[Foundation-l] Discussion duration and the SOPA shutdown

George Herbert george.herbert at gmail.com
Thu Jan 19 02:27:42 UTC 2012

On Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 6:02 PM, phoebe ayers <phoebe.wiki at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 4:24 PM, George Herbert
> <george.herbert at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 3:39 PM, FT2 <ft2.wiki at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> It's worth pointing out the discussion was open from 15 December to 16
>>> January before any close.
>> No, there was informal discussion going back into December.  "The
>> discussion" - the concrete, date-attached specific policy and
>> implementation proposals and so forth - was about 3 days worth.
>> People talking about it and bandying informal ideas around for a month
>> doesn't make it a formal consensus discussion.
> That is very true. But it is also true that we would not have gotten
> to the formal vote stage in the first place, and certainly not a quick
> vote, if there hadn't been quite substantial support shown for the
> idea of a protest all the way along in discussion. I don't think that
> anyone can say consensus was trending one way and then a quick weekend
> vote overturned it and went a totally different way; I think that
> weekend vote confirmed what was already becoming quite clear, and the
> multiple questions helped iron out the details.

I think it's more ambiguous than that - less concrete on what the
weekend usefully did - but I do agree that the sense of the community
was known ahead of time and represented accurately in the outcome,

> The community no doubt could have kept discussing for another week or
> month. But to push out a decision we did have to, well, decide. As it
> was there was only barely enough time to get things working
> technically (and there are still substantial bugs). I can only
> congratulate our amazing staff and volunteer community for working
> under immense pressure, over a long weekend and all night, to make it
> happen.
> So why, you may reasonably ask, was a short deadline set? Well,
> politics. Initially we thought that there was going to be a serious
> hearing on SOPA on the 18th, so several sites called for a boycott
> that day. Then that hearing was postponed at the last moment, but it
> was unclear to when or for how long. And PIPA is *still* up for a vote
> next week. Time is *short*, by any measure, and it's not always clear
> when the best moment to do things on the hill. In 20/20 hindsight I'd
> argue today was actually a fantastic day to do it -- the congress is
> just back, it's kind of a slow news day otherwise, and we appear to
> have hit both bills in a time when people are still making up their
> minds and gauging support. And the effect of coordinating with other
> sites shouldn't be underestimated -- I've heard this referred to as
> "black Wednesday", one of the largest acts of online activism ever. We
> made a difference, all speaking as internet citizens, and it does take
> time -- and a set date -- to coordinate with other sites. We helped
> lead that effort. It was worth it.
> I agree with you -- more time is better, and a few days is not enough
> to come to full community-wide consensus. While there will always be
> people missing from the table, for one reason or another, we should
> work hard to minimize that effect whenever possible. But I *do* think
> a few days is enough time to make sure that you have a *reasonable*
> consensus, especially when you've got 1800 people participating and a
> very clear trend; and I think with all these other factors considered
> we did a pretty good job of balancing the timing issues. Someone
> needed to move for an RfC if we were going to make any decision happen
> in a reasonable time frame; the WMF likely wouldn't have gotten
> involved at all if we didn't need that buffer time to, well, turn the
> site off (and no one wanted to spend a whole lot of extra tech staff
> and communications staff time on the protest if it wasn't wanted).
> I realize that I speak from a privileged position here, of having been
> heavily involved and paying close attention to SOPA discussions for
> weeks, and that may be one of the problems -- it is easy to forget,
> when you have had something very much on your mind, that not everyone
> has paid such attention to it. In future certainly even fast actions
> should be better communicated through all our channels, and we should
> spend more time on the !votes if we have it.

(general agrees)

> But I am also pleased that when it comes right down to it -- this
> community can still be bold.

We've all been around for a while.  In my opinion, the success rate of
community boldness is less than the success rate of community
well-consideredness.  In several cases tragically so.  There's a
certain disagreement on specific issues of the wisdom or lack thereof
of some hard-to-find-consensus issues remaining open ones, but we've
seen great wrongs done via snap decisions.

>> There are a whole raft of nuanced issues that were bulldozed in all of
>> this, ranging from the wisdom of WMF / Wikipedia taking political
>> stands organizationally, to lack of sufficient consideration for the
>> invisible third leg of the stool (the readers / userbase), to rapidity
>> of decisionmaking, to aspects of the community majority bullying those
>> who for some reason opposed the change.
> At least to your first point -- I will say that this was done with
> thought, from the WMF's point of view. In fact it was done with a
> whole lot of thought -- big discussions around the Italian protest
> action, legal analysis from our lawyers, Board discussions around
> advocacy, and general consensus that opposing these bills was the
> right thing to do.
> The community en.wp decision is separate, but it was also nuanced, and
> so I don't think it's true that all these issues were bulldozed,
> within Wikipedia or the WMF. (I don't know about the bullying aspect;
> I hadn't encountered that or heard other complaints about it, but I am
> concerned to hear this report -- that's certainly no good.)

There was bullying in the IRC session, bullying on the VP, bullying in
talk pages, bullying in the RFC.  I don't know if it prevented anyone
from being heard - some of the people being bullied were pretty
forceful individual personalities who tend to keep on pushing if they
think they have a point.  But some may not have been.  I don't imagine
that enough were deterred from commenting that the sense of the
community statistically is inaccurate, but the way we treat the
opposing voices matters, here and elsewhere.

> And as for the readers? I suspect a whole lot of people are realizing
> that they take Wikipedia for granted today. If anyone wants to see the
> kind of impact we've made, media coverage is a reasonable proxy;
> there's an in-process list of stories going here:
> http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/English_Wikipedia_SOPA_blackout/Media

I've been following along a bunch of media all day, and they range
from neutral to positive coverage.  Along with blogs and social media

I did not expect a negative backlash, and don't see one.  But I
understand and wanted more time to hear from those who had contrary
opinions on that.

> Thanks George for your thoughtful notes, as ever; and I'll repeat
> something here that I said somewhere else -- that these questions of
> advocacy, of what battles we fight and how, and how we decide, are
> ones that we will have to work on together, as a community. This is
> uncharted territory for all of us.
> I won't claim that I, personally, was certain this protest was the
> right thing to do -- but I was pretty sure, and I am glad that I got
> the chance to talk it over with others, who were also pretty sure; and
> I am very glad that collectively the decision went the way it did --
> because I think in the end it was the right one. But you know what?
> We'll keep on talking about it, either way; we can only learn from the
> things that went wrong; and we can decide together whether it sets a
> precedent (or doesn't) and what that means.

I like talking.  I am glad everyone's done a fair amount of that.  8-)

One additional thing - this was predictable ahead of time.  The
scheduling - the 18th - might not have been back in December, but one
could have predicted a mid-Jan somethingish date.

In a sense, nobody getting out ahead of it in terms of in-wiki
leadership may have been the goof.  We could have had a
date-to-be-filled-in formal consensus exercise starting a week or two
in to the on-wiki informal discussion (say, late Dec or first week of
January).  Even if it wasn't clear what date it would take effect on,
that would have given time to get the consensus properly consensed.

It sounds like the Foundation was more organized about it than the
community, and didn't reach out to push early enough.  I understand
the desire not to be seen to be leading the community around, but it
seems to have led to a counterproductively late push (from my point,
of lack of community discussion time).  Given the depth of Foundation
internal discussions, perhaps it should have been earlier, at least in
a "heads-up" sense asking for the community to start prepping / get
more result-focused.

-george william herbert
george.herbert at gmail.com

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