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

    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