Wednesday, December 06, 2006


ArbCom elections

This December is the fourth Arbitration Committee (more commonly referred to as the ArbCom) election I've participated in. By "participate" I mean as a Wikipedian casting a vote; I've never run for a seat, and I don't see any reason that I should. Being a successful member of the ArbCom requires a certain kind of person, and I'm not that kind of person.

And being a member of the ArbCom is not the measure of importance that some Wikipedians assign to it. Much of this misperception is due to the lack of a formal body of Wikipedians who manage the project. Yes, what Jimbo Wales says goes, but his power over the project -- since he resigned his position -- is very much one of prestige as the founder, and the very real fact that most Wikipedians accept his decisions as a means to end disputes so we can return to working on the encyclopedia. But the very real truth is that processes and decisions is made mostly by discussion and gathering consensus -- a process that for a great many people is hard to believe. (Sometimes I don't believe this.)

Another reason for this misperception is that some disgruntled fringe members think that if they could possibly stuff the ArbCom with enough of their friends and allies, that they could successfully push their own view of the world into Wikipedia. There are enough Wikipedians with common sense who can see through this partisanship, and these candidates have failed -- so far.

The ArbCom is, in simple terms, a panel of jurors selected in part by popular election, and partly by Jimbo's own choosing. It does not set or create policy, except in a very limited and minor way that it is incidental to its primary purpose. That purpose is to bring an end to chronic and otherwise irresolvable disputes that can not be solved in any other way. In bringing an end to these disputes, sometimes they express or confirm opinions that afterwards enter the ongoing discussions that actually will create those processes and guidelines Wikipedia follows.

The Wikipedia dispute resolution page makes this clear: it describes the ArbCom as the "last resort" in that process. As a result, anyone who seriously wants to be considered, needs to prove that they understand how to resolve disputes on Wikipedia. While being an Administrator is a useful responsibility to have, I don't think it is necessary. As long as a person has both been on Wikipedia for a long enough time, and has made enough edits on Wikipedia enough times to experience how it works (3 months and 1,000 edits is my rule of thumb), they meet the minimum qualifications; after passing these standards, one thing any potential ArbCom member needs is to show sufficient common sense. I can think of a few people who have respectfully declined becoming an Admin who have demonstrated to me sufficient common sense that I would seriously consider voting for them.

The other critereon is that the candidate is willing to devote the time to this job, and willing to serve the entire term. We've had too many people find that serving on the ArbCom has become too unpleasant of a chore, and quit after several months, and this is one reason why Jimbo makes the final selection.

So after all of this navel-gazing, who am I voting for? I'll be honest: I haven't made my decision.I'm a little miffed that JzG has already dropped out, because he was one candidate I was considering, but beyond him I haven't picked any names. A few are running for what appear to be partisan reasons, but they seem to be failing -- which is a good thing, because I think at least one is far more valuable to the project as an editor, not sifting through accusations and counter-accusations for hours just to determine who was the bad guy in a given incident. One thing I want to emphasize is that I won't be voting for every candidate who I think is qualified: some I would likely vote for -- like Paul August, Kirill Lokshin, and UninvitedCompany -- I may not vote for because they look as if they will win the election without my vote. (Not to say I'm not going to vote them; like I wrote above, I still have made up my mind.) One other thing I want to emphasize is that I'm more likely to vote for a candidate who looks like she or he is not polling well, because I want some people on the ArbCom who might not make the cut because they aren't well-enough known.

And then there is the curious candidacy of Kelly Martin. This woman left the English Wikipedia back in September after a number of accusations, claiming that she will never return. However, anyone who reads her blog will see that she still thinks about Wikipedia, and obviously wants to make it succeed. (Her comments about the requirements and process to become an Admin is identical to what I believe.) What I don't understand is why, as one of her first acts after returning, she should run for a seat on the ArbCom. There are plenty of good people to vote for, and she should know that there is no special status associated with being an ArbCom member. There is so much more to be done to improve Wikipedia than to decide ArbCom cases.


I didn't run for ArbCom to get elected; anyone who thinks I thought I had a chance is giving me less credit for intelligence than I really deserve. I accomplished my goal in running within a couple of days of the announcement, when a certain editor engaged in gross incivility in reaction to my announcement.

People who cannot deal with people they do not agree with in a civil manner should not be on the Arbitration Committee.
I'm certain that there is a better way you could have accomplished this goal.

I'm all hears. I'd love to hear how you think I could have accomplished it.
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