It looks like we understand the potential risks of adding social
features, but I don't know that the merits have sunk in.
==Don't call it a Social Network, don't think of it as a revolution==
Th first thing to do is banish the word "Social Network" from the
discussion. "Social Network" evokes "Myspace and Facebook", which
aren't exactly popular around here, a sentiment I share. When we
talk about adding social features to Wikimedia, you must delete all
your preconceptions about what a 'social network' is, and break it
down into the most fundamental concept-- socializing on a network.
Nobody here wants us to just become 'another' Facebook, shudder at the
We want to learn from social networks and keep the usable bits-- we
don't want to literally become one.
If that sound scary, remember changes around here are either optional
or gradual or both-- never dramatic, unforeseen, controversial, and
We wouldn't just make a facebook host on Wikimedia
Instead, we'd start by little tiny things-- Extension:Wikilove on
prototype's a great example. We saw a feature of social networks that
WAS consistent with our values-- the per-user "thumbs up". We
wouldn't just feed that global social space straight into en.wp, we'd
put it on incubator and probably start off with very boring projects
like "Copy your home-project user page here and we'll help you
translate it". Rules might eventually loosen, but a good starting
point would be 'the kind of content projects routinely allow in user
space or meta space"-- but in one single unified space, the logical
extension to the single unified login.
The point is, 'social features' on existing projects would be slow,
gradual, with lots of talking, lots of debate, and maybe a couple
referendums thrown in for good measure. We're not going to devolve
overnight from our current status literally, "The most useful single
collection of information on the planet" to merely a useless "innane
personal trivial" overnight.
We're easing into a slightly more social outlook, we aren't having a
revolution or anything :) . We're mining other successful internet
projects for the lessons we can learn from their-- we aren't out to
blindly copy them and abandon our own mission. Terms like "A
Facebook for Wikipedia" communicate an important idea in very few
characters-- but it also brings a lot of misconceptions too.
And we really do need these need these semi-social features. We have
important work ahead of us, and we absolutely do need to increase our
intercommunication/socialization abilities if we're going to do our
best at that job. And it will NOT make us Facebook or Myspace.
== Socializing is essential to intelligently running a Global Foundation==
The community is a part of the leadership of the foundation. The
community contributed in a billion ways throughout the year, but
elections especially require the global community to come together
intelligently make very important decisions.
To help run a foundation, we need to be able to talk to each other.
talk to each other, and we need to understand each others values,
not just their votes, not even just their direct rationales-- we have
to understand each others values. I have to intelligent collaborate
with people without knowing _anything_ about their culture, their
values, or their traditions. I know what my projects' missions are,
but I don't automatically presume to know what their projects'
purposes are just because the sign on the door says "Wikipedia".
If you ask me to make a global decision, one of the first things I
want to know is what editors of other projects and other languages
believe. There are changes I feel comfortable supporting for my own
home project, but I wouldn't want to 'impose' as a global policy
unless I can hear from the people being affected. Right now, there's
no permanent venue for that kind of discussion.
We can't really form policy with a community that can't communicate
with itself. Having a semi-social space where everyone's in the
same place, can use the same templates, can see the same user pages,
etc-- that alone would be good.
==Socializing promotes high-quality, NPOV articles==
If I am editing the English language biography of a historical
Arabic-language subject, I want to be able to communicate with the
Arabic-language users and enlist their help understanding whatever it
is I need help with. When I see articles on wars fought by
English-speaking nations against non-English-speaking nations, I
always wonder what the "other side's" article's look like, but machine
translation only goes so far. Right now, it's hard for bilingual
editors of corresponding articles to ever get to share notes unless
the idea occurs to them on their own-- socializing would help promote
the idea that cross-language collaboration is a good thing.
"Spanish-American War", you should talk to the editors of the
corresponding article on es! Here's a list of a some users who were
recently online who speak en and es-- and here's a button to send
them the top few a message asking for their advice.
==Socializing promotes innovation==
Small projects are more nimble-- EnWP is now the most popular
encyclopedia on the planet, it has the most users and the most global
users. In contrast, DE is the second largest, but just that little
extra bit of freedom has given them a lot of innovative advantageous.
How many times have we heard a statement of the form "There's this
awesome feature/extension/tool/policy being tried by DeWP, may EnWP
should take a look at it." Just that little extra bit of freedom--
the weight of the world isn't only De's shoulders in the same way, and
that freedom lets them 'out innovate' EnWP in some cases.
This is a well-known effect that has long been predicted-- the more
people dependent on project as it is, the harder it is to change that
Our innovations often come from the small projects, where small groups
of people can have the freedom to try new things without degrading the
experience for existing users. Socializing helps promote
'cross-project pollination' of good ideas. Sometimes those ideas
will be technical innovations, sometimes those will be cultural
innovations, sometimes just vague intuitions. Best of all, sometimes
the discussions will be two people putting half an idea together and
collaborative discovering a new idea that neither could have
discovered without cross-project socializing.
== Socializing helps us learn about other communities' needs==
New members in new regions of the world will bring their own needs
very different from mine. If I'm going to intelligently make
decisions affecting the global community, I need to MEET the global
community-- or the best approximation possible at this point in human
On some occasions, the global community has to come together as a
global community to make a single decision-- a policy that will
affect all languages alike. In these cases, it's not enough to know
_my_ project's values-- the most intelligent decisions will be reached
by voters who consider everyone's values, not just their own.
Right now I know a few things about the values of Arabic language
speakers, and I can research the values of Arabic language nations. I
could look up religions across the Arabic-language and cross-reference
that with the available data on the values of that religion. I could
do a lot of things like that, but none of them are actually relevant.
But there are no statistics to be found on the unique values of that
very special subpopulation of Arabic language editors who are also
Wikimedia editors-- and we can't just assume they're 'typical of their
country or their religion'-- my experience is that Wikimedia editors
are a tribe unto themselves that radically transcends differences of
language or culture.
==Socializing promotes translation==
You're editing an article that involves a nation / language /
community you're unfamiliar with. Other communities have large
groups of people who know about the subject and could help you with
your article. If only it were easier for you to communicate with
bilingual speakers who have that knowledge.
IF I want to ask a question of "Arabic language users of Commons and
its projects", I don't speak Arabic, it's fairly tricky to communicate
with them-- figure out how to get there, look up the lang code, change
the url or notice the sidebar,
As it is, if I want to send a message from one-language to one
language, I have do a lot of work. I have to look up the language
code if I don't know it, I have to figure out how to get there
(remember how many people _still_ can't handle manually typing in a
url), I have to find the appropriate venue, which isn't standardized
across projects, I have to leave a message, and then i have to hope
someone show up to notice the message who also speaks my language.
That is a big barrier, and an unneeded one.
If I want to communicate from one project to all projects, it seems to
be impossible, as a community member, to do that. We need to build a
space where that action is absolutely one-click trivial, not arduous.
We could use copy bots, but creating a global semi-social space is
A pre-existing global semi-social space would have been so useful in
the elections-- There were a lot of people who appeared to be
'qualified' candidates, but since they spoke a wide variety of
languages, I couldn't communicate with people on their home projects
to get endorsements from their fellow editors. A social space would
lower the barriers-- if "I" active in a global social space, it would
have been very different-- "I" might not know someone who knows the
candidate, but chances are I'll have worked with someone who speaks
the same language as the candidate, and thus I can have a channel to
==Socializing is good for morale and participation==
People like friends. People like being part of communities. This
aspect can never ever 'eclipse' the main focus on the movement and its
mission, but a little socialization, now and then, is a good thing.
For some editors, it's easier to start off with a nice neutral
conversation about the weather, rather than jumping straight into an
==Socializing is educational #1-- Socializing as a Wikitext Tutorial==
Wikitext has gotten pretty intense over the years as our templating
skills have grown, I bet it must be kinda impenetrable to a novice.
Learning new technology and new rules and reviewing the existing
debate, making mistakes, feeling confused, and sometimes not getting
a nice response to your early contributions-- this is an identified
problem. Socializing, or some other 'low stress, low conflict'
space would be a useful tutorial to have a meaningful sandbox
experience in a place devoid of a need for rigid editorial control of
the sort our encyclopedia articles have to have.
==Socializing is educational #2-- Socializing itself IS educational, I
well wikipedia is about to create value for long term -
networks are about to create worthless things for the moment.
Somewhere along the line, western society came up with the funny idea
that socializing is 'wasted time', idle and pointless recreational
chatter. Some claim this is a vestige of a patriarchal past where
socializing was seen as female idle banter and thus 'uneducational'.
I tend to think the problem goes back to Descartes, who was very big
on the idea that "intelligence" was inherently 'rational not
emotional, explicit not intuitive'.
Regardless of its origin, our 'canonical educational experience'
involves sharing objectively verifiable facts. Wikisource and
Commons, on the other hand, education through less-explicit methods--
art, music, media, fiction, and poetry. People for nearly a
century have been finding some great but intangible meaning in the
Robert Frost's verse "I took the road less traveled by, and that has
made all the difference".
What are people learning from this? I don't know, and I can't put it
into words-- but clearly, poetry and art DO educate in ways that are
very difficult for outsiders to quantify or comprehend.
Socializing is, in fact, educational. Humans are wired to do it,
we're doing it for a reason, we're mean to socialize, and people who
are socializing are actively educating themselves about human
psychology and human dynamics. Indeed, the #1 concerned raised about
homeschoolers is that the students will miss out on the socializing
aspect of the educational experience. Psychologist and
neuroscientists have studied minds and brains extensively-- and
socializing is DEFINITELY learning, it's definitely educational, and
people definitely need a certain amount of it. I can't tell you
exactly what all they're learning when they socialize-- but we know
the behavior is important and it's educational and it continues
Socializing is 100% "in scope"-- global multilingual socialization is
150% in scope. Fostering global communication is essential to our
mission to share knowledge-- socializing is part of our "great
mission". It may not be a top priority right now, but never let it
be said that socializing is just wasted brain cycles-- it's not. It's
important-- not just because it will make us more efficient but also
because it is, in fact, a goal unto itself, though admittedly a
relatively low-priority goal.
I too don't want our socializing outreach to 'unbalance' our system in
any way-- but the benefits keep stacking up, and Fred keeps making
very thought-provoking points. I sense a sort of critical mass
forming where it makes sense to start experimenting in this direction.
==The final point: What do you at Wikimania before and after the lectures?==
Do you go to Wikimania or one of the other many such meetups? Do you
travel a long distance to get there, do you spend lots of resources,
time and money, to attend?
If you still have doubts about the value of increased socializing for
our community, notice what people do whenever there is a break, or
whenever people arrive early or hang out together afterwards. They
And in the end, it's that the whole point of Wikimania? So that our
very best minds can get together for formal face to face
conversations, but also for informal socialization and community
In all the meetups and conferences we hold, how often do productive
conversations happen around a restaurant table or a cafe or a hotel
suite or wherever? How many social interaction of the form "What are
your interests, here are mine" have led to productive collaboration?
We know socializing is both education and productive to our projects.
We hold elaborate events because those social benefits are so great.
All we have to do is to help the global community have the same kinds
of social experiences that Wikimaniacs enjoy, or our best
approximation to them.
The only trick is-- socializing has to be a secondary priority-- if
people are coming here literally just to socialize and truly not to
edit or discuss the issues, then that would a problem. But to be
honest, Facebook's so good for pure socialization, I don't think we
could get the 'non-wikimedian' audience to use our socialization
feature unless we really really really consciously work a 'facebook
killer'-- and THAT truly isn't us.
Alec "The Manifesto King" Conroy