News and notes
SUL finalization imminent; executive office shake-ups at the Foundation
Single-user login nears finalization
Logging in to Wikipedia was originally implemented uniquely with separate accounts and passwords for each individual project. As a result, the person behind a certain username on one project was not necessarily the same person who had registered the username in another. This technical complication, though unimportant at the time, has proved troublesome as the project has grown past the initial handful of small wikis to today's global Wikimedia community. The first proposal for what came to be known as single-user login was drafted in June 2005, and technical maestro Brion Vibber presented the first working plans for its implementation at Wikimania 2006 (Signpost coverage). However, work on the project was placed on hold to avoid technical complications in the 2006 Foundation board election, and so the requisite extension, Extension:CentralAuth, was not ready for testing until early 2008. After testing by administrators, single-user login (SUL) was finally made publicly available on an opt-in basis to all users in May 2008.
This system worked and solved the issues at the time, but was far from perfect: username conflicts that could not be resolved on a first-claimant basis persisted. In 2009, the default SUL configuration was changed so that newly registered usernames detected to be conflict-free were automatically globally unified after creation. However, this change left accounts already created untouched (your author, for instance, registered in late 2008, and remembers having to unify his account manually). In 2012, this issue re-emerged in a discussion on the meta-wiki (Signpost coverage) as something that needed to be improved on, but technical feasibility emerged as a thorny issue in the ensuing discussions. Nonetheless, as the project matrix has continued to grow, the need to unify accounts for cross-wiki compatibility in the various toolsets under development has become more urgent. Since early 2013, when an SUL audit was conducted, the Foundation and members of the community have been working hard on what should be the final step in SUL development—SUL centralization (referred to in the 2013 SUL audit as the "Grand Unification").
This process is now entering its long-awaited final phase with the upcoming SUL finalization, scheduled for April 15, less than a month away. Finalization has been in the works for a long time—the first proposed deadline was May 2013, but after highly controversial setbacks in the July 2013 VisualEditor rollout (Signpost coverage), product manager James Forrester moved to the VisualEditor project full-time. In January 2014, Dan Garry was brought in and given the job as part of his portfolio, but in the time it took Garry to acclimatize to the job, his focus was moved to the mobile project; though much of the necessary engineering work was done that summer the requisite resources for finalization elusive. The current initiative, headed since October 2014 by Community Liaison Keegan Peterzell, has been underway since then, and is on the cusp of completion.
The current plan is as follows: editors with conflicting accounts will be measured in terms of precedence, and the lower-precedence editors will have their accounts renamed and globally unified to another, unique, username. An announcement, which will be placed on the talkpages of the renamed users, has been drafted and a localized special page, Special:UsersWhoWillBeRenamed, has been created to assist in the process. In the event of a clash between an existing global account and an existing local account with the same name, the global account will be unified and the clashing local account will be locally renamed by appending text identifying the local wiki, for instance,
Oldusername~enwiki. In the event of a clash between multiple local accounts where no global account exists, a software script will globalize the highest-precedence account chosen from the list. The precise terms of the precedence measurement algorithm are still in draft form, but will take editing "age", edit count, and, in some high-level cases, user rights, into account. R
The WMF's "C-Suite" shake-up
Incoming COO Terence Gilbey's staff photo.
Wikimedia Foundation chief talent and culture officer Gayle Karen Young announced her departure from the Foundation this week. The CTCO is the executive staff member at the Wikimedia Foundation responsible for maintaining best "people-practices", overseeing activities including recruitment, on-board training, organizational management, skills development, and performance assessment. Young was hired for the position in December 2011, replacing outgoing first-time CTCO Cyn Skyberg in a position first advertised as "chief human resources officer", and since expanded in scope. Young was hired after an extensive search involving hundreds of candidates and six finalists, and including, as is customary for some Foundation hirings, the completion of a strategy project under the purview of the Foundation before final hiring. In her notification to the community on the foundation-l mailing list then-executive director Sue Gardner stated that Young is "a seasoned HR consultant and organizational psychologist with expertise in leadership development, change management, facilitation, group dynamics, and Agile team effectiveness training. ... she's an iconoclastic geek who goes to Comic Con, but unlike most geeks she is warm and people-centred: when she was a kid, she wanted to grow up to be Deanna Troi from Star Trek."
In a staff biography published on the Foundation blog in 2013 Young elicited that the social implications of access-to-knowledge disparity are what drove her interest in and work at the Foundation, stating that "Knowledge is a prerequisite for social change ... access to knowledge has to be a foundation of that. When you look at places in the world where conditions are not there for people to thrive, it usually has to do and starts with a lack of access to information and ideas by a given group or party." As the post—and Young's March 18 farewell message, which prominently features "dancing with Wikipedians on the beach in Hong Kong, singing 'I Will Revise' off-key at the top of my lungs"—indicate, Young was most surprised and excited by the passion that the members of the Wikimedia movement demonstrated, stating that "intellectual rigor and generosity are fundamentally based on the best parts of us as human beings."
Young will be replaced in that role by interim chief operating officer Terry Gilbey. Executive director Lila Tretikov introduced Gilbey to the wikimedia-l mailing list by stating that "Terry Gilbey will be joining us as interim Chief Operating Officer, responsible for building rigor and discipline around our operational processes. Terry’s role will help WMF stabilize our core operations so we will be ready and able to adapt and innovate in our changing environment." According to the Foundation's job description for the title as it was applied in the past, Gilbey will be in charge of "overall administration and business operations of the Wikimedia Foundation." However this new executive position has been dormant for some time, and so the hiring represents a change in strategic focus within the Foundation, with Tretikov stating that "one of our top
priorities for the WMF in 2015 is improving organizational effectiveness ... this means we need to strengthen WMF's ability to set and deliver on commitments, improve organizational discipline around decision making, and mature internal processes and systems." Chief financial officer Garfield Byrd will now report to and work with Gilbey within the WMF's organizational hierarchy, and so as both new COO and interim CTCO Gibley will be responsible for oversight of both the Finance and HR teams. More details on the precise nature of Gilbey's position and on what the hiring means for the Foundation's organizational upper management will come in the metrics and activities monthly meeting in April. Tretikov briefly described his background as "an early adopter of Tor ... [who] believes strongly in the right to privacy and the free and open access to knowledge as an equalizer." R
This week in history
From the Signpost 21 March 2005 issue, "Wikipedia reaches milestone with half-million English articles":
Wikipedia added its 500,000th article in English last Thursday, with Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union being designated as the milestone article.
In the half-million pool to guess when Wikipedia would cross this threshold, the winner was Llywrch. Nobody managed to pick the correct date, however; Llywrch was the closest, coming within one day by guessing March 18. The pool was held last June, and another pool for the millionth article was set to close once the half-million mark was reached.
Sj started a press release to send to media outlets publicizing this event. Some even got in on the news without any prodding. In anticipation of the milestone, The Inquirer published an article Thursday entitled "Wikipedia nears half million article mark", coming barely a few hours before it was actually reached (The Inquirer also happened to be the first media organization to break the news of Wikipedia's one-millionth article overall last September).
A number of people were busy watching events as Wikipedia's article count approached this milestone, but it was still difficult to pin down the actual 500,000th article. In the end, technical limitations and some miscommunication made it impossible to be completely certain of its identity. [...] Although realistically a number of candidates might be considered tied for the honor, commenting on the designation of Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union, Alterego said, "I like the sound of that so we can move on."
Moving on certainly could describe the transformation of Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union, which grew considerably after being designated as the 500,000th article. As started by Mikkalai, the article had a couple of paragraphs and a few placeholder sections, along with two links to Wikisource documents. Mikkalai commented, "I didn't expect to get myself in the limelight", and warned not to expect a fully-developed article anytime soon."
However, the article attracted a number of editors and by Sunday had already received nearly 100 edits. As a result, one of the sections in particular, dealing with "Exile settlements", had been significantly expanded. The article also had at least one reference to support the content. Meanwhile, an active discussion had already begun on the talk page over what the sources said about particular ethnic groups.
The Signpost has written about numerous project milestones in our decade-long history covering the Wikimedia movement—just this week we are covering the 25th million upload on Commons—and this one, covered just two months into the Signpost's existence, was our very first. The community went on to celebrate its millionth article just one year later, in March 2006, at the cusp of the highest growth rate in the project's history. R
This image of the Mevlid-i Halil Mosque in Şanlıurfa
was the 25 millionth image uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.
- 25 million photos on Commons: According to Commons user Multichill, this week saw the uploading of the 25 millionth image on Wikimedia Commons, a photograph of the main courtyard of the Mevlid-i Halil Mosque in Şanlıurfa, Turkey. For a visual history of the number of files on Commons, see this graph of the total number of uploads over time. In January 2012, as the Signpost reported, the Commons upload total hit 12 million uploads, meaning that in the ensuing three years, the Commons project has more than doubled in size. R, G
- From ticks to clicks: Wikimedia UK has announced that it is working alongside the Open Coalition, a loose association of open space organizations, and Demos, a UK think tank, on developing a newly announced project called "From ticks to clicks – understanding and building digital democracy". The proposal is a submission to the Knight News Challenge, organized by the journalism non-profit John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, seeking to "produce the research, outreach, collaborations and advocacies that are needed to aid politicians, academics, community organisers, civil society and Web innovators in making British democracy fit for the digital age." If successful, the Wikimedia UK hopes to introduce a three-step digital democracy plan with hopes to develop a long-term training and capacity-building program in collaboration with the UK government. Wikimedians are encouraged to leave feedback on the entry's page in the challenge. R
- IAmA: Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Lila Tretikov, and the American Civil Liberties Union's legal director Jameel Jaffer participated in a Reddit "ask me anything" on 20 March starting at 16:00 UTC. This comes on the heels of the Foundation's announcement of participation in the ACLU's lawsuit against the NSA last week; see last week's special report for more detail. E, R
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