Donnerstag, 29. September 2011

A story about a vulva picture - an open letter to Sue Gardner

Dear Sue Gardner,

please handle this as a response on your post named "On editorial judgment, and empathy" and as an addition to Dirk's "Sorry, Sue Gardner, but the image filter question exactly asks, who is in charge" and Jan's signpost topic "The global mission, the image filter and the "German question""

Who am I?

First let me introduce myself: I am Achim Raschka and I am one - if in quantity not the main - main authors of the German article Vulva. In this case I am one of those you adress with the "who are acting like provocateurs and agitators" that "need to be stopped". People like me you describe as "young well educated men in Europe". O.k. - maybe you call a man (me) around 40 years a young man and also maybe you think, a full-time employed and married father of four little children - a fifth on the way - spends hours of his rare time for an article on a sexual object just to agitate? What I really think is that it doesn't matter to you who I am and who all those other authors in the German community are that you adress in your post. So let me add some more informations on me only as a chance to learn who this vulva man should be: I am author in the German wikipedia since 2003 and have done about 70.000 edits (what is your score?), about 100 articles mainly written by me are selected as good or featured articles in these years. In January this year I was invited to San Francisco by your team to discuss about article quality and ways to adapt the ambassador programme to Germany, a bit later I was elected to be member of the board of the German chapter.

About the Vulva
In your post you claimed the "close-up photograph of an open vagina" (sorry to teach: it was an open vulva, no vagina which is an internal organ - article mainly written by me) as one of the main reasons to discuss about "handling controversial imagery."

So, as the author of this article, I was never asked by you about my (and our) reasons why this picture was shown on the main page, and also, the WMF never asked anyone of the German authors community, why they didn't choose to withdraw this picture after discussion. But although you never asked, I would like to tell you the vulva story:

The Vulva is one of the most viewed articles in the German Wikipedia and it was one of the most choosen topics as well before I decided to work on this article. Before I started this work it looked like this - an article on a main topic in a terrible condition. I - a biologist - worked mainly together with two gynecologists and a veterinarian and anatomist as well as a midwife I know from the birth of one of my children as an external advisor, all best known for their quality articles in the German Wikipedia, to push up this article from a volume of about 13 kB to the recent article with a volume of about 70 kB. Every single sentence, every chapter and even every picture was discussed in the editor's team and on the discussion page in terms of quality for the article and the described subject - every single picture was chosen for it's value for this article as this should be in Wikipedia!

After this work the article was elected to be a featured article in the German Wikipedia and was nominated by me for a presentation on the main page - together with the picture you call "controversial" (Why? It shows a natural, hairy vulva like my wife has one and even you have one!). The only reason for this nomination was to show that even in topics like this we are able to produce featured work and to show the product of a high concentrated team of experts from biology and medicine - no more and no less. That's all, that's the vulva story.

What a filter will effect
To go a bit further, I try to line out, what will be the effect of a filter to content like this: With the opportunity to filter content - text or pictures - chosen by others than the authors, you will hand over the discussion on content to users who never discussed any part of the content of the chosen articles. Why should a team of experts discuss any content of an article if it doesn't matter what they decide - why should we choose the best and most valuable content for Wikipedia if anywhere in commons and even at the reader's side our decision doesn't matter. Why should we write articles and work on them if even the WMF and their board don't appreciate this volunteer's work?

Maybe it doesn't matter to you if all those guys like me should withdraw their work in the German Wikipedia or even think and talk about a fork - maybe there will be a next generation of editors for this project and maybe we cannot withdraw because of addiction to this wonderful project - even maybe this will become reality I predict there will be a real big gap in trust between the volunteers in the German Wikipedia on the one hand and the Wikimedia Foundation and even the English project on the other hand, if you decide to overrule and act against the wishes of nearly the whole German Wikipedia community. And to cite Pavel Richter for a closing word: "The filter tries to solve a social problem by technical means – not a good idea."

Kind regards,
Achim Raschka

Image:Martina Nolte, CC-by-sa 3.0


Alexander Doria hat gesagt…

I dare say I was skeptical this Image filter. Especially since the so-called referendum turned out to be anything but a referenfum (a mix-up of poll and contribution call aimed to confort a decision already taken).

Your own post, along with several other comments, is contributing to transform my initial reluctance into mere reject.

In order to reassure you, I may tell you that, so far, the French community seems as enthusiastic about this fonction as the German community…

David Gerard hat gesagt…

Alexander - are you able to set up a poll, similar to the German one? It needs to be at least as robustly designed, so as to be convincing to people who don't like whatever result comes out.

Alexander Doria hat gesagt…

David Gerard - For the time being the French community is a bit fed up with polls : about ten during the past month, including some very difficult elections for the Arbitration Committee. But a poll on the Image filter issue might be doable in a few weeks. I dare say I haven't much doubts about the results. Every time the issue has been lifted, the reactions tended to be overly negative.

Sue Gardner hat gesagt…

Hi Achim – thanks for writing this post. It's in the comments on my blog too – for some reason yours and 11 other comments had been stuck in the spamfilter: I've pulled them out.

This post you wrote makes me sad, because it illustrates to me how large the gulf currently is between you and me. OTOH it makes me happy, because now we have an opportunity to begin bridging that gap.

Let me start by stating the obvious: everyone involved in this discussion is feeling uncomfortable and maligned and stereotyped and labelled. I am, you are – lots of people are. I assume that's why you interpreted my post as labelling you as a provocateur or agitator. But you're wrong to interpret it that way: I've got no reason to think you're anything other than a really good Wikipedian.

Seriously. You've got 70,000 edits. I have read some of your articles. I've read your comments on talk pages. I think last week I gave a barnstar to somebody you had praised just a few days earlier. I don't know much about you, but everything I know about you suggests that you are fantastic. You certainly, obviously, have made an enormous contribution, on a totally voluntary basis, to the German Wikipedia. Obviously that's admirable, and it marks you as someone I would naturally value and respect.

So. When you assume I have a problem with the vulva article, you're actually just wrong. I read a Google-translated version, so clearly the original text is better than what I read. But it was obvious from my scan that the article itself is of the high quality a person would ordinarily expect from most Wikipedia articles, particularly in the German Wikipedia. I think it's a very good article.

I think a group of editors could have a useful discussion over the merits of different images that could be used in the article: I can imagine several reasonable points of view, but I don't myself have a strong opinion. I do believe that putting the article on the home page of the German Wikipedia was an error in judgment. I know that mainstream German attitudes towards nudity and/or sexual imagery are quite different from those of mainstream America (I'm not myself American, by the way) .. but at the same time we know the image was startling for some readers, and I would assume some were offended by it for a variety of reasons. But that's got nothing to do with you AFAIK. Even if it did, I would assume that many of the people involved in the decision to put it on the home page were acting in good faith. If you're a provocateur/agitator, I expect you probably know it :-)

Anyway. My apologies for this long comment. I just wanted to be clear that I have no quarrel with you. I'm glad you read my blog post. I'll be in Germany in November, and with luck I will get to meet you.

I have to add one more thing, that's a little pedantic. I actually do know that calling the image “open vulva” is less correct than “open vagina.” In my own defense though, I will say, I copy-and-pasted from the file description on Commons. So although I repeated the error, it actually originated with someone else.

Anonym hat gesagt…

Ein klassischer Fall von beleidigter Leberwurst, zudem völlig an Sues Argumentation vorbei.