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Media Viewer controversy spreads to German Wikipedia

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By Neotarf
Erik Möller (Eloquence) at Wikimania 2014

Wikimedia Foundation staff members have now been granted superpowers that would allow them to override community consensus. The new protection level came as a response to attempts of German Wikipedia administrators to implement a community consensus on the new Media Viewer. "Superprotect" is a level above full protection, and prevents edits by administrators.

A community Meinungsbild, or Request for Comment, resulted in agreement that the new Media Viewer should be deactivated for now, until such time as existing problems had been fixed, but that logged-in users should have the ability to switch it on in their preferences. But when an administrator on the German Wikipedia attempted to turn off the Media Viewer, the Wikimedia Foundation turned it back on, using the new superprotect user right to lock in the WMF's version. In turn, Wikimedia Foundation Deputy Director Erik Möller was blocked for a month on the German Wikipedia for ignoring the RfC outcome.

Developments surrounding the Media Viewer have been reported in the German press at "'Superprotect': Wikimedia behält das letzte Wort bei Wikipedia" (Super Protect: Wikimedia has the last word at Wikipedia), "Superschutz: Wikimedia-Stiftung zwingt deutschen Nutzern Mediaviewer auf" (Superprotection: Wikimedia Foundation forcing Media Viewer on German users), and "Wikipedia: Superprotect-Streit spitzt sich zu" (Wikipedia: Superprotect dispute escalates).

The German Wikipedia community responded by starting a "user survey", as the Foundation had already said it would ignore an RfC/Meinungsbild; it is scheduled to run until 21 August. In the first 72 hours of the survey, over 500 users voted for the main proposal to remove superprotect from the German Wikipedia.

The four proposals, which are all passing by wide margins, are:

1. The Foundation is requested to remove superprotection with immediate effect from all pages in the German Wikipedia that currently have it applied.
2. The Wikimedia Foundation is requested to immediately remove the superprotect right from the staff user group.
3. The Wikimedia Foundation is requested to revert the software change(s) that introduced the superprotect group right at their earliest convenience (e.g. during the next software update).
4. The Wikimedia Foundation is requested to ensure that in future, new group rights that enable the holders to shut out elected group rights holders (i.e. administrators, bureaucrats, checkusers, oversighters and stewards) will only be given to user groups whose members have also been elected by the local (or, where appropriate, international) community.

The Media Viewer technical group stated publicly on the German Wikipedia—before the RfC even started—that they would not implement a rollback, so the actions of the WMF should not have come as a surprise.

An individual with knowledge of the situation told the Signpost that there have been a significant number of valid complaints about the Media Viewer, but the technical group has committed to tackling them by September. Furthermore, the WMF has implemented a separate system for all their tests ("Beta features"), where the technical department can experiment with new projects and asks for community feedback. Logged-in users will see it next to the preferences section. While the beta was introduced right after the VisualEditor was removed as the default from the English Wikipedia, it was disabled for the last nine months on the German Wikipedia—a consideration in the recent WMF actions on that site.

A request for comment at Commons has already resulted in the Media Viewer being disabled for logged-in viewers as the default.

A similar situation on the English Wikipedia resulted in the Arbitration Committee agreeing to open the Media Viewer RfC case. The ArbCom case has been inactive since the superprotect announcement. Interestingly, the evidence page has several links to usability tests done on the Media Viewer before it was released, including three videos (between 10–20 minutes each) to learn more about the understanding of reader experience the team developed before deploying the software: User 1, User 2, User 3.

Oddly, none of the users was ever able to click on the link to the file description page—something one would expect to need in order to use an image to write a Wikipedia article.

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Note: Due to MediaWiki:Spam-blacklist fucking up this page, I have had to break the {{high traffic}} template that links to the unmentionable site "change dot org". The wikitext of it is rendered below. jp×g 09:57, 3 December 2022 (UTC)[reply]

{{high traffic|date=18 August 2014|site=The Register|url=|small=|page=|linktext|afterlinktext|date2=22 August 2014||url2=http://www.change dot org/p/lila-tretikov-remove-new-superprotect-status-and-permit-wikipedia-communities-to-enact-current-software-decisions-uninhibited|page2=|...|date10=|site10=|page10=}}

One comment that seemed to sum up the mood of many in the German Wikipedia was this one, by longstanding German admin User:H-stt (my translation):

Frank [Schulenburg], too, is not looking at the real issues that the MV has ignited. The Foundation has a miserable cost / benefit ratio and for years now has spent millions on software development without producing anything that actually works. This is in large part due to the fact that decisions are made without consultation with the community. On the other hand, it has to do with the fact that people like Erik, Steven and Philippe were recruited from the community, but obviously have no experience in really getting a product "out the door" and completing a project successfully. It was a good idea to employ Rachel, so she can take care of the communication about software development. But unfortunately Erik has severely damaged her chances after less than two months.
My theory: The WMF isn't up to the job. Nobody who works there really understands and has a handle on software projects. This is evidenced by a horrific track record over many years. That the MV is rolled out even though it doesn't recognize many licence templates is a symptom. The underlying cause is that the MV is based on a framework that has not been validated. We see the same thing in what is really a very minor issue, the thumbnail display. The layout team wants to abolish the frame and replace it with more white space. That they have not thought of images that need a frame to really show the image (Japanese flag) is one thing. But the guys have deleted the "Zoom" icon in the thumb frame without replacement. Why? Because they have not thought about what function it might have. With image maps that icon is the only way to get to the image information and the licence info! None of them knew that. And none of them asked or tried to find out for themselves what the function of that icon was. It's the same with the MV. It reads the licence templates according to a microformat. So far so good. But this micro format is not universally distributed. Therefore, it should either have been rolled out only when everything was converted to that micro format and the millions of files had been migrated, or the MV should have used a more flexible model for reading information. But no, the thing has now been in development for XX months and has already cost Y million dollars, so it had to be rolled out now.
But it's not only software development. What's it like with user recruitment? How many millions have been invested in this over the past five years? Probably a two-digit number. And how many new authors were gained by it? Correct: practically zero. Why? Like Micha above I don't see the problem with the editor. Anyone who has the intrinsic motivation to contribute to the greatest free education project in human history will not be deterred by the editor. There are many other barriers that are more important (first and foremost the ability to prepare information appropriately, but I mention this only as an aside). So here, too, the Foundation mucks about, but has achieved exactly no demonstrable results.
Why is it all like that? Because the Foundation (and in a similar way but to a lesser extent also WMDE) has grown much too fast. The unlimited money supply from the fundraising campaigns shows the tremendous enthusiasm of our readers, but it has seduced people into hiring staff without first agreeing on goals and methods. This excessive staff and bureaucracy then very quickly became estranged from its base, the community, and is now fighting for self-preservation. As far as content is concerned, they have nothing to show, so they have to use force. Best, --h-stt? 16:17, 16 August 2014 (CEST)

Link to the German original. (I'm dropping H-stt a link to this page on his German talk page, so if he is unhappy with any part of my translation of his post, he'll be able to let me know.) --Andreas JN466 02:25, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

  • Seems weird they would strong arm like that. CRRaysHead90 | #RaysUp 02:32, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
    • Nothing weird about it, although I must say that its not really a smart move on one hand. On the other, there was numerous of cases (in other language Wikipedias) where admins took too many liberties, and would end up ignoring external links being used as refs (at least I saw it on one article in Russian Wikipedia). However, I never use any of the editors even Mobile Edit one, so I am neutral when it comes to such discussions.--Mishae (talk) 05:30, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Wikimedia Foundation staff members have now been granted superpowers that would allow them to override community consensus. The new protection level came as a response to attempts of German Wikipedia administrators to implement a community consensus on the new Media Viewer. "Superprotect" is a level above full protection, and prevents edits by administrators. Oh no.--Seonookim (What I've done so far) (I'm busy here) (Talk with me) 06:16, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

I would like to add that for many in the German community this is not simply a case about some new piece of software, but rather about whether the foundation may interfere with the community's own affairs like this. Users justly claim to have a say in how the wiki is run. Many users and sysops have gone inactive to protest against this affair. The much-needed de:user:GiftBot also has gone on strike. The red box there says: Media Viewer must be done away! ;) We are Wikipedia! Give us back our autonomy! Foundation fails to find a suitable response to all this because it focuses on the process of software development only, but does not tackle the psychological aspect.--Aschmidt (talk) 08:45, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

  • I also often feel like some parts of WMF staff are totally detached from the community. E.g. None of the roughly 10 members of the Analytics team have found the time to answer my simple question on their talk page mw:Talk:Analytics#Question in over a year. And there will be no answer coming soon, because none of them read the signpost in my estimation. Things like that are extremely frustrating and show how WMF is not willing to put in the same effort as the community is putting into Wikipedia. The best solution would be to decentralize WMF so that there would be more competition. If WMF-DE is better at running Wikipedia than WMF, then the money should go to WMF-DE. And they should be able to hire developers that interact with the community and develop Wikipedia, in a way that the community sees fit. -Tobias1984 (talk) 10:25, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
    • It is a cultural problem. For example the images used in the Visual Identity Guidelines used the wrong colours. This was pointed out to the staff member by a volunteer, the staff member said that it was to much effort to correct them. Some time later I fixed them on Commons, (it did not take long), and thought no more of it. I later received a stiffly worded talk page message about it, instead of a thank you note! And of course I could not engage with the staffer on foundation wiki, because it is a closed wiki (and the volunteers that ran it have been desysopped, while staff that have never edited an article - and have no possible need for them - get powers, possibly super-powers on all the projects). This malaise runs deep, and needs careful resolution over a period of time. But stepping back from confrontation is the first step. All the best: Rich Farmbrough13:05, 18 August 2014 (UTC).

Arbitrary break

  • I think there may be some factual inaccuracies in this article, or at least contradictory statements. I don't read German, so I'm not positive, but going by a combination of this article and mailing list discussions I've read, the German RfC "resulted in agreement that the new Media Viewer should be opt-in for now, not opt-out", but instead the attempted implementation entirely shut down Mediaviewer, for everyone in every circumstance, whether they opted in or not. In fact, the same thing happened on enwp with regard to its own RfC on the topic - consensus was "make it opt-in", but the implementing administrator made it completely disabled instead. I realize that may sound like a quibble, but it is, to some extent, the difference between "Erik stomped all over community consensus" and "Erik undid something not even the community had voted for." A fluffernutter is a sandwich! (talk) 13:16, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • This has been edited some since I submitted it, but my understanding of the German RFC is that the community wants the Media Viewer disabled by default. As I understand it, there are two choices, the community code, which turns off the viewer competely, and the WMF code, which turns on the viewer completely. Nobody has been able to write any code to make other options--that must be more difficult to write. The reasonable thing to do would be for the WMF to take the Media Viewer back to the drawing board and start working day and night to write a code that leaves it turned off by default, with an option to turn it on. But if anyone is doing that, I sure haven't heard about it. —Neotarf (talk) 14:07, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • The proposal accepted in the German Media Viewer RfC said: "The Media Viewer is deactivated by default, but logged-in users can switch it on in their preferences ("opt-in"). The system would thus follow standard procedure for new features, all of which can be activated in the "Beta features" preferences tab (even ahead of time). This decision shall remain in place until the Media Viewer has become a fully mature product, and all the problems listed above have been fixed." In other words, the RfC came to the conclusion that the MV should for the time being be completely inaccessible to non-logged-in users, but remain accessible to logged-in users wishing to take part in testing it. Andreas JN466 14:23, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Thx. —Neotarf (talk) 14:42, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Unfortunately the "Beta features" system has been broken--for nine months. This is the system that should be superprotected and locked down, as a proprietary research tool of WMF Labs. And make proper backups. —Neotarf (talk) 14:42, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Neotarf wrote: "Nobody has been able to write any code to make other options--that must be more difficult to write."
No, it's not at all difficult to give logged-in editors a choice, although it is slightly more complicated than copying and pasting code written by someone else. For WP:BEANS reasons, I'm not going to post it on this page, but if even I know one way to do this, then anyone who can write the code is certainly capable of it. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:09, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Not really, you can literally just copy and past the code that commons wrote. Bawolff (talk) 21:07, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Commons has MV enabled for non-logged-in users (and opt-in for logged-in users). The German RfC called for MV to be disabled for non-logged-in users (and opt-in for logged-in users). Andreas JN466 21:26, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Well the original version of their code did that by accident (Look at the edit summaries in the history of the relavent pages). So one could copy the old version of their code. Anyways, my point was that its trivial to write such code, and that other people have already done it. (FWIW, I'm not advocating that people do such a thing, I'm just trying to state that its not hard). Bawolff (talk) 22:20, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
So in other words, there is already a code available that would fix this problem, but no one has put it on. I don't understand this.

Why does the WMF want to break Wikipedia?

I saw the new Media Viewer for the first time a few weeks ago, when I was looking for some images to use in a Signpost piece. When I clicked on an image, it got larger, which I didn't really care about, since images in the Signpost are usually smaller. It also presented me with some buttons to use the image in some social networking sites--Facebook and Twitter I think--and a button to download the image. So in order to share this image with the people who were making the decisions about the Signpost article, I would have had to download the image, find a place to host it, and provide a link to the URL in the discussion I was having. And the image is already hosted on Commons. When I look for an image, I usually look for licensing information, to make sure it is suitable for publication on English Wikipedia, the URL, so I can paste the image somewhere for consideration by a group, and a list of the places that use the image, which often leads to the discovery of similar images that don't turn up in a search. The Media Viewer gave me none of that information. Needless to say, I won't be clicking on any more images any time soon. It's nice to want to grow these other for-profit networking sites like Facebook, but not at the expense of building Wikipedia, which should be the primary goal.

Now I find out that the problems I had with Media Viewer are not new, that the WMF knew about them at least three months ago, when they did the usability tests I linked to above. And that other users with technical expertise tried to fix them, but the WMF is standing in their way. Also, unlike the German Wikipedia, there is a beta test system that the English Wikipedia can use for software development.

So, here's where we stand. A code is available that would fix the image viewing problems for the users, while allowing the software development people to continue with their tasks. But the WMF refuses to use it, they refuse to let anyone else use it, and they refuse to say why. —Neotarf (talk) 13:00, 20 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

@Neotarf: Two things: the Beta features (as long as they existed) have always been available on dewp via the preferences (Einstellungen) link. You can turn off the Media viewer for yourself in the Appearances tab in your preferences (in the Files section). --HHill (talk) 14:06, 20 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks, disabled. For anyone else who wants to disable Media Viewer, it is at the top of your page when you are logged in, under Preferences > Appearance > Files.
Whether the German Wikipedia beta system has always been available under (Einstellungen) link, I can't say, but my understanding is the system has been functionally disabled for the last nine months, without proper documentation to show the revisions that had been made, and was only fixed fairly recently; and that this was the rationale for the WMF using the German Wikipedia itself as a test platform. —Neotarf (talk) 14:48, 20 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Just the link Beta has been hidden for these months, nothing else. It was (and is) possible to use Beta features without it. I for one opted in on testing VE and Cirrus during those months. --HHill (talk) 15:10, 20 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
I have always thought if users knew there was a beta system, they would come forward to help out. But it doesn't make sense that Tech would ask for community feedback on VE *before* making it the default, but not Media Viewer. VE seems like the much more critical product. —Neotarf (talk) 17:43, 20 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • The issue in these cases is releasing features before they've been thoroughly tested and before involving the community on different aspects of the development and workflow. They just release something riddled with bugs and usability issues and then say, "We'll work through this." What needs to happen aside from a better development process is to have a trial deployment. Release to Wikipedia for 2 or 3 weeks, gather as much feedback and bug reports and then disable it while it is being reworked. I understand it is difficult garnering community consensus on new features but there are some valid concerns regarding these new features. Ideally, this shouldn't be necessary as there should be continuous feedback during the development process. But this just isn't happening currently. One issue to resolve is to get more involvement before deployment (in alpha/beta stage). Google and Mozilla do a great job of this. (talk) 15:50, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

In Wikimedia the process of creating standards is in reverse to the usual process: normally at first stakeholders declare some need for a new feature etc. Then, as many as possible other stakeholders are involved in a process clarifying if there is at all need for a new standard/feature and which characteristics it shall meet. Then a geneal consensus is created as a basis for the standard. Only then, the standard is implemented. Subsequently it is monitored and currently adapted to stakeholders needs. In reverse WM seems to implement standards because of ideas of some people, implement those ideas without proper (prior) consultation with the mayority of stakeholders (the editors and readers of WP , not the foundation and its staff). Then they wonder why the stuff does not meet the needs of stakeholders but try to enforce it by force against declared will of a very substancial part of WM community. Now, there is only a bot strike at german language WP. As i know the WP community as prone to values as freedom and autonomy, a general strike of many regular editors ist not far away. We are not the servants of Wikimedia, but Wikimedia and its staff is the servant of WM community, nothing more. - Andy king50 (talk) 17:25, 19 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Foundation engineering team

I think that the engineering team of the Wikimedia Foundation is too focused on software/hardware development and ignores all kind of user input. And that is directly opposed to the Wikimedia movement's ideals. The engineering team should change its development process to make sure that user input controls their work, and not the other way around. --NaBUru38 (talk) 16:42, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Statement by Jan-Bart de Vreede

See statement on Meta and discussion below. Andreas JN466 11:16, 21 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]


  • First a technical issue with this comment section, I clicked '+ Add a comment' and have to format my input (put an '*' in front of my comment, have to add my signature...) . This is not the usual UX a 'normal' person would assume. I hope that the foundation puts some developer resources into that (like the talk pages, where other users can edit my contributions or even delete them o_O). On topic: Not everyone on German Wikipedia agrees with the conservative little group that tries loudly to prevent improvement to the UX of Wikipedia. What can the foundation do better than introducing new (and better!) things with the possibility to disable them (for the tiny group that does not like them, or feels that they are worse than the previous version)? (talk) 11:20, 23 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks. It is not only the comments page that can be edited, it is every page of Wikipedia. If you want to see who has changed a page, you can look at the edit history for that page.
The text editor you are looking for would be the Visual Editor, and I agree that it is long overdue. VE has had a rocky road though, for example see this Signpost article. When I first started editing with MediaWiki markup code, I kept a link to Help:Wiki markup at hand. It gets easier, especially since you can examine other people's edits and see how they code something to make it appear a certain way. —Neotarf (talk) 18:59, 23 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
The problem with any visual editor (not just Visual Editor) is that the WikiSyntax is not regular. It is too ambiguous for an editor to make sense of every possible form of WikiText. IMHO, the proper way to fix that is to fix the problems in the regularity, and expect everyone to adapt their editing style. Yes, I am insane, but nobody has solved a big problem without being insane, amirite? RussNelson (talk) 14:11, 1 September 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Comments here work exactly like... talk pages. I hope people will recognize that Wikipedia is different from other websites, so instead of complaining about it, they'll just accept it. It's simple, just add your comment beneath the last one and add four tildes (~~~~) at the end of it. If you need help, go to the Teahouse. Wikipedia is *mostly* open to newcomers, but the technical gory of MediaWiki and its wiki syntax language is like trying to explain the 90s BBS or dial-up system to someone who was only exposed to 2014 technological amazement. --k6ka (talk | contribs) 18:47, 1 September 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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