Monday, July 30, 2007

Much Furor about SlimVirgin

By now basically everyone has heard about the allegations that SlimVirgin is a spy. I'm not going to comment a whole lot on the evidence; if you want to review it, please do so. The thing I find interesting is the way in which Jayjg confirmed the rumors in an reply to a question I asked him back in June 2006 inquiring about his oversighting of every edit ever made by SlimV (SlimVirgin's prior account). I'm not at liberty to share the email -- it was on the super-secret arbcom-l mailing list that we all swore in blood never to reveal anything from, and I'm not ready to burn that bridge quite yet -- but on rereading Jay's response to my inquiry I'm quite convinced that he was blowing smoke then and is doing so now. The exact details of the rumors that are spreading like wildfire now may not be accurate, but I'd be totally unsurprised to find out that SlimVirgin is somehow connected to the the Flight 103 bombings. Why else would she have all of her edits to such topics disappeared?

What amuses me most about all this is how amateurishly done this has been. Jayjg's hamhanded attempts to protect his friend have actually done a great deal to draw attention to it. Jimbo and the rest of the ArbCom concluded that Jay's use of oversight back then was appropriate, but really it quite obviously was not. The horse was long gone from the barn at that point; while the content of the edits may be hard or impossible to find at this point (the edits were deleted before being oversighted, which means they're not in any of the dumps) the edit summaries and the articles edited are still very much available. So instead of proof we can only speculate, but suggestive evidence combined with an obviously hamhanded coverup will tend to convince most people. Jay's problem is that he's not as smart as he thinks he is. And while Jimbo's got his back for now, that'll evaporate if public opinion goes the wrong way. Just look at what happened to Essjay.

Fascinating stuff. I hear Jimbo's gone to bat for Slim on this one; it'll be interesting to see whether he has to eat his words again or not.

Update: Someone attempted to start a discussion on the administrator's noticeboard of this situation, but it has been suppressed by Proabivouac, whoever that is. Some people just never learn. SlimVirgin, a little advice: the only way out of this situation is to abandon your account. This drama will surround you indefinitely; the only way for it to end is for you to start completely fresh with a new one. You won't be able to suppress all discussion of this indefinitely, and the more you try the more people will be convinced of the truth of the allegations. You've made this bed; now you must sleep in it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Eating in Portage Park

If you happen to find yourself wandering about in Portage Park, I cannot help but recommend the Meisa Cafe on Irving Park Road. I had an excellent hunter's steak there (ribeye with mushrooms and onions in what I am pretty sure is a yogurt-based sauce). Their bread is absolutely wonderful, and they have good coffee too.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Name three countries larger in area than the United States

I occasionally look at the analytics for my blog to see how people are getting here. About a quarter of my traffic comes from search engines. It's amusing to see what search terms people are using when they find my blog. Most of the top ones are people searching for my blog either by my name or by the name of the blog, although quite a lot of people got here by searching for "wikimedia election" or some similar variant. Not all that surprising.

However, some of the lower-frequency terms are more amusing. I"ve gotten 9 hits on "caramel bugles" (and 2 more for "bugles caramel") after I blogged about them a few weeks ago. Quite a few come from searches for "Jayjg", "SlimVirgin", or "CharlotteWeb"; obviously there's a few people out there cruising for drama that pass through here. "Kat martin porn" is also responsible for five hits; I'm a bit creeped out by that. Three people got here by searching for "sorry for the delay"; I'm curious just who would search for that phrase. There's been a few for things similar to "disease from chewing too much", which has to do with some MMORPG gaming clan that apparently coined a nonsense definition and goes around stuffing it in places that don't really want it. But the one that made me write this article was the person who searched for "name three countries larger in size than the united states".

Wikipedia actually has the answer to this one, although you have to process the data a bit. It turns out that there may or may not be three countries larger in area than the United States, depending mainly on your attitudes toward India's government. If you live in India, or favor India's territorial claims, there are only two countries larger than the United States: Russia and Canada. Otherwise, there's three: Russia, Canada, and China. It seems that China is only larger than the United States if you include some territories that are generally counted as part of China but which India claims as Indian territory; excluding those territories makes China slightly smaller than the United States. As a result, the Wikipedia list I linked to above has a joint entry for 3rd and 4th place, listing both China and the United States for that position.

I can only assume the individual doing that search was using Google to do her homework. I wonder if they discovered that the answer to her question was more complicated than she probably expected. And I wonder how her teacher would have reacted to being told "it depends on what position you take in world political affairs". It definitely goes to show that even apparently simple questions are often not nearly as simple as they appear.

I also noticed, looking at that list, that Canada is much less larger than the United States than I always thought. I suppose that's the impact of the Mercator projection; the Mercator projection distorts land masses that are close to the poles, making them appear larger. This tends to make Canada (and Russia) appear larger than they really are.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

How not to get free content

Once upon a time, some years ago, a now-defunct communist regime sent some space probes to visit a planet not far from here. Those probes gathered some very interesting images, albeit with some quality issues, due to the rather difficult conditions in which the probes operated.

Some years later, a computer programmer, one Don P. Mitchell, applied his apparently not insignificant skills at image processing to improve the quality of these images. He published these images on a website of his own, with copyright reserved to himself. Subsequently to that, some other person uploaded some of those images to Wikipedia, disregarding the fact that Mr. Mitchell's license is not compatible with Wikipedia's licensing requirements. Someone else noticed that Don Mitchell actually had a user account and actually edits Wikipedia, and pointed out to him that the images had been uploaded and that the license wasn't suitable for continued inclusion. This led to Mr. Mitchell offering them to be used "on Wikipedia, for non-commercial use". Of course, this isn't consistent with Wikipedia's licensing policy.

Here's where the cart went off the rails: instead of being asked to license the images under one of the licenses that Wikipedia recognizes as free, Mr. Mitchell was given the impression that the only choice he had was to release them to the public domain. He was unwilling to do so (a perfectly reasonable position). The original correspondent then offered that they could be used as "fair use" (even those this is also inconsistent with Wikipedia's image use policies), and so no further discussion was had. This unfortunate state of affairs is where the issue left off until last week.

Last week, Danny Wool noticed that the images were being used as fair use without a legitimate fair use justification (and, really, there isn't one: there's a perfectly valid free substitute, the original unimproved Venera images, which are in the public domain) and removed them from the Venus article, and the images were subsequently deleted as orphaned nonfree content.

Mr. Mitchell is a retired researcher, having previously worked for Bell Labs and Microsoft Labs. His blog is actually quite interesting, covering a number of interesting topics (at least to me). He also appears to have had papers published by the ACM; it's evident to me that this guy is highly knowledgeable in several interesting areas and is exactly the sort of person who should be encouraged to edit Wikipedia. The fact that he continues to do so even after not only this incident, but also the kneejerk deletion of the article about him (which he did not create), is a testament to his patience -- or at least his resistance to drama. (See his talk page for more details.)

I sincerely hope that Mr. Mitchell isn't chased away by this, and I also hope that we can arrange for him to release his work under a free license like the GFDL. It would be a shame if the incompetence of these other editors chases away a valuable contributor such as him.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Peace, love, and progress, but not free content

Recently, Erik Moeller proposed that the Commons should allow Flash playback of Wikimedia Commons content. This proposal, which appears to have come out of a meeting Erik had with some Mozilla and bigwigs, is typical of Erik's proposals: it compromises the foundational principles of Wikimedia in exchange for increasing the number of organizations with which Erik has influence. In this case, it would create a relationship between Erik and (because Wikimedia would discontinue hosting video media on Commons in favor of hosting it at that would tend to increase Erik's apparent importance in the free content universe. However, the proposal also completely ignores that Flash is not a free content medium: Flash is encumbered by multiple patents (at least one of which, the MP3 patent, makes it simply illegal for the Commons to distribute the content without acquiring an expensive license).

Greg Maxwell has already written a very good response to Erik's proposal. There has been in place, for quite some time now, a Java-based, fully free Ogg Theora player for Wikimedia content, which has been used quite a lot by Wikipedia readers. This mechanism was implemented by Greg using the toolserver and is well-accepted with a successful penetration level approaching, if not exceeding, that of the Flash solution that Erik is backing, while at the same time not relying on any patent-encumbered technologies. Greg also points out that moving Wikimedia content to and depending on them breaks Wikimedia as a standalone solution. Collaboration is one thing; dependency is quite another.

The main problem here is that Erik is once again pursuing his personal interests instead of the Foundation's interests. The Foundation's interest is in gathering free content. In order to be free, the content must not be encumbered by copyright, but it must also not be encumbered by restrictive encoding patents. MP3s are not permitted on Wikimedia because the MP3 format is not free (and also because the Wikimedia Foundation does not have the required license to distribute MP3s). The same situation exists with Flash (in fact, entirely, because Flash 8 only supports MP3 audio, which means distributing Flash 8 content requires an MP3 distributor's license). However, Erik's interest here has nothing to do with free content. It has to do with building Erik's power network. If Erik is successful in this proposal, he will have established a connection between himself, and at the very least, Brewster Kahle's, which is widely regarded as an important player in the free content universe. And that's what Erik wants here: to be more important in the free content universe. I don't think Erik really cares that much about free content by itself; he is just using it as a vehicle to make himself important.

Don't get me wrong: I like Brewster and I like what he's doing with, but they're not about free content. They're simply about content. basically ignores copyright and patent law entirely, following them only when forced to by lawyers. That's fine, that's how they work, and I'm not bothered by that. But what they do doesn't support free content; in some ways it actually diminishes it (why create free content when equivalent nonfree content is available from Their interests are not Wikimedia's interests, although there are certainly common areas. The possibility for synergies may well exist, but this particular issue isn't one of them.

It's interesting that when Greg presented Erik with actual data regarding the use of the existing solution, Erik rejects it and demands a pointless and intrusive survey instead, and furthermore declares that the existing solution is worthless if a majority of Africans are unable to view the video with the current solution. It's quite clear that Erik is grasping at straws to save his idea, instead of accepting that his proposal lacks merit. If he was a sensible person, he would simply admit that his idea doesn't stand up after examination of the facts. But he doesn't, and he won't, because that doesn't suit his real purpose here, which is to advance his own importance, at whatever cost.

In short, Erik is once again proposing to compromise Wikimedia's principles for his own personal glory, to solve a problem that does not exist. How predictably Erik.

Update: See Erik mercilessly attack Greg here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wikimedia election results

So, the elections are over; the winners were Erik, Kat, and Frieda. Most of you probably know this by now. I had originally projected that Erik would win and that the other two would be chosen from Kat, Oscar, Michael Snow, Danny, Yann, and Frieda, but that I could not narrow it down more closely than that. What's interesting is that while Erik's and Kat's margins were quite large, the competition for the third seat was quite close, with fully five candidates (Frieda, Oscar, Michael Snow, and Danny) all within 100 votes of one another.

None of the candidates has a mandate; Erik's percentage of support was lower this time than it was last time and obviously Frieda's tiny margin of victory over Oscar demonstrates that her election is "but by the grace of God". That incumbency did not give Oscar enough votes to be reelected is something of a condemnation of his tenure, especially when Erik and Kat both clearly benefited from their incumbencies.

Fears that the Board might repudiate the results did not materialize, although that's not all that surprising as the one candidate that certain loud people were so upset about did not quite get enough votes. There are clearly several people who are still upset about Greg's get-out-the-vote campaign, although my impression is that most people think it was a reasonable act, and I expect that the election committee will be expected to do this next time around. In general, the election was poorly planned and poorly communicated; the main problems seem to have been trying to do things on too compressed a timetable, and a general lack of communication from the EC and the Board about the election (which, given that this is the Wikimedia Foundation we're talking about, is not in the least bit surprising).

My advice for the next election:
  • Change from approval voting to some form of preference voting. Approval voting is easily gamed, and broadly misunderstood especially when multiple seats are up for election. Preference voting is more likely to yield results that reflect the true intents of the electorate, in my opinion. (However, there is a risk of preference voting making the cost of voting high enough to significantly discourage voting.)

  • Formally and officially invite all eligible voters personally to participate in the election, using direct communication. Do not rely on broadcast announcements.

  • Allow more time between the close of nominations and the start of voting. The short timeframe did not give voters much time to digest all the information that was generated by the nomination and questioning process; I suspect many voters voted based almost entirely on name recognition.

  • Spend more time on planning and preparation in advance of the start of the voting process. Perhaps this will avoid a repeat of some of the unfortunate events that happened during this election due to sloppy planning and poor communication.
As to the impact on the Foundation: I personally considered Oscar to be the most useless and least competent of the members of the board. I do not know Frieda well, and didn't learn much about her from her candidacy page, but I imagine she cannot be worse than Oscar, and so will probably be something of an improvement. I suppose time will tell in that regard. It's pretty clear to me that she won on the basis of popularity (although her pretty breasts I'm sure also helped some). Otherwise, Kat and Erik are returning, and I think we pretty much know what we're getting with them. So overall I don't think there's too much of a change there. Business as usual. The only question at this point, really, is whether Erik will keep this time any of the campaign promises he made last time. I'm not counting on it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Transparency in dealing with volunteers

As many of the people who read the blog know, I have in the past been an OTRS responder. And while I have not been terribly active there of late, I do occasionally consult on tickets on request. A couple weeks ago, I was asked to consult on a ticket, only to discover that I wasn't able to log in. I assumed that I had merely forgotten my password (or even username) and told the person asking for advice that I couldn't seem to log in at the moment. The other day, though, I was looking through old mail folders and noticed that the folder I have my mail system sort notices from OTRS into stopped receiving mails on June 25th. That wouldn't have been the result of my inability to remember my password; rather, it meant that my account had been shut out of the system.

I'm not really bothered that my account was shut down. Ive made it clear that I'm not actively volunteering, and I did unsubscribe from the private otrs-en-l mailing list that I suppose is mandatory for OTRS responders (although if it is I don't recall any such policy) when I unsubscribed from all mailing lists. However, the timing was suspicious: my account was shut down mere hours after I broke the Sue Gardner story (the one that prompted Erik Moeller to chide me for "spreading rumors"). So I did some quiet asking of people who I knew to be OTRS admins: was my account disabled, and if so, by whom and why? The fact that it had been shut down without notice bothered me, and the timing certainly seemed suspicious.

Unfortunately, asking around didn't get me any answer. I spoke to three different OTRS admins, none of whom could do more than tell me that my account was disabled. At this point, I emailed Michael Snow and Florence Devouard, in their respective roles of chair of the Communications Committee, which supposedly oversees OTRS, and chair of the Board. Florence got back to me quickly to tell me that my access was not removed by any Board action, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. Somewhat later, Cary Bass IMed me to explain that he had terminated my access and apologizing for not having told me. The reason he gave was my unsubscription from the mailing list, which I still don't fully accept as I did that two weeks previous (on June 11th). I still have lingering doubts about the timing; the fact that it was around an hour after I broke a major news item certainly raised the spectre of recriminations, or at least of a misbegotten belief that I had obtained my information through abuse of my OTRS access.

That my access wasn't terminated is not the issue. The issue is that I wasn't warned that it would be terminated, asked if I wanted it to be terminated, or even so much as told that it had been terminated. This failure to communicate is symptomatic of the near-total lack of transparency that permeates the Foundation. There simply is not a culture of openness within the Foundation; people are used to doing things "quietly" and simply are not in the habit of letting people know that things have been done. It's a cultural problem within the Foundation, one which has become quite deeply entrenched and is not likely to change easily. Small wonder that Erik has had such a hard time changing the Foundation's transparency practices.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More on a Wikimedia US Chapter

A while ago, I promised to explain why I think state-level organization of Wikimedia chapters in the US is a bad idea, and to offer my thoughts on what the proper trajectory should be. And so, here we are.

As I previously noted, Delphine mandated state-level organization for Wikimedia chapters in the United States, although no really solid reason was given. What I haven't seen said by anyone except possibly Gerard is that the agreement between each chapter and the Foundation grants exclusive marketing rights to the chapter within its geographic region, which necessitates that chapters have well-defined geographic regions that don't overlap. (You can't give exclusive rights to two different entities in the same region, obviously.) Delphine obviously gravitated to states because states are well-defined, nonintersecting, and exhaust the United States (disregarding the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the various other outlying territories, the exact details of which Delphine is likely unaware of). However, state divisions aren't really that well suited for the purpose at hand.

I listed three main purposes for a chapter in my previous post: tax-exempt fundraising, exploitation of the Wikimedia marks, and social organization. There is a fourth reason I did not mention: influence brokering. Chapter leadership, and especially chapter presidents, have a very high level of access to the Wikimedia Foundation; therefore, creating a chapter has historically been a pathway to power at the Foundation level. Note that two chapter presidents have gone on to be Wikimedia board members. Of these four purposes, the first three tend to create reasons to favor or disfavor specific partitionings of a target population. In Europe, the first two have strongly militated toward national divisions, because both of them are driven by considerations of jurisdiction. Having a chapter cross national boundaries in Europe will require the chapter to interact with multiple inconsistent legal systems and will quite likely defeat, or at least make quite difficult, obtaining tax-free status in all of the countries in which it has a legal presence. The third also tends to militate toward national boundaries. National boundaries in Europe (with some notable exceptions) tend to follow cultural and ethnic divisions to a greater or lesser degree, and so the national boundaries also serve as reasonable social boundaries.

Contrast this to the situation in the United States. As mentioned in my previous post, tax exemption is irrelevant because the WMF is already tax-exempt in the United States, and it is unlikely that the WMF will grant exclusive marketing rights to a US chapter or any chapter representing a subordinate region of the United States. Furthermore, legal systems in the United States, while not totally uniform, are far more uniform from state to state within the United States than they are from nation to nation in Europe. An organization legally organized in one state will typically only have relatively minor paperwork to complete in order to operate in another state; therefore, operating "across state lines" is not particularly challenging, and so these factors, which are already diluted by the special circumstance of being in the same country as the WMF, also only militate weakly toward a state-by-state organization. And the third factor, the far more powerful social factor, militates against state-by-state organization in favor of a more organic metropolitian-area organization.

To a large degree, state boundaries in the United States are arbitrary; they were drawn in many cases by people who hadn't even seen where they were (leading to quite a few interesting border disputes when it turned out that the boundary definition made no sense because of survey errors or other misunderstandings of geographic reality). In addition, the relatively uniform laws in the country, and special factors such as the Interstate Privileges and Immunities Clause, have made crossing state lines for virtually any purpose a relatively trivial matter for most of the nation's history. Many urbanizations have developed near state boundaries, and the urbanized area of many cities cross state lines. Social networking tends to follow urban area boundaries far more consistently than they do state lines. It's actually easier for me (living as I do in suburban Cook County, Illinois) to travel to northern Indiana, southern Wisconsin, or even southern Michigan than to travel to Springfield, Illinois. And that's nothing in comparison to California or Texas. Someone who lives in Houston would find Mobile, Alabama (which isn't even in an adjoining state) a shorter drive than they would El Paso. Someone who lives in Merrilville, Indiana would likely find a Chicago group to be "more their style" than they would an Indianapolis group, not to mention a shorter drive. I could go on and on listing places where culturally and socially distinct populations in the United States cross state boundaries, but I think I've made my point.

So, given that social factors militate away from state organization and toward a more organic metro-area organization, and that legal and economic considerations play almost no role, it makes little sense to mandate state-level organization. Given that, my advice is simply to let chapters form within the United States organically, wherever a sufficiently organized group of people can be found. Philadelphia seems to be leading in this respect, although New York is also a prime candidate. People outside the natural catchment area of any existing chapter can either join one of the existing chapters as a satellite subchapter, or start their own chapter (with or without assistance from one of the existing ones). Once there are enough chapters operating (which is probably five to seven, maybe as many as a dozen), the existing chapters may then wish to come together and establish some sort of federation or other organization to represent their joint interests throughout the United States. If and when that happens, that entity would then become the United States chapter.

My main point is that state boundaries are, for the purpose at hand, totally artificial, and imposing them without thought is both silly and counterproductive. I strongly advocate organic growth in this area rather than artificially imposed structure. I'll be quite honest: I have little faith that a US chapter will arise any time soon. There are too many factors that are disposed against a successful US chapter at this time. That's all the more reason not to put arbitrary obstacles in the path of accomplishing one.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Is this transparency?

So, there's apparently some interesting happenings down in St. Pete lately, as evidenced by this edit to the Wikimedia Foundation wiki by Wikimedia staffer Cary Bass. Apparently, Carolyn is no longer the chief operating officer of the Wikimedia Foundation. (The position has also been listed as a "job opening".) However, this is the only public evidence for this change; if there's any announcement or statement regarding her departure, I have not been able to find it.

So, either Carolyn resigned or she was let go; in either case there ought to be some public statement from the Foundation on this issue. There isn't. I doubt that the Foundation even plans to release a statement (although now that I've blogged about it, there will probably be a statement of some sort). The fact that staff changes like this (in the absence of an executive director, the chief operating officer is basically the day-to-day head of the organization, so her role is definitely important) are conducted with not even a minimal public statement is certainly not what I would call transparency.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The evil of vandal patrol

One of my major pet peeves with Wikipedia's admins is their insistence that "blanking talk page messages" is a blockable offense. I'm not entirely sure how this got to be such a wikicrime, and it's quite silly that it is, but nonetheless there are admins who continue to enforce this rule even though Wikipedia's own policy explicitly repudiates it. One of my own sockpuppets was even threatened with a block for removing a "welcome" template.

The most recent outrage along these lines involves administrator OwenX, who blocked an anonymous user for blanking his talk page to remove a very old routine notice and a completed conversation. The first editor to warn him for the perfectly reasonable act of keeping his talk page clean was Rebel2, who irrelevantly warned the anonymous editor for "deleting other people's messages". Next to play the revert game was Gilliam (who appears to be a vandalism patroller), and then OwenX, who reverted several times before first offering a highly threatening template (totally ignoring that the threat to block is completely unsupported by policy) and then finally blocking the anonymous editor. OwenX also protected the anonymous editor's talk page, presumably to prevent him from complaining about being blocked and to prevent him from removing the old, irrelevant messages.

The only reason this editor was blocked was because these editors are enforcing a rule (presumably taught to them by their fellow vandal patrolling mentors) that lacks consensus support and serves no purpose. This block is "bullshit", and was removed as such. In the subsequent discussion, Owen refers to a template talk page as support for such blocks—surely not an appropriate place for a "centralized discussion". His parting shot ("When you're ready to talk in a civilized manner, I'll be happy to discuss.") is especially juvenile.

This episode reflects the siege mentality that consumes most vandalism patrollers. Other contributing factors in this failure to treat a contributor with respect include a widespread belief that anonymous editors are worth less than registered editors, the failure of vandalism patrollers to be aware of policy (specifically in this case in relation to blanking talk page messages), and the excessive reliance on templated communication by vandalism patrollers and others on Wikipedia. The real problem, though, is the misplaced urgency. Vandalism patrollers have simply got to slow down and stop letting their fancy software make all their decisions for them. If vandalism patrollers aren't going to actually exercise discretion, there's no reason not to replace all of them by bots.

Reactionary English Wikipedia Admins

In order to promote the upcoming DC Meetup, Greg Maxwell developed some spiffy Javascript code that will display a dismissable notice only for editors who are located within a specific geographic region (based on IP geolocation). This was added (by Kat Walsh) to the English Wikipedia "common.js" file, and promptly removed (by Jeffrey O. Gustafson) citing "complaints on IRC". The subsequent discussion is a combination of Chicken-Littlish "it might possibly break so let's not use it", clear anti-Foundation sentiment (which is based entirely because it was implemented by Kat Walsh, who happens to be a Board member), and bare power gaming by people who seem to feel that "consensus" means "you have to get my explicit permission before doing anything I might not approve of". None of the objections is even remotely based on reality; all of them are I-don't-like-it objections masquerading as technical or process based reasons which don't hold up on examination.

The problem that this episode illustrates is the way "consensus" has evolved on the English Wikipedia to effectively create an extremely reactionary environment where making any sort of change is really really hard. You have basically two choices: you can either spend about a month going around identifying all the people who might object to your change and convincing them that it's not going to cause the death of the wiki, and then implement it (only to have someone who you didn't talk to object and revert it), or you can change it then spend about a month arguing with all the people who objected to it in a discussion that you will probably eventually lose. Basically, there's a lot of people with admin bits who are convinced that there's no consensus unless they were personally consulted. Some of them will revert even changes they otherwise agree with simply because "process wasn't followed". The effect of these people is to make Wikipedia extremely reactionary.

Fundamentally, the mistake here is in taking "consensus" as the governing principle for writing articles (an activity that rarely involves more than a half dozen editors) and applying it as the governing principle for operating the entire project. Consensus doesn't scale well. As is noted in Robert's Rules, "a requirement of unanimity or near unanimity can become a form of tyranny in itself". This sort of tyranny seems to have become quite well established in the English Wikipedia.

Update: In response to the commenter who alleges that "the notice slowed down the site for people seeing the message": No, it didn't. It is specifically designed not to do so. Anybody who is experiencing such problems has defective JavaScript in their own custom JavaScript (which is a very common problem, to be sure). Greg's already looked into the one such claim that reached him, and that was exactly the problem. And the commenter is exhibiting the same sort of juvenile powertripping that causes so much trouble. Note that the objection isn't that the notice is bad; rather, the objection is that "it was concocted off-wiki". Why does that matter? What should matter is whether or not it's a good idea. Complaining about its origin is is focusing on process instead of product. Wikipedia is not Nomic; if you want to play process games, find somewhere else to do it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the 13th

Today is, as some of you may have noticed, Friday the thirteenth. A review of Wikipedia's article on Friday the thirteenth is, therefore, in order. And such a sorry thing, indeed.

First, a small lesson to encyclopedia writers: the lede should "be capable of standing alone as a concise overview of the article"; Wikipedia's manual of style even says so. The lede of this article does not. In fact, it introduces random trivia about Tuesday the 13th that isn't even discussed anywhere else in the article. This does, however, set the tone for what is to follow: an disorganized article filled with random trivia.

The section headings that follow the defective lede just reinforce the lack of organization. Does nobody remember the rule that you don't have only one section at a given level? Either none, or two or more. One is just plain out. And yet this article has two violations of that rule. Then again the header, "A Thoroughly Modern Phenomenon" (itself a majuscule abuse), is totally unnecessary as that section could easily flow with the preceding content.

Then there's the silly little interjection crediting one David Emery for some information about the Knights Templar.

The tables delineating the occurrences of Friday the 13th in the 21st century are just ugly, and the expository paragraphs that follow below make me feel like I'm reading a mathematics textbook instead of an encyclopedia article. It is neither necessary nor particularly helpful to show your work in an encyclopedia article.

Replacing the list formats in the "events" section with prose would make me feel better about this article, as well.

The sad thing is that this is actually a pretty good article for Wikipedia. And it does, at least, have an amusing illustration to go with it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Why I missed this month's Woodturners meeting

Chicago Woodturners meets on the second Tuesday of each month. I missed last night's meeting, something which I am not particularily happy about, because a storm knocked a power line down alongside Mannheim Avenue, closing it for about three miles and causing my normal 30 minute commute to take two hours (and leaving me simply exhausted upon arriving home). Mannheim only has one lane open northbound as of this afternoon, which makes my morning commute quite a lot nastier.

To add insult to injury (or is it injury to insult?) the power went out last night, causing me to wake up late (no alarm clock) and stinky (no air conditioner) and stayed out until nearly 1. At least we have a gas hot water heater -- but I suspect dinner is going to be a rather odd potluck as we eat everything that thawed in the freezer. The $3200 it would cost for a whole-house backup generator is looking a lot more reasonable after last night.

Some pictures:
storm007 storm022 storm030

(More at Flickr.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why the US doesn't have a Wikimedia chapter

There's a significant amount of discussion right on the Foundation public mailing list over the embryonic "Wikimedia Pennsylvania" chapter. It's really a Philadelphia-area chapter, but it's being called Wikimedia Pennsylvania because Delphine insisted that US chapters organize along state lines, and this is a significant part of the discussion. The lack of a US national chapter is a notable characteristic of the Wikimedia Foundation, in any case, and is due to a number of different factors: WMF's presence in the United States, the size of the United States, and sociocultural differences in between the United States and Europe.

The fact that the WMF is chartered in the United States takes away one of the significant incentives for the creation of a chapter. The German and French chapters got started, from what I can piece together, at least in part to have nationally local entities that could act as charities within those countries. The WMF, being an American organization, cannot be easily certified as a charity in Germany (just as Wikimedia Germany is not a charity in the United States). Because the WMF is certified as a charity in the United States, there is no need for another charitable organization to be certified in the United States to act as a charitable recipient of giving, and so this incentive goes away. Of course, the funds donated to Wikimedia Germany and Wikimedia France never reach the WMF, at least not directly, because the national laws in those countries prohibit them from using charitable proceeds for the WMF's benefit; as a result, these national chapters actually act to divert giving away from the WMF global organization and to the exempted local charities, which may or may not then spend the monies received on activities that benefit the WMF's interest. (I have no idea what the nature of the agreements between the WMF and the various European chapters are to ensure that the WMF gets sufficient value from the chapters for the use of WMF's name and marks; I would hope that such agreements exist, but my suspicion is that they are not nearly as favorable to the WMF as they should be.) Anyway, would-be American donors can simply donate to the already tax-exempt WMF; there would be no tax incentive to donate to WM United States, which would doubtlessly hamper fundraising. The Foundation is also likely to be reluctant to license away its right to exploit its marks within the United States to a US chapter the way it has to the French and German chapters. Giving up the right to exploit the marks in Germany or France, while significant, has nowhere near the economic significance of giving it away in the United States. It is unlikely that a Wikimedia US would be allowed to become a signatory to the standard chapter agreement without at least some modifications.

Second is the sheer size of the United States relative to Europe. The United States is huge in comparison to any of the nations that currently have Wikimedia chapters (all of which are in Europe). France is the largest Western European country in terms of area (Russia is larger, but only part of it is in Europe, and anyway Russia doesn't yet have a chapter). The United States is over fourteen times the size of France, and is 40% larger than all of Europe combined. Europeans often fail to appreciate the physical size of the United States; even Russians often fail to appreciate this, despite Russia being the world's largest country, because Russia's population is so heavily concentrated in relatively few western cities. The US population, in comparison, is spread across the country (albeit unevenly), resulting in a population density that is less than half of Europe's (31 persons per square kilometer versus Europe's 70). As a result, a national chapter in the United States would necessarily represent several disaggregated groups that would not share much other than citizenship; they would not be able to easily gather and meet (especially given the much sorrier state of public transportation in the United States as compared to most European countries) in the way that Wikimedia France or Wikimedia Germany can. This is another major driving force behind establishing chapters that loses power in the United States and hampers the formation of a US chapter.

Finally, we get to the socioeconomic differences between the United States and Europe. The vast majority of Wikipedians are in their late teens or early twenties. In the United States, that means they're high school students, college students, or graduate students. In Europe, it seems that the demographics are about the same, although the terms used vary. It is my impression, however, that the average European Wikimedian is older than the average US Wikimedian, and I'll discuss that in a moment. Anyway, the common factor here, though, is a combination of significant free time (relative to those who are employed for a living) and limited funds. Here's where the differences come in. In Europe, it is relatively easy to travel from city to city on relatively little money: the public transit system is pretty good and there are extensive networks of youth hostels and other inexpensive ways to overnight somewhere other than one's normal abode. Americans, on the other hand, must rely on private transportation for such jaunts, and on considerably pricier hotels and motels, and must travel, on average, two or three times as far. European Wikipedians, therefore, are likely more mobile than American Wikipedians. In addition, Europeans have more leisure time than Americans. The average work week in Germany or France is eight hours shorter than that in the United States. As a result, a greater proportion of employed Europeans will have enough spare time and liberty to allocate time to a chapter activity without compromising other personal interests than employed Americans. (It is the greater ability of employed Europeans to participate that pulls up the average age of European Wikimedians.) Furthermore, virtually every European country has a broader social welfare net than the United States, which increases the possibility of unemployed Europeans being able to meaningfully participate (in the United States, an unemployed American will likely have trouble obtaining consistently reliable Internet access, let alone the means to travel even across town, let alone out of town, to attend a meeting, and will not be a likely candidate for a significant role in a chapter organization). Basically, the socioeconomic realities of American life leave less time for voluntary activities for the employed, and less opportunity for the unemployed. And this too reduces the incentive for the creation of a US chapter.

As a result of these three factors, there just isn't a critical mass of people with both the ability and enough desire to gather together on a regular enough basis to form a coherent organization.

Now, forming subnational chapters in the United States instead of a single national chapter (or, alternatively, a national chapter with subnational subchapters) might actually get around some of these difficulties. It probably is the case (almost certainly, in fact) that there are localized regions where sufficient concentrations of interested people with enough time and resources to form and maintain a chapter exist -- as long as they're only being called upon to represent just their local area and not areas that are "foreign" to them. Keep in mind that Boston, Massachusetts is only slightly closer to Seattle, Washington than it is to London, England. Forming chapters on a regional basis is almost certainly more likely to be successful. That's what's going on in Philadelphia, from what I can tell. I'm not surprised: Philadelphia is a decently large urbanization; its urban area contains several colleges and there are a lot of convenient venues that are reachable on foot or via public transit in order for even those of relatively limited resources to attend and participate. The problem with this approach is that it clashes with the way the European chapters have evolved. Regional chapters such as these only serve one of the three purposes of the European chapters: they act only as social gathering bodies, without also having the fundraising and economic exploitation aspects that are so important to Wikimedia France and Wikimedia Germany.

I'll continue in a subsequent post on why state-level organization of US chapters is a bad idea, and what I think the proper trajectory of chapter development in the United States, toward the goal of a unified United States chapter functioning as an equal to the European national chapters, should be.

Pownce and Wikipedia

Anybody who follows Web 2.0 buzz has head of Pownce. Personally, I don't see it as all that useful, but I'm not quite the internet whore that some people are and don't feel the need to immediately share every neato little thing I find with all of my friends, and the ones I do feel like sharing I can share using IM, IRC, or But, hey, everyone has their own thing, and I certainly know people who would gain value from something like Pownce. In any case, Pownce is "hot" at the moment. The fact that it comes from's Kevin Rose adds to that. And even BusinessWeek thinks this is worth writing about.

But not Wikipedia. Wikipedia has, in fact, declared Pownce permanently nonnotable, unworthy of encyclopedic mention. Now, I could certainly accept a "wait and see" attitude regarding the article, or perhaps a very short stub, but Wikipedians have become so paranoid about Wikipedia being used as "advertisement" for other websites that they very aggressively purge anything about another web property if there's even the suggestion that the site might gain traffic from being mentioned on Wikipedia. Basically, any web property less prominent than Wikipedia itself may not have an article on Wikipedia under the current mindset.

Now, I know that Wikipedia does this because they don't think Wikipedia should be used to generate buzz. And in a lot of cases, that's exactly what's happening. But Pownce doesn't need Wikipedia to generate buzz. Pownce has a ton of buzz already going for it. The problem, as I see it, is the same siege mentality that led to the "lava lamp incident": the need to resolve all issues immediately using hard and fast rules, instead of taking a moment to think about the particulars of each situation and make a reasoned, nuanced decision that takes into account all the factors at hand. One size rules do not fit all, but of late it seems like too many decisions on Wikipedia are being made that way.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Demolition, day 2

Ripped off about half of the old paneling today. Here's the pics:

demo-day-2-004 demo-day-2-009

Not a whole lot of excitement here. Those panels are heavy, though.

Demolition begins!

We officially started demolition on the bedroom today. Here's pictures:


We actually removed the fake fireplace and most of the fake brick ages ago, but the rest of it came down today, along with most of the entire ceiling and the ceiling molding. Some of the paneling has been removed for investigatory purposes; we will probably remove the rest of it, but leave the fiberboard that's behind it as it provides a decent level of insulation.

Here's a picture of what we're going to be replacing with:
In the far back against the wall is the 8 foot long segments of Ponderosa pine that will go on the ceiling. To the right (partially concealed behind the futon) is the quarter-inch cedar paneling that will cover the first four feet of the walls. The long boards on the left (by the chair) are 2x1 pine furring strips. Immediately to the next of that is a 12 foot 4x4 cedar beam, which will span the middle of the ceiling to hide the seam in the ceiling boards. The balance of the wood in the picture is the random length knotty pine.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

What do lava lamps have to do with Wikipedia, anyway?

So, the current scandal in the Internet is over how Wikipedia's article on lava lamps was blanked and protected for about two weeks by Swatjester (aka Dan Rosenthal). I haven't seen the ticket (I just checked, and my access to OTRS appears to have been terminated; not all that surprising, really) so I can't say for certainty what happened, but my guess is that this was someone alleging some sort of trademark-related claim. I have yet to see a trademark-related claim that justifies a complete blanking of an article. There are sometimes libel or copyright claims that justify them, but I would never do something like that without consulting with at least two or three other of the people who handle such matters, and preferably either counsel or the Board. From what I can tell, Dan did this entirely on his own initiative, without consulting anyone else, and he did so in a particularily hamfisted way.

Of course, whenever anyone "unilaterally" does something like this to an article, alleging "secret reasons" (OTRS) for doing so and threatens dire consequences for interfering, people are going to complain. And in this case, there wasn't the "BLP" (biography of living persons) excuse to fall back on: Lava lamps are objects, not people, and they don't have feelings to hurt. The rest of the community was understandably irritated at being told "No, you cannot write about lava lamps this week. Somebody doesn't like what you'd said about them, but we won't tell you what."

Enter the Register. The Register has long been critical of Wikipedia, sometimes with merit and sometimes not. In this case, the Register's comments are pretty much right on the money. But that doesn't stop Wikipedians from having a cow over them; as many of us have noticed, Wikipedians have problems with criticism, no matter how well-deserved, and tend to try to shoot the messenger instead of respond to the criticism. One of them even went so far as to declare that the Register cannot possibly be considered a "reliable source" and should be listed "as being unsuitable for referencing". The same person responded to a reasonable comment about how the Register is a well-respected source for certain material with a diatribe about how the Register once had a bad article about guinea pigs (a topic well outside their general area of acknowledged expertise) and therefore should be considered totally without any merit whatsoever. Fortunately, not all Wikipedians follow this sort of mindnumbingly stupid binary thinking about reliable sources, but I've run into it far too often.

This whole episode illustrates a number of Wikipedia's endemic problems. The tendency of its adminstrators and maintainers to operate in a siege mentality and overreact to issues with overbearing force without taking the time for consultation or discussion. The tendency of inexperienced, potentially even unqualified, people to be put into positions of responsibility where they will be called upon to make decisions with immediate public impact without any oversight, supervision, or guidance. The tendency of its community to magnify situations, when they do occur, by gravitating to and amplifying the drama. The tendency of the community to react to external criticism by vilifying the critic instead of responding responsibly to the criticism. (To be fair, some of the mailing list contributors did acknowledge that the Register, for once, had a point.) And finally, the tendency of the community to favor simple binary logic to nuanced evaluatory principles (in this case, the concept of reliability as it relates to sources). All of these tendencies have been endemic for quite a while. I don't expect any of them to go away, or even to get better, in any reasonable timeframe; they've become quite solidly entrenched and there are likely vested interests who would oppose the changes required to move away from them.

Expect this sort of thing to happen more, not less, often.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

How Wikipedia treats newbies

A few days ago I received email from one of my faithful readers (one of the many people who reads my blog through the Linuxchix aggregator) seeking advice on dealing with the Wikipedia community. I regret that I could not provide him with advice, but I did get his permission to republish his email. It's safe to say that he reads my blog, so if you have comments for him, feel free to leave them as comments below. Here's the email (slightly edited):
As a linuxchix live reader, I appreciate your wikipedia perspective. I was wondering if you have any advice on how to actually get content to stay on a page without the myriad of people, editors, bots, etc. from removing it within seconds. I could only guess that Einstein would have his theory of relativity page deleted by someone who though it was wrong. So I get the impression that the accuracy of information is not the only criteria for information to survive on a page. Is it simply beating someone at deletion-addition pingpong? Any clues as I am a newbie. How do newbies survive if our attempts are simply wiped out and there is no guidance for us to correct our mistakes and help to get the intended information in a useable form. Deleting it simply demotivates anyone and most folks don't have the energy or time to get any good data past the quick or determined deleters.
I suspect that the problem here is that he's adding unsourced information to an article which has fallen under the sway of a sourcing fetishist. I'm certainly not opposed to the sourcing requirement in principle, but I think there are times when the fetishization of "reliable sources" on Wikipedia gets out of hand and actually interferes with article development. But that's only part of the problem. The problem is that this fellow has to turn to me, an external critic, to have Wikipedia's processes explained to him. Surely whoever he's fighting with over this issue on the project could have taken the time to talk to him and explain sourcing to him and why it's important. That means that it's not enough to revert his edits with an edit summary saying "removing unsourced material" (whether or not that summary links to the policy page). It means contacting the newbie editor directly and politely explaining to him that the material needs to be sourced and giving information on how to do so--preferably also without immediately reverting the edit. Reverting a newbie's edits are a great way to discourage further participation ("Thanks for playing, we don't want your crap, go away" is the message when one is brusquely reverted, after all). Boilerplated welcomes on talk pages don't really help with this, either; people recognize that they're boilerplate and don't read them.

The timing of this email was interesting as I received it about the same time I read Geoff Burling's comments on Wikipedia's entry barrier. Basically, my correspondent has crashed into Wikipedia's entry barrier, and bounced off instead of in. I have been meaning to write a more detailed commentary on both Geoff's points and also Andrew's, but this post is not that commentary. I do note, however, that Wikipedia has become significantly more newbie-hostile in recent months; I've experienced this first-hand editing with freshly-created sockpuppets. The quality of communication between users has declined significantly of late. I blame this in part to the increased use of templated communication instead of actual personal missives; editors seem to be content to use the template that "most closely" matches the intended message, instead of actually sending the intended message. This is convenient for the sender, but often leaves the recipient confused. (Of course, if the sender's real intent is to make the recipient go away, this may actually be desired.) And it does seem that the frequency of "treating new Wikipedian[s] with undeserved contempt for a trivial act" has increased of late.

I don't know the details of my correspondent's conflict. For all I know, he's a virulently biased editor who is trolling me. But I rather doubt it. And even if he is, these are real issues and Wikipedia needs to decide how it's going to deal with them. There's a fine line to be walked here, and Wikipedia risks failure if it strays too far to either side of that line.

What do Wikimedia and bananas have in common?

Well. The rhetoric has been turned up a notch: Gerard Meissner (or however his name is spelled), well known to be Erik Moeller's attack dog, has called for the Board to repudiate the election results if Danny is one of the winning candidates. He further suggests that this notion has the support of Jan-Bart. His argument seems to rest on the incoherent theory that it is somehow a conflict of interest for Danny to run for the Board after previously having been an employee. What the argument really is is that Gerard, Erik, Jan-Bart, and presumably Florence do not like Danny and do not want him elected; apparently they are willing to go to any length to ensure that he is not. I suppose we should be thankful that the Wikimedia Black Ops Squad that we occasionally joke about does not actually exist....

Gerard's hypocrisy is especially obvious in his criticism of Greg Maxwell's get out the vote activity. Gerard has no similarly harsh words for the similar activities pursued by Wikimedia Germany, presumably because Germans are simply expected to support other candidates (see, for example, well-known German Wikimedian Elian's comments on the candidates; in German; curious that the German Wikipedia allows editors to maintain blogs in their userspace). His anti-American attitudes are also quite apparent, underscoring my own comments earlier in this blog.

As to why I call Gerard Erik's attack-puppy: On many occasions, back when I used to read the Wikimedia mailing lists, I would notice a pattern of someone asking Erik a barbed question, which would be answered not by Erik, but by Gerard. These replies from Gerard would generally be vitriolic in nature. Erik might then later come along and add some comments that would appear far less vitriolic by comparison. After seeing this pattern over and over again, and not seeing it with any other combination of contributors, it became the inevitable conclusion: Gerard is essentially the "bad cop" to Erik's "good cop".

Update: In response to the individual who wrote about the legal repercussions of ignoring the results of the vote, I point out again that the Foundation restructured itself last year so as not to have members. This means that the only people who can sue the Board or any member for such matters would be the Florida Attorney General, and perhaps other members of the Board. The election is technically totally advisory; the Board is free to do whatever it wants with the results, including ignoring them entirely. We, the supposed members of the Foundation, only have their good faith that they will not do this. Of course, if they do do that, I imagine the negative publicity might have an impact on fundraising; while there are no longer any legal recourses against the Foundation for such tomfoolery, the Board must needs consider that its actions might have an impact on its ability to continue to raise the capital it needs to finance its silly little games, not to mention continue publishing Wikipedia and its related projects. I, personally, stopped donating to the Foundation last year, in order to save up for Wikimania; I did not reinstate my pledge when I was in a financial position to do so because I was dissatisfied with the direction things were going at that time. I am certainly not renewing it now, and I believe my decision not to renew my pledge has been justified time and time again.

Caramel Bugles and Iowan Coffee

This weekend's road trip had some interesting aspects to it. We originally set out on Friday for Galesburg to visit our friend Don, but when we called him as we left Oswego (basically the last of the exurbs along US 34, which is our preferred route to Galesburg even if it does add almost two hours to the drive time) he informed us that he was still in Palatine and would certainly not be there when we arrived. Since our ultimate destination for the weekend was Waterloo, Iowa, continuing on to Galesburg was no longer all that useful a plan. A brief consultation of an old-fashioned paper map (Google Maps doesn't work well when you have no Internet connectivity) advised a hard right at Mendota onto US 52 to Dubuque. We stopped just outside Mendota and acquired, amongst other things, the best snack food I have encountered in a long time: Caramel Bugles. I've never seen these before and I strongly suspect that they're being test-marketed in central Illinois. It's quite common for us to see odd things being test-marketed when we go downstate; we first encountered Code Red during a roadtrip to Quincy, for example. Anyway, upon determining that these are totally the bomb, we bought out the Citgo station in Mendota. We now have about six bags of the things, and wondering if we'll ever see them for sale within 100 miles of home.

The other mentionable from this trip is Jag's Java, a very nice little coffee place in Cedar Falls, Iowa that we've been to before, but I feel like giving him a little shout out for being there when we needed coffee, all three times that weekend. I'm pretty certain the guy in the picture is the proprietor. They're near the border between Waterloo and Cedar Falls; if you happen to be a University of Northern Iowa student, or just in that area, they're definitely a positive alternative to Starbucks. Jag's doesn't appear to have a web presence, although they do offer free wireless (but what coffeehouse doesn't). We've never actually stayed in the store; they have a drivethrough and we've used it almost every time we've been there.

Finally, some kitty porn:

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The election drama continues

The drama surrounding the Wikimedia elections is heating up. The most interesting thing, from my point of view, is Greg Maxwell's single-handed get-out-the-vote effort within the English Wikipedia electorate. This graph, provided by Greg, really demonstrates the efficacy of his efforts; the effect is quite startling.

Also, the Election Committee recently rearranged the "jump page" on Meta; the old version (which you can see here) was designed to make it easy for the majority of voters to find the appropriate voting page by listing the pages for the largest projects at the top. The new version is very prettily organized, but the arrangement (while perfectly rational) makes it hard for the vast majority of voters to find the right page. Greg reports that the number of people contacting him asking for assistance in figuring out how to vote increased considerably after that change was made.

I've also had a few people comment to me about having concerns that either the Election Committee or the Board will simply repudiate results they don't want.

Greg also tells me that while he's asked for volunteers on the Foundation mailing list to send similar emails for other projects, so far the only response was from someone with the French Wikipedia, and that person's proposed email actually sent voters to a page bearing someone's personal recommendations for voting instead of the appropriate voting pages.

The real takeaway of this election is simply how terribly bad it has been handled. Neither the Board nor the Election Committee has done even a halfway acceptable job of communicating information about this election to the various electorates. Fundamentally, I consider this to be a failure of the Board, although it is certainly also a failure of the election commissioners as well. We can only hope that the next election is handled a bit more professionally.

In other news, the Foundation announced yesterday that it had hired Mike Godwin, formerly of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as its general counsel. It is my understanding that the Board intended to delay this announcement until after the election was overJuly 4th (thanks for the correction, Kat), but Godwin broke the news himself by editing his own Wikipedia article to state his new position.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Anti-English-Wikipedia attitudes in the Board electorate

Several of my recent posts have suggested the existence of an anti-American attitude in a significant part of the electorate. This is probably a second-order representation of the real attitude, which is a very marked anti-English-Wikipedia attitude held by quite a few people, including, apparently, Board member Oscar van Dillen. Oscar recently displayed this attitude in his complaints to the Foundation's public mailing list about Greg Maxwell's mass mailing of a call to vote (an example of which may be seen here, or also here on Geoff Burling's blog; note the lack of any encouragement to do anything other than vote). Oscar, either through his own remarkable carelessness, through the deliberate concealment of information from him by his informants, or simply because he was acting as a provocateur, completely ignored that this email (and others like it) were merely calls to vote and are in no way canvassing for any particular candidate. Instead of accepting that this is perfectly reasonable, he complains about how this seems to have come from the Board itself (the implication being that the Board would never have wanted English language readers to receive such missives?) and refers to the messages as "spam", clearly a derogative term.

Greg has privately related to me that he has received dozens of positive thank you notes, and that several people have wondered why this was not done sooner or not done by an official entity of the Foundation. He also relates that several people were confused by the election process and asked him for assistance in determining if they were eligible to vote or how to vote. He has, to date, received a total of four negative responses. Brion Vibber himself publicly thanked Greg for reminding him of his right to vote.

There is quite a bit more negative discussion of Greg's activism on the foundation public mailing list. About half of it is people complaining about spam in general, more or less cluelessly. The other half seem to be people incensed at the use of spam to benefit the English Wikipedia to the advantage of other projects. It is this latter group (and I shan't name names; if you want to find them, go read the thread yourself; it is threaded nicely from the first link above) that are the anti-English-speaking, anti-English-Wikipedia, anti-American elements within the Foundation.

The question that I can't get past is, why would it be so bad for someone to do what Greg did? Why is so much vitriol being spilled over someone's effort to ensure that everyone with a right to vote is made aware of that? This is the sort of thing one expects for elections in some banana republic where fairness is something to be avoided. I would hope that the Foundation would be better than that.

After this, I would be so totally unsurprised to see the Board vote to repudiate election results that resulted in the election of candidates that the current Board doesn't want to see elected. They do, after all, have that power.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Wikimedia Board Elections: America vs. Europe

A theme that has run through my comments in recent days has been the America vs. Europe angle, which some commentators have tried to discredit. Interestingly enough, early numbers show turnout from the English Wikipedia (which is almost 50% American) to be very poor. While both the German and Italian projects are holding direct voter turnout drives (there is even the statement on the German Wikipedia's mailing list that the English Wikipedia has too much influence and so German Wikipedians must be certain to all vote to eliminate this), other people are actively working to ensure that English participants aren't even aware that there is an election going on.

It seems likely that, unless something is done, the Europeans will win this one, due mainly to lassitude on the part of American participants. Americans are a plurality of participants in Wikimedia projects (27% based on statistics gathered last year), and I'd be willing to wager a majority (by monetary value) of donors. It seems quite inappropriate for Americans to be so heavily outweighed by Europeans.

Then again, when the supposedly impartial election committee spews forth nonsense about how two-thirds of voters don't speak English when 45% of last election's voters voted from the English Wikipedia, what can you expect?

Wikimedia Board candidates: The Rest

It seems that I've run out of time, as elections has already begun; I will therefore only make brief comments on the remaining five candidates.

Oscar: The single thing I found most interesting about Oscar is that he deliberate chose a photograph that depicts him smoking a cigarette. I'm not going to say much else about Oscar; it continues to amaze me that someone so totally lacking in either the credentials or the competency to serve on a nonprofit board managed to get appointed to one in the first place. Probably will not be reelected, but only because both Yann and Frieda make for better European candidates than he does.

Uninvited Company: I used to think that Steve was a reasonable person, but then he got appointed to the English ArbCom and quickly proved that he is, instead, something of a petty dictator, what with his little campaign against IRC. Given the way he has abused the meager authority of that office, I have little cause to trust him to be more responsible with the slightly greater authority of the office of Wikimedia Trustee. Will probably not be elected, though.

WarX is another Polish candidate running on a "Hi, I'm a European too" platform, but more specifically to represent the "poorer" countries of Eastern Europe. I see his candidacy as very much similar to that of Ausir's: trying to get more influence for Poland. It's certainly my experience that a majority of Eastern European editors are actively pushing nationalist agendas, and while I've never reviewed WarX's editing career I admit that I worry somewhat about putting anyone from this electorate in a position of authority within the Wikimedia sphere.

Yann: Just what Wikimedia needs, another French board member. Yann, at least, brings some credentials to the Board, although I am, myself, uncertain that the credentials actually mean anything. And he certainly looks rather dashing in that contraption that he calls a rickshaw but which rather clearly is not. Yann is a leading favorite to win a seat in the election.

I apologize for not having more meaningful commentary on these candidates, but my employment obligations over the past week have been unusually heavy and I've simply not had time. Hopefully things will be less wild in the weeks to come and I'll have time for more contemplative commentary as the election concludes.