Responding to questions about a future Discuss Space owned by volunteers

Some people have expressed publicly or privately an interest in exploring possibilities to have Discuss Space or an evolution of it run by volunteers. If there is community interest, we are open to do our part in a potential transfer of responsibilities with some common-sense conditions:

  1. The entire process should be agreed and driven by volunteers under their own responsibility. We Foundation staff would help upon request on topics that only we can address as current maintainers of Discuss Space.
  2. There needs to be a clear plan that combines guidelines for granting administrator permissions to certain users and a process that protects the privacy of existing Space users (whose data can be accessed by admins).
  3. The volunteer or small group of volunteers who intend to take over administration should be prepared to agree to these and other terms that come up as issues are surfaced in the transfer.
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This is great! I highly appreciate the Wikimedia Foundation’s flexibility in the process and the step forward in favour of the community.

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I am also in favour of making it more community driven, till now this space thing has not been known to many wikipedians, I am feeling it is going to play important role in our future, thus let’s make more community driven

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Thank you for making this happen! While it’s sad that the original plans did not work out, I also think there is some value in letting the project find its own, community-centric identity. If it turns out to be successful, hopefully the Wikimedia Foundation reconsiders support.

As for how the transition should work, IMO:

  • The current project admins for the Cloud VPS project (basically, the sysadmins for the virtual machines the site is running on) are Quim, Andrew Bogott, @Samwilson, EBernhardson and myself. (Austin is, sadly, not with us anymore.) So everyone happens to be a WMF employee but at least Sam and me have been involved in a volunteer capacity, and I’d guess Erik as well (Andrew was presumably added as the Cloud VPS admin who set up the Discourse project?). Which means we can take over system administration since 1) we have signed NDAs about appropriate handling of others’ private data; 2) at least Sam and myself are interested in supporting Space long-term on the technical side (both of us got involved back before the creation of Space, when Discourse was a volunteer project); 3) we already have access anyway, so nothing needs to be done. We can figure out the process and terms of adding more sysadmins over time (I imagine it would involve signing a volunteer NDA, which we do have a process for).
  • I believe all the current forum admins are WMF Community Relations staff, so per Quim’s point #1, they would step back. As a stopgap measure, Sam and I could become administrators: we have an NDA and as sysadmins we already have access to all data. (Administrators are pretty powerful in Discourse; they are like a mix of Wikipedia’s admins, stewards and checkusers.) As soon as the process and terms for electing new administrators is figured out, we can make a call for applicants, maybe hold elections if there’s sufficient participation.
  • Users have registered under the expectation that Space will be a WMF-run site so we cannot just assume the permission they gave for handling their data is still valid; there needs to be some kind of opt-in process. As far as I can see, this affects four things: IP addresses, passwords, email addresses and non-public comments (either direct messages from/to another user, or comments in one of the private categories).
    • The first two we can probably easily purge (IPs are probably fake anyway due to the way Cloud VPS works, and passwords are a legacy of the earlier login system and not used anymore.)
    • Email addresses are central to Discourse (it’s how the software uniquely identifies users, matches email replies to them and so on) so we can’t just delete them. We could do something clever based on one-way hashing but that means custom Discourse development and I doubt we’d have the capacity. Maybe the Wikimedia-login plugin can recognize people even if the email records have been purged (I think it stores people’s wiki user ID) or maybe that can be achieved with minimal changes to the plugin; that is to be investigated. Otherwise, we should probably have a one-month window for users to claim their accounts by logging in, and then delete the emails of all accounts which did not have activity in that period and their email address does not show up in mailing list archives, and do whatever change is needed to avoid locking those people out permanently (probably that means deleting their wiki IDs and renaming them, to avoid conflict).
    • For private comments, we should have a similar account claiming period, and then delete all unclaimed comments. Users who do claim their account should have some way for asking their private comments to be deleted anyway. After that we’ll need to clean up private topics / categories which become fully inactive (although hopefully there won’t be any).

How does that sound?

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I think it would have to be something, that’s compatible with SUL, if this is something closely connected to the Wikiverse, the identifications must be made via SUL, that’s the way we identify us in the Wikiverse.
I don’t think that this could not be done by those people, that are paid by the community to serve us as maintainers of the software we use, i.e. the WMF and WMDE developers. There were millions of bucks for futile bling like FLOW, but this here gets ditched asap? I don’t understand this.

Wasn’t there enough interest/enthusiasm/support for moving on with the idea?

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On the technical side, there was. On the community side, not sure. We should ask; for now I’m waiting to see how T52864 works out as IMO one of the most compelling use cases of Discourse was as a mailing list archive, and it’s worth seeing if Mailman 3 is an adequate alternative for that.