Just this goy...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Communication to and from the Wikimedia Foundation is strictly controlled. This includes all communication to the various communities, and from them. It is impossible to tell just how completely this practice of filtering and manipulation of communications streams is happening within the Foundation, controlling what either the left or right hands know or believe to be true[1]. A fair assumption is: probably most of it.

No one I have spoken to was able to name a single member of the Communication Committee who is primarily a Sister's Project community member. Let me restate that: there is no official communications link from the Foundation to any non-Wikipedia project. Full stop.

Listening in on various communications tools one is struck by the silence. Comproj seems to have had exactly one real application in about a year: an attempt to organize PR materials in one, central location. Of course the Communications Committee list is restricted to members.

An interesting - and telling, imo - symptom of the balkanization of the Foundation is the Wikimedia-Boston mailing list: Social list for Boston-area Wikimedia gatherings. "This is a list of Boston-area Wikipedians and other Wikimedia supporters."[2] - after all, some projects are more equal than others.[3]

However, speaking of Wikimedia-lists, there are plenty of them. Ostensibly the naming convention suggests they are to be used by/for Wikimedia Chapter formation/internal communications; few seem to actually be actively used for such. A relatively high percentage of the lists restrict archive access to members, so it's impossible to generalize accurately, but of those countries which do have a Wikimedia chapter few have any appreciable use; several have never had a single message posted. A very tiny sampling of lists in English show almost no Foundation<->Chapter community communications, with the noteworthy exception of WMUK.

So how is the Foundation communicating with its contributors, especially its niche communities?
  • Secret communications
    By far this is the most common channel for dispersion of information. Via restricted-access Wikis, restricted mailing lists, restricted IRC channels, private e-mails and discussions. In the recent Fundraiser dozens of individuals - site bureaucrats and community leaders - were quietly threatened via back channels to prevent any site modifying the centralNotice Banner Advertisements even though these ads were often offensive to the local contributing editors. This highly-successful intimidation campaign is only one example of the coordination of WMF communications out of sight.

  • Official communications:

    Board resolutions, press releases on [[Foundation wiki]] plus pronouncements on Meta or en.Wikipedia are probably the second largest channel for "communicating with the masses." These extremely impersonal messages dehumanize the Foundation; it becomes the corporate machine dictating to the projects, with no chance of response.

    The Mediawiki techs are a hugely important element of the Foundation, and they use [[bugzilla]] and [[wiki]] as their formal communications routes, [[supplemented]] with [IRC] and [[mailing lists]]. However, the reality is the bugzilla is ignored in favour of internal/personal communications networks in determining tech priorities. Even though the developers tell you the best way to get an issue addressed is to define the problem, develop a solution for the problem, and submit it this is not true: the best way is to throw a hissy fit involving dozens of well-placed people and make a public-relations headache - at which point your issue will magically develop priority and may actually get attention. (no guarantee it will actually be resolved, however: examples include Wiktionary's [[Extension:Transliterator]], community approved in August 2009, committed in October after languishing for months, never reviewed or approved by WMF devs as of this writing.)

  • Semi-official communications:

    This is the human face of the Foundation: staff members like [[Bastique]] and [[Philippe Baudette]] who every day work in contact with various contributor communities, and serve as channels to bring issues into the Foundation staff meetings, and give depth and interpretation to the Foundation's less personal messages.

    These individuals have both an inappropriate stress and authority due to the public perception they are speaking in a semi-official capacity for the Foundation, which is increasingly remote from its average contributor.

  • Informal communications:

    This is the way work actually gets done, no matter how carefully communications channels are monitored and prescribed. A phone call from the right person, an SMS heads up to someone who should be aware - these are the real networks which need to be recognized and - where appropriate - encouraged. They are prone to abuse, and to causing as many problems as they solve, where impediments to constant sharing of information are put in place.

    There are occasions where communication must not take place in public; they are the rare exception. There are occasions where communication is one-way - an instruction or announcement - but more commonly it should be a discussion with mutual agreement as to what was said, what compromises reached.

    Unfortunately, this channel is the least accepted or exploited by the Wikimedia Foundation, and in fact it appears the Foundation is actively campaigning to restrict informal communications between itself and the contributing community for whom it exists.

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