Upcoming steward elections, and a retrospective on stewards' work in 2010
- DerHexer became a Wikipedian in 2005 when he started editing in the German Wikipedia. Two years later, he was elected as an admin on the English Wikipedia and as a steward of the Wikimedia Foundation. He is now mainly involved in oversight-related tasks.
Next month, the eighth steward elections and confirmations will take place on meta-wiki. This is a good time to explain what stewards do and how the arrangements for stewards have changed over the past few years, so that participants in the election and confirmation process know the context, and new candidates know what to expect.
What stewards are
The Stewards' policy says that stewards have complete access to the wiki interface on all Wikimedia wikis, including the ability to change user and group rights. They are tasked with the technical implementation of community consensus, and with dealing with emergencies (for example, cross-wiki vandalism, and checkuser and oversight requests). Stewards aim to make no decisions as stewards, but are empowered to act as a member of any permissions group on any project with no active member of that permissions group. For example, wikis without administrators may call on stewards to fulfill that role; stewards will act as a bureaucrat as needed on wikis without bureaucrats. The position of steward was originally created to dissociate rights management from software development and systems administration. Stewards can also be involved in testing user rights and new software functions.
New election process
In 2010, eight new stewards were elected by the Wikimedia community, while 26 out of the 31 then-stewards were confirmed. Although a committee decided in all conscience about the confirmation process last year, there had been issues about some of their decisions, so the process will be changed for 2011. Because of the departure of Cary Bass as Volunteer Coordinator, stewards now have to organize the whole election themselves, with input from the Foundation's Head of Reader Relations, Philippe. The Board of Trustees decided that this time they will abstain from confirming the result of the new elections. As a result, stewards attending Wikimania 2010 at Gdańsk – about a third of all stewards – discussed how to change the election/confirmation process to encourage more volunteers to become stewards. Since these discussions didn't reach consensus, the 2011 elections will be held under the same arrangements as for previous years: to become a steward, a candidate will need to obtain at least 30 votes in favor with an 80% support ratio to become a steward. But since the guidelines for eligibility in this election have changed, only users who have been admins for at least three months in one Wikimedia project will be allowed to nominate themselves for stewardship; we hope this might discourage frivolous candidatures!
Division of work
Last year, four stewards resigned (Oscar, Effeietsanders, Mike.lifeguard, and Sir Lestaty de Lioncourt), leaving only 30 stewards. As usual, only a few stewards are carrying out the bulk of the workload, a situation that unfortunately didn't improve after the 2010 election (see the stats). Some of these users who were highly active with crosswiki work before their election were unable to maintain their level of activity in their last term. Only two of the "new" stewards, dferg and Jyothis, were in a position to provide regular assistance with stewards' main tasks: looking out for new abusive usernames in the IRC channel #cvn-unifications, and incorrect edits in smaller projects via #cvn-sw, both as members of the Small Wiki Monitoring Team. Most other stewards helped out more whenever they were needed in #wikimedia-stewards, or with assigning bot and user rights. Almost every steward was quite active within the last year (details), and only one, the Foundation Board member Sj, may lose his rights because of inactivity. For the rest, any positive or negative feedback can be mentioned in February's confirmations, to be held simultaneously with the elections of new stewards.
While global sysops gave considerable help to smaller wikis in fighting vandalism, there has been no decrease in the amount of work that must be handled exclusively by stewards. Given the reduction in stewards' numbers, new candidates will be welcome, even if they haven't yet gained much interwiki experience. Only a few users who could be helpful as stewards are currently interested in doing crosswiki work, so other volunteers are also asked to take part in this election. If their communities trust and support them, they may be successful in convincing those users who are more active in steward-related work as well. Some users who have been elected this way have become skilled in their role! So, don't hesitate to nominate yourself as a steward if you've been an admin on any Wikimedia wiki for at least three months. You'll have time to do that until February 6 (see above for prerequisites).
Stewards should not expect accolades; instead, like a lot of roles on Wikimedia sites, it's hard work if you play for keeps. Stewards are often the first ones who have to deal with new software functions, and have to test them to protect sometimes thousands of users from difficulties. The bugs they identify are then reported to Bugzilla. Unfortunately, not all major bugs have been fixed (see out-dated list). It's no big issue for bugs like bug 20267, which are only transparency issues and can be avoided by people's good faith; but stewards also report security-, data-protection-, or privacy-related bugs such as bugs 19725, 21279, 23126 (!) and 23310, which are not yet fixed. They appeared when the CentralAuth interface was changed in 2009 because of bug 18183 and others. For example, some stewards still use an alternative function in CentralAuth to hide oversightable usernames, so m:Special:Log/globalauth has to be cleaned up from time to time by local oversights.
The function of bug 20954 forces stewards to switch on global oversight rights, just to be able to review potentially oversightable edits by users whose username stewards have quickly had to hide from logs and article histories. Following a software change, SUL accounts that are locked and hidden are no longer prevented from logging in, but only from editing wikis. This means that if they visit a new project, another account will be attached to their global one (see bug 23126), and their abusive username will be added to another local log. So the most work stewards have to deal with is caused by registrations of abusive user names (mostly on smaller projects from which they proceed to bigger projects). Such behavior first evokes global (b)locks or global hideuser actions, followed by checkusering of their accounts, sock puppets and IPs, so that also the latter can be globally blocked. This work is critical for the well-being of the whole Wikimedia project.
Another example concerns a problem on the Portuguese Wikipedia which has been keeping stewards busy. In November 2010, all terms of their active bureaucrats and checkusers ended so that stewards now have to do all their work (for example at m:Steward requests/Checkuser). New elections seemed to have failed because of the community's deep inner conflicts. So, there is currently an arbcom case dealing with a possible abuse of a former checkuser, which also involved global sysops and oversight requests.
If you think that you're willing and able to help out with any of these cases (and possible new ones), please do not hesitate to do so and join the steward elections!