New Wikipedia discussion forum gains steam

A new forum, called the WikBack, has been established for discussion about Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation, seeking to serve as a neutral outside venue for debate and criticism. While its ultimate success at filling this niche remains to be determined, initially it has attracted considerable participation.

Startup and policies

The WikBack was launched on 27 December by UninvitedCompany, who is covering the costs of hosting the forum. It requires members to sign up using the name of their primary Wikipedia account. Addressing a major complaint about some existing sites critical of Wikipedia, WikBack policy prohibits speculation about the identities and private affairs of Wikipedia contributors. In the short time that the WikBack has been active, it has picked up over 100 members (despite some complaints about the onerous registration system - in addition to a captcha at signup, accounts are manually approved).

While WikBack members need to have a Wikipedia account to participate, their status on Wikipedia does not carry over. Participants so far include people who have been banned from editing the English Wikipedia, airing views ranging from general criticism to specific grievances about their cases. Illustrating the potential for a neutral meeting ground, Jimbo Wales and several members of the Arbitration Committee have also posted to the forum. As the policy on acceptable use of WikBack states, "Fair criticism, including highly critical views, are welcome."

Comparison with alternatives

UninvitedCompany reported that the volume of activity already exceeds that of the English Wikipedia mailing list. The contrast with the mailing list highlights some of the challenges for discussion of Wikipedia outside of the wiki itself. Aside from the relative merits of electronic mailing lists compared with bulletin boards, the practical effects of various external venues have prompted considerable debate. IRC channels have been the subject of frequent controversy, and both IRC and Wikia-hosted mailing lists have figured in two recent requests for arbitration.

Although the mailing list is described as "the place for meta-discussions about the nature of Wikipedia" (from an oft-quoted statement of principles, written by Wales when there was only one such list), the English Wikipedia list has also been criticized as overly acrimonious and unproductive. A common alternate description is the "official project sewer". David Gerard, one of the moderators on the mailing list, observed that if he could banish problematic disputes to a "Cage match" section as on the WikBack, the quality of discussion could be expected to skyrocket.

Reaction to UninvitedCompany's announcements on various mailing lists included a mixture of prognostications about whether the WikBack could succeed. Gurch argued that any off-wiki discussion would eventually become a refuge for people whose disruptive behavior had made them unwelcome on the wiki. Other responses ranged from open-minded to enthusiastic about the idea. Pointing out that the concept of the WikBack's role was admirable, David Gerard concluded, "A forum is a different thing to talk on. Maybe it'll work."

Also this week:
  • From the editor
  • WikBack
  • WikiWorld
  • In the news
  • Features and admins
  • Technology report
  • Arbitration report

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    Good article, but I think that many readers would be interested in some more information about the privacy issues involved. (On the German Wikipedia, someone tried to establish a similar external forum years ago, and privacy issues were part of the reasons why it was not accepted by the community and folded.)

    The IP address and browser data of a Wikipedia contributor are considered highly personal data which is protected under the Wikimedia Foundation's privacy policy. People like Daniel Brandt (who happens to be a Wikback participant too) have sought to collect and expose the IP addresses of several well-known Wikipedians, e.g. by evaluating IRC logs for non-cloaked nicks, or searching for edits where that person forgot to log in (this is what antisocialmedia did to SlimVirgin not long ago).

    By requiring contributors to sign in under their Wikipedia user name, Wikback is collecting this data in its site logs. Now, UninvitedCompany is certainly a well-known individual in good standing, who, a checkuser, even has been given the capability of accessing this data in exceptional cases on the English Wikipedia; and a lot of people will feel more comfortable contributing to his site than posting at (or even just browsing) Brandt's. Also, from this post by UninvitedCompany, it appears that he is aware of these problems (I [...] have come to the conclusion that the most sensible policy is to refrain from any sharing or comparison of IP data between ENWP and other WMF sites and the WikBack). But it has to be said that Wikback's privacy statement still does not address this issue in any form.

    Regards, High on a tree (talk) 18:32, 9 January 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Old forum

    Wikimedia used to host a forum like this, but as I recall, it was used primarily by arbitrators. – Minh Nguyễn (talk, contribs) 23:47, 14 January 2008 (UTC)[reply]


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