RuWiki History (Doronina and Pinchuk)/English

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

History Project

Noto Emoji Pie 1f4c4.svg This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

Ruwiki: a social history of the project


Disclaimer: this is not an "official history of the Russian Wikipedia" but the result of a research project by two individuals. In the collaborative spirit of Wikipedia, we welcome your contribution! Feel free to comment, correct, or add supplemental information on the talk page -- interesting and engaging discussions will be translated into both English and Russian and integrated into the main body of the essay. Check back to watch this history evolve.

Please read about the goals of the project and our methodology here: RuWiki History Methods

Timeline of the project, see full size image for details

From “Russia is the motherland of elephants” to 50 thousand articles

The Beginning

May 2001-April 2004: 0-4,000 articles


The UN announces the Year of the Elephant. Different countries publish books on the theme of elephants.
The French publish a one-volume tome, Elephants and Love.
The Americans publish a brochure, "What An American Needs to Know About Elephants."
The Germans publish A Short Introduction to Elephantology in ten volumes.
In the Soviet Union a three-volume work is released:
Volume One, The Classics of Marxism-Leninism On Elephants,
Volume Two: The USSR is the motherland of elephants,
and Volume Three: Elephants in light of the decisions of the XXXVI meeting of the Communist Party.
Vintage Soviet humor: Russia is the motherland of elephants.

The early days of the Russian Wikipedia were slow and inauspicious. Though the project was initially announced in May of 2001 and moved to its current domain, ru.wikipedia.org, in late 2002, its first administrators were two English Wikipedians, Brion VIBBER and JohnOwens, who spoke no Russian. Over the course of 2003 and 2004, a small early adopter crop of Russian speakers and interwiki outsiders made minor edits to the main page, created short articles of the scholarly (Sociology, Russia, USSR) or not so scholarly (Elephants, Fish) variety, added interwiki links, and reverted vandalism. But few of these users stuck around beyond 20 or so edits. The first dedicated Russian Wikipedian was Theta682, a computer programmer from St. Petersburg, who changed the article on Russia from the joke “Russia is the motherland of elephants” (Россия — родина слонов), to a serious encyclopedic entry. Before becoming inactive in August of 2003, Theta682 created dozens of articles and stubs on world geography and Russian history. By then, two other active Russian-speaking Wikipedians had begun to create and edit articles: Oleg326756 and DrBug. Oleg was a former contributor to Nupedia, and Drbug would eventually become the first ru.wiki admin and later bureaucrat and head of the Russian Wikimedia chapter. They were soon joined by HedgeHog, a Belarusian programmer and creator of the first ru.wiki bot, HedgeBot. Using his bot, HedgeHog generated two thousand stubs on years, which instantly doubled the ru.wiki article count and put the Russian Wikipedia on the map of up-and-coming wikis. With this basic cast of characters -- an editor, an organizer, and a bot-master -- ru.wiki was officially up and running.

Meta-discussion in these early days was relatively quiet, mostly limited to technical questions on the talk page of the main page. That would soon change with the appearance of Ramir, an outspoken physics and computer science student attending school in New Zealand. Ramir left notes on user pages, rallying them to come discuss the future of the project on a page titled “How we should construct our wiki” (later the “Discussion Portal,” and then the Forum). He admitted from the outset that his main activity would not be article creation; he was a dreamer and an idealist, interested in Wikipedia as a cultural and pedagogic tool, something that would help deliver a uniform level of education to all the Russian-speaking people in the world. Moreover, in this anarchic stage, when none of the other contributors were particularly concerned with their formal status, he quickly became an admin. He also wrote the first Rules and Regulations page, on which he stated in no uncertain terms: “The goal of Wikipedia is to create a complete, accurate encyclopedia in the Russian language, and nothing else.”

Unfortunately, Ramir quickly came into conflict with the other Wikipedians, who were put off by his brusque manner of expressing himself (for example, the following statement from a routine admin election page: “I ask you to join in the total genocide of premature articles") and categorical stance on the nature of the project. A particular pet peeve of his was article stubs – he felt that they should not exist, that only good, polished articles should be included in the project. This went against the policy of some of the other early Wikipedians, most notably HedgeHog and his years project. Unfortunately, rather than having a productive discussion, Ramir tended to get frustrated and hostile, which later led to his desysopping. But in these early years, his energetic contribution provided a much-needed kickstart for the big discussions that would soon shape the future of the community.

See also First 50 Russian Wikipedia editors

The Family

June 2004-August 2004: 4,000-5,000 articles

Among the users there are many people who live in foreign countries,
and this is difficult: all around is a foreign tongue, foreign customs,
foreign people (even if you meet someone and become close, this will never substitute
for your old school and university friends), and in general people feel lonely
and cannot fully realize themselves in foreign countries, so they find themselves on ru.wiki.
Laurentia (full survey response).

The first two Russian-speaking administrators, Ramir and Drbug, present one of the most important dichotomies that have characterized the ru.wiki project throughout every stage of its development. If the defining struggle of the English Wikipedia has been Inclusionists versus Deletionists, then a somewhat analogous conflict in the Russian Wikipedia is between so-called Restrictors and Allowists – Restrictors, who feel the need to set clear, firm rules and restrict both users and articles; and Allowists, who feel that rules and restrictions are antithetical to the ideals of Wikipedia and argue for a more anarchic, unfettered community. But whereas the Inclusionism/Deletionism conflict centers on articles, the conflict between the Allowists and Restrictors is more abstract, touching on fundamental issues of social order. With no Jimmy Wales -- a central authority figure responsible for defining the shape of the project -- ru.wiki has continued to experiment with different styles of community organization and, at various points in its development, has cycled between these two competing visions.

Ramir was a Restrictor to the extreme, and his inability to compromise led to his falling out with the community. Drbug, in contrast, has remained in the community since the beginning and is known for his friendliness and tolerance of even the most problematic users. His activity represents the height of the “Allowist” platform: defending the rights of “virtuals” or sock-puppets, [1] and arguing against blocking as a punitive measure. Perhaps the best way to reveal the difference between these two platforms is to take a look at the two different kinds of greetings that Ramir and Drbug left to new users in the early phase of the project:

Hello and welcome to Wikipedia.

I (along with the other active users of Wikipedia) am very happy to meet a new contributor to the project. However, I would also very much like you to familiarize yourself with the goals, tasks, and rules of Wikipedia, so that the rest of the contributors are not forced to correct or delete your work, and so that you won’t be wasting your time.

Please do not create stubs -- we are tired of deleting them. Also, you should read the general rules and regulations on participating in the project.

Welcome! I hope that you will become an active participant in the project!

While their attitudes to users and to ru.wiki were seemingly diametrically opposed, Ramir and Drbug did have one thing in common: they both had a particular vision of what the Russian Wikipedia should look like, one that was not necessarily shared by the rest of the community. As the “family” began to grow, it appreciated “fatherly” intervention, whether restrictive or indulgent, less and less.

Kneiphof/Konigsberg, the city that drew in the user

Throughout 2004, the ru.wiki “family” remained small and tight-knit. The most active users -- Stas Kozlovsky, Monedula, DIG, Maximaximax -- were on familiar terms, using the informal “you” to address each other (in Russian there is an informal pronoun "ты" and polite "Вы" to address a person), and frequently posting on each other’s talk pages and the Discussion portal (1, 2). However, there were also a number of active users who never engaged in “metapedianism,” the ru.wiki term for meta-discussion: for example, Yadra, who wrote articles on world literature, or Kemen, who was interested in math and the space program. Kemen, an engineer from St. Petersburg, attributes his disinterest in metapedian activity to lack of time, as well as a non-confrontational personality: "... I'm not in the habit of arguing to win. The truth, unfortunately, rarely emerges from arguments." Even at this early stage, a division of labor was beginning to form, with some users devoting their energy to planning, structuring, and discussing the project, and others creating the encyclopedic material.

Of course, there were also “hybrid” Wikipedians who did both, such as Kneiphof, who created and edited dozens of articles and spent a year on the site before he began to engage in metapedian discussions with other users. Kneiphof is a Russian who had moved to Belgium to work for the Belgian National Railway Company, and the Russian Wikipedia was a way for him to stay connected to his homeland. When he finally did join in debates, he was frequently an advocate for new users, a supporter of pro-stub and short article policy, and, in stark contrast to Ramir, was not hostile to contributors who did not possess a perfect knowledge of Russian spelling and grammar [2]:

If a person can’t write correctly in Russian, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no place for him in Wikipedia!!! Think of the émigrés who have lived abroad since childhood, think of the foreigners learning Russian as a second language! Without their contribution, which might be offensive to lovers of elegant self-expression, our Wikipedia will be one-sided!”

Kneiphof attests that in the early days of ru.wiki, many of the major contributors were in a similar situation as he was: young, well-educated Russians living abroad, who had a technological advantage over those living in Russia and the former USSR, and who helped to make the project more internationally oriented. With time, as the Russian-speaking world caught up with Europe and the Americas in Internet capabilities, the importance of these emigre contributors lessened, but according to Kneiphof, it remains a crucial component in maintaining ru.wiki's neutrality.

Not surprisingly, it was editors like Kneiphof -- studious, courteous, and cosmopolitan -- who were most respected and trusted by the community, and were elected to future Arbitration Committees by an overwhelming majority. The ability to balance productive contribution to both the encyclopedia and the community and to remain civil in the face of bitter conflict was rare, but it made for a very well-regarded user.

As more and more people filtered in, the encyclopedia began taking shape, with many sophisticated articles. In June 2004 Drbug became the first bureaucrat of ru.wiki, an unofficial sign that the project was thriving. In August the first featured article, Go (game), appeared on the main page, indicating increased attention to quality. This article has been continually improved, but was unable to keep up with the increasingly stringent requirements for featured articles, and was subsequently demoted to good article in 2010.

Russian Wikipedia - Runet-2006 prize winner. Ctac addressing the audience on behalf of the Russian Voltaires
Back then, I didn't even know that word [Wikipedia].
I thought it sounded inappropriate.
INSAR (full survey response).

The Summon

August 2004-December 2005: 5,000-50,000 articles

In September 2004, Stas Kozlovsky, a well-known blogger and MSU lecturer, published an article on Wikipedia in the popular Russian computer magazine Computerra. The article, titled “How To Become Voltaire; Or, The Freest Encyclopedia,” not only detailed the history of the English Wikipedia’s founding, but also provided step by step instructions on how to edit, including samples of markup language, as well as a description of the administrative structure. In а 2005 onwiki questionnaire “How we found Wikipedia,” this article was the second most popular reason for participating in ru.wiki cited by users (after random Google searches that turned up Wikipedia articles).

Of course, the kind of people who would be reading a computer magazine also tended to be interested in certain fields and produced certain kinds of articles: pages on math, science, and computer programming were plentiful, while the humanities were less well represented. For example, by the end of 2004, the article on Leo Tolstoy had 15 edits, while the article on the programming language C++ had 35, and Biology had 51. Unlike other large Wikipedias, notably English and Japanese, popular culture was at first not particularly well-represented on ru.wiki. Though many of the users were quite young (the youngest admin, Alexandrit, joined the project in 2007 at the age of 12), the majority of the encyclopedic content has remained academic, reflecting a society that has traditionally prized its intellectuals.

In addition to attracting sciences- and IT-oriented people, Wikipedia also tended to attract idealists and radicals. Kozlovsky himself was an outspoken advocate for the “free” part of the free encyclopedia and threatened to leave the project when it was announced that Jimmy Wales had considered putting up ads on en.wiki (he stayed on and is currently the assistant director of the Russian Wikimedia chapter). Morpheios Melas, another early user and admin, was categorically opposed to copyright laws, which brought him into conflict with other users and administrators. On his user page, he posted the following disclaimer: “If you want to complain about a copyright violation on some Wikipedia page, I advise you to turn to any of the other administrators, because I don’t believe in copyright restrictions, and dealing with this wouldn’t be very pleasant for me”. Though, strictly speaking, they were all working for the same goal -- a free encyclopedia -- the members of the community still found that there was room for divergences in the ways this goal could be interpreted.

In October, HedgeHog created a discussion page that posed the questions:

  • How necessary is growth in quantity?
  • How necessary is growth in quality?
  • How necessary is structuring and formatting the existing material?”

The resulting discussion showed that priorities differed: some users (such as HedgeHog) wanted more articles, and others (such as Maximaximax) wanted better articles, the classic split of Inclusionists and Deletionists. Many of the discussants agreed that it didn’t make sense to worry about formatting at this early stage, that that sort of work could wait.

In the next two months, the project experienced its first great leap in editor numbers, and by 2005, with close to 300 editors, the familial community atmosphere was changing. October 2005 saw the first attempt at a mass voting system, and from November 25th through December 1st, a direct open election was held to elect arbiters for the newly-instituted Arbitration Committee. More sophisticated divisions of labor emerged, including offshoots of the main Wikipedia project like Russian Wikibooks, headed by Ramir, its first bureaucrat. New users took on certain “tribal” affiliations -- attaching themselves to different “Project:___” Wikipedia subcategories, which first appeared in late 2005.

RuWiki conference in St Petersburg, 2006

Middle -- From Arbcom to the GSB Conspiracy

January 2006-May 2007: 50,000-220,000 articles

The shape of things to come

While questions of growth, planning, and structuring were all being hotly debated from 2003 onwards, discussion of rules and regulations was conspicuously absent. Since April 2004, Ramir’s original “Rules and Regulations” page had undergone modification and expansion, but the “rules” were not officially sanctioned by the community, which meant that, in actuality, they were little more than unofficial guidelines. More importantly, these rules dealt primarily with how to write and format articles and did not touch on conduct within the community -- the “everything else” that Ramir purposely excluded from his description of Wikipedia.

While the community was small, formal rules of conduct had been unnecessary. First of all, the small number of users knew each other and could keep tabs on any discussions or conflicts, and second, ru.wiki was still a semi-obscure Wikipedia project, overshadowed by the vastly larger English, German, and French wikis. But after two years online and with increasing publicity in the media, that was beginning to change. Internet-media exposure and increasing access to the Web in Russian-speaking areas attracted diverse users, including some of the less savory characters from the Russian Internet: trolls, vandals, and troublemakers. In the words of user Anatolich1, it was amazing that ru.wiki even managed to survive in the hostile atmosphere of the ruNet, where, compared to the West, chaos reigned[1]:

The Internet came to Russia later than to the developed Western nations, and the Russian Internet users can be compared to an infant who puts everything in its mouth, because it's interesting to try everything, to break a cup and see, what will happen? Will they punish me or not notice? In that sense, Western Internet users have already "grown up."

The polite “family atmosphere” of ru.wiki was quickly spoiled by rudeness and obscenity, which shocked the longtime members of the community. But, in fact, the first insurmountable conflicts in the community had to do not with petty vandals but with deeper cultural, historical, and ideological issues.

Disputed territory Nagorno Karabakh (NK) is located between Armenia and Azerbaijan

The Arbitration committee

During the Soviet period of Russian history, the Russian language was taught across the Eastern Block and Soviet Union, and quite early the Russian Wikipedia emerged as an umbrella Wikipedia for formerly Soviet, newly independent countries. It was a hub for sizable Russian-speaking diasporas and people who speak Russian as a second language, but the heterogeneous background of these users led to conflict. The increasing acceptance of Wikipedia’s reliability and legitimacy had attracted many national, political, and religious minorities to the project, who were tempted by the ability to finally tell their side of the story, or, more dangerously, to rewrite history in their favor. According to Divot, an editor of articles on Armenia that are especially prone to conflict, examples of the latter were particularly egregious on ru.wiki because "in the U.S.S.R., everyone invented wonderful histories for themselves," and people so invested in their national history that they had "absorbed these ideas literally along with their mother's milk" and were unable to view history objectively or neutrally. This led to bitter edit wars that paralleled real-world conflicts, pitting Soviet sources against national and international ones.

One of the conflicts surrounded articles on Ukrainian history and language - a group of conservative Russian “new imperialists” insisted that the Ukrainian language is a modern invention and that the country is an integral part of Russia. The creation and rapid growth of the Ukrainian Wikipedia has absorbed some of this conflict, but comparing articles on contentious subjects in ru.wiki and uk.wiki (e.g., Nikolai Gogol, a “great Russian” or “Russian and Ukrainian” writer, respectively) often shows radically different readings of history.

Another major nexus of contention was the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, former neighboring Soviet republics, now independent countries perpetually engaged in a territorial war around the Nagorno-Karabakh region. On November 4th, 2005, user Grandmaster, an Azerbaijani from Baku, posted a plea on the Discussion Forum, asking someone to intervene in the edit war over an article on Karabakh. He and the Armenian user Rovoam had edited the page dozens of times, undoing each other’s revisions, and were deadlocked in their struggle. In his reply to Grandmaster, user Ornil admitted that administrators were not technically qualified to deal with this kind of conflict, and that perhaps it was time to follow the example of the English and other big wikis and create an Arbitration Committee.

Over the next few days, the matter was put to a vote, and the first Arbcom officials were elected on the first day of 2006: Maxim Razin, Mitrius, Obersachse, Kaganer, and Wulfson. Interestingly, the two arbiters who received the most votes, Maxim Razin and Obersachse, did not live in Russia -- Maxim Razin was from Ukraine, and Obersachse, still an active participant, lives in Germany and German, not Russian, is his first language. The remaining arbiters lived in Russia, but they also had diverse wiki-backgrounds. Mitrius, like Kneiphof, is a respected, scholarly contributor in the fields of history and linguistics, and an apolitical admin. Kaganer was a respected and prodigious contributor but not an admin, the first of several arbiters who were elected without following the three As of the classic metapedian -- author, admin, arbiter. Wulfson, an admin with a military background and a correspondingly hardline approach to the rules of Wikipedia, is a prominent Restrictor. These Arbcom demographics would remain more or less typical through the 8 subsequent meetings of the Arbcom.

Arrest of gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseev at Moscow Pride on May 27, 2006

The upheaval

January 2006-February 2006: 50,000-60,000 articles

In 2005, a contemporary Russian poet, Dmitri Kuzmin, began editing on Wikipedia. He contributed to hundreds of articles on literature and history; he was also one of a small number of publicly out gay men in Russian society.

In Russia, the subject of homosexuality is still taboo -- during the Soviet period, it was considered a criminal offense, and only in 1999 was it officially removed from the list of mental illnesses recognized by Russian medical authorities. But while it is now officially tolerated, many people are still openly hostile to any public display or discussion of alternative sexuality. In Moscow, Kuzmin’s home town, former mayor Yuri Luzhkov was famous for outlawing gay pride parades and calling homosexuality “Satanic”. So, it is no surprise that when Kuzmin began editing articles on homosexuality, he encountered hostility from a number of Russian Wikipedians. The most notable of these was Dart evader, a user who frequently butted heads with admins because of his uncanny ability to aggravate serious Wikipedians and push the rules of the community to their limits. Though he peppered his comments with smiley faces, Dart Evader was openly derisive and contemptuous of anything he viewed as “pro-homosexual.” He and his small coterie of like-minded users taunted Kuzmin and other gay Wikipedians with homophobic slurs and made non-NPOV edits to pages on homosexuality, representing it as a disease and a deviance [3], [4], [5], [6]. It did not help that Kuzmin was an admin and Dart evader was not; furthermore, Kuzmin tended to react badly to the abuse and, according to the ArbCom, used his admin privileges to retaliate, which made him the perfect target for Dart evader’s trolling. According to Kuzmin, he was in an especially difficult position:

And so a pair of totally anonymous persons methodically and gleefully heaped their semi-obscene insults upon me, and the community at that time looked upon all this disinterestedly and explained to me that if you're gay, then you can't be offended by someone calling you a pederast, and the moment I replied to the stalkers in their own language, I was immediately desysoped with the verdict that I'm not setting a good example.

The "family" was having a hard time dealing with these new problem children and tried managing them with light knuckle-rapping: Dart and his gang received hundreds of short-term blocks for their recurring infractions, making their block logs rival their editing contributions [7], [8]. But this mild, Allowist approach was clearly beginning to alienate productive contributors. The stage was set for a major battle.

While the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict was a major one, it was contained within certain articles and user pages and could be ignored by editors active in different topics. But the conflicts surrounding articles on gender and sexuality spilled over into practically every corner of the community, forcing active editors to take sides. The issue touched on a broader problem in post-Soviet Russian society: the ideological split between those who wanted Russia to be progressive, liberal, and multicultural, and those who insisted on maintaining an idealized myth about the Soviet or Imperial Russian past -- one based on nationalism, xenophobia, and conservative social values. This latter camp was referred to as the “ymperialists” (mocking some attempts to use old-fashioned orthography) and on two occasions they broke off to found their own “ideologically correct” Wikipedia: first Wikislavia (2006 - 2008), which at one point boasted more articles than the Russian Wikipedia but was swamped by the automatic upload of an old encyclopedia's articles; and, later, Encyclopedia “Tradition” (2007 - present).

While most of the ru.wiki community did not subscribe to the extremism of the ymperialists’ platform, some of their ideas became a symbol of protest against the more numerous progressives, who have also tended to assume admin and arbiter positions. In Kuzmin's words, homophobia became the main “litmus test” that could be used to identify problem users on ru.wiki. Casually dropping a homophobic slur on a user’s talk page was a shorthand way of identifying oneself with a vague “opposition” stance -- whether it was opposing concrete editors, admins, or the entire project.

The trial

The Russian Wikipedia had not yet held an arbitration hearing and was clearly hesitant to intervene in this sensitive matter. When the conflict was finally addressed, the arbiters chose to focus not on insults or morality, but on a technical matter, the proposal for deletion of the article on the Russian website Gay.ru a portal of news and information for the Russian LGBT community.

Immediately after its creation on January 10, 2006, the article was proposed for deletion by Dart evader. Kuzmin and his supporters argued that the article should remain on ru.wiki, because the site was notable for the unique role it played in the Russian gay community. Dart evader and his circle insisted that it was spam and objected to some of the banner ads, which seemed to advertise prostitution, while the Wikipedia article described the site as an informational and educational resource. A vote for deletion was held, and while the majority of votes (17 to 13) were for deletion, the admin in charge, Maximaximax, overruled the majority and let the article stay. Maximaximax was certainly not shy about getting rid of non-notable pages -- since joining the project in 2004, he has deleted over 10,000 articles. However, he also had no sympathy for the political incorrectness and rudeness of Dart evader, and since the group clamoring for deletion was comprised of his cronies, he had closed in favor of Kuzmin.

Thus Maximaximax's closure caused an Arbcom case, at the outset of which the arbiter Mitrius reiterated all the grounds on which Dart Evader and his circle wanted the article deleted, from the technical (spam, notability) to the charges of pornography and immorality. He denied the validity of all of these points, but especially the latter, which he called the “Pederasts have no place in normal society” argument, a phrase taken verbatim from the discussion on the Articles for Deletion page:

According to the legal code of all the countries in which the Russian-language Wikipedia operates, homosexuality is not a crime. Homosexuality is considered by many religions and a significant portion of society to be a sin (or an amoral activity). However, Wikipedia is neutral and is not the voice of that portion of society, or of any religion. Hosting articles on topics that concern homosexuality does not mean that Wikipedia is acting as an apologist for homosexuality (“it’s so great to be gay”) and thus insulting those people who condemn it; rather, it describes the real world and the reality of the society in which such people and such websites exist...

In the end, the Arbcom ruled that Maximaximax’s actions were justified: there was no clear consensus (defined as 2/3 of the votes) in the vote for deletion, and he closed the argument in favor of the side he (and the arbiters) thought presented the more reasonable case.

Alexander Sigachov at the 2006 RuNet awards

The fallout

There were several consequences to this decision. First, it was clear that the rules and codes of conduct in the community (when to use voting and when to rely on an admin’s interpretation of consensus, for example) could all stand to be clarified. One of the major tasks of the Arbcom over the subsequent years of its existence became the clarification of the complex rules and guidelines pages that began to proliferate on ru.wiki, which helped to dispel ambiguity in similar matters. Alexander Sigachov, an arbiter in the second and fourth meetings of the ArbCom, characterizes the early arbitration cases as test runs in this process of legislative interpretation:

The first ArbComs adhered more strictly to the letter of the rules and held that if a rule is bad, then it is necessary to clarify the rules, rather than concealing their inadequacies with ArbCom decisions. The first ArbComs did not have experience with serious conflicts or indefinite blocks, and there were no serious groups of offended former users, but on the other hand there were many experimental users attempting projects that were of differing levels of closeness to the creation of an encyclopedia.

However, the ruling in Maximaximax’s favor was also a ruling in favor of “the spirit of the law,” since he had not, strictly speaking, obeyed community consensus in the vote for deletion. The flexibility of “spirit” was a necessity when dealing with the “experimental” users, who relished in entangling admins and arbiters in their own bureaucracy (for example, an arbitration hearing in December of 2006 devolved into a legalistic/philosophical discussion of whether or not it was a violation of the “no personal attacks policy” to refer to another user as “Batman”). However, it also created a rift between ordinary users and those carrying the “flag” of admin or arbiter, as the interpretation of “spirit” was often up to the users in the latter camp.

Adminship may have originally been considered merely “technical,” but on ru.wiki it quickly acquired a social function that separated admins from the rest of the community. Along with the technical capabilities of blocking and banning other users and deleting pages, admin status granted users a more authoritative opinion and allowed them the last word in many discussions that would have otherwise dragged on without end. This authority was informal, conventional, and unspoken, in keeping with the “spirit of the law.” But while it evolved naturally and helped facilitate productive work on the project, it also bred resentment towards admins from some ordinary community members, who felt that the rules were only used against them and did not seem to apply to anyone wielding admin status. Unfortunately, those users who frequently got into conflicts with admins also tended to be the most vocal about the unfairness of the rules and admins’ treatment of them.

I think one of the tasks of the community is reaching a degree
of cooperation at which the ArbCom is no longer necessary.
Azgar (full survey response).

To that end, the hot-button nature of the homosexuality debate drew in many diverse disgruntled parties, who had been growing in number parallel with the growth of the overall community. Perhaps this is why, to some users, it seemed that conflict in ru.wiki did not exist until after the formation of the Arbcom -- with the appearance of a specific space where arguments could take place, minor local skirmishes coalesced into major wars, with users joining up into camps, electing the most eloquent wiki-lawyers to represent their case, and spending huge amounts of time compiling evidence and crafting a legal narrative, at the expense of productive encyclopedic activity. Moreover, arbiters had to read all of this material and respond, which made participation in the ArbCom as time consuming as a full-time job.

While the format was useful for clarifying policies, an unintended consequence was that people like Dart evader, who craved the spotlight and relished in irritating authority figures, were the ones most likely to end up in arbitration. After losing its first Arbcom case, the anti-homosexuality camp did not give up hounding users or edit warring, and a slew of cases followed, many of them frivolous and counterproductive: An evaluation of Dart Evader’s actions, On Dart Evader’s non-compliance with AC’s decision, On a blocking war, On “Homowars”, On the deletion of the article Homonegativism, On the gift of clairvoyance and a yet another edit war.

Chair, one of the less controversial articles created by Smartass

The parties

March 2006-May 2006: 60,000-70,000 articles

On top of “family” and “tribal” affiliations, the creation of the Arbcom meant that ru.wiki was beginning to acquire political “parties,” as well. In 2006, these parties were small and scattered along the previously mentioned ideological lines -- nationalist agenda-pushers, ymperialists, and borderline trolls like Dart evader. The one common thread among these disparate groups was resentment towards certain administrators and rules. But rather than working to make things better, they focused on finding subtle ways to undermine the project and make things worse. Anyone with an axe to grind was attracted to one of the most outspoken figures of the anti-admin camp, the user Smartass, who around this time began forming an onwiki association, APE, or the Academy of Progressive Encyclopedians.

APE was created in May 2006 on Smartass’s talk page. According to Serebr, Smartass's right-hand man and one of the first “academics,” the party was created to counteract the censorship and overly strict academicism on the part of the ru.wiki admins, “on account of the fact that Smartass, being the author of a significant number of non-trivial articles, was being subjected to harassment, and many of the articles were being unreasonably deleted, so we had the idea to somehow support him.”

A simple object is the chair.
Four legs it has, and shape and weight,
And color, too, it has.
Go on, my friend, and sit on it.

Chair, an article created by Smartass

The “nontrivial” articles in question were written on common household objects and assorted marginalia from daily life. Some were kept and improved upon, but others were indeed deleted -- for example, “Mayonnaise Jar” (now a moderately famous Russian Internet meme) and “How to Open a Bottle” the latter of which caused a huge debate and even an ArbCom case when it was eventually merged with the article on “Bottles.” But it was not necessarily the subject matter of these articles that many in the community objected to; rather, it was the energy and aggressiveness with which the “party members” rallied together to defend them against deletion, and the way Smartass systematically found ways to push the community's buttons:

Of course, I noticed what the community reacted to poorly, and I deliberately created articles of precisely that type. That is, I provoked heated debate around things which nobody would have paid any attention to in en.wiki.

Smartass, one of the “experimental” users that Alexander Sigachov alluded to, insisted that he was being provocational for the good of the community, but the admins and arbiters who repeatedly had to deal with his lengthy debates simply saw it as taking things to absurdity, the ru.wiki version of WP:Don't disrupt Wikipedia to prove a point.

The Progressive Academics

When APE was first made official, however, not everyone realized the extent of Smartass's ability to sow discord. According to its official platform, it was an organization dedicated to greater freedom in article creation, administrative reform, term limits for admins and bureaucrats, and a general Inclusionist policy similar to en.wiki’s “Esperanza”. Under this guise, it drew in many users, admins, and even some arbiters. Maximaximax, one of the early members of the party, describes his participation as “a (failed) attempt at counteracting the trolls by playing on their field.”

But the attempt at a rapprochement failed. The more popular the party became, the more problem users it attracted, and it soon became clear that many of the “Academics” were not just having harmless fun. Using the language of Russian politics, they now saw themselves as “wiki-dissidents” who were actively trying to disrupt what they considered to be an administrative cabal that secretly controlled the entire project. Smartass, who still continues to propagate “wiki-dissidence” even after four years of indefblock exile, feels that the more restrictive this cabal of “operators” (his derogatory term for admins) became towards ru.wiki users, the more he and his party members pushed back : “... at a certain moment, the operators began to enjoy deleting users from the project. In other words, the dissidents were created by the regime. Since the deleted users did not want to leave, they entered into the category of the opposition.”

Unlike the ordinary vandals or POV-pushers that the community was used to dealing with, this “opposition” presented a unique problem: it was comprised of people who cared deeply (perhaps too deeply) about ru.wiki, but refused to respect the status quo. Admins like Maximaximax had to choose between playing along with Smartass's trolling or taking a stand, and as their patience waned, they overwhelmingly began to choose the latter, no longer simply blocking users temporarily but banning them indefinitely. In doing so, however, they reinforced Smartass's self-presentation as a rebel and a martyr, an image he and his followers lovingly cultivated on and off-wiki.

Gustave Dore's Lucifer -- hero or heretic?

Good faith, bad faith

May 2006-June 2006: 60,000-70,000 articles

The combination of high esteem of self and low esteem of others -- especially those with any kind of special technical/social standing in the community, like admins and arbiters -- was not unique to Smartass; in fact, these seem to be the traits common to nearly all of the users now blacklisted from the community. As Edward Chernenko, an indefblocked user who now contributes to Absurdopedia.net, puts it:

I was mostly motivated by the desire to become famous... I don't think that this is all that noble of a goal -- to be famous because of a large contribution, but at least my intentions were a good deal more pure than that majority of ru.wiki users who came only to push their point of view in articles. Yes, I propose that they are the majority. As for administrators, who don't write articles, I won't even comment, because their motivation is self-evident and even worse.

Like Smartass, Edward Chernenko remains convinced that anyone who acquired the status of admin in the community did so for nefarious purposes: to control both the content and users on ru.wiki.

As for the community itself, its reaction to Smartass and his antics was mixed. Judging from the responses to a survey of current users, the overwhelming majority of editors who were active in 2006 did not even register APE's existence. The metapedians who did pay attention broke into predictable camps: Allowists supported the existence of the party, though not necessarily condoning the activities of the “Progressive Academics,” while Restrictors called for APE's wholesale expulsion from ru.wiki. Notably, Drbug encouraged Smartass's presence and chastised admins who lashed out at the Academics, arguing that Smartass was an example of a “useful troll” who would make the project better. At this time, Drbug also made the controversial decision to nominate a notorious cult figure from the darker corners of the Russian Internet, Mithgol the Webmaster, to admin status, despite this user’s frequent contributions to ultra-nationalist/fascist off-wiki Internet communities, as well as his lack of popularity in the ru.wiki community for his extremely conservative views (the official vote was 12 for, 46 against). Mithgol was a staunch ymperialist, but was also a computer programmer and had made a considerable contribution to the project, especially in the realm of photography, geography, and history. Moreover, he had a huge following on LiveJournal that could presumably be drawn into contributing to ru.wiki.

Drbug’s support did not apply to simple vandals or pranksters, but only to sophisticated trolls like Smartass, or intelligent but odious figures like Mithgol. In this sense, his Allowist policy resembled a radically optimistic approach to the problem of evil. Just as Milton had cast Satan as a major figure in his epic poem Paradise Lost to show that even the greatest evil is ultimately all a part of God’s plan, Drbug and other Allowists were convinced that any harmful act of trolling conceals a hidden benefit, and that the most troublesome saboteur is ultimately useful to the project. Unfortunately, this somewhat radical -- and literal -- interpretation of “good faith” ran into trouble in a decentralized community like ru.wiki. Drbug’s utopian “grand plan” was inscrutable and unnecessary to much of the community, who just wanted to contribute to an encyclopedia without being insulted or harassed. Drbug’s defense of trolls came off as overly apologist, or, even worse, unnecessarily laudatory of their activity, a classic case of feeding the trolls.

Moreover, the “usefulness” of trolling was precisely what trolls themselves argued for, claiming that conflict was a healthy and productive force for the community. Smartass, while acknowledging some of his behavior to be trollish, has always been adamant that “trolling” works “exactly in the same way that speculation helps the market (liquidity):”

There has to be some kind of movement, discussion, debate. If you study the history of Wikipedia, then all the achievements and order happened after alternative variants were tested out. If we return to the example of a speculator, then it's obvious that his intentions are bad -- he wants to move your money into his own pocket. But without speculators, there would be no market, and without a market there would be no economy.

Though these arguments sounded good in theory, in practice, the amount of time spent on grandiose theorizing and debating left the Academics with little time for the writing or editing of articles, which, after all, was the main goal of Wikipedia. Reading through Smartass and Serebr's edit histories shows that while these two "Progressive Encyclopedians" did contribute to many articles in, for example, the field of medicine and Soviet history, they also made hundreds of edits to offensive, absurd, or satirical material that was eventually deleted.

While they had very different motivations for their argument, both Drbug and Smartass argued that conflict was good for Wikipedia. But the increasing complexity and insidiousness of conflicts on ru.wiki would soon test this cornerstone of Allowist thinking.

“Siberian cat,” the sib.wiki mascot

The Siberian Wikipedia

June 2006-November 2006: 90,100-100,000 articles

APE were not the only pranksters on the scene during this period of ruwiki history. In November of 2006, user Yaroslav Zolotaryov was granted permission to create a new language wiki, based on what he called the “Siberian constructed language”. There was only one small problem -- apart from his own original research, this language did not exist, and an article that he had attempted to write on the subject in ruwiki had been deleted for this very reason. In order to bolster the article count of his newly-formed “sib-wiki,” Zolotaryov devised a clever scheme: he invited nationalist contributors from other Central and Eastern European wiki projects, [9], [10], who engaged in frequent edit wars and NPOV-skewing in ruwiki and enwiki, to join and write articles in “Siberian.” The result was a satirical collection of “translations” and assorted obscene and/or russophobic material written in the Russian equivalent of Lolspeak. For example, a quote from Hamlet “Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!” (the Russian translation of which is “Молчи. Замри. Гляди, вот он опять!”) became, in ‘‘Siberian’’ translation, “Ебьона мать, опеть припьорся дык!” -- the English "reverse translation" of which would be something like: “Fcukk, her he cumz agan!”.

Tomsk Oblast, in the southwest Siberian Federal District of Russia

When members of ru.wiki -- some of whom, like Maximaximax, were from Siberia and were familiar with the various real languages spoken by the indigenous population -- realized what had happened, they demanded that sib-wiki be shut down. However, the official vote for closure on Meta quickly degenerated into a major debacle. Zolotaryov registered scores of virtuals in support of keeping sib-wiki, and both his real and virtual followers accused the ru.wiki admins of nationalistic chauvinism towards this “emerging language” [11], [12], comparing it to Ukrainian, which had also not always been recognized as a language according to official Russian linguistic norms. (Of course, both native speakers of Ukrainian and works of literature written in the language have been around for centuries, while “Siberian” was created by Zolotaryov and his friends on LiveJournal). While this sounded like a plausible argument to some of the well-meaning, non-Russian-speaking editors on meta, for Russian speakers the reality was all too clear: sib-wiki was nothing more than a troll parody/attack site hiding behind highly ironic claims of “tolerance” and “multiculturalism.”

Luckily, there were enough multilingual editors who could explain the situation sensibly. User Ghirlandajo, one of the most active contributors to both the English and Russian Wikipedias, attested: “There is no such language. The project is a dump of obscenities, ridiculously distorted Ukrainian language and original research. Every joke has its limits. When we sanction interwiki links to a trolling project composed of Russian-language obscenities (sic), we bring Wikimedia Foundation into disrepute”. Sib-wiki was closed and moved to a non-wikimedia url, where it flourishes in its real capacity: a parody of nationalist extremism. In the meantime, several real Siberian languages have acquired their own wikis, including Sakha, which in February 2010 had over 7,000 articles.

It's interesting when out of the chaos, when at any moment you can
edit anything you want, emerges the best encyclopedia in the world.
ShinePhantom (full survey response).

Getting serious

While some users were busy “experimenting,” trolling, and otherwise pushing the limits of ru.wiki, others were trying to define those very limits by translating the rules of the English Wikipedia into Russian. However, in the Allowist-dominated era of 2006, most of these rules were not approved by the community. Thus, while pages called “Ignore all rules,” “Verifiability,” “What Wikipedia is not” finally appeared in ru.wiki, users refused to accept them as official policy, though they were still cited in discussions, disputes, and arbitration cases. This was further complicated by the fact that many of the users knew the rules of the English Wikipedia but were not sure which of those applied to the Russian one, since, after all, it was an autonomous project. In the debate between “letter of the law” and “spirit of the law,” the community still chose “spirit,” insisting on keeping its rules informal and unofficial.

However, with the influx of new users after Stas's article came many more vandals and trolls. These were not just the Internet “infants” that Anatolich1 had mentioned, but even more malicious Internet (and real-world) “adolescents,” who had figured out how to manipulate online communities by using open proxies and creating multiple accounts (sockpuppets or “virtuals”). Technical capabilities for tracking and blocking these users had been available for some time on en.wiki, but the ru.wiki institution of the Checkuser designation on March 29, 2006 led to a lengthy discussion of the new direction the project was taking. Many users were angered by the technical capability of CUs to verify user IP addresses, which they saw as an invasion of privacy. This included trolls and other members of the community with something to hide, of course, but it also included those who subscribed to the Allowist platform, users like Stas Kozlovsky, who felt that the bureaucracy of Wikipedia was getting out of hand and stifling productive contribution: “We don’t need Checkusers. This is a harmful and dangerous service, spying on users, and has nothing whatsoever to do with work on a free encyclopedia.”

The GSB conspiracy

December 2006-June 2007: 100,000-175,000 articles

One user who would prove the worthiness of the new Checkuser policies was GSB, a known keeper of several sockpuppets. Officially, these were not considered to be against the rules unless they were used to evade a temporary block or to rig elections, and Allowists supported their constructive use (e.g., for managing participation in different sub-projects). But GSB was not a benevolent “puppetmaster,” and he was not content to control just virtual puppets. A veteran of APE, he knew how disruptive closed organizations could be to Wikipedia -- even when there was no outright conspiracy, the mere separation of users into “in-groups” bred resentment. As for the Academics, there was an unsuccessful push to outlaw on-wiki organizations in 2006; most of the members of APE, including Smartass and Serebr, were gradually blocked throughout 2007 and the page advertising the organization was finally deleted in 2008.

In the spring of 2007, GSB created a closed forum onto which he invited APE members and a few admins to debate the future of Wikipedia. The discussion that GSB proposed to the “conspiracy” members repeated many of the old traditionalists’ talking points and revolved mostly around “rescuing” ru.wiki from the hands of gay activists and overzealous, restrictive admins. But GSB was no Mithgol or Dart evader; he was not so much interested in spreading an ultra right-wing or anti-homosexual platform, which for him was simply an effective “irritant.” He was interested in a more sophisticated social experiment on the ru.wiki community. Unlike “thematic” conspiracies, which involve skewing NPOV in a number of articles to reflect a certain group of editors’ agenda, GSB specifically targeted admin and, ultimately, Arbcom elections, trying to get ru.wiki to change its course. As he now testifies, the nature of the change did not really matter:

The real heart of the experiments was to find the answer to the simple question(s): if members of the certain society have the ability to communicate with each other, create communities and sub-communities, etc in a very efficient way, do members of such society change their views? Do they tend to like democratic ways of making decisions more than the members of traditional society would like? Do they pay less attention to what their leaders say? Can they unite against the leaders is a more efficient way?

In this respect, GSB went a step further than any of the previous problem users on ru.wiki, gaming Wikipedia in a way that no longer had anything to do with its encyclopedic content. Unlike the members of APE, whose stubborn, longstanding opposition also points to their extremely high emotional investment in the project, GSB was completely detached from any such concerns.

Wikipedia is a game for intellectuals.
Laurentia (full survey response).

To accomplish his goal, GSB not only registered but “powerleveled” scores of sockpuppets, giving them extensive, plausible edit histories. One of these sockpuppets, AstroNomer, made over 1500 edits on articles in the span of two years, created articles on mathematical paradoxes, and was a seemingly normal, productive participant in the community, becoming so trusted that he was even among the candidates for the Arbcom. But at the same time that AstroNomer was editing articles on the Monty Hall Problem, his puppetmaster GSB was organizing an off-wiki troll training camp, instructing users on how to manipulate elections with sockpuppets and even changing the outcome of several admin elections and the 4th Arbcom elections. As the ringleader of the “GSB Conspiracy,” he also signed a kind of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with his supposed sworn enemy Roman Bekker, who had formed an anti-APE party, “Union for Wikipedia Free from Censorship,” and succeeded Kuzmin (desysopped in 2006 for admin misconduct) as the most prominent gay rights activist on ru.wiki. Soon, as GSB’s comments and private correspondence with his fellow “conspirators” began to get more erratic and absurd, the virulently homophobic and ultra-nationalist users who had been attracted to this “conspiracy” began to realize they were being toyed with.

The conspiracy was finally halted when GSB forgot to log out as one of his sockpuppets and posted under that name on AstroNomer’s talk page. Checkusers ran an IP check and banned him and his army of virtuals for good.

Endgame

As his last act of sabotage, GSB sent all the transcripts of the “GSB Conspiracy,” including both the closed discussion page and personal email correspondence between himself and ru.wiki admins, to Roman Bekker, who eventually made many of the texts available. Some formerly respected admins were tarnished by their association with this cabal. Others, like EvgenyGenkin and Panther -- who, with the help of GSB were elected into the 4th Arbcom -- defended themselves by claiming that they had been secret saboteurs all along, keeping tabs on GSB from within the conspiracy. Though they were elected to the Arbcom with help from GSB, as arbiters, they did not display any favoritism for trolls; instead, they banned Smartass and became known as one of the strictest arbiter assemblies in ru.wiki history.

After the GSB affair, an extreme Allowist platform, based on radial good faith in all of ru.wiki's members, seemed impossible. GSB showed an unprecedented level of calculated cynicism towards the project, winning the trolling “arms race” that occurred as problem users got more and more sophisticated. With their faith in “good faith” shaken, the next generation of Wikipedians also became less idealistic and more pragmatic, focusing on crafting rules to ensure that another incident like this did not occur. The era of Allowism was over, and it was the Restrictors who would shape the future of the community.

Russian wikipedians in 2008 at the Wikiconference in Moscow, annotated photo

Current - From GSB to present

July 2007-May 2009: 175,000-350,000 articles

The rules

July 2007-March 2008: 175,000-250,000 articles

After the blocking of GSB, the atmosphere in ru.wiki became much more calm and serious. Attention turned from “experiments” with different parties and political powers to the work of creating and maintaining the encyclopedia. The nature of the community had also changed: the ban on Smartass and GSB sent a clear message that semi-serious contributors were no longer welcome. User Kv75 sees a causal link between the anarchy of the early days and the increasing bureaucratization that was to follow:

I came to Wikipedia at a time that was relatively strange by today's standards. The beginning of 2007. Everything was regularized with rules. The war of the parties -- APE and Union for Wikipedia Free of Censorship, to which the GSB conspiracy was later added. It should be said that the parties, with all their negative influence, fulfilled the standard political function -- they prepared the rules projects and made sure they fit together with one another. [13]

Unlike the relatively freewheeling atmosphere of the early days of ru.wiki, new users entering the project post-GSB were confronted with a sophisticated system of rules, policies, and guidelines, which they had to learn in addition to markup language and writing style. As the rules got more complex and numerous, it became important to codify and collect them in one space. In 2008, policy and guideline pages were rewritten by Wulfson and Evgeny Genkin, two of the most hardline Restrictors, [14], [15], [16], [17] and a core set of rules was finally accepted by the community: Consensus, Verifiability, Ignore all rules, The three-revert rule, Edit warring. Genkin had joined the community in 2006 and was an example of the kind of Wikipedians who came to dominate the project post-GSB: a serious, academic-minded contributor and a consummate rule-follower. His stance is revealed in one of his earliest on-wiki conversations, a discussion with user Panther concerning the licensing of an image of a Scythian burial mound near Genkin’s native Kharkiv: “Misha, I’m not interested in ‘discussions,’ especially ‘long’ ones, and I’m not asking this question in order to create this kind of discussion. I plan to write many more articles in which similar images will figure, and I want to properly understand the rules” [18]. Unlike both trolls and some metapedians whose edits on discussion pages tended to outnumber those on articles, Wikipedians like Genkin wanted straightforward and practical rules, not abstract meta-debates, so they could focus on article editing.

However, users like Genkin went beyond translating policies and guidelines from the English Wikipedia. They also made unofficial guidelines into fixed rules, or created rules where none existed in other wikis. Whereas the en.wiki community has manifested a general reluctance to create firm legislation, the post-GSB ru.wiki users felt that a fixed set of rules had to be put in place, in writing, in order for the community to function properly. As user Underground mole put it when the community was discussing whether to adopt the 5th “Pillar” of en.wiki, “Ignore all rules”:

For me the results of the vote on the subject of “ignore all rules” are obvious. This rule won’t survive on Russian soil, where laws and rules are understood in three ways: either literally, or in slipshod manner, or not at all.

Letter ‘Ё’
In Russian “hedgehog” starts with ‘ё’ (ёж) but this may be a picture of any Russian Wikipedian

Though somewhat pessimistic, this statement is characteristic of a traditional Russian outlook that views uncertainty and ambiguity with heavy suspicion -- a tendency that has been documented by sociologist Geert Hofstede in his framework for assessing cultures. According to Hofstede’s index, Russians score very high in uncertainty avoidance as compared to the US and Western Europe, which makes them more prone to regulating and legislating more aspects of their society.

Characteristic of this tendency, the rules of ru.wiki went from practically none at all in the era of Allowism, to strict and literal in the era of the Restrictors. This included the creation of some very specific rules that might seem strange to users from other wikis: for example, one of the official rules in ruwiki governs the use of the letter ‘ё’, which is conventionally simplified to just ‘е’ by many Russian speakers but can create confusion and has led to edit wars over “ёification” or “dis-ёification” in articles. According to the official policy page on the use of ‘ё’, the letter is required in article titles and strongly recommended in article text. In the event that an editor is unable to type ‘ё’s for technical reasons, he should seek the assistance of a “Ёficator”, a program that inserts ‘ё’ in the proper locations in the text. (As has no doubt become clear over the course of this history, ruwiki users are also particularly fond of technical/bureaucratic neologisms and come up with names and titles to suit every occasion.)

However, according to Kv75, an opposing tendency was also in play:

The nature of the paradigm shift was not in the writing of the rules per se, but in the realization that Wikipedia doesn't need prescriptive (in the style of a criminal codex), but descriptive rules. Accordingly, the level of the discussion changed -- instead of particular questions, much more general ones began to be posed: what is Wikipedia, what is its function in the world, what is the audience of our chapter, etc. [19]

The buildup of specific, "prescriptive" rules, which had already started before 2007, reached its apogee, after which it was necessary to step back and look at the "big picture."

The mentors

March 2008-August 2008: 250,000-300,000 articles

While ёification and ёficators might seem like something out of an absurdist short story by Franz Kafka (or, more culturally-appropriate, Nikolai Gogol), the specificity of ru.wiki rules has led to some concrete positive change in the community. One of the most successful and unique policies is the mentorship program, which has an interwiki link to an essay in the English Wikipedia but, in Russian style, is a formalized, official part of ru.wiki policy. Mentors, usually admins, volunteer to look after problem users who have trouble following the rules but express a sincere interest in participating in the project.

According to the rules of wiki mentorship, the mentor must monitor the edits of the supervised user and step in to help fix mistakes or, in the case of conflict, speak out on the user’s behalf. Mentors have the right to reverse a block by any other admin, but they can also indefblock the user if they feel that the mentorship is not working. If, after several months, they are sure that the user doesn't require any more monitoring, they can cancel the mentorship. The first implementation of the mentorship policy occurred in 2006, when user Mond was blocked for 1 year for copyright violation and then indefinitely blocked. The Arbcom unblocked Mond, placing him under the supervision of Drbug. As a result, Mond is still active in ru.wiki in 2010 and has received barnstars for his work on the Biographies project, as well as his friendly attitude and assistance to newbies.

An even more dramatic case of mentorship helping to reverse the destructive behavior of a user occurred in 2008. Canopus of Carinae, a high school student from the Ukrainian city Kharkiv (spelled “Kharkov” in Russian), entered the project in 2007 and began to edit articles on astronomy [20]. But when he attempted and failed a “wikicareer” (editor - patroller - admin - bureaucrat), his private vendettas spilled over from the Russian Wikipedia into other wikis.

A conflict on the French Wikipedia -- specifically, an edit war over whether to spell his hometown with an ‘o’ or an ‘i’ [21] -- led to his ban on fr.wiki [22]. After this became known in ru.wiki, it led to a discussion on the administrators’ forum about whether an editor with many positive edits should be banned because of his vandalism in a different project [23]. After several more pleas for intervention from fr.wiki admins during the course of this discussion [24], he was indefinitely blocked in ru.wiki [25].

Canopus was furious and sought revenge. He created dozens of “virtuals” and went on a cross-wiki vandalism spree, putting obscenities in articles and talk pages of users, especially stewards, and was globally blocked. But after the adrenaline wore off, Canopus realized that he’d made a mistake and wanted to return to the project. He pled his case to the Arbcom, methodically detailing his misbehavior and even going so far as to list the specific music he listened to while committing vandalism. It was part of “vandal psychology,” he claimed, to release pent-up anger and frustration, which is why heavy metal went so well with vandalism, but the short-term gratification of vandalism was not as satisfying as the long-term rewards of doing good work on Wikipedia. If the Arbcom granted him a second chance, he promised he would never again cause any problems and would ignore vandals and trolls to keep them from getting any pleasure out of their activities.

At first, the Arbcom declined the request, but a year later they agreed to let Canopus return, outlining the conditions - six months without vandalism and sockpuppets, which became standard for the reverse of an indefblock. Several unsuccessful attempts at constructive work later, Canopus finally managed to change his behavior, and the Arbcom was merciful and allowed him a reprieve: he was assigned Wind as his mentor and allowed to change his username and continue editing. Canopus, now rechristened Trance Light, stresses that the mentorship process was absolutely invaluable for his return to productive editing:

I compare mentorship to the process of bankruptcy. At first glance, it seems that mentorship is a punishment, since another person (the mentor) assumes responsibility for you and the ArbCom usually imposes sanctions against you. But actually, mentorship is salvation. When this mechanism didn't exist (and I remember those days), many users who had made useful contributions but got into many conflicts with other users were gradually placed under “progressiveblocking” and were quickly blocked indefinitely. Mentorship gives you a chance to return from “bankruptcy” into normal life, and in general to turn over a new leaf -- you are only sanctioned where it's actually necessary, for your own good. Both the disgraced user and all the others “cool down.” I think that mentorship is the most useful innovation that has ever been created on Wikipedia.

As of today, Trance Light's editing restrictions are being gradually lessened and he remains a diligent, law-abiding member of the community.

Quality rules

Though it is tempting to focus on high-profile drama and problem users, it is important to remember that throughout the turmoil of 2006 and 2007, a significant number of ru.wiki editors (perhaps even the majority) were unaware of the particulars of all the above conflicts; moreover, the importance of these conflicts tends to be emphasized more by the disaffected parties of indefblocked users than by ordinary Wikipedians. As user Dodonov testifies: “What's funny is that I found out about APE, GSB, Mithgol and the 'Homowars' much later from Lurkmore and Wikireality. Captivating reading.”

I see wiki-markup in my dreams. Sometimes, in conversations, I try to ask for a source.
INSAR (full survey response).

While the increased sophistication and seriousness of the project after 2007 may have been off-putting to new users, it provided the unexpected benefit of drawing in some old users who had ceased to be active in 2006, when the project experienced its first great leap in numbers. Dodonov, a computer programmer from St. Petersburg, is an illuminating example. He had been an active Wikipedian from 2004-2005, but nearly all of his edits were minor category fixes, interwiki links, and vandalism reverts [26]. His participation in the project waned, and he was almost desysopped in 2006 for inactivity [27]. He reappeared in 2007 and began to participate actively again in 2008. He explains the change in the atmosphere of the project that occurred over that brief period, less than 2 years, as follows:

When I left ruwiki, it was a big village where everyone knew one another, and when I came back it was already a bustling city with its own central administration, rules, policies, law enforcement, judges, maniacs, not to mention the countless masses of honest workers.

In spite of this dramatically different “big city” atmosphere, the existence of categories and portals for special projects meant that Dodonov's proclivity for making many small but important edits could be put to good use. He joined up with two major internal projects, Cosmonautics and Current Events, where, among other events, he helped cover the Russian heat wave and resulting forest fires during the summer of 2010 [28]. Today he is among the 300 most active Wikipedians on ru.wiki and was recently elected into the 11th meeting of the ru.wiki ArbCom.

... the main thing is not to degenerate into banal bureaucracy
(because it certainly won't be the bureaucrats of Wikipedia that will be talked about in the future :))
Kemen (full survey response).

The new newbie

Another new user drawn into the more sophisticated project was Ghirlandajo, who had previously been one of the most active Wikipedians on en.wiki. In contrast to Dodonov, Ghirlandajo's activity was aimed toward major edits, creating and extensively improving articles on everything from geography and history to American pop music. Fed up with the increasingly destructive behavior of some of the en.wiki users, Ghirlandajo switched to ru.wiki in 2007, and he credits the quality of ru.wiki articles for allowing him to make the transition:

Up until 2007 the articles consisted of a few lines. How can you write about the mosques of Constantinople if the article on the city consists of one line, “Istanbul is the capital of Turkey”? Your eyes dart all over the place, and you don't know what to grab onto... As soon as it reached a minimally acceptable level upon which it was possible to build, ru.wiki pulled me over to itself :)

However, Ghirlandajo also warned that focusing too intently on the rules, guidelines, and minutiae of wiki-etiquette could lead the community to miss the forest for the trees: “It is my feeling that there is more and more attention being paid to the procedures and flawlessly following them, but the content of articles suffers from this formalism.” Part of what drew him to ru.wiki in the first place was the warmer, more intimate relationships between users, who took into consideration an editor's contribution, not just a set of memorized rules and acronyms. But as this community continued to increase in size, it risked losing the very thing that made it special.

However, not everyone felt that the increasing “formalism” of ru.wiki was such a bad thing. A new user who entered the project in 2008, AVB, is another good example of this approach taken by many Wikipedians of the post-GSB generation.

AVB made his first edit on July 1, 2008, but most of his initial activity was concentrated on getting his first article peer reviewed (available since 2006), working in the Sandbox (adopted in 2008 [29]), and participating in the Forum, where he asked a flurry of questions about licensing images [30], formatting and linking articles, [31], and other sophisticated technical issues. After this introductory “apprenticeship,” AVB began making minor spelling and grammar edits on pages, creating some articles on computer games, and reverting vandalism on a handful of articles on various Soviet historical figures.

But the brunt of his activity during his “mature” period, two years after his first edit, was focused on issues of formatting and categorization, which he defended as stubbornly as the articles he patrolled [32]. He even got into two edit wars over the ways articles were formatted [33]. As AVB’s activity shows, the momentum of the project had changed from expansion out to retraction in -- from creating material to refining, formatting, and protecting it. In 2004, many users had said that they would worry about issues of formatting later, that it was more important to reach a certain critical mass before these minor issues of quality control needed to be addressed. Clearly, by 2008, that critical mass had been reached, and then some.

Current (unpatrolled) version
patrolled version

Flagged Revisions

August 2008-January 2009: 300,000-350,000 articles

In 2008, two new mainspace features were implemented: patrolling, which allowed new articles to be verified for minimum quality requirements and absence of vandalism; and Flagged Revisions, an extended version of patrolling that allowed certain articles to be frozen in a verified version. This created the possibility of a new level of verifiability - “reviewed status.”

These features were developed in other wikis, and in the Russian Wikipedia, their success depended on the mode of their introduction to the community. Patrolling was implemented “top down” as a Mediawiki extension and was accepted as a useful feature without much debate. FlaggedRevs were a different matter. Prior to its introduction, the feature was the subject of a lengthy community discussion, the result of which was summarised by bureaucrat Drbug:

Before the project can be switched on “live” and not test articles, and with the participation of real and not test reviewers, there is a lot of work to be done.

On August 5th, 2008, following administrator VasilievVV’s bugzilla request, FlaggedRevs were switched on, causing a global change to the status of all admins and articles. Patrollers were no longer able to see which articles had been patrolled, and for a short time VasilievVV was the only one with access to flagged reviewer privileges. This caused many heated discussions, with some editors arguing that control of page viewing contradicts the “everybody can edit” ethos of Wikipedia and resulted in an Arbcom case against VasilievVV.

VasilievVV, an extremely bright high school student from Moscow on his way to an ambitious “wikicareer”, testified to the Arbcom that he was simply testing the system and had not meant any harm. Officially, he was exonerated of misconduct. Unofficially, however, the case created tension in the community. Besides causing massive (albeit inadvertent and temporary) disruption to ru.wiki, VasilievVV fed into the paranoid rhetoric that had been spread by Smartass and APE: the fact that one admin had the technical capability to enact such a drastic change to the project made users uneasy, and made them more likely to believe in the existence of the “Party of Operators” cabal.

In the end all but the most stubborn FlaggedRevs opponents admitted that, while creating yet another level of bureaucracy, the status of patroller led to the overall improvement of article quality. In an informal survey of today's Wikipedians, it was the single most popular response to the question “What events do you consider to be the most important in ru.wiki history?” Together, these two new features represented a local solution to a global problem common to many of the large wiki projects at that time: how to preserve all positive changes and keep out vandalism, given the massive amount of traffic on articles and their increasing importance as authoritative texts.

Patrolling and FlaggedRevs provide an alternative to blocking anonymous users from certain pages, as is currently the case in the English Wikipedia, but unlike German Wikipedia, the pioneer of FlaggedRevs, where all contributions of non-patrollers must be patrolled before becoming visible to a reader, the Russian Wikipedia only applies this feature on “good” and “featured” articles, certain high-traffic articles such as “Russia” and “breaking news” articles, such as those about the recently deceased. The patrolling interface is visible to all registered users and the capability of “reviewed status” remains unused in 2010 but is a possibility for the future.

Drbug and Stas Kozlovsky, Director and Assistant Director of Wikimedia RU

GSB strikes back

January 2009-June 2009: 350,000-400,000 articles

On November 26th 2008, the Russian Wikimedia chapter was officially registered by Drbug, who became its first (and current) director. One of his first actions in this role was a rather unsuccessful attempt at mediation. In a melodrama worthy of Tolstoy, it turned out that a highly prolific editor and popular admin, especially known for her work on Connectivity project - Lvova, had become romantically involved with GSB. Lvova was understandably concerned about what would happen once news broke in the community that she was seeing this sworn enemy of ru.wiki, and she decided to solicit help from Drbug before her Wikipedia reputation was tarnished. Drbug organised a Wikimedia.Ru chapter meeting in Lvova’s Moscow apartment, where, to their surprise, members of the chapter found that Lvova and GSB were living together. Drbug decided that this was a delicate matter and should only be revealed to the community gradually, but, unfortunately, the news quickly got out of its own accord.

At the time, Lvova had gotten into a wheel war by undeleting the userpage of one of GSB’s sockuppets and was already involved in an arbitration case. At first, the outcome was uncertain: after the drama of 2006 and 2007 had died down, the atmosphere in the more tranquil community of 2008 was beginning to cycle back into a phase of Allowism. Moreover, Lvova was not just a popular user but a key player in the emerging Wikimedia.ru chapter's activities, especially given her real-world PR and management proclivities.

But after the news of Lvova’s relationship with GSB was brought to the attention of the Arbcom, it became apparent to the arbiters that her use of admin privileges was a conflict of interest. Additionally, CUs discovered a sockpuppet registered by GSB from her personal computer, and she was desysopped. However, her ban by Wulfson was reversed by the Arbcom and she was allowed to continue editing articles. It was only when GSB began accompanying her to Wiki meetups and published sexually suggestive comments about an underage ru.wiki user in LiveJournal that she was promptly and indefinitely blocked by the Arbcom. The arbiters did not, as had previously been the norm, make the discussion public, not wanting to go into the sordid details of the case and further harm the users involved. Unfortunately, this swift, unexplained ban caused outrage in a part of the community, especially among users who worked with Lvova before her relationship with GSB. Several Allowist members of the community and even one member of the Arbcom, Kaganer, threatened to leave ru.wiki [34], [35], [36] after the controversial decision was announced. But the Restrictors were more upset by the actions of Lvova than the Arbcom and once again called for stringent blocking and banning measures to safeguard the community from destructive users.

... it's precisely because of this project of gathering all of human knowledge
that I can now boast about having gray hair since the age of 20.
Lvova (full survey response).

Fall from grace

Lvova was blocked until August 2010, and, though she has broken all ties to GSB, her activity on ru.wiki have been restricted (she is under the mentorship of two admins). Today, she insists that the case was blown out of proportion, that it is still unclear whether or not she broke any real rules, and that the more sinister implications of this ArbCom ruling go far beyond the relatively minor conflict of interest it attempted to resolve:

Captain Obvious tells us that when the ArbCom can poke around into the personal life of users, it becomes possible to monitor users solely for the motivations of the Arbitration Committee -- and the goals of the project, it seems, have nothing to do with it. The ArbCom is selected by the community as the final authority on the interpretation of the rules, which are accepted by the community and applied to certain situations; however, in this formulation, there is nothing that says that the elected members understand a thing about psychology or conflict resolution.

Lvova, along with a number of users who backed her during and after the case, feels that in attempting to mediate real-world conflict, the ArbCom is stepping outside the bounds of its competence. Ilya Voyager, one of the arbiters on the ArbCom that banned her, sees things somewhat differently. While he notes that, at the time, he thought the ArbCom was skirting “the upper bounds of 'audacity,'” in the decision, he later changed his mind: “... now, after the acceptance of WP:CHILDPROTECT, I am sure that the ruling was correct on all accounts (except, maybe, some of the language).”

The Drbug/Lvova case showed once again that the community was unwilling to be manipulated by anyone “for their own good,” whether it was the Director of the Russian Wikimedia chapter or the Arbcom. Both Drbug and the Arbcom had been trying to make difficult decisions without proper explanation to or input from the community, and any clandestine intervention was seen as bad.

However, it was also clear from the differences in treatment of Drbug and Lvova that the community currently values its productive editors/admins more than its bureaucrats. The community members rallied around Lvova and eventually she was reinstated in ru.wiki, and she is again an active and productive contributor. For Drbug, on the other hand, the fallout from this story was, in some ways, more severe: an Arbcom case was submitted by the rest of the CUs against him for conducting private meetings with a known troll, and, after a community discussion, he was forced to remove his Checkuser and later Bureaucrat status.

The Future

July 2009-present: 450,000+ articles

Figure 1. see full size image for details

The next generation

In general, 2008 and 2009 presented a significant turning point in ru.wiki history. Following Allowist rhetoric, it could be said that Smartass and GSB were ultimately a productive force for the community because they acted as common enemies against which all the users could rally, building solidarity across ideological and party boundaries. But it could also be said that after the distracting GSB saga had ended, users could finally concentrate on the real work of their project: building a free encyclopedia. The numbers support this version of events: in 2007, the number of editors with more than 100 edits sagged, then spiked sharply in 2008, after the GSB case was resolved (see Figure 1).

But whatever the cause of the project’s growth, it was clear that by 2008, there were new challenges to be addressed. Whereas in the past, attracting new contributors was the primary goal, the community now felt that it needed quality contributors and responsible, diligent admins to manage the growing number of articles and users.

During this period, many of the first-generation admins were either desysopped for inactivity or voluntarily gave up adminship -- including HedgeHog and Ornil, Kneiphof, and the only steward from ru.wiki, MaxSem, who left because of the commercialisation of the French Wikipedia [37]. Meanwhile, a new crop of users was arriving, for whom the path to admin status was easier for a variety of reasons, not the least of which because there was no need to take a side answer to questions about sexual orientation. In an interview conducted before her desysop, Lvova stressed that ru.wiki’s biggest problem was a lack of admins -- there were only about 70, many of whom were relatively inactive, which was not enough to adequately monitor the over 300,000 articles that now made up ru.wiki.

Unfortunately, because the private lives of users like Lvova became so high-profile, as well as the anti-admin rhetoric emanating from troll circles and offwiki sites, some productive contributors refused to go the metapedian route and did not apply for adminship - even now, the level of responsibility and hostility from some users outweighs the privileges for many good editors. One highly prolific editor, Zac Allan, summed up this sentiment on his talk page when another user asked him why he did not want to become an admin:

You know, it simply doesn’t enter into my life plan. I could be an admin -- but I don’t want to be, I prefer to humbly write articles. Articles, not socializing in Wiki (except, of course, for the upcoming Wikiconference 2008) -- are the only thing that, in my humble opinion, are worth our time in Wikipedia. It just brings too much crap along with it, in the words of some of the admins. And also -- I don’t want to get tied down with any kind of responsibilities and definitively become a wikiholic (although, it seems, already...).

In September 2009, a new status was created to solve the problem of drastic understaffing: the “Closer,” allowing users who are not admins to provide the last word in certain discussions (e.g., deletion of articles). Together with the “patroller,” this new user designation was an alternative to adminship, carrying fewer special privileges and less social status, but less responsibility. The community had cycled through a turbulent period of cults of personality and was entering into a more egalitarian, communal phase, and responsibility was being doled out accordingly.

... culture is a pyramid, and we, like any other
encyclopedia, are interested in its apex.
Andrei Romanenko, interview with Russian Esquire.

26 Baku Commissars

July 2009-September 2009: 400,000-425,000 articles

As previously mentioned, one episode of the ongoing conflict between editors supporting Armenia or Azerbaijan (or the “AA-conflict”) was the catalyst for the formation of the ru.wiki Arbcom. However, with the community distracted by the drama of 2006-7, this conflict remained on the periphery of public attention. Admins attended to the escalation of local skirmishes, perpetual edit wars on certain articles, but were reluctant to get involved in any long-term conflict management.

This changed in July 2009, when an arbitration case between a pro-Armenian user, Divot -- himself not Armenian and living, in fact, in Moscow -- and Azerbaijani user Grandmaster precipitated an unusual Arbcom decision. Previously, conflict mediation in ru.wiki was allowed only if both sides agreed to it. But the Arbcom had had enough of the AA-conflict and decided to establish a permanent committee of AA-topic moderation, consisting of several admins, including Restrictors like EvgenyGenkin and Wulfson and Allowists like Drbug. Only one revert per editor per article in 24 hours was allowed, and all mediator and admin requests were directed to special pages, which prevented them from clogging the discussion forum.

Moscow Wikiconference, 2008; Sitting from left to right - Wulfson, ViKo, Serebr, X-Romix; standing - IlyaVoyager, Divot

Moreover, in an unprecedented move, sanctions were placed on the sources for AA articles: only sources published in the West were declared automatically valid; the rest, especially those published in Armenia and Azerbaijan, were subject to discussion and approval by the moderators before they could be used in articles. This pioneering decision marked the first time in ru.wiki history that the contents of a group of articles, rather than the rules surrounding editor conduct, had been specifically sanctioned in an arbitration case. To date, while the English Wikipedia’s Arbcom has imposed “article probation” on contentious articles like Scientology and Waterboarding, they have not attempted to regulate content or sources in this manner. Divot, along with other members of the community, considered these measures to be mostly positive:

This ruling has obvious inadequacies, since not every Western work is authoritative and vice versa, but the pluses far outnumber the minuses. Together, we have rid ourselves of a ton of low-quality publications from all sides. And a controversial citation can always be brought up for review with the conflict mediators.

The measures proved to be somewhat effective: the intensity of the edit wars was reduced, and several smaller moderatorial projects were established on different topics: Civil war in Russia, Israeli-Palestinian conflict (though there are no Palestinians in the ru.wiki community, Russian-speaking Israeli citizens provide both sides of the ferocious debate), and Psychiatry-related articles.

But this was by no means the end of the story. Almost a year later, in the end of May 2010, Divot informed the Arbcom that he had access to a closed mailing list of Azerbaijani users, on which they coordinated edit wars, votes during an Arbcom election and, later, hounding of some conflict mediators, notably EvgenyGenkin. A very similar case involving an Eastern European Mailing list had been brought to light in en.wiki in 2009, but unlike that case, there were no ru.wiki admins involved in the Azerbaijani mailing list. Though they admitted to the existence of the list, the participants claimed that this was their private correspondence and that the Arbcom had no right to investigate it; however, the information that the Arbcom acquired from Divot was enough for them to reach a decision on the matter. The number of editors taking part in the mailing list was close to 26, the same as the number of Azerbaijani Baku Commissars who were executed in 1918 and celebrated as martyrs by the Soviet government. The editors could not resist the historical analogy, but neither could the Restrictors. They immediately demanded the indefinite block (“execution,” in the unofficial parlance of ru.wiki) of all the editors who took part in the cabal [38].

However, the Arbcom proved to be more lenient and its decision was akin to the decision of the en.wiki Arbcom in the Eastern European mailing list case: the key users, including Grandmaster, were blocked for three to six months, with additional restrictions on edits in AA-topics . “Executing” trolls was one thing, but the arbiters recognized that the AA editors were trying, albeit in a somewhat misguided way, to contribute to the encyclopedia.

Logo of the ru.wiki Anime Project, active since 2006

Fictional worlds

At the very same time that old conflicts like AA were continuing on ru.wiki, entirely new ones were beginning to form, not the least of which began with the appearance of a new kind of user in the larger community: the “fictionalist.” As previously noted, ru.wiki has tended toward academicism, with the bulk of articles falling into categories like science, math, geography, and history. However, that has begun to change with the appearance of more diverse users, interested in writing articles on the fictional worlds in books, films, and TV shows.

Idot entered the community in 2006 and began to edit articles on armor [39]. His first conflict set a precedent for his later radical Inclusionist policy: he got into an edit war over the article on Pilaf, because he refused to delete the recipe for the dish, despite the general community tendency to avoid recipes or other step-by-step instructions in articles [40].

He took the same Inclusionist stance with articles on so-called “virtual worlds,” which had begun to grow in number from 2006 and were getting the attention of Deletionist admins. When two articles on anime Battle Angel, Мир Gunnm edited by Idot were nominated for "good articles" status in 2007, it caused a stir in the community and a debate between “fictionalists” like Idot and “academists” who thought these subjects did not belong in a serious encyclopedia. According to Idot, there are two categories of "anti-fictionalists" -- those who simply don't know and/or don't care about the subjects, and those who actively protest them:

... because some think it's an unimportant topic ("you're over 30 and you're still watching cartoons?"), and others look down on mass culture with a fair share of snobbism ("Dostoevsky is culture, contemporary authors are barbarians").

Unfortunately, the two sides have had difficulty finding common ground. The same debate arose again in July of 2009, when the proposal for deletion of an elaborate article on the fictional planet Shelezjaka (from a children sci-fy novel by the Russian writer Kir Bulychev) became a battle-ground between fictionalists and anti-fictionalists [41]. The Arbcom refused to deal with the case and a new entity, an off-wiki group of administrators was established to solve the problem, resulting in a “Summary by Three Administrators”. In this case, The Summary by Three Admins decided that the article in question was to be kept because there were real world sources that mentioned Shelezjaka. However, several official attempts to legislate articles on fictional worlds along the lines of the ad hoc Summary by Three Admins did not pass because of the furious resistance of fictionalists, and the debate between these two camps continues.

Border control

The increasing focus on article and contributor quality culminated in May 2009, when EvgenyGenkin published an on-wiki manifesto called “Philosophy of blocking” that reflected the new spirit of the project and crystallized some of the policy that the Restrictors had been operating under since GSB and earlier. The main argument of the essay was that Wikipedia had formed around a simple, single core Idea (yes, a capital letter) -- the free encyclopedia -- but as the ranks of contributors grew, many had lost sight of this fact:

They came here with all kinds of goals that differed from our Idea. For instance, to write that Azerbaijanis are considerably better than Armenians or vice versa (you can insert any two nations here), or that the Russians are better than everyone, or to write something offensive about the adherents of this or that religion or sexual orientation. They came here just to write, to write and write on forums about topics that would bait others and distract them from their work, they came here looking for love, because of a thirst for conflict, because of “coming out,” because they could talk about sex and embarrass others. Good lord, what didn’t they come here for, except for the Idea.

Awards won by ru.wiki as of 2010

Genkin, one of the arbiters responsible for the indefblock of Lvova, argued that it was time to stop indulging those who were not serious about the encyclopedic aspect of ru.wiki, and to stop protecting contributors who mixed productive input with all kinds of extraneous agendas and personal drama. This essay, almost immediately nicknamed “Border control,” meant restricting the community to those who were there for the “Idea,” the encyclopedia, and nothing else -- an echo of Ramir’s earliest formulation of what ru.wiki was and should be.

The difference between the old and the new Restrictors, however, was that in the beginning there hadn’t been much to control or protect: the community was too small and the number of articles too low.

But in 2009, the Russian Wikipedia was no longer a small, intimate online community; it was a legitimate source of information for the Russian-speaking world. It boasted close to 500,000 articles and won a Russian online contest, POTOP, for best popular science site [42] (in 2010, it won another award for best online community [43]). If it was to continue to be taken seriously, Genkin emphasized, it could not be the kind of anarchic place where parody articles, onwiki parties, or other “social experiments” could be tolerated as a lighthearted distraction or mild nuisance.

... you need to write articles, not run your mouth.
Soul Train (full survey response).

In practice, Genkin and other Restrictor admins applied the “border control” theory by using blocking as a disciplinary measure, without regard to a user’s official status or level of contribution -- a new and not altogether popular interpretation of the official rules on blocking, which was seen by Allowists as a last measure when all other efforts to reason with a problematic user had failed. The critics responded with an arbitration case against Grebenkov, a prominent Restrictor. The case was not successful, however, with the Arbcom ruling that Genkin’s essay was simply the opinion of one admin, not all the admins or the community. Immediately following the ruling, VasilievVV rewrote the old blocking rules that had remained virtually unchanged since 2006, streamlining the complicated set terms for certain infractions. This made blocking less restrictive for admins, and it was accepted by the community as part of the official rules on October 21, 2009.

Offwiki, Genkin’s manifesto -- with its somewhat ominous language about The Idea and repression of users -- was fodder for the “Party of Operators” theory, seeming proof that the admins of ru.wiki were only concerned with getting and maintaining power over others. “Border control,” some users argued, was yet another instantiation of a totalitarian, authoritarian doctrine [44]. Of course, these kinds of conspiracy theories have not been absent from other major wiki projects, but in the case of the Russian Wikipedia, charges of totalitarianism and authoritarianism carry deeper cultural connotations. In fact, during many of the major (and not-so-major) conflicts throughout ru.wiki history, users with knowledge of English would lodge complaints against admins on en/metawikis, especially on "kind czar" Jimbo's user talk page, or on en.wiki IRC channels, bemoaning “typically Russian” totalitarianism and “KGB” tactics.

In 2006, a user whose article on virtual world, “Virtustan,” was deleted for non-notability threatened to vandalize the project [45] and was banned. He and his supporters from the “Virtustan” LiveJournal community began protesting on their blogs [46], [47], and their comments that the deletion and ban “strongly resembles Soviet censorship,” and that “Russian Wikipedia is a totalitarist (sic) sect” quickly spread from the Russian-speaking community to the English Wikipedia. It was simply an easy defamation tactic to frame the ru.wiki admins in sinister real-world political terms -- despite the fact that many of the admins who were accused of participating in the supposed crypto-Soviet conspiracy are actually longtime residents of Western Europe, and Genkin himself lives in the “totalitarian” hotbed of New York.

Just as the average Russian person reads in the newspapers
about the activities of "United Russia,"
that's pretty much how I read ru_wikipedia.
Edward Chernenko (full survey response).

Is Wikipedia an island?

In 2010, the question of off-wiki activity, which had been debated since 2006, was again brought to the attention of the community. Given the popularity of blogging in the Russian-speaking world, the fact that Russian Wikipedia users published inflammatory or insulting material on LiveJournal and other off-wiki sites was as inevitable as it was uncomfortable.

These sites included the nationalist, homophobic Encyclopedia Tradition; Wikireality, a diverse collection of materials on ru.wiki users and history, of widely ranging quality and appropriateness, somewhat similar to Encyclopedia Dramatica; and other short-lived projects of the former members of APE who were banned from ru.wiki. All the usual suspects were present in these communities and their aim was mostly to insult and deride well-known Russian Wikipedians.

Absurdopedia logo

In keeping with the high drama, attempts to set up official ru.wiki blogs on LiveJournal, by far the most popular blogging site for Russian speakers, culminated in disaster. On two separate occasions, trolls seized control of the community, took away moderating rights from everyone except their cronies, and turned the blog into yet another off-wiki attack site. For this reason, the only serious ru.wiki LiveJournal community associated with ru.wiki remains unsanctioned and unofficial for fear that the same thing will happen again.

A community discussion held in February of 2010 attempted to determine the ramifications of “personal attacks on outside sites,” including personal blogs and other wikis. Specifically, the survey was meant to determine whether admins were acting fairly by blocking users for offwiki actions, which had become common practice for some of the most egregious cases of offwiki harassment, such as threats of physical violence and releasing of private information. The survey generated a lengthy discussion, but no consensus on whether a firm policy was needed to address the problem. According to user Ilya Voyager, the most vocal opponent of offwiki activity, this kind of conduct presented a direct violation of Wikipedia’s core values and could not be tolerated:

Unquestionably, causing any kind of premeditated harm to a specific user of Wikipedia in connection with his or her actions on Wikipedia, no matter the place (i.e., where the goal is precisely to cause harm -- to hurt, insult, reveal personal information, etc.) harms Wikipedia as a project (demotivating users and thus slowing down progress), and is not compatible with assuming good faith in a user who allows himself this kind of action, and thus it is not compatible with participation in Wikipedia. I understand that there are some “thick-skinned” users who don’t care (I myself try to act this way), but we should look at things realistically: there are users in Wikipedia who are not like this, and it would be absolutely incorrect to bring about a process of “natural selection” based on “thick-skinnedness.” [48]

Others, like Drbug and Stas Kozlovsky, argued for a different way of “looking at things realistically,” stressing the impossibility of patrolling every corner of the Internet to find rule-breakers:

In the Russian Wikipedia there are over 400,000 contributors[2], and the number of users is constantly rising. In any given more-or-less sizeable forum/chat/LiveJournal community/online game there are a few people who have an account in Wikipedia. Monitoring the whole Internet in search of those who use a swear word or insult somebody, in order to block them in Wikipedia, is total idiocy. If a person conducts himself properly in Wikipedia, writes articles and is useful to the project, then whatever he says outside of Wikipedia is his own business. We should reserve punishment only for concrete infractions within Wikipedia. [49]

Again, the division amounted to a conflict between the vision of Restrictors (Ilya Voyager) who were not afraid to ban people if they demonstrated in- or off-wiki that they not fully invested in the serious encyclopedic aspect of the project; and Allowists (Drbug, Stas Kozlovsky), who considered the freedom and openness of the project to be more important than any individual user’s comfort. Both could find justification for their view in the core definition of Wikipedia: it was simply that the Restrictors put more emphasis on Free Encyclopedia, while Allowists on Free Encyclopedia.

Now they are shouting around the Internet that in the Wikipedia [Community] democratic norms are violated
... oh, if these democrats were given free reign, they would have made such a en:sovereign democracy,
that few could imagine it...
Dmitri Kuzmin

The Skypechat

Russian Skypechatters officially denying existence of the cabal: Skypechat != cabal

While the survey on offwiki activity ended in a stalemate, another somewhat similar Arbcom case was recently resolved. The case had to do with a number of admins, former and acting arbiters and Checkusers participating in a long-running closed Skype chat, which, predictably, led to accusations of cabals and conspiracies.

After reading through the chat logs submitted by one of the “Skypechatters,” the Arbcom acted as it had with the “26 Commissars cabal,” deciding not to invoke WP:Civility for a private communication or to disclose its contents to the community. It dismissed the accusations of conspiracy and ruled in favor of the “Skypechatters,” though it warned the participants about canvassing and forbade acting arbiters from participation in any closed communication associated with Wikipedia. Because many of the participants of the chat were prominent Restrictors (Ilya Voyager, Alexander Grebenkov, Mstislavl), and the plaintiffs were the Allowists Drbug and Dmitri Rozhkov as well as a surviving participant of the GSB cabal, Scorpion-811, the plaintiffs’ demand for the strictest measures to be applied to the Skypechatters can be seen as yet another episode in the Restrictor-Allowist ideological struggle. As Abiyoyo and others saw it, the conflict had less to do with Skype than with an ongoing “clash of the titans”. In this particular battle, while the Restrictors ostensibly won, both sides suffered some casualties. The user Wind, who had founded projects Good and Featured Articles and had mentored Canopus Carinae, was forced to confirm his bureaucrat status via a community discussion because it was revealed that he had edited a case against Smartass while being an arbiter; subsequently, he lost this status. And, as with the Lvova case, there were negative repercussions for Drbug, as well.

It may seem strange that Drbug would argue so strongly for the rights of users who published questionable material in blogs and off-wiki sites, and come down equally strongly against those who participated in a closed chat, but, as one of his opponents wrote, Drbug had a habit of “expressing certainty that he alone grasps the big picture of what is occurring, while his opponents are mistaken, and it is only a matter of time before they admit their mistakes” [50]. It was this tendency that caused the Arbcom to restrict his activity on Wikipedia, ruling that, though he acted in good faith, his efforts to manipulate the community were counterproductive.

When answering questions for the 11th ArbCom election, user Altes made the following observation about the trajectory of conflict on ru.wiki in the post-Smartass/GSB period:

...this time, the schism was not between the majority of the users and a group composed primarily of trolls and marginal figures, but between two groups of users whose good intentions and usefulness to the project almost no one would dare to question; this conflict continues to this day.

This conflict between Allowists and Restrictors, both of whom are firmly convinced of their good intentions and good faith, will indeed likely be much more difficult to address. For the time being, with Drbug topic banned from discussion pages, it seems that the Restrictors’ platform is more amenable to the community. But, as history has shown, nothing in ru.wiki is ever written in stone.

"Wikichix" at the 2010 Wikimania, with two ru.wiki members (Mstislavl far left, Lvova far right)

Conclusions

In its eight years of existence, the Russian Wikipedia has seen a tremendous amount of activity and change. From a small “family” of users, it spread across continents and became home to many diverse contributors, some productive and some not. With the growth of the community came the growth of specializations. Some found their niche in articles and ignored the tumultuous struggles of titanic “metapedians.” Some preferred the technical side and became bot-masters and script-writers. Others took to the forums and discussion pages, debating current policies and plans for the future. Though the official goal -- to write a free and open encyclopedia in the Russian language -- remained the same, it was interpreted in a surprising variety of ways. Advocates of freedom clashed with advocates of regulation, and sometimes ideological battles turned into ugly personal disputes.

Through it all, the corpus of Wikipedia showed remarkable resilience, growing exponentially and reaching an impressive level of quality, in some cases rivaling the vastly larger English Wikipedia. Though it is difficult to speculate on the future of a project as complex as Wikipedia, there are some possible hypotheses to be drawn from the momentum of the community’s evolution over these past eight years.

Articles and demographics

The increasing importance of Wikipedia as a source for accurate information means an increasing emphasis on article quality. However, though the possibility of “reviewed status” for articles opens up a path towards greater academicism, there are several countervailing tendencies, such as the growing contingent of contributors who create articles on fictional worlds and popular culture (e.g., Star Wars, Harry Potter). Ru.wiki’s strength has traditionally been focused in the fields of science, math, and geography, reflecting the background and interests of its contributors, but with many articles in these fields having reached “good” status and been fixed with flagged revs, the door remains open to contributors in the humanities, arts, and culture. As may be evident from the brief descriptions of users in this study, there is also a notable gender imbalance in ru.wiki and other Wikipedias, and the greater presence of women online and on Wikipedia is, hopefully, another change that will come about soon and lead to a more diverse community in the future.

[The status of closer] is possibly the most important step on the path to mending the rift
between the "rank and file" users and the administrators,
desocializing and depoliticizing the status of administrator.
Altes (full survey response).

Social structure

In addition to articles and users, the nature of status and bureaucracy in the community is also constantly changing, and in ru.wiki’s case it seems to be evolving away from a privileged administrator class and towards a more egalitarian, communally-responsible collection of patrollers, reviewers, and closers. While they wield less power, these “semi-admins” provide valuable maintenance services and solve the “staffing shortage” that has become endemic to the project.

However, it may turn out to be the case that the social status that comes with adminship is a key factor in user participation, providing a stronger incentive for productive input than “semi-adminship.” Nevertheless, given the strong resentment toward overbearing authority figures on ru.wiki, it is unlikely that the horizontal model of power will ever be replaced with a vertical one, in which a handful of admins perform all the administrative tasks in the community.

Exodus

As the atmosphere of the project has grown more serious and unilaterally focused over time, many contributors have broken off to form alternate wiki projects. These include the humorous (Lurkmore.ru, Absurdopedia), the confrontational (Wikireality, Tradition), and the narrowly specialized (Ezhewika, the Russian-Jewish encyclopedia; Mathematics). In addition to this exodus of certain user groups, many individuals have their own varied reasons for leaving: some formerly active editors/admins no longer feel needed in the larger community, some hardworking authors of articles feel slighted when their work is deleted or passed up for Featured Article status, and some become frustrated and quit when they feel they are being insulted or mocked. Along with changes in internal community structure, these may be some of the contributing factors to the slowdown in growth that has begun to occur very recently in ru.wiki, which has historically been one of the fastest-growing and most successful wiki projects in the world.

Incubating the next generation

Nurturing growth

Lastly, attracting new users is crucial for the health and vitality of Wikipedia, and ru.wiki still allows article creation by anonymous users because of the conviction that this is the best way to attract contributors, which has so far prevailed over the reality -- that most of these articles are speedily deleted. One of the most successful methods of retaining new users has been the implementation of an “Incubator,” the brainchild of user Samal, where articles from the mainspace that are not up to standard are transferred, and newbies can continue working on them, receiving friendly advice without worrying about making mistakes or having their work deleted.


Interview with Maximaximax
Interview with Laurentia
Interview with Kemen
Interview with Divot
Interview with Anatolich1
Interview with Edward Chernenko
Interview with Azgar
Interview with ShinePhantom
Interview with Soul Train
Interview with INSAR
Interview with Lvova
Interview with Altes
Altes (full survey response).

Postscript

Summary of feedback/discussion

The reaction to the publication of this social history of Russian Wikipedia can be divided into:

  • the response of the wider community to the English version, either by email or on the talk page
  • the Russian Wikipedia community to the Russian version on:
  1. the News section of the Russian Village Pump (Discussion Forum)
  2. the talk page on Meta

Meta Community

Immediately after publishing the draft on Meta (at first, only on the userspace) we started to receive responses from the Meta community. We did not expect any comments at this stage, but a few editors remarked onwiki that they would like to comment and were generally positive about the history. We also received positive feedback via e-mail from editors in the English and German Wikipedia, who expressed their appreciation for this look inside a non-English Wikipedia community. The one exception was a user from en.wiki, who objected to our including one cross-project comparison in our history, because he felt it was too sensitive to be mentioned; however, we chose to retain the comparison.

After the page was moved into the mainspace, we continued to receive more feedback via email rather than on the Meta page itself. The notable exception was user Illythr from both the Russian and English Wikipedia, who provided substantial and detailed feedback on the talk page of the English version -- proposing stylistic changes and helpful explanatory material in en.wiki (such as en:Problem of evil), all of which was tremendously useful.

According to the page view statistics, the English version of the history was viewed around 700 times. While this does not correspond to 700 unique visitors (each time the page is opened, including the authors’ corrections, counts as one view) it is a huge number by Metawiki standards.

Russian Community

The Russian version generated around 2300 viewings, discussions on the Meta discussion page, RuWiki News Forum and in LiveJournal communities associated with Russian Wikipedia.

At first, the Russian Wikipedians were mostly concerned with typos and translation details, which they helped to fix, in addition to pointing out some minor factual inaccuracies.

In terms of the broader issues raised in the essay, the response of the ru.wiki community was mixed. “Exopedians,” e.g. users who mostly write articles and are generally not involved in community discussions, were fairly positive. User Kolchack1923 wrote that the narrative was interesting to read and that he was largely unaware what had happened in the community, especially in the beginning of the project: “...only from this essay did I clarify for myself who the first Russian administrator was.” Kuimov, while praising some elements of the work (including the controversial section on the troll Smartass), felt that it suffered from a “skewed perspective,” because “there is no bigger picture of what was written in Wikipedia while its various chapters were developing.”

Metapedians, however, were more critical about the whole concept of writing a history of the community, and especially a history which they saw as a “conflictology” (user Chronicler). Instead of conflicts, they proposed focusing on social norms, specifically the “meaning of social roles, deviant behavior, and the phenomenon of leadership.” But other users (e.g., VIsergey) also insisted that history writers must avoid mention of any specific people involved in conflicts or disputes. SergeyJ, who commented on both the ru.wiki Discussion Forum and on the Russian Meta version, also saw this as a major flaw of the essay. He rejected the entire methodology (which we had not at that point published) as being too subjective and biased. Because he felt that the authors adhered too strongly to the ideology of one particular camp of users (the Restrictors), he issued the following imperative: “But you must clearly decide whether it is possible for you to write such histories, striving for objectivity, or if, due to your physiological and psychological traits, you can't do any better than a selection of subjective opinions.” Accordingly, he declared the start of an alternative history project, which would avoid subjective opinions and mention of specific users.

The number of questions about the methodology of the research and genre of the writing prompted us to compose a brief preamble, in which we laid out our approaches, both successful and unsuccessful, and commented on our overall strategy of history-writing. This clarification dispelled some of the worries of the community members who were upset that the history was not more academic in approach and style, though some, like user Kaganer, continued to express their disdain: “That the authors have captured something is true, though some of the things they claim as fact I absolutely disagree with. But because it's not clear where, how, and, most important of all, why we should talk about this work, I propose to leave it to history. I hope that this example of opinion journalism will inspire someone else to write another, not less captivating work.”

A related concern was that the history did not contain enough quantifiable data. Some users felt that there should have been more analysis of articles (e.g., statistics, graphs, and diagrams), more focus on Good and Featured articles (from user Soul Train), and more demographic information about editors (from user Anatolich1).

Finally, on both the ru.wiki Discussion Forum and on the talk page of the Russian version, there were several arguments raised that highlighted some of the ideological conflicts we discussed in the history: specifically, the issue of homosexuality and nationalism/imperialism. For example, the description of the conflicts surrounding articles on sexuality led one user (Filatov Aleksei) to express his disgust on the Discussion Forum that the authors of the history were too liberal and "gay-friendly.” Simultaneously, another user (DonaldDuck) commented on Meta, objecting that the authors had presented all Russian people as homophobes. Furthermore, noticing that one of the authors has a Ukrainian surname, DonaldDuck also claimed: “Some pro-Ukrainian bias can be noted in this essay.”

See also Talk:RuWiki History (Doronina and Pinchuk)/English#General comments

Conclusions

Overall, it was clear that what the international Meta community members saw as an entertaining, engaging text was perceived very differently by the ru.wiki community, who expected a dry, formal approach to a history project, with strict adherence to the traditional Wikipedia rules for articles, especially NPOV, and encyclopedic rather than creative literary language. Although the text was clearly marked as an essay and not an "official history,” some users demanded that we move it to our userspace. As a compromise to those users and the ones who expressed interest in writing their own historical narratives, we renamed the pages to include our names in the header.

Two users provided especially good summary criticism, for which the authors are extremely grateful: Kaganer on the subject of the narrative genre (noted above), and Kv75, on the shift from the mid to current phase of the project. Though the former is difficult to address concretely, given that it would require a completely different methodological approach to the project, the latter will be worked into the history.

We thank everyone for participating in this pilot project and hope we have provided some useful lessons for future wiki-historiographers!

Notes

  1. From here on, quotes that do not contain a link to the source are from the author's e-mail interviews of the user quoted
  2. According to this page. Probably, more realistic is this page where the number of active users, who made 10 or more edits is around 40.000 and only 8155 made more than 100 edits