The lateness of The Signpost has long been a running gag. An all-volunteer publication will probably never be on time, but in recent weeks our lateness has become chronic to the point of ridiculousness. We have recently had some additions to The Signpost editorial board which have made things much easier for everyone, but one key position remains vacant: publication manager. This key vacancy is the cause of most of our lateness issues. The duties of this position are:
Coordinate with the content editors—Jayen466 (news), Razr Nation (features), Gamaliel (editorial), and Tony1 (special reports)—to see what will be published each week and when it will be finished.
Complete the publication process, which consists of formatting the main page each week (writing short article snippets and adding an image, mostly) and making sure the publication bot completes all its steps.
This position doesn't get a lot of attention, but it is vital. Publishing is not hard! It just takes 30–60 minutes each week. What the Signpost needs is not so much special technical skills as skills at coordination and a preparedness to liaise with the editorial board and writers in the weekly run-up to publication. The editorial board is a nest of libelous gossip aims for professional standards and is a social process of trust and give and take that most people find rewarding.
If you are interested in helping Wikipedia's community newspaper continue to appear every week, please contact our personnel editor Rosiestep.
Editor's note: In December, the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees voted to remove one of their own, community-elected trustee James Heilman (Doc James). Since that time, the exact reasons for the dismissal have been a matter of community debate and even public debate amongst members of the Board themselves about the few details that have been revealed. Heilman has previously spoken out on the matter of transparency and his dismissal in a previous Signpost op-ed.
This timeline is being published in response to the following statement made by the Board in early Jan 2016 at Jimmy Wales' request:
The removal of James as a board member was not due to any disagreement about public discussion of our long term strategy. The board unanimously supports public discussion of our long term strategy, has offered no objections to any board member discussing long term strategy with the community at any time, and strongly supports that the Wikimedia Foundation should develop long term strategy in consultation with the community.
Jimmy Wales tried to build a search engine, Wikia Search, without success.
Apr 30, 2015
The Search and Discovery team came into existence with eleven members.
I was selected by the community for a position on the board.
Sept 1, 2015
The Knight Foundation grant was awarded for “stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet."
The Knight Foundation grant was presented to the board, after which I requested further documents surrounding the grant. They were eventually provided after some resistance from other board members and the executive director, Lila Tretikov.
Oct 7, 2015
My email to the board about my concerns regarding this grant:
We are at 6 days since being notified of the Knight Foundation grant. I at this point strongly oppose its acceptance. There are too many issues:
1) We are "selling" the Knight Foundation a search engine with passages like "the foundation and its staff have a track record of success and a strong vision of what a search engine can do when it has the right principles, and the right people, firmly behind it." (Aug 2015) Plus we do not have success at building a "search engine".
2) What the WMF board was sold in Mexico was "the largest free open knowledge source". (June 2015 doc) A knowledge source is not a search engine. "Source" means creating / curating content.
3) Lila states we are not building a search engine as of two days ago per chat. A few board members understood we were maybe doing this after Mexico. Others did not. I do not think we as the board have a clear idea of what 10% of our engineering resources are being spent on (ie what exact the discovery team led by Wes Moran is doing).
4) There is a serious lack of transparency around this new "sister project". This has not been discussed with our communities as far as I am aware. Please correct me if I am wrong. As such it has the potential to worsen WMF / community relations. Starting a new sister site without community discussion is not the wiki way.
There are more issues but this is the start. We need to request more documents surrounding this topic as it maybe a bigger issue than simply refusing a grant.
I emailed the board list offering to write up an overview of these ideas for the Signpost, which was met with negative comments by some board members.
Nov 7, 2015
The board approved the Knight Foundation grant. I supported its approval following pressure which included comments about potentially removing members of the Board. Assurances were provided that the Knight Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation were on the same page regarding the grant.
Request for release of the grant application and statement by Wales that he will look into it.
Jan 21, 2016
As the request for release of the grant application was not replied to, the request was repeated.
Jan 25, 2016
Archiving of the page per Wales' request without the question being answered.
Jan 29, 2016
Release of further details by Tretikov with the statement that the grant paperwork could not be released due to “donor privacy”
So yes, the majority of the board and I clashed, and yes it was partly about our strategy and whether or not the community should be made aware and involved in these discussions. While the board prefers I not release this information, in the face of contradictory statements, I intend to let the facts speak for themselves.
The removal of James Heilman (Doc James) from the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees has brought the issue of the “knowledge engine”, i.e. the work of the WMF’s "Discovery" department, into focus for the volunteer community.
Ever since his dismissal, Heilman has maintained that disagreements about appropriate transparency related to the Discovery, or "Knowledge Engine", project, funded by a restricted grant from the Knight Foundation, were a key factor in the events that led to his removal. Jimmy Wales has referred to these claims as "utter fucking bullshit".
But what is "discovery" and the knowledge engine all about? This is an attempt to make sense of the patchy information that the Wikimedia Foundation has provided to the volunteer community and the public to date, and to extract some of the underlying ideas related to the project.
A statement of regret
A few days ago, Lila Tretikovposted a statement titled "Some background on the Knowledge Engine grant" on her talk page on Meta-Wiki. This is worth reading in full; parts of it are excerpted in what follows below.
She begins by acknowledging that she should have communicated with the volunteer community sooner.
Why didn't you discuss these ideas with the community sooner?
It was my mistake to not initiate this ideation on-wiki. Quite honestly, I really wish I could start this discussion over in a more collaborative way, knowing what I know today. Of course, that's retrospecting with a firmer understanding of what the ideas are, and what is worthy of actually discussing. In the staff June metrics meeting in 2015, the ideation was beginning to form in my mind from what I was learning through various conversations with staff. I had begun visualizing open knowledge existing in the shape of a universe. I saw the Wikimedia movement as the most motivated and sincere group of beings, united in their mission to build a rocket to explore Universal Free Knowledge. The words "search" and "discovery" and "knowledge" swam around in my mind with some rocket to navigate it. However, "rocket" didn't seem to work, but in my mind, the rocket was really just an engine, or a portal, a TARDIS, that transports people on their journey through Universal Free Knowledge.
From the perspective I had in June, however, I was unprepared for the impact uttering the words "Knowledge Engine" would have. Can we all just take a moment and mercifully admit: it's a catchy name. Perhaps not a great one or entirely appropriate in our context (hence we don't use it any more). I was motivated. I didn't yet know exactly what we needed to build, or how we would end up building it. I could've really used your insight and guidance to help shape the ideas, and model the improvements, and test and verify the impacts.
However, I was too afraid of engaging the community early on.
Why do you think that was?
I have a few thoughts, and would like to share them with you separately, as a wider topic. Either way, this was a mistake I have learned enormously from.
This kind of communication is potentially a good start to mend fences with the community, and redress some of the things that went wrong with how and when this project was started and communicated.
When did this project start?
A slide show on Discovery, published last November
In her statement, Lila Tretikov recalls her thoughts around the knowledge engine in June 2015. But to locate the actual beginning of this project, we have to look back a little further than that.
"Search & Discovery" first appeared as a department on the Wikimedia Foundation Staff & Contractors template on 30 April 2015. There would have been no point in creating a well-staffed, well-funded Search & Discovery department in April 2015 if the WMF leadership had had no practical idea of what this team was going to be working on.
Risker was perhaps the first to raise public questions about the project, which remained unanswered. Reviewing the WMF's draft 2015–2016 Annual Plan in her capacity as a member of the volunteer-staffed Funds Dissemination Committee in May 2015, she said on Meta:
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. I don't see "fix search" in the Call to Action document; even if it fell into the heading "Improve technology and execution", this seems like an abnormally large concentration of the top WMF Engineering minds to be focusing on a topic that didn't even rate its own mention in the CtA. More explanation of why Search and Discovery has suddenly become such a major focus is required to assess whether this is appropriate resourcing.
This is in line with what James Heilman said in his Signpost op-ed dated January 13, 2016, describing the ideas around Search & Discovery as having been developed before the April to June 2015 quarter:
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.
By September 2015 – more than four months before the WMF publicly announced the grant to the community and the world at large on January 6, 2016 – the Knight Foundation had clearly made a decision to support a WMF knowledge engine project. A still extant page on the Knight Foundation website mentions a grant for $250,000, with a grant period running from 1 September 2015 to 31 August 2016, funding work –
To advance new models for finding information by supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.
James Heilman's dating of the project matches the facts. And Risker's questions, posed in May 2015, indicate that the volunteer community – including the FDC – had been out of the loop well before June 2015.
Has the Foundation's grant transparency policy changed?
Sue Gardner, the former Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director
Lila Tretikov addresses another question in her statement:
Why did the board not publish this grant paperwork?
Generally we do not post donor documents without advance agreement, because doing so breaks donor privacy required in maintaining sustainable donor relations. In practice, I am told we have not actually published grant paperwork since 2010, but we do publicize grants in blogs when requested and agreed to by donors. A portion of the KF knowledge engine grant document that outlines the actual commitments we've made I quoted below.
The Wikimedia Foundation has a policy of publishing our grant applications when the grantmaking institution is okay with it. We don't do a lot of grant applications, and of the ones we do, I am guesstimating that two-thirds of the grantmakers have said it's fine with them for us to publish, and about a third have asked us not to. Some grantmaking institutions are very happy to publish, because they believe the sector as a whole benefits from transparency about how things work.
Sue Gardner said publishing grant applications is standard policy unless the donor objects. Lila Tretikov says it is standard policy not to publish grant applications, unless "requested and agreed to by donors."
This seems like a subtle move away from the transparency which the WMF has traditionally emphasised as one of its core values.
"Actions speak volumes"
Volunteers have called for weeks for the Knight Foundation grant application and grant letter to be published. A month ago, for example, MLauba addressed Jimmy Wales on his talk page, responding to statements by Wales that James Heilman's narrative was "misdirection", a "trap", "not true" and that he – Wales – was "a much stronger advocate of transparency than James":
As for your claim to be a bigger champion for transparency, please back it up with the details on the restricted grant from the Knight foundation immediately. Talk is cheap, actions speak volumes. MLauba (Talk) 18:02, 8 January 2016 (UTC)
What sort of details do you want? I'll have to talk to others to make sure there are no contractual reasons not to do so, but in my opinion the grant letter should be published on meta. The Knight Grant is a red herring here, so it would be best to clear the air around that completely as soon as possible.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 18:19, 8 January 2016 (UTC)
This sounded promising. Yet nothing happened on that front for the best part of a month, until Lila Tretikov's recent statement on her Meta talk page. In the relatively brief discussion that has ensued there to date, James Heilman has reiterated his call for the grant application to be published:
What has been requested is the "grant application". This is a document prepared by the WMF and submitted to the Knight Foundation rather than a document from the donor.
All other mo[ve]ment entities, including chapters and those applying for individual engagement grants publicly post proposals for funding. I do not understan[d] the reasons the WMF cannot also? Doc James (talk •contribs • email) 16:56, 30 January 2016 (UTC)
Yet the responses posted by Jimmy Wales and fellow Board member Denny Vrandečić (Denny) on that page are anything but encouraging. The WMF board seems remarkably reluctant to publish both the grant application and the grant letter for community review.
What Lila Tretikov has now provided on her Meta talk page is a list of expected outcomes of the Knight Foundation grant, deliverable at the conclusion of the first stage. The mention of a first stage raises the obvious question of how many stages are envisaged, and what the expected deliverables for the other stages are.
Liam Wyatt (Wittylama) mentions in his most recent blog post that the WMF's original grant application seems to have been for a much larger amount than the relatively modest $250,000 the Knight Foundation has actually committed to. As others have pointed out, $250,000 is an amount the Wikimedia Foundation can raise and has raised in a few hours on a December afternoon. Liam Wyatt's assertion that the original application was for a much larger amount seems at least plausible.
Details of the grand vision for this multi-stage project, couched in approachable language understandable by anyone, is still lacking. Publication of the grant application would help volunteers and the public understand the WMF leadership's thinking, and the long-term goals of the Discovery project.
"Are you building a new search engine?"
A search engine for open content on the Internet, accessing a mix of Wikimedia content and content from other sources, with output vectors including OEM products such as the Amazon Kindle
Some related information is available in a Discovery Year 0–1–2 presentation on MediaWiki – but when originally delivered, its slides would have been accompanied by spoken commentary. As it is, the slides are written in such a shorthand and jargon-laden style that it seems likely few general readers will be able to follow the content, and fill in the gaps.
What's described on page 9 of that document however is clearly some form of search engine for open content on the Internet.
This is also reflected in the original Knight Foundation announcement from September 2015:
To advance new models for finding information by supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.
Of course, this is not the first time the idea of a search engine has been raised in the Wikimedia universe. Those with long memories will recall Wikia Search, a short-lived free and open-sourceWeb search engine launched by Jimmy Wales' for-profit wiki-hosting company Wikia in 2008.
Wikia Search was conceived as a competitor to the established search engines. It was not a success, closing down in 2009 after failing to attract an audience.
That there have been questions among WMF staff and volunteers whether the WMF is engaged in building a search engine is borne out by a corresponding section in the Discovery FAQ on MediaWiki:
Are you building a new search engine?
We are not building Google. We are improving the existing CirrusSearch infrastructure with better relevance, multi language, multi projects search and incorporating new data sources for our projects. We want a relevant and consistent experience for users across searches for both wikipedia.org and our project sites.
Would users go to Wikipedia if it were an open channel beyond an encyclopedia?
The Wikimedia movement's vision is to make the sum of all human knowledge freely available to everyone. Wikipedia is our largest and most well-known project, but there are many other projects like Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata that move us towards realising our vision. These projects have millions of users every month! So, yes, if we can make a search system that's good enough and meets the needs of our users, people absolutely would use it.
This sounds like an idea to re-purpose Wikipedia.org, having it function as a search engine for open content – including but not limited to all Wikimedia projects. And indeed, a slide on "Conceptual directions for Discovery" shows versions of a Wikipedia.org page that bear more than a passing resemblance to Google's start page, being dominated by a Wikipedia wordmark and an empty search box.
It is perhaps significant that Wikipedia is now one of the search engine options for the search box in Firefox, alongside Google, Yahoo!, Bing and others.
Assessing whether users would "go to Wikipedia if it were an open channel beyond an encyclopedia" is also one of the key questions the work funded by the Knight Foundation is expected to answer.
The sections of the Knight Foundation grant documentation that Lila Tretikov has quoted on her Meta talk page read as follows:
What are the expected outcomes of this grant? (quoted text from the grant)
At the conclusion of the first stage, the results will include:
Test results exploring relevance of content surfaced
Test results from search and user testing
An improved search engine and API for Wikipedia searches
A public-facing dashboard of core metrics used in product development
A sample prototype on a small dataset to showcase possibilities
What are the activities this grant supports? (quoted text from the grant)
Answer key questions:
Would users go to Wikipedia if it were an open channel beyond an encyclopedia?
Can the Wikimedia Foundation get Wikipedia embedded via carriers and Original Equipment Manufacturers?
Use Key Performance (KPIs) to inform product iteration, and establish key understanding and feature development for the prototypes
User satisfaction (by analyzing rate at which queries surface relevant content)
User-perceived load time
No results rate
Application Programming Interface (API) usage
Embedding Wikipedia in OEMs and other carriers
The Amazon Kindle includes a factory-installed Wikipedia look-up function
Responding to a question about the mention of Original Equipment Manufacturers in the above grant excerpt, Lila Tretikov has indicated on her talk page in Meta that the WMF is
working with manufacturers that produce mobile phones to put Wikipedia on them at manufacturing time, before those devices are sold. This is especially helpful to raise awareness in emerging markets where Wikipedia is not well known.
There is no reason to assume that this type of arrangement will be restricted to mobile phones. Even today, the Amazon Kindle e-book reader for example has a Wikipedia look-up function pre-installed, as does the Amazon Echo, a household infotainment assistant that like Apple's Siri responds to voice commands.
One problem the Foundation appears to want to address is that Search often returns "zero results" – i.e. cases where a user query is not mapped to a Wikipedia article.
Kindle users trying to look up a word in a book they're reading will be familiar with this problem. To give an example, the other day I was faced with the term "unentailed" in a Victorian short story. Neither of the Kindle's built-in dictionaries knew the term. Querying Wikipedia on the Kindle yielded the disappointing message: "No Wikipedia results were found for your selection", along with an option to "open Wikipedia". When I did so, I found many Wikipedia articles containing the term, but only one was useful in helping me understand the word: Fee tail.
A better search function might have presented me with that article to begin with. Similarly, I might not have had a zero results message if the Wikipedia search function extended to other Wikimedia projects. Instead, my Kindle might have pointed me to the Wiktionary entry for the word unentailed.
Search improvements like this would make locating information more convenient for Kindle users. Amazon would arguably profit from having a more desirable product.
Explore ways to scale machine-generated, machine-verified and machine-assisted content
More than half of all language versions of Wikipedia suffer from a long-term dearth or indeed complete lack of human volunteer editors. Wikidata content could be used to have machines generate simple articles "on the fly", using a store of simple sentence templates that Wikidata values are then plugged into. This, too, would reduce the number of times users' searches come up empty.
Public curation of relevance
A key concern for search engines is which information to "surface" in response to a query, i.e. identifying which information is most "relevant" to a user query. (In the above example, for instance, this might have been the Wiktionary entry for the word "unentailed", or the Wikipedia article for "fee tail".)
We'd like to explore a relevance model where Wikidata could be used as a component of our relevance calculations. This would not only leverage the high quality data in Wikidata but could empower our communities to affect relevance calculations rather than letting algorithms do all the work. As with any system that allows user contributions we would have to be very sensitive and cognizant of anyone gaming the system.
There are obvious alarm bells attached to that last caveat. Increasing or diminishing the visibility of information to search engine users is what search engine optimisation is all about. Public curation of relevance provides a mechanism that seems tailor-made for that purpose – hence the caveat.
Focus on open content
Google includes content from open sources on its search engine results pages
If Wikipedia.org is to become a search engine, all the information available to date suggests that it will be a search engine specialising in open content.
As discussed in a previous Signpost op-ed, search engines are increasingly re-publishing open content deemed relevant to users' queries on their own sites.
The purpose of a search engine used to be to provide the user with a directory of relevant links. This purpose has shifted: search engines are morphing into answer engines that aim to provide the answers to users' questions directly, obviating users' need to click through to any other site. This supports the search engines' business model: search engines derive a significant part of their income from the ads displayed on search engine results pages. Making sure that users stay on these pages and do not click through to other sites (including Wikipedia) improves the search engines' bottom line.
It's important that apps and third parties can search our site too.
The availability of a Wikipedia knowledge engine would not just benefit users of Wikimedia sites. There are clear overlaps with commercial search engines. Google itself for example, when introducing the Knowledge Graph to the public, referred to it as a "knowledge engine". As mentioned in that publicity video, a key concern when deciding what content to show in response to a query is what other users have judged relevant to their query.
Seen from the viewpoint of potential re-users like Google, Bing, Yandex and other search engines, public curation of relevance, as mentioned above, could help them identify free information sources that human users are likely to find useful.
Thus the API might deliver volunteer-derived data that those answer engines can use to optimise their product – for example through optimised page ranking for open content pages, or direct inclusion of user-preferred free content in answer boxes, knowledge panels and the like.
Taking a very negative view, bearing in mind search engines' soaring and astronomical profits from advertising, one might argue that such an arrangement would turn volunteers into unpaid hamsters driving the spinning cogs in the Knowledge Graph, Bing's Snapshot etc., in endless pursuit of the dangling carrot that they can try to affect how readily something is "surfaced" in search engines – and occasionally succeed in doing so, for better or worse.
Given the information presently available, it seems reasonable to assume that the long-term goal of the Discovery project, including public curation of relevance, is to build a search engine for free information sources on the Internet, and for capturing and defining patterns of human user interaction with such content.
The failed Wikia Search project was designed to compete against Google. Not least because of this failure, it seems unlikely to me that the present Discovery project pursues similar long-term ambitions.
It simply doesn't seem very plausible that the Discovery project could or could even be intended to compete against the likes of Google, Bing and Yandex, given that –
Wikipedia's open-source nature and APIs would make whatever insights and data the Discovery project generates available to these competitors, who are already well established. Any competitive advantage these data might deliver to a WMF search engine would be instantly neutralised by the fact that its putative competitors would have access to them too.
Google, Microsoft and Yandex are actually supporting Wikidata. It seems unlikely that they would be funding a competitor.
Wikidata comes with a no-attribution CC-0 licence, which serves re-users' interests, but undermines the publicly professed rationale of reaching users so as to convert them into editors.
At most, the Wikimedia Foundation board appears to entertain the idea of charging re-users for API use. In other words, the work done by volunteers might be of sufficient economic value to re-users to open up another source of income for the Foundation.
I recall listening to Lila Tretikov's "Facing the Now" speech at Wikimania 2014, in which she stressed that Wikipedia, while apparently at the peak of its success at the time, was in danger of being left behind by technology developments, and would need to adapt to remain relevant. I wondered at the time what she was driving at, but it seems to become clearer now.
As people's infotainment needs and usage patterns move away from desktop computers to mobile phones, voice-controlled electronic assistants and other products that will be as commonplace in ten or twenty years' time as they are unimagined by most of us today, many of the people who used to visit Wikipedia pages may find their information needs more conveniently satisfied elsewhere than on the pages of an encyclopedia.
The march of technological progress can't be halted. And indeed, many of us find that progress inherently exciting. The idea of positioning the Wikimedia community as the central engine driving many different types of information products and services – or at least a major component of such an engine – is likely to appeal to many Wikimedians. It would certainly keep Wikimedia relevant.
And one might ask, in the absence of scalable alternatives, is there really a better process for generating and curating such content today? Google has long argued that volunteers outperform paid contributors when it comes to such work.
Yet there is also much to be disturbed about. Omnipresent snippets, delivered to a potential audience of billions, amplify the risk of manipulation, creating an information infrastructure that seems more vulnerable to activist influence, or indeed Gleichschaltung, than conventional media. It has been established that even today, search engines would have the power to sway elections if they put their mind to it.
To the extent that volunteer labour helps corporations like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft make billion-dollar profits, the potential labour patterns described here involve obvious and profound social and economic injustices. On Jimmy Wales' talk page, volunteers have begun to wonder whether they need to unionise to have any influence on the future of their movement.
The increasing importance of machine-generated and machine-read content in efforts to serve global information demand may be anathema to many Wikimedians committed to the idea of an encyclopedia written by people, for people.
And there are other concerns: to what extent do Silicon Valley-facing developments like those described here, efforts to build a technologically slicker product and achieve greater market penetration, detract from other efforts that volunteers might consider more relevant to the core goal of writing an encyclopedia? Making Kindle search functions more easy and satisfying to use is all well and good, but what should the relative priority of such efforts be?
James Heilman is a Wikipedian who has gained much acclaim for his efforts to make Wikipedia's medical content truly reliable. Bringing a Wikipedia article to a quality level that was good enough to make it eligible for inclusion in a peer-reviewed journal (see previous Signpostcoverage) – the first Wikipedia article to qualify as a reliable source under Wikipedia's own rules – was a milestone in Wikipedia history, though one the Foundation made no great effort to publicise at the time.
In an alternative universe, the Wikimedia Foundation might put equal focus on supporting and expanding such efforts, believing that a quality product will always have a readership. Ubiquity is not the same as quality; Gresham's law could easily be applied to the world of information as well.
As stated above, this op-ed is my attempt to make sense of the patchy information that has been made public about Discovery, or the Knowledge Engine. I will be grateful to have my interpretations and conclusions confirmed or corrected as appropriate by WMF personnel – and, I am sure, so will the volunteer community.
But most importantly, there are matters here that the community should make an input to. The ongoing community consultation on strategy touches on many of the issues discussed here. It will close on February 15, 2016.
There is also an ongoing issue of transparency. The WMF board should make the Knight Foundation grant application and grant letter public, in line with WMF policy as stated by Sue Gardner in the past. If for some reason the Knight Foundation objects, that should be openly stated and an explanation provided.
Update: The grant agreement has since been published, and some further documents have been leaked to the Signpost. See Signpostcoverage.
Andreas Kolbe has been a Wikipedia contributor since 2006. He is a member of the Signpost's editorial board. The views expressed in this editorial are his alone and do not reflect any official opinions of this publication. Responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section.
Retrospective musical chairs: new trustee James Heilman sits with outgoing trustee María Sefidari, whom he had just defeated in the community election, at the WMF Board Q&A, Wikimania, in July 2015
On Friday 29 January, more than five weeks after dismissing community-selected trustee James Heilman (Doc James), the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees announced that María Sefidari (Raystorm) would fill the vacancy. This comes after a period of indecision by the Board as to how to deal with the aftermath of its dramatic move last December; shortly after the fatal meeting, chair Patricio Lorente announced that the Board would be referring the matter to the volunteer committee that had run the election, rather than making an immediate decision on the vacant seat.
In the June election, Sefidari gained the fourth-highest ranking under the support/(support+oppose) formula that was introduced in 2012. Appointing her to the vacant seat was one of the options canvassed by the committee, along with the holding of a fresh election, leaving the position vacant until the end of the two-year term in mid-2017, and asking the community what to do. She has already served one term as community-selected trustee, from 2013 to 2015.
How do Sefidari's priorities compare with those of the trustee she is replacing? The Signpost's pre-election survey of candidates' priorities revealed that she gave significantly higher priority than Heilman to reducing the gender gap in editing communities, increasing global-south reader and editor participation, and implementing VisualEditor; and significantly lower priority to increasing editor retention, investing more in collecting data, and providing more engineering resources to improve readers' and editors' experience.
We asked Lorente and Sefidari a number of questions about the events of the past seven weeks. Lorente's responses tended to be non-specific and were occasionally evasive. We asked whether the political damage to the Board in the aftermath of Heilman’s removal could have been minimised by appointing Sefidari straight away rather than after a considerable interval; and similarly, whether he regrets not acting earlier on the community’s objection to the Arnnon Geshuri appointment:
There are certain things the Board could have done better in these past weeks. This includes how we communicate with the community about our intentions, how we respond to community concerns in a timely way, and communicating with more plain language and direct words. We are taking steps to improve our efforts here. That said, the Board is not likely to make decisions in a rush. We have a very diverse Board, with strong voices, and we take our responsibilities very seriously. We need to listen carefully to each other, work across very different time zones, and other considerations an international governing group has to consider.
Patricio Lorente, chair of the Foundation's Board of Trustees
However, on one matter he was plain-spoken, taking offence at a comment by a community member that we put to him, that: "the motivation [of the Board] is perfectly clear: ‘We know María. She doesn’t cause any trouble, like this Heilman’ ” (translated from the German). The chair responded: "I find this comment is disrespectful, not only to María, but also to all Board members. All Board members are passionately committed to our values, and have the integrity to stand up for their ideas. Not one of them will quietly accept any imposition." Sefidari's answer might be seen as more politically adept: "I think that misrepresents the situation. I am not back on the Board because I was a former Board member, but because I was the next person with the highest percentage of support at the last elections. Also, I do have a track record of opposing Board resolutions, which is publicly available."
Lorente did not respond to our question, "As a trustee, are you uncomfortable that the executive director has the support of only 7% of the WMF’s staff, and of only one of the C-level managers?" Sefidari felt freer to comment, perhaps because as a new arrival she does not have to carry the Board's more recent baggage: "It is the Board’s role and responsibility to oversee the Wikimedia Foundation, and to make sure the organization succeeds. We have a legal obligation to oversee the management of the organization and ensure that it fulfills this role. This situation is concerning and is on the radar, as it needs to be."
We asked Sefidari whether she would have preferred an open vote to her appointment without re-election.
I would have been fine with new elections. I believe elections are important. I have run in two community elections, and believe in the importance of community scrutiny ever since I ran for and became an admin on Spanish Wikipedia nine years ago. That said, I am fully aware this is uncharted territory. ... I think it would have been very easy for the Board to leave the seat vacant, as opposed to running elections which do require resources and time. Even members of the Elections Committee seemed highly reluctant to recommend new elections for that reason and others. And I personally would not have liked a precedent in which after a community-selected member is removed or resigns, the seat remains vacant until the next round. It may be legally valid, but I don’t think it morally is.
Some readers may be surprised that she then raised a scenario that would cast her appointment as nothing more than a band-aid solution: "To expand on this, I think it is perfectly possible to have elections this year, and I am completely open to this option. I think the new Elections Committee can discuss and come up with a new elections system in time for that to happen, even if it is in the second half of the year, without the pressure of knowing they have to get something out fast because otherwise the seat will be vacant at a time when it is important it is not. I would particularly love it if they could figure out a system that promotes diversity."
Sefidari avoided the question of whether Heilman should have been removed, reporting that she was not "up to speed". She wrote: "I was just as surprised as the rest of the community to learn that James had been removed. ... I don’t know yet what happened with James."
Would she have handled the Heilman and Geshuri issues differently to the way the Board did?
I don’t know what happened with James. But if a meeting was called specifically to discuss his continuity in the Board, there should have been contingency planning, including taking into account how to communicate the decision to the community. The mere fact of the removal was going to be shocking to everyone. The way it was communicated all over the place in bits and pieces was disturbing for everyone. For all I know this was prepared, but James posting on Wikimedia-l upended those plans. ...
As for Arnnon, straight communication would have been desirable. The full Board was not aware of his past circumstances. ... A clear communication along the lines of “we acknowledge the concerns, we are discussing this right now internally and with Arnnon and we intend to reach a resolution at our meeting at the end of January” might have helped set community expectations.
Everyone knows Board members are volunteers with regular lives and jobs and who are in different time zones. Internal communications are not immediate. Most people are reasonable with what can be demanded of Board members. This doesn’t mean there cannot be at least an acknowledgement of the situation. The perception that the Board was paralyzed was very bad.
Does she have any sympathy for Heilman’s view that the Board and the Foundation’s management are too secretive? "I think there is a communications issue, which results in the Board looking secretive, and that needs to be addressed." Was she sympathetic towards the community’s vote of no confidence in Arnnon Geshuri? "I understand why that happened. I think a lot of people identified with the positions of Kat Walsh and Florence Devouard, but were willing to wait for what Arnnon or the Board would say. Once Arnnon’s message came out, the matter was sealed."
Sefidari thinks that community perceptions that the Board and the WMF are adopting corporate language and strategies are "a valid concern. ... There’s a difference between sending corporate messaging devoid of content, and professional messaging that balances the different considerations (legal, transparency) and is informative and useful."
As the community's new representative on the Board, María Sefidari summed up the big picture: "We have reached a stage in the organization’s development where we are expected to be behave professionally, to behave like an organization with a clearly defined mission and 200 employees impacting things around the globe. We need to remember though that we’re an organization built on a community."
It's pretty clear what's on Wikipedians' (read: Americans') minds this week: The fiftieth Super Bowl, which kicks off on 7 February. Past Super Bowls have frequently overwhelmed the top 25 with related articles, which is all the more astounding because the event is of little or no importance to the rest of the world.
For the full top-25 list, see WP:TOP25. See this section for an explanation of any exclusions. For a list of the most edited articles of the week, see here.
As prepared by Serendipodous, for the week of 24 to 30 January, 2016, the 10 most popular articles on Wikipedia, as determined from the report of the most viewed pages, were:
Wikipedians love their wrestling, but none more so than the annual WWE Royal Rumble, which usually finishes either at or near the top of the list in normal weeks (though it wouldn't have stood a chance in the previous few weeks). What is Royal Rumble, you might possibly ask? Well it's when 30 or so guys fight in the same ring until one is left. For the record, Triple H (pictured) was the last man standing, beating previous winner Roman Reigns.
Super Bowl 50 is due this week, and Wikipedians have once again reduced the game to a duel between quarterbacks. Cam Newton, the quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, has earned substantially more views than his rival Peyton Manning, below, perhaps due to controversy over his behaviour, which has been described as arrogant, leading to charges of incipient racism.
Despite "meh" reviews, the brief revival of the 1990s cult hit paranormal investigation series has proven relatively strong in the ratings, leading to speculation that it may make a more permanent return.
Avery is an American prisoner who is the subject of the popular new Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer which was released on December 18. (Episode 1 is available free on YouTube.) Avery served 18 years in prison, from 1985–2003, after being framed by the local police for a sexual assault he plainly did not commit. During his subsequent civil lawsuit for compensation, during a period of explosive depositions, he was charged with the murder of a local photographer, and later convicted. The documentary is compelling to watch, and it causing a fair amount of controversy, and thus bringing continuing attention to this article.
As announced by the WMF's Patrick Earley on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, a report on the results of the 2015 Harassment Survey has been released:
This information is an important factor in gaining a better understanding of both the forms harassment takes and the impact it has on the Wikimedia projects. We welcome your feedback and impressions on the Research talk page on Meta.
An overview of the results
Of the 3,845 Wikimedians who participated, 38% of the respondents could confidently recognise that they had been harassed, while 15% were unsure and 47% were confident that they had not been harassed. Similarly, 51% witnessed others being harassed, while 17% were unsure and 32% did not witness harassment.
79% of survey participants identified as male; 11% identified as female; 1% identified as gender-queer or non-conforming; 7% preferred not to say; and 2% declared a different gender identity.
Well over half the survey participants who provided their age indicated that they were 35 years or over.
14% of respondents indicated that they had participated in Wikimedia projects for 10 years; 13% indicated that they had participated one year or less. All other lengths of participation had fewer respondents than these two classes of users.
The most commonly experienced types of harassment among those who said they had experienced some form of harassment were, in descending order of prevalence,
Content vandalism: 85%
Name calling: 79%
Threats of violence: 65%
Revenge porn: 61%
The most common type of harassment in the "other" category was "unjustified use of admin tools and processes, or threats thereof".
53% of those who experienced harassment said the incidents were perpetrated by multiple people through multiple episodes.
Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Lila Tretikov announced on February 8 on the wikimedia-l mailing list that Luis Villa is leaving the WMF:
I am sad to let you know that Luis Villa, our lead for the Community Engagement department, will be leaving the Wikimedia Foundation. A year ago, Luis took on a big challenge, transitioning from the Legal Department to lead the newly created Community Engagement organization. In that role, Luis and our teams were tasked with many recent community initiatives, such as the creation of the Community Tech team, gender-related and anti-harassment programs, and improved alignment of WMF annual planning with the Funds Dissemination Committee. Prior to that, as Deputy General Counsel he was responsible for a number of legal initiatives, including licensing, contracts, and product counseling. I’m grateful for his counsel, and his leadership in the WMF movement throughout these years.
Later this month, Luis will transition out of his current position with the Wikimedia Foundation to pursue other opportunities. He will remain in a consulting role with the Foundation over the next few months, continuing to support our ongoing strategy and annual planning processes.
Maggie Dennis [a.k.a. Moonriddengirl] will step in as the interim director for the CE team effective immediately. Her deep community background, passion for our mission, and outstanding teamwork are great assets in this transition. She will also continue to serve as Director of Support and Safety. Maggie is a respected leader, colleague, and community member. I am confident she will bring critical insights, especially now as we plan for our next year.
New administrators: The Signpost welcomes the English Wikipedia's newest administrator, Peacemaker67.
Schedule for Metrics meetings changed: As advised by Lila Tretikov on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, Metrics meetings will from now on take place on the last Thursday of each month.
Hardcore pornographic movies in article space – yes or no? A discussion, originally sparked on the talk page of the Debbie Does Dallas article, is ongoing in severalplaces about whether Wikipedia should or shouldn't embed out-of-copyright pornographic films in article space. The Debbie Does Dallas article has at times included the complete movie, enabling users to view it in the article itself; a small number of other articles like A Free Ride and Convent pornography similarly include embedded pornographic movies that have fallen out of copyright.
Palmyra(nominated by Attar-Aram syria) is an ancient Semitic city in present-day Syria. Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period and the city was first documented in the early second millennium BC. Palmyra changed hands on a number of occasions between different empires, before becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Its destruction by the Timurids in 1400 reduced it to a small village.
Union Station(nominated by Niagara) is an Amtrak railroad station and mixed-use commercial building in downtown Erie, Pennsylvania. The station's ground floor has been redeveloped into commercial spaces, including a brewpub. The building itself is privately owned by the global logistics and freight management company Logistics Plus and serves as its headquarters.
Temperatures Rising(nominated by Jimknut) is an American television sitcom that aired on the ABC network from September 12, 1972 to August 29, 1974. During its 46-episode run, it was presented in three different formats and cast line-ups. At the beginning of the second season the series was re-titled The New Temperatures Rising Show, ran for 13 episodes before being placed on hiatus in January 1974 due to poor ratings. It returned in July with the original title, and seven episodes were aired, before it was cancelled permanently.
Killer Instinct Gold(nominated by Czar) is a 1996 fighting video game based on the arcade game Killer Instinct 2. The game was developed by Rare and released by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 video game console. As in other series entries, players control characters who fight on a 2D plane set against a 3D background. It includes the arcade release's characters, combos, and 3D, pre-rendered environments, but excludes its full-motion video sequences and some voiceovers due to restrictions of the cartridge media format. The Gold release adds a training mode, new camera views, and improved audiovisuals.
In 1703 composer George Frideric Handel took up residence in Hamburg, where he remained until 1706. During this period he composed four operas, of which three have been lost(nominated by Brianboulton). The music for Nero is lost, while only short orchestral excerpts from Florindo and Daphne survive.
Juan Manuel de Rosas(nominated by Lecen and Astynax) (1793–1877) was a politician and army officer who ruled Buenos Aires Province and briefly the Argentine Confederation. In December 1829, Rosas became governor of the province of Buenos Aires and established a dictatorship backed by state terrorism. In 1831, he signed the Federal Pact, recognizing provincial autonomy and creating the Argentine Confederation. The Platine War, which he declared in August 1851, ended with his defeat and flight to Britain, where he died in exile.
Allah jang Palsoe(nominated by Crisco 1492) is a 1919 stage drama in six acts written by the ethnic-Chinese author Kwee Tek Hoay. Based on E. Phillips Oppenheim's short story "The False Gods", the Malay-language play follows two brothers, one a devout son who holds firmly to his morals and personal honour, the other who worships money and prioritises personal gain. Over more than a decade, the two learn that money is not the path to happiness.
South Park: The Stick of Truth(nominated by Darkwarriorblake) is a 2014 role-playing video game developed by Obsidian Entertainment in collaboration with South Park Digital Studios and published by Ubisoft for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows. Based on the American adult animated television series South Park, The Stick of Truth follows The New Kid, who has moved to the eponymous town and becomes involved in an epic role-play fantasy war involving humans, wizards, and elves, who are fighting for control of the all-powerful Stick of Truth. The game was released to positive reviews, which praised the comedic script, visual style, and faithfulness to the source material. It received criticism for a lack of challenging combat and technical issues that slowed or impeded progress.
The Rugby World Cup is an international rugby union competition established in 1987. It is contested by the men's national teams of the member unions of the sport's governing body, World Rugby, and takes place every four years. The Rugby World Cup final(nominated by NapHit) is the last match of the competition. The winning team is declared world champion and receives the Webb Ellis Cup. New Zealand are the most successful team in the history of the tournament, with three wins. They are also the only team to have won consecutive tournaments, with their victories in 2011 and 2015.
The 80th Academy Awards(nominated by Birdienest81) ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, honored the best films of 2007 and took place on February 24, 2008, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles. During the ceremony awards in 24 categories were presented. No Country for Old Men won the most awards of the ceremony with four including Best Picture. The telecast garnered under 32 million viewers, making it the least watched Oscar broadcast in history.
Taylor Swift (born 1989) is an American singer-songwriter. Raised in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 14 to pursue a career in country music. She signed a record deal with Big Machine Records in 2005 and released her eponymous debut album a year later. Since then she recorded more than 100 songs(nominated by FrB.TG), and won 239 awards from 525 nominations.
Katy Perry (born 1984) is an American singer, songwriter, and actress. She has received 85 awards from 297 nominations. (nominated by FrB.TG and SNUGGUMS) She is the recipient of awards like the American Music Award, the ASCAP Pop Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards. She also has been nominated for the ARIA Music Awards and the Grammy Awards. Perry currently also holds four Guinness World Records.
The World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement(nominated by PresN) is one of the categories of the World Fantasy Awards, which are awarded by the World Fantasy Convention. It's given each year to individuals for their overall career in fields related to fantasy fiction and art. Unlike the other World Fantasy Award categories, the nominees for the Life Achievement award are not announced; instead, the winner is announced along with the nominees in the other categories. During the 41 nomination years, 63 people have been given the Life Achievement Award. Multiple winners have been awarded eighteen times, typically two co-winners, though five were noted in 1984.
Bristol(nominated by Rodw) is a city, unitary authority and county in South West England with an estimated population of 437,500 in 2014. People from the city are known as Bristolians. It is England's sixth and the United Kingdom's eighth most populous city, and the second most populous city in Southern England after London.
Floquenbeam was reappointed as an oversighter on 26 January after resigning from the Arbitration Committee and giving up their permission back in July 2014.
The Arbitration Committee amended the scope of the discretionary sanctions remedy of the GMO case on 19 January. The remedy, which previously said, "Standard discretionary sanctions are authorised for all pages relating to genetically modified organisms, agricultural biotechnology, and agricultural chemicals, broadly construed", now reads, "Standard discretionary sanctions are authorised for all pages relating to genetically modified organisms, commercially produced agricultural chemicals and the companies that produce them, broadly construed."