The Signpost

News and notes

Toolserver finance remains uncertain

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Jan eissfeldt
Wikimedia Labs, the project that is supposed to replace the Toolserver in 2013.

On November 24, a general assembly of Wikimedia Germany (WMDE) voted on the fate of the Wikimedia Toolserver, a central external piece of technical infrastructure supporting the editing communities with volunteer-developed scripts and webpages of various kinds that are assisting in performing mostly menial tasks.

The chapter set up the Toolserver in the Netherlands in 2005, and has funded its general budget, which has grown to €100k (US$130k), with some financial and technical assistance from the WMF and some financial assistance from European chapters ever since. However, in 2011 the foundation decided to create WikiLabs (also known as Wikimedia Labs) to perform various tasks, including an approximation of the Toolserver's functionality by mid-2013; as part of the plan, the foundation will wind down financial support for what would become at least partially redundant infrastructure.

After WMDE published its annual plan for the upcoming financial year, saying it will not continue to fund the Toolserver after a transitional period, a debate on the potential of WikiLabs to replace the older structure got traction. DaB, the long-serving "root" volunteer of the Toolserver, said he would resign by the end of the year unless sufficient funding is provided to handle the growing demands on the system. The chapter's management delivered what he saw as insufficient assurances and responded by publishing a proposal to the WMDE general assembly to guarantee future funding.

While the German Wikipedia community set up a survey to make its reliance on the Toolserver transparent to voters at the general assembly, the WMDE board, led by DerHexer, responded by outlining a significant amendment to DaB's proposal.

On November 24, the assembly voted and decided to go along with the changes to DaB's proposal. By this decision, it replaced the assurance to fund the Toolserver until a later general assembly can make a final decision based on the facts concerning what will by then be the established WikiLabs project during a six-month transitional period. During this time-window, WMDE seeks a binding statement by WMF until when and how the foundation's project is going to replace Toolserver functions. If the demand is not met, the chapter will work out a big-picture governance model to run its infrastructure beyond 2013. The text sponsored by DerHexer also replaced a concrete commitment—to both invest in five new servers and guarantee one full-time staffer—with relatively vague wording, saying that the chapter aims to ensure a "(nearly) trouble-free functionality for the Toolserver", but without specific financial or personnel commitments. Out of the chapter's 2400 members, who are largely not active on WMF projects, 24 supported the amended proposal and six voted against the changes (informal protocol).

Merlissimo, who administers several bots on the Toolserver, told the Signpost that his list of significant reasons why WikiLabs cannot replace the functionality of WMDE's infrastructure remains unaffected by the vote. Summing up his views the day after, DaB stated on the mailing list that he was "disappointed", emphazising that DerHexer's changes to his proposal are leaving open significant risks of ambiguity. He said he will announce next Sunday whether he will step down by year's end.

Brief notes

+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.

Only a sort comment on Out of the chapter's 2400 members, who are largely not active on WMF projects, 24 supported the amended proposal and six voted against the changes: Only 30 persons took part in the general assambly and only those were asked to vote - the remaining members of WMDE may have an idea on the topic but I would claim that not more than those who are active in the community really understand it. So I think mentioning 2400 member is really misleading concerning the debate and the vote. -- Achim Raschka (talk) 10:07, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

The Toolserver situation can only be described in one way: a complete clusterfuck. I've had numerous Foundation people tell me off the record that they want to "kill" the Toolserver. It has become a political football between WMDE and the WMF. The WMF want to push WMF Labs and WMDE don't want to pay for the upkeep of Toolserver. Who benefits from this squabbling? Nobody. What we'd do if we were grown ups is realise that Toolserver is home to important tools that facilitate the running of the Wikimedia projects (even something like a humble edit counter tool is pretty damn important for en.wp admins and users on a daily basis) and work out a sensible transition plan for moving users from Toolserver to Labs or to continue running Toolserver or whatever. But why make these kinds of technical decisions in a calm and rational way when you can scream and shout and turn it into a game of Chapter vs. Foundation charades? This is one of many reasons I hate Wikipolitics. —Tom Morris (talk) 12:11, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Thanks for the perspective. It is insightful to know that people have this view. Toolserver functions are extremely important to me and I hope that any management disagreements find resolution because I would like to see the Toolserver services developed. Blue Rasberry (talk) 17:07, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

The text lacks of some information: The text sponsored by DerHexer also replaced a concrete commitment —to both invest in five new servers and guarantee one full-time staffer—with relatively vague wording, saying that the chapter aims to ensure a "(nearly) trouble-free functionality for the Toolserver", but without specific financial or personnel commitments. My recommendation to change the text was accepted and adopted by DaB. (!) because WMDE bought three new DB servers these days so that five more til early-2013 would be too many. Further, the racks which the WMF provides for new DB servers are almost full. Hence, convince the WMF (viz. Mark Bergsma) to install new racks or that WMDE would be allowed to install and equip them with new servers in Amsterdam. As long as the WMF does not allow WMDE to do that because it wants to narrow its focus on technical issues, WMDE's hands are tied. Further, the WMF doesn't want WMDE to provide critical hardware at all. So, of course, the WMF should provide the necessary tools to replace the Toolserver. I too share the concerns by Merlissmo, DaB. as a toolserver user and developer that the current Tool Labs cannot replace the Toolserver; hence, the WMF should announce a schedule when the promised full replacement of the toolserver (e.g. with providing help or resources to transfer tools from one script language to another or to re-write them or let then rewrite for the new hardware setting). But as long as the WMF does not want WMDE to continue providing the Toolserver, we cannot change that because on this very issue WMDE is dependent on the WMF. So please do not complain about WMDE which cannot change the situation but go to the WMF and request the promised solution for the full replacement of the toolserver like WMDE will do. My personal views, —DerHexer (Talk) 12:49, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]

The "significant amendment" link isn't viewable to most people. (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 13:08, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
You're right. That's tiresome. Looks like it's not yet published. Why, I wonder? Tony (talk) 13:18, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
The problem will be that every tool on every wiki with base in the Toolserver will be broken. Each link needs adjustments. I do not know a greater disappointment than broken functionalities.
Whatever would be the future, we should make sure that we form a collective group of generic tools that in future always will work, even if the owner of it changes, because there are already too much tools broken right now. Romaine (talk) 14:28, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
(ec) It's published in WMDE's forum wiki that anyone can enter. I've copied the text to User:DerHexer/ToolserverÄnderung. Again, in short, everything according to my personal knowledge: The Wikimedia Foundation claims publicly that it wants to replace the Toolserver with Tool Labs (with good reason: their technical experience) but doesn't offer all the functions the Toolserver currently has. At the same time they make it impossible for Wikimedia Deutschland to take care of it anymore by not supporting it with further database dumps (with good reason: technical and administrative ones) and further technical stuff in Amsterdam (with good reason too: focussing on critical hardware themselves). Hence, either the WMF will take care of the tools on the Toolserver or they'll change their mind and support WMDE operating it. Since changing their minds would be harmful for both parties afaics, the best solution would be to make Wikilabs/Tool Labs a real replacement of the Toolserver. But that's not WMDE's but WMF's decision. Cheers, —DerHexer (Talk) 14:48, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]
The poor performance of the toolserver over the past year has hurt my ability to get and give feedback, particularly when copyediting. Typically I'll say "These are my edits" (for one article I worked on recently). People are a lot less likely to check what I did if they have to laboriously pick my edits out of the page history. Unfortunately, over the past year, the toolserver has sometimes taken up to two weeks to show my edits. - Dank (push to talk) 17:55, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0