The Signpost

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History of The Signpost, 2015–2019

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By Smallbones
Last month, The Signpost marked its 15th anniversary by republishing Gamaliel's "A decade of The Signpost" written for the 10th anniversary of The Signpost. This month we extend that history by five years.


Doc James in 2015

In January Gamaliel wrote his history of The Signpost. In the process he gave a short history of Wikipedia as well. Gamaliel and Go Phightins! were about to become co-editors-in-chief of The Signpost.

The year was soon dominated by articles on paid editing. Doc James wrote in February "Is Wikipedia for sale?" about paid editors and their customers connecting via the website Elance. These editors used disposable Wikipedia accounts, abandoning them after just one or two customers. Another advertiser stated that he was an admin.

The Wifione arbcom case resulted in a ban for the administrator who was a paid editor for a fake Indian university.

In March The ed17 interviewed a paid editor who was banned for pushing e-cigarettes. Piotrus followed with an op-ed "We are drowning in promotional artspam". Then the news broke that "Sony emails reveal corporate practices and undisclosed advocacy editing". Doc James's story was told by The Atlantic in August. The Orangemoody paid editing scandal followed with more than 400 accounts blocked.

Three new of members of the Board of Trustees were elected in June, Dariusz Jemielniak (Pundit), James Heilman (Doc James), and Denny Vrandečić (Denny) setting the stage for the events of late 2015 - early 2016.

"The English Wikipedia's misogynist infopolitics and the hegemony of the asshole consensus" was published in August. The op-ed looked at Wikipedia through the lens of sexual violence and states "Nothing makes Wikipedians more angry than a discussion of gender and feminism on Wikipedia."

There was good news in November when the Wikipedia community was awarded Erasmus Prize.

In the last week of December 2015 James Heilman was removed from the WMF's Board of Trustees by a vote of 8-2 of the trustees. No reason or cause was immediately announced.


Lila Tretikov at Wikimania 2015

The first Signpost issues of 2016 were dominated by reports on the "WMF's age of discontent". The removal of James Heilman from the WMF board, his complaints about a lack of transparency around the Knowledge Engine project, community objections to the appointment of Arnnon Geshuri to the WMF board, and plummeting WMF staff morale were prominent topics.

In early February, The Signpost established that the Knight Foundation had no objection to publication of the Knowledge Engine grant agreement – a document the WMF had withheld from the community citing donor privacy. The WMF published the grant agreement the next day; both it and additional leaked documents published by The Signpost were at odds with statements made by Executive Director Lila Tretikov. The fall-out made Lila Tretikov's position untenable. She resigned on February 25, and was soon succeeded by Chief Communications Officer Katherine Maher, initially named interim executive director. An interview with Maher was published in the next issue.

The Signpost ran into trouble in April 2016, when it published some April tomfoolery poking fun at Jimmy Wales and Donald Trump, resulting in an arbitration case and the eventual resignation of Editor-in-chief Gamaliel from both ArbCom and The Signpost.

In July 2016 we reported that the Board unanimously appoints Katherine Maher as new WMF executive director. In the same story, The Signpost announced a fortnightly publishing schedule. We managed two issues each month except for the single issues in October and December.

The rest of the year was uneventful in comparison, although in December The Signpost reported on the implosion of the German Wikipedia's ArbCom following the revelation that one of its members was a member of Alternative for Germany, a far-right political party.


In February we reported that "WMF Legal and ArbCom weigh in on tension between disclosure requirements and user privacy". WMF legal advised in regards to undisclosed paid editing that "if someone is editing for a company and fails to disclose it, an admin properly posting that person's company where it is relevant to an investigation is part of their job to help bring the account into compliance with those requirements". Eleven members of ArbCom countered that "being doxxed and treated in ways the community has defined as harassment is not a reasonable consequence of noncompliance with a website's terms of use".

The same issue reported on the Banc de Binary paid editing scandal in "Wolves nip at Wikipedia's heels".

There were no Signpost issues in March, April, and May as Editor-in-chief Pete Forsyth suddenly left his post. Evad37 stepped in as editor-in-chief and a total of 12 issues were published for the year. Following the June issue, single issues appeared every month except for September, when there were two. Readers stuck with The Signpost, however, with one article in the June issue on "Wikipedia's lead sentence problem" had 6,460 page views in the day following publication.

ACTRIAL, the autoconfirmed article creation trial started in September and was scheduled to last for 6 months. The WMF planned to study the impact on newly registered accounts, quality assurance processes, and content quality.

In November trouble surfaced as an administrator was desysoped and the case of Mister Wiki, who had worked briefly as a paid editor.


Farkhad Fatkullin

Wikipedia was back on its usual course at the start of the year, as represented by our "Interview with Ser Amantio di Nicolao". With over 2 million live edits at the time of the interview, Ser Amantio leads all editors in the number of edits.

But all was not well with The Signpost. Kudpung, who soon became editor-in-chief, published "Death knell sounding for The Signpost?" in March decrying the lack of volunteer writers and copyeditors. In the comments section of the article many ideas were offered on how to best continue publishing. The overall feeling was that, yes, somebody – somebody other than the commenter – should keep on doing the much needed work. Enough writers and copyeditors continued to show up, including Bri who shared editor-in-chief responsibilities with Kudpung for much of the year. We published 13 issues for the year.

In the same issue the "ACTRIAL wrap-up" reported that the autoconfirmed article creation trial had been completed with generally positive results. New article creation in mainspace had been limited for six months to autoconfirmed editors - those with at least 10 edits who had been registered for at least 4 days. In the April issue The Signpost reported the ACTRIAL results were adopted by landslide and implemented as a permanent restriction.

The April issue was especially large, with 17 articles including "Future directions for The Signpost" following up on March's "Death knell..." article.

In May, The Signpost received community consensus to begin using watchlist messages to alert readers that a new issue has been published.

Following Wikimania we interviewed the "2018 Wikimedian of the Year, Farkhad Fatkullin" reminding Signpost readers once again of the best of Wikipedia. Fatkullin tells us "one only learns by doing. Whenever one grows experienced, he or she usually smiles at the mistakes that were made along the way. So we better enjoy getting it wrong, not taking anything too seriously. The community will eventually get things right!"

Before the announcement of the Nobel Prize in physics there was no Wikipedia article on Donna Strickland, one of the three winners in physics in 2018, The seriousness of this "missing article" was underlined by The Signpost's response. Three authors debated "Wikipedia's Strickland affair" and Bradv, who had declined an earlier draft of the article, gave his views. Despite a wide ranging debate, almost all the participants agreed that there were some good reasons to decline the draft, and that Wikipedia could have done a better job on some aspects of the controversy.

Possible conflict-of-interest editing by then Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was the focus of "Wikipedia not trumped by Trump appointee" in late December.


The February issue started a storm over "Pesky pronouns". Cries of "transphobia" on one side and "censorship" on the other resulted in the humour column being blanked via MfD. Editor-in-chief Bri voluntarily stepped down from that post following the brouhaha, and two other writers stopped contributing to The Signpost as well.

"Wikipedia's response to the New Zealand mosque shootings" in March showed how two communities, New Zealanders and Wikipedians, can come together in response to a tragedy.

A lengthy interview with Katherine Maher in April helped mark her three years as executive director.

The insertion of about 16 photos by a licensee of The North Face in May set off another undisclosed paid editing scandal. The North Face was roundly condemned by the WMF in a blog post which was then picked up by dozens of news outlets.

Wikipedia's biggest blowup of the year, Framgate resulted in several Signpost articles starting in June including "A constitutional crisis hits English Wikipedia". This author's "Did Fram harass other editors?" was deleted via CSD within one day of publication. The crisis dragged on for over three months as the WMF decided to give jurisdiction over its one-year block on Fram to ArbCom. ArbCom's final Solomonic decision vacated the block and allowed the community to decide if Fram would be reinstated as an administrator. One day after a Request for Adminship was started, the majority of !votes opposed the reinstatement, and Fram withdrew his nomination.

Coverage outside the English-language version of Wikipedia was highlighted from July through October which included "The French Wikipedia is overtaking the German", "The Curious Case of Croatian Wikipedia", "Chinese Wikipedia and the battle against extradition from Hong Kong", and three other articles about China.

Wiki-PR, now known as Status Labs, was "Caught with their hands in the cookie jar, again" in December, as extensively documented in The Wall Street Journal and December's Signpost special report. This six year old paid editing scandal continued through January 2020 and is still unresolved.

The final word

This article on the history of The Signpost turned out to be simply a history of Wikipedia focusing on The Signpost. Given our subject matter, it could not have been otherwise. Together with Gamaliel's ten-year history of The Signpost from five years ago, we now have a 15 year history of Wikipedia. We would like to extend this history to include, among other topics, the four year history of Wikipedia before The Signpost began publishing. If you would like to contribute a history of this period, please check out these data sources and contact us at our Suggestions page. The final word about any history of Wikipedia must include extensive input from the Wikipedia community. If you wish to comment on important Wikipedia topics from 2015–2019, please post them in the Comments section below.

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