[Foundation-l] One side of the #wikipedia story explained

Samuel Klein meta.sj at gmail.com
Thu Jun 21 02:29:02 UTC 2007

Zocky, this is brilliant.  Thank you.

I haven't been active on #wikipedia for some time, but can still remember 
when I was, and the days when #wikimedia was founded; this is spot on.

Is there really a reason to keep the meta page discussion these guidelines 
protected, or not to restore op privs to everyone who had them before? 
Both seem outside the pale for an open community such as ours.


On Wed, 20 Jun 2007, Michael Bimmler wrote:

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Zoran Obradovic <zoran.obradovic at siol.net>
> Date: Jun 20, 2007 8:33 PM
> Subject: One side of the #wikipedia story explained
> To: foundation-l-owner at lists.wikimedia.org
> I've posted this to
> http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Talk:IRC_guidelines/wikipedia#The_long_answer
> , but since this I think that it's important that the foundation people
> see it, and it's already discussed here, I'm crossposting it here.
> == The long answer ==
> For the last few days, many people have been shouting at each other
> about #wikipedia. It turns out we've all been mostly shouting past each
> other. Our ideas and opinions on the matter are different, more than
> that, we see two different realities. So, I set out to write a
> meaningful explanation of at least one side of the story, or one of the
> two realities, all in the interest of reducing the need to read and
> misunderstand future misguided comments by people who misunderstood your
> last comment.
> Unfortunately, it turns out there was a lot to say, so the explanation
> is rather long. I hope you can bare with me till the end. (There may or
> may not be a test later.)
> ===The channel===
> The initial creation of #wikipedia back in the mists of time is beyond
> the memory of all but the best of us. However, it's safe to say that it
> is the mother of all Wikimedia channels, and as such has served us in
> many ways over the years. These have included:
> * Discussion of "the PHP script" and its descendents. This was moved to
> #mediawiki in early 2004.
> * Discussion of the server farm status. Moved to #mediawiki and then to
> #wikimedia-tech in 2005.
> * Inter-project coordination and foundation business. Moved to
> #wikimedia in 2004.
> * Editor coordination on en. Moved to #wikipedia-en in 2005.
> * Admin coordination on en. Moved to invite-only #wikipedia-en-admins in
> 2006, causing conflicts on en for a time.
> * Editor and admin coordination on Wikipaedie in other languages. Moved
> out gradually to other channels over the years.
> * Editor and admin coordination on other Wikimedia projects. Ditto.
> * Detailed discussion of gender issues and personal lives of the LGBT
> community. Moved to other channels around 2004/2005.
> * Coordination of anti-vandal activities, violations of WP:BEANS, newby
> biting and general incitiment to siege mentality. Moved gradually to
> other channels over the years.
> * Process-wonk bashing, RFA pile-ons, slander against editors,
> coordination of on-wiki attacks and causing all sorts of trouble on en.
> Shouted down and moved to other channels during 2005.
> * Trollbashing, warfare against critics and "enemies", coordination of
> counter-trolling on "enemy sites". Shouted down and moved to other
> channels during 2006.
> * Juggling channel modes, micromanagement of the ban list, kickbanning
> people for a laugh, flaunting op powers. Actively discouraged, but
> recurrent in occasional waves, related to new crops of ops.
> * Sulking, assuming worst about human nature, righteousness and general
> misanthropy. Somewhat reduced in 2006, but still persistent.
> * Trolling and crapflood attacks. Killed with fire at least since 2005.
> * Running jokes about autofellatio and furries. Died out on their own as
> jokes grew old over the years.
> * Discussion of theoretical and practical approaches to the English
> Wikipedia, other Wikipeadiae and encyclopedias in general.
> * Discussion and analysis of articles in en and other Wikipediae, as
> well as other Wikimedia projects.
> * Learning and teaching of encyclopedic and people skills by new users,
> new admins and old hands.
> * Helping new users, new admins, as well as old hands, find their way
> down the ever changing corridors of Wikipediae and other projects.
> * Handling requests for admin action on en and other projects.
> * Being the lobby to wikipedia for people who are technically savvy
> enough to use IRC. Not that IRC beginners aren't given help when they
> show up.
> In addition to all the on-topic talk, #wikipedia communicates in several
> off-topic registers:
> * Discussion of encyclopedic subjects, which tends to take a relaxed,
> but largely academic tone.
> * Socializing and friendly banter.
> * Monologues at quiet hours, which sometimes go ignored, sometimes spark
> of a new round of discussion, and sometimes just make somebody smile.
> * Humour, which is often grotesque, dark, over-the-top. I'll come back
> to this later.
> It is my informed belief that off-topic discussions play a crucual part
> in attracting the right kind of people to the channel and ensuring
> antendance, which enables the channel to perform its on-topic functions.
> They're often the most flamboyant, most memorable, and certainly
> longest, but to get some perspective, according to the
> [http://stats.fennecfoxen.org/freenode/wikipedia.html channel
> statistics], the most common real word in the channel is "article", not
> "penis".
> ===The people===
> People in #wikipedia come from many countries, all age groups, all kinds
> of backgrounds, and have widely differing world views and opinions on
> everything. What brings them together is the fact that they're editors
> of one or more Wikipediae or other Wikimedia project, and that they
> enjoy the immediate medium that IRC provides. As a fortunate
> consequence, they tend to have a common interest in a wide range of
> encyclopedic subjects, which facilitates enjoyable discussions and
> bonding. The channel has exposed many Wikipedians to a widely differing
> POVs on a great number of issues, which has maed them better
> encyclopedia editors and admins. These fun sides of the channel,
> combined with the common purpose of improving Wikipediae, and with the
> collaboration on chores that the channel is responsible for, are what
> makes the channel interesting enough to keep people coming for months,
> in many cases for years.
> These are the "regulars". They're the ones who carried out the chores.
> They're the ones kept the channel running 24 hours a day and made sure
> that questions don't go unanswered. They're the ones who killed
> crapflooders with fire while making sure that the channel could still be
> used by normal people. They're the ones who shouted down the schemers
> and the backslappers. They're the ones who told the young admins to
> think twice before ganging up on the editor that irks them, in many
> cases because they learned it the hard way in the channel. And
> crucially, they're the ones who have seen every trolling trick in the
> book, every type of confused newbie, and every way that a
> misunderstanding can be turned into a conflict.
> But all is not that rosy, of course. The splintering of channels has
> hurt the mother-of-them-all badly. The gains that we made by getting rid
> of the people that caused on-wiki onflicts were to a large extent offset
> by the brain drain to other channels. Over time, the powers that be
> first came more rarely and than completely stopped coming to the
> channel. Some regulars followed them either because they needed to work
> with them, or they liked to associate with them. Others naturally
> drifted to more specific channels which suited them better, or were
> driven away by the atmosphere. Regulars who had no such ambitions or
> interests remained and continued to run and improve the channel and the
> atmosphere.
> This brought us to the current situation, or rather the situation before
> the "reform". The people who know and care about #wikipedia are no
> longer the same people who hang out with the powers that be. Thus we
> became completely divorced groups - the regulars became the
> left-behinds, and the former regulars became their own grandparents who
> visited Spain in 1969 and think it's still a fascist dictatorship in 2007.
> ===The reform===
> :''Disclaimer: The following sections includes many references to
> "reformers" and "regulars". The names may not be precise nor 100% serious,
> and the membership of both groups is fuzzy and non-exclusive, but I
> trust everybody will know what is meant. In any case, we're discussing
> two concepts of how the channel should be run. Actual personalities are
> secondary.''
> It's useless to talk about the "reform" as a single issue. On the whole,
> the regulars obviously think it's a bad thing, and the perpertarors
> obviously think they're doing something good. So I'll try to separate it
> into issues and see if we can come to an agreement on at least some of them.
> ;The channel structure
> The newly proposed channel structure isn't ''illogical'' or ''wrong''.
> It makes sense, philosophically speaking. Yet, there are several
> important drawbacks which seem to have been overlooked:
> #Success of any channel scheme depends largely on incoming links, in our
> case those posted on Wikipediae and related sites. Even if we changed
> them all (btw, has anybody investigated how many there are, where they
> are, etc.?), it's still a fact of life that, unlike on other Wikipediae,
> readers of en are often oblivious to the existence of other language
> editions. Those who are IRC-adept will still simply type /join
> #wikipedia and ask questions about en. And of course, there are
> countless links to #wikipedia around the net which are beyond our
> control. It is questionable whether the final results will be worth the
> effort.
> # It is questionable whether a symmetrical channel scheme is really
> beneficial to a largely assimetrical project.
> # It is highly questionable whether further splintering of the channels
> is beneficial. See above.
> # #wikipedia has been used this way for years, and without strong
> indications that it is harmful, it's simply reckless to change it for
> the sake of symmetry. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
> In any case, this is something that could have been discussed reasonably
> and calmly in advance. Changing the channel scheme succesfully is quite
> a tedious operation and certainly isn't urgent.
> ;The guideline
> Especially after the recent edits, the guideline isn't a bad start for a
> reasonable discussion, content wise. In details and especially in tone,
> it's harmful. On one hand, it's full of weaseling like the contradictory
> (mystical?) description of the channel owners, and the hilarious talk
> about "catalysts". It's in urgent need of some straigh talking. On the
> other hand, it's primarily concerned with discipline, which shows that
> it's not based on traditional Wikimedian values, like openness,
> participation, consensus and above all, assumption of good faith.
> Instead, the reformers decided that the channel needs discipline in the
> form of kicks, bans, devoicing. This for the channel that kept its topic
> unprotected until it became wholly impracticable.
> Oh, and please, everybody, stay on topic. Some subjects, like television
> shows, movies, music or other popular culture, even clearly encyclopedic
> subjects like politics, government and religion are explicitly declared
> off-topic and nudged towards a dead-end channel. Things like
> non-wikimedia related open-source software and computer games aren't,
> and in the past few days, the reformers have indeed discussed such
> subjects freely and at length in the channel. Could it be that pet
> subjects are tedious only when they're other people's pet subjects?
> And of course, no humour please. At least not your kind of humour. Think
> of the children! But I'll come back to that later.
> ;The powerplay
> Now, the really tedious part: It all started one day, when the curious
> decision was made that all it takes to achieve consensus is have a
> proposal ignored for 5 days. Actually, as was made apparent later, it
> all started at an undefined time before that, with a conversation
> between uncertain participants who were concerned about the channels for
> unclear reasons. I can't tell you what and how happened (not for lack of
> trying to find out), and I wouldn't mind at least a short
> non-contradictory resume of that, if nobody can be bothered to provide
> actual details.
> In any case, the new owners enacted the new mission statement,
> authorization codes wer exchanged, all the employees were fired (and
> offered their jobs back provided that they pledge alleigance), and some
> of the patrons were booted. This understandibly met with protests and
> enquiries, which for some reason were repeatedly met by FUD.
> The questions were: Who was it that decided this? Who gave them the
> authrotity to decide this? Is it Freenode or Wikimedia? Is it up to a
> single person? Is that person the guy that says he was authorized, the
> one that says it wasn't him, or the one who's on vacation and doesn't
> say anything? Can the foundation do anything?  It all boils down to "who
> had the authority to do this and who has the authority to undo it"?
> We got a whole caleidoscope of tidbits and hints, but no straight
> answers. We were told to "go to the meta page". When the meta page was
> edited, it got protected, and reformers said "go to the meta talk page".
> When the meta talk page was filled with concerns and objections, they
> were brushed off or ignored, and the reformers said "go to
> foundation-l". (As an aside, this was not brought up on the
> Communication Committe's mailing list, though it clearly concerns
> internal communications.)
> As if the clearence of the op list weren't socially inadept enough, the
> reformers' choice of co-captains raised more eyebrows.  What was the
> criterion?
> Obviously not experience and attendance. Very few of the new ops are in
> the top 55 participants on the channel, according to the channel
> statistics, and most of the people who op themselves in #wikipedia last
> few days are certainly not long-time veterans. Some are former regulars,
> some seem to be freenode staffers, some are virtually unknown on the
> channel. That doesn't mean that they're bad people, or bad ops, or that
> they shouldn't be ops. But they are clearly not in the channel all the
> time. They obviously have other things to do and they're not familiar
> with the terrain.
> It also wasn't the willingness to follow the new guideline, at least not
> the non-fun parts of it. Channel modes were juggled alright, people were
> quieted, but the discussion continued much as before. Only it was
> different people and a narrower choice of pet subjects.
> So, it appears that the criterion was knowing the right people or being
> in the right position. It's downright funny that Raul was made an op in
> this scheme of things. He's known for occasionally crashing the channel
> with a flurry of gross jokes and other scary off-topic talk (bless him),
> and then disappearing. Could it be because he supports or cares for the
> new guidelines? Or is it just because he's Raul? (Don't get me wrong, I
> want Raul as an op in #wikipedia. He's not a bad op at all.)
> As well-intentioned and well-mannered as most of them are, they simply
> can't do the job effectively. We had a crapflood attack lasting half an
> hour. Channel remained accessible only to registered freenode users for
> who knows how long. A very friendly lobby indeed.
> Other new ops seemed more confrontational and curiously better informed
> than the regulars about what was going on. We were told "bluntly" that
> the idea is to get rid of the people in order to change the atomsphere,
> we were called "so-called regulars", and told that the ex-regulars who
> have since left the channel were the "real oldbies". In reality, the
> people who oppose the guideline have been in the channel for years, some
> for 3 or 4. In all that time they were also productive editors of
> Wikipedia the encyclopedia, some for 4 or 5 years.
> As could be expected, such a turn of events led to a kind of a turf war,
> and we all started shouting past each other, which is where we're now.
> ==Possible causes==
> So, finally, back to the dark, surreal, vile humour of #wikipedia. Which
> seems to be the only point where both sides of the story meet at the
> same point.
> On one hand there is the perception that wikipedia is nothing but penis
> talk. There are people who drop into #wikipedia occasionally and walk
> straight into a bout of gross-out bantering. There are those that
> haven't been in the channel for years and are like the aforementioned
> grandaparent tourists, with snapshots of the most memorable moments and
> hardly any more knowledge of the channel. A similar phenomenon can be
> observed with AFD and DRV, for instance.
> On the other hand, it's not like the regulars don't know this or don't
> act on it. Even without this attempt at reform, the realization has been
> growing in the channel that being the lobby of Wikipedia and Wikimedia
> requires a somewhat cleaner image, simply to avoid shocking the random
> passers-by. In fact, the humour and gross-out bantering has been greatly
> reduced over the years, and certainly regulars are prepared to take it
> further.
> The only other relevant issue that I have seen brought up is the
> supposed op abuse, but that was never backed with any but most vague
> references to anecdotal evidence, at least to my knowledge. While I
> don't always agree with op decisions in the channel (I myself never
> desired to be an op), the idea that op abuse is ripe in #wikipedia is
> simply wrong.
> So, it seems to me that this was all based on a partly faulty perception
> of one of the many components of #wikipedia, and on the desire for a
> direction on which we all agree anyway. It boggles the mind that the
> "reformers" thought that they need to adopt such a confrontational
> stance and go behind the backs of the "regulars". An explanation of that
> would also be helpful.
> ==What now?==
> Mid-term solutions will require considerations such as who gets to
> appoint Wikimedia's contact with FreeNode, does the foundation have any
> influence on the appointment of both its own and freenode's contact
> persons, should such contact persons between real-life organizations be
> adults, and even should Wikimedia look for another network to avoid such
> situations in the future.
> But that's mid-term. In the meantime, we can get the channel back to
> normal pretty easily. Just reinstate the old ops and unprotect the
> guideline page so that it can be edited into something more sensible in
> tone and detail. The "regulars" agree with the general direction of the
> guideline and will be happy to improve it. I don't expect any opposition
> to cleaning up the act further. As long as it does not mean banning all
> discussion of certain "unclean" subjects, like sex, death, or politics,
> of course.
> But that won't save the channel by itself. We're still dependent on
> incoming links, and we're still being hurt by the braindrain. We all
> found the conversations more interesting when they included nicks like
> jwales, anthere, eloquence, raul654, submarine, disprosia, etc etc etc.
> And since you last saw us, we aged for a few years, some reached middle
> age, others grew up. So, if you're an ex-regular and are concerned for
> the welfare of #wikipedia, your help will be greatly appreciated. You
> don't need to be a "catalyst" or any other buzzword. Just
> [irc://irc.freenode.net/wikipedia don't be a stranger].
> ~~~~
> _______________________________________________
> foundation-l mailing list
> foundation-l at lists.wikimedia.org
> http://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/listinfo/foundation-l

More information about the foundation-l mailing list