[Wikimedia-l] Go away, community (from WMF wiki at least)

Oliver Keyes okeyes at wikimedia.org
Mon May 13 17:01:51 UTC 2013


Thanks for your thoughtful post :). I've been thinking over it for a bit;
this is probably going to be a bit TL;DR, and doesn't address the original
point of the thread (if you're here for foundationwiki discussion, look
away now!)

So: after ACTRIAL, we said we communicated poorly. We /did/ communicate
poorly. And so we solved for it. I'm not sure if you saw the development of
Page Curation, but from my perspective, at least, it involved the community
much more concretely; we threw prototypes out early, talked people through
what they wanted, built what they wanted. It was a good model to use, and a
good model to follow. Even AFT5, problematic though it was, featured vast
amounts of community engagement (I think I worked out that, at one point,
we were doing office hours sessions more frequently than Sue. Three in one
24-hour period.) and ended in, well, us accepting the community's wishes on
the feature. There are always going to be negative parts of any development
plan, but I want to make clear that I think we've been doing a lot of stuff
right. There are beneficial things we can take from AFT5, from Page
Curation, even from Echo,[1] and I want to make sure that doesn't get
forgotten: that we have improved. Sure, we're not perfect, and yes, we're
going to slip up from time to time in an embarrassing way. But compared to
where we were two years ago, we're getting a lot better.

Having said that: the problem is that, compared to where we were two years
ago, we're making a lot more decisions. We're doing more things that have
an impact on the community. So, even if we improve so that we're only
causing a problem, say, 5 percent of the time instead of 20, we might be
having six times as many rolls of the dice, and the improvements get lost
in the noise. This does /not/ mean we're going to stop trying to improve.
But, it also doesn't mean we're going to start doing merely what the
community wants.

Let me be totally clear here; I agree wholeheartedly that the community
knows how to run the community better than we do, although I'd point out
that there is a substantial overlap between the community and the WMF.[2]
But when we talk about the community, what we're talking about in software
terms is power users; a specific subset of users. Those who choose to get
involved in meta-conversations, the top part of the power curve. That's not
the sum of Wikimedians; far from it. And we don't know that it's
representative of the sum of Wikimedians, or the sum of potential
Wikimedians. Fact of the matter is we have no evidence I'm aware of to
suggest that's the case. Now: power users are always going to have a damn
good idea as to what power users need, because it's close to their heart.
But, and speaking as a Wikipedian of ~7 years now, we're not necessarily
going to have all the ideas in relation to other groups. New users,
intermediate users, potential users; we haven't been any of those for a
very long time. We don't necessarily remember what we needed, or what
would've made us-back-then's lives easier. Even if we do, we're dealing
with very different demographics now from how we were in 2005 in terms of
user expectations.

This means that, when it comes to serving not just "the community of power
users" but "the community of Wikimedians", it's not something that the
community can just do on its own, or by fiat, instructing the Foundation.
Sure, we could make the argument that the community ultimately has the
authority to accidentally drive the site into the sea - that failure is an
option, and that failure for all in the pursuit of success for some is a
right we've earnt. But the fact of the matter is, that's not the
Foundation's job. Every staffer you meet has been tasked by a Board of
Trustees, incorporating several community-elected or chapter-elected
members, to make the Wikimedia projects work for as many people as
possible. It's our job. It's what we're paid to do. And our taskmasters are
ultimately, formally, that Board. So we can't just say "hey, knowing the
limitations of the community, we'll just do what they want". That isn't an

But at the same time, we can't say "whatever, the community doesn't like it
but we'll do it anyway". As I said, we as power users have a pretty great
understanding of what power users need. We can't afford to let new users go
without support, but we can't afford to let power users be unsupported
either. So rolling over the community isn't an option, but neither is the
community rolling over the WMF. We have to find a middle ground; a place
where both sides can end up, if not happy, then at least equally,
begrudgingly tolerant to whatever the ultimate decision is.

I have to say that I've seen a lot of willingness to negotiate on the
Foundation side on this. You bring up ACTRIAL; yes, we said no to the
original proposal. Then we dedicated ~6 months of engineering time to
building the Page Curation/PageTriage suite in an attempt to address the
problem, in a process that heavily incorporated editor feedback. You bring
up Echo; yes, we didn't bring the Orange Bar back. But we spent a lot of
cycles coming up with alternatives, running them past people, with many
editors and many staffers actively engaged in the process. We had
designers, developers, product managers participating in the discussion,
and in the end we came up with something that everyone, well, begrudgingly

This isn't to say we're doing things perfectly. We're still learning, and
improving, and we're going to screw up sometimes. But we've demonstrated
we're willing to work towards the necessary middle ground; that we
acknowledge power user involvement as something which keeps us /us/, which
keeps us the Wikimedia movement. I've seen a lot of editors with the same
attitude. But I've seen a lot without it. We have to stop taking the
attitude that we (whoever "we" is) can rule by fiat: the real world doesn't
work like that. The problems we have, as a movement, can't be solved by

Off-topic ramble ended. If anyone wants to start a new thread (or poke me
offlist) to discuss this, I'm more than happy to talk through it.

[1]So, for example: I really like the model we came up with of "when we're
asking people what they want to do, actually show them scripted prototypes
instead of mockups". We need to be doing that a lot more with user-facing
software, imo.
[2]I'm a long-time editor, Philippe is a long-time editor. So are Steven
Walling, James Alexander, James Forrester, Sage Ross, Sarah Stierch, S
Page, Ryan Kaldari...the list goes on and on and crosses department lines
and pay grades. That's without mentioning the people who have come to us
from outside and gone "I need to participate as a volunteer if I want to
understand this" - Heather Walls, Maryana Pinchuk, Fabrice Florin and many

On 13 May 2013 16:37, Todd Allen <toddmallen at gmail.com> wrote:

> Philippe,
> Thank you for a thoughtful reply. I have especially taken seriously your
> advice to moderate the tone, something I have been guilty of in the past.
> We expect editors to treat one another respectfully even when they
> disagree, and I think staff should receive the same courtesy.
> That aside, I do indeed disagree.
> Communication is not the problem. Yes, it was a problem here, but it was
> not -the- problem.
> This started for me with ACTRIAL. The community came to an unprecedented
> consensus for a major change, and asked WMF to implement.
> WMF said no.
> The community looked at the new new-message system and clearly said "Do not
> want! Roll it back!"
> WMF said no.
> I see a precipice too. But that precipice is with WMF attempting to rule,
> rather than serve, the communities they lead. Just like project admins are
> expected to use their technical authority to uphold and implement community
> consensus, never to overrule or subvert it, so should we expect the same of
> WMF. We know how to run our projects better than you do.
> After ACTRIAL, we heard the same thing-"We communicated poorly." Much of
> the frustration you see, and certainly my own, is the "I didn't hear that"
> aspect.
> When you overrule the community, it is a slap in the face. You are telling
> the volunteers who took the time to develop and gain consensus for their
> proposal that they both wasted their time and do not know what they are
> doing. What we are saying is not "Give us a little better notice when you
> plan to slap our face" or "Please explain a little better why you slapped
> my face." It is, instead, "Please stop slapping my face."
> Once again, you are being told "You are standing on my toes. Perhaps it was
> inadvertent, but it hurts. Please move." What I would like to be clear on
> is that when you hear that with one voice from the community, it requires
> not an apology or explanation, but a reversal. That didn't happen in the
> two scenarios I mentioned, and it hasn't in several others. Yes, that
> created bitterness and mistrust, disillusionment and many to leave
> altogether. To ask a serious question, not intended to be sarcastic or
> rhetorical, did you foresee some other outcome from such absolute
> overrules?
> I hope I've spoken clearly and without undue bitterness, but I feel this
> point must be made clearly. Communication isn't the root problem. Heavy
> handedness is. I suppose you could say the problem is in listening. The
> community is, in many cases, coming to a strong consensus on what it does
> and does not want. The WMF is ignoring that and doing something else.
> You won't stop that from being a problem by communicating better or sooner.
> At the end of the day, we need you to stop doing that.
> Here, you've been told "We disapprove of this action." Do we talk around it
> and leave more resentment to linger? Or do you listen and reverse it?
> Thanks if you took the time to read all this. I see a precipice, too. Let's
> all step back.
> Regards,
> Todd Allen
> On May 12, 2013 7:04 PM, "Philippe Beaudette" <philippe at wikimedia.org>
> wrote:
> > So, I took Florence's excellent advice and went for a walk (beautiful day
> > in SF, by the way - absolutely perfect).
> >
> > And I reflected on what I've seen since "flipping the switch" on things
> > last Friday.  Here's where I stand, and I haven't discussed this with
> > anyone else at WMF, including Gayle.
> >
> > At the expense of sounding trite, I think I can safely say "Mistakes were
> > made."  Gayle was trying to solve a real problem, and she got a lot of
> > advice on how to do that.  But the principle role of a staff member in a
> > role such as mine is "to advise", I think, and I'm afraid that I didn't
> > offer good advice in this case.  I don't think I gave bad advice -
> rather,
> > I didn't give as good of advice as I could have.  What our leadership
> > should be able to expect from staff is that we look at things from a
> > different perspective, and I think I failed to get as far out of my own
> > head and into other peoples' to offer that varying perspective.  So when
> I
> > say that mistakes were made, I include my role in that, through
> commission
> > or omission, and I sincerely apologize for that.
> >
> > With that said: I'm afraid we're headed toward a precipice.  What I'm
> > seeing scares me.  I see less and less good faith being offered toward
> the
> > WMF.  One of the arguments that doesn't work for me is "seven years ago
> the
> > WMF didn't make these mistakes" - because seven years ago the WMF was
> > paralyzed from lack of strategy and direction.  All of that has changed
> and
> > the WMF is out and aggressively trying things to arrest the editor
> decline
> > and improve the user experience.  And yet, when our talented engineers
> try
> > a data-driven tactic for something that needs to change, they're
> lambasted
> > for forgetting the existing community.  And yet everyone here knows that
> if
> > we don't change some things, things will get very very ugly, very very
> > quickly.
> >
> > One of the things that must continue to change is the tone on the wikis,
> > and the tone (in IRC and by email) between staff and volunteers.  I know
> > that volunteers are individual and - in addition to several frankly
> abusive
> > emails I've received this weekend, I've also received absolutely
> wonderful
> > support from volunteers who reached out to make me smile, laugh, or just
> > remind me why I love this community.  But the abusive ones absolutely
> > *must*stop.  I have never once, in my entire time at WMF, sent an
> > email that
> > approaches the level of things that I see WMF staff subjected to
> routinely,
> > and I have to counsel over and over that "it's okay, they don't speak for
> > the community", but I see the community tacitly support that behavior (or
> > fail to condemn it), and it's hard to say with a straight face that the
> > people sending abusive mail or making abusive statements in IRC don't
> speak
> > for the community.
> >
> > So my challenge and my promise:  I promise to reflect on the experiences
> of
> > this weekend and figure out how I could have offered Gayle better advice,
> > given the circumstances, and given the fact that there are some things
> that
> > are not public about the decision, and unfortunately they can't be.  My
> > challenge to the community:  think about the tone of what you see
> happening
> > around you.  And if you wouldn't want to see your grandmother asked a
> > question like that, and if it would make you feel defensive to see her
> > questioned in that tone, then step in and make it clear that the tone is
> > unacceptable.  Staff members are people too.  How about finding one that
> > has done something you appreciate (come on, there must be ONE) and tell
> > them so?  You'd be shocked how much gratitude they'll feel, because you
> may
> > be the first community member EVER to tell them that.
> >
> > Best,
> > pb
> >
> >
> >
> > ___________________
> > Philippe Beaudette
> > Director, Community Advocacy
> > Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
> >
> > 415-839-6885, x 6643
> >
> > philippe at wikimedia.org
> >
> >
> > On Sun, May 12, 2013 at 5:46 PM, Russavia <russavia.wikipedia at gmail.com
> > >wrote:
> >
> > > On Mon, May 13, 2013 at 7:58 AM, Gayle Karen Young <
> gyoung at wikimedia.org
> > >
> > > wrote:
> > > > This definitely feels like a bit of trial by fire.
> > >
> > > True dat. Now that you have received your initiation, there's nothing
> > > left to say but WELCOME TO WIKIPEDIA :)
> > >
> > > Cheers,
> > >
> > > Russavia
> > >
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Oliver Keyes
Community Liaison, Product Development
Wikimedia Foundation

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