Now that the dust has settled after last month's dramatic RfC calling for the deletion of all Portals (see this issue's Discussion Report and previous Signpost coverage), we talked to some editors working on the formerly dormant WikiProject Portals. In the last month, members of the project have started to implement a strategy of making portals much less maintenance intensive through the use of automatic article excerpts on portal pages. Another goal was the deprecation of portal subpages, of which there currently are 150,000 – for only 1,500 portals. Another point of discussion has been the general purpose of portals. We asked several project members for their thoughts.
Were you a member of the WikiProject before the recent RfC and the revival of the Project? If yes, what were your reactions? If no, what made you join?
- Prior to the RfC at the Village Pump, I wasn't a member of WikiProject Portals. In all honesty I considered portals to be some kind of weird hangover from the early years of Wikipedia; some still bear markup from the era in web development when you only dealt with a screen resolution of 1024 × 768. Nowadays many people, including myself, access Wikipedia from mobile phones. (Editor's note: According to The Atlantic, mobile already made up more than 60% of readership in 2016.) It's a reasonable expectation that content renders correctly for all users.
- I joined the WikiProject because I wanted to be part of bringing portals into a new age of design and automation. Right now I feel that when a reader enters an atypical portal they think 'What on God's Earth is this?' and then immediately click the back button. They are overwhelmed by links, and left confused, possibly wondering if they accidently clicked their bookmark for 4chan. —Cesdeva
- Yes, I was a member although the project was largely dormant so other than having my name on a list, there wasn't really much to it.
- The RfC was a surprise in so many ways, and to be honest I'm a bit surprised it was allowed to proceed. It was a proposal to delete an entire namespace on the basis that some of the contents were poorly maintained, out of date or abandoned. Exactly the same thing could be said of main (article) space, and if somebody were to propose deletion of the whole of Wikipedia for that reasoning I very much doubt the discussion would remain open for more than a few hours at the very most.
- I only became aware of the proposal once the deletion notices appeared on portal pages in my watchlist. It's a clear violation of deletion procedure to nominate something for deletion without placing such a notice on the affected pages. I dearly want to assume good faith but the cynic in me feels this was a clear attempt to hide the proposal from those who would be most interested in, and possibly most affected by, it.
- That The Transhumanist was reported on the admin noticeboard for spamming and canvassing when all he was doing was placing the required deletion notices and starting a project newsletter is astonishing. There were also WP:BATTLE-like messages left on The Transhumanist's talk page accusing him of foul play, saying things along the lines of "congratulations, you won, by manipulating the process". The whole thing is the biggest example of WP:POINT that I've ever seen in my 12+ years on Wikipedia.
- I'm immensely proud though that we, the Wikipedia community, allow ourselves to seriously consider whether what we are doing is adding value and allow people to challenge the way we work and the decisions we've made, and that we're able to do so in a calm and considerate way. Huge credit has to go to The Transhumanist for his calm demeanour throughout the process, as well as for the tremendous effort he's put in to get the WikiProject back on its feet again. —Waggers
How has the revival of the WikiProject been going? Has the initial enthusiasm been sustained?
- Full-steam ahead. Many editors are making great, and innovative contributions. The Transhumanist in particular has been a leading light for the WikiProject. —Cesdeva
- The enthusiasm has been sustained so far but it may be too early to tell. The request for comment has only recently closed and I think it's fair to say a lot of the enthusiasm has come out of a reaction to that RfC, and may now start to wane. But a lot has been achieved, and we're making huge progress in making portals easier to set up and maintain, bringing in a lot of automation. I think there's a lot of enthusiasm within the project to see that through, and at least get to a stage where we can almost completely automate the regular maintenance tasks a portal needs to keep it up to date. Certes has been an amazing asset to the project, helping out with many of the more technical challenges. —Waggers
How will the future look for the WikiProject?
- The WikiProject will probably meet the same fate as it did last time. That's why adding automated features to portals is so important. —Cesdeva
- I think that we have a series of aims that we are striving towards, and that if we can maintain our current rate of progress we'll have achieved them all within the next few months or so – or decided that some of them can't be done for now. Once we've reached that point, things will settle down a bit more and we'll see less activity on the WikiProject, because there will be less to do. Ultimately though I think the future looks bright; the enthusiasm on the project itself and the reaction to the RfC both show that Wikipedians are passionate about portals and want them to stay. —Waggers
A more fundamental question: What are portals? What, for you, is their purpose?
- Portals are a way of guiding readers through a topic; in an engaging and tangible way. —Cesdeva
- Portals serve several purposes; let's start with the simplest. If you imagine a paper encyclopaedia, you expect it to have a contents listing and an index. The contents might not list every single article, but might list key topics and show how the information is organised. Categories serve as Wikipedia's index, and part of the role of portals is to link together to form our contents pages.
- Now, a paper encyclopaedia could be organised in many different ways – listing all the articles alphabetically for example, or breaking things down into topics. You might have a situation where each volume of a large general encyclopaedia is itself an encyclopaedia on a specific topic – and again, Portals give us the front pages, the introductions and overviews, of these mini-encyclopaedia volumes. Getting away from the paper though, the purpose of portals on Wikipedia is so much greater. They help to showcase our best or most interesting content on specific topics and draw readers in. Often portals are linked with projects and have lists of "things you can do" – a great way of encouraging readers to become editors. —Waggers
Has your work on the WikiProject informed your work on others? If yes, how? Any advice for other WikiProjects?
- There is a great deal of Lua code being utilized in portals. This programming language may see wider usage across other WikiProjects. —Cesdeva
- I haven't put any of this into practice on other WikiProjects I'm involved in yet, but there are some key lessons I've learned from the revitalisation of WikiProject Portals. One is that projects, and communities, require enthusiastic leaders. I've felt a bit guilty in the past in dominating WikiProjects in which I was the most active, or perhaps the only active member, but actually sometimes you need to take the bull by the horns and in this case The Transhumanist has done that and spurred the rest of us on.
- Another is that it helps to agree some specific goals and work towards them together. The broad-brush aim of improving stuff isn't enough to bring people together and help them focus on what needs doing. And of course, keeping track of what needs doing and communicating that with interested parties takes a fair bit of time. You have to be committed.
- Ultimately, communication is key. People might join a project but won't necessarily keep a close eye on the project talk page, or might not even access Wikipedia all that often, but still want to be kept informed of what's going on. So project newsletters, delivered to members' talk pages, are a really important tool to use. Of course it's important that users can set their preferences for these should they rather not receive them, but they've shown interest by signing up to be a project member so it's reasonably likely they'd be interested in what's going on. —Waggers
Anything else you'd like to add?
- The way of the world right now seems to be that on any topic, things tend to fall into two camps and once somebody has joined a camp, they become entrenched and stubbornly refuse to see the views of the "opposing" side. The debate that's been had around portals carries the risk of doing that within the Wikipedia community. Certainly those of us who maintain portals and want to see them continue can see and understand the issues that were raised by those who object to them. It is my hope that those who have objected to the very existence of portals equally start to engage in trying to find out more about them and can start to see their usefulness. Wikipedia operates on the principle of consensus, and that is best built not by obliterating the opposition but by drawing people together and seeking agreement. Let's show the world how it should be done! —Waggers