Wikipedia:WikiProject on Adminship/Role of admins

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Administrators have always been trusted individuals. Their role has shifted as the project has grown.

History[edit]

Initial role[edit]

At the genesis of Wikipedia in January 2001, administrators as a user class did not exist. The UseMod Wiki software in use originally did not support page protection, deletion, or blocking of users. To the extent that such tasks were carried out at all, they were done by technical staff through the use of command-line utilities on the server. The earliest use of the phrase "administrator" to describe a special user on Wikipedia was in October 2001, when there was a single administrator account with a shared password that could be used to update the main page, which was permanently protected.

By early 2002, with the conversion to the "Phase II" software which predated MediaWiki, the administrator role was well established [1], with administrators given the ability to:

  1. Delete pages
  2. Block IP addresses (but not logged-in users)
  3. Edit the main page
  4. Run SQL queries

The earliest recorded list of administrators includes 40 individuals [2] in September 2002. By this time the page protection feature had been added to the software but was rarely used, except for the main page. The ability to edit the main page was the considered the most important benefit of adminship.

Until June 2003, adminship requests were handled on the mailing list, and all admins were required to subscribe to the mailing list as a condition of adminship. At that time there were 75 admins, and for the most part the admins all knew each other and were familiar with each other's editing habits. There were relatively few frequent Wikipedia editors who were not admins, in part because adminship was granted liberally to anyone who had edited for a couple months.

In the early years of the project, adminship truly remained "no big deal." It was an article of faith among participants in the project that adminship conferred technical capabilities only and was not a badge of honor.

2003[edit]

The "requests for adminship" page was created in June 2003. Angela was among the first admins to be approved with the novel new Wiki-based process; she had contributed for almost four months, had 81 edits, and three votes of support at the time she was promoted. RFAs continued to be handled based solely on consensus with no real numerical standards. Comments were bulletted, not numbered; close times were not closely observed, and developers with direct access to the database performed promotions until February 2004.

The ability to block logged-in users (in addition to IP addresses) was added in 2003, but was not widely used.

2004[edit]

This was a time of several important changes both in the process of becoming an admin and in the role of admins in the community:

  • Adminship by now was granted by a vote of 80% support with a handful of candidates who received between 75%-80% support also being promoted.
  • The relative importance of admin capabilities changed. Originally, the most coveted abilities were editing the Main Page and running SQL queries; blocks and page protection were rarely used and deletion was more strictly limited to VfD matters. By 2004, the main page had become standardized, and SQL queries were disabled due to concerns about server load and security
  • Also in 2003, page protection became routinely used to stop edit wars in articles. Previously, this had been rare.
  • Admins increasingly self-identified on their user page, something that was previously considered gauche.
  • Discretionary deletion of articles under the criteria for speedy deletion expanded.
  • High minimum standards for edit counts and duration of participation arose.

2005[edit]

This was a watershed year in changes to the role of administrators. Previously, administrators were acting under strict guidelines and extensive discussion took place prior to any action. In 2005, administrators:

  • routinely blocked IPs and logged-in users engaging in vandalism or sockpuppettry without prior discussion
  • deleted pages under wider and increasingly discretionary CSDs
  • blocked IPs and users under the three-revert rule. Such blocks were approved by a policy change in late 2004.
  • utilized page protection and semi-protection widely at their discretion

Also, the role of administrators in patrolling recent changes declined as the first of a variety of RC tools became available that did not require the admins' rollback button to use.

2006[edit]

The main change has been a growing reluctance on the part of the admin community to reverse the actions of its members. This was caused in part by a what was termed a "wheel war" among admins on two sides of a userbox dispute who engaged in repeated blocking and unblocking. The resulting backlash led to a "wheel war guideline" discouraging reversion of other admin's actions. The guideline was rapidly internalized by the admin community.

Role today[edit]

The exact role of admins varies among individuals, who make what they wish of the role. Broadly, admins are active in three major areas:

  1. Dealing with vandalism
  2. Page deletion
  3. Mediation and limit-setting in community disputes

Most admins with an interest in dealing with vandalism use automated tools, and utilize IP and username blocks as a means to quench vandalism at its source. The importance of administrators in this role has diminished as non-admin anti-vandalism tools become more sophisticated and as vandalism begins to originate from a broad base rather than a relatively limited number of detractors. With the assistance of automated tools, most vandalism can be dealt with so efficiently that IP blocks (though still widely used) are relatively less important.

The vast majority of page deletion is performed unilaterally with little discussion. About 50-100 pages per day (usually less than 5% of the total) are deleted after discussion at WP:AFD, a number that reflects only slight growth over the prior year. In contrast, several thousand total pages appear in the deletion log on a typical day. Various drives to remove images of doubtful copyright status have increased this already large figure while they have been active.

The third role of administrators involves serving as a referee in disputes among users. At its simplest, this involves relatively mechanical enforcement of the three-revert rule; at its most complex, it involves mediation in long-running disputes among groups of users that share little common ground. In between, there is discretionary limit setting as admins delete deliberately disruptive content or block users that operate sophisticated campaigns to undermine the project.

Administrators also gain a degree of special standing among users. An edit made to a highly visible article or policy page by an administrator might go unchallenged while the same edit made by an unknown user would be challenged or reverted outright. This status has been furthered by Recent Changes tools that specially mark edits by administrators.

Statistical studies of administrative actions[edit]

Some figures from fall 2005 reveal that:

  • Typically around 30% of admins are more than casually active in any month (more than a handful of admin-specific actions)
  • Deletion is by far and away the numerically most widely used admin feature, followed by blocking.
  • Well over 99% of administrative actions are noncontroversial.

Rate at which admins are appointed[edit]

This chart illustrates the rate at which administrators have been appointed over the life of the project, with each numbered bar representing 10% of admin appointments.

Related roles[edit]

Notable in 2006 is the rise of importance of bot writers and operators. Several writers have produced bots that are utilized in dealing with vandalism. There are many policy decisions implicit in bot development, and some bot writers have further leveraged their status by limiting who can use their bots.