Dear all,
I don't know if this already has a name, but I'm going to invent one: The Great Circle of Excuse. It works like this: we have all realized that something needs to be improved, let's say the design of our website. Then, WMF gets a group of workers to think about it, and they come up with some changes that neither respond to the needs nor are really a change beyond certain aesthetic resources. It is always mentioned (excuse 1) that these changes have been measured externally (and, coincidentally, reinforce the design made) and (excuse 2) that there are people who do not want any change, so it is better not to be radical and make a patch that, in reality, we all know that it does not solve anything.

Then a previous design is presented to the community and a lot of comments are collected. As the design is only partial (look, this is what the Moon article is going to look like, and does not respond to all the other sections we have (home page, search pages, categories, menus...), you receive feedback that can be categorized into two main groups: the small group A tells you not to change anything. The big group B tells you that it doesn't even scratch the surface of the necessary changes ( You have a few outsiders who tell you: "well, this is better than nothing". At that point you decide that you have to weigh group A with group B, so your design is right in the middle of the will of the community, and you go ahead without making the slightest change. Excuse 3 is set up: I heard the community and I'm weighing everyone's wishes. In reality, you only listen to your design and those outsiders who have told you it's better than nothing. The majority will continue to see that this is going nowhere and a minority will continue to be angry that you have made changes when they don't think you should have.

After excuse 3, it's time to implement. You decide that this has to be done in a very long process, where you measure the impact of every little change, without taking into account that every little change break something that was already working. So, you have trivial changes that break things, covered by excuse 4: we are measuring the impact. Even if the impact contradicts your assumption, the change will still be there ( Because, hey, who cares (excuse 4.1).

At this point, some members of the community decide to open issues in Phabricator. We reach the peak of excuse making. If something was working and now it can't be: we broke it on purpose by design (excuse 5.1, nobody was using that functionality (excuse 5.2, that problem you mention is invalid, so your proposal is not even considered (excuse 5.3: or that thing you ask for is out of our scope of work (excuse 5.4 or There is a more complex version, let's call it excuse 5.1-4) where you ask for something in Phabricator, you are told to mention it on the MediaWiki discussion page, you get no answer there, you go back to Phabricator, and then one of the above four excuses is triggered.

At this point in the circle, there is some volunteer who wants to fix this and raises the tone of the request. Then we find the mother of all excuses, the wild card: you are being rude and do not assume good faith. Excuse 6.

At this point a new figure appears: the direct meeting with the team that is developing this. The team wants to listen to you. Actually, it's the opposite: they want you to listen to the new excuses that exist in the circle. You go through excuses 3, 4 and 5 with them. As excuse 6 can no longer be used, because you are there volunteering your time to try to improve something, excuse 7 appears: we can't take on these changes because our team is small and we can't make the logical changes you are suggesting for another 2 or 3 years. Maybe. If there are funds.

So the user who has gone through excuses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5x, 6 and 7 decides to write an email to the mailing list where the community will see that the problem is 7: there is not a big enough team to undertake something that we have decided in our strategic discussion. In fact, we are going in the opposite direction of the strategic goals. But we have money. A lot of it. A lot of money. We are sitting on mountains of money. We could simply hire people so that we can improve our system so much that it works perfectly for another decade and then, with minimal investment in staff, get a lot more money from people who like our service a lot more than they did before.

But no, instead we get excuse 8: there are actually enough staff, but those poor staff can't do what they should do, poor staff, because the community doesn't want change (excuse 2) and the environment is toxic (excuse 6). Or, as a variant: a bigger team may not be better (despite the team says that they can't do it because their team is small). So, once the circle is closed, you go back to opening issues in Phabricator to try to improve these problems. Because it only takes one manager, someone who knows how to manage a team, to realize that there is a problem here. And what do you find in Phabricator if you reopen issues? Surprise, you get back to box 5, in its variants a, b, c or d.

The circle is closed. No one is responsible for anything. No one can solve it. In the meantime, we have 100 million dollars, a flawed website, a make-up process that leads nowhere, whole communities with basic things broken for months and no prospect of improvement for the people who, in good faith, try to help along the way. We lose readers. We lose volunteers. We lose time. We lose money. We lose everyone.



From: Heather Walls <>
Sent: Friday, October 15, 2021 12:01 AM
To: Wikimedia Mailing List <>
Subject: [Wikimedia-l] Re: 100$ million dollars and still obsolete
I was going to write something similar to Jonathan, but now I can just support what he said.

If there are folks in the communities who desire changes to the sites, building a group of supporters and/or becoming invested in what it is really like to make those changes *socially* not technically, is likely to be more effective than pointing at WMF and saying they are not interested, not capable, or not resourced enough. 

Thanks, Jmo!

On Thu, Oct 14, 2021 at 2:35 PM Jonathan Morgan <> wrote:
It's not an issue of "WMF can't hire enough designers" or "WMF can't hire good designers".

I worked for WMF in a design-adjacent role for the better part of a decade. WMF has excellent designers, and in sufficient numbers to build a modern user interface on desktop--one that looks modern and also prioritizes the needs of Wikipedia's readers (editors can always load up an old skin if they don't like the new one).

The mobile site and Wikipedia apps have a much more modern look-and-feel and are clearly focused on making Wikipedia "work" for its largest set of users: readers. If the desktop site lags on the design side, that may be because when WMF has tried to make UI changes to the desktop site in the past, or even just proposed them, they've received loud and angry push back from members of a second (smaller, but equally important) set of users: editors.

WMF, understandably, tries to avoid angering editors (believe it or not).

At the software company I work for now, if we make a change that annoys our users--pretty much all of whom are "power users" with needs every bit as complex and idiosyncratic as your average Admin--we hear about it. But no one threatens to disable that change across the platform. And it's relatively rare for a user to accuse us of being stupid or lazy or malicious--at least, its rare on for that to happen on public mailing lists or in our own forums.

That doesn't mean the stakes are any lower: if we make the software worse, we probably lose customers. But we have the autonomy to make the changes in the first place, see what happens, and then build from there or fix our mistakes or even roll things back if we need to.

WMF product teams work in an environment where their competence and good faith are frequently, and publicly, called into question. An environment where one set of end users (editors) has a great deal of both soft and hard power to block changes, even when those changes are intended for--and indeed, primarily affect--a different set of end users (readers).

Speaking as someone who worked inside of that environment, I can say that it can feel like even targeted, clearly motivated and well-justified changes aimed at improving the reader experience aren't worth the cost.

There are plenty of other factors at play, but I'm sure I've already said enough to anger plenty of you, so I'll leave it there.

I no longer work for WMF and my opinions are my own.

Jonathan Morgan
formerly, User:Jmorgan_(WMF)

On Thu, Oct 14, 2021 at 11:34 AM Galder Gonzalez Larraņaga <> wrote:
Dear all,
Today I learned that, despite having $100 million in the Endowment fund, we can't have a design team big enough to make our websites not look like they're stuck in 2001. I don't know if anyone is behind the wheel, but the car is expensive.


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