[Foundation-l] Analysis of lists statistics: community in decline

Brianna Laugher brianna.laugher at gmail.com
Sun Nov 2 14:13:04 UTC 2008


Milos, thanks so much for this analysis and your opinions about it.

2008/10/31 Brion Vibber <brion at wikimedia.org>:
> Indeed, volume alone isn't inherently a positive thing. A reduction in
> volume may signal a loss of interest in participation, or a change in
> signal-to-noise ratio, or a shift in participation to other forums, or a
> combination of all of these things.

It's true, but Milos' initial thesis was that the reduction in mailing
list traffic reflected the reduction in new community members.

Does anyone feel that the community in general is more vibrant and
spirited than it was two years ago? Does anyone feel that there are
more new people coming through the ranks? And this activity dropoff is
actually an anomaly rather than a reflection of reality?

I don't.

Is wiki editing not the cool internet habit that it used to be? Is
Wikipedia too popular, too fossilised now? Why aren't we enrapturing
the college students that we were just a few years ago?

Is it a genuine concern or are we looking too locally? Does everything
still look cool on the 20 year scale?

> The common wisdom is that mailing lists in general have been falling out
> of favor on the net for a while. Outside the wiki itself I see lots of
> Wikimedia-related activity on blogs, chat, and microblogging services
> like identi.ca, communication channels which some may find easier to
> mentally filter than a high-traffic mailing list.

Yeah, blogs in particular weren't so significant two years ago
(although I probably have an inflated sense of their importance now as
I keep one, and as with Gerard I have often been guilty of writing to
it instead of a mailing list).

Shifting is not so bad in itself, but the responses have not shifted
with the initial conversations. It is my observation that WMF Board
and staff respond much less to blogs than they ever do to mailing

Here is a funny thing. Wiki editing is a time expensive habit. I have
not done serious intensive editing for quite a number of months now.
There is a direct correlation between my starting a fulltime job and
my decrease in editing. :)

But I am still on many (many) mailing lists and I still join many
more. Because Gmail is far better at allowing me to ignore things I'm
not interested in, than my wiki watchlist, and it comes to me rather
than me to it. In theory I could add my watchlist RSS feed to my feed
reader, but it is far far far too fine grained. I don't know how it
could strike the right balance. You know those services that send you
like a daily/weekly summary email of activity on their service? e.g.
Groups you're a member of had these new discussions/additions, x
people left you a message/invitation, x people added y new friends,
etc. Some kind of summary service like that for Wikimedia wikis would
be freaking awesome. It would be nice to have some more points between
uber-committed and not-involved. The only point in between I know is
to read blogs and mailing lists, so that is what I do.

Gosh, it would suck if Wikimedia slowly died in the arse because of a
lack of decent communication tools. That would be tragic, but that
does seem to be what we are missing. The right tool is like a bullet.
I don't even have an easy way to, say, contact all the Wikimedians in
my home city. Sure I can edit a city wikiproject page, and a meetup
page, but relying on the right people to be watching them is a bloody
long shot. And that's just people I would probably be familiar with.
Or I could somehow construct a list of users and then contact a bot
operator to leave them all a message?... ugh. What if I wanted to
reach a X-language speaking admin in two different projects? Probably
impossible. Too much effort in the face of very likely defeat to even
be worth trying.
Is it too much to say we need our own Facebook? If only Ning was open source.

Speaking for myself again. I suspect another reason for my own shift
from project editing to blogging & chapter work, aside from the
inherent value in those things, is that they give me some value that
mostly anonymous wiki editing does not. (I don't mean anonymous as in
editing-as-IP. I mean anonymous as in whoever looks at that page can't
easily tell who wrote it.)
I think we as a community as not very good at audibly appreciating one
another. I think we are bad at saying thankyou. It's not surprising;
wikis are about the success of the group rather than the individual
after all.
At a certain level of editing the inherent joy of it was reward
enough. But after tackling protracted disputes, unpopular or tedious
deletion requests, invisible patrolling etc etc out of a feeling of
admin's or oldtimer's duty, I found it hard to convince myself that I
was making any kind of difference. Burnout. Barnstars are good if used
sparingly but there is no consistent recognition. (I felt special on
receiving on once until I checked the giver's contribs and noticed he
bestowed the same one on a couple of dozen people in half an hour.)
So why the shift to blogging. The appreciation is not any better, but
it is a reputation-building tool in a way that a contributions page
with thousands of entries (without context or summary) is not. Or
maybe all that wiki editing created a reflexive desire to be The
Author. :)
As for chapter work, it stands for something in the Real World and is
not washed away next month. And people say thankyou more often when
you are face to face or even just when you have met them before and
they are thus more than a username. Also, chapter people made like
80-90% of the awesome people that I met at Wikimanias. They are very
inspiring for me.

The increase in tech also doesn't surprise me (aside from MediaWiki's
own development momentum). Building useful tools that can stand for a
long time is definitely better for the ego than, as I say, anonymous
changes washed away next month. And much less pesky (wiki-)politics,
hm? (Although then there are bug reports and feature requests...)


They've just been waiting in a mountain for the right moment:

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