Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Pending changes: Further thoughts

Thanks to Jospeh Reagle (here's his blog) for pointing me to Wikipedia:Pending changes/Metrics/Preliminary Analysis. I hadn't seen it before my last post, and I appreciate the work that Howief into quantifying this.

However, my first impression of reading Howief's good-faith attempt here reinforces my suspicion, voiced here and elsewhere, that Pending Changes is something no one who supports it actually has a rational reason for adopting it. Most of his analysis is devoted to simply getting a handle on what happened, which is borne out by his statement at the beginning: "This analysis is meant to serve as a starting point to help focus the data for community discussion." No one began this test with expressed assumptions of what would happen, and now that it is over no one can say whether the test succeeded or failed -- and why.

Chris.urs-o's criticism of the analysis is very insightful, better than what I wanted to say. The one point Chris did not raise, which I'll make here, is that no data was provided for just how long did it take for a change caught by the Pending changes software to be processed. This is an important piece of information for considering just how far will pending changes scale. No matter how well this change might work, only so many editors will review and act on the edits Pending changes affects; if not enough editors participate, pending changes will break at some point.

I could ask for more analysis, but I suspect that the fix is in: love it, hate it, or just don't care, Pending changes will be foisted upon the English Wikipedia. According to this story in the latest Signpost, Jimmy Wales was asked by the Wikimedia Foundation to interpret the discussion on Pending changes. Despite the general belief that voting is not a viable resolution for disputes, Wales states that it is "clear that there’s absolutely no consensus for simply turning the system off and walking away."

As I have written, Wales is not impartial on this matter: he has advocated for Pending changes in the past. Noting the straw poll has been closed at a 65% to 35% vote in favor of Pending changes, he claims "that there’s absolutely no consensus for simply turning the system off and walking away." This is in disagreement with a far more thoughtful interpretation by Cenarium. Cenarium concluded that, despite C's own views on Pending changes, there was no consensus to keep it in place; however, this did not mean Pending changes could not be adopted in the future, rather that it was time to build on consensus and "calmly analyze the trial, the merits of PC, and discuss of possible new implementation proposals which would have to acquire consensus for adoption". But in the end, it appears when Wales is in favor of something, although over one in three people are opposed to it, he believes their opinions are irrelevant. I always thought that "consensus" was something that all participants could agree to; I guess I was wrong.

I don't mean to sound cynical in that paragraph; as I type this I actually feel closer to sadness and disappointment. I don't consider Pending changes to be something so critical to Wikipedia's survival to justify overriding the desires of such a large group of people who respectfully disagree. If it's a good thing, it will eventually be adopted; if it isn't, then we shouldn't be in a hurry to adopt it. Approaching this disagreement in this way, those who work to develop and refine policy will gain the confidence of the rest of the Wikipedia community, who would rather work on its contents than engage in the bitter, and often inconclusive, disputes over the policy. I know I would rather be able to have faith and trust in them, but despite my frequent displays of cynicism I am probably incredibly naive.


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Do you feel that the German Wikipedia will not survive?
Based on what I know about it and its community, I don't have any reason not to believe it will.

But I don't see the connection between your question and my post. Yes, the German Wikipedia has a system of moderated edits similar to Pending changes; in fact, Pending changes is based on that system. However, the community around that Wikipedia made the decision to adopt that system. Jimmy Wales had far less influence on that decision than he does on whether to adopt Pending changes in the English Wikipedia.

Either a "hands-off leader" is entirely hands-off, or is fully engaged. Not that I believe being fully engaged will keep someone from ever making mistakes.

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