Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/January 2012/Interview

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The Bugle is beginning an interview section this month by having the editors question one of the pioneers of our project, Kirill Lokshin. We invite interested editors to continue this section in future editions by choosing and interviewing any editor or group; we only ask that it relates in some way to military history, no matter how minor.

Kirill began editing in June 2005 and quickly became involved in the Military history Project. He was one of the project's original three coordinators in 2006 and was a driving force in making Milhist such a large and well-organized project during his tenure as lead coordinator. Since 2008, he has held the position of coordinator emeritus within Milhist. Outside the project, he was elected to the Arbitration Committee in December 2006 and has remained on it to this day, barring a short stretch in 2009. He was also a founding member of Wikimedia District of Columbia.

What area of military history do you focus on, and why?

Although I've dabbled in a variety of topics, the bulk of my editing has been on 15th- and 16th-century European conflicts, and particularly on the Italian Wars. Personally, I find the late Renaissance to be a fascinating period for military history; the rise of firearms and artillery as a major factor in warfare and the resulting transformation of European armies makes for a unique (and almost anachronistic) narrative where stereotypical medieval "knights in shining armor" face off against cannon and musketeers, and where tiny city-states fight on an equal footing with the great powers of Europe. Kirill [talk] [prof] 03:32, 22 January 2012 (UTC)

How did you get involved in the project back in 2005? What did it look like and how did it operate?

My first involvement with what was later to become the Military history WikiProject was in August 2005, when it was still known as "WikiProject Battles". I had started to rename some of the categories for battles—this being in the day when manually moving a category's contents to a new name was more common than taking it to CFD, and when battles were arbitrarily categorized in a mixture of categories titled "Battles of X" and "Battles in X"—in an attempt to consolidate them to a common naming scheme. A few editors happened to notice my changes, and some of them started conversations regarding the category names; in the course of one of these conversations, I happened upon a link to WikiProject Battles.
At the time, most of the WikiProject-related infrastructure that editors today take for granted was entirely absent; WikiProjects were, as a rule, small and obscure, and mostly served merely as forums where a few editors would develop infobox templates. When I joined WikiProject Battles in early September 2005, the project had only twelve other members, and consisted primarily of documentation for the {{battlebox}} and {{campaignbox}} templates coupled with a short—and largely deserted—discussion page. Kirill [talk] [prof] 03:32, 22 January 2012 (UTC)

What did you do to improve the project?

The first real change I made to the project's infrastructure was a small one. In early September 2005, I noticed that another project—sadly, I cannot recall which one—had created a small template that labeled an article as being part of that project, and was placing the template on the talk pages of related articles. Thinking that this would be a good way to let people know of our project's existence, I created a similar template, called {{WikiProjectBattles}}, and started putting it on talk pages, a few dozen at a time. The effect on the project was fairly dramatic; within a month, the project's membership had more than doubled, and the project's talk page was beginning to see enough activity to make holding a real discussion possible.
One of the first topics of discussion that came up was, unsurprisingly enough, the design of our infobox template; {{battlebox}} was quite ancient, and several of the project's new members thought that it could be improved. In the course of discussing potential changes, the question of the template's scope came up; was the infobox to be used only for battles, or for both battles and wars? At the time, WikiProject Wars was a separate entity from WikiProject Battles; were we, we asked ourselves, stepping on the other project's toes by designing a combined template? Unlike our own project, however, WikiProject Wars had only a handful of members and almost no activity; and so one of our newer members, a user by the name of The Minister of War, decided that he would try to return WikiProject Wars to activity as we had been doing for WikiProject Battles.
Over the course of the next few weeks, The Minister of War began making small improvements to WikiProject Wars, and the two of us made some attempts to hold discussions on topics of shared interest between the projects. During one of these discussions—a fairly uninteresting debate on which stub tag was to be used for campaign articles—the idea came up that, given the large overlap between the projects, merging them might simplify matters. After some debate on just what was to be merged where—I wanted to absorb Wars into Battles, while The Minister of War favored the opposite—The Minister of War suggested that "Perhaps we should just rename to Military History?". The suggestion stuck, and, about a week later, the Battles and Wars WikiProjects joined to form the Military history WikiProject that exists today.
After the merger, the combined project grew at a rapid pace. As the new project's membership increased, we began to absorb some of the other military-related projects; our ability to do so was greatly improved when, in January 2006, R.D.H. (Ghost In The Machine) suggested that we create "task forces" to cover topic areas rather than having a separate project for each one. The introduction of task forces raised the question of who would be responsible for overseeing their creation, which led to the idea of "coordinators" and the first coordinator election a few weeks later.
At around the same time, we were approached by the newly-formed Wikipedia 1.0 team, who encouraged us to create a worklist to track the status of the articles we were editing. I created our first worklist in late January 2006: it would eventually develop into the current tag-based assessment system and become the basis for all of our assessment and review work.
Over the next two years, the project continued to evolve, developing now-familiar features like the A-Class review system, the WikiChevrons, the Bugle, and the monthly contest. Having been elected as the first lead coordinator in February 2006, I continued in that role until February 2008; at that point, the demands on my time from my duties on the Arbitration Committee led me to step down in favor of Roger Davies, who would become our second lead coordinator. Kirill [talk] [prof] 03:32, 22 January 2012 (UTC)

How difficult a decision was it declining to run again for (lead) coordinator in 2008? What helped you decide that that was the right time?

As I mentioned above, the main factor behind my decision not to run for re-election was my increasingly demanding role as a member of the Arbitration Committee. Beginning in the latter half of 2007—and particularly after arbitrator Fred Bauder retired that December—I became the Committee's primary drafter of arbitration decisions; the time required to deal with the multiple parallel cases that were commonplace during that period, combined with the simultaneous pursuit of aggressive structural reform by the arbitrators, meant that I had far less time to spend on project business than had previously been the case.
At the time, the coordinator system was far more centralized than it is now; as the lead coordinator, I took an extremely hands-on approach to almost everything happening within the project, leaving little to the assistant coordinators (as they were called at the time). The unfortunate result of this was that, as the time I had available dwindled, many tasks remained undone. Under the circumstances, I felt that it would be best for the lead coordinator position to be held by someone who could devote more time to the project; and, given an opportunity to step down gracefully by the arrival of the February 2008 elections, I decided not to run. Kirill [talk] [prof] 04:13, 22 January 2012 (UTC)

What has changed in the project during your time here? If you could change two things in the project, one in the past and one now, what would you do?

Considering that, when I first joined, the project consisted of a dozen members and an infobox, I think I can safely say that the changes have been both pervasive and dramatic. Indeed, the only real constant in the project over the years may be the fact that it constantly evolves, with old elements becoming obsolete and disappearing while new elements emerge and mature. When we were first forming the project in 2005, we could not have imagined that a few years later it would have a thousand members and encompass a hundred thousand articles; few people, meanwhile, remember such failed ideas as the cartography department or the collaboration of the fortnight.
Because of this constant evolution, it is difficult to point to some past decision and say that, had we made a different choice, the project would be improved in the present; more than likely, any single change would have had little effect in the grand scheme of things. My biggest mistake as a lead coordinator, for example, was trying to do everything myself; my attempts to personally manage the entire project set back the evolution of a true "team" of coordinators by almost two years. But, nevertheless, the team did eventually evolve; and who is to say that, had I delegated more, the end result would necessarily be better—or even different?
As for current changes, I have any number of ideas—many of which I've proposed over the past few months—but they are mostly incremental improvements rather than revolutionary changes. Overall, I think our project runs remarkably well; so while there is always room for improvement, nothing stands out as having to be replaced. Kirill [talk] [prof] 04:13, 22 January 2012 (UTC)

How do you see Milhist's future role, both within Wikipedia and outside?

I think it's fair to say that, at this point, MILHIST is one of Wikipedia's most successful WikiProjects—if not the most successful one; we are widely seen as a model project and held up as an example to be emulated. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to look beyond merely being successful in our own right and for our own sake (although that is certainly something we should continue to do); rather, we should aspire to act as leaders of the broader WikiProject community and to promote the well-being of WikiProjects in general—both individually and as a system for collaboration within Wikipedia. In this regard, we are uniquely placed to take advantage of the Wikimedia Foundation's newfound interest in collaborative models (and, specifically, in the role of WikiProjects); we should work with the Foundation to increase understanding and awareness of the important role WikiProjects play in building and maintaining Wikipedia, and advocate for new features and programs that would enhance our ability to do so.
Outside of Wikipedia, we have the potential to serve as a focal point for collaboration with external entities (such as museums, historical societies, and so forth) with an interest in military history. Some of this has already begun to take place with recent discussions regarding GLAM outreach and collaboration, and I anticipate it will become easier once the Wikimedia Foundation's "movement roles" project issues its recommendations; chief among these is the recognition that non-geographic entities—such as our project—have an important and recognized role to play in carrying out the goals of the broader Wikimedia movement. Kirill [talk] [prof] 05:49, 22 January 2012 (UTC)

Moving outside Milhist for one question, what has changed in Wikipedia during your time here? Overall, has this change been positive, negative, or neutral?

Perhaps the most significant change over the years has been the oft-discussed transition from a highly flexible, policy-light environment towards a highly regimented, policy-heavy one. In some ways, the drive to codify rules and procedures and to adhere to them more strictly is a good thing; certainly, a return to the chaos of Wikipedia's 2005–6 era (with administrators deleting AFD in fits of pique and influential editors and their cliques running roughshod over everyone else) is not desirable. At the same time, our increasing reliance on policy and process has also resulted in a tendency to spend more time on arguments about the minutiae of procedure than on substantive action; and the lack of efficient mechanisms for deciding policy debates in an environment where hundreds of editors might be involved rather than dozens has resulted in stagnation and deadlock in many areas of the project. All in all, I would have to say that the change has probably been more negative than positive—although perhaps not quite as negative as some of the more alarmist reports might suggest. Kirill [talk] [prof] 05:49, 22 January 2012 (UTC)

Anything else to add?

It has been a pleasure to work with the members of this project over the past six years, and I look forward to continuing to do so for many more! Kirill [talk] [prof] 05:49, 22 January 2012 (UTC)

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