Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wikipedia Review and my participation in same.

Given that I have a fair number of roles and responsibilities on WMF projects, (see my WikiMatrix ) I expect that posting at Wikipedia Review has raised some eyebrows among some. Heck, I know it has, some folks have written to me about it, and some folks have raised concerns with others which then came to my attention. There are other fairly "senior" people that post there, but I may be the only steward.

So I put together this explanation. I couldn't quite decide if it belongs on-wiki or not so I'm floating it here first. Maybe I'll rehash it there as a user subpage. Here goes.

I see it like this, as with anything, you have to analyze the benefits against the costs/risks... so what are the benefits?
  • I think that it's good to have someone paying attention to what goes on there. You have to be a member in order to see certain things. I admit I started participating at WR with some trepidation, and I continue to do so with a great deal of caution (and a great deal of taking everything written there with a large grain of salt).
  • I think WR, just like WP, is not monolithic. WP has a lot of good people at it and some that are not so good. At WR the proportion is rather different, rather the other way round, but there are some people there with things to say that I find worth listening to. A lot of chaff, and worse, but some wheat.
  • Since WR is not monolithic, not a thing, per se, but a collection of people, it's probably not accurate to say I am "pro WR", it is more accurate to say that I've found a few things here and there to agree with, (mostly not, but a few) and a few people here and there who, when they say things worthy of note or reflection, that it may be of benefit to say that they did. Perhaps some of them can be brought back in from the cold. Or if not, perhaps at least it's of benefit not to demonise them. Demonization is a very bad trap to fall into and I see it happening at WP a lot. Certainly a LOT of people at WR demonize too so maybe leading by example may help counter that.
  • I think it is important not to fall into the trap of "us vs. them" or of being blind to opportunities to gather information, even at places that have a lot of chaff (and worse...). I've been in various online communities for 25+ years now and my previous experiences with falling into the "us vs. them" trap (sometime I could talk more about if there was interest) suggest that it's not wise. The deeper plan, I guess, is to gather information there (about things that need fixing) that will make WP a better place, as I have already done more than once. And maybe to make the site's denizens in some tiny way more reasonable... not that I flatter myself that I have any great effect but I think I have a little.
  • It's important to have some people that stay engaged with those that do not mean the project well, if they are large enough and organized enough to be troublesome and prominent enough to be noticed outside of their world. And WR is large enough.
Those are the benefits.

What are the risks?

Well there are the technical risks:
  • That by posting there something might be discovered about me. But I'm already known by my real name, and I make no secret of my IPs really, so I don't see that as a big deal
  • That by posting there (or following some link from there) my machine will become infected with something that would compromise confidentiality. That's a risk but I take measures against it.
(did I miss any? Tell me about it in feedback)

and the social risks:
  • That I might inadvertently reveal something private or sensitive. I'm pretty careful about that, I don't discuss findings or cases or identities. It is a risk though but I really don't see it.
  • That I might be extortable in some way (like NSLE was) to do things deliberately. I don't see it... that risk is minimal and really isn't heightened by being there.
  • That by being there I give credibility to WR. That's a valid concern I suppose but not really a very major one. I think I'm very careful not to give approval to things not worthy of approving of... But the problem is, my not giving approval is not going to stop the tide from coming in. Wikipedia Review, whether anyone likes it or not, is becoming a source of information about Wikipedia. For editors, and more importantly, for the press. I think it's important to distinguish between engage and endorse. My engagement with the denizens of WR is not endorsement of their actions, not agreement with the things that some of them advocate, and does not grant them any more legitimacy than they had before.
  • That by spending time there I am neglecting other places where I could spend time. True, perhaps, but we all spend time as we choose, so that's all I am going to say to that.
  • That by being there over time I am going to become more sympathetic to what WR folk advocate. Finally we come to one I think has some merit... well, unfortunately, the more I learn about some things the more convinced I become that there are things within WMF that need correcting. WMF is not fatally flawed by any means (I believe strongly it's a great project with a great mission) but just circling the wagons won't work, it needs some fixing. The best way to fix it is from within, with knowledge of what the problems are, I think.
On that last point... I won't go into all the details but there are plenty of examples. Some of them are WR memes, some quite long running ones, to be sure. But that doesn't mean that there might not be some truth in them.

(did I miss any social risks? Tell me about it in feedback)

So those are the benefits as I see them and the risks/costs as well.

To the extent that my small efforts at correction and repositioning improve the accuracy of what a reader finds at Wikipedia Review I think my efforts are worthwhile.

I think my integrity is pretty much above reproach. I would never deliberately do something that I believed would cause harm to the project. But, I didn't sign a loyalty oath promising to back those currently in power no matter what. If I see issues I will raise them.

That was rather a long message, and a pretty serious one for a second post. Oh well. Tell me what you think.

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