Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2005-01-17/SPV

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Volume 1, Issue 2 17 January 2005 About the Signpost

(← Prev) 2005 archives (Next →)

From the editor: Help wanted New servers to deal with performance issues
International Wikipedia writing contest proposed Template debate engulfs country articles
The Report On Lengthy Litigation Fvw granted adminship with record support
Policy on celebrity impersonators revisited Featured article candidates on controversial topics struggle
Media still probing Wikipedia credibility debate

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From the editor

If you're reading The Signpost for the first time, welcome! For those of you coming back, I'm pleased that you found the first issue worthwhile enough that you decided to continue reading it—I hope you make a habit of it.

The feedback I've received about this project has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'm glad so many people recognized the need for a news source like this. In order for The Signpost to best serve the community, we'll need that feedback on an ongoing basis; if there are subjects you want to read about that aren't getting discussed, we'll try to add that to our coverage.

In this issue, you'll begin seeing articles from other reporters, and I hope that in the coming weeks more will join us. Like everything else about Wikipedia, The Signpost is intended as a collaborative project, not a one-man show. While this is not a task I or anyone else could handle alone, I know many of you are quite capable of handling it with us. So once more, I would like to issue a call to anyone interested in helping with this project to contact me about it. You can write articles, pass along news tips, suggest new topics to explore, or anything else that seems needed—the help will always be appreciated.

--Michael Snow


New servers to deal with performance issues

By Michael Snow, 17 January 2005

The Wikimedia Foundation placed a substantial order for new computers last week after having placed a smaller order in December. The new equipment is needed to cope with Wikipedia's constant traffic growth and recent performance struggles.

Last Friday, developer Jamesday posted information on an order of new server hardware to help run Wikipedia and other Wikimedia Foundation websites. The order includes four computers to be used as Apache servers, plus an additional six to provide a squid cache. He also announced that all Wikimedia sites were now on a one gigabit internet connection, upgrading from the previous 100 megabit connection.

At the same time, several existing computers are not in service and in need of repairs. Although they are under warranty, nobody has been able to get them fixed yet.

In other developments, the bug in the unblocking function and the display of the block log (see archived story) was fixed last Friday with another upgrade to the MediaWiki 1.4 software.

Staff hiring discussed

The need for on-site server maintenance prompted Wikimedia CFO Daniel Mayer to suggest that the Foundation considering hiring its first paid staff to handle this aspect. He indicated that the Foundation had money available to do this and was also planning a fundraiser in February, commenting, "Whenever we need money we have been able to raise it."

In response to this proposal, Sj raised concerns that the current reserves were only about two months' operating costs, and also that more money should be directed toward improving hardware redundancy so as to reduce the noticeable effects from breakdowns. Others wondered how the Foundation would handle the balance between having paid employees and relying on volunteer efforts.

Complaints still continued to come in about Wikipedia's performance in loading pages and saving edits. SlimVirgin remarked that "the site is for many practical intents and purposes unusable a lot of the time." According to Jamesday, while the awaited servers will help somewhat, the Foundation will still need much more in the way of donations to keep up with anticipated growth and demand.

For those interested in more about these technical aspects, along with a summary of the underlying performance issues, take a look at the discussion started by Kate Turner on LiveJournal.


International Wikipedia writing contest proposed

By Michael Snow, 17 January 2005

Achim Raschka of the German Wikipedia announced plans last Tuesday to hold an international writing contest across all Wikipedia languages. Details remain to be worked out, but a tentative schedule was set to consider submissions in March, after allowing time for necessary preparations.

The schedule outlined was based on the German Wikipedia's plans to hold a writing contest, which Raschka said "could be a chance to cooperate and work together" for all Wikipedias. This contest was already set to accept nomination of articles starting March 1 and close March 31. The days leading up to this would be needed to select and organize the people who would judge the contest. In light of the idea to internationalize the contest, time would also be needed to publicize the contest and get information out to other languages.

Some questions were raised about how to manage such a contest running across multiple languages, and whether a panel of judges would be able to fairly consider all the entries. Raschka responded that it might be easier to let each language select its own best articles, but coordinate the timing of the contest to choose the best from each one.

A similar contest has been held on the Dutch Wikipedia, which also committed to participating in the international contest. Additional interest was expressed by the Polish Wikipedia. On the English Wikipedia, the most notable previous effort to hold an article-writing contest was organized by Danny and known as Danny's contest.

Danny's contest

The first of Danny's contests, held in October, went off quite successfully and produced some excellent articles. Contestants included seven future featured articles, including the top two prize-winners, three runners-up, and even two that escaped notice from the judging panel. A number of other good entries filled out the ranks, including three detailed train-related articles by railroad enthusiast slambo.

The second contest, which was supposed to have closed 4 December 2004, is still awaiting any word on the results (unless the winner is Turquoise by default, it being the only entry to have become a featured article so far). Some of the participants inquired on the talk page but got no response.

Chiding about the delay, contestant KF observed on New Year's Eve, "I'm positive 2005 will be the year when the results of this contest are divulged." Muriel Gottrop asked Danny about the situation last Monday, but the week went by with nothing new to report. Perhaps starting a new contest will provide some motivation to close out the old one.


Template debate engulfs country articles

By Michael Snow, 17 January 2005

A dispute over structuring some standard data in articles about countries escalated last week from discussion into a series of reverts and blocks, before calming down as editors sought to find a compromise.

Most country articles have had infoboxes in table form, containing an assortment of basic almanac-style information, such as flag and coat-of-arms, geographic and demographic data, currency, etc. In a few cases, these tables had been converted into templates, so as to make editing the article less intimidating for users who didn't want to tackle the table syntax. Other people objected that this was an improper use of the template system, which was designed for repeating similar content across multiple articles, not to branch out content from one article alone.

Starting January 1, Jerryseinfeld began converting more of these tables into template form. Gzornenplatz reverted this change, which prompted a brief discussion on the Village pump. Things then settled back down for a few days.

Edit, then block war

The dispute moved into a higher gear January 7, when Cantus got involved, and he and Gzornenplatz began systematically reverting each other's efforts over the next several days (both Cantus and Gzornenplatz are under strict editing restrictions that allow them to revert an article only once every 24 hours). Cantus took the side of having individual templates for each country, while Gzornenplatz preferred the versions with tables.

The next day, Gzornenplatz complained that Cantus had violated his revert restriction on a number of these articles, and Cantus was blocked accordingly for a week. After this, a number of sockpuppets promptly appeared to repeat the same edits Cantus had been making. Gzornenplatz reverted these as well, but was generally careful to do this outside of the 24-hour window. Ultimately, Cantus' entire IP received a six-month block.

However, Gzornenplatz's arbitration ruling also requires that he not revert without discussion on talk pages. When approached about the reverts by Páll, Gzornenplatz mentioned the active discussion on the Village pump about the issue (several other discussions had also taken place on Talk:Italy as well as Gzornenplatz and Jerryseinfeld's talk pages). The two exchanged further messages, with Páll eventually suggesting a poll.

At this point, though, Netoholic advised Páll about the arbitration ruling, with the opinion that Gzornenplatz could be blocked for failure to discuss his reverts on the talk pages of the articles involved. Páll then blocked Gzornenplatz on January 10 for 56 days, one for each revert he counted.

Gzornenplatz responded by contacting 172, who unblocked him and argued it "would be quite redundant [to have Gzornenplatz post] the same message on every country talk page explaining his actions". The debate now turned into an argument over the appropriateness of the block, which went back and forth before Gzornenplatz was finally unblocked.

Progress toward a solution

By this time, the dispute was drawing increasing attention on the Administrators' noticeboard from other parties who urged the participants to cool down. Jmabel suggested that both Cantus and Gzornenplatz be unblocked if they would pledge to stop reverting, and that a poll about the issue be organized. As dab pointed out, "It is a question of format, not content, and there is no pressing need for a change without prior discussion."

Discussion and a poll seemed to indicate that most people wanted a common template that could balance the competing concerns, although some thought more flexibility could be achieved using subpages. After Cantus indicated he would respect the decision being reached, he was finally unblocked as well.

While it appears the new, more generic country infobox will become the standard, a large number of countries remain to be converted to this format. Davenbelle suggested it be deployed slowly to allow for any necessary adjustments to the template parameters.


The Report On Lengthy Litigation

By Michael Snow, 17 January 2005

The Arbitration Committee closed two more cases last week, as its deliberations and decisions continued to emphasize measures to address the problem of personal attacks and general incivility.

CheeseDreams still not allowed to edit on Christianity

In a case arising originally out of disputes over the article on Jesus and some related pages, the arbitrators issued a ban on CheeseDreams and imposed additional editing restrictions to follow the ban.

The request for arbitration in this case came from Snowspinner, prompted by a confusing request made by CheeseDreams herself. The issues raised covered a number of articles related in some fashion to Christianity or the Bible, with a particular complaint being that CheeseDreams inappropriately moved or forked the article Cultural and historical background of Jesus. As the dispute escalated and a request for comment was started, complaints also arose that CheeseDreams started frivolous RfC pages against her opponents.

As part of the Arbitration Committee's decision, CheeseDreams was given a one-week ban for disruptive editing, notably the addition of dispute tags to numerous articles without mentioning a reason for the dispute. An additional day was tacked on for an instance of userpage vandalism.

Earlier in the case, CheeseDreams had already been placed under an injunction that restricted her from editing articles related to Christianity. This prohibition was kept in place for a period of one year. The ruling did allow for a request to lift the restriction early based on good behavior.

HistoryBuffEr v. Jayjg case closed

In a second case, involving a complaint initially brought against HistoryBuffEr by Jayjg, the arbitrators faced another dispute arising out of the articles on the Arab-Israeli conflict. As with the Alberuni case earlier, they focused on abusive comments by editors.

The complaint, to which HistoryBuffEr responded with his own counter-complaint, involved a mountain of evidence, and at one point the Arbitration Committee had to instruct the parties to organize and summarize the information they wanted to present in a manageable form. This delayed progress in the case, which was one of the older cases remaining on the arbitration docket.

After sorting through the evidence, the arbitrators produced a detailed decision based on a number of findings, noting the general history of problems surrounding the articles in question. The ruling gave HistoryBuffEr a 30-day ban for personal attacks, citing instances of him calling Jayjg things such as "Zionist dolt" and "agitprop hack", and imposed a further 30-day ban for discourtesy.

A three-month parole is to follow in which HistoryBuffEr may be blocked for making further personal attacks. HistoryBuffEr was also placed under editing restrictions with respect to pages on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, designed to require sources and prevent the addition of original research.

For HistoryBuffEr's counter-complaint against Jayjg, however, the arbitrators declined to impose any sanctions, although they did cite some violations of the three revert rule that predated the current enforcement policy. Arbitrator David Gerard commented, "Jayjg knows the right thing to do and generally consistently does it, but has been goaded into blowing his top on occasion. But of late he's been acting in an exemplary fashion". The ruling also indicated that Jayjg had complied with the request to organize his evidence coherently, but HistoryBuffEr had not.

New requests, rejected and accepted

The dispute over country infoboxes (see related story) also spilled over and produced two arbitration requests, but the arbitrators chose not to hear these cases. The first request came from Netoholic, invoking the provisions of a previous arbitration ruling against Gzornenplatz.

Although several of the arbitrators were initially willing to accept the case, objections caused some of them to reconsider and the request was ultimately rejected. This reversal followed mav's argument that the case would need to involve all the users involved in the dispute and was not limited to Gzornenplatz. David Gerard also pointed out that the existing decree against Gzornenplatz remained enforceable, just as with his opponent Cantus, and argued that a new case was premature.

Jguk then tried to raise the question of whether Gzornenplatz is the same person as Wik—as believed by a number of people familiar with both users—since Wik was also given editing restrictions in two earlier arbitration cases. However, the arbitrators declined to consider this request separately and dismissed it along with the other.

On Sunday, two new requests for arbitration were accepted for consideration. The first was submitted by Johnleemk regarding the conduct of Everyking with respect to several articles about Ashlee Simpson and her music. This dispute had already prompted two abortive requests in December that were withdrawn, and was renewed when problems continued over the article Pieces of Me. At one point last week Everyking was blocked for violating the three revert rule, but the block was reversed amid disagreement over whether certain edits qualified as reverts.

The other newly accepted case was brought by Radicalsubversiv against Libertas and a number of alleged sockpuppets, based on a dispute spread across a number of political articles. As has been the case recently, the arbitrators managed to decide whether to accept or reject all new requests within 24 hours.


Fvw granted adminship with record support

by blankfaze and Michael Snow, 17 January 2005

Fvw was granted administrator status last Wednesday after his request for adminship passed a community vote with a record 81 users supporting the move. A number of users voiced the old cliché "Thought he was already an admin".

Overall, the nomination had approximately 86.2% support from RfA voters, as a sizeable group totalling 13 users opposed the request. Among the primary reasons expressed for opposing the nomination were Fvw's experience (or lack thereof) and his perceived "deletionist" attitude.

Lack of experience, however, seemed to be less of an obstacle than on his previous nomination, which was supported by a small majority (15-9 with two neutral votes), but failed to achieve consensus to promote. The previous attempt closed on December 4, just over one month before the new nomination was posted. SWAdair, one of those who opposed the initial request based on lack of experience, was the user who nominated Fvw on the second occasion.

The record turnout seemed to illustrate that admin candidates whose initial requests fail are likely to get a significantly higher level of response on subsequent attempts, whether or not these are successful. Practically all of the other nominations to receive a comparable number of votes were second or third attempts. This may indicate that although the first request was unsuccessful, other users do take note of the candidate and observe them more closely in the following months to assess their qualifications.

Mediation Committee in limbo

Fvw is also a current candidate to be added to the Mediation Committee, which is seeking additional members after having lost four people from the committee when they were elected to the Arbitration Committee. However, action on this request (along with those of several other users) has been delayed as the Mediation Committee struggles to get the mediation process moving again.

Not only is the Mediation Committee understaffed, but several of its members are currently designated as inactive, including Bcorr, the current committee chair. Some requests for mediation have remained in limbo for weeks with no activity, and several users have begun to express concerns about the lack of response from the committee.

In the case of Fvw's candidacy to become an official mediator, some concern was again expressed that he was too new and inexperienced for this role, but several other candidates have universal support so far. While awaiting some form of confirmation, Fvw and Jwrosenzweig, another candidate-in-waiting, held some preliminary discussions about the possibility of candidates acting as informal mediators on one of the unfilled existing requests. But at what point anyone might formally be added to the Mediation Committee remains up in the air.


Policy on celebrity impersonators revisited

By Michael Snow, 17 January 2005

A recent influx of users adopting the names of celebrities prompted re-examination of Wikipedia's username policy, which discourages usernames that are the names of famous people or events.

In response to the proliferation of users like Hilary Duff and Scott Peterson, Zanimum proposed an addition to the policy that "no user may impersonate another living person other than themselves, particularly a person that is worth encyclopedic note". This follows an earlier Arbitration Committee case in which two sockpuppets were blocked because they adopted false names belonging to real people. (Sockpuppets that impersonate other users are also routinely blocked.)

Requests for comment were started last week with respect to two users for impersonating Peterson and Joe Scarborough (the Scarborough imitator was sloppy enough to misspell this U.S. politician's last name and later created a second account with the correct spelling).

In one way or another, these users generally tried to convey the impression that they were the famous—or infamous—person in question (Zanimum said he thought Jerryseinfeld less problematic because he didn't pretend to be Jerry Seinfeld). But besides the sheer improbability of it, a little investigation usually made the impersonation fairly obvious.

What about real names?

However, several people raised concerns that the proposal might be applied against users who happen to share names with famous people. Christopher Mahan argued, "I say if you can prove your identity, it's first come first served." Jimbo Wales weighed in on the issue to say that the policy definitely should not apply to real names. He invited anyone to contact him if they actually knew of any case where such a user was not allowed to use their name.

In the ensuing discussion, it was not clear whether a formal change in policy was necessary, or if existing practices were adequate to handle the problem. Of course, as Wikipedia continues to add users, there remains the problem, especially among common names, that one's real name may already be taken as a username by someone who shares it.

Note: The reporter wishes to acknowledge that he is not the same person as Michael Snow, the Canadian artist. However, he would like to point out that this is his real name, and that he registered it as a username before that article was actually created.

The Wikipedia Signpost


Featured article candidates on controversial subjects struggle

By Johnleemk, 17 January 2005

Several articles dealing with controversial topics tried to achieve featured article status last week, but were not successful in their efforts so far.

Reading David Irving at the British Library

Controversial World War II historian David Irving was nominated for featured article status for the second time by GeneralPatton on January 7, following a failed nomination last September. Initially the improved article received an endorsement from Slim, but its comprehensiveness was soon questioned by Dbiv.

Dbiv also challenged an assertion in the article that Irving's book, Hitler's War, was restricted by the British Library to a desk in the Rare Books Room because it was deemed pornographic. This triggered an extensive discussion of whether the book could in fact be read elsewhere in the library, and whether the Rare Books Room was restricted to pornographic literature.

Finally, Peter O. made an attempt to turn things around by revisiting the original comprehensiveness objection. The objection was not resolved and the nomination ultimately failed.

Two articles related to abortion were also nominated last week, Morality and legality of abortion and the U.S. court decision Roe v. Wade. However, both still had unresolved objections, so it appears the nominations will not succeed.

Understanding the Kardashev scale

On a more esoteric note, the Kardashev scale, which is apparently used to measure the technological advancement of a civilization based on how much energy it can harness, also went through the featured article nomination process last week. The scale has been applied hypothetically in futurology and science fiction, but according to the article our present human civilization is not advanced enough to even qualify as a Type I civilization (it registers a "score" of 0.8 instead).

Well, it turns out that the article about the Kardashev scale is not advanced enough to qualify as a featured article either. Problems reported included confusing diagrams and failure to cite sources correctly, making it appear to be original research. Its nomination, which turned out to be a resubmission of a previous nomination by Ctrl build, received no new support and was rejected.

On the other hand, Albert Einstein, who might be described as one of the scientists who helped humanity make significant progress along the Kardashev scale, received overwhelming support and was designated as a new featured article last week. Other articles so honored included Matthew Brettingham, Pulaski Skyway, Cat's Eye Nebula, and Nintendo Entertainment System.

Meanwhile, it appears that being a famous painting can be helpful in becoming a featured picture as well, since Hans Holbein the Younger's portrait of Thomas More received this status. A gallery of last week's new featured pictures:

Holbein's portrait of More
Polydactyly left hand
TRACE image of sunspots



Media still probing Wikipedia credibility debate

By Michael Snow, 17 January 2005

In an article published last Monday, "Wikipedia Faces Growing Pains", Daniel Terdiman of Wired News directed more press attention to the question of how credible Wikipedia is as a reference. As efforts to devise new review mechanisms for Wikipedia continue, the debate still retains a certain fascination for the media.

Two sides of the debate

At the outset of his article, Terdiman picks up on the recent wave of discussion about Wikipedia's credibility (see archived story). The first half recaps some of the existing debate, quoting such participants as Clay Shirky and Larry Sanger. Once Sanger's criticisms are introduced, the remainder of the article is framed as Jimmy Wales' response and plans for the future of Wikipedia.

Terdiman refers to Sanger, oddly enough, as a "former Wikipedia developer". In the ordinary sense of the word "developer", this might be reasonable, since Sanger helped to develop the Wikipedia project and its policies at its inception. In fact, this might serve as a compromise title to solve the question of whether Sanger qualifies as a "co-founder" of Wikipedia, since he refers to himself that way but Wales does not. Still, as Wikipedia has actual software developers, a concept one might assume Wired's readers are likely to understand, the choice seems odd, since this wasn't really the area Sanger worked in.

In presenting the Wikipedia response to criticism, Terdiman offers both refutations from Wales and ways to address the problems. He devotes some attention to the plans to develop a frozen and "finished" version as Wikipedia 1.0. Based on hints from Wales, he reports that a 1.0 version might not be published this year, however. Not clearly stated in the article was what medium a Wikipedia 1.0 would be in, whether this meant a print issue as Wales originally conceived or simply a static version distributed on DVD or other form of computer data storage.

In the end, Terdiman allows for a reasonably positive outlook, saying that in time Wikipedia "probably will be seen as on par with the Britannicas of the world." Of course, many Wikipedians see it as having surpassed Britannica long ago, but obviously some segments of the population are not willing to concede that point yet.

Elsewhere in the press

Wikipedia remains a popular and frequently cited resource on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. In a column on Sunday, Darren Green of the Chicago Tribune apparently found Wikipedia's coverage of the event so comprehensive that he referred to it as a "chapter" instead of an "article".