. But how many new boundaries do we need? That's the key question.

If you want to program a flock of mechanical birds to fly in a realistic way, it's tempting to get really complicated. Birds must follow a leader. To avoid everyone crashing, you create a hierarchy. Bird one takes the lead, bird two and three follow close behind, until you create a flying V. They must follow the trajectory. They're not allowed to stray too far. To create realism, randomize the velocities and distances within a tight range. Randomly swap their places on occasion.

But one thing computer scientists figured out was that you could actually achieve flocking behavior with a few simple rules: steer towards the average heading of your neighbors, and avoid crowding. Somehow, these two rules manage to create a very realistic flock of birds.

I think the lesson is that yes, task forces will need to produce new rules. But can we find just a few rules that have a huge impact?

I'll tell you my theory:

I think we can empower the community to solve its own problems. In theory, the community should have been able to come up with solutions that improve quality and weed out disruptions. After all, the community can change policies whenever it wants! But something has gone wrong with our community's processes. Maybe the processes didn't scale very well to the explosion in volunteers, or maybe people have found new ways to abuse those processes. But either way, the processes broke down, and the community could no longer adapt to new problems. I think the most effective thing we can do is fix the processes so that the community can adapt once again.

We don't need to direct the community's evolution. We simply need to remove the obstacles that are preventing the community from evolving on its own.

That's what I mean by a surgical approach.

Randomran06:16, 7 December 2009

Then you are saying that the brand of Wikipedia is:

"the largest most comprehensive online encyclopedia built by a self governing, self correcting community"

Up to now, wikipedia has said: "the largest most comprehensive online encyclopedia" and mention of the community has been omitted.

Do you see how knowing your brand drives your actions?

And, I don't really care about the "best we can." I care about doing it right. And if doing it right is distilling all of this down to the two rules that will get the flock to "fly right" then I believe that the task forces should have the time to figure those two rules out. I also believe that if, across task forces, we are all coming up with that the solution to quality content is that everyone needs to "fly right" that it is foolish to continue to focus on "quality content" as a subset and force the "answers" down that path. Instead, the different groups should shift their focus to figuring out the two rules to get the community to "fly right."

I really dont care what I work on. I care that:

  1. things improve
  2. I am treated respectfully
  3. things are set up correctly
  4. the right focus is supported
  5. the process is given the time it needs to proceed (see: treated respectfully)

As far as I am concerned I am chalking up this task force to more of Wikipedia doing things badly. Instead of rethinking the process, as I had posted earlier, Wikipedia is using the same process that doesnt work with the same community and expecting a different result. I think that is the definition of stupidity. (doing the same thing the same way but expecting diffrerent results.) THAT breaks good faith, as far as I am concerned. I didnt expect more of the same.

So in summation, you, or Wikipedia, is expecting out of the box solutions using the same methodology and the same ocre demographics. Can no one else see what is wrong with this?

Bhneihouse15:05, 7 December 2009

I sympathize that it's frustrating. In my career, I'm actually very used to putting in recommendations that won't be acted upon. "Too costly." "Too big." "Just not where we were planning on going." You're often lucky if you get a reason. It's happened so many times that I can no longer be frustrated and cynical. I'm now strategic and cynical. :)

Change and politics are unfortunately intertwined. How do you get a giant to move? Very slowly, and only if you can trick them into believing that's where they were already planning on going.

Randomran15:49, 7 December 2009

for 2 1/2 yeas I have been moving a university of 33,000 students and a recalcitrant administration. Yes, it can be slow. In fall 2010 I will be undertaking a five month six credit hour research study that will examine just this question, but in light of the university obeying and following existing law. I am studying this from sociological, psychological, political and anthropological view points. I understand how massive the undertaking is.

Now, if I would take five months to do actual research (original and secondary) prior to making recommendations of how to and why to move a giant of about 50,000 people, then why wouldn't Wikipedia give more than two months to move its giant of millions of people?

I plan to graduate from this university and then go to law school here. In addition, I intend to practice law in this state and it is a state run university. So, there is an incredible amount of impact that this project has in my life. I have to weigh what impact the politics of Wikipedia have in my life.

Thanks for the support.

Bhneihouse17:37, 7 December 2009

I fully agree. We would want to spend this much time just in the research phase, and spend 100% more time just working out the recommendations. But under the circumstances, we can only do our best.

Good luck juggling your school and family life. It's gonna be tough, but I think you'll find your experience very rewarding. Especially working in social justice.

Randomran18:34, 7 December 2009

I would function very well on the encyclopedia you envision, and in a selfish way I kind of hope you are persuasive.

But there are two problems.

The first is that a lot of these issues are gray. The obvious POV pushers and original researchers don't survive on Wikipedia. The most disruptive ones can survive on Wikilawyering and the support of a good cabal. Someone relies heavily on a company's press releases to write an article that promotes their product. Someone tries to delete it as original research, and as an advert. They respond that "the information is verified, and it's written in a neutral tone instead of an advert." All hell breaks loose over an issue like that. Have they crossed the line?

The second is that policies in Wikipedia are descriptive, not prescriptive. *Anyone* can rewrite policy. It's not like they're etched in stone by the Gods, or even the founders. Policies change. Is it fair to exclude someone because they disagree with a policy the way that it is now? What if they fight that policy tooth and nail, and swear up and down that we should "ignore all rules" because they truly believe they are enhancing the encyclopedia? Are they being disruptive? At what point do we ban them? ... how do we know that policy won't eventually change where it supports their position? Should they be invited back? Should we have banned them in the first place? Should we now crack down on the people who support the old policy? What if those people start pushing the old policy wherever they can, turning multiple articles into a battleground?

In spite of all those practical challenges... I still feel like there is a difference between someone who is opinionated and someone who is disruptive. But I have a hard time figuring out where to draw that line. And so it's hard to start banning people on that basis.

Randomran07:03, 6 December 2009

@Randomran: in my experience, the difference is always in behaviour. The user that edits without paying attention to others creates problems, the user that discusses and listens first doesn't create problems. Weather they are opinionated or not isn't particularly important: the disruptive guys aren't always the opinionated guys. I believe that when discussions follow the form of intelligent inquiry, consensus will eventually always shift towards higher quality (more neutral, more balanced). It's the contributors that prevent intelligent inquiry (by being rude, by editing against the consensus, etc) that form the real barrier.

I am opinionated in many subjects, so are all of us. Yet I keep that in mind when I edit, or simply don't edit the subjects I think I'm not neutral in.

Woodwalker09:12, 6 December 2009


Test case: use my behavior on here as a new user. (yes I am handing out darts)

I am opinionated.

I have done original research on brand.

I am vocal and I am also tenacious.

I have offended at least one person on this task force.

Am I disruptive?

Note: the brand graphic I posted is based on years of reading/research and on other people's work as well but it is not cited because for the most part it is common knowledge in my field.

What is different about me or my approach than users all of you would call disruptive?

Bhneihouse16:31, 6 December 2009

Honestly, I'm not sure.

How offensive is it? Obviously "shut up!" or "you're an ass" is not civil behavior. But is it offensive that the new user saw something they thought was untrue and said "stop pushing lies on Wikipedia. I'm removing your lies." Is it offensive if the new user said adamantly "listen, I'm an expert on this, and you need to step aside"?

And how original is the original research? If it's blatant, then that's a strike against you. But what if there are lots of people on the Wiki who think it's fair game? An admin comes down on you... and like many "true believers" do, they pour into the discussion and overwhelm the admin. They point out that the new user used a press release, or an advertisement, or a polished but self-published website. You point out that this is still original research, and they no it's not, and "ignore all rules" anyway.

... you're going to have a hard time dealing with anything but the most obvious vandalism. What makes "true believers" so disruptive is that they think it's enough that they wrote some grammatical sentences that are on topic, and there are plenty of people who will say that's fair game.

Randomran19:48, 6 December 2009

@Randomran: Agreed. Completely. And you said it much better than I could have.

~Philippe (WMF)14:31, 6 December 2009

I am only going to address policies, I addressed users below.

If policies derive from the brand, they never stray too far before people go "HEY! That's not consistent with the brand! (I.e. thats not how I should be treated, that's not how it should be done, etc.)

Different than that, is that brands change over time. From time to time, a new brand statement may be in order. Having a brand doesnt mean it doesnt evolve. In fact, most brands DO evolve over time or they cease to be competitive -- in our world that wouldnt mean market share of dollars/Euros, etc. In our world that would mean a loss of contributors/users/editors/readers.

The policies of a brand can also change over time to respond to an evolving brand.

One of the nice things about Wikipedia is that it is not static. However, in order to have consistency and equity (a key thing for me) there has to be some consistency. Eventually, standing on quicksand wears out even the most intrepid traveler.

Bhneihouse16:38, 6 December 2009

I finally grasp in its full width what Bhneihouse means by "brand". It's similar to my own emphasise on "factors of quality" and having neutrality and balance included in that list. In fact, what I did was similar to defining a brand then.

Is banning true believers akin to censorship? No, it is not. Why would we only block/ban users for vandalism, while that is the most easy way of destroying quality to recognize? Edits that kill neutrality and/or balance are by far worse, because they are so difficult to recognize. We should be prepared to be at least as punitive in such cases. That said, I'm always in favour of second chances, and third, as long as the user shows to have gained insight in why his behaviour was wrong.

PS: the arbcom I served did explicitly never judge in matters of content. They would never block or ban a user for vandalism or other edits that destroyed quality. I just found out the English arbcom has a much wider mandate.

Woodwalker07:59, 6 December 2009


You made me a very happy woman.

I agree that non neutral/non balanced edits are worse than vandalism because they are insidious and sometimes hard to recognize. Perhaps it is the difference between outright racism and subtle racism. In a way the second is worse -- perhaps because it actually takes more effort to do it or perhaps because it is more difficult to recognise, I do not know. But what I do know is that anything that is inconsistent with Wikipedia's brand and resultant purpose/mission/goals does not belong on Wikipedia.

If quality content is part of Wikipedia's brand then behaviors that affect the quality of the content are not permissable.

Thank you for taking the time to read what I post and working with the information. Your effort makes it worth the time it takes to post it.

Bhneihouse16:47, 6 December 2009

Woodwalker; Please see this link. I think this partly explains why there is so much discord on Wikipedia. People read too much or too little into what is being said, or they just don't grasp intended subtleties because the reader applies there own emphasis on words and interpretation based on their own state of mind. The writer's vocal and physical cues are cut out of the conversation. Misinterpretation quickly escalates into arguments and negative behavior. I find it is critical that I divorce myself from all emotion whenever I write or read something on Wikipedia. Even if the other person is blatantly aggressive, rude, or mean, I just stay calm and focused on the point I am trying to make, and I ignore any comments that don't pertain to the discussion at hand. I do agree that people with poor critical thinking and communication skills make any discussion much more difficult and challenging, and sometimes it seems futile to keep trying. I also try to keep in mind that even though I consider my skills to be relatively good, there is always going to be someone who has much better skills, and that person might find me frustratingly dense. MissionInn.Jim 19:53, 4 December 2009 (UTC)

MissionInn.Jim19:53, 4 December 2009

Thanks! This place isn't meant to discuss my personal experience of course, but nevertheless thanks for your remarks. Perhaps it can serve as an example why contributors get disappointed in Wikipedias. It's not that I don't see the reason to contribute anymore, I still see them and will of course return. It's not that I crave attention (en:Wikipedia:DIVA) or want to see people supporting me in the particular topic at hand. It's the simple fact it's no longer a nice hobby. When that personal border is crossed it's just time to take a break.

Everything you mention is true. I'm usually the patient type in discussions, trying just to say what counts and ignore it when others don't read/get it. Yet, if we really want to be able to raise quality to a higher level than the ruder part of our contributors is able to understand, we have to somehow get over the barrier of discussions being decided by ignorance and self-over-estimation.

Woodwalker21:09, 4 December 2009

I don't see you as someone looking for Diva-hood. I see you as someone who wants to fix it and make it better for everyone.

Bhneihouse23:08, 4 December 2009