News and notes
Requests for adminship reform moves forward
The English Wikipedia's requests for adminship (RfA) process has entered another cycle of proposed reforms. Over the last three weeks, various proposals, ranging from as large as a transition to a representative democracy to as small as a required edit count and service length, have been debated on the RfA talk page.
RfA has had a complicated history, as even though the process has remained virtually unchanged since it was created in 2003, there have been unending attempts to change it. In June 2012, the Signpost reported in "Is the requests for adminship process 'broken'?" that:
||With the demonstrable issues with RfA's process and culture—its central two tenets—many strategies ... for addressing them have been raised. Perennial proposals may sum it up best: "While RfA is our most debated process and nearly everybody seems to think there's something wrong with it, literally years of discussion have yielded no consensus on what exactly is wrong with it, nor on what should be done about that." Reformist editors are therefore swimming against a strong current to even stay afloat, much less find concrete proposals that may garner support. ... Still, even if [the community is] ensuring that only qualified candidates are applying, then there is clear evidence that the number of qualified candidates is falling. The administrator corps is currently in decline through attrition and a lack of new blood. Whether RfA is 'broken' or functional, it seems to not be fulfilling its intended purpose of at least maintaining the number of administrators.
This assessment has not changed. Although six editors passed RfA in the month after the Signpost's story—which was more than half of the number promoted in the six preceding months—the total number of new administrators for 2012 was just 28, barely more than half of 2011's total and less than a quarter of 2009's total. The total number of unsuccessful RfAs has fallen as well. These declining numbers, which were described in what would now be considered a successful year (2010) as an emerging "wikigeneration gulf", have been coupled with a sharp decline in the number of active administrators since February 2008 (1,021), reaching a low of 653 in November 2012.
As a counterpoint to the English Wikipedia's situation vis-à-vis RfA, the Signpost examined the German Wikipedia's adminship promotion process in October. Community members there made major changes in 2009, introducing measures like an obligatory recall system and a settling-in period for new administrators. These "are credited with bringing about a relatively low RfA barrier and better admin–community relations. ... Administrators generally appear to be regarded as accountable for their actions."
While the English RfA has also gone through several periods of high-intensity attempts at reform, they have not had the same success at reforming the process. RfA reform 2011 was the largest such attempt, seeing thousands of kilobytes of text added through discussions and possible proposals. Another surge in June 2012 after the Signpost's report also sparked much discussion, but ended much faster.
The latest period of interest in RfA reform has been underway since late December, after comments by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales that he plans to use his reserve powers "to help put into place a community process for constitutional change in cases where we have tried and failed in getting somewhere in our traditional ways", and he specifically mentioned the adminship promotion process as a problem he wanted to help with. These "reserve powers" do not appear to be listed anywhere on-wiki aside from his nominal authority over the Arbitration Committee, which allows him to modify decisions in cases that do not involve him. In August 2009 (and far earlier), he described his role as constitutional monarch, which "mostly means I [Wales] wave at crowds and comport myself with dignity and set an example, and serve as a symbol."
Interest in a new RfC to tackle a range of RfA questions has been building since "RfC; The can stops here". Many such RfCs have failed in the past, and one,
Clerks, has only 16 supports to 28 opposes at publishing time. Interestingly, opposing rationales in such RfCs are very diverse. As Worm That Turned, a coordinator of RfA2011, told the Signpost in June 2012, "Different people thought [RfA] was too hard, too easy, got the wrong candidates through, was too uncivil, had too many questions, could give votes without reasons, with [poor] reasons... there was a long list."
The current RfC on RfA reform was launched after a new, somewhat complicated proposal met with some support on the RfA talk page. It sees the RfC process itself as part of the reason that previous RfCs have failed, and attempts to address the problem by splitting it into a three-step process.
Dank, the originator of the proposal, said "... people have many different ideas about what 'the problem at RfA' is, and vote against any proposal which doesn't address 'the problem', so that any single-issue RfC gets heavy opposition right from the start. Also, RfCs tend to produce short, to-the-point responses, leaving us without enough information to figure out what a majority would be willing to vote in favor of." The current RfC starts with a week-long first round that asks voters to identify what they think the general problem with RfA is, and the second round will encourage Wikipedians who share the same view of the problem to work together on solutions. Assuming that no one view of the problem and no one solution dominates, the closers will attempt to craft a compromise position that offers something to everyone in the third round. If the compromise also fails, then Wales will be asked to offer his suggestions for a way forward.
The Italian Wikipedia passed the one million article mark this week.
- Wikimania scholarships: Applications for scholarships to Wikimania 2013 in Hong Kong are now being accepted. Both full (covering airfare, lodging, and registration) and partial (covering up to half of the estimated airfare) scholarships are available. Applicants will be rated on their Wikimedia activity, both on- and off-wiki), their open-source activity in general, their interest in both Wikimania and the Wikimedia movement, and their grasp of the English language. Applications will be accepted through 22 February.
- Wikimedia Conference Japan 2013: Japanese Wikipedians are preparing this year's Wikimedia conference at the University of Tokyo on 2 February. Information on the program, keynote speakers, and conference details is on both the conference website and on Facebook.
- Article feedback: The article feedback system, currently in its fifth iteration, is the subject of a new request for comment on the English Wikipedia. As of publishing time, it shows that the feedback process faces significant resistance; the view with the most support begins with "The tool is useless."
- English Wikipedia requests for adminship: By passing RfA, Salvidrim became the third new administrator of 2013. As of publishing time, Lord Roem's RfA is passing with 93% in support.
- Steward elections: On 15 January, Meta started its annual steward election proceedings. Candidature submissions for this vital global role are open until 28 January, 23:59 (UTC). Community voting is set to begin on 8 February, parallel to the reconfirmation process of volunteers already serving in that role.
- Support team report: The volunteer team running the Open-source Ticket Request System (OTRS), the process by which selected community members handle the voluminous correspondence sent by the public to Wikimedia projects, has published its first public report to provide a summary of the team's work and statistical analysis.
- Knight News Challenge: The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has won the Knight News Challenge to continue to develop Wikimedia mobile projects.
- Quarterly review: The WMF has published the minutes of its first quarterly review, on editor engagement experiments. As the name implies, Wikimedia initiatives will now be reviewed to "ensure accountability and create an opportunity for course corrections and resourcing adjustments". See also this week's technology report.
- Individual Engagement Grants: As the Signpost reported last week, the WMF has launched its new mechanism for applying for grants, known as IEG, on Meta. The grants are intended to support individuals (up to four per grant) who have ideas that fit into the WMF's mission statement and strategic plan. Applicants must be in good community standing, be willing to identify to the WMF, and cannot be planning to directly fund content creation.
- Milestone: The Italian Wikipedia passed the one million article mark on 22 January.
Check back for the next Signpost on December 1.