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Wikimania 2007 Taipei :: a Globe in Accord

"Shifting nature of the commuty" panel transcription -- live-transcribed by sj

start mid-way through -- Q&A session

Panel comments

mike - nothing brings a cpmmunity together like a crisis. I don't know how one initiates a crisis [or if this is a good idea] but many communities have noticed this. back in 1994 I noted this regarding virtual communities; this was before there was even a web 1.0 the way there is now.

alih - any responses to mike from kat or james?

jamesf - there's this criterion by which you can edit something, but only if it hasn't been deleted by a sysop... I would quail to try to define this for someone else [outside the community] and noone knows it all.

it's not fair to say whether something is bad or good standing here on stage, as just one person in the comunity, but the community has changed. we should be aware of this, and shouldn't just say it is exactly as it was 4 or 5 years ago. and yet a lot of the change seems to be for its own sake, or because someone else has come into the mix and wants to see it change. d i'm concerned there is a lack of focus on how ro why we change what we do, and more on what the next change wshould be.

kat - I'd rather talk about why I'm up here talking about this on this panel. you have to be really egotistical or really foolish to be on this kind of panel.

I'm here because I was out to dinner with andrew and mike the night he was hired, and a few weeks later I looked at the schedule and said, hey, what's this panel I'm on? and I decided I would go with it... I know a lot about how wikis work, I've been part of lots of them, but I was basically on this panel because I had dinner with andrew and mike and we had a good discussion. Andt hat's how a lot of wiki projects start. I got involved with wp in 200, the person I was dating at the time was reading slashdot and siad I should cehck it out. It looked really cool, but there wasn't too much thtere. the next time I looked it was 2004, and it was amazing, and I said gosh, why didn't I do that before? I could have been involved from the early days. So now these days a lot of people say gosh, I don't know anyone any more; there are so many sysops and thousands of contributors. These days I dont' know most of the sysops any more.

I was really enamored of some of the policies baCK IN THE DAY; especially the 'ignore all rules' rule. I thought I could really get into a project like this. I thought I knew everyone hwo was areally active at the time. Now, it's like NYC, you have lots of lttle neighborhoods and groups, and never see anyone on the other side of the island. I'm one of the peopoel who reads the manual for everything in 2005. in 2007, I don't think I know what half of them are. I'm interesteed not in talking abt you, but i the question and answer session that will come afterward, what you guys have to say about the shifting nature of the comuniyt and what you have to ask others.

alih - that's wahat we want to do as fast as possible. [sj has kindly to be our scribe, as we move around the room... the idea is to get your impressions and to triangulate on some themes that are out there; this is just from out veiwppoint. the fact that we three had dinner togehter probably means we were on a weavelenegth that is different from what we'll see out there. and we don't watnt to trip into en wikipedia norms; a lot of us are involved with commons, other langs, other communities; we want to hear from people outside the en sphere. it's too easy to emphasize that community,s icne its poilicies have morphed and dictated that kind of stuff. there's a lot ofo scutf I've learned over the yaers from other wikipedias.

I'll just v quick go through the experience that had us talking in the first place; to me it's still quite jarring. for the oldtimers here it might be interesting.

one day I was surfing the net on digg.com. There was a story saying "can you believe it? wp doesn't have a age on Pownce" - its like a twitter blog, you leave a 250 char message saying sth mini, like 'I'm sitting in taipei right now, boy its hot'. powence was creatd by a famous guy, kevin rose, created digg.com -- discussed on all the podcasts, blogs, tech shows. when I saw this story on digg, i said, no way, it can't be true; it's a dot-com, wikipedia is full of techies. &c.

I visited wp and noticed that there was indeed no link. it had been deleted. it had been deleted and salted, by an administrator, saying you can't recreate the page. I was amazed. I made my last stand, I restore it out of process, after a dozen people moved to delete. I said, there's no way, you can't delete this.

This was the first time I'd seen this shift from a norm of leaving things to an overwhelming move to delete. One comment was: "salt it, because I'm barely restraining myself from doing so. It's been meets A7 and G11, and it's also on DRV with consensus leaning very strongly to endorsing the deletion. 20:21, 8 July 2007.

This is when I was sure things had changed, because I didn't even know what these acronynms stood for. they are from CSD, but... who here knows what they mean? (a few raise their hands)

audience -- "what's CSD?"

alih - Now we have a whole bible of CSD categories. here's page 1, page 2, page 3. and even worse, at the top of the page it says "this page documents an OFFICIAL POLICY on the English Wikipedia. It has wide acceptance... -- these were words we edidn't even see back when I first was editing wikipedia... it really puts people off and says 'dont even think of editing this'

So, is this wikipedia really something that anyone can edit? we used to have something at the top that said "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit" -- obviously we don't think so anymore because we no longer say that in the subtitle.

I posted this on my blog, saying gosh, we don't do this anymore. and I got responses and responses and responses. I even got a nice one from Larry Sanger. "Hey Andrew, I feel your pain. You'd be welcome to work on the article in the Citizendium......." about 30 responses. If you go back to what kat talked about, ignore all rules -- it was one of the most interesting things that attracted people to this project. it was about talking to each other to come to an unddrstanding of what to do. we had NPOV, IAR, AGF> the next generation: we add things like the "3RR" - which I was very abgainst; no longer talking andr easoning. (3rr, dcsd, dispute resolution, semi-protection)

And now we morph to not just CSD, CSD G1-12, R1-23, I1-8, c,u,t,p. BLP, reliable sources, unsourced, anon article creation, montaged fair use images, no spoiler tags...

Mike G - the basic core set of rules all of us were familiar with were aimed for inclusion. if you came across them, they invited you to participate. the subsequent sets seem to be aimed at exclusion; ways of fdining ways to prevent participation. either by design or by accident, the begnining was 'we need stuff' and now we have 'we dont need your stuff anymore, we're trying to get the stuff better'.

alih - the first wikimania: great to meet everyone in person. second: quality third: how can the comunity keep going the way it is, to create and maintain this content.

policies are not just additive (mike - they're addictive) I mentioned before how things have gotten omroe complex; now you also get lots of templates and taxoboxes at the top of articles... you wind up with infoboxes that any reasonable person might scream in horror about saying 'what do I do with this?'

if you look at what we're doing, standards we are setting:

wikimarkup, vandalfighting, policy, shifting standards,

camelcase, agf, simple, verifiability now: free linkns, warning, developing, notability also: temlates, taxoboses, infoboxes, bot revisions, csd, extreme notability

what do we need? we need community research and statistics. the thing we run into on irc is why people leave. there's no exit interview, other than 'I'm out of here, iim sick of you guys' (mike - larry has given several)

other big problems. complete wp db dumps? monthly dumps take 5 weeks or more to finish -- do the math. what do we see across wm communities? norms, future sustainability, new users, managing growth?

Audience questions & comments


David Strauss - yes, process is complicated, but there's now ay to get around that; if we let everyone add to articles without standards, we get serious public relations problems, and have no way to guid the debate about inclusion. given the expanding debate about this, how would you put brakes on this stuff without raising barrier to entry?


James - notability is not a policy, and has never been; it is a set of people who want objective measures for subjective indicators. I agree with the idea we don't want people spamming wikipedia. but we have commonsense against spamming. if something isn't worth having in wp, that makes it unencyclopedic. The fact that my gran hasn't or has heard of it makes no diff to whether it's useful to other people. There's a problem with automating every sysop decision so that a bot can do it; then why are we here?


Mike G. - the commonsense princiiple for a citiation needed tag : to identify possibly controversial or questionalbe props within an article. in practice, many editors of various degrees of experience use it as a way to do drive-by cite-needed additions... --> newcomers to arts with uncontroversial statements see it cluttered with these tags and calls into question the whole project. similar question about putting brakes on contribution: put brakes on needless proofs of why the sky is blue. Cite-needed has a lack of limit principle.


joe reagle - Max Weber 100 yrs ago talked about how orgs go through growing pains towards a bureaucratic institution. Rather than arguing piecemeal, think of examples where we've seen an inst go through this process and we're comfortable with the end result. One interesting thing about Sanger is, a rule he regrets making was IAR... bc one ironic consequences of that might be a proliferation of rules. commonsense is a social construct among a small group; as a community grows you have to reify things in granite; he's trying to keep a purposely small community that isn't as egalitarian as wp - but also might isolate against process fcruft. this seems to be a natural path in orgal evolution. forks, closure, robert's rules of order...


- I wnted to talk bout the growth of processes; there was a turning point around 2005, during the seigenthaler incident; he discovered there was a fake bio about him and that was in the press for a number of months. There was a change from thinking about wp as a work in development to a work in use, with implications of what is on it; and that might be an underlying motive for these changes, and a reason to want to control what we have on the site right this second.


james' - that incident was a major catalyst for change, but none of it was change that would have prevented Seigenthaler. it wax worthwhile having an article about himm. it was wrong, the contents were false, and it had been vandalized, but we went off and decided to delete lots of articles instead.


delphine - on the slide you showed with notability in the last column, it got more complicated going down the line; what is really notability? my vision of wikipedia - really as a whole, the community - is the shift [when I was elected admin, it was bc I had done good work; I had not even a thousand] I had been working in this environment... now its more like a video game, where you get your number of levels, you're now level 20 on the way to adminship. I still have to get this and that treasure, and now I can use a bot, so i'll be elected admin. f ro tme notabillity -- this is a subjective measure. in the end, we're taking this with things you cant measure.

catherine m - people have a sense of urgency these days - they wnat to use a code and a template, and not to talk to people. I'm concnrned with waht that does to our community. i've talked to several people here with friends who made one edit, got slapped down, and will never come back.


mike - people read that wp is an encyclopedia that anybody can edit. but anybody can edit if they read 300 rules and absorb lots of unarticulated community norms; then you can edit all you want. in our legal systems, the industrials ystems are v complex, nobody knows all theh lwas, people can break laws without realizing them. there's a natural tendency of societies at a certain size to become more complex. the normal response of open societies is to have overarching principles to limit how the others limit your freedom. It occurs to me over the course of the discussion: the principles that started projects have a primacy to them that we should remind people of.


cm - the one thing I think is important: people are panicking b/c edits come in so fast... there are so many new articles every day. people feel there are only a few of us defending against the world, and we should rush.


sj - rather than limiting edits or influx, focus it along channels that develop self-sustaining communities.


arcimboldo - where do we want to go with wikipedia, what do we want to create? the most volumnious, the most informative, the most scientifically excellent one? we have no problem with the first. we can possible create the second. but the third may be very difficult. have we reached a volume limit? rather than growing more, should we focus on things rather than vandalfighting? I think we need to add structure and rules to the community. I see a tension here.


james - one iportant thing is there is no heirarchy at all on the en:wp and others; but there is an effecive one - don't cross this sysop b/c they'll get their 20 friends to come block you. that's af act of any community. b ut we adhere carefully to the idea there's noever goig to be a heriarchy; though expressing it subconsciously in what we do. I think we have to reevaluate whether or not we want to have one, if we don't we're going the wrong way about it.


jan-bart - I think I have one edit on my name on en:wp and am considering mys econd. as an individual, I"m scared by iut. this could be the most urgent problem there is with wm in any project. what's your view? do we need these users? do we need to keep[ them enthusiastic? it seems more an academic discussion you're presenting; how urgent is that to you?

alih - I think that's for the room. how urgent is it? mike - really urgent. part of the underlying phil of wp and otehr collectives is this community erikz - not only whether we invite newbies; we shouldn't scare away old ones. [people who are perplexed by how complicated things have become. one of the issues here is status

sj - quite urgent, has been for a while. most urgent to avoid conflating the need for quality and better community with a need to limit contribution

[ right now many people read and use wp just because it's more accessible than the library.

 and if you ever want to sort out the plot threads of harry potter, where else will you go?]


- from the he:wp, we have the benefit of learning from some of en's mistakes. right now on the he wp it is considered unfashionable to say 'look, en:wp

has this nice process and they have csd g11...' when someone says that, it usually means he's about to be blocked. from our perspective... there ar bigger wps we can learn from, the german wp seems to be better; they understand eachother better and have less bureacuracy.

Hebrew Wikipedia is perhaps the most war-weary of all the Wikipedias. Recently, the govening clique has succeeded in silencing a lot of the opposition, but the quiet will not last forever. HWP has a lot of great articles, but that is despite its extreme policies and its power-grabbing governing clique (of whom Harel is one of the better ones and is personally OK) and not because of them.

Hebrew Wikipedia is controlled by deletionists. Criticism (even on private talk pages) of existing policies and of the current admins is ruthlesslessly deleted. The village pump has recently been "cleared" of anything and everything related to criticism of policies or admins. Long-time, respected contributors are denied voting rights on deletions if they haven't made hundreds of edits in recent months. The admins stick up for one another, and are very wary of letting new people into their clique.

Harel is a decent chap, and his presentation on HWP was valuable. But all should be aware that he is presenting the story as he sees it, and not as many others see it. לאמתו של הראל 11:35, 5 August 2007 (UTC)


wing - I work mostly on Chinese wp (from germany) I want to say three things. 1, the purpose of wp is to build an encyclopedia. 5 years ago there was no article about a dog. so a pupil could go and say things about it, this was the beginning. now when you look at the article... experts can't always add to it. the content has changed. when pupils come to wp, it is difficult to find things to add to it.

 [sj - not hard, but hard to add to the canonical simple 

articles; guidance for how to find specialist articles one can make or contribute to would be useful]

as a long-time contributer to zh:wp, I note that most rules came from a desire to make new rules. copyright policy : most people encountered these ideas through wp. now we have added rules on top of rules about this; including how to add templates to pages and userpages. this kind of process, how it gets enshrined in rules...


alih - what are some solutions?


anthere - I have one thought and one suggestion. when I joiuned wp it was mainly the en;wp. a long time ago I stopped editing en:wp, I know that itf I do, I tend to ? to content. this is a shame b/c people are often not editing foreign langs, and a resistance from native lang speakers. the main suggestion IU have ; part of the prob is related to power struggle, the desire to keep it in the hands of people who know how to edit; I have always been lost with tables; I don't know how to do that. when i tried to st up rules on meta ,one thing i did : you can be removed as an admin; you need to be removed. I'd make any effort to break this bastion, so people can be removed, and to improve usability; as soon as people dont have to struggle so much toe edit stugff that is horrible, it willb emuch easier and more friendly. I wpould work a lot onusability.

alih ; markup, wysiwyg, not all impossible...


":" - sw should encourage participation. many rules exist b/c unlike web2.0 sites which ahve successffully separated form from content, wp doesn't.


Mike G - there was a day when you entered things in a box, basically unformatteed. these days there's a sense that if you haven't marked up an entry a lot, you haven't really done your jo. another thing that discourages noew contribs.


jakob - de:wp now many people consider innovative and better quality, but it's a matter of size and time involved. a solution : no golden rule. just talk to eachotehr. if there is someone who says 'dont do this' you have to argue with them. its a lot of w0rk, but its community.


%^ - I'm a user, haven't done any edits. what you're saying about, rules/noruels isn't a good idea in a system with so many users.. you have tp have managmet - large systems do ne d mgmt as tipping point book says. when youhave many opinions it helps to impose a clearcut rule. wp b/c it only has one face, it cecomes natural to think l;ets make a rule about good v not good but it maeks sense to have a graded ranking [for rules?] - users as opposed to having sysops or editor level, should have a system designed for arbitrary level of heirarchy.


try adopting newbies to improve growth.

eclecticology : I've only been around since feb 2002, and that wasn't even the first year so this still makes me a newbie. but we have this rule, Be Bold! those of us who've been around for many days wear out when thse rules come up and we have to discuss them to tdetract from our being involved... for some. some just go away and... this sort of thing develops as a community ages. we shouldn't as communities depend on the foundatino to solve problems. that would be like zeus comingin with a lightning bolt. mg - it's become like zeus coming in without a lgihtning bolt ec - when someone like andrew is thwarted by a committee of the faceless, it si up to those who are and have been invoveld for a long time to say, 'nno, this must not happen'.

liam - I don't have any particular solutions.. but a warning. people with hammers see everytihng as a nail. we have an issue of complexity in policy and markup... dealing with layers of bureacuracy. solutions tend to be about more markup code or new layers of bureaucracy

mike g - I'm always asking myself if my interaction with someone is encouraging people to make the project better...


sj - we should form an old codgers league of people who want to stand up and put their accounts anda dminship on the line to combat silly policy changes... it will be nice to know there are other canes in the fight next to one, and many make it feel less like struggle and more like working to make the project better.

james f - be it noted that the revolutionary council is formed


lodewijk - maybe we should consier that as we want better quality and more scientifyic work what rules we coulda djsust to that, how to help those people be involved.

henna - maybe we're not attracting the right people to contribute?

I think there's been a lot of bashing of 'notability' bc there are so many optionins of what it constitutes. my perspective is: notability constitutes being able to go back and research info.


aphaia - I got involved in 2004. in en, de, fr, it. my italian skills are rap, but my ucontribs were welcome. i made many steps and local people were willing to fix it. sometimes I'm v annoyed and want to edit without knowing it is I... I have some sock account on sev wikipedis. nowadays I still contribute crap; my sockpuppet accounts hear "your german is crap, don't contribute crap". when I contribute as aphaia, they say "hi! I want to fix your contribs..." I think we should still be newbie friendly, not just for familiar ones. <<applause>>

ch - I'm a newbie since 2006; the rules are getting stricter and are even more newbie-scary, b/c we aren't accustomed to the rules. even me over the last year don't get all the rules well; such strict laws also induce vandals; it doesn't help them to be better. we should introduce evangelism and inclusionism so that mroe articles will be formed and tolerated.

catherine munro - I love the idea of the old codgers league. par tof how we got the way wer are was the old timers wwere looking the other weay and didn't do a good job of apssing on these values; we have gens of admins taught by gens of admis who were taught by nobody. we ignored all rulse bc we thought they were silly and went about our biuseinss. we should payattaention to them, get involved in policy discussions, and bring old values back into new rules being built.


kat - I was loking at the names (the 30 people who commented on andrew's blog). even if you hear talks online and recordings; the people really concerned about this - it mattrers to them. it's not just a game and policy; they want to be part of this community. thats' kind of the important thing.


alih - I ohpt htis might provide an oportunity to do this thing like what SJ was talking about; we won't call it a wikicouncil for historic reason... but to have people come together and put their finger on the pulse of the community; a lot of what's heppend over the past years has been focused through work by Delphine on chapters; I don't know how mucht aht asbeen part of sharing the culture of different wikipedia and language communities. I hesitate to call it 'old codgers' bc you don't have to be a cdoger to be a part, but something about continuity of community. beforea all of this happened, I tried to document on meta the history of all the wikipedias and thei policies, bc of the book I'm writing. and I'm documenting things like 'youd be surprised that our wikipedia does X' please check those out and fill them in.