On Thursday, June 23, a user going by the name of "MaliceAforethought" began leaking selected email threads of Arbcom-l, the Arbitration Committee's non-public mailing list, on Wikipedia Review. The issue was promptly noted on the Committee's talk page.
On June 27, arbitrator (and list admin) Roger Davies stated that "we have not established the source of the data theft though our investigations are continuing", dismissing the conclusion of an earlier investigation that had indicated the leak was probably the result of an unauthorized person gaining access to the Yahoo email account of one arbitrator, whose access to all private mailing lists and wikis was temporarily revoked. Another arbitrator, who had been inactive since February, returned to editing on Friday, June 24. As he did not respond to emails, when he edited again the following day, his account was globally locked, and his special permissions and mailing list accesses were temporarily revoked, but then reinstated after the Committee confirmed his identity. Roger Davies later emphasized that "there is no credible evidence at all to suggest that [these two arbitrators] were responsible, either directly or indirectly". He also told The Signpost he was "unaware of any evidence, credible or otherwise, implicating any other arbitrator", and noted that the entire list archive appears to have been compromised, going back to July 2005. At the time of writing, the leaker was continuing to post new threads purporting to be from the Arbcom-l archives, which have amounted to around 20 threads so far.
While the leaks so far do not appear to have revealed any particularly controversial actions of ArbCom, there has been great concern about the amount of personal information revealed, not only about ArbCom members but also – as arbitrator Kirill Lokshin pointed out – within "the various material (including evidence, complaints, requests for assistance, and so forth) submitted by other editors [to the list]; in many cases, this correspondence includes personal information (real names, addresses, telephone numbers, ages) whose release could have negative consequences for editors and non-editors with no relation to the Committee". In a related discussion, the long-term retention of Checkuser data was questioned. As explained by Dominic, efforts have already been underway to address such concerns: The archives of the closed Checkuser-l mailing list are currently being removed, in favor of a recently established private Checkuser wiki that is intended only to "host the data from investigations that actually needs to be retained for the future due to persistent abuse". According to Kirill Lokshin, a similar solution has been considered for Arbcom-l (involving the existing Arbcom wiki), but it "would be prohibitively time-consuming for arbcom-l due to the immense volume of the archives; and there have been security concerns with the arbitration wiki as well."
In 2009, there had already been concern about a former arbitrator publishing selected e-mails from the Arbcom-l archives (obtained while authorized) on an external site.
See also a current RfC on account security and last year's Signpost coverage of an assessment of Wikipedia's password security, including a list of former incidents where user accounts had been compromised.
WikiLove to be rolled out on the English Wikipedia, flanked by new research
On the Wikimedia Foundation's blog, a new tool was announced last week, called WikiLove (after the concept). WikiLove has been developed into a MediaWiki extension (after first becoming available three months ago as a user script), and is currently in testing at the prototype wiki. The tool, which displays only on userpages, is represented by a red heart icon on the edit bar. Clicking on it will open a menu with options for giving awards: specifically, barnstars, various food and drink items, kittens, as well as an option to make your own award. The tool is designed to be simple and elegant; the user need only fill out a few fields and select an image or barnstar, and the message is even auto-signed.
Users are encouraged to go to the Prototype Wiki, create an account, and experiment with the tool (note: because of a known bug, creating an account requires editors to check the Remember Me box). WikiLove will be rolled out of testing on June 29, 2011 (assuming no last-minute delays), and the English Wikipedia will be first to receive it. Users can opt to disable it by going to My Preferences → Editing → Labs Features, and disabling the experimental feature. WikiLove also automatically updates special databases to help study its impact on Wikipedia, and the designers are looking into related tools for welcoming and encouraging new editors.
The Foundation's announcement describes some motivations for the introduction of the new tool: A recent survey on Wikipedia editors (see previous Signpost story) found that among 17 choices, being looked down on by more experienced editors is the most common reason for editing less (69%), and receiving praise from others is the most common reason for editing more often (78%). In addition, recent results on newbie teaching strategy trends from the Wikimedia Summer of Research have shown that the number of warnings and criticisms that new editors receive has increased, combined with "a significant drop in messages including praise and thanks", as shown in the graphs above.
WMF moves to defend public domain: As announced earlier (Signpost coverage), the Foundation has joined forces with several educational institutions to support an Electronic Frontier Foundation Amicus brief regarding the Golan v. Holder case. The case stems from US acceptance of the Berne Convention in 1994, an act which granted copyright protection to several foreign works that were previously in the public domain according to the Copyright Act. Last week, Geoff Brigham, the General Counsel of WMF, announced that the amicus brief had been filed, and explained the relevance of the case to Wikimedia "in light of the tremendously important role that the public domain plays in our mission": "To put it bluntly, Congress cannot be permitted the power to remove such works from the public domain whenever it finds it suitable to do so. It is not right – legally or morally." More information, including the Amicus brief, is available on the EFF page.
Closing projects policy to become official: An updated process for closing and deleting defunct Wikimedia projects was accepted by the Wikimedia Board this week. Wikimedia projects are closed and sometimes deleted when they are deemed terminally inactive by the community (a list of all closed projects is available here). Debates generally center on whether inactivity or an opportunity for growth is more important. However, it lacks a coherent model for determining majority, which can result in single users occasionally acting in ways that are at odds with the discussion. Originally drafted by Language committeememberSPQRobin, the new framework aims to standardize the operation by leaving the ultimate decision to the Language committee, which reports to the Board of Trustees. This is more consistent with the parallel Language proposal policy, and it is hoped that the new framework will make closing discussions more meaningful. Because of objections by the community, as of writing, the policy has been put under review again.
Two new advisory board members: Last week, Jessamyn West (Board vote) and Veronique Kessler joined the Wikimedia Foundation's advisory board. In the debate about Wikipedia's gender gap earlier this year, West, a US librarian, had contributed insights from her work as community manager at Metafilter (Signpost coverage). Kessler is the outgoing Chief Financial and Operating Officer (CFOO) of the Foundation (having been in office since February 2008 and leaving at the end of this month).
Wikimedia and libraries: A posting on the Foundation's blog covered various aspects of "Wikimedia and libraries – a symbiotic relationship", such as the appearances by Liam Wyatt at the EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) General Assembly in Minsk, Belarus (slides), and by Sue Gardner in the President's Program of the American Library Association's annual convention (both last weekend). According to a summary of her talk, she "showed slides of the rather lavish offices of Google and compared them with Wikipedia’s semi-shabby facilities" and answered a question about COI edits by remarking that Wikipedias are "vigilant in their defense of editorial integrity". Asked about upcoming changes, she said that "we are looking for ways to increase serendipity".
IRC office hours, fundraiser test: The log for the June 23 IRC office hour with Sue Gardner has been posted. One of the topics was the recent test of fundraising banners (in preparation for the end of the year donation drive), where one of the much-used personal appeals by Jimmy Wales was for the first time outperformed in donations by one from another person, Wikimedia tech staff member Brandon Harris (User:Jorm). As explained on his personal blog, the appeal was crafted by the Community Department's newly hired "storytelling" team, based on an interview. Gardner commented that "This was a huge big deal, because the implication is that we can crack the code – we can successfully augment Jimmy with other folks who are just as appealing. It's good news for the financial sustainability of the movement" (a topic that has concerned WMF recently in preparation of the annual plan; also, the new position of Director of Sustainability was recently posted to the Foundation's job openings page).
List of large languages without Wikipedias: Millosh has posted, via the foundation-l mailing list, a rough sketch of languages with more than a million and more than 100,000 speakers who remain unserved by a Wikipedia project in their native language, in a country with an existing Wikimedia chapter. India has 45 languages with more than a million speakers, Indonesia 15, and the Philippines 6. There are dozens of languages over the 100,000 mark without a project. However, the list is very rough; the many variations of Chinese have not been included, and several sign languages (which would be difficult to put into text) have been included in the list. Nonetheless, it has been pointed out that the list might be valuable for future wikis. In May, Millosh had already posted a similar list of "Missing Wikipedias" (Signpost coverage).
Larry Sanger re-enters Citizendium leadership: Nine months after the free wiki-based online encyclopedia Citizendium had adopted a charter (consisting of 55 articles laying a constitution-like foundation for the project's governance), and its founder Larry Sanger was replaced (as planned) as editor-in-chief by an elected "Management Council" (Signpost coverage), project members voted to modify the charter by four amendments, and elected new Management Council members, among them Sanger (with 22 votes, the second-highest number).