Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2018-07-31/Op-ed

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How admins would-bes run the gauntlet

The Admin Ship comes back to port – where the voyage starts

Photograph of a large boat whose starboard side is listing and riding up against the harbor
The Admin Ship returns to port.

Is the Admin Ship actually sinking? No, but listing heavily. This last leg of our current cruise on the Admin Ship brings us to a round up of what seasickness or other ills deter candidates of the right calibre from coming forward – back to where it all begins: RfA. We list some of the comments we fished out of the dirty water on the way as well as some of the answers and advice from the admins we interviewed. However, if you are an aspiring admin, don't let it discourage you; and if you are a voter at RfA, the admins' and other users' comments reveal much about the situation and perhaps you may like to read Advice for RfA voters. With comments such as "My default attitude is that an admin is dishonest and/or corrupt. An individual admin has to prove themselves to be otherwise. So maybe their reputation is so slimy that it's hard to recruit any more" Carrite's opinion may be accurate based on his own experience but may not be shared by the majority of the community.

Commenting on the reforms he made in December 2015, Biblioworm says "I especially supported the idea of separate clerks, but every comprehensive clerking proposal has been rejected. I remember someone, maybe Montanabw, suggesting restrictions on the length of vote rationales. I didn't comment, but I, as well as Kudpung, thought it was a good idea. Perhaps someone could take that up."

No BIG deal?

Image macro meme depicting the Wikipedia globe logo with a mop layered over it; top text: "WP:RFA"; bottom text: "BECAUSE THIS PLACE IS NOT GOING TO MOP ITSELF" with "BECAUSE" misspelled

A big deal?

Back in July 2012, exactly six years ago, Andrew Lih—a 2003 admin (Fuzheado) and author of The Wikipedia Revolution—told a reporter in The Atlantic: "The vetting process is akin to putting someone through the Supreme Court," he said, "it's pretty much a hazing ritual at this point." Lih became an admin in October 2003 and was formerly an associate professor of journalism at American University in Washington, D.C.

Voting

Suggestions are frequently made to limit voting to users who at least have a minimum knowledge of what adminship is all about.

Her edit summary reads: "yeah, but there are people who can always find a reason to oppose. Why have we not taken steps to remove them?"

Where it stalls, however, is the paradox that because no official entry point exists for admin candidates, one can hardly impose regulations on those who vote. It's a Catch-22 question. The English Wikipedia is the only major language project not to operate such restrictions.

Advice for candidates

Beeblebrox, who succeeded at his second attempt, gives this advice: "If you believe you have the experience and have demonstrated the demeanor expected of an admin, go ahead and run. The worst that can happen is that you won't get it. It's not the end of the world."

This writer who has now been researching RfA for many years advises prospective candidates to read WP:RFAADVICE page – "properly, and don't waste our time. Unless you want something to brag about in the schoolyard, adminship is absolutely no big deal. Someone has to do the dirty work, so if you think being an admin is a cool job, think again. If you joined Wikipedia with the intention of becoming an admin on the world's #4 web site, you joined for the wrong reasons; go away."

Lourdes who declined the bit immediately following her second but nevertheless very successful landslide RfA (207/3/1), says: "My advice would be, don't go for it. Going for an RfA is not at all worth the time of a good productive editor, given the stress before and during the RfA and the investment of personal time further on; and later even the possibility of public denoument of admin actions. RfAs and adminship are not for those who can't take mass criticism on a public platform, and that includes the majority of editors here. While I sincerely extend all my support to RfA candidates, I would reiterate that it's not worth it."

Admins were asked to comment on their experience at RfA

"Very stressed. Very negative. I don't recommend it. That was in 2012, which was a different era than now. Don't seek RFA unless you can handle a lot of abuse. We are just glorified teacher's assistants with mops, and no teacher, so don't seek it unless your goal is to fix things and help people. It can be rewarding, but it is also a huge pain sometimes. There is no glory in the job, so make sure your reasons for wanting it are worth it. If in doubt, don't", says Dennis Brown whose very successful RfA (134/31/2) was something to write home about in the days when 100+ support votes were still rare.

On another successful bid at 121/3/2 in days of yore, Worm That Turned said: "It was stressful, despite having a very positive RfA. But it was also years ago, and things are different now – quite possibly worse."

"It went much better than I expected. I did a thorough preparation with the nominators and knew that if there was one thing that could cause RfA to fail it would be civility. However, in the event it only generated a handful of opposes," says Ritchie333 with a very healthy 138/3/3 in pre-reform days.

Again quoting Beeblebrox, who tells us that during his RfAs he was not relaxed. "...I was distressed to see one or two opposes that got basic facts wrong."

Cullen328 who currently holds the record for the most successful RfA ever (post reform), found the process somewhat stressful, but "...the result was gratifying. Once the trend was well-established, I was relaxed and a bit amazed. Very amazed and humbled in the end."

This writer describes his supports and opposes going up and down until the last two days. "I was on tenterhooks the whole time. I had been investigating the RfA system because I wanted to know how a couple of admins who harassed me ever got their bits (they've long gone). With that and other work I was doing I was urged to run for office. Due to lies and blatant PA (even from since desysoped admins), it was one of the worst ever examples of a 'horrible and broken process'. Although I finally passed with flying colours [100+ in 2011], it was not a pleasant experience so I've been involved in RfA reform ever since. I'm getting on for 70 and it was the most humiliating experience in my life."

Conclusion

Wikipedia:WikiProject Administrator/Five Problems with a Single Solution (for some reason tagged as defunct) is more pertinent today than it ever was (at least most parts of it). Quite deliberately mainly some of the more negative aspects of RfA have been highlighted here, but in fact many successful applicants found them less worrying. The main consideration is that candidates should do a thorough self analysis to ensure they are ready to become admins.

Depending on who turns out to vote, the bar is set anew at each RfA. Objective comments based on the criteria and research of serious voters carry a lot of weight and significantly influence the voting. RfA actually does a reasonably good job of passing those who are ready for the bit and failing those who are not. The problem is how the candidates are treated by the community, whether they look like passing or not. Discussions at WT:RfA always come full circle, but a lot of research has been done into RfA and adminship both on- and off-Wiki. A vast amount if it was done at WP:RFA2011 and from more recent discussions among people who are not even aware of the 2011 project, it appears that essentially, most of it is still very valid today. It could well be that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the RfA process itself, and that the dearth of candidates is due to the environment they are expecting to meet when they run for office. On the other hand, the climate they will meet as admins if they choose to work in the front line will be much, much worse.

A matter of principle deters many users from accepting a process in which editor behaviour clearly dismisses fundamental policies for seven days. Apart from a small core of regular voters, the participants are nowadays largely drawn from users who only occasionally make an appearance at RfA, some of whom neither fully understand the the process, nor what being an admin really entails – many of them quite wrongly assume, for example, that an RfA is a quest for power. New admins are needed, but equally required is an informed and well behaved electorate to get there.

We leave this series of articles and disembark from the Admin Ship without expressing any opinion, and leave our readers to form their conclusions – and perhaps run for adminship?