The Signpost


So you want to get your message out. Where do you turn?

Editor's note: This article uses an experimental typographical layout that we are currently soliciting feedback on. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment on the talk page!

The first channel of expression available to Wikimedians in the community outside the talkpages on Wikipedia itself were the mailing lists. The tone of the early mailing lists closely matched that of the early movement: several of the first wiki project's paper trails end with Brion Vibber having created them for no apparently stronger reason than "someone on the mailing list asked for one" and Jimbo Wales freely intermingled with community volunteers and bestowed on several editors mock holidays as an award for the work they'd done (the most recent Brion Vibber Day passed just this June 1—the Signpost took note). A good example of the tone of this halcyon era is a personal favorite post, "I am Danny", dealing with early "office" actions.

Today the Wikipedia mailing lists are a miasma of overlapping board and sub-boards and sub-sub-boards: over 370 of them. Not all of the lists are active or even open, but most are or pretend to be one or both, and mailing list contributors seeking to find which one will best suit the needs of their particular communiqué are left to their own devices. Outside private mailings for boards (the English Arbitration Committee, for instance, maintains its own mailing list—which, yes, the Signpost has scooped—important discussions generally take place in one of a few high-volume places: the busiest and by far most-subscribed of them is the flagship Wikimedia-l. The trouble is that the mailing lists don't have much appeal to anyone aside from hardcore Wikipedians: subscribing to lists not meant explicitly for announcements only is like attaching a fire hose directly into your inbox, and the "digest" feature meant to make reading the lists easier is in variable states of repair. Nor is there any easy way, currently, to reply to an email in a mailing list to which one is not already subscribed. Nor are the lists intended for long-form content (though linking to a piece hosted elsewhere is an easy way to drive discussion).

Another medium with very similar strengths and weaknesses is the community IRC channels. They're like mailing lists, except more temporal: conversations are had and then forgotten, as many channels are not logged and most logs are never read. IRC provides a quick way of accessing one particular group of Wikipedians in particular—technicians—who, in fact, seemingly always been present on IRC, are far and away the most easily reachable of all the Foundation staff.

In the heyday of the blogosphere, many longer and more thoughtful ideas found expression on private users' blogs. The Foundation launched an RSS accumulator for such blogs in 2007, and called it Planet Wikimedia, which is now in its second iteration. Some blogs even run onwiki—the Bradblog comes to mind. For the most part, however, these posts do have difficulty finding a wider readership, since personal blogs are both relatively rare and somewhat detached from the movement; the impactful ones get re-posted to other channels or garner impact by appearing somewhere they can’t be ignored—like, for instance, Andrew Lih's recent op-ed in The New York Times. Essays were originally meant to try and bring some of this traffic back on-wiki. A few have garnered an impact, but most have remained thoroughly unread.

When Wikipedians from Commons, GLAM, and elsewhere came together to raise community awareness about an impending vote on anti-freedom of panorama laws in Europe, they chose to publish their appeal in the Signpost. The bill just was just defeated this week—an outcome you can read about in our report.

True neutral, lawful good, chaotic evil

The Signpost is where most community essays ought to try to garner publication. The Signpost, which you're reading now, is a community-oriented and -run periodical that has been published on a regular weekly basis since its foundation in 2005. As one of the three bullet points in our recently formulated statement of purpose explains, the Signpost actively solicits articles, op-eds, and special reports from the community (subject the approval of the editors-in-chief), and can immediately provide an audience to all of those essays that would otherwise continue to collect dust in the Wikipedia-space. We field a wide variety of such reports: outreach pieces by Foundation teams and directed at the community, research reports on article traffic, community announcements, and long-form organizational strategy analysis have all recently been aired here. The pages of the Signpost are easily the most widely read and distributed of the medias available to Wikimedians, and we accept and encourage a wide variety of material. It’s usually a better way to be heard than publishing something in your personal blog, but an important point must be made that the Signpost publishes pieces, not ramblings—it's a form of communication which requires a large investment of time on the part of the writer.

Another publication that accepts pieces of a similar caliber is the Foundation's Wikimedia Blog, which has experienced rapid growth in past year or so. The Blog's name was recently updated from the "Wikimedia Foundation Blog" to just the "Wikimedia Blog", and after renovations last year now solicits community posts from all parties. Nonetheless, the results of surveys both by the Blog and by the Signpost indicate the Blog's lower-than-expected penetration of the community—in terms of readership in the movement, the Signpost has the Blog beat by miles. There's a limited population of people interested enough in the day-to-day activities of the community to subscribe to a news source about the same, and the Signpost, being far-older and independently community-organized, has far more heritage to draw from.

Then there's the critical but mostly unacknowledged problem that the Wikimedia Blog is essentially a corporate blog. This fact blesses it with a small secondary audience of news hawks (and journalists) interested in current events divorced from the movement itself, but also curses it with the weight of carrying those same burdensome press releases and official reports "from the teams". They're not page-turners, frankly. Corporate blogs are first and foremost engineered for minimum controversy, in that corporate communications way; they usually lack critical analysis, often lack context, and will never publish truly critical material. While it's true that the Blog is now accepting community input, this must still satisfy the Foundation’s requirements for healthy communications, raising what appears to have become a fear of negativity: for all of its presumed openness, an essay like our recent one titled "What made Wikipedia lose its reputation?" could not possibly ever appear on the WM Blog of today.

Then there's the troubling strain of self-promotion in the blog's content: for Wikimedia teams and community organizations increasingly under pressure to deliver results, to publish a post to the WM Blog is to be able to say that you’ve "made it". So though as an overall platform the Blog has quite some merit, as a writer trying to get a message across you must be aware of how closely you must hew to the movement banner; and you need to be aware that the Blog is a general-interest publication written for an explicitly external audience assumed to have little knowledge of the particularities of contributing. Because the Signpost voluntarily republishes posts we like as a part of our own "Blog" section, if you feel that your piece is sufficiently topical and has the requisite feel-good texture to it, there's no reason not to submit it to the WM Blog and take advantage of their far greater (paid) editorial resources. But it doesn't accept critical commentary or dissent, which remains within the Signpost's scope.

There's one last channel of communication for criticisms too bellicose for publication in the Signpost: Wikipediocracy. It's a cesspool of bile, full of bitter trolls and their coat-tail riders; yet many serious Wikimedians seem to read it regardless—members of groups including community administrators, arbitrators, Foundation community teamsters, and even Signpost editorial board members. The problem is that as Wikipedia editors we're all implicitly supporters, and so Wikipediocracy's indulgences—its rants, triviality, and personal nastiness—are reluctantly tolerated for the sake of gleaning a sense of the magnitude of the issues facing the projects. It’s well-acknowledged that sometimes Wikipediocracy has a point; and as the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. In terms of material accepted, Wikipediocracy is a Chaotic Evil to the WM Blog's Lawful Good: as long as your post is sufficiently negative, it will be accepted. Better and less speculative writings ought be tried in the Signpost first, though, since it, being a publisher with some repute in the community, would not make your writing immediately suspicious by its choice of venue.

Resident Mario is a Wikipedia editor and news hound who serves as associate editor at the Signpost.
The views expressed in this op-ed are those of the author alone; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments. Editors wishing to submit their own op-ed should use our opinion desk.
+ 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.
  • Your layout leaves no room on the right to designate the end of an image, which gave me the illusion that there was more to the pictures I was not seeing. Otherwise, I see no real difference between versions. TomStar81 (Talk) 05:58, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Agree Smallbones(smalltalk) 14:01, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The main difference here is that by forcing the text into a fixed-width column the article is made far more readable than it would be otherwise: a wealth of research has shown that letting the browser window set the text width is a terrible idea, because the columns become progressively less and less readable as the screen widens. This was well known even in the days of dead-tree literature, and here and here are examples of implications for web design. Here is an example of the principle's application. ResMar 14:14, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I don't like the layout—particularly the acres of white space between the paragraphs and the right-jutting pics. Tony (talk) 09:16, 12 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
As we discussed, there isn't a better image solution that can be used on-wiki. Similarly there isn't a way to reduce the amount of space between paragraphs easily. Besides, whitespace is your friend, not your enemy; being used to crowded text elsewhere on Wikipedia does not make it good here. Try looking at almost any online magazine and you will see that this kind of spacing is typical and proper: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] etc. ResMar 14:35, 12 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • So you want to get your message out. Where do you turn?: If we were to read everything this article suggests we would have no time to get on with our other work let alone what we do on Wikipedia. I'm a very busy admin (sometimes) and I've never felt the need to follow blogs or that vile place they call Wikipediocracy for which I find the advert here, however critical of it, totally unnecesary (having never been there, I wouldn't be surprised if it's the main hangout for the leaders of the anti-admin brigade and their coat-tail snatchers). A lot of all this peripheral stuff is due to the Wikipedia movement having gotten itself far too deeply involved in socio-political issues. Wikipedia still reminds me of the alternativ Bewegungen of the 60s, 70s, and 80s (of which I have to admit to having been a part in my much younger days). As soon as we can convince the world that Wikipedia is the planet's largest and most consulted encyclopedic work and not a global Internet Corrie, a Yellow Pages, or a rapper's second FaceBook, we'll have less work for the poorly functioning NPP and AfC and less time needed to argue with its miserable detractors (even if they happen to be prolific content creators). When I have serious stuff to discuss, to blank out the background noise I use Skype or personal email, and it works. All I ever read is the Signpost and that's generally enough for me to keep in touch. The rest happens when I go to meet-ups and Wikimanien. And talk pages work for me perfectly - Don't lose the thread. The day we get liquid threads or Flow will be the day that I'll probably retire permanently to my other keyboard. --Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 06:19, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Agree with KP's "that vile place they call Wikipediocracy for which I find the advert here, however critical of it, totally unnecesary" You mention them way too much. They have no positive contribution to make - they harass people and make things up out of thin air. The best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them. Please follow this advice. Smallbones(smalltalk) 14:01, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
That's a bit extreme, Smallbones. I think most people have come round to the view that stories like [6] and [7] were based on very real problems that Wikipedia showed no sign of fixing by itself before they were highlighted on WO. Andreas JN466 16:30, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Certainly not everything posted at WO (or previously at WR) is useless, but that does not mean that as a enterprise it is worthwhile. When the normative mode of discourse is insult and criticism, participants are easily drawn into negative groupthink. We have seen this happen on WP, let us hope that is in our past. All the best: Rich Farmbrough, 19:18, 13 July 2015 (UTC).[reply]
  • Since Wikipedia is in a bit of a decline perhaps we must listen closer to the so called chaotic side.--Catlemur (talk) 10:49, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • On the experimental layout, specifically "width:46em" and "padding-left:5em", my reaction is mixed. I like the somewhat narrower column of text, as I find it easier to scan. I rarely use a full screen window for just this reason, and the text fits very nicely within the window size I ordinarily use.

    However, the larger images do not fit unless I scroll right or switch to full-screen: they are cropped about 7 em on the right. When using a fixed width column of text, it might be best if the images are not wider than that column. That way, if the text fits in one's window then the images will also fit; and it will look more trim and columnar.

    The fixed width does not fit in a window much narrower than I ordinarily use, it is truncated not wrapped. This is not a problem on my desktop, but I wonder how well it works for users of small-screen mobile devices – i.e. whether the devices override the fixed width or adapt gracefully to the overflow. ~ Ningauble (talk) 15:04, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

 Ningauble: The larger size of the images is done on purpose to break up monotony. The presence of extra size in the image gives the illusion that the article is taking all of the space being given to it, which is a lie, as the columns are a small fixed width for the purposes of readability. If they were reduced to fit snug against the edge of the text, then the article would look what it essentially is: two columns, one of text and one of sporadic images, with a gutter in the middle. Furthermore, I think that since the capacity exists for using a larger image, a larger image ought to be used—I am tired of squinting at 225px thumbnails on Wikipedia as it is, and have little desire to do more of the same in the Signpost. There's also a technical reason for this arrangement: there's no way to set image widths in anything except for pixels. I could theoretically cut off the image using a div container with overflow:hidden, but that would work on a case-by-case basis: many images would be made significantly worse or lose their ocular focus entirely. The ideal solution, as demonstrated here, is not technically possible on Wikipedia.
I am surprised that the images are truncated on your screen. What is your resolution? You'd need a very small resolution (or very large text) for 50px + 800px + 5em to not fit in your screen width. 99% of screen resolutions are greater than 1028x768—the resolution of my 11-inch Mac Air laptop, on which the arrangement looks very comfortable, and on which I must Command - + thrice more (to zoom) before the images slides off.
It's not a good format for mobile. But nobody reads the Signpost on their phone (there is an Android app for it, albeit a broken one), and it works fine if the larger images are wrapped in nomobile anyway. ResMar 15:30, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Re. "...surprised that the images are truncated on your screen":  Not what I wrote. It does not fit the window size I normally use, which is less than full screen size precisely because, as I already mentioned and as you responded to another above, a full-screen column of running text (at typical font sizes) is harder to read. The full article width, including images, does fit my usual window size if I scroll right by a little more than half the width of the Wikipedia navigation pane on the left, and fits full-screen mode with lots of room to spare.

If you just like jumbo images then that is fine, my bandwidth can handle it. If you prefer the ragged effect of images that overhang on the right then I can't really complain: De gustibus non est disputandum.

Let me reiterate that I very much like the text column width: it is almost exactly what I would choose! (I am surprised to learn the Signpost has no mobile readership. I was starting to get the impression that everybody but me had gone mobile.) ~ Ningauble (talk) 17:12, 11 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]

You can stop artificially lowering your screen size then :-). Modern web browsers all seem to have (or can install) a "Read Mode" that can fix troublesome websites and make them easier to read. Having now gone through this process at the Signpost I am astounded that something smarter than we have now isn't done for Wikipedia itself. ResMar 01:15, 12 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
 Libcub: What's your window size and font size? Images coming off, maybe, but the text itself...that should be really difficult to do. ResMar 02:51, 13 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
i like the new laypout, works fine on mobile. the crufty left menu needs to go. (don't use anything over there anyway). Duckduckstop (talk) 23:33, 14 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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