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Author Topic: How should we manage growth?  (Read 17526 times)
David91
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« on: September 28, 2006, 07:12:13 UTC »

As I write this, I see that the group of contributors to this forum is now more than 50 strong. I assume that we are all reasonably competent and experienced, and motivated to achieve a good outcome. But, once the project goes "live" and the flood (well, anything is possible) of aspirant authors and editors washes up against the gatekeeper function, how are we going to manage the process of growth?

A proportion of those who wish to join will have a clear track record of publication (whether in the academic or commercial world, or on Wiki or other public sites). They may be allowed authorship rights with minimal supervision. But I suspect that the majority will be relatively inexperienced and not be aware of the editorial standards that we hope to devise and enforce.

I am not sure how practical it will be to introduce any form of formal mentoring/buddy system. Old hands will be thin on the ground and may well not wish to divert from the primary task of bringing the content up to standard. This seems to pose a dilemma. If we gamble and assume both good faith and competence from self-declaring newcomers, we may make what appears to be faster progress but, equally, it may produce a lot of work that is of substandard quality. If sceptics visiting CZ see much activity but the outcome is no better than Wiki, CZ's reputation may be damaged before it has time to set out its stall.

We therefore need to consider which is better:

slower growth which maintains the best standards of material made available for naive readers to access;
faster growth that runs the risk of substandard material being produced.

If we turn away too many people at the outset, or we are too heavy-handed in reviewing material before it is allowed to go public, we may deter too many authors whose contribution over time could become substantial. I therefore offer the opinion that we should carefully consider how we should welcome newcomers, the practicalities of implementing some form of mentoring system, and how short-, medium- and long-term growth should be managed.
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Larry Sanger
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« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2006, 05:41:52 UTC »

I don't see growth as an impediment to quality.  Growth, with a healthy community, positively enhances quality.

The problem, then, is to make sure that the community doesn't suffer from the growth.  Actually, this is the problem that the charter is meant to solve.  Of course, we might have very rapid growth before a charter is adopted.

In lieu of that, basically, it has to come down to me making certain declarations about what sort of project I want to get behind.  And then we say: if you're not in favor of that, then please work on Wikipedia or some other project.  You might notice that I've said this several times in the last few days.  I will continue saying it and encouraging people to "select themselves out."

Clearly, one of the next things I've got to do is to formulate a list of policies that are for me non-negotiable.  One of these policies will be that if a person is opposed to a certain fundamental policy, he is advised to exit the project rather than trying to change the policy.
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David91
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« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2006, 11:27:33 UTC »

I think I saw this as a cultural question. When Wikipedia started, a majority of the initial designers/contributors might have hoped for something rather different to what actually emerged over time. No matter what is written down, when the original pool of members is diluted, cultural drift can occur, i.e. what was originally considered "non-negotiable" is renegotiated by a new majority's accumulated practices. This may be for entirely sensible reasons. No-one can foresee every contingency and some degree of flexibility may be required to modify the substance or detail of principles to match what proves practical.

I therefore asked myself how the process of growth was going to be managed when (and if) rapid growth occurs. I assumed that some of the resulting changes would be benign and desirable. The potential problem comes when the direction of change would produce changes felt to be in breach of "core" principles. If there is no monitoring and feedback system in place from the outset, the whole may be slow to pick up on individual trends. The longer undesirable habits have to root and become routine, the more difficult they are to eradicate. Those who have adopted these practices become protective and resentful if their way of doing things is suddenly rejected. Maintaining individual motivation is a high priority.

Obviously, allocating new people to working teams offers some form of opportunity for their work to be monitored. When I first encountered Wikipedia, I would have valued someone to help me learn the mechanics of contribution and the ethos of authorship. As it was, I was forced into a steep learning curve to avoid being shouted out by random editors. Although I joined a couple of topic groups, they was no real synergy between the members and no will to forge relationships. I therefore became a lone wolf.

For CZ purposes, I therefore propose that the working groups must self-monitor and note how their own performance matches project goals. Some form of regular report should be made to a central governing group.

I further propose that all new members must declare their areas of subject-based interests and should be allocated to the relevant working group(s). The extent to which it is then possible to offer some form of mentorship or active support will be determined by the willingness of that group to devote part of their time to the activity. No matter how august and revered an editor, I think that it is good for everyone's soul to take some responsibility for bringing new members up to speed. It also offers a chance to put good habits in place before bad habits have a chance to develop. It offers a direct opportunity to monitor and control cultural drift.

I would prefer to see the current now 60 members of this group spending at least 10% (if not more) of their time, actively monitoring other authors once the system goes live. This is not intended as a "Big Brother" exercise, but as a constructive assessment of the work that is being done and of the way in which it is being done. We need to be efficient and effective in realising CZ goals. Identifying and sharing optimal strategies benefits everyone, working by guiding people flexibly in the "right" direction rather than by pointing to a "charter" document carved in stone.
« Last Edit: September 29, 2006, 11:32:48 UTC by David91 » Logged
Larry Sanger
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« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2006, 22:22:45 UTC »

David, I share your concerns, which are well expressed.  For Wikipedia, I started a "Wikipedia Militia" which was going to be "called out" when the project was "invaded" by large numbers of newbies, for precisely the reasons you've stated.  But by that time, the project had already been invaded by Slashdotters, who decided that anything that smacked of authority whatsoever (as a "militia" does) is to be strenuously avoided.

Anyway, making reports is nice, but making them to a central governing body (that can then issue orders?) makes me nervous.  The largest concern I have about the operational feasibility of this new project is precisely that, once given power, large numbers of Ph.D.s, used to operating in slow-moving, ideological, and nasty bureaucracies, will proceed to set up slow-moving, ideological, and nasty bureaucracies on CZ.

What makes Wikipedia work at all, and what could prove to be a great boon to CZ if it reinvents the procedure, is that people are maximally self-starting.  They can do what they need to do, when they need to do it.  It's the bazaar way.  I am very happy to see that it's being reborn again in CZ, insofar as people (like yourself) are making all sorts of great proposals, using the wiki to sum up conclusions, and volunteering to do stuff like revise the HTML of citizendium.org.  As we gear up, the extent to which people are empowered to self-start will increase by orders of magnitude.

How can we make sure that this, the key to rapid growth and (arguably) high quality as well, will not be stymied by academics who want to command-and-control?

--Larry
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David91
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« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2006, 04:32:46 UTC »

"Actually, this is the problem that the charter is meant to solve.  Of course, we might have very rapid growth before a charter is adopted."

and

"Clearly, one of the next things I've got to do is to formulate a list of policies that are for me non-negotiable."

and

"How can we make sure that this, the key to rapid growth and (arguably) high quality as well, will not be stymied by academics who want to command-and-control?"

There were several reasons why I abandoned Wikipedia but the one relevant to this topic is that, like Sisyphus, I grew tired of trying to restore pages where quality was repeatedly undermined by non-experts and their unfounded opinions. The satisfying virtue of hard copy is that the editor, author and copy editor can all do their jobs to produce the mots justes of style and accessibility of content which can then sit undisturbed for all to read and enjoy. I have edited one or two of fictions really great authors and we have amiably haggled over individual word selection or whether the desired effect is achieved in a given passage. Although I have also worn the hat of an academic and have no qualms about endorsing the allegation that I am an intellectual, at heart, I am simply a guy who likes to do things well and see a good product enjoyed by as many readers as possible. This does not mean that I want to "command-and-control". I am happy to compromise and work co-operatively for the greater good. But, like you, there does come a point where the accumulation of compromise crosses a non-negotiable threshold.

I am suspending disbelief about this project. It would be a good thing if a quality product could emerge. But your plan calls for editors who have expert qualities. Your plan calls for constables to keep order. This represents a framework in which or through which governance is achieved, but you are not rushing to lay down policies in a Charter. You would be happy to let the man-eating cat out of the bag before fencing the compound in which the potentially destructive animal was to be allowed to exercise. A responsible zoo keeper protects the neighbourhood. Knowledge is a thing wondrous to behold and, for all its faults, Wikipedia has captured a lot of data and brought it in from the wild. Wikipedia's aspirations were noble but the outcome is less than wondrous. Potentially, as Trapper John says, "We are the Pros from Dover and we figure to crack this kid's Wiki and get out to golf course before it gets dark." I hope that most of the people assembling in this forum want to burnish the data in Wiki and turn it into a reliable source of information which will not bite naive users nor those who rely on the direct users. To do this, I think we do need a centralised system that decides stuff and enforces it, and to allow that centralised system to work effectively, I think it needs a mechanism for monitoring performance. Otherwise you have blindfolded the elephant in the room which then inadvertently tramples all the people in the room to death.

Enough of the mixed metaphors (or not), some kuih-muih is awaiting my attention what I eat may change from day-to-day, but it is all still food. Let us hope that your pie leaves the sky and becomes a reliable source of intellectual sustenance for the greatest number of people.
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Daan
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2006, 13:39:10 UTC »

David, i support your plea for a centralized organization. However, i agree with Larry's concern for slow-moving, ideological, and nasty bureaucracies as well. It is important to create systems that are flexible, but still can promote quality instead of chaos and mediocrity.

A method of keeping a wide variety of articles and still being able to ensure quality of all these is to organize congresses. A group of experts and amateurs could hold a congress to edit an article or a couple of articles. The resulting article after this congress will be especially visible next to the article of that same subject that is open for change. This way, there is no special need anymore to monitor all articles.

To prevent that an authority dictates the contents of an article during a congress, there should be a wide variety of literature before the start of a congress. Participants of a congress are thereby able to question the authority based on the contents of this literature. A congress could be headed by a collectively appointed chairman, who doesn't need to be part of the editorial organization. This way a rigid ideologically autocratic organization can be circumvened from below. The decision to hold a congress can be made by the amount of people who want to participate and the quality and amount of literature that has been gathered.

Another solution to the conflicting problems of mediocrity and overly bureaucracy is the establishment of corporatism, or a civil society. A civil society is a combination of institutes, each with its own autonomy and special tasks, some more centralized, others more decentralized. Important is that these corporate organizations are equal to eachother and are supposed to deal with their specific tasks instead of interphering with tasks of other organizations.

Congesses in general could be organized by a rigidly centralized organization with a clear hierarchy. This organization has no authority whatsoever on the content of an article. Special editorial, more decentralized groups could actively promote congresses and search for literature. A congress itself is an ad hoc organization, which can make up its own temporal rules in accordance with the wishes of the participants. This way, each congress can be adapted to the character of the subject of the article and the interrested participants, with or without a chairman and a clear set of rules.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2006, 14:04:57 UTC by Daan » Logged
David91
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« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2006, 16:56:45 UTC »

I notice that there is a graphical representation of Wikimedia at http://www.textop.org/wiki/index.php?title=Citizendium_White_Paper. Where is there any description of the proposed management structure of CZ? If CZ is to function over time, it must be managed. There are a number of standard models for organisation structures, and of the different systems and processes that could be included. From the outset, I assumed that CZ would not be a personal fiefdom, but would have some form of hierarchical structure with key personnel such as the Chief Constable and Editor-in-Chief having defined roles in relation to working teams of editors, authors and copy editors. I am doing no more than asking what this management structure is to be, what processes the organisation will embed, and what information flows will inform the different parts of the organisation as they carry out those processes.

At no point have I made any assumption about a "bureaucracy", benign or otherwise, nor about the nature of the work to be undertaken to assess and maintain quality in the pages themselves. I have done no more than to ask what organisation is proposed and what powers it will have. I have also expressed concern that the culture which might emerge in this early planning stage might drift out of control when the floodgates open. The management of that and other change is a vital issue for us to plan for now. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any material anywhere in the CZ documentation that provides even a hint of what is intended.

I also think it very premature to begin considering a congress to hash out editorial issues. As of today, I have no idea what the function and/or responsibility of an editor on CZ is going to be within a team or working group, nor how each group is supposed to relate to each other. Are we really just making this up as we go along and, if we are, is this not an unprofessional approach from a group that is supposed to be going to uphold quality standards?
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Larry Sanger
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« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2006, 18:50:55 UTC »

At a certain point, any organization that is created must be "made up" (and so "made up as we go along," since we're "going along," too, no?).  If what you mean to ask is whether the design of the management is going to be arbitrary, the answer is, obviously, no.  It will be well thought-out.  But final decisions about management structure, and determinations of the fine points, must not be made until more of the (future) primary stakeholders are on the scene.

What I can say is that the Editor-in-Chief will be the main individual in charge.  Very probably, the EiC will answer to and be part of a Board of Directors--which I have been thinking will not exist until after the Charter is designed, and then ratified by the Board of Advisors which is now under formation.  The Managing Editor will be the manager of the editors.  Within each discipline there will be a Chief Subject Editor.  As to enforcement authority, there is a Chief Constable, to whom other constables will be answerable.  The Managing Editor and Chief Constable will be taking the lead, with the Editor-in-Chief, on actually setting up some policies regarding duties and selection of personnel.

By the way, the graphical representation of Wikipedia at http://www.textop.org/wiki/index.php?title=Citizendium_White_Paper, if you look carefully, is not of the management structure of Wikipedia, but of the servers.
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Phil Wardle
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« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2006, 04:16:17 UTC »

What concerns me about the initial "inflation" stage of the Citi universe (to borrow a term from cosmology) is how we are going to handle the enthusiasm and sheer number of requests for alteration and improvements to articles. Assuming that we are even moderately successful in attracting a goodly number of "authors", then whatever initial editor and/or copyeditors structure we have in place could simply be overwhelmed.

I don't want to see authors become frustrated by long delays for approval, nor indeed truly talented and well qualified editors also becoming frustrated by delays in procedure for accreditation. The last thing we want is to turn people away from the start because of bureaucratic bungling.

An early test start up may be able to simulate some of these practical difficulties, but we need to be clear that we have the means by which artificial barriers to expansion are not there for us all to trip over and pile up on each other in an unseemly heap.
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Larry Sanger
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« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2006, 04:48:01 UTC »

Phil, you seem to be assuming that editors (and maybe copyeditors) will have to approve edits--that's not my view, though. That wouldn't make it a wiki, in my opinion. All I've said about the function of editors is that they will be able to make content decisions, when disputes arise, or when they want to set down policy with regard to an article (and that they'd be able to approve particular versions of articles). To say that is not to say that they have to approve edits.

Well, even if I've misconstrued you, you've still made a good point in any case. Yes, there might be too many authors for the number of editors and copyeditors on board. There might be many articles, in fact, for which there are many authors but no editors at all. But would that necessarily be a bad thing?

By the way, I don't mean to dismiss out of hand the idea that editors might have to approve edits.  Maybe the best system would work that way--but I'd like to try something more open and dynamic to begin with.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2006, 05:02:24 UTC by Larry Sanger » Logged

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Phil Wardle
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« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2006, 05:05:52 UTC »

Well, I guess I am unsure of how much of an eye for quality you feel is needed to ensure that the goals and standards of the Citizendium are maintained, which also impacts on its reliability and respectability.

I was operating under the misconception that all article changes beyond minor edits would need some form of aproval....and that that exact process was as yet to be determined.


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Larry Sanger
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« Reply #11 on: October 03, 2006, 05:52:08 UTC »

As I see it, as the Citizendium is an experimental workspace, the only place where we are really under the microscope, so to speak, is when we declare an article to be "approved" (or "certified" or whatever we say).  There can be plenty of slop in unapproved versions along the way (although not as much as WP I hope!).  Therefore, the only function we really need out of an editor is to referee or coach the team, not necessarily to license every single move made in the game--and to declare a winner.

OK, maybe that's a lame analogy...  Wink
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David91
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« Reply #12 on: October 03, 2006, 07:55:46 UTC »

This thread is now reaching a critical point. I suspect that a majority of those in this forum do not want to see a Wikipedia redux. The only point to this project is that it achieves what Wikipedia has signally failed to do: namely, to produce some degree of stability if not growth in quality. We cannot expect to gain the acceptance of the academic world if, ten seconds after a page has been approved, it is reduced to rubble by a passing person who has no expertise. To me, it is absolutely inconceivable that we should be preparing to repeat the fundamental design error that has prevented Wikipedia from achieving some degree of long-term respectability. I believe that we need a dynamic system. My area of expertise used to be law, legal policy and philosophy, criminology, and the management of information systems and risk. All of these fields are under continuous development. There are major new case precedents and statutes every day around the world, new security problems and solutions bubble in the IT world, etc., so keeping up-to-date is a major headache. That updating in line with current development might be achieved through the serendipity of people passing by would be of inestimable value. However, I am with Phil in spirit. I think that there should be two versions of each page: the approved version and the dynamic version that anyone who has registered can edit (really, just a retitled talk page with little additional storage or programming required to create or manage). The passing authors will get the instant gratification of seeing their words on the system which is part of the reward system for encouraging people to be active. But trusted copy editors will catch the typos in the approved versions, and the task of editors will be to review contributions to the dynamic pages and transfer material as and when appropriate to the approved version. If not this, then there should be some other system that represents a filter before anything other than a spelling correction goes live and even that may be doubtful because changing from, say, a positive to negative could completely change the value of the given expression or sentence.

I wholeheartedly approved Larry's new launch plan which allows a period in which a core of willing volunteers beavers away to bring as much of the material up to standard. But no-one in their right mind is going to spend days and weeks of their time producing maximum perfection for launch if that will all potentially be lost from public view in the first few hours of assault by the world. Putting a tag on a page that it is CZ approved makes that page a target. Those are the pages that will get vandalised first. The motives for such an attack will be many and varied. Some people will attack just because they take malicious satisfaction in destroying the work of others. But a growing volume of quality material in CZ will also threaten the commercial interests that publish hard copy material or run commercial web-sites offering material for students. A significant number of people will have an interest in seeing CZ fail. If we do not put up barriers from the outset, we will preside over a foundering ship. We are claiming to be the professionals who can deliver a quality product. If we make this claim, and fail to take even elementary precautions, the resulting failure will damage our collective reputations. I no longer care. I am long retired and have no reputation to protect. But why should anyone with a career ahead of them risk such a loss of face?
« Last Edit: October 03, 2006, 08:06:18 UTC by David91 » Logged
Nicholas Kaye-Smith
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« Reply #13 on: October 03, 2006, 09:20:08 UTC »

This thread is now reaching a critical point. I suspect that a majority of those in this forum do not want to see a Wikipedia redux. The only point to this project is that it achieves what Wikipedia has signally failed to do: namely, to produce some degree of stability if not growth in quality. We cannot expect to gain the acceptance of the academic world if, ten seconds after a page has been approved, it is reduced to rubble by a passing person who has no expertise. To me, it is absolutely inconceivable that we should be preparing to repeat the fundamental design error that has prevented Wikipedia from achieving some degree of long-term respectability. I believe that we need a dynamic system. My area of expertise used to be law, legal policy and philosophy, criminology, and the management of information systems and risk. All of these fields are under continuous development. There are major new case precedents and statutes every day around the world, new security problems and solutions bubble in the IT world, etc., so keeping up-to-date is a major headache. That updating in line with current development might be achieved through the serendipity of people passing by would be of inestimable value. However, I am with Phil in spirit. I think that there should be two versions of each page: the approved version and the dynamic version that anyone who has registered can edit (really, just a retitled talk page with little additional storage or programming required to create or manage). The passing authors will get the instant gratification of seeing their words on the system which is part of the reward system for encouraging people to be active. But trusted copy editors will catch the typos in the approved versions, and the task of editors will be to review contributions to the dynamic pages and transfer material as and when appropriate to the approved version.
There is a thread about this already. See http://textop.org/smf/index.php?topic=78.
I've posted there.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2006, 09:27:07 UTC by Nicholas Kaye-Smith » Logged

David91
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« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2006, 17:12:38 UTC »

There is a problem in hiving off elements to separate threads instead of continuing the flow of ideas unless, at some point, someone produces a summary of all threads and consolidates all the debates and their conclusions.

To make progress on this thread, let us sum up the likely sequences of events:

in beta version, a team works to produce a core of approved content prior to launch; even during this period, there will be some growth in the number of people working on the project, but this is unlikely to affect the cohesion of the whole;

this limited group will begin drafting a Charter and policies that reflect their view of CZ goals;

the project goes live and out of curiosity or random chance through Google, traffic comes through the door; some will come with active involvement in mind but, so long as the people are reasonably competent and in sympathy with the project goals, stability will be maintained;

but a tipping point will come in one of two different situations:

(a) the project is invaded by groups with goals incompatible with the those articulated by the original membership of CZ; if CZ does not rapidly resolve the differences in a way that preserves the good will of the original members, they may be rapidly demotivated and leave;

(b) a critical mass of good quality articles achieves stability and the academic world is convinced that CZ can be trusted; many new and enthusiastic authors and would-be editors beat their path to CZ's door and their arrival disturbs the routines of the original teams; if there is no preplanning on how to deal with rapid growth, quality may actually be threatened as existing members try to defend their turf or seek to maintain seniority by virtue of their earlier membership, etc.
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