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Why Task Forces are Dying in 2017 – and is there anything we can do to stop it? Opinions and examples from across the project.

Task forces and subgroups play a vital role for their parent projects and ultimately, the encyclopedia itself. They do this by specifying and taking care of tasks that the parent projects may not have time for. The downside? With a less broad focus they can die out quickly if the task force cannot find or keep active members. For you readers who may not know what task forces or workgroups are, they're subgroups that focus on a certain "tasks" under their parent projects' scope. Many have their own organisation of members, roles, important tasks, and how to solve them.

Examples

Rick Rioridan Task Force

That's the case for the Rick Riordan task force (RRTF) of WikiProject Novels, which focuses on articles related to author Rick Riordan. It has accomplished much considering it rarely (if ever) has more than twenty active members. For example, it has gotten six articles to Good Article status, fought back against "fan edits", and completed several drafts. However, it struggles with having enough active participants, despite having almost 50 pages in its scope. (It's worth noting about half are stub or start class.) In 2015 the Percy Jackson Task Force (the group's predecessor) died out completely if not for actions made by several editors renaming it and broadening its focus. But little improvement has been made. Today, RRTF still tries to remain an "active" task force. The group's remaining members knew they needed a new approach. The idea was an edit-a-thon about John Rocco, Riordan's illustrator, which is currently ongoing. Apparently the idea came from a lack of notable books published by Riordan during the summer months except Rocco's birthday. (Rocco was added to broaden the group's scope.) RRTF claims that the idea is working with boosting participation but if it's lasting, only time will tell. You can still participate in the John Rocco edit-a-thon ongoing until August 1st.

Webcomics work group

Another example is the webcomics work group. The group was founded back in 2005 in order to improve coverage on webcomics. At the time, Wikipedia's verifiability and notability guidelines were much less strongly enforced, and web content was covered by very few reliable sources, so a lot of low-quality articles on webcomics were being produced at a rapid pace. When a lot of articles were subsequently deleted for not meeting notability guidelines, controversy ensued. Properly sourcing webcomic articles has always remained difficult, and over the years, many webcomic enthusiasts left Wikipedia. By 2015, the work group was completely deserted. A new user tried to clean up the project's pages and create a few new ones, rebooting the requests lists, creating a list of reliable sources, and becoming active on the work group's talk page. Since then, a few other people have started doing regular work on webcomic articles as well, and the field has slowly been improving. There's still fairly little discussion, but it is believed that the cleaned-up resources trigger editors to get more engaged.

Military History WikiProject

Well this is an odd case but I wanted to include it. Military History Wikiproject (milhist) has many "task forces". They really are only ways to sort topics and few actually have active members. They really only get together editors interested in a topic rather than organising work. It just documents what these editors have done. This is something I've found common among subgroups. The groups that work are narrow and intersect subjects. The group does have "long term collaborations" that are in codenames like Operation Majestic Titan which is about battleships. However, this "Operation" is one of the only ones to have longlivity and good success but at least the others do direct work. Even this one relies on a core group. This is what our reporter from milhist said,

..."My overall view on task forces (and special projects) is that you need a small core of committed members, a narrow focus, and achievable goals in the short term. You also need a wider group of editors willing to review the work at GAN and FA, something that WikiProject Military history excels at. WikiProject Military history has also really benefited from having formal assessment tiers like B-Class and A-Class, as well as a system of awards and recognition. These things help focus Military history members to support their fellow members by reviewing their work. I think task forces and special projects have a future on WP, but only if they have a narrow focus and modest initial goals."

Are task forces needed?

I believe my opinion is clear, task forces are important for Wikipedia. Others don't agree. One editor told me,

Most Wikipedians just want to fiddle with small things without commitment to any greater goal, not too many want to do the heavy lifting of extensive content writing, tedious maintenance work like fixing deadlink citations, etc. FWIW, I think it's not a good idea to create separate wiki pages for taskforces/subprojects until there is a substantial number of genuinely active contributors. If the number of active contributors is small, I'd say keep your conversations on the Talk page of a larger more active WikiProject (obviously one that is relevant) so people keep seeing the activity and possibly join in. If the conversations are taking place between a couple of folks in a subproject, nobody else is going to see it. I'd stay on the major project page until they kick you out.

So do we need to minimise the number of subprojects or even eliminate them? Or is there a different solution? RRTF has said that while WP:NV didn't agree that the group was needed it "didn't interfere with the fledgling task force". However, while I was looking through WP:NV's talk archives, I saw little communication between the larger project and its subgroups.

Conclusion

So are task forces needed? Well it depends. I've heard users say "My group (or group's subject) is (or could be) influential for Wikipedia", and I agree with you, however subjects can be interesting to you but there may not be enough notable pages or active and interested users such as WikiProject Christianity in India. And that was a WikiProject! So maybe the problem of being to hard to keep members can appy to ANY project on the site. You may remember that The Signpost had a hiatus because of lack of editors. Maybe you can help a narrow subject more by just editing it instead of pouring energy into a dying task force. There has to be a middle ground between the views of destruction and saving of task forces. Anyway these are ideas on what to do with task force that I've found.

  • Merge, or expand, existing subgroups for broader content roles
  • Increase communication between parent and subgroups
  • Have a member recruiting program
  • Give members not helping out a reason to, like an edit-a-thon
  • Eliminate unproductive subgroups
  • Reimagine roles for task forces
  • Make your project page cleaner and up to date so people know you are serious
  • Remember regardless of your member list what your goal and job is: if you build it they will come
  • Keep goals modest so as not to overwelm new members
  • Create a core group of really active members and a larger group of less active members

I hope that one day we will have more healthy, productive task forces doing more of the good work they are doing today. By "more" that may mean fewer subgroups altogether. Whatever the case I hope you found this article interesting and useful.