Wikifederalism

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Wikifederalism is the principle that each wiki under the Wikimedia Foundation umbrella should have autonomy to govern itself, and that a decision made on a local wiki should be overridden by a global decision only when necessary to protect other wikis. For example, community consensus on a wiki to allow images to remain posted on the wiki in violation of copyright laws would be subject to being overruled by a global decision, because it could result in legal liability for the WMF. Or a use of switch statements in templates on a local wiki that uses a large amount of server resources might also be prohibited by global decision as a waste of WMF resources.

The opposite of wikifederalism is anti-wikifederalism, a broad term referring to all ideologies that oppose weak central control over WMF wikis. This encompasses not only the idea that there should be strong central control over all WMF wikis, but the opposite idea, viz. that each wiki should be completely independent and that there should be no central control at all. This is sometimes advocated by wikisecessionists. Thus, wikifederalism favors moderate decentralization.

Implications[edit]

Wikifederalism would tend to favor the use of global banning, global requests for comment, global steward action, etc. only in situations in which overriding the will of wiki X is necessary to protect the interests of wiki Y in certain ways. In other situations, the will of each local community should be allowed to prevail. In most cases, the role of the global community should be to advise and coordinate, rather than to control. For example, the global community may issue a warning of a global spammer, but each wiki should be free to ignore that warning or block him preemptively.

Wikifederalism is a wikidynamist philosophy because it allows groups of individuals (i.e. local wikis) to act on their own knowledge rather than deferring to central planners; it allows local wikis to devise and implement different systems that can be combined in many different ways; it protects criticism, competition, and feedback by making it harder for a global consensus to stifle expression of opinion or local wikis' implementation of policies whose results may outshine those of other wikis; and it establishes a framework within which people can create nested, competing frameworks of more specific rules.

Arguments[edit]

Arguments for wikifederalism[edit]

An argument for wikifederalism is that it allows each wiki to be a laboratory for experimentation with different rules and cultural values and norms. Running hundreds of such experiments in parallel can accelerate the rate at which experience is gained with various systems. The results of these experiments can be compared with one another, and the information can be used to figure out what are likely the better systems. Different wikis can learn from one another's experiences and ideas and borrow from one another to produce even better systems.

If a really bad idea is introduced, its effect will be only local, rather than global. Risky ideas can be tried on smaller wikis to limit their harmful impact if the results are bad. On the other hand, because there is that potential to isolate the effects, it becomes possible to try ideas locally that would be too risky to try globally. Sometimes even risky ideas can turn out to have beneficial outcomes; and federalism may in some cases provide the means for reducing the risk without destroying the potential for reward.

There may not be a single right way to operate a wiki. Different people may have different preferences. Having many wikis, each with its own different rules and people in charge, can cater to many different preferences. Also, what works well for one language, or one kind of project, may not work as well for another.

Wikifederalism allows different wikis to compete for users and readers, especially when different wikis' goals overlap. For example, suppose a user enjoys writing about news events but finds that Wikipedia is not a particularly friendly community toward him, or that its policies and practices are not conducive toward his accomplishing much there. He may, then, instead spend his time at Wikinews. If all wikis had the same rules and cultures, there would be nowhere dissidents could go.

Arguments against wikifederalism[edit]

Abuse is in the eye of the beholder. What happens when users of a local wiki say that local consensus, or local sysops, are operating abusively? Sanger's Law predicts that in such situations, good users will tend to leave the project and abusive users will tend to be attracted to it and rise to power, strengthening the status quo on that wiki. It may be hard to reverse the situation without action taken by the global community, e.g. through a Request for Comment at meta and global steward action.

An action taken by one WMF project could tarnish the reputation of WMF as a whole. E.g., if one project allows pedophiles to comment openly on their sexual attractions, it could give the impression that WMF is unopposed to pedophilia. Or if one wiki were to adopt a low standard of verifiability of information, and large amounts of false information were to be posted and to remain on that wiki for long periods as a result, it could tarnish WMF's reputation for providing reliable information. This reputational damage could harm other wikis under the WMF umbrella by, for instance, making it harder for WMF to attract donations that would benefit all WMF projects.