Saturday, April 21, 2007


For once I'm not too late in finding something out

Sage Ross, Wikipedian and blogger, like so many other Wikipedians wanted to become an Administrator. However, his approach is a little different: he is running only on what he has done, and announced that he will not answer any questions submitted on his Request for Administrator page.

Some are upset with his statement, and base their opposition entirely on his refusal. Some praise it as another blow against the tyranny of "process fetishism" (although I think it would be more accurate to say he is flaunting established custom). As for me, although I made a request that he consider answering at least two specific questions, I don't think this matters in his case. Those two questions are:
  1. What are your best contributions to Wikipedia, and why?
  2. Have you been in any conflicts over editing in the past or have other users caused you stress? How have you dealt with it and how will you deal with it in the future?

If another, less well-known Wikipedian refused to answer these two questions, this act might harm their chances to become an Administrator (or Admin); it is an often-demonstrated fact that some people are better able to flaunt custom than others. More importantly, his act leads me to two other observations.

Observation the first. Anyone who seriously wants to be an Admin needs to either answer -- or anticipate -- these two questions. While Wikipedia may appear to be a united community from the outside, from within it is clearly an aggregation of tiny groups and individuals, many of whom have no knowledge of one another. There is a good chance that an experienced Wikipedian may discover the Requests for Admin page for the first time, and find her or himself faced with making a decision with less information than that person would find optimal. Some troublemakers manage to keep below the radar, and except for the few who are able to devote most of their day to Wikipedia (who may not be obvious to the uninformed), may be able to bluff her or his way into an Admin position.

In other words, providing answers to these two questions -- either in the initial statement or in response to questions -- can only help everyone. This can build bridges into those parts of Wikipedia that otherwise feel themselves (correctly or not) isolated from or ignored by the rest of the project.

Observation the second. Answering these questions helps demonstrate just how skilled this Wikipedian is in an area that I now suspect has been taken for granted: ability at using language to explain oneself. This is important because an Admin will often find her/himself needing to explain or defend her/his actions. As I said, this is usually assumed to be a given (if a person is not good with words, then why would that person want to help create an encyclopedia?); however, there have been contributors with good intentions whose command of language is, to put it politely, suboptimal. And I know of one such person who managed to get her/himself appointed as an Admin: Betacommand, whose case is currently before the Arbitration Committee.

I'll admit right now that I have disagreed with him, very passionately. Yet there were other people who disagreed with me in that incident, and who showed that not only were they capable of working with me in that situation, they wrote far more articulately than Betacommand. He has gotten himself into trouble because he failed not only to communicate with other Wikipedians, whenever he managed to do so, his replies were brusque and unsympathetic. What troubled me about him was that when under stress, his command of the English language collapsed and not only did he resort to expressing himself with vulgarities, but he failed to understand why doing so was inappropriate.

So how did Betacommand slip through the cracks and manage to become an Admin? From what I can tell, he established his credibility in fighting spam, rather than contributing content. There's nothing wrong with that: people gravitate to the areas on Wikipedia where they are the most comfortable and have the most positive effect. Further, Betacommand did not nominate himself, so he avoided demonstrating his ability at persuasive language. Only in retrospect can one see the clues in his Request for Administrator rights: there are a lot of troubling ungrammatical sentences in his responses, with several obviously misspelled words. Discussion showed that he relied heavily on automated tools to make changes, and often was careless with those changes. Only Quarl and Alphachimp perceived these weaknesses, pointing out other examples of his work that troubled them, and were ignored. Normally, one or two oppose votes can be safely ignored; but here they proved to be Cassandras.

So to be an Admin not only does one need to have a minimum of experience on Wikipedia (e.g., a minimum of edits and time as an active participant), and to clearly show that one is not a troublemaker, but one must also demonstrate an acceptable level of skill with written English. Obviously this is not a problem for Sage (who keeps a blog and is a graduate student); but for other Wikipedians who do not have such easily verifiable proofs, this can be a fatal barrier to the ceremonial presentation of the key to the janitor's closet.


Technocrati tags:


s/flaunt/flout/ ;-p

I think the policy in question is well worth flouting. GBerry's objection is particularly stupid and well worth ridicule.

We should have three or four times as many admins as we do.
David Gerard wrote:

> s/flaunt/flout/ ;-p

I blame my failings on the English language. ;-p

Looking back on what I wrote, had I the chance to go back and change it, I'd have written the simpler "scorn".

> I think the policy in question is well worth flouting. GBerry's objection is particularly stupid and well worth ridicule.

I didn't read what he wrote because I'm not really concerned about whether one observes established custom; I'm more concerned about how to give it the respect it deserves. If a person requesting the Admin bit has already answered those questions in her/his stement, then why do it again? On the other hand, if one can use these questions as a widely-read exhibition to prove competency with language, then why not do it?

My essay is about why we follow the custom, not whether we should follow it.

> We should have three or four times as many admins as we do.

And how will this incident will help us get there? I supported Sage, and hope he becomes an Admin, but he alone will only add one good person to the number.

This incident will help us get there one obviously good nomination at a time, with fierce attention being turned upon a red-tape-strangled process in a persistent manner.
It's not the process that is strangled: it's the subgroup and its customs that have grown up around RfA.

People ask questions on AfD of the people who want to be Admins, which is a good thing in this forum because a Request for Adminship is, in some ways, an interview; not everyone on Wikipedia knows everyone else.

People want to prove their smarts on Wikipedia, and an obvious way to do this is to ask questions on AfD. However, when all of the good questions have been asked, they ask less good ones -- and expect their questions to be answered with the same care as the better ones. Sometimes the best way to show one's smarts is not to do the obvious thing.

Maybe the best way to untangle things at RfA would be for a more senior Wikipedian to act as a facilitator there, much as Raul654 has facilitated things in the Featured Articles process -- although it would definitely be a more hands-on job.

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