The Signpost
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21 January 2013

News and notes
Requests for adminship reform moves forward
WikiProject report
Say What? — WikiProject Linguistics
Featured content
Wazzup, G? Delegates and featured topics in review
Arbitration report
Doncram case continues
Technology report
Data centre switchover a tentative success


Requests for adminship reform moves forward

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By The ed17

The English Wikipedia's requests for adminship (RfA) process has entered another cycle of proposed reforms. Over the last three weeks, various proposals, ranging from as large as a transition to a representative democracy to as small as a required edit count and service length, have been debated on the RfA talk page.

RfA has had a complicated history, as even though the process has remained virtually unchanged since it was created in 2003, there have been unending attempts to change it. In June 2012, the Signpost reported in "Is the requests for adminship process 'broken'?" that:

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This assessment has not changed. Although six editors passed RfA in the month after the Signpost's story—which was more than half of the number promoted in the six preceding months—the total number of new administrators for 2012 was just 28, barely more than half of 2011's total and less than a quarter of 2009's total. The total number of unsuccessful RfAs has fallen as well. These declining numbers, which were described in what would now be considered a successful year (2010) as an emerging "wikigeneration gulf", have been coupled with a sharp decline in the number of active administrators since February 2008 (1,021), reaching a low of 653 in November 2012.

As a counterpoint to the English Wikipedia's situation vis-à-vis RfA, the Signpost examined the German Wikipedia's adminship promotion process in October. Community members there made major changes in 2009, introducing measures like an obligatory recall system and a settling-in period for new administrators. These "are credited with bringing about a relatively low RfA barrier and better admin–community relations. ... Administrators generally appear to be regarded as accountable for their actions."

While the English RfA has also gone through several periods of high-intensity attempts at reform, they have not had the same success at reforming the process. RfA reform 2011 was the largest such attempt, seeing thousands of kilobytes of text added through discussions and possible proposals. Another surge in June 2012 after the Signpost's report also sparked much discussion, but ended much faster.

The latest period of interest in RfA reform has been underway since late December, after comments by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales that he plans to use his reserve powers "to help put into place a community process for constitutional change in cases where we have tried and failed in getting somewhere in our traditional ways", and he specifically mentioned the adminship promotion process as a problem he wanted to help with. These "reserve powers" do not appear to be listed anywhere on-wiki aside from his nominal authority over the Arbitration Committee, which allows him to modify decisions in cases that do not involve him. In August 2009 (and far earlier), he described his role as constitutional monarch, which "mostly means I [Wales] wave at crowds and comport myself with dignity and set an example, and serve as a symbol."

Interest in a new RfC to tackle a range of RfA questions has been building since "RfC; The can stops here". Many such RfCs have failed in the past, and one, Clerks, has only 16 supports to 28 opposes at publishing time. Interestingly, opposing rationales in such RfCs are very diverse. As Worm That Turned, a coordinator of RfA2011, told the Signpost in June 2012, "Different people thought [RfA] was too hard, too easy, got the wrong candidates through, was too uncivil, had too many questions, could give votes without reasons, with [poor] reasons... there was a long list."

The current RfC on RfA reform was launched after a new, somewhat complicated proposal met with some support on the RfA talk page. It sees the RfC process itself as part of the reason that previous RfCs have failed, and attempts to address the problem by splitting it into a three-step process.

Dank, the originator of the proposal, said "... people have many different ideas about what 'the problem at RfA' is, and vote against any proposal which doesn't address 'the problem', so that any single-issue RfC gets heavy opposition right from the start. Also, RfCs tend to produce short, to-the-point responses, leaving us without enough information to figure out what a majority would be willing to vote in favor of." The current RfC starts with a week-long first round that asks voters to identify what they think the general problem with RfA is, and the second round will encourage Wikipedians who share the same view of the problem to work together on solutions. Assuming that no one view of the problem and no one solution dominates, the closers will attempt to craft a compromise position that offers something to everyone in the third round. If the compromise also fails, then Wales will be asked to offer his suggestions for a way forward.

In brief

The Italian Wikipedia passed the one million article mark this week.


Say What? — WikiProject Linguistics

WikiProject news
In a few words
Submit your project's news and announcements for next week's WikiProject Report at the Signpost's WikiProject Desk.
Engraving of The Confusion of Tongues with the Tower of Babel in the background

This week, we spent some time with WikiProject Linguistics. Started in January 2004, the project has grown to include 7 Featured Articles, 4 Featured Lists, 2 A-class Articles, and 15 Good Articles maintained by 43 members. The project's members keep an eye on several watchlists, maintain the linguistics category, and continue to build a collection of Did You Know? entries. The project is home to six task forces and works with WikiProject Languages and WikiProject Writing Systems. We interviewed Aeusoes1.

What motivated you to join WikiProject Linguistics? Do you have any special experience or training in linguistics? Have you contributed to any of the project's Featured or Good Articles?

Shortly after I got my BA in English, I decided to use my education to contribute to Wikipedia. I quickly found that my interest in linguistics (which I had minored in) dominated my edits. My membership in WikiProject Linguistics is an extension of that.
I contributed quite a bit to the diaphoneme article, motivated by the desire to explain and justify using the obscure concept that Help:IPA for English hinges on. I like to think that the resulting article has reduced the rate of linguists complaining at that our transcription of English words violates IPA principles.

How well are linguistics topics covered by Wikipedia? Are there any significant gaps in coverage?

In my experience, the two enemies to encyclopedic accuracy, POV and truthiness, have much fewer opportunities with language-related articles. There are a few outliers, such as politically-charged editors at African American Vernacular English and the original research creep at Non-native pronunciations of English. The biggest gap, on a language article by language article basis, might be more technical syntax-related content. I'm not very good with syntax, so I can't do it myself.

Is it difficult to describe the linguistic elements of languages other than English without turning the article into a how-to guide? How does the project prevent this?

Not usually, though I may be guilty of the opposite charge: writing in a way that is full of jargon and unhelpful prose to the uninitiated. One thing a user did that I thought was rather clever was the use of prose templates in the descriptions at articles covering individual sounds (bilabial nasal, voiceless pharyngeal fricative, etc). This way, the same features of different sounds can be described with the same language without an overly burdensome monitoring process.

What steps does the project take to ensure articles about complex linguistic concepts are easily accessible to the average reader? Where does the project draw the line between too simplified and too complicated?

I'm not sure. The only time I've encountered conflict over this issue was at Talk:Hawaiian phonology, but the issue was settled quickly when one editor was blocked for unrelated personal attacks.

Have you worked with any of the project's six task forces? What role do the task forces play in supporting the goals of WikiProject Linguistics?

The Phonetics task force used to be a separate WikiProject. My name's still signed under it, so I must still be part of it. I don't know what the difference is.

Does WikiProject Linguistics collaborate with any other projects?

I haven't seen project-level coordination, though I've noticed some prominent WP:LING contributors also active in astronomy-related articles.

What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new contributor help today?

It'd be nice if another phonology article got to FA status.

Next week, we'll play the greatest strategy game of all time. Until then, be a good pawn and read our old articles in the archive.

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Wazzup, G? Delegates and featured topics in review

This week, the Signpost's featured content section continues its recap of 2012 by looking at featured topics. We interviewed Grapple X and GamerPro64, who are delegates at the featured topic candidates.

Grapple X
Although 2012 regrettably saw several periods with little progress, with the welcome return of GamerPro64 we have seen several interesting topics promoted—in addition to the usual Wikipedia strong points of numismatics, military history and meteorology, the year has also been a strong one for music with topics promoted featuring a mezzo-soprano wunderkind and an Indonesian legend. Sport saw a strong showing, too, with both baseball and motorcycle racing seeing hugely comprehensive topics put through, which reflect the ability of FT to showcase vast spans of knowledge in surprisingly deep chunks. My personal favourite of our 2012 topics was also the year's least—a topic on the Armero tragedy reminded me that there's still room to encapsulate subjects that are entirely new to the process, and to use the idea of a topic to explore an event rather than something that obviously lends itself to the process like a series of lists or a serried history.

2012 was admittedly a slow year for both myself and Featured Topics. From my near-four-month vacation from the site to having delegates come and go, it was unfortunate that only twelve were promoted. But the ones that were promoted have shown hard work accomplished by the editors. Examples like Nickels of the United States and the Nebula Award topic had their respective articles and lists promoted by a single editor, which itself is a feat worth a congratulations. But the one topic I've been fascinated with since I came back is Chrisye, since its main article is in itself an interesting read. So for this year I hope that there will be an increase in Featured Topics and increased interest in the content.

Featured articles

John F. Bolt
Kevin Pietersen; a list of his centuries has been featured
Blue Pitta
Church of Saint Ildefonso
Judith Leyster

Seven featured articles were promoted this week:

  • James Bryant Conant (nom), by Hawkeye7. Conant (1893–1978) was a chemist, a transformative President of Harvard University, and the first U.S. Ambassador to West Germany. After finishing his undergraduate studies, he began work as a researcher and educator. By age 36 he had become a professor at Harvard University; four years later, he became its president, and began instituting reformist policies. He did research for the US government, including on the atom bomb, during World War II, and afterwards served as an ambassador.
  • John F. Bolt (nom), by Ed!. Bolt (1921–2004) was a US Marine Corps aviator and a decorated flying ace. Born to a poor family, he enrolled with the Marines after dropping out of college in 1941. He saw action in World War II in the Pacific, shooting down six enemy aircraft. In the Korean War, he downed another six enemy aircraft while serving as a flight leader. After the wars, Bolt continued to advise the military.
  • Maus (nom), by Curly Turkey. Maus is a graphic novel by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman, the first of its kind both to win a Pulitzer prize and receive academic attention. It depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, depicting each race as a different kind of animal. It was serialized from 1980 until 1991 as an insert in the magazine Raw.
  • Highway 61 Revisited (nom), by Mick gold and Moisejp. Highway 61 Revisited is a critically acclaimed 1965 rock album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. It was named after a highway near the singer's place of birth. Highway 61 Revisited reached the top ten in both the US and UK, and Dylan has continued to perform songs from the album. Rolling Stone ranked it fourth on their list of the Greatest Albums of All Time.
  • HMS Tiger (1913) (nom), by Sturmvogel 66. HMS Tiger was a battlecruiser of the Royal Navy during World War I. Described by Sir John Keegan as "certainly the most beautiful warship in the world then, and perhaps ever", the ship was launched in 1913. She first saw combat at the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915, while still in shakedown. In 1931 she was decommissioned and sold for scrap the following year.
  • Skye (nom), by Ben MacDui. Skye is a large and northerly island in Scotland. Inhabited since the Mesolithic period, as of 2003 it has a population of 9,232, with Portree as its largest settlement. The island, which radiates out from the Cuillins, is known for its tourism, agriculture, fishing and whisky-distilling and is accessible from mainland Scotland by bridge. It has abundant wildlife and a mild, wet and windy climate.
  • Columbian half dollar (nom), by Wehwalt. The Columbian half dollar is the first American commemorative coin and the first domestic coin to depict a historical person, Christopher Columbus. Issued by the Bureau of the Mint in 1892 and 1893, it was meant to raise funds for the World's Columbian Exposition and commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' trip to the New World. Some five million were struck, half of which were melted afterwards.

Featured lists

Five featured lists were promoted this week:

Featured pictures

Seventeen featured pictures were promoted this week:


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Doncram case continues

The opening of the Doncram case marks the end of almost 6 months without any open cases, the longest in the history of the Committee.

Open cases

Doncram (Week 2)

SarekOfVulcan filed the case last week in an attempt to remedy what he perceived as Doncram's continued unconstructive editing after the failure of previous community discussions and long-term bans. In his statement, he states that it was a combination of mass creation of unchecked content transferred from foreign databases, edit warring, refusal to work with editors due to personal grudges (in particular Orlady), mischaracterisation of other editors and their editing history and personal attacks which led to his filing the case. He also notes that while Doncram is a long-standing editor, he has had disputes with other editors over the content he produces and how he reacts to being challenged.

In his response, Doncram indicated his reluctance to come forward to the committee; however, he believes it is necessary in order to settle what he perceived as the uncivil behaviour Orlady and other editors have exhibited toward him. He goes on to criticise SarekOfVulcan for filing ANI reports with "inflammatory titles" which target him and requested that the case's title be altered to reflect the source of the contention: "long-term bullying and harassment."

He states that past ANI and AFD submissions, "other unpleasantness" and "attack pages" maintained by Orlady (presumably User:Orlady/List) contributed to the "battleground atmosphere." In particular, he named both Orlady and SarekOfVulcan as the "primary instigators of bullying." He believes that it is because he is a "prolific editor" not "unduly concerned" about criticism that he is targeted. Towards the latter part of his response, he called for an interaction ban for Orlady and the deletion of her "attack pages" and a similar remedy for SarekOfVulcan.

In response to Doncram's concerns, arbitrator AGK reassured him that the naming of the case has no bearing on the process of arbitration and because Doncram is linked to all the issues that it bears the eponym. Doncram responded by citing this comment made by Hammersoft as being evidence to the contrary. And despite assurances from AGK that the case would be dealt with in an unbiased fashion, he believes that those trained to overcome potential bias, and by extension, the drafting arbitrators are influenced by "anchoring and related psychological biases."

Evidence submissions close on the 24th. The workshop will be closed and proposed decisions posted on the 28th.

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Data centre migration successful

Switchover "a success"

Servers at the Ashburn data centre

On 22 January, WMF staff and contractors switched incoming, non-cached requests (including edits) to the Foundation's newer data centre in Ashburn, Virginia, making it responsible for handling almost all regular traffic. For the first time since 2004, virtually no traffic will be handled by the WMF's other facility in Tampa, Florida.

"Located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Ashburn offers faster and more reliable connectivity than Tampa, and usually fewer hurricanes", wrote Guillaume Paumier, the Foundation's Technical Communications Manager in a comprehensive blog post published before the switchover.

As of time of writing, the migration has been declared a success, with the two "backup" maintenance windows previously scheduled for later this week scrapped. Total editing downtime so far has been estimated at 30 minutes, with other smaller problems extending further. Overall, however, the migration seems to have been characterised by its praise-worthily minimal impact.

The data centre in Tampa will continue to be maintained as a "hot failover", with "servers ... in standby mode[, ready] to take over, should the primary site experience an outage. Server configuration and data will be synchronized between the two locations to ensure a transition as smooth as possible in case of technical difficulties in Ashburn", writes Paumier. Additionally, the Signpost understands that the Tampa data centre will continue to be used for image scaling in the short term, before that too is migrated to Ashburn. Across the two data centres, the Wikimedia Foundation currently operates a total of approximately 885 servers, serving around 20 billion page views a month.

First Quarterly Review makes for interesting reading

The E3 team presented the outcomes from their last three months to senior managers this week, in the first of a series of quarterly reviews.

On 19 December, WMF Deputy Director Erik Möller committed the Foundation to holding quarterly reviews of all its major engineering projects, including the Visual Editor, Mobile, Echo and Flow projects. First up, however, was the Editor Engagement Experiments (E3) team, who held their review last week. That meeting included both the E3 team itself, as well as senior managers at the Foundation (Executive Director Sue Gardner, Director of Features Engineering Terry Chay, and Erik himself), with the draft transcript giving an interesting insight into a world that can often appear to community members as inherently homogeneous.

The report phase of the meeting makes for mixed reading. Although all of the E3 team's projects – post-edit feedback, improving the account creation process, "Onboarding" (giving new users more information on possible editing tasks), and a campaign targeted at donors – appeared in some sense successful, none has yet been able to make a sizeable dent into the English Wikipedia's editor decline. Onboarding showed the most promise, with an unconfirmed 30% increase in users making an edit to mainspace within 24 hours of registering (21.7% vs. 16.5%); a newer project, looking at the provision of "guided tours" (walkthroughs) of the site, was also discussed. The analysis phase focussed on the balance between foundational and user-facing work, the lack of integration between the E3 and E2 teams (i.e. Echo and Flow), and the extent to which gains in terms of "1+ edit" users translated into increases in the numbering of returning editors. There was also disagreement about whether the E3 team was focussed tightly enough on the active editors brief.

The Visual Editor and Mobile projects (including mobile editing and Wikipedia Zero subprojects) are both scheduled to be reviewed in February, although the exact format of the review may be tweaked between then and now.

In brief

Not all fixes may have gone live to WMF sites at the time of writing; some may not be scheduled to go live for several weeks.

  • First Wikidata client launch fares well: The first deployment of the Wikidata to the Hungarian Wikipedia was a success, its team says. The Wikidata client, the function of which at the moment is to make decentralised language links obsolete, launched on the wiki on 14 January (see previous Signpost coverage). Although several bugs have since been reported, they were of a minor nature, says Lydia Pintscher, Wikidata's community liaison; further deployments – to the Hebrew and Italian Wikipedias – remain pencilled in for 30 January.
  • WMF begin hiring process for Toolserver migration contractor: The Wikimedia Foundation has begun its search for a contractor to help oversee the potentially contentious migration of tools from the Wikimedia Deutschland-run Toolserver to the in-house Wikimedia Labs (see also previous Signpost coverage). The full time contractor – who will be contracted for some 840 hours of work in total – will focus on "assisting community developers to migrate their tools to this new Labs infrastructure, especially those residing in Toolserver today", but should also be prepared to help improve and support the Labs platform to ensure the migration runs smoothly (official job posting).

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