News and notes
Another admin reform attempt flops
The most recent move to reform the requests for adminship (RfA) process on the English Wikipedia has failed, after a complex and drawn-out three-step procedure for community input was subject to decreasing participation as time wore on and came up with no clear consensus. The organisers of the RFC were Dank and The ed17 (who as Signpost editor-in-chief deliberately excluded himself from involvement in the writing of this story). Dank wrote that "in 10 years, no broad [RfC] has produced a single improvement to the process, ever, and it's easy to see why many people are pessimistic about what's possible at RfA, or in this RfC." One of the major fears among participants concerned the additional complexity that would result from the reform proposals.
- Round 1
As we reported in January, the current attempts began with a raft of proposals. These were put up for comment in a broad-ranging discussion to narrow down the issues. The first round of discussions involved seven broad categories, voted on over a one-week period:
- what to do about the negative comments in RfA discussions that may discourage a lot of potential worthy candidates (9 support – 14 oppose – 6 neutral)
- the possible imposition of restrictions on who can participate in RfAs (7–8–5)
- a package of improved training, oversight, and removal processes, and "unbundling" of the tools so that adminship is not an all-or-nothing role, but tailored so that more editors can be given fewer tools for specific tasks (30–5–5)
- whether there should be explicit criteria for adminship (22–12–7)
- whether consensus-style RfAs are appropriate (5–18)
- whether there should be a pro-active effort to identify suitable candidates (13–1), and
- whether the benchmark for passing RfA is too high (19–7–2).
- Round 2
Some of the issues in Round 1 were refined for this month-long second discussion:
- a probationary period – three or six months were mentioned (16–9–2)
- admin recall (16–8)
- admin apprenticeships – in the order of months (2–5)
- unbundling of certain deletion requests – rollback and account creator were mentioned as previous devolutions of tools (13–0)
- unbundling of limited block/unblock powers (7–2)
- establish criteria for adminship (13–13)
- elected admin "commissioners" to appoint and supervise admins (5–16)
- RfA pass contingent on strings attached – the not unless option (8–4)
- lower the level of numerical support required (3–12)
- automated recruitment of likely good candidates (24–3)
- create a WikiProject for admin nominators (13–0).
The last proposal was acted on by setting up WikiProject Admin Nominators; this is dedicated to supporting editors who are interested in acting as nominators for potential RfA candidates, and now has 24 participants.
- Round 3
For the final round, which lasted a week, the organisers identified three issues they felt stood some chance of gaining consensus; but the discussion was marked by generally lower participation rates and a much stronger reluctance to support reform. The first issue was the not unless proposal; it gained only 2 supports, against 18 opposes. There appeared to be significant concern among opposers about losing control of the standards for passing RfAs, whether by outsourcing judgements to bureacrats or by general messiness. Orlady wrote that it's "too complex, and I can't see it resolving the kinds of issues that can make RfAs problematic". Beeblebrox said: "this would fundamentally change the role of the crat, forcing them into an area that is the exact opposite of what they are normally expected to do". Arbitrator SilkTork was concerned as to why candidates who fail do not re-present themselves: "it might be better to work on the reasons they don't come back, rather than attempt to paint over the crack".
The second issue in round 3 was to create a new user-right for limited power to issue blocks for vandalism or unsuitable usernames, on the premise that the existing admin corps will soon be unable to manage these tasks satisfactorily (an assumption queried by Scottywong). Only 9 editors supported, against 31 opposes. SmokeyJoe said: "The ability to block newcomers is more dangerous to the future of the project than poor blocks of regulars who know how to respond." Kurtis said, "I think many regular editors involved in AIV, UAA, and SPI are sensible enough to avoid wantonly blocking good-faith contributors". Manning's opinion was: "How on earth would we discriminate between those good enough for "Admin-lite" but mysteriously not able to be trusted with the full janitorial toolset? To boot, adding yet another layer of hierarchy would only worsen the perceived gap between "full" admins and regular editors." To Wizardman and others, "this is the absolute last userright I'd unbundle."
The third and final proposal was for a probationary period for new admins. This failed 8–14–1, not helped by indecision as to whether it should apply to borderline or all RfAs, a matter that Hammersoft pointed out. Participants were generally unhappy with the lack of certainty involved in giving up the binary pass–fail system. Anthony Bradbury said: "An editor is either trustworthy in the eyes of the community, or s/he is not." Regentspark's comment seemed to sum up much of the sentiment: "We should be aiming to simplify the process, not complicate it."
The organisers stated that "The next step is to see how much of a difference the four proposals that passed in Round Two will make: Concerned editors start searching for quality candidates, Auto-prospecting, Project for nominators, and Unbundling - some U1 and G7s." In their view, if no consensus for reform is generated, "we'll need to take a closer look at what jobs aren't getting done as the admin corps shrinks, and what can be done about that".
WereSpielChequers, who has written several Signpost reports on the admin drought, told us:
||Obviously it concerns me that the latest RFC has not resulted in major reform. ... Despite the strongest quarter at RfA for a couple of years, we have not yet broken the drought, though the decline in the number of new RfAs may have finally bottomed out. The RFC rejected both the solutions that in my view could have fixed the problem and the solution that would have stabilised the situation. So we are going to have to get used to a community where only a minority of even the experienced editors are admins, and as numbers decline we are going to have to find ways of reducing our need for admins. ... Many of those who opposed the unbundling of the ability to block IPs and editors with fewer than 100 edits only opposed it because we haven't yet run out of admins. Hopefully such editors will be more open to the idea as our admin numbers dwindle.
- International comparisons
Very little is known among each of the the 285 Wikipedia communities about this critical aspect of governance in their sister projects. The Signpost asked several prominent editors in foreign-language Wikipedias about their admin situation.
Canton-de-l'Est writes the widely read French WP news outlet RAW. He told the Signpost that over the past year 11 admins have been elected (equating to nearly 70 new admins on the English WP, given that the French WP has about 16% of the number of active editors); this brings the total numbers to around 180, he says. "There's a feeling that we don't have enough admins – a perception that comes mainly from the admin community". Interestingly, once a contributor gets the broom, anyone with the standard minimum qualifications on the site may challenge its status. This is a highly formalised system centering on a noticeboard. Cantons says that the way this operates has appeared to change over time. "A year ago, a challenge was received with some openness; but nowadays, challenges are receiving their share of criticisms – and not only from the sysop who is under fire (see examples here and here)". He says that many admins have resigned since the procedure was established. "While some years ago we worried that many challenges would try to pin down an admin on shaky grounds, this no longer seems to be a problem." A lot of admins work without scrutiny from day to day, according to Cantons, through their openness, willingness to explain, skill in writing French, and forgiveness. "For others, a wikiday can be like a rollercoaster."
The Signpost reported last year on the major reform of the German WP admin system, the introduction of an obligatory recall page; if 25 editors within three months, or 50 within six months, sign that they feel an admin should stand for re-election, the admin has the choice of either standing for re-election or standing down. This has been credited by some as bringing about a relatively low RfA barrier and better admin–community relations. We asked Gestumblindi, a key sponsor in the 2009 reforms, whether this will be the last change for a long time.
||Currently, there's no really active proposal for further reforms. Some months ago, there was an attempt at creating an "admin on trial" permission which I was involved in. The idea was to get more admins by creating a time-limited "trial" admin permission with lower requirements, which would need confirmation through a "regular" candidature – e.g. after 3 months – to get permanent admin permissions. The first draft was shelved, however, after a negative response from the WMF. You can read our correspondence to Geoff Brigham, the WMF's General Counsel (in English), and the response here. A second draft was started, but is currently dormant. The prerequisites as set out by the WMF would make the requirements for an "admin on trial" very similar to those for regular admin privileges, and ideas of an "admin mentoring program" sound rather unattractive for new candidates, so I think it will not be revived in the near future. I'm not aware of other current "formalized" proposals, ... My personal guess is that there will be no major reform in 2013, but one never knows.
Simon Shek has been an admin sysop on the Chinese WP since 2007, which he says has 79 admins. "I have seen the RfA process on the Chinese WP become harsher than it was back when I started, with increasingly high expectations of community participants in RfAs (success requires at least 25 valid votes and 80% support within two weeks). Admins, he says, block about 27 users a day. Is admin behaviour ever regarded as a problem on the Chinese WP? "Yes! We sometimes have poor decisions about deletion and blocking. In such cases, another admin will review these decisions. Adminship can be removed by community consensus and voting. Two admins have been removed in this way. I don't think our RfA process will see any dramatic changes in the near future."
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- Core Contest begins: The Core Contest, an English Wikipedia initiative to increase the quality of important articles—which in the past has included topics like the Alps, Ecosystem, and the Middle Ages—has begun its first competition of 2013. £250 in prizes will be given out to multiple editors; article entries can be submitted until 12 May at Wikipedia:The Core Contest/Entries. Editors are encouraged to collaborate with others and participate in this initiative, which aims to "focus on improving Wikipedia's most important articles, particularly those in the worst state of disrepair."
- Audit Subcommittee candidates: The English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee has invited the community to comment on the six Audit Subcommittee candidates. Nomination statements and answers to standard questions are available at the appointments page, and comments will be accepted until 17 April. The candidates are Guerillero, Jake Wartenberg, MBisanz, Penwhale, Richwales, and TParis.
- Language committee: The Language committee, which advises the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) on the creation of new language versions of the current WMF sites, has opened its mailing list to read-only subscribers.
- Quarterly reviews: The WMF's quarterly review process, which critically examines key WMF initiatives so that they are accountable, on the right track, and do not to reallocate resources, has met with the "E3" team (editor engagement experiments) for the second time. The notes from that have been published on Meta, the coordinating wiki for the Foundation, its component sister projects, and the volunteer communities involved in all of them.
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