In the wake of the surprise ouster of community-elected Trustee James Heilman (Doc James) from the Board of the Foundation, the new trustees appointed to fill other seats on the Board have raised widespread concern in the Wikimedia community (see previous Signpost coverage). Last week’s announcement of the appointment of Kelly Battles and Arnnon Geshuri raised concerns about the Board’s ties to Silicon Valley technology companies, especially Google, and the lack of Board members from non-technology fields such as education. Since then, more specific concerns have come to light regarding the participation of Geshuri in the High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation case while a senior director of human resources and staffing at Google. Geshuri failed to respond to a request for comment from the Signpost.
From 2005 to 2009, a number of Silicon Valley technology companies, including Google and Apple, had illegal agreements which prevented recruitment of employees from other companies participating in the arrangement. The matter resulted in a United States Department of Justice antitrust action and a class action lawsuit of 64,000 technology employees, the latter of which claimed that the employees’ potential wages were suppressed due to their inability to be offered more lucrative employment by other companies. Geshuri held his position at Google from October 2004 to November 2009 and would have been an integral part of any such agreements regarding staffing. A press release from his later employer Tesla Motors noted that "Geshuri was director of staffing operations for Google, where he designed the company’s legendarily [sic] recruitment organization and talent acquisition strategy. ... While he oversaw all aspects of recruitment, Google evolved into a technology powerhouse with 20,000 employees."
Aside from the illegalities and implications for employee wages of such agreements, the direct impact these agreements had on the fates of employees, and Geshuri's participation in the enforcement of them, is seen in a 2007 incident that was discussed in a 2012 article in PC Magazine and a 2014 article in PandoDaily. In March 2007, a Google recruiter emailed an Apple engineer, which set into motion a flurry of emails between top executives for the two companies, emails that came to light as a result of the later court cases.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs emailed Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, writing "I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this." Schmidt brought the matter to Geshuri: "Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening? I will need to send a response back to Apple quickly so please let me know as soon as you can." Geshuri replied:
||On this specific case, the sourcer who contacted this Apple employee should not have and will be terminated within the hour. We are scrubbing the sourcer’s records to ensure she did not contact anyone else.
In general, we have a very clear 'do not call' policy (attached) that is given to every staffing professional and I reiterate this message in ongoing communications and staffing meetings. Unfortunately, every six months or so someone makes an error in judgment, and for this type of violation we terminate their relationship with Google.
Please extend my apologies as appropriate to Steve Jobs. This was an isolated incident and we will be very careful to make sure this does not happen again.
In response to the immediate termination of the Google recruiter, Jobs emailed Apple’s HR director with a smiley face emoticon.
PandoDaily wrote in 2014:
||Apologizing and groveling to Steve Jobs is a recurring theme throughout these court dockets... as is the total disregard for all of the not-Steve Jobs names whose lives and fates are so casually dispatched with, like henchmen in a Hollywood film.
Another incident almost exactly a year later was discussed in a different 2014 article from PandoDaily. Facebook was not a party to the inter-company agreement and Google executives were concerned about Facebook’s successful recruitment of Google employees. Geshuri suggested recruiting Facebook into the agreement, either voluntarily or forcing them through retaliatory recruitment of Facebook employees. In the antitrust case, Judge Lucy Koh summed up the matter and quoted what PandoDaily called Geshuri’s "quasi-Nietzschean rhetoric":
||In March of 2008, Arnnon Geshuri (Google Recruiting Director) discovered that non-party Facebook had been cold calling into Google's Site Reliability Engineering ("SRE") team. Geshuri's first response was to suggest contacting Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer for non-party Facebook) in an effort to "ask her to put a stop to the targeted sourcing effort directed at our SRE team" and "to consider establishing a mutual 'Do Not Call' agreement that specifies that we will not cold-call into each other." Arnnon Geshuri also suggested "look[ing] internally and review[ing] the attrition rate for the SRE group," stating, "we may want to consider additional individual retention incentives or team incentives to keep attrition as low as possible in SRE." Finally, an alternative suggestion was to "start an aggressive campaign to call into their company and go after their folks—no holds barred. We would be unrelenting and a force of nature. [Our emphasis]
When these matters came to the attention of the Wikimedia community, many objected to Geshuri’s appointment to the Board. Cullen328 wrote an essay detailing these incidents that concluded "Because of this evidence of Geshuri's misconduct in this scandal, I believe that he should not be a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees." Kevin Gorman wrote:
||The Wikimedia movement is not a movement whose direction should be set by someone with that degree of callousness - and the fact that he happily participated in the sort of anti-competitive agreement he did, which he must have known was illegal and which exposed his former employers to not insignificant liability, brings forth significant doubt as to whether or not he can reasonably be trusted to carry out his fiduciary duties as a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Even former members of the Board of Trustees objected to Geshuri’s appointment. Florence Devouard (Anthere), chair of the board from 2006 to 2008, wrote "I fully support" Gorman’s statement. Kat Walsh (Mindspillage), another former chair and member from 2006 to 2013, wrote:
||I think integrity is the most important and most difficult thing for a board member of this organization. One of the key things that distinguishes Wikimedia from other entities is that it does not take the easy path: it does not sell the privacy of users, it does not make restricted content deals, it does not believe influence over content or governance should be able to be bought. ... Organizations with tremendous reach and influence—such as Google and Wikipedia—have a great responsibility not to take actions that systematically harm the people that rely on them. To know that someone at such an organization participated in something unethical in this way does not give me great confidence in them for leadership in Wikimedia.
Community members also raised concerns about the vetting process for Geshuri and whether or not the Board was fully aware of his background prior to his selection. Some pointed out that these incidents featured prominently in Google search results for Geshuri’s name and questioned how they were missed by the Board. Jimmy Wales wrote that “I was aware (from googling him and reading news reports) that he had a small part in the overall situation” but regarding Geshuri’s prominent involvement and the revelations of the court cases, he wrote “I don't (yet) know anything about that”. Dariusz Jemielniak wrote that he missed the incidents because they were not prominent in the results in Google’s other language domains: "I'm investigating with the [Board’s Governance Committee] what went wrong with the whole process (that some Board members did not have full information) and we're hoping to come back with learning from this failure, as it was just one point of several that were suboptimal."
Requests direct to the WMF Board and the Wikimedia Foundation resulted in a statement from Board member Alice Wiegand, who told the Signpost:
||The Board of Trustees evaluates all candidates for their relevant skills and interests, and conducts a criminal background check. Our current process follows nonprofit industry best practices, and has consistently produced successful outcomes. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our processes and go beyond best practices in service to the movement’s values. Currently we are reviewing options to further strengthen and enhance this process, including possibly adding a public relations review.
Community members also raised concerns about the current Board's many ties to Google, including one member, Dr. Denny Vrandečić (Denny), who is a current Google employee who works on Google's Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph draws from Wikipedia and Wikidata and Board decisions about these projects may affect Google's commercial interests. When asked by an editor about Vrandečić's involvement in such decisions, Wales wrote:
||If we are going to be that broad with our view of what "directly impacts Google" then virtually everything we do impacts Google. Denny has always been excellent about recusing himself from anything having to do with Google and indeed has been quite keen to bend over backwards to do the right thing. I think it very appropriate for him to give input and advice to the board and the staff and the community about issues relating to discovery on the website
Wiegand's statement did not respond to concerns regarding Vrandečić specifically, but she told the Signpost:
||The Board takes concerns about potential Trustee conflicts of interest very seriously. In accordance with our conflict of interest policy (wmf:Conflict of interest policy), it is established practice that any Board member with a possible or perceived conflict of interest is recused from the relevant conversation.
- Foundation launches endowment: In a significant move—after intense and sporadic debate during the past five years—the WMF has announced the launching of the Wikimedia Endowment. The ambition is to raise US$100M over the next 10 years, to ensure the financial security and longevity of the organization. The Signpost will cover this decision in more detail in subsequent editions. T
- Bernie Sanders campaign takedown order rescinded: This week, the Foundation complied with demands from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign to remove several logos, citing DMCA. James Alexander said, "We also contacted the attorneys representing the Bernie Sanders campaign to discuss the issue, and they asked that WMF carry out a takedown in compliance with the DMCA rather than work with the community to update the licensing information or allow the images." Following the removal, Odder filed a counterclaim; James Alexander has now advised that the DMCA takedown has been withdrawn by the filer, and all images have been undeleted. The spat was covered in ArsTechnica (Jan. 15). GP, AK
- WMF January Metrics and Activities Meeting: A video of the event is here. T
- Board minutes: The minutes of the November 7, 2015 board meeting have been published on wikimediafoundation.org. Some key points: The board discussed "the possibility of charging for premium access to the services and APIs, expanding major donor and foundation fundraising, providing specific services for a fee, or limiting the Wikimedia Foundation's growth. The Board emphasized the importance of keeping free access to the existing APIs and services, keeping operational growth in line with the organization's effectiveness, providing room for innovation in the Foundation's activities, and other potential fundraising strategies. The Board asked Lila to analyze and develop some of these potential strategies for further discussion at a Board meeting in 2016." Boryana Dineva and Dariusz Jemielniak "presented on the process for Board recruitment to fill Jan-Bart's and Stu's seats after December 2015", and "the Board voted to approve a gift from the Knight Foundation after a motion by James seconded by Denny." Jimmy Wales' term on the board was renewed. AK
- Ombudsman Commission scope expanded: According to a board resolution passed on November 7, 2015 and published this week, the scope and authority of the Ombudsman Commission have been expanded. The Commission will from now on also hear and investigate questions or complaints containing allegations that local policies for CheckUser or Oversight violate or conflict with corresponding global CheckUser and Oversight policies, or that CheckUsers or Oversighters have violated the global CheckUser or Oversight policies. AK
The crisis at New Montgomery Street
Wikipedia officially turns 15 years old at the end of the week. The tone of the TV news segments, newspaper op-eds, and other media spotlights will be celebratory. However, the mood among Wikipedia insiders is anything but: the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), its Board of Trustees, and close observers within the community are entering the third week of a crisis that’s arguably more public and pointed than similar issues in years past. The major events and themes seem to be as follows:
- In late December the Board of Trustees dismissed a well-liked community-elected trustee, Dr. James Heilman, for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious
- WMF staff complaints about the performance of executive director Lila Tretikov, long simmering but never on-record, have now boiled over into public discussion
- Revelations about newly appointed Board trustee Arnnon Geshuri’s involvement in an illegal anti-poaching scheme while at Google has drawn community outcry
- Besides failing to vet Geshuri, the WMF’s increasing tilt toward the Silicon Valley and focus on (perhaps) the wrong technology projects have come into sharper relief
Woven into each strand is a theme that The Wikipedian has covered since 2012 at least, each time with a few more data points and a little more urgency: that the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikipedia community it supposedly exists to serve have become increasingly at odds with one another. A deep exploration of why is beyond the remit of this post—for now, we just need to put everything that’s going on in one place.
The sacking of Doc James
On December 28, well-respected community leader Heilman announced via email to the Wikimedia-l public mailing list that he had been “removed” from the board. Heilman gave no initial reason for the announcement, guaranteeing a flurry of speculation and general disarray, not to mention the revelation came during that weird “office dead zone” week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Within the hour, Board chair Patricio Lorente confirmed the news in a follow-up email, providing scarcely any more context, and WMF’s legal department posted the full text of the resolution “James Heilman Removal” on the web:
||Resolved, James Heilman is removed from the Board of Trustees, fully ending his term in office and appointment as a member or liaison for any Board committees.
Eight trustees voted to approve; only two voted against: fellow community representative Dariusz Jemielniak and Heilman himself.
Into the contextual void spilled hundreds of replies even before the turn of the calendar three days later. Wikipedia’s famous co-founder, Jimmy Wales, the longest-serving trustee, was the first to add a smidge of information. In response to the growing concern of commenters on his user page, Wales simply stated that Heilman’s removal was “for cause”.
On January 1, while the community was still searching for answers, Heilman posted a somewhat cryptic statement giving his side of the story, suggesting that the Board had sacked him for “[r]eleasing private board information”—even though, according to Heilman, he had only “pushed for greater transparency”. This view was largely adopted by other Wikimedia-l participants, who were already predisposed to side with him. In their view, Heilman’s mysterious dismissal looked like the canonical example of the Board’s troubling lack of transparency.
On January 5, the Board published a FAQ explaining their rationale, although it’s doubtful that it satisfied many. It seemed to agree that some form of this “confidence vs. transparency” question was at the core:
||Over time, his fellow Trustees came to the opinion that they lacked sufficient confidence in his discretion, judgment, and ability to maintain confidential Board information about the Wikimedia Foundation governance activities.
Later still, community-elected trustee Denny Vrandečić posted his own take on the dismissal, reinforcing this consensus. Even so, the underlying disagreement remained a mystery. To solve it, the first clue may be found in Heilman’s January 1 post, making a point that went unremarked-upon by the Board. Heilman wrote he had been “accused”—though not publicly to this point—of:
||Giving staff unrealistic expectations regarding potential board decisions. I have always stated to staff that I only represented 10% of the board and have never given assurances that I could convince other trustees.
Well, now what does that mean? Convince them of what, exactly? Careful observers on the list had some idea:
||For whatever reason James ended being ground zero for complaints by WMF employees. … James handled these complaints in a way that the WMF management felt was undermining their authority/ability to lead and complained to the board. The board sided with management and removed James.
As far as I have seen, no Board member has disputed this. Then again, none has yet commented upon it in any way. Perhaps frustrated by this fact, last Friday Heilman made public his final pre-removal letter to the Board—in which he admitted acting “out of process” and asked for a second chance:
||Our board made the decision to give Lila a second chance in the face of staff mistrust. In the long road ahead to improve our movement, I would like to have the same opportunity to continue working together with you as well.
Ten days later, his request was denied and the whole thing broke wide open.
The trouble with Tretikov
The tenure of Lila Tretikov, the second major leader of the Wikimedia Foundation, got off to a rocky start even before she assumed the title of Executive Director in mid-2014: as The Wikipedian reluctantly chronicled at the time, her (rather eccentric) significant other had inserted himself, unbidden, into the Wikimedia-l mailing list and other forums for Wikipedia discussion, depriving her of the chance to set the tone of her own arrival.
But everyone wanted her to succeed, she made good impressions, seemed to have the résumé for the job, and so was given time to prove herself. However, as I wrote in my year-in-review last month, that honeymoon period is long over: very high turnover in top management, questionable hires, and emerging details of a staff revolt at the Foundation’s New Montgomery Street office have brought her leadership under close scrutiny.
Although staff discontent has been mostly the stuff of rumors over the past six months (at least), if you knew what to look for, you could find it in certain corners of the web. There was that one Quora thread, although it didn’t say very much. Somewhat more voluble is the Foundation’s entry on Glassdoor, where reviews by anonymous current and former staffers provide clearer evidence of dissatisfaction among WMF employees. Of note, Tretikov holds just a 15% approval, and reviews have grown steadily more negative in recent months:
||Unfortunately, the foundation is going through management turmoil. There is no strategy — or worse, a new strategic plan is rolled out every couple of months with no follow-through or accountability. … Please hire better executives and directors.
||The Executive Director unveils a new strategy every three months or so. She completely abandons the previous strategy and then does nothing to actually follow through on the strategy. … We need a new Executive Director. Most C-Level executives have fled. We will not be able to attract top talent until there is new leadership at the very top.
Although Glassdoor may present a skewed sample, this doesn’t appear to be the case. As Wikipedia Signpost contributor Andreas Kolbe points out, comparable non-profit organizations have much, much better employee ratings. And last week the Signpost reported on the existence of a yet-unreleased internal WMF survey from 2015 that found approximately 90% employee dissatisfaction. Yet when the turnover issue came up on the mailing list, Boryana Dineva, WMF’s new HR director, replied that everything was well within normal limits for the industry. This seems hard to believe.
Arnnon Geshuri agonistes
Amidst all this, the Board announced on January 6 the naming of two new appointed trustees: Kelly Battles and Arnnon Geshuri. Following some initial confusion as to whether either was a replacement for Heilman—they were not, but replacements for Jan Bart de Vreede and Stu West, whose terms had ended in December 2015—there came the usual round of congratulatory notices.
But the following day a regular list contributor raised a new issue: Geshuri had, in a previous role as Google’s Senior Staffing Strategist, actively participated in a rather infamous episode of recent Silicon Valley history: an illegal, collusive agreement among several leading firms—Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, eBay and others—to avoid recruiting each others’ employees. The overall effect was to restrain the career advancement (and hold down salaries) of thousands of tech workers, and the participating firms eventually agreed to pay $415 million to settle the class action lawsuit.
Geshuri’s role in all this? According to email from the unsealed case, as reported by Pando Daily, Geshuri acted decisively to fire a Google recruiter who had been reaching out to Apple employees—which would be, you know, par for the course. Apple’s Steve Jobs complained to Google’s Eric Schmidt, who passed it along to Geshuri. His reply back:
On this specific case, the sourcer who contacted this Apple employee should not have and will be terminated within the hour. We are scrubbing the sourcer’s records to ensure she did not contact anyone else. … Please extend my apologies as appropriate to Steve Jobs. This was an isolated incident and we will be very careful to make sure this does not happen again.
For more details, see this detailed summary by Wikipedian Jim Heaphy, whose Wikipedia article-styled summary ends with a call for Geshuri’s removal from the Board.
On the mailing list, criticism of Geshuri’s appointment came from none other than two former Board chairs: Florence Devouard (in a short comment) and Kat Walsh (in a longer one). Considering how slow current and former Board members were to chime in regarding Heilman’s dismissal the swift and strong rejection of Geshuri by Devouard and Walsh underlines how seriously the Board screwed up.
In fact, Dariusz Jemielniak, who had first posted news of the appointment to the list, indicated in a subsequent comment that the Board had not discussed this aspect of Geshuri’s career at all. Wales, for his part, confirmed that he was aware at least of the broad outlines, which of course can be easily found—where else?—in Geshuri’s Google search results. Curiously, as of this writing, the anti-poaching scandal exists on Geshuri’s entry only as a single, carefully phrased sentence.
At the time of this writing, no announcement about Geshuri’s continued trusteeship has been made, but it seems his tenure will be very short. Considering the nature of the scandal, and the strident opposition, it’s very difficult to see how he can remain. And if Geshuri somehow survives where Heilman did not, the chasm between the Foundation and community will become considerably wider.
The silicon wiki
Besides Geshuri, the Wikipedia Signpost observed last week that at least five Board trustees have significant relationships with Google. Likewise the WMF has some Board connections to Tesla, and somewhat weaker ties to Facebook. What of it? A few big issues come to mind.
The first is simply the question of diversity and representation: Wikipedia may have been founded in and still operating out of the United States, but its reach is global and its underlying ethic is inclusive. This is rather hard to do, and gets into extraordinarily thorny questions of identity politics which even those who raise them are unprepared to answer. But until such a time as there is consensus that the WMF is sufficiently representative of its global audience, it will at least be mentioned.
The second is the always-present question of conflicts of interest. Not just the perennial “COI” question about Wikipedia content and publicity-motivated editing, but the big picture version of same: whether this public good, this collaborative, free-in-all-senses online knowledge repository is being manipulated by powerful insiders for private gain—especially in a way that steers Wikipedia and its sister projects in a direction that deprives others from making the most of their Wikipedia experience.
This specific harm hasn’t been shown to be the case, but if anyone is going to do that, well, it’s entirely plausible this may come from the Silicon Valley firms who are close to Wikipedia both in physical proximity (WMF is based in downtown San Francisco) and focus area (WMF all but owns the tech side of Wikipedia). Indeed, there have been calls for Board members to disclose their own conflicts and recuse themselves when relevant interests intersect.
Then again, there are now fears that something like this might be happening with an embryonic project called Search and Discovery. Last week the Wikimedia Foundation and Knight Foundation jointly announced a new partnership examining the search habits of Wikipedia users with an eye toward a later project that may eventually replace Wikipedia’s current internal search. It might even incorporate other databases—not just Wikidata, but non-Wikimedia data resources as well. (Big Data is the future, lest we forget.) It sounds like a plausible direction for WMF, but as the Signpost reports, the staff morale problem is at least in part tied to concerns about the resources allocated to the project. And this, too, intersects with Heilman’s dismissal from the board: in recent days he has made comments suggesting that the grant—which was actually decided in September 2015—should have been announced earlier.
Other criticisms have come from former staffer Pete Forsyth, who has questioned the process whereby WMF accepted the “restricted grant” from Knight—a practice once opposed by Sue Gardner, Tretikov’s predecessor. And a highly thought-provoking argument (also in the Signpost this week) comes from longtime Wikipedia veteran Liam Wyatt, who made this compelling observation in his own blog post about the controversial last few weeks:
||[A] portion of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation believe that it should be treated as a technology organisation in the style of a dot-com company, out of step with the staff and without the awareness of the community. By contrast, it’s always been my belief that the Wikimedia Foundation is an education charity that happens to exist primarily in a technology field. Of course software engineering is crucial to the work we do and should represent the major proportion of staff and budget, but that is the means, not the end.
The contrary view is that the Wikimedia Foundation has long been heavy on technology—under Gardner, the WMF identified itself as a “grant-making and technology” organization—as these are roles the foundation can undertake without overstepping its charter, and for which of course it has sufficient funds. That said, there has been little clamor for this particular project, especially as the community has made different technology recommendations to the Foundation, such as better integration with the Internet Archive’s Wayback machine and improved UI in editor tools, which are arguably clearer and more achievable.
♦ ♦ ♦
As I post this on Monday, January 11, it’s entirely possible that new information about any or all of the above related controversies could appear and change the picture dramatically. Given the fact, I’d better post this before anything else happens that would require a massive rewrite. I’ll aim to save those for a subsequent update, whether below this inadequate summary or in a separate blog post. Either way, stay tuned.
- ^ Friday, January 15 to be specific.
- ^ The Wikimedia-l mailing list is an often tedious, intermittently fascinating semi-public discussion group where self-selected Wikipedians may opine. They include current and former Wikipedia editors, current and former WMF employees, and occasionally Board trustees. The frequency which Wikimedians post to Wikimedia-l seems to have an inverse relationship with their power inside the Wikimedia Foundation.
- ^ In later comments on Jimmy Wales’ Talk page, Heilman added more details about what he wanted to see made public.
- ^ January 7
- ^ Like Yelp but for workplaces.
- ^ NPR, for instance
- ^ And when former members, like SJ Klein, did so, it was in support of Heilman.
- ^ Where another gossipy Quora thread appears.
- ^ Possibly unnecessary but probably advisable disclosure: Google has been a client of my firm, Beutler Ink, although I have not personally been involved with these projects and none of our work relates in any way to Wikipedia.
- ^ if not exactly obvious
- ^ Formerly described as a “knowledge engine” in a semi-official FAQ, the project has in fact been developing in something like stealth mode in WMF’s Discovery department for several months now.
This article was originally posted on the author's blog and is republished with his permission.
We need a culture of verification
The celebration of Wikipedia's 15th birthday threatens to be overshadowed by debates concerning governance of the various Wikimedia projects and how much of a voice the community will have in the future direction of the Wikimedia movement. These debates also threaten to overshadow another debate we should be having about the future of the community, regarding what lies at the heart of the movement and its community: the encyclopedia itself.
So far our focus has been primarily on growth. This was natural and appropriate for a movement that built the world's most widely used reference work out of nothing. In October, the English Wikipedia reached five million articles, and we loudly celebrated that milestone and every milestone beforehand. Expansion has been the watchword: expanding to five million articles, expanding stubs to complete articles, expanding articles to Featured Article status, expanding the encyclopedia to cover content gaps. We celebrated the people who wrote those articles, showered them with barnstars, and marked their articles with indicators of their quality, as we should have.
Now the community needs to have a conversation about maintaining what it has built. One hesitates to reach for the cliche comparing the growth of an organization to that of a living person, but sometimes the comparison is apt. Wikipedia is reaching adulthood. The growth spurts are subsiding. Instead of focusing on constant expansion, now is the time to turn our attention to maintenance and upkeep.
When we turn our attention to an article or topic, the results are generally positive. Some of Wikipedia's worst mistakes and embarrassments, from the Seigenthaler controversy to Jar'Edo Wens have come from the lack of attention from editors. Hoaxes and defamation can lurk in the encyclopedia because editors did not see a particular article or reacted inadequately, by ignoring it or slapping a tag on it and leaving it for others to deal with.
Assuming good faith is one of our core values, and we justifiably have a lot of faith in the results of crowdsourcing and the abilities of other contributors. That may cause us not to be sufficiently critical when evaluating encyclopedia edits. Countless times editors have challenged obvious vandalism or implausible edits and stopped there, while less obvious vandalism from the same editor goes unchallenged. For example, in the case of a fabricated Thoreau quotation, an obvious hoax was immediately challenged. So the hoaxer quickly provided a fake citation to a real book, without a page number, and this citation went unchallenged and unverified, persisting for six years, even after the hoaxer tried to undo their own hoax.
As the saying goes, we need to trust but verify. We can trust the work of our fellow contributors while verifying their facts and citations and not letting their edits go sufficiently challenged. We need to encourage a culture of verification so when editors see something like the Thoreau hoax or Jar'Edo Wens, they act sufficiently by deleting it or verifying it instead of challenging it once by adding a tag and then forgetting about it. In addition to celebrating the content creators, we need to celebrate the content verifiers, like Mr. Granger, who looked at that Thoreau quote and its citation six years after it was added and would have none of it, and ShelfSkewed, who uncovered a hoax article about an imaginary war by systematically examining citations with invalid ISBNs.
Creating projects and procedures to systematically verify articles and citations is one approach we can take to create a culture of verification. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has its authors update their topics every four years. Perhaps we can systematically revisit articles after a set period of time instead of relying on tagging and forgetting, waiting for hoaxes and other frauds to be accidentally discovered.
One such new program for verification is scheduled to run from January 15 to 23, 2016, in conjunction with Wikipedia's anniversary celebration. The Wikipedia Library has created 1Lib1Ref to encourage librarians to bring their expertise to bear on these issues by having as many of them as possible add a single reference to Wikipedia. Imagine if we could get librarians to do this every year, or Wikipedians to do this every week. It would go a long way to working on our backlog of tagged articles and to encouraging editors to think about these issues as a fundamental part of their work here.
As covered previously in the Signpost, I was removed from the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees in late December, by an 8–2 vote. The Board has not been forthcoming (publicly or to me) about the reasons, though they have (officially and as individuals) repeatedly stated that “mutual trust” was the main factor.
My brief time on the Board – since sent there with more than 1800 of your votes in June – was defined by tensions around transparency. I believe transparency is a crucial value of the movement. Upon joining the Board, I encountered a culture of secrecy that was distressing. I advocated, forcefully at times, for publishing information that others felt should be kept secret. They may have believed I felt so strongly that I would publish it unilaterally; but it’s hard to know: I’m not a mindreader. I’ve not published such information.
During my time as a trustee, and in the weeks since my removal, I’ve learned that many Wikimedia Foundation staff share the Wikimedia movement's dedication to transparency, share my concerns about secrecy in the present organization, and are willing to take bold steps to bring about change.
Shortly after my removal, several Wikimedia staff created, and began to populate, a page on Meta Wiki called the "Wikimedia Foundation transparency gap." Many community members, including English Wikipedians and members of other projects, and former staff and Board members, have built out the page in detail, documenting areas in which the WMF could improve its transparency, and suggesting specific steps it could take to do so.
This essay will focus on just a few of those ideas.
The past couple of weeks have seen a great deal of discussion on transparency and what this means for our movement. Members of the volunteer community, along with Foundation staff, have begun collecting specific ideas about how transparency could and should be improved, on the Meta page Wikimedia Foundation transparency gap. The community is a unique and invaluable asset of Wikimedia. Not only is transparency required to properly leverage this asset: our communities demand transparency.
Not everything should be transparent, but a great deal must be, and I believe much more than currently. We need a culture that is transparent by default, one where confidentiality is only dragged out for specific reasons and with specific justification.
We must keep in mind that the WMF is a steward of movement funds, and those in positions of authority should act accordingly. This is reflected in our values "we must communicate Wikimedia Foundation information in a transparent, thorough and timely manner, to our communities and more generally, to the public." We additionally say: "In general, where possible, we aim to do much of our work in public, rather than in private, typically on public wikis." We need to redouble our efforts to reach this goal.
Our long-term strategy must be developed in genuine collaboration with our movement. This means that strategy discussions are started early, that ideas are proposed, and that this is done before a year into a project or millions of dollars are spent. Our ideas around “search and discovery” were developed before April to June of 2015 and we presented them first to potential funders rather than our own communities.
Restricted grants can change the direction of an organization. If allowed they need to be very carefully managed. The Bylaws require Board approval of restricted grants over $100,000, and for good reason. In a movement like ours we must not be “selling” ideas to potential funders that we are not willing to sell to the movement as a whole.
Grant applications should be published at the same time as they are submitted to potential funders. This would keep those in a position of management accountable. It would reduce the risk of unpleasant surprises down the road. The community would also be aware of what has been promised to those who are funding us. Best practice would be to take this a step further by discussing what kind of grants we should accept – an idea put forward by the previous ED, Sue Gardner.
With the grant for the visual editor (VE), from my understanding there was a timeline around rollout agreed to with the funder. Thus VE was rolled out before it was ready, as exemplified by the difficulty initially of adding references with the new system. It should have been obvious to all involved that rollout was too early. We ended up taking an idea that had a great deal of support from the community at large and turning it into a loss for the WMF’s programming teams.
Those who have pushed the most for transparency around restricted grants have left the organization. We now need “clear standard[s] for transparency [around] restricted grants”].
If the US government can have “open, honest, challenging conversations”, then why can’t we? Our communities are able to have frank and difficult discussions in public. If one takes a controversial position one should be willing to defend and stand behind it. We have a communication gap, one that holds our movement back; this would help address it.
That these discussions are public keeps some level of behavioral decorum and allows inappropriate intimidation tactics to be reined in by admins. It also allows those who “vote” for community candidates to judge if those they have elected are living up to their positions before they ran. We should not be hesitant to publish dissenting views. While the final vote obviously wins the day attempts to hide other views should be disallowed. And they should definitely never be misrepresented.
Inside the game of sports vandalism on Wikipedia
The following content has been republished from the Wikimedia Blog
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On November 22, football (soccer) team Manchester City lost 4–1 at home to Liverpool. Some Liverpool fans commemorated the drubbing by vandalizing the Wikipedia page for the City of Manchester Stadium, and the press took notice.
“Manchester City stadium now ‘owned by Jürgen Klopp’, claims Wikipedia page,” read a story on The Guardian’s online sports section. Klopp is Liverpool’s manager. The Guardian story reported that the Wikipedia article had been edited to show Liverpool’s coach owned the stadium, which had supposedly been renamed, and that a Liverpool player now operated it.
The Guardian‘s story was published at 11:28 a.m. GMT, and shared on social media 4,498 times.
Yet before the story ever appeared online, the vandalism reported by The Guardian was reverted. Within an hour of publication, the Wikipedia article was “protected,” or closed to anonymous edits.
The speed of the reversion could not chase down online reporting of the vandalism. Few actually saw the bad edits—yet according to Google News, 1,541 articles reported the vandalism, including The Mirror and BBC News Online.
Anyone can edit any Wikipedia page, and for exuberant fans, that temptation can prove too much to resist.
“I was just trying something new,” a Facebook user who posted about vandalizing the Manchester City page later told Wikipedia on Facebook. “I was like, hey is it possible if I add something by myself, even if it was wrong? So I decided to do it.” He said he is a football fan who otherwise greatly appreciates Wikipedia.
On the other end of the vandalism was Smartse, a Wikipedia editor since 2006 with more than 32,000 edits. “I was reading The Guardian, and noticed an article about the vandalism. So I checked the history and protected it for a few days,” Smartse said via email. “I would say that it was being taken out of proportion since it was hardly any different to all the other vandalism high traffic articles get. Publicising vandalism like this isn’t helpful in general as it will only encourage others to do the same. Even if it’s funny, someone still has to revert it.”
Wikipedia vandalism can reach some very high places. On October 20, Barack Obama noted vandalism to the article on US women’s soccer team star Carli Lloyd at a White House press appearance. In July, Lloyd’s Wikipedia page was vandalized to state that she was the president of the United States after she scored three goals in the final game of the World Cup. The president joked that Lloyd knew more about being president than some of the current candidates.
The vandalism to Lloyd’s page was reverted in five minutes; still, a Google News search shows more than 6,000 news articles cited the prank.
In a similar incident, goalkeeper Tim Howard’s Wikipedia page was changed to list him as Secretary of Defense after his 16 saves in a 2014 World Cup game. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called Howard to congratulate him—a fact reported by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Yahoo! Sports, among many others.
For every inspired vandalism edit, there are many that are not. As millions of fans curious about Howard’s life story were simply trying to learn facts about him, his Wikipedia article was repeatedly vandalized.
TV networks have long declined to broadcast fans interrupting games. A spokeswoman for CBS Sports told The New York Times a decade ago that “It’s our policy to turn our cameras away from any exhibitionist behavior. We’re not going to provide the vehicle for these people.” But the Web has changed that, elevating streakers on the field and other pranks on websites and social media. “The exhibitionists who interrupt sporting events no longer have to rely on the reluctant gaze of a television camera to advance their notoriety,” the Times wrote in 2005.
Some say online reporting of Wikipedia vandalism should have ended then.
“Media reports of Wikipedia vandalism are more than a decade obsolete,” said Howard Rheingold, who helped to develop early crowdsourced projects and social networks, and taught about them at the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University. “Wikipedia has always worked,” Rheingold said, because the number of people “who have the power to revert to a previous version with one click has vastly outnumbered the number of vandals.”
The reports of vandalism continue, some even noting that the edits are gone in an instant, but immortalized in blogs.
The New England Sports Network reported on Dec. 28 about vandalism to New England Patriots’ player Matt Slater’s Wikipedia page the day before. The edit cited in the blog post disappeared in five minutes, and NESN noted “the sarcastic jokes were quickly removed.” The post then showed the vandalized articles, noting:
“But nothing ever really disappears on the Internet, as the following screen shots prove.”
Jeff Elder is the digital communications manager at the Wikimedia Foundation. This post originally appeared at the Wikimedia Blog.
Battle for the soul of the WMF
- staff morale at the WMF is at an all time low (only 7% feel informed, only 10% feel confident in senior leadership, as reported last week in The Signpost);
- over the last year, there has been extreme "churn" in senior staff, as noted by William Beutler (WWB) and MZMcBride and most notably by former WMF Director of Features Engineering Terry Chay;
- there has been a "transparency gap" including the mid-2015 major, yet secretly planned, "re-org" of the engineering department (see the list on this talk page);
- last week was the unprecedented dismissal of Dr. James Heilman (Doc James), a community-recommended member of the Board of Trustees who I personally know and trust, due to a loss of “mutual confidence”. The decision was persuasively defended by Denny Vrandečić, a community-recommended member of the Board who I also know and trust, but with insufficient justification for many – including the longest-serving employee of the WMF, Tim Starling;
- this week, in a blow in terms of diversity-of-perspectives, two American, San Francisco bay-resident, tech industry insiders, have been appointed to the Board – one of whom (appointed specifically for his human resources experience) was named in a US Department of Justice investigation into anti-competitive wage-fixing cartel among tech companies, as comprehensively summarised by Jim Heaphy (Cullen328)
It is my supposition that this is not a list of unrelated incidents, but that this is part of a wider theme: That a portion of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation believe that it should be treated as a technology organisation in the style of a dot-com company, out of step with the staff and without the awareness of the community. By contrast, it’s always been my belief that the Wikimedia Foundation is an education charity that happens to exist primarily in a technology field. Of course software engineering is crucial to the work we do and should represent the major proportion of staff and budget, but that is the means, not the end.
All this background makes the draft Strategic Plan a very important document. For the 2010-15 plan there was a massive community consultation project, but this time around there was only a 2-question survey. As Philippe Beaudette (Philippe), the Community Facilitator on that original strategy process and later the WMF Director of Community Advocacy (who also recently left the organisation), said to me [with permission to publish here]:
||The Wikimedia Foundation has one unique strategic asset: the editing community. Other orgs have great tech resources, tons of money, good software, and smart staff… but none of them have the editing community. I am, frankly, saddened by the fact that this one unique strategic asset is not more central to the developing strategy.
The November staff presentation gives a strategy preview that speaks of three priorities (slides 28-30): “1. Engage more people globally (reach) 2. Facilitate communities at-scale (community) 3. Include broader content (knowledge)”; and describes a need to “prioritise core work” (slides 32-33). All laudable goals, but they only include “example objectives” such as “build capacity”, “improve trust”, and “improve tools”.
Nevertheless, I suspect that the major strategic direction has already been privately determined. In short, it appears there will be an attempt to create the internet's Next Big Thing™ at the expense of improving the great thing that we already have.
- In May, as noted by Risker, "Search and Discovery, a new team, seems to be extraordinarily well-staffed with a disproportionate number of engineers at the same time as other areas seem to be wanting for them."
- The June staff presentation “strategy preview” talks about creating a “knowledge engine where users, institutions and computers around the world contribute and discover knowledge”. The FAQ page for the “Discovery department”, describes this project as “…improving the existing CirrusSearch infrastructure with better relevance, multi language, multi projects search and incorporating new data sources for our projects.”
- In September, the Knight Foundation announced a grant of $250,000 to build a "knowledge engine". This was announced by the WMF two days ago. This is a “restricted grant” but, as has been described by Pete Forsyth, there is none of the associated documentation – for example the formal grant deliverables – except for a short FAQ.
- As mentioned above, we now have two new Silicon Valley executives appointed to the Board of Trustees. They join the previously appointed member of the board Silicon Valley venture-capitalist Guy Kawasaki, as well as internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales himself. There is no one appointed for their professional experience in education, charities, communities, or developing countries.
While I agree with the general premise that the search system on the Wikimedia projects can be improved, I don’t know anyone who thinks "an indexed & structured cache" of "Federated Open Data Sources" should be the strategic priority. Starting something entirely new like Federated Search is hard and trying to include external sources (that link also suggests trying to also integrate the US Census, and the Digital Public Library of America) is even harder, especially when there are so many existing technical needs. Quoting Philippe again: "for instance, fixing the inter-relationships between languages and projects, or creating a new admin toolset for mobile, or paying down our technical debt, or establishing a care/command/control operation for critical tools to ensure their sustainability, etc...."
The Funds Dissemination Committee (on which I sit as a community-elected member) declared in November that it is "…appalled by the closed way that the WMF has undertaken both strategic and annual planning, and the WMF's approach to budget transparency (or lack thereof)." In response, the WMF is considering submitting its 2016-17 annual plan, based on the aforementioned strategic plan, to a "process on-par with the standards of transparency and planning detail required of affiliates going through the Annual Plan Grant (APG) process".
We will see over the next weeks to what degree the apparent shift towards a Silicon Valley mindset – whether the staff and community like it or not – is indeed true. As the then-Chair of the Board Jan-Bart de Vreede said in describing Lila Tretikov’s appointment as Executive Director:
||We are unique in many ways, but not unique enough to ignore basic trends and global developments in how people use the internet and seek knowledge…I hope that all of you will be a part of this next step in our evolution. But I understand that if you decide to take a wiki-break, that might be the way things have to be.
Meanwhile, you might be interested in the roadmap for the Discovery department or for the more technically minded there is the "Discovery" workboard on Phabricator and associated mailing-list. Finally, for what it's worth, the term "knowledge engine" itself is now deprecated.
This article was originally posted on the author's blog and is reprinted with his permission.
Pattern recognition: Third annual Traffic Report
"Once", wrote Ian Fleming in Goldfinger, "is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern" (actually he wrote, "Three times is enemy action", but let's not antagonise our viewers here). If Fleming's assertion is correct that one requires three instances of the same occurrence to identify a pattern, then now would be a pretty good time to try, as this is the third appearance of Wikipedia's annual Traffic Report. And while the dogged stalwarts of the list (Deaths in [insert year here], [insert year here] in film, [Insert Your Home Country Here], World War II) stand firm against all weather, what really reveals itself across the last three years is a shift in usage patterns from recreation to information.
That is not to say, mind you, that recreation is and perhaps will always be the prime motivator of our viewership, whatever our intentions as editors may be. Rather, Wikipedia viewers are becoming cannier in how they use Wikipedia to augment their recreation. The presence of Chris Kyle, for instance, could only be due to the popularity of the film American Sniper, but that film is nowhere to be seen. Instead, viewers were drawn to the man himself, the tragedy of his death, and the myriad controversies surrounding his legacy. Ditto Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar; viewers of the hit Netflix series Narcos turned for information not to the article on the show, but to that of the man whose violent wheel-dealings it portrayed. The Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything may have been a modest hit, but that was not what brought viewers to Wikipedia, who were more interested in the film's subject than the film itself.
The patterns of colour reveal a stark change in usage, though it is still too early to know if it marks a longterm trend. 2013 was dominated by the red of television, but both 2014 and 2015 have increasingly embraced the orange of film. 2015 is clearly the year film took over; 11 articles on the Top 25 list, nearly half the total, are either on films or are film-related, compared with five last year and two in 2013. In my first annual report I speculated that television would dominate over film because its longform structure meant it could maintain our interest for longer periods. I have apparently reckoned without the Event Movie.
In 2015, Hollywood rediscovered the magic of marketing. Movies this year were so huge (the four on the list released this year are all in the top ten highest-grossing films of all time) that they exerted their presence over months; watching the commercials and then the discussions on the news became as much a part of the experience as the film itself. Other patterns can also be seen; the bright yellow of websites has gradually lost ground, while the electric blue of current events has grown.
Given that a sizeable portion of traffic to website articles is doubtless due to people searching for the sites themselves and clicking the wrong Google hit, it shows, perhaps, that our viewers are becoming more Internet savvy, and are consciously employing it as an information tool, rather than as a means to chat or watch cat videos. One colour I am very happy to see the end of is beige. IPv6, with the benefit of hindsight, probably would have been excluded today, but sex has a far more storied and venerable past. Time was when this report would have been pointless; in the last decade, Wikipedia was still seen as something of a toy, and its only regular viewers were school children looking up naughty words. Sex, that most universal of human preoccupations, was the last to go. I do not expect to see it again.
For a list of the raw Top 5000 most viewed Wikipedia articles of 2015 (but be careful to exclude articles with almost 100% or 0% mobile views, which are afflicted by bots like the longstanding Angelsberg), see here. For the most recently weekly Top 25 reports, see Dec 20-26 Report and Dec 27 - Jan 2 Report.
The Top 25 most viewed articles of 2015 were:
Top 25 Articles of 2015
||Deaths in 2015
||Star Wars: The Force Awakens
||Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
||List of Bollywood films of 2014
||Avengers: Age of Ultron
||Game of Thrones
||Fifty Shades of Grey
||2014 in film
||Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
||World War II
Wikipedia community celebrates Public Domain Day 2016
On New Year's Day, Free Content advocates from all over the world celebrated Public Domain Day. This is because copyright protection ends on 31 December – in Europe and in many other countries seventy years after the death of the author. For several reasons, Public Domain Day is a holiday with many facets. On the one hand, the heirs (or often shareholders) of creators have to renounce on sometimes still quite lucrative rights. On the other hand, these works can now finally be used by anyone without limitations – e.g. on Wikipedia and on its sister projects like Wikisource.
The United States, however, decided not to celebrate until 2019. This is why no new content can be added to projects that adhere to U.S. law, like English Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. But let us turn to the jurisdictions that apply the "70 years post mortem auctoris" rule: Here, Public Domain Day 2016 affects all creators who died in 1945. In consequence, the list contains some rather peculiar personalities whose lives ended in the year of the liberation from the terrors of fascism and World War II. What does it mean for a biography to end in 1945?
Unfortunately, the first person to be named in this list is Adolf Hitler, who was a failed painter in Vienna before his horrible career as a politician and who wrote that famous manifesto during his time in prison. The German state of Bavaria has held the copyright for Adolf Hitler's works, including Mein Kampf, and used it to impede access to them except for special research purposes. Since January 1, anyone can spread these texts. In Germany and other countries, however, special laws continue to limit their circulation.
Luckily, we can mention a rather different work next: The Diary of Anne Frank. As published in a modified version by her father, Otto Heinrich Frank, in 1947 unter the title Het Achterhuis, it is still protected since Otto Frank, who died in 1980, is a co-author. The original parts by Anne Frank – and only in the Dutch original – have entered the public domain and are accessible on Wikisource. The diary is joined by the graphics and sculptures of Käthe Kollwitz, whose call for peace and humanity definitely made this Public Domain Day an event to celebrate.
And then there are the many other artists whose great works we remember this year and of whom we can only name a few: Painter Emily Carr and poet Paul Valéry stand aside David Lindsay, who wrote A Voyage to Arcturus, and Felix Salten, the creator of Bambi and – perhaps Josefine Mutzenbacher. The buildings of architect Jaume Torres i Grau can now also be used outside the limitations of freedom of panorama.
Also, three world-famous composers died in 1945: The music of Béla Bartók, Pietro Mascagni (Cavalleria rusticana) and Anton Webern could not be more diverse, but gravely influenced music history. It is thus important to note that Public Domain Day is a day when we remind ourselves that all creative endeavor is rooted in the creativity of others.
This is why copyright must have limits, not just in matters of time. Canada, China and many African and Asian countries even limit copyright to only 50 years after the death of the author, freeing the works of T.S. Eliot, Malcolm X, and "Blind" Willie Johnson in these jurisdictions. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, however, is now putting an end to this freedom, imposing a 70-year limit on all signatories.
A list of authors who died in 1945 can be found at 2016 in public domain. For a more comprehensive list, created using Wikidata, see Wikipedia:WikiProject Literature/2016 in public domain.
The author is a German Wikipedian.
Interview: outgoing and incumbent arbitrators 2016
For this issue of the Arbitration report, we interview some of the outgoing and incumbent/returning members of the Committee.
1. First off, congrats on becoming an Arbitrator.
2. Why did you want to run for a seat in the Committee?
- Drmies: I don't know—I think that like many others I was not happy with various aspects of the process, and a sort of lack of transparency. Plus, I was unhappy with a few "emergency" decisions made by ArbCom. And I thought I could be of some use and maybe put my money where my mouth is
- GorillaWarfare: Although it was occasionally exhausting and disheartening, I enjoyed my 2013–2015 (sic) term on the Arbitration Committee. I think institutional memory and experience with the processes is as valuable as fresh faces, so I felt that I could be valuable in that sense. I also think the Arbitration Committee has a lot it can improve on in the near future, and I would like to help with that improvement.
- Keilana: I thought I'd be able to bring a fresh perspective as a primarily content-focused editor.
- Kelapstick: I wasn't going to initially, but at the time of my decision to run, there were only seven other people who had put their names forward. At that time I wasn't overly confident with the candidate pool (that isn't to say I didn't have confidence in any of them, just not enough to form a committee). I thought that the least I could do to remedy the situation was to run myself. As I had an overseas trip coming up in the middle of the election (where I would have spotty internet and no access to an actual computer for about a week or so) I decided if I were to run, I would have to nominate myself early in order to maximize the time I had to answer questions. In fact if a couple of the later candidates had put their names in earlier, I quite possibly would not have run at all.
- Opabinia regalis: At first I thought it was a totally daft idea. I was a bit of an outlier as a candidate, having had a long period of inactivity on Wikipedia before returning just short of a year ago. (Unless I get a windfall of free time this week, I expect I'll take office with under 10k live edits.) After waffling a bit early in the nomination process, I made the decision to run after I noticed 10+ candidates on the list and no women. Fortunately, I wasn't the only woman for very long at all, and I'm very happy to see four women on the 2016 committee! To be honest I think the basic motivation behind deciding to run is the same as watching someone fiddle with a gadget that isn't quite working right and instinctively saying "Oh! Let me try!" despite not actually having any clue about how the thing works either ;)
3. How did you feel about the election as a whole?
- Drmies: I really have no opinion. I went, I voted, no one bothered me. It was kind of fun, you know, people wishing me well, others digging up dirt.
- GorillaWarfare: I was pleased with it! I was really happy about the increased voter turnout, and the results included many people that I am excited to work with in the next two years.
- Keilana: The introduction of mass messaging shook things up a bit, but overall it went smoothly and allowed a wider segment of the community to participate.
- Kelapstick: It was interesting, and not as painful as I had imagined. Although having said that, since mid-2013 I have gone through an RfA, stood for Oversight Access, and now the Arbitration Committee, so maybe I am just getting used to this sort of thing.
- Opabinia regalis: It would have been interesting to watch even if I hadn't been a candidate. The mass messaging of all >100k eligible voters inspired a lot of interest in the voting dynamics and how the change in the composition of the electorate would affect the results. Being kind of a data nerd, I did some analysis of voter characteristics while votes were coming in and while we waited for the final results. (If you're curious, see here for the summary or here for the [very long] real-time talk page thread about mass messaging.)
4. What are your thoughts on the outcomes to cases from the previous year (e.g: GamerGate, Lightbreather, Arbitration Enforcement 1/2)? Did you think they were handled the best that they could have? Why?
- Drmies: I don't have many thoughts on those. The whole Lightbreather case still fills me with sadness. With the GamerGate case, every time I think about it I have to wrap my head around the fact that such a thing as GamerGate exists. I mean, racism is over and world hunger is solved and world peace is around the corner, I get that—but I don't get gaming in the first place. In general, I think every case could have been handled better, but that's easy to say; it's like saying that humans aren't perfect.
- GorillaWarfare: I think some of the cases were handled quite well. However, your examples are cases that I do not think were handled well. In a number of them, the PDs were very incomplete when they were posted. I have found that although many people urge the Committee to do as much work as possible onwiki, they still often see PDs as final, so I think it's best to wait until a draft PD is fairly complete before posting. I also think that in some of the cases, the evidence that was presented did not necessarily accurately represent the issues. This leaves the Arbitration Committee in a bit of a predicament, because the decisions are based off the evidence, and it's not always seen as kosher for arbitrators to go find evidence of their own while drafting. Some of these cases I think did little to address the issues at hand, particularly AE1 and AE2.
- Keilana: They were all complex and I disagreed with portions of each. In terms of how things were handled on the bureaucracy side, both cases were quite slow and agonizing, and I hope this year's committee will be able to speed things up.
- Kelapstick: As I said during the election, I haven't followed many cases up to this point. I did make a preliminary statement in AE2, where I effectively said that we should just have a do over, but that didn't happen (and I can appreciate why).
- Opabinia regalis: I talked a bit about this in my candidate questions (see especially this one and this one) and I believe I commented in all of those cases except Gamergate – which occurred while I was not active on Wikipedia, and which was reported widely enough in the outside media that it partly explains why I returned. So I'm not sure that yet more rehashing of this series of cases from me would be of much interest to anyone :) At this point, I think we're all aware that matters broadly related to the gender gap are complex and controversial and are likely to give rise to additional cases over the next two years.
5. (For first time Arbs) Now that you are part of the Committee, how do you feel about this new position?
- Drmies: It's a lot trickier than I thought it would be. Especially privacy concerns are huge, and it quickly became clear to me that in some cases there really can't be much transparency. There can be more better communication, that's for sure, and we're working on that. But what folks—me included—don't always appreciate is that a committee works by committee, so there's no instant response or whatever to questions and concerns. I certainly don't feel all mighty and powerful—if anything, I feel more wary. Words really mean things.
- Keilana: I'm excited to serve the community in a new way and hope I do well.
- Kelapstick: I am looking forward to it. It is going to be an interesting couple of years.
- Opabinia regalis: It's weird. I think I'm The Man now.
6. What would you say would be the challenges of this position? What do you plan to accomplish from this?
- Drmies: For me, getting all the mailing lists and arb sites and stuff figured out, and the new email program I use for the dozens of messages every day, that's the first challenge. The bigger challenge is to always balance what's best for the project with what's best for individuals in any of the cases we look at, be they victim or, you know, the opposite. Yes, they get to keep their privacy too.
- GorillaWarfare: The perception of the Arbitration Committee is definitely a challenge. It can be difficult to motivate yourself to work on a Committee that is often reviled. There are also a fair number of people who do not trust the Arbitration Committee, which can lead to a lot of pushback when we handle issues in private, which is unfortunately sometimes necessary. I'm not sure there's much that can be done about these issues, other than for the Committee as a whole to try to handle issues as fairly, transparently, and expediently as possible.
- Keilana: Personally, I'm a bit worried about burning out and am going to try to do some content work every day to avoid burnout. I'm not sure what the challenges will be in terms of the bigger picture because I'm not yet on the committee, but I imagine getting so many people to agree is like herding cats.
- Kelapstick: Keeping up with the paperwork will be the biggest challenge. I don't have any specific plans, and I didn't run on a platform. I am just here to lend a hand.
- Opabinia regalis: Well, we are supposed to provide solutions to otherwise intractable community problems; what could be so challenging about that? ;) I don't know if I can claim specific goals or intended accomplishments, since arbcom is structured to be responsive to issues arising from the community rather than to provide leadership on its own initiative. Certainly one area I hope to see further improvement in is handling of harassment cases, particularly where there is an identity/bias element.
7. Would there [be] a chance to bring back the Ban Appeals Subcommittee in the future?
- Drmies: I don't see that happening, but I'm really new on the job. We're handling a bunch of ban appeals trying to get up to speed. I can tell you one thing: if banned editors would follow Wikipedia:Guide to appealing blocks a bit better, they might have a higher success rate.
- GorillaWarfare: I hope not. I think it's reasonable for the Arbitration Committee to handle a small subset of block and ban appeals (namely, those involving private evidence, AE blocks, bans based on Arbitration Committee decisions, etc.) However, I think the community is completely able to handle the majority of appeals that the BASC was handling. I'd generally prefer the Arbitration Committee take on as few responsibilities as possible. Furthermore, the BASC appeals were coming in at such a volume that they were overwhelming a Committee that was already slow to handle other matters.
- Keilana: I wouldn't support it.
- Kelapstick: I don't see that happening, but never say never. Maybe it will come back in another form, but I think that taking it off the committee's plate was a good idea.
- Opabinia regalis: Frankly, I was glad to see it go. I think any task that can reasonably be done at the community level should be. But this is a matter we can revisit if it becomes clear that the new system isn't working well. It's important that we offer an appeal mechanism, and that we make reasonable decisions on those appeals in a timely manner, and we should be pragmatic about how we organize the appeals bureaucracy to make that happen.
8. Any additional comments?
- GorillaWarfare: Nope. Thanks, and good luck with your article!!
- Keilana: Thank you again!
- Opabinia regalis: Just want to thank the outgoing arbs for all their work in an unusually difficult year.
1. First off, thank you for your work as an Arbitrator.
2. What would you say was the biggest challenge while being an Arbitrator?
- Seraphimblade: Being an arbitrator means handling difficult and often sensitive issues that take a great variety of types, and probably don't have an easy to see good outcome. The greatest challenge was having to choose between several options when all the options were terrible and the only possible goal was to choose the least bad.
3. Has there been any cases or motions you thought could have been handled differently while on the Committee?
- Seraphimblade: The reason we have several people on the Committee is to check and balance one another, and we certainly did that. I don't, however, recall any time that I had a glaring, absolute disagreement with the rest of the Committee. In the end, we were generally able to come to solutions that, even if they were not any one arbitrator's ideal, we could come to agreement on and live with. I do wish that more was able to be done with the Arbitration Enforcement 2 case, but I don't fault the drafters or anyone else for that. It was very challenging to come up with anything that wasn't just going to add fuel to the fire and make the whole mess worse.
4. Do you feel that you did enough during your time on the panel? If not, what were you hoping to accomplish during your time?
- Seraphimblade: Depends on the definition of "enough", I suppose. I certainly spent a great deal of time doing it, but it is a volunteer position and we all have real lives too. I did hope to work with the Committee to get a better system of task management set up, as right now a great deal comes in through email and it's easy to lose track of things that way. Unfortunately, though, and perhaps ironically, there was never time. I'd certainly encourage the 2016 Committee to give it some thought.
5. What advice would you give to hopefuls who want to take part in the Committee?
- Seraphimblade: You better have a thick skin and some free time. Like I said above, sometimes you're choosing the least bad of several terrible options. But since it is still terrible, well, it's going to be your fault (even though you're not the one who made the mess; much like the good old balloon joke). Also, no one's kidding about the amount of time it takes. Plan to spend at absolute minimum five to ten hours a week on it, more if you're drafting a case.
6. Would you consider running for Arbitrator again?
- Seraphimblade: I didn't run again this year because I know 2016 will not be a year when I'd have the free time to devote to it, due to several factors in my own life. If at some point in the future I thought the next couple of years would suit doing it again, I would consider running again. Otherwise, no, it wouldn't be fair to anyone to accept the position when I wouldn't have the time to do it well.
7. Any additional comments?
- Seraphimblade: There's been, for whatever reason, the idea that relations among the 2015 Committee were acrimonious. We disagreed at times, certainly, but reasonably amicably in every case I saw. The people I worked with were reasonable and open to changing their minds for a good reason. Quite realistically, if disagreements on Wikipedia were handled as peacefully and reasonably as those among the Committee, the Committee would have very little to do.
Tech news in brief
The following content has been republished as-is from the Tech News
Latest tech news from the Wikimedia technical community. Please tell other users about these changes. Not all changes will affect you. Translations are available.
- Some pages do not turn in up in categories where they should be. This is because link tables are sometimes not populated. 
Changes this week
- The Nuke extension will work with Flow. This will make it easier to handle spam in Flow. 
- New file uploads will now be patrollable. 
- You can join the next meeting with the VisualEditor team. During the meeting, you can tell developers which bugs you think are the most important. The meeting will be on 12 January at 20:00 (UTC). See how to join.
- URLs in the recent changes IRC feed will no longer be rewritten to unencrypted HTTP. This could be a breaking change for bots dependent on the IRC feed. 
- The edit tabs for the wikitext editor and the visual editor will be combined to one single edit tab. You will be able to choose which one you prefer. If you are not logged in, your choice will be saved as a cookie in your browser. You can test the single edit tab. 
- There is a beta feature that adds links to the subject on other Wikimedia projects. This works much like the links to for example Wikipedia articles in other languages. It will go out of beta testing and be enabled for everyone in January. Wikis that don't want this can decide to have it disabled. 
- The difference between "alerts" and "messages" notifications is unclear to some. The developers want feedback at the Phabricator task or on MediaWiki.org so they can make this better. You can give feedback in your language if you can't write in English.
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