The Signpost
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18 July 2011

News and notes
WMF Annual plan; Article Feedback tool; university outreach; brief news
In the news
Fine art; surreptitious sanitation; the politics of kyriarchic marginalization; brief news
WikiProject report
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Featured content
Historic last launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour; Teddy Roosevelt's threat to behead official; 18th-century London sex manual
Arbitration report
Motion passed to amend 2008 case: topic ban and reminder
Technology report
Code Review backlog almost zero; What is: Subversion?; brief news


WMF Annual plan; Article Feedback tool; university outreach; brief news

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By Tilman Bayer, Pigsonthewing, Rock drum, Sarah Stierch, Skomorokh, and Tom Morris

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Fine art; surreptitious sanitation; the politics of kyriarchic marginalization; brief news

Fine art and Wikimedia

This week, the Foundation's Jimmy Wales, Jay Walsh and Liam Wyatt were interviewed for FineArtViews, a blog that describes itself as covering "Selling Art, Marketing, Inspiration & Fine Living". The interview, led by blogger Brian Sherwin, touched on a number of topics, including the notability of artists, the difficulty of applying reliable source-based rules to cultures where artists have little or no access to the Internet, and the ever-present issue of copyright law. Many of Sherwin's questions focused on specific criticisms of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia movement, including references to "deletion debates" that Sherwin had personally observed.

Sherwin's other questions focused on Wikipedia's general role within the art world, to which Wales gave his view that "the art community should welcome the Wikipedia community ... [it] serves a major role in bringing art to the public". Wikipedia's co-founder was also asked to comment on criticisms that Wikipedia articles on artists were "dull", to which he replied that "Wikipedia is not an art magazine. It is a place for encyclopedic writing", but one that did "not prohibit nor inhibit interesting and lively writing". In his final statement, Wales added that he hoped readers of big name artists' articles "will be inspired to explore other artists who are not so famous".

Sumana Harihareswara on the kyriarchy inherent in the system

Sumana Harihareswara, Wikimedia Foundation volunteer development coordinator and geek feminist

Wikimedia Foundation volunteer development coordinator Sumana Harihareswara was interviewed by independent feminist broadcaster Bitch Radio on issues concerning gender, reader engagement and social justice within Wikimedia and the broader open source community. Discussing the issues raised concerning the difficult environments Wikimedia communities can be for women, and for those with little technological fluency to contribute (see previous Signpost coverage), Harihareswara stressed the impact of unintentional barriers to participation as opposed to intentional hostility from established contributors.

The Foundation's intention to extend the movement's coverage in the Global South was highlighted as an important social justice initiative, stressing the need to empower local communities to develop the content relevant to their culture in their own languages. Harihareswara tied the Foundation's work in usability improvements and facilitating the reading and editing of Wikimedia projects on mobile phones as a key step in advancing the Global South initiative, pointing out that computer-based broadband access, so common in the Western world, was far rarer in places like Africa and the Indian subcontinent relative to Internet-accessible mobile phones.

I think it’s fairly obvious that these are generally good things: truthfulness, meritocracy. But when practiced by people unaware of their own privileges, race privilege, class privilege, male privilege, and so on, you run into situations like a person practicing a kind of bluntness and insensitivity and misreading it to themselves as honesty. You see honesty unleavened by sensitivity, compassion, or mentorship. And you might see people defining merit very narrowly, because the things they’re good at specifically may be the thing that they value, and they would find any other kind of contribution scornworthy and find themselves dismissive of it without even realizing what they’re doing.

— Sumana Harihareswara

The interview progressed to a discussion of the prevalence in open source communities of kyriarchy, a concept in feminist theory which extends the analysis of oppression of women in patriarchy to all forms of oppression of marginalized people. While praising many values of open source communities such as honesty and openness, Harihareswara maintained that lack of diversity often leads to a "layer of blindness and privilege" that proves an obstacle to broader participation. Harihareswara stressed the necessity of an open platform inviting all to contribute, a technologically facilitated meritocracy, saying that "an attitude of hospitality and accessibility in the way that you do things; if the default is open rather than closed, is welcoming rather than intimidating, then it makes a different world". The interview ended on an upbeat note, with Harihareswara asked to give advice to a Wikipedia newcomer and re-iterating in response the virtue of the open meritocratic model: "Be bold, and know that because Wikipedia is about individuals, you have as much right to be there as any jerk who you might run into. And if you make useful edits and contribute, you will gain reputation, and you will have made the world a better place."

BBC warns staff off whitewashing

In their newly released social media guidelines (PDF), the British Broadcasting Corporation counselled staff not to "surreptitiously sanitise Wikipedia pages about the BBC". British newspaper The Telegraph noted that the new guidelines follow revelations that BBC employees had anonymously edited the Criticism of the BBC article in order to remove references to an internal report in which the corporation was described as being thought of as "out of touch with large swathes of the population".

Despite not being a for-profit, the broadcaster had also made headlines in 2005 for appearing to have attempted to use the encyclopaedia as part of a marketing campaign for an alternate reality game (see previous Signpost coverage). The new rules come at a time when the BBC is looking to restore a perception of trust among the British public after it was hit by damaging revelations over the amount it pays its big name stars.

In brief

Actor Matthew Lewis, interviewed this week after the release of the final Harry Potter film, in which he plays Neville Longbottom, said that he wished his Wikipedia portrait (pictured) was of a higher quality.


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WikiProject news
News in brief
Submit your project's news and announcements for next week's WikiProject Report at the Signpost's WikiProject Desk.
WikiProject Spam engaging spammers off the coast of Wikiland
The project awards the Anti-Spam Barnstar (pictured) and the Spamstar of Glory to editors who fight valiantly against spammers
This is what spammers look like after WikiProject Spam is through with them

This week, we spent some time with WikiProject Spam. The project describes itself as a "voluntary Spam-fighting brigade" which seeks to eliminate the three types of Wikispam: advertisements masquerading as articles, external link spam, and references that serve primarily to promote the author or the work being referenced. WikiProject Spam applies policies regarding what Wikipedia is not and guidelines for external links. The project received some help in February 2007 when the English Wikipedia tagged external links as "NOFOLLOW", preventing search engines from indexing external links and limiting the incentive for many spammers to use Wikipedia as a search engine optimization tool. The project maintains outreach strategies, detailed steps for identifying and removing spam, a variety of search tools, several bots for detecting spam, and a big red button to report spam and spammers. The project was started by Jdavidb in September 2005 and has grown to include 371 members. One of the project's most active members, MER-C, agreed to show us around.

How much time do you typically devote each week to fighting spam?

I find the time commitment required for anti-spam work to be extremely variable. Monitoring the IRC feed isn't particularly taxing; and it isn't too difficult to clean up a few possible copyright problems, edit a few articles or perform non-WP related work or leisure concurrently.

WikiProject Spam is the most active project by edits (including bots) and the second most watched project on Wikipedia. What accounts for this high activity and interest by the Wikipedia community?

This is an illusion. 98% of those edits are from User:COIBot, a spam reporting bot. The remaining 2% are to the project's talk page, which serves as a noticeboard for reporting spam campaigns. A good chunk of the edits to the talk page are from a handful of anti-spam specialists. I can't explain the number of watchers though.

What type of wikispam do you come across most often? Do you use any special tools to detect spam or do you simply remove spam you notice while reading and editing articles?

While reading articles and cleaning out the spam contained within haphazardly works, it doesn't address the cause of the problem. I target the spammers themselves, i.e. identifying domains owned by the spammer and systematically removing spammed links to said domains. To do it properly requires heavy use of tools beyond the usual contribution analysis:
I target external link additions, so I encounter vanilla external link spam most frequently. The most annoying and widespread spam campaigns, however, involve multiple spam tactics. That said, I've noticed the following recent spam trends -- note the tendency towards avoiding scrutiny from RC patrollers:

Have you had any heated conversations with spammers after removing spam from an article? What are some strategies you've used to resolve these conflicts?

Personal attacks, edit warring and vandalism are surefire ways to expedite blacklisting of the spammer's sites. A couple of months ago, I dealt with a spammer who edit warred to include links to his website. He responded by vandalising my userpage, and so the relevant sites were promptly blacklisted. Apart from a bad faith delisting request, we haven't heard from them since. This is typical; blacklisting is a very effective way of removing spammers from Wikipedia. (Unlike blocks, blacklisting requires money to evade—the spammer needs to purchase new Internet domains.)

Has your experience fighting spam resulted in any humorous stories? Have you heard any amusing excuses and special pleading from spammers trying to defend their edits?

See Wikipedia:Grief for details on the usual routine of spammers.

Next week, we'll look at the social construct of naming a rose a "rose". Until then, think deep thoughts in the archive.

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Historic last launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour; Teddy Roosevelt's threat to behead official; 18th-century London sex directory

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Motion passed to amend 2008 case: topic ban and reminder

This week, the Arbitration Committee opened no new cases, and closed one case. One case is currently open.

Open case

MickMacNee (Week 5)

(See earlier Signpost coverage for the background to this case.) An additional 4 kilobytes was submitted in on-wiki evidence.

Closed case

Tree shaping (Week 12)

See last week's Signpost coverage for a summary of the case, the effect of the decision, and what it tells us.


  • Betacommand 2: at the conclusion of this case in 2008, a remedy was passed noting that the Committee expected that the disputes and disruption underlying the case would cease. The remedy also noted that in the event of non-compliance, or a continued pattern of disputes, the Committee would feel it necessary to impose sanctions. Pursuant to the remedy, and mindful of the recent and current disputes surrounding the user in many fora, the committee indefinitely topic-banned Δ (formerly known as Betacommand) from making any edit enforcing the non-free content criteria, broadly construed. User:Δ was also formally reminded of the civility restriction and other terms of the provisional suspension of the user's community ban, which remain in force.

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Code Review backlog almost zero; What is: Subversion?; brief news

Code Review push nears zero

The process of reviewing all those revisions set to be part of the latest version of MediaWiki, 1.18, is drawing to a close, at least numerically. Data published this week show that the number of unchecked and potentially problematic revisions has fallen from a high of 1500 to under 100. Given that these are likely to be large, difficult to check revisions, a new page has been created on to list those that still need to be checked for errors. As of time of writing, some 90 revisions are listed, divided into several categories based on priority.

Despite this prioritisation of reviewing, developer Robert Lanphier emphasised in a post to the wikitech-l mailing list that zero remained the target, writing that "we want to get through everything anyway... we're all looking forward to seeing this list shrink to zero". After the code review backlog is substantially reduced, 1.18 will undergo a period of being tested for bugs, before being pushed live to Wikimedia wikis. It is unlikely to be made available to external sites in packaged form until it has demonstrated its stability on Wikimedia wikis.

What is: Subversion?

Subversion (full name Apache Subversion but usually shortened to simply "SVN") is the software that handles the collaborative development of MediaWiki. By and large, it handles this in much the same way as contributing to a wiki; developers grab copies of the files they want to edit from a central repository, change them, and then "commit" their changes back to the central repository. (Developers can also get edit conflicts; Subversion provides only basic protection against them and this is one of the reasons why a move to software seen as more conflict friendly, such as Git, has been suggested in the past—for context, see previous Signpost coverage: 1, 2.)

A simple Subversion workflow where each number is one "commit" (note that Wikimedia does not currently use tags, only branches)

The nature of Subversion ultimately defines the current development workflow for MediaWiki in many key respects. The majority of coding is done on local copies of the bleeding edge "trunk" code, but Subversion also allows for a process known as "branching", where elements within the repository are duplicated, allowing for a developer to choose to which copy his or her changes are applied. As a general rule, new features will continue to be added to trunk, whilst bug fixes will end up in both branch and trunk code. This process allows for the branch to "bake": that is, to become free of bugs by maintaining a fixed feature set. These branches, when stable, then form MediaWiki releases.

As of time of writing, 1.18 is currently baking; on 18 July it was re-branched from trunk, whilst a branch made some three months was renamed and put on hold. 1.18 will therefore take advantage of the ongoing improvements in the stability of trunk code; if 1.19 is still to be branched soon, it would therefore be more of a stability rather than a feature-oriented release. A second strategy would be to delay 1.19 to allow for new features to be incorporated before release.

In brief

  • Wikimedia Commons and other projects have been hit by a series of problems relating to the caching of thumbnails. Filed as bug #28613, the problems have left thumbnails appearing out of date, even those provided on file description pages themselves.
  • The Wikimedia Foundation blog carried a post to coincide with the start of the rollout of the ArticleFeedback extension to all articles on the English Wikipedia, as noted by the Signpost last week. It looked at some early findings and recent developments in the available functions.
  • WMF contractor Sumana Harihareswara proposed installing the "Splinter" Bugzilla extension to allow proposed patches to be reviewed more easily (wikitech-l mailing list). The Volunteer Development Coordinator also posted about the talks she had attended during her WMF-funded trip to the Open Source Bridge conference held in Oregon, United States. A more comprehensive list was given on her blog.
  • With the resolution of bug #29938, the MediaWiki API will now return the correct user groups for a given user, rather than assuming they are, for example, autoconfirmed.
  • Lead Software Architect Brion Vibber blogged about some early stage development work he is doing on a new MediaWiki parser and its technical demands.
  • The MoodBar extension will be trialled with new users this week. It will allow them to submit short statements whenever Wikipedia makes them "Happy" or "Sad", explaining what caused their change in mood. Its current prototype is similar to that of a button provided to testers of Mozilla Firefox, but expected to develop over time (more software deployments).
  • MediaWiki's packaged version of the jQuery JavaScript library was upgraded from 1.6.1 to 1.6.2 to take advantage of a number of bugfixes and performance issues (bug #29773).
  • The Foundation's Annual Plan included a commitment to increase read-uptime from 99.8% to 99.85% within the next year. Both figures are substantially lower than the informal targets referred to in the past by outgoing CTO Danese Cooper, but the change nonetheless represents 25% less downtime for readers.

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