Next steps on Wikimedia Space

Originally published at: https://space.wmflabs.org/2020/02/18/next-steps-on-wikimedia-space/

Last year, Wikimedia Foundation launched Wikimedia Space to experiment with new ways to connect volunteers, increase movement participation, and showcase community stories. While we remain committed to this important goal, based on lessons learned through the Space prototype, the Foundation has decided to close Discuss Space. The Space blog, which continues to fill a need to share news for the movement by the movement, will continue in a new home. 

We are starting work to move the blog to production and migrate existing content to a new site. Please continue to submit stories and news from the movement so we might highlight your work, lessons and successes. 

The Wikimedia Foundation is starting focused discussions and planning to address the problems that Space aimed to solve. Our goals are to improve the Wikimedia infrastructure for information, collaboration and support, involve the communities in the design, and rely on the existing Wikimedia platforms whenever possible. We aim to define a strategy aligned with the Movement Strategy and the Foundation’s medium-term plan, and build resources accordingly.

Experimenting with the Space Prototype

Wikimedia Space was released as a prototype on 25 June 2019, motivated by the Wikimedia 2030 strategic direction pillar of Knowledge equity to support strong and diverse communities. It was setup to explore and experiment with solutions around key problems obstructing equal access to information and equal means of participation in the Wikimedia movement.

The proposal to establish the Space prototype based on existing open source products allowed for a quick launch and a hands-on comparison with other tools both in and outside Wikimedia’s infrastructure. This approach has provided us with a lot of practical experiences and feedback to work from, but also had its shortcomings. Adoption rates have been mixed: many curious and open-minded volunteers and groups joined Space and started to devise future plans counting on it, but only a small percentage stayed engaged. 

Instead of keeping Space while planning and implementing the future plans the Foundation has decided to focus our resources on developing a more comprehensive strategy around movement engagement.

Stopping the development of Discuss Space

The team in charge of the Space prototype has stopped the development of new forum features, including the events calendar and map, mailing list mirrors and internationalization, and we are ramping down the maintenance work. Our current plan is to freeze Discuss Space by March 31, restricting the publishing of new forum posts and comments. The content published in Space before the freeze will remain publicly available while a longer term plan for it is defined. 

Collecting lessons learned

We have learned a lot from this initiative and want to thank all Space users for their time and contributions. We also invite everyone interested in documenting lessons learned and discussing next steps to join us in taking this effort even further, either at the About Wikimedia Space category in Discuss or the Space talk page in Meta

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No :frowning:

[Citation needed]

Can I buy this Cloud instance?

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This is terrible news. Discuss-space was the only place where I’ve had serious discussions without all the noise and policing from nonconstructive editors.

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Do you think it had anything to do with how the Space was set up or was it linked to people who visited it?

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I was very disappointed when I heard about this news. We invested quite a lot of energy to prepare this forum as a communication platform for the community, where

  1. it is easy to contribute (without any knowledge of wikicode or similar),
  2. easy to navigate and search,
  3. provide a safe and friendly place for the contributors
  4. editors can discuss and chat with each others without topic limitations
  5. it looks good/modern with some extra features, like event map and calendar
  6. etc.

We wanted to use this platform instead of some mailing lists where there are always conflicts between funny chats which helps to build the community cohesion but creates noise, and topic and goal oriented discussions. People are different, and some of them feel negative in case we choose between these approaches.

We wanted to provide this place for the new editors and interested people to inform them about Wikipedia. Wikipedia itself (lets say MediaWiki) cannot serve these needs right now, and I don’t expect it will be good for that in the mid-term future.

Facebook works more or less good for these goals, but not every people can live with its privacy policy and other terms, therefore we close out part of our community from there. We tried to build this platform, which can provide similar social network and information platform for everybody.

In the previous months I tried to convince many people and groups about the advantage of using Wikimedia Space, but I received many times the answer, that they don’t believe in it, because so many initiatives they saw, were tried and stopped at some point in the previous years, and they don’t want to invest energy inside. I answered, that in this case it is part of the WMF’s mid-term plan and it supports the featured strategic goal of community growth; it will probably reach the production phase in a few months and surely will not be shut down. I was wrong.

Now, we will try to build up the community forum on Facebook, and patiently wait for the future features of the Wikimedia infrastructure.

I would like to say thank you from my heart for all moderators, developers, translators and contributors of Wikimedia Space. It was a nice time together.

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I think, a little bit both.

Later (with more visitors, contributors) it would have been a little bit worse and would have needed some active moderation in some cases, but I think that the technology and the policies were well prepared to be a productive and healthy place.

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I think the cross-wiki nature of it attracted proportionally more “meta” people, who think globally. Also discourse is very well suited for rewarding constructive cooperation. Many forms of negative contributions, that cause an everyday tug-of-war on wiki are ineffective.

Also, the relative hardness to find out that it exists means that only people who are looking for this kind of cooperation have found it. On the other hand, I think this is the reason why it didn’t gain significant user-base.

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I would agree with other people in this Facebook discussion that Space was given too little time. It tackled one important area where Facebook/Telegram/Twitter was lacking — access to discussion history.

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This news came out of the blue. This project is in its infancy, I thought it’s in a pre-release phase preparing to be production-ready for introducing it to the whole movement. I assumed it was intentionally not advertised yet, thus contributors don’t know of its existence.

How could anyone tell if it’s useful for the community, without telling them about it? Not even the current users, who found it by their own volition were asked if it’s appreciated. It is appreciated, very much.

Even if minor features’ development is halted for some time, this forum is already more user-friendly and welcoming than talk-page discussions ever will be. Closing it would go the opposite direction than what’s the MTP’s target.

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It would be useful to see how much maintenance hours it would require to install Discourse updates and keep the server that it is hosting it running.

Is there a need for this forum to be managed by WMF paid staff or could it be managed by community (here I am referring to moderation and code of conduct enforcement).

As we can see, there are sections in different languages. I am not sure if WMF staff can handle moderation there, so (I assume) we already have community moderated sections.

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Oh no! I will miss space; for what its worth, I participated and I got immediate help from the Tech gurus when I needed it badly.

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Closing the Discuss Space are to me very bad news. I’m very sorry hearing this.

Using Mediawiki to maintain open discussions is against any reasonable UX recommendation and completely obsolete for the 2020s. To drop the best tool for that is outside my understanding.

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Thank you for all the feedback. After scanning different channels, we have a wide range of opinions which reflect how deep and complex the problem of cross-wiki collaboration is, and also how differently the Space prototype and this decision is being perceived. We will process this feedback and integrate it in the lessons learned. If you have more feedback or questions, please share. This conversation is important.

The channels we are watching:

If you are aware of more conversations related to this announcement, please share them here as well.

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Copying here the relevant part of my wikimedial-l post, follong the request from Quim.

Let me remark that the two main questions , which remained unsolved, were (i) what is the target audience and (ii) what is the content to be discussed there. For (i), we have many different groups with many different interests. We have project people (editors), active on different projects, we have affiliate people, we have WMF people, there is certain overlap between these categories, but I am afraid not much. They have very different interests and vision. If I understand it correctly, the idea was to bridge the gap between these categories (primarily, between WMF and community), but it did not work - it is understandable that people who never edited Wikipedia and have no interest editing it, do not find a topic on the first Wikipedia contribution very appealing, and those for example who deal with Wikipedia as their daily job are not so keen to discuss the job on social media - I also have an exciting job but I do not have any desire to discuss it anywhere in my free time. Concerning (ii), we have people who were looking for something like social media, just to hang out, we had people who wanted to discuss project and foundation issues which they found important, we had people who were only posting announcements - but I do not think we had general understanding why people should come to Space to discuss, and what they should discuss. There are discussions going on in the projects, they are almost always monolingual. Meta started as a cross-product (and cross-language) discussion venue, but now it is essentially dead - I long ago stopped following my watchlist there. The mailing lists are mainly dead or at least half-dead. Understandably, people went to FB and Twitter - they will discover at some point that there are serious privacy issues, and, in addition, this is like Wild West where you are on your own (I had my FB account disabled for alleged copyright violations last year, and there is nothing I can do about it), but before they discover it I am not sure why they should go to any other platform to discuss - what? There might be some room for a social media platform run by WMF, but it should be very well discussed what exactly we expect, what we can provide, and how this can be done. I would recommend a community conversation - not a “community consultation”, when a decision has already been taken, and the “consultation” is used to legitimize this decision, but a real brainstorming, and see what the stakeholders are and what they want. I am afraid though that it would be difficult to organize even this brainstorming and collect a sufficient number of responses to make meaningful conclusions.

(There were opinions voiced that the Space would never take off because it is run by WMF who would erase any criticism - well, I have not seen this happening. This would not be my concern at this point.)

Despite my skepticism, I believe that people who were running the Space and people who invested into the Space clearly had good intentions, and whereas things did not work at the end, I would like to thank them - mainly Elena and Quim I guess.

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That was also my understanding/assumption.

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Republished from wikimedia-l mailing list

Thank you, Quim Gil and your team all the effort that went into
discuss-space. We’ve seen a great platform being developed.

It was far from ready, however, and my impression was we were in a
pre-release phase. To add to the lessons learned, let me share my thoughts
on this.

From the recurring feedback that the forum did not become part of
contributors’ everyday workflow, that groups are still using facebook for
similar purposes, we can deduce that a crucial feature-set was missing:
integration with our everyday on-wiki workflow. This would include 3
features:

  • Notifications within Echo.
  • Automatic listing of active and on-topic discussions on wiki pages (in
    project namespace mostly).
  • Including (transcluding) discussions on wiki-pages.

The first one is crucial, the next two “just” very important. If there will
be any similar solution in the future, these will be the hard criteria for
adoption and success.
Without these features the expectation that this forum becomes widely
adopted was unfounded: it’s still in its infancy and it was judged too
early.

The foundation of it - an established forum engine - is solid, any solution
that would be chosen in the future would recreate this or similar
functionality. That would be a massive endeavour. The WMF devs have their
hands full all the time, how would that be possible?

I’m sure the success of such a project hinges on the above critical
features. Even if the WMF stops developing these features, nothing is lost:
interest from volunteers might be enough to develop some of these features.
I’ve shown interest in one of these, GSoC also will be an opportunity for
motivated developers to contribute and grant proposals could be made for
the most important features. In true collaborative fashion, the WMF can
enable the community to turn this experiment into a fully-featured,
integrated product. I believe this is the best path to take, that’s in line
with the Mid-Term Plan’s targets.

Given how overwhelming the positive expectations are about this project, I
think the best path to take for the WMF is to halt the development, but
continue operating the platform and motivate volunteers to get involved
with its development. At least that’s how I see the ideal role of WMF in
our Movement.

The Space blog, which continues to fill a need to share news for the movement by the movement, will continue in a new home.

A subjective note: I think both the blog and the forum would be more
accessible on simpler URLs, I’ve always found “discuss-space” unusual.
Wikimedia Space is a good name for those projects all together but in the
URLs I find it confusing.

I would have suggested these URLs instead:

If any of these is released to production, “.wmflabs.org” would be replaced
by “.wikimedia.org”

Thank you, Quim for gathering feedback from the community.

Aron (Demian)

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I would support keeping this forum/discuss/discourse with minimal maintenance (installing updates) for longer period.

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Republished from wikimedia-l mailing list with modifications.

On Wed, 19 Feb 2020, Guillaume Paumier wrote:

That perspective suffers from a lack of empathy. “The tools we already
have” may work for the limited sample of the population who are currently
using them. Assuming that that sample is representative is flawed and is a
classic example of survivorship bias. If we have learned anything from the
Space experiment and from years of strategy discussions, it is that the
tools we currently have do not, in fact, work just fine for a large number
of people, whose voices are missing from our discussions and content.


Guillaume Paumier
(he/him)

Also +1 to Guillaume’s comment, I couldn’t have said better. A user-friendly forum, like discuss-space is most needed by those, who want to join the movement, whom the WMF wants to attract, not to those who are comfortable with the current solutions.

On Wed, 19 Feb 2020, Todd Allen wrote:

Real time communication is on IRC.

IRC being an appropriate real-time platform? It’s a serious privacy violation with the IP addresses published. It took me an hour to learn about cloaks (to hide the IP) and find someone, who would add a cloak… how many newbies would do that?
IRC also goes against the wiki way with “forgetting” all the history, about which I always had concerns besides that it’s very impractical: long-term discussions cannot take place or the user has to be always online…

On Wed, 19 Feb 2020, Rebecca O’Neill wrote:

I’ve been involved in the movement for ~7 years, took one look at IRC and
walked very quickly the other way, having used it 15+ years ago.

Ditto, using IRC is the last measure for me.

Aron (Demian)

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I don’t think many people realised this was already half implemented… just needed some resourcing to finish it/get it past the goal line.

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