The problem is a systematic one, and thus very serious. While I have
some clue about the problem, I don't pretend to give the full answer
about causes, present problems, consequences and possible solutions.
It should be analyzed by the whole (at least "meta") community not
just because I am not able to gather all data, but because the whole
community, or, at least, the significant part of it has to participate
in the finding solution and implementing it.
The worst method which may be applied in the situations when some
serious problem exists is to lie ourselves and to say that everything
is fine, that we just need to interpret data differently.
== Present problems ==
- Communication at this list, as well as other common communication
channels (except blogs!), tends to decline. I am sending this message
after two days without any email. While it may be explained with
weekend days or so, it is definitely not so usual. One day without
emails is usual just for holidays.
- All groups -- global and local -- tend to close itself. If it is not
in the sense of delaying incorporation of new members, it is in the
sense of making a group of persons which are self-sufficient and which
don't need communication with external part of the community.
- At the project level, especially Wikipedia level, we are not anymore
in the edit war phase. Actually, edit war phase looks now as super
healthy phase for the present phase. Present phase is full of much
more intelligent destructive persons at the projects, and even
supported by the whole and relevant communities. At the other side,
people who are willing to deal with such problems don't get enough
support from the upper levels.
- When one community gets into the ill situation, even we do the right
things at the right moments -- years (yes, years, one or two, at
least) have to pass to put that community in the better position. As a
steward I have some clue what is going on inside of some communities
and, if my examples -- and there are, I think enough of examples --
are representative, I have to say that we have very significant
problems in the most of the communities. Healthy community is an
exception; bad relations inside of the community is the rule.
- Except the German (and probably Swiss and Polish) chapter, our
chapters are not more than the groups of Wikipedians which have a
formal organization in their countries and which don't know what to do
with it. This is especially important because Wikipedia is not anymore
"a miracle", but "an ordinary thing" of everyday life. Like an
ordinary journalist doesn't have some special need to make news about
Google or IBM, an ordinary journalist doesn't have a special need to
make news about Wikipedia. During the first year of Wikimedia Serbia,
I didn't have to call any journalist, they called me. Today, any media
appearance has to be organized. Every chapter needs a PR strategy now.
And it is just about PR. What about other things? How many chapters
are able to fund some project? I think two: German and Swiss. And, as
far as I am introduced, we have more than 20.
- The situation with the software is a chaotic one. There are a lot of
basic and near-to-basic functionalities which we don't have, while we
have tons of extensions which are really not necessary (in comparison
with the first two groups). The worst thing here is that we don't have
systematic thinking about what do we need and how to help to various
projects. At the other side, WMF has enough money to fund fundamental
- Communication between projects are at the positive zero. Yes, there
are some communication, but it is more than very poor. At the other
side, I don't see systematic work toward making the communication
better. Without communication, we have separate projects hosted at WMF
servers, nothing more.
- Besides all of those reasons, I may clearly see decadency inside of
the Wikimedian community. The same decadency which was characteristic
of all big societies at the end of the golden era. Bureaucracy is an
excuse for not doing things and keeping present positions; openness
toward new things is around zero; glorifying of "ol' good days" is
more and more common; there are more and more bizarre things; and so
I am sure that I may gather other present problems, as well as I am
sure that others may add more problems here. The list above is
consisted just of things which came into my mind during writing this
== Causes ==
As I said at the beginning of this email, causes of those problems are
not particular. I don't think that any particular group is responsible
for the present systematic problem inside of the Wikimedia community.
At the other side, all of us are responsible for that problem. And
this is the worst thing: when all and no one are responsible, such
problems tend not to be solved.
At the other side, I may list some of the issues which caused this problem:
- WMF tends to work on their issues, related usually just to gathering
money. Presently, we have global financial crisis and I realize why it
is a priority, but I also think that Wikimedia is one of the last
institutions of the modern world which would loose will for support. A
great part of the planet understands the significance of Wikimedia
projects and they are willing to help.
- At the other side, WMF is not willing to interfere into the
community issues. As the community (or the communities) was not driven
well in the previous years, today WMF Board is the only body able to
make significant changes at the level of the global community.
- While transparent work is something desirable, the most of Wikimedia
community bodies are not working transparently. It seems that one
thing is to add as Erik's or Sue's duties to report to the community
about their work; while the completely other thing is to demand it
from volunteers (while I think that no one demanded it from
committees, stewards and other groups).
- Efforts to increase communication inside of the community are
partialized. When I was trying some time ago to realize which
Wikimedia body has the goal related to communication between projects,
I realized that we have ComCom, ComProj, as well as a number of not
official communication channels, like Wikizine, Wikipedia Weekly, Not
the Wikipedia Weekly and so on are.
- In relation to WMF position, we don't have any meta body which is
able to make some community-wide decision. Solving problems at some
community is a matter of personal initiative of some persons. Solving
problems in which two or more communities are involved is science
fiction for us.
As for the previous section, I am sure that others may add here more issues.
== Consequences ==
- 2008 is the year of Wikipedia stagnation . I am sure that we may
get some more precise data from other statistics, but Alexa's
statistics are informative enough. We are not even at the beginning of
stagnation (we were in that position at the end of the last year), we
are now in very obvious stagnation.
This may be explained by different reasons, including the fact that we
reached our reasonable top and that we are not able to go further
anymore. If this is the only visible part of our stagnation, it could
be interpreted like that. But, it is not. We have other projects which
didn't reach their top and they are also in stagnation: Wikinews is at
the same level for years; Wikibooks is in stagnation; Wikiversity
shows that it has some improvement for the last two months or so --
after years of stagnation.
At the other side, stagnation for us means growing, too: we have more
articles every day. But, if we want to keep us inside of this kind of
"growing", we have to work extremely clever. We have to automatize a
lot of things which we are doing by hand, at least. However, I don't
see such moves.
- The worst and the most possible consequence of a stagnation is a
decline. I am not anymore so hard "at the field" and I am not able to
see how the things are going on. However, when I went to the article
about France (related to one of the previous topics at this list), I
realized that during 2006 the article had around 1000 edits per ~4
months. Unlike then, the last 1000 edits were made for one year
(between November 2007 and October 2008).
But, the article about France is just the top of the iceberg. It is
one of ~1000 articles about which the community will take care "up to
the last moment". I am wondering do we have not maintained articles
now -- which were maintained fairly well during 2006 or so.
Again, it could be the consequence of the fact that we have now much
more articles than we had in 2006. But, the real number about we
should take care in this situation is the number of articles per (very
active) editor. If the number is growing (in the case of bigger
projects) -- we are in the problem: we wouldn't have enough of
volunteers to keep the projects.
- World is changing very fast. Position of Wikipedia as the only
source of particular informations is not anymore untouchable. There
are projects, wiki projects -- even MediaWiki based -- which have
better informations about particular topics than Wikipedia. I see that
as a positive tendency. Simply, it is not possible -- as well as it is
not necessary -- to gather all kinds of people at one project. Of
course, while the knowledge is license-compatible.
But, when people introduced in medicine, linguistics, Star Wars,
OpenOffice and so on; when they make relevant sources of informations
in their fields; when they cover the most of relevant fields --
Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects wouldn't be so relevant.
And this relevancy is not in the sense of seeking for the best
possible information about some issue -- Wikipedia, as any other
encyclopedia, is just a starting point -- it is about seeking for the
general information. Why should Google, or any search engine, prefer
Wikipedia about the encyclopedic informations about OpenOffice at the
time when OpenOffice wiki would have better encyclopedic informations
The second problem with that is decline of number of readers and,
consequently, of editors. Again, about 10 millions of articles someone
should take care. Do we have some relevant approximation about how
many editors are enough for keeping projects consistent? What is the
line for which we have to fight?
And, the third problem here is a possibility of creation of the real
Wikipedia competitor. No one of the previous general purpose wiki
encyclopedias are not real Wikipedia (and Wikimedia) competitors.
Wikinfo has different POV-related policy, Citizendium has different
organization, Knol is much more Citizendium competitor than Wikipedia
competitor; there are, of course, a number of projects which cover
specific topics, too.
While we may debate about is concurrency a good thing or not (in this
case I think it is not because of wasting efforts two times for the
same thing in open and generally transparent environment), it is not a
question here. The real question is, again, related to decline of
number of maintainers of more than 10 millions of articles.
- The last question related to the consequences is: Have we finished
the job? Looking from the point of view of one historian from the
future, I am sure that he would say that we did a great job and that
we have our place in the history. But, do we think that we finished
it? Are there some issues which we haven't done and we are able to do?
While I have a long list of what do I think that we haven't done, this
is not the question just for me, but to all of us.
If the answer is that we have finished the most important part of the
job, we may conclude that should keep Wikimedia projects and that we
should start to work on other sides to achieve other goals. If the
answer is not, then we should try to move things forward, out of the
stagnation and possible decline.
== Possible solutions ==
I was thinking to list possible solutions, general and particular,
here. However, I don't think that particular solutions have the place
- This is the systematic problem. It is not up to some particular
bodies to work on their own hand and to hope for the best. The only
Wikimedian body which is able make a real influence is the Board.
However, much wider consensus is needed; much more people than ~10
board members should be included into marking problems, thinking about
them and solving them.
- I was very loud about WikiCouncil a couple of months ago. Without
community and Board support it was doomed to failure. Also, while I
have to say that I met some great persons during that process, I have
to say that we didn't choose each other as a group members, but we had
been put together. Such group has to have a couple of persons with
strong initiative to survive.
The point here is: no WikiCouncil (or whichever body which is working
on the community regulation) -- no community. Yes, a number of
communities with different interests exist and will exist, but any
kind of cooperation on a lot of not solved global issues is and will
be just a nice dream. And, without solving not solved issues, we have
come in this position.
- After that, I was thinking that making a new role, global sysop
role, would be able to help in the process of communication between
communities. As I mentioned a couple of times, it was the main idea
behind my action (besides it is a very useful thing). People should be
interested in volunteering. Saying to someone that they should just
volunteer is not so motivating action. However, it didn't pass because
of some number of things. Even it had a lot of support, even some
redefined proposal would have much more support, I concluded that 80%
of support is science fiction for any kind of such proposals.
- One more possible solution is to gather people interested in this
issue somewhere and to see their production after a couple of months
or so. However, again, it seems to me that there are not so much
persons interested in solving this problem. It is maybe a too hard
problem for thinking about; maybe the most of Wikimedians don't see
this as a problem -- I don't know. (I just know that the problem will
be more and more visible.)
There is one more problem with this approach: I don't think that we
have couple of months. If nothing would happen during the next couple
of months, the situation will be changed. While changed situation is
not the end of the world, we would have to redefine our goals. To be
honest, I think that we came into the situation when just the group of
professionals (at least in the sense of time which they need to spend)
And, of course, maybe someone has some other ideas...
 - http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/wikipedia.org
In the thread started about the decline of mailing lists, it is written that
many people are blogging instead. I am one of those who does exactly this.
On one level I got frustrated about people stating that to much was written
and, that because of my frequent contributions I "should" reduce what I had
to say. For those who are interested in what people write on blogs, there
are ways of following this in a reader.
Some news.. news that is not only interesting to blog about ..
- I have learned that Steve Slevinsky has started work on an extension
that will enable SignWriting in a MediaWiki environment.. He has started a
Wiki where he is show casing his progress.
- I learned that Sourceforge gives the maintainers of a project the
choice to have a MediaWiki environment. I think this is yet another great
example of MediaWiki being used outside of the WMF.
- On the Wikimedia Conferentie Nederland i will give a presentation about
a Commons that supports search and categories in multiple languages. We have
a proof of concept project at http://commons.i-iter.org/ We are looking
for funding to make it ready for use at Commons. We do invite comments and
particularly developers. We have run our of budget to work on this for the
moment. The presentation will be available after the conference.