My new blog and foundation-l


Welcome to my new blog! I have decided to create this blog to give me somewhere to express my thoughts and opinions, as has been suggested to me by several people. Those thoughts will mostly be able Wikimedia, but it is entirely possible that I’ll branch out in future. It is also entirely possible that I won’t get around to blogging much and this blog will end up dormant (as my Twitter account has done, for the most part). We’ll see!

Now, on to the main topic of this post: the Wikimedia mailing lists, and foundation-l in particular. A month ago foundation-l came off general moderation. You may have noticed that, during the last month, I have not sent any emails. I decided to voluntarily abstain from posting to all Wikimedia mailing lists except the UK list (I’m Head of Fundraising for Wikimedia UK and not posting on that list would make it difficult to do my job) for a month to see what happened. It was an entirely unscientific experiment, but I have learned a few things.

Firstly, on a personal level, I found it surprisingly easy not to post. I was reading the lists the same amount I always do but there were only a handful of occasions when I felt I would have liked to post something and had to stop myself. This isn’t actually too surprising – I’ve only ever posted to a minority of threads, it’s just when I get involved in a particular thread that I post a lot. By not getting involved in any threads, I had no reason to post a lot.

I also don’t think not posting really cost me anything – I certainly can’t think of anything that I wasn’t able to do because I wasn’t posting. After giving it some thought, I think I know why: foundation-l (and the other mailing lists) don’t actually serve any real purpose beyond announcements. The discussion that takes place is generally between just a handful of people that have no way to actually do anything as a result of it. Such a small proportion of the community post to the mailing lists that nothing useful can really come out of the discussions. For them to be useful the volume would need to increase enormously and the medium doesn’t work with such large volumes.

I have previously argued that discussion on the lists shouldn’t be stifled since I thought discussion was their primary purpose (they are often called “discussion lists” after all!), but having now thought about it I don’t think the discussion serves a purpose, so perhaps the lists should be changed to announcement lists with minimal discussion taking place on them. Discussion can take place on the appropriate wiki where everyone can get involved.

As for the effect of the posting limits that were implemented last month – that’s slightly strange. The limit of 30 posts a month is high enough that very few people would go over it even if they posted normally. There are, perhaps, 4 or 5 posters (including me) that used to go over that threshold more than very occasionally. Those 4 or 5 people have all significantly reduced their posting, but so has everyone else. During the first half of December, nobody has posted to foundation-l more than 5 times and most people that have posted have done so only once or twice. However, that may not be significant since during the latter half of November (after the list ceased to be moderated), posting was at a fairly normal rate (the low end of normal, but still normal). So, I think that, as with before the posting limits, the existence or not of controversial topics of discussion determines the number of posts far more than anything else.

So, in conclusion: Foundation-l is largely useless for discussion, regardless of how much people say, and there is little to gain by me posting there. While I am no longer going to stop myself posting, I expect I will post a lot less after this realisation. My suggestion to others is to start discussions on the wikis and use the mailing lists just to publicise them and for people to go to the wiki to respond. That way, more people can get involved in the discussion and it is far more likely that something will come of it. The one thing that may be lacking from those discussions is WMF involvement – I suggest a “WMF noticeboard” be created on meta so there is a specific place for WMF staff and board members to monitor. The WMF may want to appoint a couple of clerks (either from among their own number or from the community) to remove useless sections and notify relevant staff and board members of the useful ones.

Thank you for reading my first blog post – comments are, of course, most welcome.

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  1. #1 by Gregory Kohs on December 15, 2009 - 3:11 pm

    Thomas, I find that the discussion on the Foundation-l mailing list has turned moribund. It is following a similar path as the defunct Wikback.com — increased and flippant censorship of criticism, followed by an exodus of contributors who value the time and effort that goes into building a thoughtful critical case.

    I guess Foundation-l is only interested in hearing loving platitudes.

    Meanwhile, the Fundraising campaign has been in place for over a month now, less than 50% of the goal met, and nobody dares respond to my question of when the Fundraising Survey will get back on track.

    Dimwits.

  2. #2 by Tango on December 15, 2009 - 5:46 pm

    As Head of Fundraising for Wikimedia UK, I’ve been following the fundraiser very closely. I fully expect the WMF to reach their goal before the scheduled end of the drive. Take a look at http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Special:FundraiserStatistics – the green bars are last year’s fundraiser. You see that massive jump near the end? That’s from the appeal from Jimmy Wales. This year’s appeal will be starting any day now and it is reasonable to expect a similar jump (although perhaps not as much since we are starting from a higher level). If we do see such a jump then reaching the target shouldn’t be difficult. That said, I do agree with you that the Fundraising Survey has been a big disappointment. The WMF isn’t very good at surveys…

  3. #3 by Sage Ross on December 16, 2009 - 1:29 am

    Welcome to the Wikimedia blogging community, Thomas!

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