"Equilibrium is soon established by a stream of volunteers." edit

The engineer Leonid reflecting on the organisation of production

When I attended the Open-source Ticket Request System organised by Wikimedia UK, I was reminded of a science fiction story I read during the mid-winter break. Red Star was written over a hundred years ago by Alexander Bogdanov. At the time of its first publication in 1908, he was an exile from Imperial Russia who had just broken with Lenin to work with Gorky and others around the Vpered organisation. He was to go on to develop Tectology, which is often consider as a precursor to cybernetics. So perhaps this should come as no surprise.

Red Star gives an account of an earthling, an engineer called Leonid, who visits Mars to discover a socialist society organised around free labour. Leonid asks how production is organised. He was shown an array of production statistics:

"The machine-building industry has a surplus of 968,757 man-hours daily of which 11,325 days are skilled labour. The surplus at this factory is 753 hours, of which 29 hours are skilled labour. (...) The clothing industry has a shortage of 392,685 man-hours daily, of which 21,380 hours require experienced repairmen for special machines and 7,852 hours require Organization."''[1]

There were similar figures on a range of other tables covering not merely production but also education, medicine. When Leonid asks how thsystem works his guide ofers an explanation:

"The tables are meant to affect the distribution of labor. If they are to do that everyone must beable to see see where there is a labour shortage and just how big it is. Assuming an individual has the same or an approximately equal aptitude for two vocations, he can choose the one with the greater shortage. (...) the figures change every hour. In the course of an hour several thousand workers announce that they want to change jobs. The central statistical apparatus takes constant note of this, transmitting the data to all branches of industry. (...) The Institute of Statistics has agencies everywhere which keep track of the flow of goods into and out of the stockpiles and monitor the productivity of all enterprises and the changes in their work forces. In tah way it can be calculated what and how much must be produced for any given period and the number of man-hours required for the task. the Institute then computes the difference between teh existing and the desired situation for each vocational area and communicates the result to all places of employment. Equilibrium is soon established by a stream of volunteers."[2]

This is, essentially, how the OTRS system works on the Wikimedia projects.

OTRS chez Wikimedia edit

OTRS Queue view

The role of the OTRS system is to maintain a database of enquiries, whether by e-mail or phone, in such a way that a diffuse network of volunteers from across the world can give suitable replies. The enquiries are organised in different queues which reuire different skill sets to handle. Thus the courtesy list is generally quite straigh forward enquiries which an experienced wikimedia editor should not find to hard to respond to. Other lists such as the quality list are seen as needing a more considered response, although sometimes these can be quite straight-forward, but the ticket got put here because someone wasn't quite sure how to deal with it. There is also a list to deal with Sister projects such as Wikiversity (although there have not been many enquiries concerning Wikiveristy lately). Sometimes it is just a matter of giving a polite response to an enquiry, perhaps pointing the person to the relevant help page, such as Am I allowed to edit articles about myself or my organization?

One thing which comes through OTRS is e-mail confirmation that the producer of an image grants the relevant license for it to be available on the particualr Wikimedia project. On the other hand sometimes people are complaining of the opposite: that an image has been used without their consent and that theyw ould rather like it removed.

Another area concerns Biographies of living persons, often shortened to BLPs. This is a particularly sensitive area:

"We must get the article right. Be very firm about the use of high quality sources. All quotations and any material challenged or likely to be challenged must be explicitly attributed to a reliable, published source, which is usually done with an inline citation. Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced—whether the material is negative, positive, neutral, or just questionable—should be removed immediately and without waiting for discussion.[3] Users who persistently or egregiously violate this policy may be blocked from editing."[4]

Of course, what the person requests is not always the most appropriate response. But what the volunteer aims to do is to work out what the best response is, in accordance with the releavant Wikimedia projects policies, to see what they can do to implement that response and then to explain the response to the person who made the enquiry.

As many of the enquiries require similar responses, a selection of templates have been developed on the OTRS wiki (which is private to accredited OTRS agents). This enables the "agent" to modify the template so as to provide a personalised response.

References edit

  1. Red Star: The First Bolshevik Utopia, edited by Loren Graham and Richard Stites; trans. Charles Rougle (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), p 65
  2. ibid p 66
  3. Jimmy Wales. "WikiEN-l Zero information is preferred to misleading or false information", May 16, 2006, and May 19, 2006; Jimmy Wales. Keynote speech, Wikimania, August 2006.
  4. W:Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons accessed 13 January 2012