[Foundation-l] Discussion duration and the SOPA shutdown

George Herbert george.herbert at gmail.com
Wed Jan 18 23:00:52 UTC 2012

On Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 5:18 PM, John Vandenberg <jayvdb at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi George,
> The push came about after the IRC office hours.
> https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/IRC_office_hours/Office_hours_2012-01-12

After ongoing review of the IRC thread, on-wiki threads, mailing lists etc...

I think the key failure seems to have happened during the IRC office
hours, and has no single party at fault.

Sue repeatedly stated that her and the Foundation intention was to
encourage but not drive the community to a decision.  The analogy to
the Quaker meetings "So, is this what we're agreed to?" was made,
mechanics of community consensus discussed, etc.

I think that this was entirely appropriate for Sue to take as a
stance, for the Foundation to take as a stance, etc.  What seems to
have failed is the feedback mechanisms.

Let me restate here my opinion that 3-4 days over a weekend is not
nearly enough time to frame a question adequately to the total
en.wikipedia community, hold a community RFC / discussion / whatever,
review and judge the emergent consensus, and proceed.  There were a
number of people within the en.wp community in the IRC chat who have
been around the track a number of times, have (I believe) previously
publicly agreed with me on this opinion, and failed to feed that back.

There was also a disturbing undercurrent of whether people were or
were not being criticized for opposing taking action; The "Oh, no,
it's fine to oppose" was stated repeatedly, but more than one nasty
exchange ensued which I can only attribute to that.

It seems like the outcome of that discussion was that there was rough
working majority that doing something was a good idea, and that
everyone still standing at the end of it agreed that it was reasonable
and practical to do something in the remaining 4 days.  The former
appears reasonable and accurate and was born out by the eventual
short-time RFC on-wiki.  The latter...  seems to have been an
accidental groupthink rather than a reasoned conclusion.

It's repeatedly stated for example on-wiki on noticeboards and in
Arbcom cases and the like that "IRC is not Wikipedia".  In this case,
the key inertia for on-wiki action was swung out of this with a
presumption on reasonableness of timing that doesn't stand up.

The questions of whether it was morally or organizationally "right" to
oppose SOPA were fought over a bit (on IRC and on-wiki) but generally
consensus is that it's ok, and that a clear overwhelming majority of
the community opposes SOPA.

The question of whether enough time existed at the time of the
conversation to act was asked - and missed, deflected, mis-answered by
people who were outside the community, mis-answered by people within
the community.  It was not well posed, either on IRC or in the
following on-wiki discussions, and was got wrong.

My message coming out of this - to the Foundation (staff and Board) -
is that you cannot and should not trust anyone (and by this I mean
ANYONE) who tries to tell you or argue that reasonable, stable,
long-term non-divisive en.wikipedia consensus can be got in anything
less than about two weeks, and longer is better.  Barring emergencies,
it would be best for the Foundation to structurally avoid attempting
any action without something on the order of that much lead time or
longer when community consultation or involvement is required.

You run a rather bad risk of source bias, if the right key people
happen to be proponents of one particular position, that they will
then unintentionally slant the discussion in such a way that makes
rushing things seem more reasonable than it really is.  This is not
good decisionmaking process.

-george william herbert
george.herbert at gmail.com

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