Wikipedia talk:Wikipedia Signpost/2011-08-29/Opinion essay

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Editor's note: a user has objected to the point of view given in this opinion piece. Editors should be aware that it may not represent a neutral version of events, and is therefore distinct from The Signpost's other reports, all of which seek to be non-partisan.


  • Wow. Kudos to Beeblebrox for an excellent op-ed. Really gives an interesting POV on this whole "fiasco". Nolelover Talk·Contribs 12:30, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
  • Great piece! I remember I was involved in an RFC about patrolled/sighted revisions in 2009 or 2010, and if I remember correctly it was an ugly affair. I feel like on this topic, there are a lot of users (on both sides, probably) who aren't willing to compromise. In my opinion, the recent proposals have been much less drastic than the original ones and should be a compromise which everyone can get behind already. (although I'll admit, I was on wikibreak during the trial period and haven't read the specific proposals being discussed). Anyways, good job and thanks for the great read! –Drilnoth (T/C) 13:16, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
  • Consensus-delaying strategies are finally being employed on a large scale by Wikipedians who are afraid they won't like the result of a consensus-finding process. At the moment we seem to have no effective techniques for countering them. Hans Adler 13:44, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
    • Effective technique: Get the oversighters to remove the edits which delay the process.
      (I said that it would be effective, not that it would be a good idea :) –Drilnoth (T/C) 13:57, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
  • I stopped following the discussion after a week or so, so it's good to know what happened. The lesson here is that clarity is important when asking for the initial decision - if the original PC trial proposal had been either "We will trial it for 3 months then turn it off until we have completed an RFC on turning it on permanently" or "We will trial it for 3 months then keep it on until we have completed an RFC on keeping it on permanently" the whole mess would have been avoided. I very much fear we are risking similar problems with the proposed image filter, if it is implemented there will be people saying "Hey! This isn't what I voted for!" regardless of how it is implemented, because the current proposal is vague (and even more unfortunately is vague on the the hard questions). Rich Farmbrough, 14:13, 30 August 2011 (UTC).
    • At least the image filter will be opt-in, so even if it isn't what people wanted they won't have to use it as far as I can tell. –Drilnoth (T/C) 15:23, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
  • May I just congratulate Beeblebrox on the very telling expression "the guy trying to be the ringmaster of an out-of-control circus"? A lovely turn of phrase which summarizes it - and perhaps other aspects of Wikipedia - beautifully! :) Best wishes 138.37.199.206 (talk) 15:08, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
  • Personally, I think the outcome was totally reasonable: The endless trial was finally ended, and because there was no agreement on future use of Pending Changes, no policy for or against it was created. I'm sorry this caused Beeblebrox to feel like his effort was wasted, but sometimes "maybe" is actually the right answer. Kaldari (talk) 17:32, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
  • This is a bit longer than my normal comment, but I strongly feel that the editorial Op-Ed by Beeblebrox that was featured in the signpost ignored and mischaracterized the actual objections to the pending changes fiasco. Concerning the objections, he says that he "felt this was irrelevant." I think it only fair to explain exactly what the objections were that he felt to be irrelevant.
The main objection is that consensus was ignored and that trust was betrayed. There was a consensus for a two-month trial with a fixed ending date. Those who supported the trial trusted those who were to run the trial to do what they said they would do and end it on that date. The ending date was ignored. In response to this, there was a new discussion and a new consensus for a "we really mean it this time" drop-dead date. This consensus was also completely ignored. Then the RfC was closed with a two week deadline for removal from all articles -- which was ignored.
On top of the above, we saw an admin get blocked for following the clear consensus and removing pending changes from articles. If that doesn't discourage admins from following consensus, I don't know what will. As far as I can tell this block had no repercussions. Instead I we saw claims that consensus is a false god, claims that consensus can be overridden by invoking the magic BLP word, etc.
The op-ed piece acts as if Beeblebrox was just asking an innocent question about usage of pending changes, but his question started off by claiming there was "no clear policy on its continued use" - once again ignoring the clear consensus. At this point his asking the question again was very much like what certain kings used to do - trying someone over and over and keeping the jury locked up until they they returned the desired verdict.
Consider the following comments by other editors who also feel that this has harmed Wikipedia:
Comments by other editors
>"Many editors consider the refusal to end the trial on the date promised as a breach of trust"
>"It's impossible to assume good faith when a past assurance continues not to be honored (i.e. begs the question: How can we trust you to honor the results of discussions if you're not honoring the results of a previous one?)"
>"The main reason the trial got in in the first place was due to users supporting with the understanding that it would be removed, and only because it would be removed, saying they wanted to try it out. If we don't keep the promise of turning features off after the trial, this factor will be lost for future trial proposals"
>"The poll that produced the original consensus to turn the feature on was for a trial with a specified end date. In the absence of any consensus to make the feature permanent or start another trial the feature should be removed from articles. Failing to do this has damaged the credibility of any future software trial proposals."
>"I disagree that this is just removal solely for the sake of making a point. This is making good on the original agreement that the trial would end, by the end of 2010 for the last agreement. Anything beyond that wasn't approved, it's that simple. In the absence of any community agreement to do anything else this is the default option and the one we must follow. The only way around that is to totally ignore the original agreement, which totally goes against the whole concept of consensus."
>"This is necessary to deal with negative feelings about being lied to. I must say I have trouble with those myself and feel a strong irrational urge to oppose to everything related to pending changes."
>"The only consensus was for a fixed-term trial, with a clear expectation that if no further consensus arose then we would revert to the status quo ante. We need to deliver on that promise, to retain credibility for future trials in other areas."
>"If 'trial' comes to mean 'turned on indefinitely', no-one else will get consensus to trial other new ideas in future."
>"WP:IAR doesn't excuse conscious deceit. The extension of this trial beyond two months was a betrayal, not 'ignoring rules to make a better encyclopedia'... The decision to go back on one's word isn't something that is done by accident or mistake."
>"I increasingly feel this debate has become about something much more important than pending changes. It's become about good faith. A sizable portion of the editor base clearly feels that without a clear consensus to continue the pending changes trial that the original commitment to end the pending changes trial after two months should have been upheld. ... Wikipedia is already hurting in recruiting and retaining editors, and cannot afford to reach a point where change and compromise has become impossible because of distrust."
The above quotes clearly show that harm was done. You cannot unring that bell. Turning off pending changes was just a baby step toward mitigating that harm. We need a firm and clear published policy that promising to try something for a limited amount of time and then breaking that promise will never again be tolerated on Wikipedia, and a formal apology for doing it in this case. That is the bare minimum required to start to regain the editor's trust. Months later, we still have no apology, no written policy, and no assurance that consensus will not be ignored again. Instead we have an editorial Op-Ed in the Guidepost implying that ignoring consensus is perfectly acceptable and that complaining about ignoring consensus is "disruption and factionalism." --Guy Macon (talk) 19:23, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
The argument over PC is for others, but I feel the contention that the Op-Ed (which is not an editorial, incidentally: the Signpost does not endorse any view it publishes) legitimises breaking consensus is a non-starter. No-one deliberately tries to ignore consensus per se, and evidently, in Beeblebrox's' opinion he wasn't. What you have above is his opinion. incdientally, I realise that people may not know that this is to be the first in a series -- we're not giving Beeblebrox a special podium per se, only a podium in order to entertain and provoke debate. Which we've succeeded in IMHO. We have considered, and will consider in future again, running opinion pieces in pairs in order to appear more neutral. Would that appeal? We still would not tolerate personal attacks, however, and the above does read like an overly personalised complaint. - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 19:56, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
I would hope not to have strayed into personal attack territory, but of course I would likely be blind to that. If anyone thinks I have done so, feel free to suggest more neutral wording and I will change what I wrote. Alas, while the Op-Ed could say things like "long, disjointed conversation" "out of control" and "without apparently having read previous posts" about a group of editors, any response must necessarily refer to the one editor who wrote the Op-Ed. --Guy Macon (talk) 20:43, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
  • I'm thrilled that we're getting some op-ed submissions finally! Time for me to work on one that's been on the back burner for months, then ... urgh. /ƒETCHCOMMS/ 21:54, 30 August 2011 (UTC)
  • I took essentially a directly opposed position to Beeblebrox's during all the stages of this pending changes discussions and trial, and I feel he has commented on the matter in a perfectly fair way that I too would endorse as a summary. I'm additionally glad to see his explanation of his feelings during the later stages, as a clarification of what we could all tell was getting confused. DGG ( talk ) 00:27, 31 August 2011 (UTC)
    • With all due respect, I cannot understand how anyone can characterize "Nobody was able to keep this process moving in a forward direction once those who wanted to discuss a different issue had derailed it" can be considered commenting on the matter in a perfectly fair way. Asking that consensus be followed is not derailing forward progress. His original decision to assert that there is "no clear policy on its continued use" in the face of an overwhelming consensus against its continued use was a main source of the conflict. This is an Op-Ed piece showing his side of the dispute (which is fine), not a balanced description of the dispute. --Guy Macon (talk) 02:09, 31 August 2011 (UTC)
  • The easiest way (well in a way the easiest) to have known the amount of yes or no is to give 3 options -Absolute yes, Absolute No and Objections/Abstain. General Rommel (talk) 01:31, 31 August 2011 (UTC)
  • I was an opponent of pending changes when it was first proposed, but I came to see it as it should be used: an effective vandalism-fighting tool, to be used in extreme cases, much like page protection. Unfortunately, this seems to be an All-Or-Nothing thing in most peoples' minds. In which case, I'll have two scoops of nothing, thank you very much. If PC is wheeled out again explicitly as an anti-vandalism device for certain high risk articles, consensus could happen. But that's what it will take. Carrite (talk) 23:45, 31 August 2011 (UTC)
  • Pending changes was an OK tool and its a shame we've removed it. I'd prefer that we implemented flagged revisions the way it works on DE and elsewhere, but I guess we'll have to wait for the next major incident before we can get consensus to shut the barn door. ϢereSpielChequers 13:47, 1 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Regarding the objections raised above: I think some of them may have rather missed the point. The purpose of the RFC I created was to answer one single question. That question being: Should we have pending changes on the English Wikipedia in some form, or should we reject it entirely?" The short term question of whether it was turned on at that time is a different issue. Who betrayed who and who was to blame for the never ending trial is a different issue. When I say those points are irrelevant, I'm not saying they are entirely irrelevant and should never be discussed anywhere, but rather that they are not relevant to that one question. I designed the RFC to help determine the future of pending changes, but it was hijacked and re-focused on the past instead. Beeblebrox (talk) 16:40, 1 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Alas, you didn't just "ask a simple question." You led off your question by asserting that there was "no clear policy on its continued use" (Link) in the face of an overwhelming consensus against its continued use.
Since then you have been characterizing any attempt to disagree with your original assertion as being "irrelevant", "a different issue", "missing the point", "hijacking", etc. Nobody made you claim that there was no clear policy on its continued use. Once you made that claim, it shouldn't have surprised you that folks objected to it.
Asking whether we should we have pending changes on the English Wikipedia in some form or whether should we reject it entirely cannot be separated from the fact that a large number of editors are convinced - with good reason - that the answer to that question will be ignored unless the answer supports continued use of pending changes.
You can't just jump into a situation where consensus is being ignored and trust has been lost and ask for a third consensus on the same question. Naturally the answer was "we answered that twice already. Why are you claiming that we didn't?" Did you read the "Extended content" above? Were all of those editors "missing the point"? Please consider the possibility that it is you who are missing the point.
Change of topic: Is this what we want Signpost to be? One person posting an Op-Ed defending his POV and another editor posting a reply defending another POV, followed by a long back-and-forth? I much preferred it when Signpost treated issues (even controversial arbcom rulings) in an unbiased manner, and comments were mainly non-controversial corrections or clarifications to the article. Is the path we are on here really good for Wikipedia? --Guy Macon (talk) 17:51, 1 September 2011 (UTC)
Yes, the trial was badly mismanaged, as I said myself in the piece. If a contractor did a crappy job remolding your kitchen would you blame his tools and make sure nobody ever used those specific tools again, or would you blame the contractor who wielded the tools improperly? In the end that is what happened here. People didn't like how the trial was handled, and PC itself took the blame instead of whoever it was (still waiting for an answer there) that messed up the trial. There may well have been a pre-existing consensus to end the trial. I have never said there was not. That simply was not the point of the RFC when it opened. It's unfortunate that folks were unable to look beyond their hurt feelings and evaluate the usefulness of PC objectively as a separate matter from "who screwed up the trial?" I would suggest that you may be a good candidate to write a full op-ed rebuttal for a future issue as you seem to have a lot to say on this matter. Beeblebrox (talk) 22:17, 1 September 2011 (UTC)
I actually like the idea of PC and if the choice was mine to make would have retained it (with possible improvements). If the above mentioned contractor did the above mentioned crappy job and there was no possibility of ever changing contractors, how would you react to a survey about use of the same tools in the future? What if the contractors were still in the kitchen tearing things up despite being told several times to stop? Would you calmly ignore the ongoing fiasco, pretend that there was some other contractors available and say "I approve of future use of the tools I am hearing being misused in my kitchen right now"? What if the question started out by falsely claiming that there was no clear policy on whether the workers should do as they were instructed and stop?
BTW, the question of who messed up the trial is pretty easy to determine. Just look at who blocked an admin for following consensus and removing PC from articles, then look at those who supported the block and opposed the blocking admin experiencing any negative consequences for his actions. --Guy Macon (talk) 01:16, 2 September 2011 (UTC)
  • I would just like to note that a few changes were made just before this was published. This happened much more suddenly than I expected and I happened to be camping at the time and did not have a chance to review them, in particular this one [1] which I believe removed some important context from the front end of the piece. Despite that I have generally found the Signpost staff responsive to feedback, you might want to suggest those changes to them. Beeblebrox (talk) 04:18, 2 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Good Op-Ed, Beeblebrox. The entire PC RfC process was painful and depressing. We need a way to limit an editor to only respond to direct questions once it's clear they're merely repeating themselves; perhaps a new policy/guideline called WP:NOTHINGNEW or an expansion of WP:BATTLEGROUND. Otherwise, as happened in the PC debate (IMO), an editor can use a continuous stream of redundant objections to dominate a debate and wear down the "other side". --JaGatalk 21:31, 1 September 2011 (UTC)
  • The problem with such a policy encourages the ignoring of legitimate objections, knowing that any followup questions will be suppressed. It also is an invitation to biased enforcement. For example, Beeblebrox (who I believe to be discussing things calmly and in good-faith, not battling) has mentioned on several occasions that he believes that the issue of the tools and the past history of those using the tools are completely separate issues. I disagree, but it's a reasonable argument. He has restated that argument several times, but in my opinion he has refined and improved the argument at each iteration. Should he have been stopped on the first repeat? Or, perhaps you were only thinking of suppressing my responses to his argument, which have also been refined and improved as we discuss the issue?
In my opinion, continued discussion is not the problem. That's what we do on Wikipedia in order to seek consensus. In my opinion, the problem is that the Signpost is the wrong place for it. I don't like having this conversation here, but I like the alternative of letting an Op-Ed with a particular POV on an issue that is vital to the operation of Wikipedia stand with no rebuttal even less. The software that copies anything posted on the talk page to the article makes it worse. That feature should be used only on the normal Signpost articles, not on controversial Op-Eds. --Guy Macon (talk) 01:16, 2 September 2011 (UTC)
Actually you're up to six rebuttals... --JaGatalk 08:06, 2 September 2011 (UTC)
Bad count: four, not six
Bad count.
Beeblebrox's Op-Ed:[2] COUNT: Beeblebrox = 1
Support for Beeblebrox from Drilnoth:[3] COUNT: Beeblebrox = 1, Beeblebrox plus supporters = 2
My reply to Beeblebrox:[4] COUNT: Guy Macon = 1
My striking "editorial" and inserting "op-ed" in response to criticism by Jarry1250:[5] (No count, not a rebuttal)
My asking for wordinng suggestions in response to criticism by Jarry1250:[6] (No count, not a rebuttal)
Support for Beeblebrox from DGG:[7] COUNT: Beeblebrox = 1, Beeblebrox plus supporters = 3
My reply to DGG:[8] COUNT: Guy Macon = 2
Beeblebrox restating his position and claiming that those who disagree are missing the point:[9] COUNT: Beeblebrox = 2, Beeblebrox plus supporters = 4
My response to Beeblebrox:[10] COUNT: Guy Macon = 3
Support for Beeblebrox from JaGa. including a call to suppress disagreement with Beeblebrox:[11] COUNT: Beeblebrox = 2, Beeblebrox plus supporters = 5
Beeblebrox responding to my previous comment:[12] COUNT: Beeblebrox = 3, Beeblebrox plus supporters = 6
My response to Beeblebrox and JaGa:[13] COUNT: Guy Macon = 4
General comment from Beeblebrox (not in response to any particular comment):[14] (No count)
Jaga miscounts rebuttals in support of his call to suppress disagreement with Beeblebrox:[15] (Not actually supporting Beeblebrox, so No count)
I correct Jaga's incorrect count:[16](No count)
TOTAL ASSERTIONS/REBUTTALS: Beeblebrox = 3, Beeblebrox plus supporters = 6, Guy Macon = 4 --Guy Macon (talk) 10:41, 2 September 2011 (UTC)
  • You know what the drama was that started all this, I think? It was when the "trial" (which was supposed to stop), didn't. That is what got a lot of people's backs up on this. When you create a limited time trial, the trial stops at the specified time on the specified day - it doesn't carry on regardless of the fact that the trial has expired. I'm pretty sure I speak English, and I have a good idea what the words "The trial ends on..." mean. It means it stops there and then, and doesn't continue. Not "Oh we'll leave it running past the closing date while everyone decides what we do with it now." - They decided what to do with it when they started the trial - turn it off on the closing date.
There is obviously no point in listening to the people campaigning for PC now, since they clearly make promises they have no bloody intention of keeping. They broke a promise, why should we allow them to make anymore?  BarkingFish  22:15, 2 September 2011 (UTC)
The exact wording of the poll that approved a trial of Pending Changes is here: Wikipedia talk:Flagged protection and patrolled revisions/Poll. --Guy Macon (talk) 10:30, 3 September 2011 (UTC)
Excerpts from poll

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── The exact wording of the poll that approved a trial of Pending Changes is here: Wikipedia talk:Flagged protection and patrolled revisions/Poll.

In addition to the "Please note: This is for a two-month trial only." at the top of the poll, the following comments from the poll make it clear that those voting in favor were not voting for retaining Pending changes on articles indefinitely:

"I believe it is also important to make sure that the trial is stopped, with everything back to normal at the elapsed time."
"I think a major concern among some of the opposers (to the trial) is that a trial is just an excuse to get it turned on."
"Support with caveat that a clearly defined trial (time, scope, evaluation) should be agreed, to prevent a drift into long-term de facto policy."
"Do not support 'trial==something we will do forever since it is now policy' position."
"The only thing that brings me to support this is the fact that it is a trial."
"Support I was opposed to the generic "shall we try flagged revs" but this seems like an appropriately controlled experiment."
"If it turns out this thing doesn't work out, it's only for two months."
"I'm not convinced this is the optimal solution but would like to see a limited trial."
"Support a trial for two months to allow us to evaluate how it actually works in practice."
"The key point is that this is a trial."
"Support as a trial only."
"Support a trial, let's see how it goes."
"Something needs to be done, and a trial has few drawbacks."
"A trial ia a good way to assess and debug any system."
"No harm in a trial."
"We need to at least try this."
"Support Let's see what happens."
"Won't know how this works until we give it a try."
"There cannot be any harm in trying something."
"I've no problem with a trial run."
"This will let us see if such a system could work."
"We need to do a trial and see how it goes."
"The first step need not be perfect. Trial sounds a great idea."
"Two months seems short for such a major trial."
"It's worth a trial run."
"A trial can't hurt anyone."
"Trial is harmless."
"At some point it needs a field test."
"Some people seem to think that a trial lasting for 2 months will ruin the project ... I haven't seen any convincing arguments against just checking whether this will work or not, and that's all we're doing."
--Guy Macon (talk) 10:30, 3 September 2011 (UTC)

Thank you Guy, exactly what I was getting onto. You see some of those comments though - "A trial can't hurt anyone", "A trial is harmless", and so on... this is where it all went tits up. The trial (Proposal 17, which was put into effect) as clearly stated it was for two months only. Those two months turned into G*d only knows how long, and I think that dug up a shedload more opposition to PC than it had in the first place. After that fiasco, who now is going to listen when someone proposes another trial or a reimplementation? I know for one, I won't.  BarkingFish  11:34, 3 September 2011 (UTC)
This situation can be salvaged. First, we need published policy that makes it clear that promising to try something for a limited amount of time and then breaking that promise will never again be tolerated on Wikipedia, and a formal apology for doing it in this case. That is the bare minimum required to start to regain the trust of the dozens of editors who still feel betrayed. It would also help if those who think these concerns are irrelevant would at least attempt to understand what the actual objections are. And, optionally, we might want to address the fact that Jimbo Wales weighed in as a strong supporter of Pending Changes, and ask ourselves if some editors and administrators decision to continue to use PC beyond the promised deadline despite a clear consensus to stop might have been influenced by this, which I am sure was not Jimbo's intent. Trust can be restored, but only if those who were involved in breaking that trust are willing to commit to never breaking it again. --Guy Macon (talk) 12:38, 3 September 2011 (UTC)
  • I think the biggest issue here was one that has been an ongoing one on en.wikipedia - that of trust. When people break trust, consensus becomes almost impossible because the people who got lied to feel that any compromise is a tainted one and will probably be broken by those who did it the first time, so the discussion breaks down into a war between rival groups of activists who won't give an inch, and new participants get either confused or intimidated and simply don't participate at all. I've seen that on a smaller scale in other discussions. Beeblebrox is to be commended for starting the discussion and, from my view, running it reasonably well as far as it could be run (the term "herding cats" comes to mind), but a successful conclusion to the discussion would only have been possible if there wasn't a sour taste in some people's mouths from the very beginning. That is not Beeblebrox's responsibility, but that of the small group of activists with a "come hell or high water" attitude to what they saw (in good faith) as a positive reform, but which they couldn't get the community to agree on. Orderinchaos 02:42, 4 September 2011 (UTC)