Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2022-09-30/In focus

In focus

NPP: Still heaven or hell for new users – and for the reviewers

MB and Novem Linguae took on the task of joint lead coordinators of New Page Patrol this year following the long void left by other coordinators who had moved on. Kudpung was de facto coordinator for many years before retiring from it in March 2017. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not reflect any official opinions of this publication.

Just what is NPP? Why does it need the WMF? Why does it need YOU?

Graph of NPP backlog
The slight downward trend in the backlog from the 2nd week of September is due to the work of just one reviewer returning from an absence of several months due to burn out. On average, the New Pages Feed receives 750 - 1,000 articles every 24 hours.Database: Top new article reviewers

Four years ago, in October 2018, the Signpost article "NPP: This could be heaven or this could be hell for new users – and for the reviewers" reported on the New pages patrol process and the challenges it faces. Today, those issues produce new hurdles to keeping the encyclopedia clean – and the need for upgrades to its software is even more acute.

Earlier this month, in a last ditch attempt to draw the Foundation’s attention to the need for developer work on the PageTriage/Curation tools, an open letter from 444 users and admins was published along with notifications to senior WMF staff, and to the members of the Board of Trustees. In the absence of a more detailed hierarchical organigramme, it is assumed that the Contributors Product Management team subordinate to the 'Product' section headed by new CPTO Selena Deckelmann, is responsible for declining or delaying the urgently needed attention.

Out of a total of 165 open NPP tickets at Phabricator, over half are 4 years old or more with many going back to 2012

A Page Curation tool
A tool in the Page Curation interface of Page Triage
A Page Triage tool
The reviewers' New Page Feed in Page Triage

New Page Reviewers use the page curation system to review new articles and pass them for indexing for search engines, or to propose them for further improvement or deletion. Unfortunately, the community has too few capable and competent people at NPP and despite occasional drives to address it, today's backlog still stands at an untenable level. Software improvements, both bug reports and feature requests, that would help and encourage reviewers do this job have been languishing unaddressed at Phabricator for months and even years. Commenting on the WMF's rejection of ACTRIAL in their 2011 article in The Signpost, users Skomorokh, Jorgenev, and Daniel Mietchen suggest that:

Wikipedia has over 700 New Page Reviewers. Only around 100 are moderately active and only 25 or so perform the majority of the reviews.

Knowing that an appeal was in preparation, a WMF director of product engineering made a pre-emptive post on the task force talk page in which they placed the blame for the lack of software support squarely at the feet of the New Page Patrol team for not having submitted requests to the Community Wishlist. The Wishlist is an annual programme since 2015 where contributors from all Wikimedia projects can ask for those small changes that they would most like to see. Indeed, the NPP group did avail of the process in 2018 and completely swamped it, but that was four years ago. Paradoxically, the response continued by listing other WMF engineering commitments as an explanation of why they don’t have the funds or capacity for NPP. There was also an opaque reference to a need to rewrite the tool: "current projects that we've prioritized above rewriting PageTriage." If they believe it is beyond normal maintenance, that may be another reason why they are providing little support. The WMF's post was made before the letter was published and the NPP team does not consider their comments to be wholly felicitous.

Despite the bold claim in their Annual Plan 2022-2023 Goal #1:

the WMF makes no mention of supporting the trusted knowledge in their flagship project, the English Wikipedia.

How well informed is the Board of Trustees?

During a July live streamed 'Conversation with the Trustees' (see transcript below), in answer to a pre-submitted question from Atsme, a New Page Reviewer: "What is the Foundation doing to protect New Pages Patrol and Articles for Creation from system overload?" the response from the board's vice-chair, Shani Evenstein, stated that PageTriage was 'community developed' (which it was not: Engagement strategy - New Page Triage) and that NPP volunteers should wait for at least six months and request the work through the Wishlist.

While researching for a reply, in contrast to their claim of " have honest and meaningful conversations [...] We prepare for these meetings and send an agenda of main topics, and post it on Meta, a week in advance, and make sure to go through these agenda items".[3] they were apparently either misinformed or they misinterpreted the information provided by their source. Insisting that important technical matters are not at all within the board's 'remit', it is interesting to note how unaware the board appears to be of the importance of the flagship encyclopedia to the Foundation's very existence. In a follow up thread on the reviewers' talk page Ms Evenstein offered some words of encouragement, giving hope for future collaboration:

I cannot promise an immediate solution, but I can promise it will be properly discussed. To make sure expectations are realistic, I will add that this topic / issue / problem statement requires further discussions internally, both with our CEO and our new CPTO. As you may know, we have just hired a new CPTO, who will be starting in August. Whatever operational solutions WMF will come up with for this stated problem, it will have to include her. Till she settles in, and till we are able to strategize around this topic (and other related technologically-related topics) further in collaboration with staff, our Product department continues to be aware and continue to work on it to the extent they can; but I hope it is clear that talking about longer-term solutions, a bit more time will be needed to make sure this is properly discussed.

Ms Evenstein has recently been re-elected to the board, while newly elected Mike Peel comes directly from the English Wikipedia community. A user since 2005 and an administrator since 2007, he was one of two candidates campaigning on a platform of more board involvement on the shop floor:

Although there have been hiccups in the past, some serious, the board generally acts within the movement's best interests, but anyone watching the video of the Board of Trustees responding to Atsme's question cannot fail to recognise the board's reply as inadequate and mildly patronising.

No money?

WMF receipts and expenditure up to 2021

Writing in The Signpost Op-ed Wikipedia has cancer about the Foundation's flow of funds, Guy Macon, a financial consultant, states:

…their poor handling of software development has been well known for many years. The answer to the WMF's problems with software development has been well known for decades and is extensively documented in books such as The Mythical Man-Month and Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams […] This failure is almost certainly a systemic problem directly caused by top management, not by the developers doing the actual work.

Macon's more recent essay, an updated version of Wikipedia has Cancer, is a testament to the runaway spending on pet projects and non-core functions while neglecting the volunteers, and still leaving the Foundation with current disposable assets in excess of US$200 million The volunteers are the project's major stakeholder and the NPP team on whose work the reputation of the articles depends, is hoping for a substantive response and one that comes from the Foundation's senior executive staff, especially CPTO Selena Deckelmann, and Maryana Iskander, the CEO. In view of the rapidly growing surplus of donations, the stock justifications for inaction are wearing thin; the community is trusting in offers of serious engagement on quality control, rather than further rejections and intangible reasons why it can't or won't be done.

As of press time, the New Page Review team has received an acknowledgement by email from the Trustees, but no official public response to the letter from them or the WMF. We reached out to the board and the WMF regarding this article in the Signpost. The board pointed out a minor error in the staff which has been corrected, but the WMF has not offered any comment.