[Foundation-l] retire the administrator privilege

Amir E. Aharoni amir.aharoni at mail.huji.ac.il
Sat Jan 15 15:26:22 UTC 2011

In his 10th anniversary address Jimmy Wales says: "Today is a great
moment to reflect on where we've been."

What my reflection brings up is that the single thing that probably
raised more controversy among the widest range of Wikimedians is not
the content of articles about sex, celebrities or geopolitical and
linguistic conflicts, but the procedures of appointing administrators.
It should have never been a big deal, but it is, in all projects in
all languages.

The "administrator" privilege lumps together several very different permissions:
* rollback
* blocking and unblocking
* deleting and restoring pages and versions of pages
* viewing deleted versions of pages
* protect and unprotect pages and edit protected pages
* some PendingChanges/FlaggedRevisions-related permissions, which i
haven't quite figured out yet :)

Now i, in general, think that these permissions should be given
liberally to as many reasonable Wikimedians as possible. I always
believed in it, and since most of these actions became visible in the
watchlist a few years ago, this belief became even stronger.

But some re-thinking is needed. The administrator privilege, as it is
now, should be retired and broken up to several separate privileges:
* block/unblock
* protect, unprotect, edit protected, config PendingChanges on the page
* edit highly technical pages - the MediaWiki: namespace, common.css, etc.
* revert, delete/undelete, view deleted

The permission to revert, delete and undelete unprotected pages can be
given to those users who can create and move pages ("autoconfirmed").
There is no big functional difference between deleting a page and
deleting a paragraph in an existing page or doing a major re-write.
The difference between reverting and undoing is a matter of civility
and a lot of uncivil things can be done without permissions anyway.
Limiting these actions only to certain users is quite pointless.

Viewing deleted pages shouldn't be a big deal either. Deletion is not
so much eliminating non-notable topics and nonsense from existence, as
about separating them from encyclopedic articles. It shouldn't be a
big deal to let bored people read them somewhere. Eliminating
egregiously offensive and illegal content, major copyright violations
and BLP issues can be accomplished today with the oversight

Controlling Pending Changes, although i haven't figured out all of its
intricacies, is essentially an improved version of page protection. It
makes sense to give this permission to (many) selected people. It will
probably evolve over time, and i believe that it will evolve more
organically if conceptually separated from blocking and deletion.

Another comment about protection is that protecting system messages
(the MediaWiki: namespace) and sensitive CSS and JS pages (commons.css
etc.) is very different from protecting vandalism-prone articles
(Obama etc.). The protection of these technical pages and sensitive
articles should be a different concept.

The permission to block should be a separate one. Separating the
discussions about giving users the permission to protect pages and to
block vandals will not stop the holy wars, but it will focus them.
There will be no more comments such as:

* "User:PhDhistorian may be a good editor who understands
Verifiability and who can be trusted to edit sensitive BLP articles,
but he has personal grudges with User:FatMadonna and he may block her,
so he shouldn't be given the Administrator privilege."
* "User:VandalFighterGrrrl is excellent at patrolling RC, but she's
too inclusionist and shouldn't be given the right to decide about
content protection."

All of the above is formulated in the English Wikipedia terms. I
believe that the English Wikipedia policies for deletion, protection
and blocking make a lot of sense and should be adopted by all
Wikipedias, but this obviously can't be forced on any Wikipedia. Other
projects may have very different understanding of these processes and
it's OK. I'm only talking about the technical separation of the

Now, fight.

Amir Elisha Aharoni · אָמִיר אֱלִישָׁע אַהֲרוֹנִי
"We're living in pieces,
 I want to live in peace." - T. Moore

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