Wikipedia:WikiProject U.S. Roads/Newsletter/Issues/Volume08/IssueS1

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The Center Line
Volume 8, Issue S1 • September 2015 • About the Newsletter


This is an auspicious month! Ten years ago, the U.S. Roads WikiProject was created. While there had been some state-level highway projects already, as well as WikiProject Highways, it was in September 2005 that USRD was created. In celebration of our tin jubilee, we are publishing a special issue of The Centerline to highlight the past decade of the project.

Like any endeavor involving multiple people, our project history has not been without growing pains over the years. Through various rocky periods over the last 10 years, USRD has emerged from those controversies to become the project that it is today. We have been recognized by others on Wikipedia over the years for our drive to create the best collection of articles that we can muster. In this issue, you'll find republished articles from past issues of the newsletter along with new content appearing for the first time. Regular features like the leaderboard, state updates and portal selected content will return for our next regular issue due out in November.

As the primary editor for The Centerline, I'd like to take a personal moment here to thank everyone in the project who has contributed content to the newsletter over the years. We are one of a small grouping of projects who actively produces a newsletter, and without your efforts, I could not assemble and distribute a quarterly publication like this. We always welcome new contributions at our newsroom. ❖Imzadi1979


USRD through the years

Contributor: Rschen7754
Excerpted and updated from an editorial originally published Winter 2012
The USRD logo debuted in 2010.

On September 18, 2005, I founded the U.S. Roads WikiProject as a simple project designed to "adopt" the states without a state highway WikiProject and allow for new WP:WSS stubs to be created with a lower minimum number of articles.

I'd like to briefly recap the history of USRD. We currently have 26 archive pages of WT:USRD, and I neither have the time nor space to mention everything. But I'm going to give a very brief summary. I've organized it into four "eras" of USRD:

  • Before 2006: the "unorganized" era. Before 2006, the road articles were highly unorganized, as was much of Wikipedia during this time. A lot of the articles were created between 2004 and 2006. Highway articles would quite frequently get sent to AFD, with mixed results. There were only state WikiProjects, and very few; the USRD project was created towards the end of this era, as a "shell project" to theoretically serve as the next higher level above the state projects, although almost all of the editing activity took place at the state level. There were very few FAs, and GA didn't exist in its present form for most of this time. This era began to draw to a close with the events that led up to the first Highways arbitration case and WP:SRNC, when the project divided over how to name articles.
  • 2006–2008—the beginnings of USRD—After SRNC, we spent the next few months repairing relationships and catching up with the mess that our articles had become in the meantime. However, towards 2007, many of the USRD facilities that we take for granted today developed, such as assessment, IRC, IH, USH, most of the state highway WikiProjects, ELG (which would become RJL), the shields task force, MTF, and ACR. We formed this project newsletter in January 2007 to respond to issues that were taking place and to unify the project. We began to get our first GAs as a project. The development of {{U.S. Roads WikiProject}} took place; while most collaboration took place at the state level, the USRD project was beginning to form. This era ended in early 2008 with the second Highways arbitration case, when internal disagreements led to an arbitration case, which had very few remedies and did little to resolve the internal problems.
  • 2008–2012—the transition period—After the second arbitration case we entered a transition period, where we slowly went from over 30 state highway WikiProjects to one national WikiProject. A race began to get FAs and GAs, and to reduce WikiWork and the number of stubs through two stub drives. The county challenges and USRDCups played a major role in this as well. The newsletter was eventually decommissioned in 2008, but resurfaced in 2010, after attempts at a project blog failed. The switch to {{Infobox road}} took place, and our notability guidelines developed. The focus of USRD switched from quantity to quality, as we worked on making higher-quality articles. Many events transpired that drew us together, such as the Racepacket arbitration case, the geocoordinates debates, and the revisions to RJL and {{Infobox road}} to make it international. This era recently ended with the consolidation of nearly all the state highway WikiProjects into task forces of USRD. While this happened officially in 2012, this had unofficially been taking place for years as standards merged and editors networked. As our editing base has declined, it is easier to maintain one national project. In addition to this, there are few state-specific variations of standards, and the projects were eventually seen as redundant. New York initially remained its own state highway WikiProject after the transition.
  • 2012–2014–rebirth—Now that our project has been unified, we are moving forward as one unit. A few of our primary editors from earlier eras returned, and the project underwent a renaissance. We expanded across Wikimedia to other projects, including Wikidata, Meta, Commons, and Wikisource. We gained several featured articles, many of which went on the main page. In addition to this, we developed standards for lists, and overhauled many of our templates to use Lua, improving page rendering times. The New York state highway project was merged back into USRD.
  • 2014–– While some of our primary editors have become less active due to real-life commitments, there have been a few who have kept the project running while creating quality content.

But this leaves a great opportunity for you, the reader of this newsletter. There are several opportunities to get more involved in the project. Thus, I encourage you: Be part of the turnaround... now become part of the solution! To learn how, feel free to ask questions at our main page, WT:USRD, or in the IRC channel.

A goal for success

Contributor: Dough4872
The poster for the 2011 stub-reduction project

Over the years, the USRD project has come up with various yearly goals in order to help improve the articles. Sometimes these goals were met and sometimes they were not, depending on the difficulty of the goal and how active and motivated the project was to complete the goals. In addition to yearly goals, the project has also come up with long-term objectives which do not have a hard deadline.

One of the first goals the project came up with were stub drives, which occurred in 2010 and 2011. The project dropped 1,432 stubs in 2010 and 2,011 stubs in 2011. In 2012, the project did anti-stub vigilance, which kept the stub count from creeping back up and resulted in the loss of 100 stubs. Another goal set forth in 2012 called for the destubbing of Interstate and U.S. Route articles, which was achieved in 2013. The USRD project also got 25 states completely destubbed in 2013. The project has come up with other metrics to improve the quality of articles. A goal to get 250 articles to B-class in 2014 resulted in the upgrading of several articles despite falling short. The project also had goals to improve articles be lowering WikiWork. In 2013, the project was able to get its relative WikiWork below 4.4. For this year, USRD attempted to lower the cumulative WikiWork by 1010 classes in homage to the 10th anniversary of the project.

The project has also focused on improving our more important road articles. As mentioned above, we focused on destubbing and cleaning up the Interstate and U.S. Route articles. This year, the project focused on improving the national-level Interstate and U.S. Routes, which are often neglected by project editors. In 2014, the project attempted to get our most important article, U.S. Route 66, to GA; however, the goal was unsuccessful and it is hoped can be achieved in the future. USRD also undertook a drive in 2012 to convert the hardcoded RJLs in GA and better articles to use the {{jctint}} series of templates. In 2014, the project attempted to get 12 Featured Lists using the new Route list standards; however, only one FL was promoted that year.

USRD created the Planning Department in 2012 in order to facilitate the development of personal goals and featured content aspirations as well as to showcase what the official project goals for the year were. At the Planning Department, some of the unofficial goals that were developed included a pledge to get a GA every month of the year, Featured Content aspirations, a portal links drive, and an assessment audit. In 2014, the project came up with long-term objectives that would have no hard deadline. The objectives included rewriting templates to use Lua, converting the remaining hardcoded junction lists to use the jctint templates, adding maps to all GA and better articles, and adding KML files to all B-class and better articles.

Well, have you? In 2010, we challenged everyone to expand stub articles.

From the first spinning cogs to controlling the power of the moon

Contributor: Happy5214
Lua powers our most advanced templates now.

Any successful WikiProject must project a consistent and standardized style on its articles. Usually, this goal is achieved through the use of templates. USRD has a long history of important templates, from {{infobox road}} and {{jct}} to the {{jctint}} series and {{routelist row}} and its siblings. The complicated code behind these templates has been written and rewritten over the years, taking advantage of recent technologies like Lua and Wikidata integration. There's still a lot to accomplish with these rewrites, but significant speed improvements can already be seen across our articles. These templates are as old as the project itself, and so it's only fitting that on this anniversary occasion, we take a look back on our backend code.

It started way back when. How far back exactly is likely lost to deletion, but we know that the early years of USRD were defined by a plethora of infoboxes. Reflecting the project's origins as a federation of individual state projects, infoboxes were unique to each state and highway system. However, as USRD began to enforce national content standards, these numerous state-specific templates were gradually merged into what became {{infobox road}}, or IBR for short. I've been on Wikipedia for about eight-and-a-half years, and I can vaguely remember the old templates. One of my first tasks for USRD was helping to convert infoboxes to IBR. Our infobox eventually went global, truly earning its generic name. In my mind, this is our most defining template.

Of course, we've produced other templates. Our most complicated template was the behemoth that was {{jct}}. Jct is the most used of our many article templates, often being transcluded hundreds of times on our longest articles. It was a hackish monster, filled with messy code and hardcoded, inflexible functionality. Combined with its repeated usage on articles, {{jct}} was responsible for most of our page-load performance issues. {{Jct}}, as our highway link template, is usually found in our junction lists. Originally written using plain table syntax, efforts continue to convert our remaining hardcoded RJLs to a series of templates, most notably {{jctint}} and its wrappers. These templates also had flexibility issues, a result of the parser functions used to write them. Parser functions are basically hacks of the MediaWiki code, riddled with inefficiencies and ill-suited for complex scripts.

Enter Lua, my ticket back into the project. Lua is a full-fledged and simple programming language, deployed with the express goal of cleaning up complicated template code. The lunar era, as I call it, began with {{routelist row}}, our first major template to be written in Lua. These early successes were followed by rewrites of the RJL templates. Finally, I undertook a complete rewrite of {{jct}}, using a centralized module database of shield, link, and abbreviation data written for a powerful parser that could completely replace the old parser functions. Upon deployment, our page-loading bottlenecks were gone. The Lua version also included unlimited numbers of highways and locations per call, all while preserving the existing functionality. This same centralized database was included in {{routelist row}} and a rewrite of the browse boxes found in page and infobox footers.

We still have work to do. {{Infobox road}} needs to be fully converted to Lua, among other things. We are also in the early stages of including data from Wikidata items in our templates. Maps from Wikidata are already available through IBR, and more data should be coming soon. These templates and modules form an integral part of our project's continued success, and ensuring that they keep up with the latest advances in template coding is imperative. Templates are the gears of our articles, and I hope that last night's lunar eclipse reminds you of the power of the Moon. Or, in this case, a programming language named after it. Feliĉan dekan datrevenon!

Article assessment over time

USRD's article assessment since 2007

How to measure a WikiProject's load

Contributor: Mabeenot
Excerpt from the "WikiProject Report" for The Signpost published on February 25, 2013
Relative WikiWork for USRD over time

As the editor of the "WikiProject Report", one of the most common questions I receive from readers (and a frequent inquiry at Database Reports and the WikiProject Council) asks how WikiProjects can be measured. The most visible way of measuring WikiProjects is the article assessment system which provides the total number of articles tagged with a project's banner as well as breakdowns of how many articles have received various class and importance ratings. Other metrics include rankings of WikiProjects by their total number of articles, the number of edits to the project's pages, and how many editors are watching the project's talk page. But how can we measure the challenges facing a project or determine a WikiProject's productivity? Luckily, several prominent projects have been doing that for years. Their answer: WikiWork.

WikiWork is a concept originally developed in April 2007 that approximates how many classes or "steps" a project's articles need to ascend for all of the project's articles to reach Featured status. WikiWork encompasses several formulas that can provide different views of a project's workload, but the most used formula and the best way to compare WikiProjects of different sizes is called "relative WikiWork" or the average workload per article. This involves adding up the number of steps all of the project's articles must pass to reach Featured status (with A-class articles considered one step, Good Articles two steps, B-class three steps, etc.) and then dividing this number by the total number of articles under the project's scope, including articles that have already reached Featured status. The resultant number will be between zero and six with lower numbers considered more desirable. For example, the relative WikiWork for WikiProject Aircraft is 4.693, meaning that the average article about aircraft is between C-class and Start-class. By comparison, WikiProject Elements has a less daunting workload with a relative WikiWork rating of 3.600 while WikiProject Olympics is bogged down with relative WikiWork of 5.829.

In addition to comparing WikiProjects, WikiWork can be tracked over time to gauge a project's productivity. For example, the relative WikiWork for USRD has decreased from around 5.6 in 2008 to about 4.5 [in 2013] (see graph to the right) showing that the project has had some success in improving articles to higher classes and/or trimming unnecessary stubs. A helpful calculator is available to determine the various WikiWork statistics for a WikiProject.

As with all statistical data, there are some caveats that should be taken into account. Among these caveats are ensuring that the project is large enough for any statistical analysis to be significant and checking that the project's article assessments are accurate before using them to determine WikiWork. Furthermore, WikiWork focuses on articles, excluding lists and portals which typically do not receive comparable ratings other than being Featured or not.

Relative WikiWork by state

Conflict over article titles

Contributor: Viridiscalculus
ArbCom stepped in to help settle the SRNC controversy in 2006

For much of 2006, USRD deliberated on a standard way of naming state highway articles, resulting in WP:USSH. This process was acrimonious, however, as editors attacked each other and edit-warred in zealous efforts to impose their points of view. The State Route Naming Convention (SRNC) war resulted in many editors leaving the project and Wikipedia altogether, some temporarily and some permanently. However, the painful process laid much of the groundwork for the many project deliberations that have occurred since then. The process impressed the need for editors to cooperate on initiatives, compromise to come to a consensus, and avoid the types of behavior that alienate and antagonize people within and outside the project.

Shortly after the creation of the project in September 2005, there were discussions on standardizing article titles, which had no consistent naming scheme at the time. The basic disputes started at the end of February 2006. Editors reverted each others' moves of articles, and the first case of the war went to the administrator's noticeboard. In March, a series of mass moves began in states outside California. These moves continued through April, affecting articles in Washington, New York, Delaware, Maine, Texas, and Oklahoma. Many more state article titles were affected in May despite attempts to discuss the situation. The situation escalated despite a request for arbitration and the acceptance of the case for arbitration at the end of May. Throughout June, the editors on both sides of the case argued their principles. The arbitration case closed in early July.

The SRNC poll was proposed in August 2006. In the end, there were three proposed formats Between August 18 and August 31, editors voted between the three options. The first format won 59 percent of the vote and was eventually implemented, although some disputed the results of the poll. Despite the worries, some of which were resolved by creating redirects of various formats, in September editors began discussing specific implementation details under the watchful eye of the arbitrators. Once those state-level deliberations were complete, a poll was held to ratify all state naming conventions, and the SRNC as a whole was ratified. The orderly mass movement of articles to their agreed-upon article names began in October and lasted through December 2006.

Arbitration case closes

Contributor: Imzadi1979
Originally published April 30, 2008

ArbCom is over! That's the biggest news affecting USRD over the last several months. The case was closed April 7, 2008, with no formal enforcement measures enacted. The Arbitration Committee's decision was enacted, "in light of the hope that editors will act of their own volition and take with them a more in-depth understanding of the issues, principles, and the disputes themselves, for future benefit and to avoid the need for more formal responses."[1]

The case was requested by several parties after three RfCs about user NE2 and at least one rejected attempt at mediation through the Mediation Cabal. The unresolved issues from these RfCs centered around consensus debates concerning the issues discussed at WT:USRD. The largest issue cited was the debate over the usage of words for former highways and highway designations. Issues from the ArbCom also impacted WP:Good Articles. A temporary injunction was put in place to bar editing of the USRD project page beyond normal usage. Until the resolution of the case, USRD project scope was to remain fixed and project tags were not to be removed from disputed articles. Evidence was provided and debated throughout the course of the case, even during the voting phase.

A motion was offered at one point to dismiss the case during voting, however the Arbitration Committee did reach a number of findings concerning the usage of consensus and the nature of wikiprojects. The proposed remedies passed by the committee were limited to counseling editors over editorial conflicts and establishing previous consensus. The closing of the case removed the restrictions on the project page and project tags.

Collaboration

Contributor: Rschen7754
Collaboration, our core purpose

I have been an administrator on the English Wikipedia since December 16, 2005. However, I only remained semi-active as an administrator for many years, instead focusing on the development of this WikiProject.

In 2012, I felt a desire to get involved in other areas of Wikimedia. I started by getting more active in administrative work on the English Wikipedia. Pretty soon, by the end of 2013, I had become a Wikidata administrator and oversighter, an English Wikivoyage administrator, a sockpuppet investigations clerk, arbitration clerk, and a global sysop.

By early 2014, I had gained enough experience and motivation to become a Wikimedia steward, the highest user right a volunteer can have, with complete access to the interface on all public Wikimedia sites, including handling CheckUser and oversight matters. I planned to remain a steward for at least a few years, seeing that I knew how to use the tools effectively and felt like I was truly making a difference.

Stewards are considered to be the "most trusted" members of the Wikimedia community; the elections are announced on every Wikimedia site for three weeks, and over two hundred people vote in them. Most of them have served for years in this role and in other highly trusted roles across Wikimedia. And yet, I soon found myself disappointed when working with some of my colleagues, finding that while they were technically competent, they were difficult to work with. By the end of my first term, even though I would likely have been reappointed, I realized that the additional stress was unhealthy for me, and I decided not to continue, even resigning a few days earlier than planned due to yet another fight on the steward mailing list that had turned into bickering.

So why do I mention all of this on our tenth anniversary?

Because over the course of that experience, I grew to appreciate working with my fellow road editors. It is true that in the past, we were known for causing drama that had to be resolved by outside parties. But over the years, we have learned how to work as a team despite our differences. We disagree quite often, but we respect each other’s opinion, and work towards a solution that is agreeable to everyone. And when hard work needs to be done, there are always those willing to step up and do want is necessary, since back in 2007 when we first assessed the few thousand articles in our scope. As a team, we turned these articles from the ruins that they were post-SRNC into what they are today with our standards and framework, which outsiders have criticized, but which have proven to be successful. Thus, I think the overarching success story of the U.S. Roads WikiProject is not the number of GAs or FAs that we have created. Instead, it is that we have been able to create a team that serves as a model of the collaborative experience that Wikimedia should truly be like, in a greater environment of increasing polarization and a declining editorship.

Admittedly, my activity is decreasing due to increasing outside commitments, and I don't know how much longer I will be able to remain a regular editor. But my time at USRD is something that I will always remember. I am grateful to have had this experience, and it will be something that I am proud to have been a part of.

Our valued contributors

Vaoverland, in 2008
Contributor: Fredddie

Through the years, many users have contributed to the U.S. Roads WikiProject; at any given time we have had a core of about 15 editors. We wanted to find a simple way to say thank you to those who stuck around for a little while and became part of the USRD community. To attempt this, the editors of this newsletter have attempted to make a list of those people. Because we have never required a user to add him or herself to the participants list for the project, or the state-level subprojects, this listing is unfortunately incomplete. To anyone inadvertently left off the list, we still extend to you the same thank you that we send to everyone listed below.

Some of the editors listed below have moved on to a different project or have retired from Wikipedia completely. We ask those editors who have moved on to check in sometime and say hello. Sadly, not all of our regular contributors are still with us. In 2011, USRD was saddened to learn of the passing of Vaoverland (pictured). To him, and all others who have left this mortal coil, we send out an extra thank you.

From the editors

The next quarterly issue should be out in the fall. The editors of the newsletter would like to hear from you, the reader. What do you like about the current format? What should be changed? Removed? Added? Your comments are needed.

Lastly, remember that this is your newsletter and you can be involved in the creation of next issue. Any and all contributions are welcome. Simply let yourself be known to any of the undersigned, or just start editing!

Contributors to this issue

Issue 3 | Issue S1 | Issue 4