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How do we fix RfA inactivity?

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By AutomaticStrikeout
AutomaticStrikeout is a former candidate for administrator who began editing Wikipedia in April of 2012. He has written User:AutomaticStrikeout/Should you run for adminship? and Wikipedia:Admins are people too.
The views expressed in this op-ed are those of the author only; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section. The Signpost welcomes proposals for op-eds at our opinion desk.

The RfA process is widely discussed here on the English Wikipedia and it has been well documented that fewer and fewer new Requests for adminship are being filed. There are an abundance of bytes devoted to the discussion and analysis of this situation and plenty of hands have been wrung over the matter. Various RfCs have attempted to find a way to fix the problem. Many proposals have been made offering solutions, some more potentially drastic than others, with the goal of making the changes necessary to kickstart RfA back into regular action. However, Wikipedia operates based on consensus and, to this point, there are have simply been too many disagreeing views for us to reach a consensus on how to increase RfA activity.

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The problem of decreasing new candidates is clearly a real issue. As this chart details, the amount of new admins being promoted is much lower than it used to be. As recently as January 2008, there were more admins promoted in a month (36) than there were all of last year (28). This year got off to a good start, as we saw 14 successful RfA in the first three months (as opposed to five successful RfA in the first three months of 2012). The chart cited above also demonstrates that the total number of RfA (including unsuccessful) has been declining on a yearly basis, starting in 2008. In 2007, there were 920 RfA. Last year, there were 92. That is an astounding 90% drop!

What is causing the drastic decreases detailed above? Well, I'd imagine many of you have witnessed a scenario in which a prospective candidate is approached on their talk page by someone who offers to nominate them for adminship. The offer is declined, perhaps vehemently, as the prospective candidate does not want to go through the tortures of an RfA. It is no secret that the RfA process can be hard on a candidate. While one could argue that the rigors of the week of an RfA could be seen as preparation for adminship, more often than not, an RfA is unsuccessful and the candidate may not have much to show for his trouble. The high level of scrutiny at an RfA is often a deterrent for qualified candidates and understandably so. I recently wrote an essay titled "Admins are people too"; perhaps a similar essay for admin candidates is in order.

Different editors have different standards for RfA candidates. Arguing the importance of tangible things (like edit count and the candidate's promoted content) causes enough problems. Things can get really interesting when !voters begin exploring the subjective issue of a candidate's personality and if he or she has a demeanor suitable for an admin. Obviously, the standards are higher than they used to be. In 2005, a candidate for adminship began his self-nom statement with the following: "I've been here roughly nine months now, accumulating just about right at 1000 edits." He passed. Nowadays, that would lead to either a SNOW or NOTNOW, probably in a matter of hours. The standards have obviously gotten tougher and that trend could very well continue.

While the decreasing number of admins is cause for concern, it is not necessarily creating major problems just yet. We do have admin backlogs from time to time, and they can be frustrating, but the situation is not yet unworkable. Eventually, however, we recognize that it may be. Therefore, much time and energy has been spent trying to resolve the problem of lessening activity.

Recent major efforts include the attempted RfA reform in 2011 and a lengthy RfC from earlier this year. Obviously, the former has done little, at least noticeably, to improve the situation. The jury is still out on the RfC, but other than a WikiProject for nominators of RfA candidates, it has not yet resulted in anything substantial. The WikiProject has potential, but will it help to increase activity? Only time will tell.

A plethora of new or recycled proposals have been provided over time. It has been argued that we should "lower the bar", allowing candidates to pass with a lower percentage of support than currently required (we know that consensus is not just numbers, but numbers are very important at RfA). There are those who would be more willing to support a candidate if taking away the tools when necessary was easier to do. Others think that unbundling (giving out some of the administrator privileges to non–administrators) might help to prevent major admin backlogs in the future, but enough editors are opposed to this concept in general that it remains unlikely and cannot be relied upon as a solution.

At this point, I do not believe that prolonged discussions attempting to solve the problem are really the way to go. If a perfect answer existed that we could all agree on, it would have been found by now. The ideal goal is for us to have enough good candidates running and succeeding. How do we make that happen? By keeping an eye out for good candidates and by !voting responsibly. Of course, one positive aspect of the current situation is that it is very hard for a poor candidate to pass at RfA. We don't want to over–correct and start letting those poor candidates succeed, but the present status is hindering quality candidates, and thereby hindering Wikipedia. The candidates don't want to run because of the negativity surrounding the process, and I would argue that some of the discussion that attempted to improve RfA but went sour has made the process even less appealing.

All we can do is support the good candidates that do run and encourage more to try. If we ask enough of them, eventually somebody has to say "Yes", right? RfA has a public relations problem among prospective candidates and the best way to fix this is for good candidates to get good results. The problematic lack of candidates will not be changed by unfruitful discussion but rather by hard work.

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  • Wikipedia's pseudo-consensus decision making process is extremely conservative and resistant to change. Since it takes overwhelming majorities to change anything (massive majorities impossible to achieve for essentially any substantive issue), the project drifts forward through inertia. There won't be any fundamental changes to the RfA process because that's the way it is so that's the way it shall be... No reform idea can manage a massive supermajority, the end. If at some future date there is an actual crisis related to a low count of administrators, then maybe some sort of change would follow, but I wouldn't even necessarily count on that eventuality in that unlikely event. The fact is that English Wikipedia is capable of functioning with 50 administrators more or less as well as it can with 500 or 5,000 and so it's a continued drift forward and onward as usual. People get the system of government they deserve; Wikipedia from day 1 has set aside representative democracy and democratic plebiscites in favor of a vaguely dysfunctional ad hoc system of formless and leaderless clique rule. Welcome to it. Carrite (talk) 22:58, 17 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Couldn't have said it better myself. Wikipedia prides itself on being "not a bureaucracy," but is increasingly taken over by private bureaucracies which inevitably are created due to the techno-libertarian bent of the community. Representative democracy and content review committees are absolutely necessary to bring order to this encyclopedia, not more admins as the clique/caballists would like to tell us. A few hundred admins would work fine. Systemic reform, rather than feeding the existing system, is necessary to improve Wikipedia. Wer900talk 23:16, 17 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • I'd be receptive to another op-ed on this topic, building on this and past op-eds should you two be interested. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 23:28, 17 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • And I'd be receptive to an op-ed which was written in English... Macdonald-ross (talk) 07:23, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    Indeed. This text continues to need copy-editing to eliminate grammatical mistakes, syntactic and semantic, and clichés.
    The thesis that the "tortures of RfA" are responsible for the decline in new accounts getting administrator tools is just silly, unless one believes that e.g. recent RfAs have been more uncivil now than they were 3 years ago. A more plausible hypothesis would be that ArbCom's ban on Malleus Fatuorum's participation is responsible for the dearth of RfAs. ;D Kiefer.Wolfowitz 11:28, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • I agree with Carrite (talk · contribs) on all points. Still, as this rfa demonstrates, people can still surprise you with the unexpected. TomStar81 (Talk) 01:04, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • If you want true stagnation and domination by a self=perpetuating oligarchy, definitely go the way of content review committees. I remind people of the fate of the encyclopedia that did have such committees: Citizendium. (I don't speak as an envious outsider: I was on key committees there from the start of the project.) If you want to see how authoritative committees and elections function on WP, look at Arb Com. And nothing prevents the ordinary rfc from being a plebiscite except the lack of interest of almost all editors in giving an opinion on any particular topic. Anyone who does not like the way things are going should join discussions outside their primary area--as Carrite does, and as I do--but realise that it takes years to accomplish anything. DGG ( talk ) 06:33, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    • ArbCom has its own set of problems in terms of its daily operations, largely related to a non-transparent political culture. Setting that aside: it is an appendage to Wikipedia's system of governance, not its directing center — that's part of the problem. Moreover, its selection process, in which candidates garnering majority support can be defeated by a minority wielding "UNLIKE" votes (See: result of Elen of the Roads, who finished with like the 4th most votes and out of the money) and its de facto limitation to the subset of Wikipedians who have already cleared the RFA process make it a most unlikely vehicle for reform. I don't think ArbCom's multitude of missteps can be held as a demonstration that "democracy doesn't work." Rather, it is yet another demonstration that the current ad hoc system tends towards dysfunctionality. Carrite (talk) 16:53, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    • DGG, when I spoke of content review committees, I was meaning them to be applied to contentious subjects like Israel, Iran, or Muhammad where disagreements on all sides of various issues run high based on ideology, nationality, and religion. A few content review boards for such subjects, composed of editors experienced in a subject whose decisions can be appealed to a Content Subcommittee of ArbCom, would help to avoid the perpetual circus which results on such pages, where remedies can only be sought by contriving an underlying content problem into a civility problem, thus leading to cases and remedies which do not consider content problems and thus do not address them properly.

      Also, an AdminSubCom would be nice, appointing and dismissing, submitting, or subjecting to probation any admins on the basis of periodic evaluations. Admins are supposed to be professionals, as Carrite said, not politicians bound to the private bureaucracies and syndicates that permeate Requests for Adminship, AN/I, and those who most frequently appear in front of ArbCom. Wer900talk 00:52, 19 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]

  • What reasons are there to oppose unbundling except "other people don't like so it doesn't have a chance"? --Amir E. Aharoni (talk) 06:45, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Going from memory:
    • Trust: People argue that if someone is not trusted to have one of the major admin tools (blocking, protection, deletion, editinterface), they wouldn't trust them with any of them.
    • Maslow's hammer: For example, if an "admin-lite" with only the ability to block sees a problem, they're liable to block where protection would be better.
    • Hierarchy: People already complain that admins are somehow "above" non-admins. Unbundling would create more levels of hierarchy (perceived if not actual).
    • Mini-RFA: What's to stop the various RF* for unbundled tools from having the same problems as RFA? Except then someone who could use all the tools would have to go through it multiple times. Note that, per WMF, any admin-lite with access to deleted revisions has to have a process substantially the same as RFA, with substantially the same standards.
    • Raising the bar for RFA: If we still have "admins" along with these admin-lites, RFA will almost certainly see votes like "Oppose: He only needs protection, not the whole package." And people may expect RFA candidates to have already collected the admin-lite hats.
    There may be other reasons I've forgotten. See also WP:PEREN#Hierarchical structures. Note this is not the place to re-argue those points; if you want to do that, start yet-another RFC or something. Anomie 11:52, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    I must say none of these reasons seems pertinent enough to merit such opposition of the unbundling proposal. 1) It is easy to imagine that a technically skilled user with no experience in blocking or content creation could be trusted with the ability to edit mediawiki pages and protected templates, but not trusted with blocking or deletion rights. 2) Maslow's hammer doesn't seem like a serious problem: evidently warnings about misuse should be present in the relevant documentation, and recurrent failure to abide to such rules should result in removal of the right. 3) Focusing in the levels of hierarchy is not productive: what we need to evaluate is whether the unbundling would be useful to the project, and I think it would: more people would be given the tools they are willing to use to help the project, since the barrier to entry would be lower. 4) The mini-RFAs would naturally be less stressful because one wouldn't need to prove domain knowledge of several areas of wiki-work. They would inevitably have problems, but those would certainly be smaller than those of a full RFA. And getting "admin-lite hats" one by one, in the pace that they are needed, sounds like a much smoother (and achievable) endeavor than attempting to get all of them at once.
    Note: I don't mean to imply that you defend the reasons you presented, I am merely exposing my thoughts about their weight (or lack thereof) for such a decision. --Waldir talk 12:18, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    As I said, this isn't the place to re-argue those points. Anomie 12:44, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Instead of whinging about "the tortures of RfA", Automatic Strikeout and other failed candidates should look in the mirror and change the behaviors (e.g. [1],[2]) that make them unsuitable that don't predict good performance as administrators. Kiefer.Wolfowitz 08:47, 18 April 2013 (UTC) 19:19, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Absolutely. Blame the individual not the system. I promise, it works. Basket Feudalist 12:43, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • The article concludes "At this point, I do not believe that prolonged discussions attempting to solve the problem are really the about way to go.". I agree. So why is it being discussed, it seems ad nauseum, in various places? Can we expect a similar Signpost article proclaiming a lack of bureaucrats as every Admin. is currently being contacted asking their interest in RfB? The apparent fascination with recognition in various forms leaves me baffled. Good candidates for anything here should be "selected" not "elected" and there needs to be far less emphasis on hat collecting, hat donating and so called promotion. Leaky Caldron 13:57, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • No, I won't be writing any op-eds about the RfB situation. That survey is merely trying to collect data about interested candidates and why admins are or are not interested. The RfB situation is neither as oft-discussed or as important as the RfA situation. AutomaticStrikeout (TCSign AAPT) 15:06, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • The article doesn't comment on the idea that this may be, to some degree, a symptom of a wider trend of declining numbers of participants site-wide Jebus989 16:34, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Wer900's comment above is pretty close to the truth, I think. OWNership of policy combined with many mini-bureaucracies created and preserved by said OWNership behavior is a far bigger issue than some of the other things touched on. Intothatdarkness 17:17, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Re:Better candidates... what does that mean? Lately it seems to mean someone who:
    • has only superficially participated in policy development and application (but has done it a little, never taking a particularly controversial or novel stance on anything, say, reporting obvious vandals, voting in a couple RfCs, and commenting on clear-cut AfDs)
    • has a lot of article edits, played the featured content game at least a couple times, and gotten involved in no real conflict or controversy
    • has inflated their edit count through semi-automated edits (but not only semi-automated edits), and has played this game for at least a year or or two, making sure not to let real life interfere with the continuity of their edit count.
  • Just about anyone could play that game if they really wanted to, but it doesn't mean they are a good admin candidate. Our standards have become increasingly artificial, not increasingly strict. I don't agree that poor candidates don't get through our "strict" standards. It weeds out the drama mongers who just can't help themselves from starting things constantly, but it really doesn't speak toward sound judgement or deep understanding of the spirit of our policies (rather than just the words on the policy pages, which really aren't binding), just their ability to play the artificial game we've created. Gigs (talk) 17:27, 18 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • I'd see several possible solutions. The first would be an online class that would serve as an explanation, basic training, and guide to new admins. Completing the admin course and related online test would assist RfA discussions and in improving admin skills. Second, why not a lower standard for a probationary admin. Let people be given a trial period as admin, if the person was seen to be responsible the position would be made permanent. Third let current admins grant admin rights to a limited of editors. This is something like the US Senators granting slots in the service academies. There are a variety of possible solutions to this growing problem. These may require trusting our current admins as opposed to long RfA battles, but I think this could be a good alternative.Capitalismojo (talk) 00:33, 19 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    • Those are all relatively good ideas, but most of them have been beat to death with no progress. Gigs (talk) 14:23, 19 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    • Probationary admin with automatic re-election after one year, confirming adminship is a good idea. I think that the problem is WP:AGF, reality isn't so. A minority organizes propaganda that tells you that one and one isn't two. WP:POV tells you that one and one is two. As Wikipedia gets more and more succesful, the minority needs to organize an editing to protect their propaganda. And so, a Wikipedia consensus isn't possible anymore. We need a golden ratio rule: 61.8034% majority. --Chris.urs-o (talk) 04:57, 20 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • I don't know why any sane editor would want to become an admin – it's not as if there aren't plenty of other, more interesting, things to do here. But ok, it takes all kinds. On to a more pertinent point. As things are, a potential admin has to run a gauntlet of long-established editors disparaging their work in public. Instead of that, many of the above posters have proposed probational adminship. I see their point. But I pause to consider which I would prefer: running the gauntlet under the current system and being rejected; or being made a temporary admin, struggling with admin chores for six months, and then being told I had failed. I would definitely prefer the former. Maproom (talk) 22:21, 22 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    • The problem is that we have a minority that is just opposing to block and weaken Wikipedia. Confirming a fair admin on probation by a golden ratio rule (a majority of more than 61.8034%) switches off their veto right. --Chris.urs-o (talk) 05:47, 23 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • All attempts at RfA reform seem to presume that the slow down is a problem. But as long as admin-required functions are geting done it may be wrong to presume that there is a problem. Adminship should not be regarded as a status thing, but just a job that is limited to small group because of the potential for chaos if it were left to everyone. If admins fail to get the work done, the current system will work fine to resolve that problem as Wikipedians will flock to RfA to make new admins willing to work. Its not happening now because the work is getting done. Those of you desiring to be admins, be patient, watch RfA, and step up when the time comes that we are clamoring for more admins. Or do it sooner if you are capable of not taking rejection personally, you might just succeed. NoSeptember 13:03, 23 April 2013 (UTC)
  • I bet the people at Britannica said the same thing about the editing of an encyclopedia. Trusting such a thing to the masses surely has a great potential for chaos. Gigs (talk) 20:14, 23 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I wouldn't want to go through the process of becoming an administrator and, given all the times I've had to ask for help (mostly on the computing reference desk), I wouldn't likely pass anyway. Administrators really have to know what they're doing. But if there's a shortage and there are some jobs ordinary but experienced editors could do instead, I'd like the opportunity. I'm not on Wikipedia that much (that's another problem) but I've made an attempt to help out at the help desk and Teahouse.— Vchimpanzee · talk · contributions · 18:16, 26 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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