News and notes
Echoes of the past haunt new conflict over tech initiative
As with the troubled release of the Wikimedia Foundation's (WMF) flagship VisualEditor project, the release of the new Media Viewer has also been met with opposition from the English Wikipedia community.
A request for comment (RfC) asking whether the new project should be enabled by default for logged-in or anonymous users was closed on 9 July with "clear consensus" that it "should be disabled" for both (the closer added "by default" two days later). A previous RfC on the VisualEditor was closed with similar results. When the proposal's originator asked the WMF if they were going to disable it, WMF staffers quickly shot down the idea. Brion Vibber, the WMF's first employee and currently its lead software architect, wrote that "Perhaps it's time to stop calling self-selected surveys of a tiny subset of our user base 'community consensus'. The vast majority of our user base never logs in, never edits, and never even hears about these RfC pages. Those are the people we're making an encyclopedia for." Dan Garry, the WMF's Associate Product Manager for Platform and Mobile Apps, stated that "This is exactly why there is an opt-out for the feature. We don't expect everyone to like everything we make. That's a reality. So take 10 seconds to go to your preferences and disable it, and you'll never see it again."
Erik Möller, the WMF's deputy director, simply replied "no", and linked to a "detailed explanation" from Fabrice Florin, a product manager: "After carefully reviewing this proposal, we recommend that Media Viewer remain enabled on the English Wikipedia, for a number of reasons ... Overall, we believe that Media Viewer’s benefits far outweigh its downsides. And while the feature still has some limitations, we have collectively identified practical ways to improve it over time." Möller later continued along that line of thought, writing "It's normal and expected that the first reaction to noticeable user experience changes will often be negative. This is why we shouldn't base decision-making solely on early-stage RFCs and first reactions. Just look at the responses to major redesigns by Flickr, [the New York Times], and others—almost universally negative, irrespective of what the data actually says about user and readership growth or decline as a consequence of these changes."
Florin noted that there were several problems with the RfC's implementation, starting with the level of participation (one of their "key concerns"): the most opposes garnered was 64, set against an active editing community of over 124,000. Coupled with the five supports and one neutral, that is a sample of 0.06% of all active editors, and as pointed out in various places by Risker, the opposes could also be set against the 14,681 people who had enabled the beta version of Media Viewer.
Nor did it account for anonymous readers, nearly all of whom do not participate in such discussions. Community members pushed back against the latter point; Isarra Yos wrote that "they know their audience, they interact directly with this audience ..., and indeed they often use the site exactly as this audience would, simply taking things a step further to edit as well." Todd Allen echoed Yos: "I am beyond tired of hearing that those who have volunteered hundreds or thousands of hours per person toward building the greatest educational work in history do not have at heart the interests of those who would use it."
That the WMF would have the legal authority to do this is clear, but it is less clear if they were planning to justify it under any English Wikipedia policy. Their exclusive software mandate comes from Wikipedia:Consensus, under the section header "Decisions not subject to consensus of editors". It lays out the differences between various communities, such as MediaWiki software developers, and continues "These independent, co-equal communities operate however they deem necessary or appropriate, such as adding, removing, or changing software features ..., or accepting or rejecting images, even if their actions are not endorsed by editors here."
But for removing an administrator's toolkit, the closest applicable policy is Wikipedia:Office actions, a rarely invoked process that lays out how the WMF can remove "questionable or illegal Wikimedia content" when after a "formal complaint [is] made off-wiki." Only four articles are currently affected by it. The page does not say anything about blocking editors or removing userrights, except in two cases. When the WMF takes an official office action, administrators making "unauthorized modifications" will see their actions reversed and, "possibly", their administrator tools removed. There is also an explicit caveat for when an editor is repeatedly adding content subject to (a) DMCA takedown notice(s).
Where do the WMF and community go from here? There is an ongoing request for arbitration that as of publishing time has a majority in support of accepting the case, but the arbitration committee's own jurisdiction prohibits them from reviewing "official actions of the Wikimedia Foundation or its staff". A section has been opened on the RfC's discussion page proposing that the community reassess the tool in six months. "In the meantime," states Tom Morris, "the Foundation can go back [and] seriously rethink how they engage with the community—threatening desysops is not the way to do it. If the issue is the Foundation believes that the average reader would be more keen on MediaViewer than involved editors, then the Foundation can do user testing and surveys to show that."
- FDC members announced: The WMF's Board of Trustees has announced the selection of four new members for the Funds Dissemination Commitee, which in its primary role recommends funding amounts for the Wikimedia movement's largest affiliates. English Wikipedians will likely be familiar with Anne Clin, who edits as Risker; the other three are Matanya Moses (matanya), Dumisani Ndubane (Thuvack), and Osmar Valdebenito (B1mbo). The selections come a week after they published a shortlist of twelve candidates.
- Let's get serious about Wikipedia: Wikimedia UK's Martin Poulter has published a blog post on JISC's website on his outreach efforts with British educational institutions.
- Annual plan published: The WMF has released its financial agenda for the pending fiscal year, along with an extensive FAQ. It calls for expenditures of $58.5 million, up from $49.2 million in the last fiscal year.
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