|This page documents the history of Stewards and the process for electing them, from their creation in 2004 to take over some of the workload previously handled by Wikimedia's sysadmins. Originally based on a "Steward elections through the ages" by Mike.lifeguard, 19 January 2010 (archived). This page has not been substantially updated since 2016.
Stewards are users with complete access to the wiki interface on all Wikimedia wikis, including the ability to change any and all user rights and groups. See Stewards for a current description of their responsibilities.
For the history of past stewards, see Stewards/Former stewards.
March 2004 — proposal
As of early 2004, user rights were set manually in the database, requiring shell access on the servers. In a wikipedia-l post entitled "Developers should mind their own business", Tim Starling proposed separating user rights administration from software development.
Tim had already created the "developer" group, which allowed for managing user group management. He proposed that this group also take care of account renaming and changing article histories when these features were coded (these would later be done by bureaucrats and oversighters, respectively).
He proposed these users be called "honorary developers", selected by nomination and vote "similar to the vote now conducted at the English Wikipedia for sysop access". Honorary developers could lose access via majority vote, arbitration committee ruling, or Jimbo Wales' decree.
April 2004 — foundation
The first "honorary developers" were elected in April 2004; 8 candidates who achieved 80% support in a simple vote were elected, out of 20 nominated. There were no voter requirements in these elections.
Honorary developer was quickly renamed to steward, a name proposed by Daniel Mayer (other proposals were community developer, WikiWarden, community warden, coordinator, Wikimedia servant, secretariat or secretary, and super-bureaucrat). Initial documentation was written; the original description stated "Stewards are people who are able to set arbitrary user rights on any Wikimedia wiki".
The initial steward policies were also drafted during this period, though not yet implemented.
All steward actions were originally taken on Test Wikipedia, until it was proposed that they be moved to Meta following the expansion of the technical abilities to Meta as well. The original role of stewards was very restricted, operating only in the community areas in which developers had previously, adding and removing users from bureaucrat and sysop groups based on local consensus. The principles of avoiding a conflict of interest were discussed early on, with the decision that stewards who were also arbitrators should not use their rights to enforce arbitration committee decisions.
2005 — 2006
The second steward elections were held in 2005 in May. There were 10 candidates, and voters simply signed “Yes” or “No” for each. A few opposers gave short rationales, but most discussion was confined to the talk page. These elections show the finalized principles of activity requirements, and conflicts of interest with stewards acting on projects where they are members of the community. At that time, there was only Wikipedia — the conflict of interest principle discouraged stewards from removing privileged access for their own language. Of the ten candidates, 9 were elected, all of which held large majorities. 2005 also saw an attempt at another election in December, with one candidate who wished to be considered for the role. However, the community at the time agreed that elections for individual candidates should not be held, and another election was organized to begin later in December of that year.
The role of stewards further evolved in 2006, with further emphasis on the necessity of the steward role not evolving into that of a "wiki-cop", or other form of super-administrator. This was also the first year in which active participation at meta was considered to be an important factor in voting for new stewards. In the 2006 elections, there were 16 candidates — and again, the process was a straightforward vote, with very short initial comments from candidates, and short comments from opposers. The 2006 election saw a general reduction in elected candidates, with only 9 of the 16 being elected. Of those elected, most had over 95% support, with only one having 90% support and none with lower majorities than that. The most common opposition reasons for those not elected was a lack of experience, and unsuccessful requests had significantly fewer votes than those of the elected stewards. Another election was held in December 2006, with 15 candidates.
2007 — 2009
2007 sees the increasing formalization of the steward role and the elections. The 2007 elections saw a standardized header, organized translations, and sections laid out for questions, yes, no, and neutral. The questions section was not widely used during this election — in all, only 17 questions were asked for 18 candidates, and most candidates got zero questions. The talk page reveals a lot of discussion about administering the election, including on the organization and on how to increase question use during the election. This was the first year in which many serious candidates were not elected. In the past, those users with advanced permissions on individual projects who ran were typically elected; in 2007, the trend began wherein serious candidates who held advanced permissions on multiple projects were not elected, primarily due to lack of experience in steward areas.
The 2007 elections were in Nov/Dec; the next elections were in February 2009. The 2009 elections used a very formalized election process with subpages, templates, and transclusion to get as much as possible translated into as many languages as possible, and streamline the voting process for users. A separate questions page enjoyed much use: 150 questions were posed, many of them leading to protracted back-and-forth. No serious candidate was posed fewer than 4 questions. We also see in 2009 the first instance of so-called “generic” questions – supposedly asked to enlighten voters. Most of these simply ask for a rehashing of the candidate’s statement, and all were asked and answered in English (though most voters are not anglophone). These candidacy statements have been expanded considerably too – from a short introduction of a few sentences to a paragraph or two, translated into multiple languages. Because of the lack of requirements to put oneself forward as a candidate, 26 users ran in the election; at least an additional 5 candidates were disqualified. Most of the candidates lacked understanding of the steward role, and were demonstrably unfit to even run: 6 received less than 25% support. The 2009 elections also saw the institution of the #wikimedia-stewards-elections IRC channel to monitor and administer the elections, and a dedicated team of volunteers verifying the “smooth” operation of the election process. Of the 26 candidates, only 9 were elected, representing a further decrease in the number of new stewards elected compared to those who applied.
2008 — global groups
There were no elections in 2008, though significant changes occurred in steward access. The CentralAuth extension was implemented during 2008, and this involved the creation of the steward global group, which granted global access to sysop and oversight rights, as well as access to the CheckUser log - this access would later be removed after an internal steward discussion in 2009. Prior to centralauth, stewards exercised rights through adding and removing themselves to local user groups through meta using the
userrights-interwiki permission; for example, to delete a page, a steward would need to add themselves to the local sysop group. After 2008, this was only done for using CheckUser and oversight permissions. This was also the first year in which global accounts could be locked, preventing them from logging in. 2008 also marked the creation of additional global user groups managed by stewards, including global rollback. At the time, requests for global permissions were handled through the steward requests page for permissions.
Also implemented in 2008 was the global staff user group, for paid employees of the Wikimedia Foundation, trustees, and others acting in an official capacity for the Foundation. As a result of a request for comments, the global group was created and managed by Wikimedia Foundation staff, and gave global access to the wiki interface as with stewards, except with full global access to CheckUser and oversight permissions as well. While membership in this global group was initially managed by Wikimedia Foundation staff, that responsibility has since been delegated to stewards, who assign staff rights to global accounts as needed.
Appointment and removal of non-elected stewards
During the 2009 confirmation process, the interesting case of Jimmy Wales was raised. Wales had been appointed in 2006 by the Board of Trustees, who were still responsible for deciding who the stewards were, though in practice they followed the community wishes in all other cases. Wales was not confirmed during the 2009 confirmations, due to his inactivity in the steward role, and the suggestion that staff rights were more appropriate for him to hold. A compromise was reached, with Wales agreeing to have a global group created for himself. That global group would go on to have most of the active rights removed, following a request for comments regarding deletions that Wales performed on Commons in 2010.
2010 — 2011
The 2010 elections saw the most candidates out of all the previous elections, with a total of 74 candidates. Of these, 8 were elected, 21 not elected, and 45 disqualified. 2010 saw further institutionalization of the election process, with time for submissions, questions, and a three week voting period. The elected-to-qualified-candidate ratio further decreased in 2010, though a few of the candidates who did not pass in 2010 went on to become stewards in subsequent elections. During the 2010 confirmations, detailed summaries of the arguments presented for and against each steward were given on the talk page for the final steward decision; this format of decision on confirmations was discontinued from 2011-2015, when it was re-introduced during the 2016 confirmations.
There were two elections in 2011; the first saw 112 candidates; of which, 91 were disqualified, 10 were not elected, and 11 were elected. This was the last election during which CentralNotice banners advertised the nomination process to all users; starting in the 2011-2 elections, only those eligible received notification to cut down on the number of ineligible candidacies. The second 2011 elections saw 17 candidates, of which 8 were elected. There were only confirmations at the time of the first election in 2011, and these were handled in two stages, with the community providing input during the first, and the election committee evaluating consensus in the second. This method would be used until the 2016 confirmations.
During 2010, a very controversial proposal to create global sysops was voted on. The vote had 1802 total votes, of which 1385 were in support (76.9% support margin). This proposal created a global group to act in a specific area of steward activity - namely performing routine maintenance and counter-vandalism on small projects without active local admins. This had previously been a role of stewards, but it was felt that more help was needed in the area. The initial proposal would allow global sysops to globally block IP addresses as well; however, a substantial number of users opposed this function during the vote, so it was not added to the final group which was created. 2010 also saw the first election of new global sysops, done as-needed at Steward requests/Global permissions.