BoyWiki:Text of the BoyWiki proposal

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Dear FSC,

I understand you have been considering a community wiki. BoyChat is nearly 10 years old, yet the culture and history that has grown around it remains ephemeral, constantly disappearing into oldposts. Our community possesses a wealth of experience and knowledge that needs to be recorded and there is no way currently of preserving this collective treasure.

This proposal is submitted for a Free Spirits wiki project I shall refer to as BoyWiki. In this proposal I will address the resource's mission, security concerns, a command structure, the technical requirements for maintaining the wiki, and will give some thoughts on content guidelines. For the purposes of this proposal I investigated many wiki engines, with particular regard for DokuWiki, MediaWiki, and UseModWiki.

Mission Statement

BoyWiki will strive to preserve our collective knowledge. It will serve as a vital reference tool for boylovers and interested parties, and provide a gateway to our community for those just joining our presence online. BoyWiki will heighten our sense of identity and strengthen our community through open participation in demonstrating the richness of our culture.

Content

Expected Content

Wikis defy planning. Each is a reflection of its community. However, an initial structure can be undertaken to help stimulate participation in the project in its beginning stages.

In its initial form, BoyWiki will expect to have several classes of articles. Some will be encyclopedic in nature and offer information on events, historical persons, legal cases, and so forth. Other articles will be definitions and glossaries. Some will be artistic articles which highlight interesting things from movies, books, performing arts, and fiction. Yet others will be community and cultural articles that might serve as a repository for jokes, stories, games, and similar topics. In this way each visitor will have a broad variety of different types of content that can be added to or created. This should help counter the feeling of inadequacy many people who have never made a Web page feel when first faced with a wiki. Each page should have a discussion page that can serve as a sort of meta area for each article, to be used when disagreement about article content occurs.

Most wiki engines with the concept of users also provide each user account with a user page and an associated discussion page. I think it would be interesting to allow each user to develop this page as he sees fit, provided security and legality standards are maintained.

Content Guidelines

Special guidelines must be developed to protect personal information. There will need to be a balance between providing information, in an article about BL.net, for instance, and protecting those involved who might be hurt or endangered by such information. This is something I would expect to be worked out in detail by BoyWiki's admin team. As for posting real life information about any online persona, or any attempts to out someone, these will be immediate grounds for being blocked from editing.

All encyclopedic content should strive for either neutral tone or balanced tone, with opposing viewpoints given equal space. Civility on all sides will be enforced and constructive viewpoints and participation by non-boylovers will also be welcomed.

File uploads will be disabled, and if images and media are to be allowed, they will need to be emailed to administration for acceptance. Admin would then manually put the media in the proper directory on the server before they could be linked to in an article. External image linking will be disabled.

Command Structure

Keeper of the Wiki

The direction of BoyWiki will be overseen by a lead director called the Keeper of the Wiki (or "Keeper" for short). His main duties will be to act as liaison with the Free Spirits Committee and to oversee all issues required for the long-term and day-to-day operation of BoyWiki, and to serve as the public face of the wiki. Authority will lie with him to decide issues of organization and content guidelines, and to ensure the resource complies with the requirements of Free Spirits. He will also handle the appointment and discharge of the administrative team which serve under him.

Curators

The day-to-day oversight of BoyWiki content will be performed by administrators called Curators. They will primarily be responsible for checking all content for compliance with the content guidelines established for BoyWiki. They will have the power to protect and unprotect pages from being edited, the power to delete pages, and the power to block individual users from editing pages. Their other function will be to move pages, standardize page names and links, and otherwise takes steps to ensure that content remains orderly and easy to find.

During the creation of the resource, Curators will also write stub articles to prepopulate some of the categories chosen. Curators will need to possess strong writing skills and a strong facility with language, including spelling, grammar, and mechanics. They will be expected to help enforce a sense of balance and tone in the article text--particularly controversial ones--when user activity requires intervention, and as such will need the ability to objectively enforce content guidelines.

It would be a worthy goal to appoint Curators that specialize in particular categories and subjects. Curators could then be assigned by the Keeper to concentrate on their area of expertise.

Scribes

Users who have earned special recognition will receive the honorific title of Scribe. Over time, some members of the community will begin to establish themselves through quality of contributions, expertise in certain subjects, and willingness to assist the BoyWiki project by taking ownership of certain areas or topics. Since a wiki is entirely dependant on its community, such involvement by users must be encouraged. If BoyWiki begins to grow too quickly, they will be an important safety net in the policing of content. Scribes may earn the ability to protect or delete pages, but unlike Curators, will have no direct vote in the administrative issues of BoyWiki.

Technical Requirements

Security

The need for security is paramount. A wiki is a Web site that can be edited by any visitor and the changes appear on the site in real time. Two active forms of security will be required in order for this project to be made open to the public.

The first step will be to require users to register user accounts and log in before they can edit pages. This establishes a system of accountability to allow for blocking users from editing. Users must also be allowed to register alternate accounts so they may offer content that might compromise their existing online identities. The wiki engine chosen for BoyWiki must have an adequate concept of user permissions to allow for the breakdown of Keeper, Curator, Scribe, and user groups, and to cover our other administrative needs.

Hard Security

Hard security is the application of administrative and technical measures to combat vandalism and other undesired behavior. This includes any action taken by administration to control content or contributions. The goal of the Curators and Scribes will be to control content by force.

The Keeper, along with the FSC tech team, must be able to grant and revoke user permissions for any account. When they find inappropriate content, Curators must be able to revert changes to pages, delete pages, and purge revisions from the wiki so that they are no longer available. Scribes will have similar powers, but lack the ability to permanently delete pages or purge data irretrievably from the wiki.

Curators will also be given the power to block users from making changes to the wiki. Care should be given to select an engine which allows for setting auto-expiring blocks on edit privileges to help ease administrative load and make the duration of blocks more consistent.

Soft Security

Soft security consists of the actions of the community to control and police itself. Vandalism and inappropriate material will often be found by the users before the admins, and with a healthy community we will be able to rely on users to revert pages back to useful states and remove inappropriate content. This will help ease administrative load. Users have the power to correct abuse of the system immediately. This will hide material that violates BoyWiki's content guidelines. This will help to nullify the damaged caused by trolls and vandals until a Curator or Scribe can take action.

Since the community creates the content in the wiki, they will feel a sense of ownership of the resource. This ownership will also inspire community oversight. Unlike the threaded message boards, BoyWiki empowers each user to become a cog in a sense. Working together to protect the integrity of BoyWiki will help foster the sense of identity and community that is planted by participation in the project. The Alexis Principle will be seen most clearly in the growth of new content and by the protectiveness exhibited by BoyWiki's users and this will also be where the wiki reaps the principle's greatest benefit.

Legality

All content that is contributed or edited by the user community will need to be read and reviewed for legality and safety. Illegal and unsafe information will require immediate removal. A well-chosen wiki engine will make it easy to see new updates, modifications, who authored changes and to clearly identify the changes which have occurred. Targeted attacks designed to take us down by inserting illegal content can be reverted, pages can be deleted, and certain information will need to be purged from the wiki system. The team of Curators will be tasked with constantly monitoring changes and checking them for appropriateness. They will have the ability to handle any breach of content guidelines that they encountered.

Care should be taken with copyright issues. Contributions to BoyWiki must be licensed, and the GNU General Documentation License and the Creative Commons licenses should be taken under consideration as possible licenses. Other copyrighted material will be disallowed except as provided for by fair use. In cases in which the copyright owner wishes to submit pre-existing material without relicensing it, this should be taken on a case-by-case basis. The value of archiving such material under a protected page may at times exceed the trouble of convincing authors to relicense their work.

Usability

Certain topics are sensitive and will be prone to editorial abuse. The best choice of engine would be one that provides a separate meta area that allows for specific discussion on articles, so that the community can comment on articles without editing them. This will help to make article revisions more manageable, and in many cases will even end up providing content to expand the articles.

Carefully crafted content guidelines should counter some of the effect seen at OtherChat. Users would also be encouraged to add opposing and alternate viewpoints to articles rather than rewrite sections they disagree with. This broadening of viewpoint could be performed by more neutral users by viewing past revisions of article text. Soft security will once again play a large role in maintaining usability. Where this fails, Curators will be available to take more aggressive action.

Vandalism is easily cleaned up by users and administrators, and in any case it can never prevent a user from seeing earlier, non-defaced content because of the revision system. It will be relegated to the status of minor annoyance until it can be purged by administration.

Wiki Engine Analysis

I investigated several engines for this analysis, with particular attention to three I thought were promising. DokuWiki impressed me by its understated elegance and intuitive markup style. MediaWiki is an extremely popular Open Source project with high usage and scalability. UseModWiki is already in use by the FSC for BoyChat's Information Task Force project.

Most wiki engines are engineered with the goal of being as resistant to hard security and moderation attempts as possible. Some are even engineered with no concept of different users. Other engines are just beginning to add user authentication and edit locking, in a very kludgy manner. With the vast majority of wiki engines, it is only possible to assign editing restrictions with .htaccess files and edit locking can only be achieved with Unix file permissions, which makes the oversight needed by a Free Spirits resource unwieldy, if not impossible.

Wiki engines also tend to be designed with a minimalist style, storing data in plain text files or flat data files. These engines are the ones which tend to rely on file permissions to force security. I feel this raises questions of robustness and scalability for a site which is expected to handle as much traffic as BoyWiki will.

In final analysis, DokuWiki's user system was a recent hack, with no edit locking possible, and UseModWiki had almost no concept of users, opting instead to record changes with ISP-assigned hostnames. The only way to block specific users from editing a page was to set an editing password and share it with every user except the ones you wished not to have editing access. Neither of these systems had any concept of privileged users, although an administrative password could be assigned in UseModWiki.

MediaWiki has the most mature concept of users, and allows specific pages to be protected from changes by non-admin (such as the main page, help pages and any other arbitrary page). It also uses the MySQL database engine to store user data, articles, and revisions. Like all other wikis, there is no function for purging specific revisions of text, but it should be simple to develop a tool which would delete offending revisions from the database. This tool might even be able to be incorporated into the software. The only other minor problem is that IP addresses are used to identify users who do not sign in. If editing is disabled for non-authenticated users, IP addresses are not recorded but still display locally when a user logs off or fails to login properly. This needs to be changed but poses no security threat to users.

Because MediaWiki offers the most mature, complete user system and allows for varying user permissions and comment areas, it is the engine which is best-suited for BoyWiki and will require the least amount of modification. This is the same engine written and used for the Wikipedia Project, a high-profile site which is prone to vandalism and attacks. It is proven, well-tested, well-maintained, and actively developed. BoyWiki will be able to leverage the fire-tested security that this engine now offers.

Other Considerations

MediaWiki will need to be modified to conform to Free Spirits security requirements. With anonymous editing turned off, there should be no recording of user IP addresses, but a viewer who is not logged in is presented with his IP address displayed as a login name when he logs out of his account or misauthenticates during an attempt to login. This is not a security issue but it will scare a lot of users and this must be disabled. The other necessary change is a tool to completely purge content that is deemed inappropriate from the site. Page revisions are stored in their own table in the database, so it should be simple to write a script that will do this. It may even be possible to integrate this feature into the site.

The MediaWiki 1.3.9 engine uses PHP 4.3.x or higher and MySQL 4.0.x (although 3.2.x will also work). Installation is extremely simple. Setup can be done via a web-based form which is disabled after use. The resulting configuration file is modified further and then copied into the install directory.

BoyWiki will be a collection of many different opinions and viewpoints, and care should be taken to distance the project from expressing any "official" endorsement of content by Free Spirits. It should be therefore be hosted on its own domain boywiki.org. The site should also be secured via SSL. To allow administration team members to quickly communicate, a private message board running the BC script should be installed on this domain. Here high-level editorial decisions and future plans will be debated and discussed, as well as the other usual matters.

The Keeper should have a freespirits.org email address for individual communication much as is the case with other resources. A mail alias at boywiki@freespirits.org should be set up to allow all BoyWiki administrators to receive email related to the resource.

Conclusion

A lot more work is needed before this project can be fully realized. I have put quite a lot of energy into planning a wiki project that might meet the high standards of the FSC and I hope my proposal can serve as a useful starting point for consideration.

A wiki would greatly enhance the existing resources and community that Free Spirits strives to nurture. A site running MediaWiki software with a dedicated administration would compliment the community and benefit all. I offer any assistance I can to work further with the FSC in making this project a reality.

Hínandil