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Staff departures at Wikimedia Foundation, Jimbo hands in the bits, and graphs' zeppelin burns

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By Andreas Kolbe, Aymatth2, Bri, HaeB, and JPxG
Jimmy Wales speaking at Wikimania 2019

Jimbo abdicates advanced permissions after arbitration case request

Jimmy Wales has given up all the remaining advanced permissions (administrator, checkuser and oversight) he has held on the English Wikipedia, after his conduct towards Bradv on the latter's talk page was declared to be an unfounded accusation. Wales requested his permissions be removed in the course of an arbitration case request brought against him by former arbitrator AmandaNP.

For the technically minded:

Wales retains the Founder flag as a courtesy; however, its permissions have been modified so he is no longer able to grant advanced permissions to himself or others.

What was the reason for the arbitration request? Wales had left the following message on the talk page of Bradv, a former arbitrator who had been inactive on Wikipedia for over half a year:

I have what seems to me a credible report that you have been recommending to people that they use WikiExperts. Is this true?

The report I have is that you contacted someone through Whatsapp to recommend WikiExperts, who then charged someone $15,000 for an article in Wikipedia. I am asking you because if so, then you definitely should not be an admin in English Wikipedia. If it is a lie, then fine. But please tell me the truth.

Over the next few hours, multiple checkusers, oversighters and stewards piled into Bradv's talk page telling Wales that he was out of order. Moreover, what seemed to Wales like a "credible report" on which to base such an egregious implication seemed to ArbCom nothing of the kind. Arbitrator GeneralNotability, for example, opined:

I would consider this report about as credible as a paid editing firm slapping a picture of you on the top of their website and saying "endorsed by Jimbo Wales himself!"

GeneralNotability later expanded on this in the case request:

I won't fault the person who was conned here (since they're clearly not familiar with Wikipedia), but anyone who knows bradv can tell you that the person claiming to be him in these messages...clearly wasn't. The person was using unusual wording that suggests to me that they're not a native speaker, either - and anyone who's worked with Brad can tell you that he's quite well-spoken. The person also made a number of nonsensical policy claims that Brad would know better than to make. Beyond that, there's the sheer nonsensicality of the conversation. Summary of the relevant bits:

The mark received an unsolicited contact from not-Brad saying "I'm an administrator and your article failed our notability review." They then gave the standard paid editor nonsense about needing a "verified editor" to get one's article published (referring them to Wiki Experts in the process). Later on, we get to my personal favorite part - he says that someone else has "claimed" the article in question already (so he can't edit it) and he needs to find an "arbitrator" to get it back. This is all steering them toward the Wiki Experts person (who's pretty clearly either the same person or a confederate), who is helpfully saying "of course we can help you, but it will cost (lots of money)." Page gets deleted or marked as UPE or something, lots of stalling ensues, mark requests a refund and doesn't get it, etc., etc. They also tell the victim that they've talked to 20+ arbitrators to get the page returned to them (news to me, would the secret extra arbs please raise a hand) and most of the arbs would charge $4k but they found one who will do it for $2k.

The second persona in the con is a new one for me, but this is nothing we haven't seen a thousand times before, and anyone who's done work dealing with paid editing could have told Jimbo in a heartbeat that this is an obvious scam. Jimbo should have known better. If he wants to take a hard line on paid editing, there are a lot of people around here (me included) who are familiar with the tricks and would be happy to work with him and the Foundation to come up with better ways to respond.

And speaking as one of the people in that area, since people brought it up: yes, it is normal to ask people whether they're COI/paid. This is almost exclusively done based on their behavior on-wiki - obvious promotional tone, writing articles exclusively related to a certain person or company, etc. We don't go off of claims from paid editing groups or unsolicited contacts that people forward to the paid-en-wp que for exactly this reason: they lie to look good. Half of these companies have a list of "their" articles on their website, and closer investigation usually indicates that the articles have no editors in common, no scent of paid editing, and were probably chosen just for name recognition among potential clients.

Helpfully, ArbCom also received screenshots from an editor who visited WikiExperts and asked to make a page; they claimed a half-dozen other admins as their editors too. I will not share their names, lest they be subjected to unfounded accusations as well, because the point is clear without those - these folks claim admins as their own in order to look good before they extort their clients.

For further coverage of this story, see this Signpost issue's Arbitration report and the Opinion piece by Smallbones. AK

Over 7% of Wikimedia Foundation staff have left since January 1

The WMF Talent & Culture Tuning Session deck for the January–March 2022 quarter was the last such deck published. It showed that during the nine-month period from July 2021 to March 2022, WMF staff increased by about a hundred, from 472 to 570. Today, the WMF indicates a headcount of "more than 700".

The Signpost has learned from tips, and confirmed with its own research, that over 7% of the WMF staff has separated since the beginning of the year. As of our writing deadline, the Foundation has made no official statement about the matter that we are aware of, other than a message from the Movement Communications Director in this issue's piece on the WMF's annual planning process, stating that planned expense reductions "for the coming few years ... have also included looking at vacant/unfilled roles and about a 5% reduction in occupied roles."

Tips informed us that this process was not always managed in a way that resulted in smooth handoff of duties from staff members who are no longer employed, and has resulted in some disruption to the community of Wikipedians. An off-wiki blog post by community member Legoktm has some more information on the process of discovery and the impacts from his perspective.

The Signpost staff have observed that WMF employees are routinely assigned accounts on Meta-Wiki when they onboard, and the accounts are globally locked when their employment terminates (voluntarily or otherwise)—though this is not a formal policy as far as we know. The locking is often accompanied in the global account log with a message like "no longer employed at WMF". The various public account data and logs can be inspected manually (or with semi-automated tools) to robustly infer information on WMF staffing. These inferences were made well in advance of any messaging from the Foundation. Every organisation experiences churn; however, since the beginning of 2023, The Signpost has noted the loss of several Senior Program Managers and Directors, which may be unusual.

For historical context, the WMF's headcount has grown significantly over the past two years. It stood at 472 at the end of June 2021, according to this Tuning Session slide. By end of March 2022, it had grown to 570 (with 240 new hires and 142 people leaving in that nine-month period). Since then, the Wikimedia Foundation has not published any quarterly Tuning Session slides with updated data. However, according to the recently published 2023–2024 draft Annual Plan, the WMF's total headcount on 31 December 2022 was 711, with almost half of all staff now based outside of the United States. It presents the following information:

At a glance on 31 December 2022
Our total headcount 711 711 total Foundation staff on 31 December 2022.
Countries 57 Located across 57 countries and all continents except Antarctica.
Growth in headcount 10% Headcount has grown by 10% in the past 12 months (Dec 2021 – Dec 2022). This is down from 15% in the last quarter, and is down from 30% in the prior fiscal year.
Non-US Workers 49% 49% of workers are located outside the US.
Tenure in years 3.8 Staff members stay for an average of about 3.8 years.

The draft also takes the proactive step of disclosing two executives' salaries: CEO Maryana Iskander (US$453,000) and Chief Product and Technology Officer Selena Deckelmann (US$420,000). Both figures represent base compensation. – B, AK

Project-level quality assessments

When Wikipedia was launched, each WikiProject was expected to assess the quality of articles independently. The assumption was that different projects would have different views on what an article ought to look like. However, over time most projects have converged on the overall quality guidelines at Wikipedia:Content assessment. Under these, an article is assessed in terms of completeness, organization, prose quality, sourcing and so on, regardless of which WikiProject's purview it falls under.

Recently a proposal was approved (and has been implemented) to support general quality assessments that can be shared by all the projects that have adopted an article. {{WikiProject banner shell}} has a new |class= parameter, and {{WPBannerMeta}} lets project banners "inherit" this assessment for the purpose of assigning categories like Category: C-class Ruritania articles. Individual projects can still continue to assign their own quality ratings. WikiProject Highways is one example; it has opted out, and assigned its own "Future" quality rating.

The change will make it easier to update standard quality ratings and reflect the changes across all the projects that have adopted the article, apart from projects that still have unique approaches to assessing quality. – A

Wikipedia gains an official presence on Mastodon ... without the Wikimedia Foundation's involvement

Logo of Mastodon

In late 2022 the federated social network Mastodon rose in popularity, following the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk. Numerous Twitter presences for Wikimedia entities also saw the establishment of Mastodon counterparts. (Including this little newspaper – follow for announcements of new Signpost issues.)

Not, however, the official @Wikipedia Twitter account, which is managed by the Wikimedia Foundation's Communications department. A November 2022 Phabricator ticket suggesting to mirror it on Mastodon went nowhere, with WMF staff stating on December 19 that "At this time, we have no plans to create an account for the Foundation or Wikipedia. This is mainly because our observations show us that Mastodon is not yet reaching a large audience." After some feedback on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, the Communications department modified this stance somewhat, explaining on January 5 that "We want to be thoughtful and thorough in how we approach these questions and that takes time. We’re exploring with Foundation teams and we also have an upcoming meeting with the Communications Committee – this is on the agenda. [...] We’ll update folks on the social media talk page [...]". However, a March 31 "Organic social media strategy update" on that page made no mention of Mastodon or the fediverse.

This situation changed on April 12, with the creation of the Mastodon account, which has since already gained around 9000 followers. According to a documentation page on Meta-wiki, it is community-run, with the goal "to promote Wikipedia and free content on the Fediverse in a bottom-up manner." It has already been verified as official via a code change on the project portal website. Ironically, this happened just a few days before the @Wikipedia Twitter account lost its verification badge, among many other "legacy" verified accounts. On April 18, this new @Wikipedia account on Mastodon was also welcomed by the official Mastodon Twitter account, which at the same time expressed excitement "to see [Wikipedia and Wikimedia] begin building integration with the free Mastodon identity verification into the Wikimedia platform."

Two Wikimedians currently have access to the new account according to its Meta-wiki page: Legoktm and Annierau. The latter is known for her wildly successful Depths of Wikipedia social media feeds (whose Twitter version in fact has a higher follower count than the official Wikipedia Twitter account: 773.3K vs. 642.4K). The new account is hosted on "Wikis World", a "Mastodon social media server for wiki enthusiasts" launched half a year ago by Legoktm and Taavi. – H

Graph extension disabled

An error message displayed in an article about asteroids, showing "graphs are currently unavailable due to technical issues"

The Graph extension is used widely on Wikipedia to display charts and graphs of all sorts, as well as on sister projects, and even on non-Wikimedia sites – it's included in MediaWiki, so there are about 884 public sites using it.

All of this should be said in the past tense. There are no graphs now.

The Graph extension is based on Vega, a quite capable framework that allows graphs to do all sorts of things normal wikitext markup can't, like JavaScript effects when you hover over something, the ability to highlight different datasets, draw complicated shapes, obtain data from external sites (like in {{Graph:PageViews}}) and indeed execute arbitrary XSS attacks. Wait, huh???

Yeah, that is not so great. Per T334940 on Phabricator, we have had this sitting around for quite some time and nobody noticed. But now we have. So the graphs are gone. The implications, aside from breaking our PageViews graph, have been felt across many projects. C-Kobold says on Phabricator that "in the German Wikipedia, ALL Wikipedia pages about the major German political parties (CDU, SPD, CSU, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, FDP, Die LINKE) have broken diagrams that were supposed to show the number of members over the years".

So far, the incident is being addressed on Phabricator and at the Village pump (technical). A snazzy error message (shown here) has been created in the interim, although it's anybody's guess how inter this particular im is going to be. TheDJ notes that this extension has been "thoroughly unmaintained for over 6 years"; CX Zoom points out that updates for Vega were requested at 2023's Community Wishlist Survey.

On April 21, Seddon (WMF) said in the VPT thread: "My hope is we can maybe restore some functionality in the next week or so". – J

Brief notes

Article for Improvement: Sankebetsu brown bear incident of 1915, "the most brutal bear attack in Japanese history".
In this issue
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Two Wikimedians currently have access to the new account according to its Meta-wiki page: * Legoktm and Annierau. Are there 2 Wikipedia mastodon accounts? Cause I thought TNT had access to it. Or have I been fooled by the fox..../lhBlaze WolfTalkBlaze Wolf#6545 13:24, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]

You indeed have. Tails Wx 13:29, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Blaze Wolf You are confusing and AntiCompositeNumber (talk) 15:02, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Oh... I see now. Similar but also different at the same time. ― Blaze WolfTalkBlaze Wolf#6545 15:05, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Sooner or later TNT will probably have access to the @wikipedia account too, it's mostly on me for not having done so already :) Legoktm (talk) 18:32, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@True Pagan Warrior Content in the Wikipedia namespace is not subject to the MOS because they are not articles. More info at WP:PRJ. – The Grid (talk) 16:35, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I ask because there is value to any news source having a style guide, be it the one from the Associated Press, or the one for Wikipedia entries, or a house guide. Based on what @Bri provided, it looks like the Signpost style guide is more about navigating mediawiki formatting than what one might find in the AP or Chicago guides. ~TPW 17:18, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@True Pagan Warrior Yes and no. When I'm copyediting I give credited authors a lot of leeway. But I routinely correct things that are WP standards like straight quotes and Oxford comma. The complete Signpost style guide is here. ☆ Bri (talk) 16:50, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you! I've written a style guide for a news site, and will enjoy reading this one. ~TPW 17:09, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
  • I just wanted to say I love the use of the word "Abdicate" here, it seems to say just enough about the situation. Jimbo is still on the board of trustees, so at the end of the day I'm sure he has access to whatever info he needs through somebody else. ASUKITE 18:23, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Regardless, for an organization that has had zero financial problems, losing 20 to 40 percent of employees every year seems higher than desirable. -- John Broughton (♫♫) 17:10, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
  • I wonder if anyone has looked into the reasons for this high turnover. Is it the workplace? Or just typical of the San Francisco region? (Silicon Valley is known for its employees moving back & forth between companies.) -- llywrch (talk) 19:23, 3 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]

The Foundation has 711 staff members (up from 525 last I read)? Where is Elon Musk when we need him to cut that number in half, or quarters, or a tenth, and with the right people it would run fine. No wonder they are trying to seep into Wikipedia in numerous ways recently, they have to give 711 employees something to do. Randy Kryn (talk) 00:43, 2 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]

@Randy Kryn:, this is flawed in quite a few ways at once (and I say as someone who has spent 4 years disputing WMF overreach). Putting aside that it's somewhat crass at a point when there have just been a round of WMF layoffs, several aspects come to mind: that is a truly terrible analogy - Twitter has egregious issues since Musk slashed their staff count. Additionally, the areas where the WMF try to "seep into Wikipedia" aren't really "recently". Instead, they date more from 3 years ago. The staff count was about 60% of its current tally at that point, so that's not holding up. Nor would it really hold up generally, if you take some time to look at where the staff generally are - tech development remains the biggest area, and the biggest increase on the community side is in reps who can function in more languages. Which major languages would you suggest we drop a community liasion for? Finally, I'd finish with a note that AGF applies to Foundation staffers singularly and in aggregate as well, not just to volunteer editors. Nosebagbear (talk) 09:21, 2 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks Nosebagbear. You say the staff has grown by 66% in the last several years, even though it was very large even then. No surprise that they feel like they can reach into more control of Wikipedia. Tech and language functions are well and good, hopefully they continue. But a 711 member staff, up from 525 in a recent listing? Sounds like a fully functional organization, yet also an organization that promised the public and Wikipedia editors that a large amount (in the many millions of dollars) would be used on Wikipedia community projects, and those accumulated funds (how many years wasn't the announced amount spent?) should be both offered and provided to worthy projects. I and others have suggested many projects and other ways to spend the promised funding, and the foundation should also be funding major conferences around the world on an almost monthly basis. Randy Kryn (talk) 14:13, 2 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
That...doesn't really answer any of my rebuttals at all. Some are worthwhile additional points to your initial post, but my answer was never intended to be a complete defence of the WMF's spending focuses, but a response to your statement above. Nosebagbear (talk) 15:27, 2 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Wikis World

Thanks for featuring all the efforts that have been going on to improve Wikipedia's presence on Mastodon and the broader Fediverse. If anyone wants an invite to the Wikis World Mastodon server, let me know :) Legoktm (talk) 19:11, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]

@Legoktm: Do you prefer invitation requests on your Meta user talk page? ☆ Bri (talk) 19:43, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Anywhere that I'll get notified about is fine :) I just need to be able to email you the invite link or some other private communication mechanism. Legoktm (talk) 19:50, 26 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]

The change to the Wikipedia portal allowing to be verified has been reverted for now. Nevertheless, that account remains active, helping this project to reach the Fediverse/Mastodon audience. – Minh Nguyễn 💬 19:35, 28 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]

@Mxn: Was hoping someone else would ask, but: what does "verified" mean in this context? ☆ Bri (talk) 14:03, 2 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Bri: Verification makes the profile look more trustworthy by confirming that the website link in the account profile “belongs to” the account in some fashion. For the account, the idea is that the account belongs to the Wikipedia community. Minh Nguyễn 💬 15:34, 2 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Sorry, new to Mastodon. So the website has to do something to attest that the Mastodon account is connected to itself? In other words, account verification is something the website provides to "the world"? ☆ Bri (talk) 16:18, 2 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Bri: No worries, we’re all rookies, it’s the Wild West! It’s sort of a handshake protocol: the Mastodon account claims to be controlled by the same entity as a website, and the website claims to be controlled by the same entity as the Mastodon account. Once Mastodon sees the link in both directions, it adds the verification checkmark so readers can see that it wasn’t just someone randomly claiming to be Wikipedia. I don’t know if it’s possible for a site to claim to be multiple Mastodon accounts, but it isn’t a general service the way that, say, Twitter was deciding on a list of verified accounts. Minh Nguyễn 💬 03:56, 3 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
So, I think it works like this (I couldn't access Mastodon from where I was yesterday). If your Mastodon profile links to a website, and the website links back to the same Mastodon account with a rel="me" attribute, then Mastodon will display that account profile to others with a "verified" checkmark on the website. And we had this all set up for a while for the account linking to enwp, until WMF un-verified the account. Correct? ☆ Bri (talk) 14:44, 3 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Essentially, yes. There’s some uncertainty about when the Mastodon instance or other Mastodon instances will actually notice that the account has been unverified, but long-term the verification does depend on the portal. Minh Nguyễn 💬 16:10, 3 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Is it OK with you if I condense this conversation and include it in News and notes with both of our names listed as author for the item? ☆ Bri (talk) 16:17, 3 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]
That’s fine with me, though note that the discussion is still ongoing with the Communications Department about Mastodon and this account in particular. Minh Nguyễn 💬 16:36, 3 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Graph extension

The Graph extension is used widely on Wikipedia to display charts and graphs of all sorts, as well as on sister projects, and even on non-Wikimedia sites – it's included in MediaWiki, so there are about 884 public sites using it.

What does "included in MediaWiki" mean here? HaeB (talk) 01:10, 29 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]

MediaWiki is the wiki software that provides the platform on which Wikipedia and sister projects run, as well as many other sites. Presumably the phrase means that the Graph extension is included in the standard release of MediaWiki. I suspect, though, that many sites that run on the MediaWiki platform do not make actual use of Graph.  --Lambiam 20:12, 29 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
means that the Graph extension is included in the standard release of MediaWiki...except it isn't though, which is probably why HaeB was asking. Legoktm (talk) 03:50, 30 April 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Most of those 884 are probably just wikimedia websites (and maybe miraheze, i don't know if they were using it, but they usually enable any extension wikimedia uses). Its certainly still a popular extension (Most extensions that wikipedia articles depend on are, as people often want to copy stuff from wikipedia), but the 884 number is very misleading without context. Bawolff (talk) 06:19, 3 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]


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