Discovery Knowledge Engine Fallout Discussion 2016-02-16
[Note: these notes were taken in real time, during the meeting, and this are not a full transcript of what was said. Additionally, some information has been redacted for privacy.]
Attendees: Moiz Syed, Julien Girault, Yuri Astrakhan, Max Semenik, Chris Koerner (Community Liaison), Kevin Smith (Agile Coach from Team Practices Group), Tomasz Finc (Director of Discovery), Wes Moran (Vice President of Product), Caitlin Virtue (Director of Development), Lila Tretikov (Executive Director), and virtually all of the other members of the Discovery department.
- Blog post went out this morning
- FAQ is (still) accurate
- This is primarily a media issue, and a community issue
- Lila is learning how best to communicate things like this in the future
- Most important goal of this mtg: For us to feel supported, and to realize that we have a very important role to play in all that we’re doing. Discovery’s work is very appreciated.
- Unfortunate that there is so much misunderstanding and miscommunication
- Biggest challenge was that the ideation process involved too few people.
- Lila learned from that. It’s on her.
- Now trying to explain how we got here
Yuri: Should we continue as before, shielded from media and community? I disagree. We have been too disconnected. Having a shield would not help this issue. Would make it worse. Each one of us on the team should engage more with the community and be more transparent.
Lila: The idea is definitely not to be shielded from the community. Just that the message out there is not what Discovery is doing. Completely agree that we should be talking and listening with the community.
Wes: That’s what the team has been doing, at least since October when the whole team understood our goals. The FAQ helped. It took a number of months after the re-org to solidify our position as a team. We have been trying to work with CL to get the message out. Two office hours have not attracted anyone from communities. Tried to explain differences between grant. Best thing is to direct people to one central place (the FAQ page). Chris can help identify additional threads, but we should point back to the main page.
Lila: Thank you for getting the FAQ out there in September. The product hub approach helps. Agree that it is important to point people to the FAQ. Things change over time; we learn; we change direction. That needs to be very intentional and apparent, so needs to be communicated clearly.
Chris: This is my 4th week at the foundation. I disagree. All of us as staff should have been able to get ahead of this, before the journalists wrote the articles. We’re trying to correct the stories, but they are already out there. The intent of having leadership state things clearly just opened up more opportunities to build up a sense of a conspiracy. I am uncertain about when I should wait, and when I should make statements like “we are not building google”.
Lila: That’s problematic that you don’t feel empowered to share what we are doing. You absolutely should feel free to say what we’re working on, what we are or are not doing. You know better than me what your specific plan is.
Tomasz: Clarifying: Are you talking about the work of Discovery, or about the grant?
Chris: About the grant. There was a delay in responding. Documents got leaked. Things spiraled.
Lila: That was a problem. We published the grant without context. Staff didn’t feel empowered to clarify. We need you to step in and respond. And we need to make sure you are speaking with similar message to avoid confusion.
Moiz: Thank you for this meeting. Why wasn’t the team informed that the grant docs were going to be released? You have mentioned a lot of learnings. What have you learned, specifically? When the re-org created Discovery, most of the people were not new in the org. Did we not know that we should consult with the community before we make a team; before we try to solve a huge problem; before we go to outside funders? Third question: What does Knight Foundation think? Is this going to affect our relationship with them? (It seems like a valuable relationship).
Lila: What have I learned? I didn’t realize the need to share very raw, nascent ideas. I got a lot of feedback that taking early ideas (at the brainstorm/pie in the sky stage) out to the community would cause too much turmoil and pushback; so I didn’t. Our organization is different from most. In most orgs, you do internal private development of ideas first. Knight was one of our advisors. At that point I was 6-7 months into the job. Now I realize that here we need to take the earliest ideas to the communities. I wish I have known then. This is one of the reasons I want a community-member person at the C-level.
Moiz: The FAQ came about because we realized there were a lot of skeptics within the foundation. Even that was too late.
Tomasz: I was being asked a lot of the same questions. Mostly neutral curiosity. Seemed easiest to create a single point for the conversation. We were late with it.
Lila: That was my issue: timing of the conversations. The grant proposal actually included community conversation phase. But as a second stage, where it should have been first.
Lila: Caitlin is managing the Knight relationship. They know this is troublesome, so they expect turbulence.
Caitlin: This is bad, and not just bad for our relationship with Knight. It’s clear that leadership did not follow our own movements’ best practices, that we don’t seem to know the way that wikimedia works. That’s a really big problem. The ripple effects of this are many and large.
Caitlin: Most of what we have done, communications-wise, has been reactionary. I heard you say earlier in the meeting that no one has come to the past 2 office hours. If nobody is coming to office hours, that forum isn’t working for them. Given all the talk on-wiki, on L, and in the media, people clearly want to talk, so we need to find how to reach them, a way that works for them Also, I think we have to clearly delineate the work you all are doing on a daily basis from how we got here, and where we’re going in the future. It’s not fair to your team to have to answer questions that are better addressed to others..
Lila: We need to figure out next steps with Knight. We have known our vision and steps, but we have had communication challenges, and we have compounded them. The buck stops with me as responsibility rolls up. We have been largely reactionary.
Moiz: Follow-up: The initial grant was just a small step toward a lot more funding. Who will be funding that in the future, given the bad press?
Lila: The press is wrong on issues, not necessarily bad.
Moiz: But people reading it don’t know if it’s wrong or not. It is negative press.
Lila: We never counted on Knight to cover team expenses, only to supplement. Staffing comes out of the common bucket. We budget the work first, and then apply any grant moneys where they fit. Annual fundraising goal includes grants. So this won’t change how we fund the team. Just potentially the total amount of money available.
Max: My concern is that we still aren’t communicating it clearly enough. This morning’s blog post is the truth, but not all of the truth. Namely that we had big plans in the past. It would have been much easier to say that we did have big plans, but they were ditched soon after that mock-up was made; in the summer; when Damon left. There is clear evidence of something, but we still haven’t acknowledged it. We can’t deny it.
Lila: I tried to be more specific. But not sure where it would be better to go into more detail.
Tomasz: We need a narrative. Not independent data points. We need to bridge the different facts.
Lila: How do we explain the story now? The original idea was a broader concept. Never a crawler. We abandoned some ideas during the ideation phase, but we haven’t been clear what/when we abandoned.
Max: Right now we are doing damage control. Ideally we should have just said it clearly in the beginning. Reminds me of the board’s response to recent scandals. Even though we eventually communicate it right, we still do it at the point where it doesn’t really matter.
Lila: I agree. We are where we are. We have made mistakes with community communication. We have learned; we know what we would have done differently. What are the next steps we should take?
Yuri: Transparency includes things like publishing notes of this meeting. Even the video if available. We are part of the community, as well as being part of the foundation. Are we doing anything like that? When we talk about leaks, that implies something was private. Being empowered to talk to everyone implies knowing what can be public and what must be hidden. Everyone decides for themselves. There is a disconnect there. If we are all communicating well, there shouldn’t be many leaks, because not much would be hidden.
Yuri: I communicate a lot. Village pumps, twitter, irc, etc. We should: 1) Clarify team’s position: We should demote search, because we have many good projects, but everyone associates us with search alone. We are “Discovery” - we create new wiki technologies, explore new possibilities. We have WDQS and maps. We think about data from outside sources, so it can be used for graphs. 2) We should do lots of public demos. They should be like public lightning talks. They should cover a variety of topics. We should be like Bell Labs.
Lila: How can you feel empowered? That has to come from the team, not from the C-levels.
Tomasz: In a lot of discussions with community members, they tend to be positive about what we are actually doing and plan to do. They dislike how we were created.
Wes: Same here. From day 1, trying to engage. Lightning talks, posting research. The resistance has been from the inception of the whole thing. We will continue doing things, and communicating. Dan has tried to explain how we approach this (e.g. incremental). How do we move forward to make it better?
Kevin: I was blindsided by the leaked deck, because I hadn’t realized that Damon’s early audacious brainstorms about a full-blown search engine survived long enough to make it into a presentation to Knight prior to the grant proposal. To answer the question, I haven’t felt empowered in a couple ways: 1) There were ideas and docs that seemed secret. 2) I haven’t had confidence that what I know is the full story. Execs might have different plans.
Lila: Yes. How do we bridge that divide? For confidentially, it’s usually just HR and legal matters. There are rarely cases where things outside those bounds should remain secret.
Yuri: Can we/should we release this video? [Editor’s note: This meeting was not recorded.]
Lila: We should agree in advance. We now take notes in c-level meetings. They are at least open to staff, and probably should be open to the public. Something we have never done before. Why not have our calls completely open? But not everyone is comfortable with that. We want to be completely open, but when things are taken out of context, it can be difficult. So people get worried. When we are just brainstorming ideas, we can get harsh reactions, get shut down. It is important for us to feel safe to explore. If you are getting negative questions (or even attacks), you are blocked in your tracks. How to balance this? I have been thinking about this, and struggling with it, since arriving. I erred in the case of talking about this internally before going public.
Tomasz: I feel like we have been here before (e.g. early VE or early mobile). We haven’t learned enough yet. New things are always contentious. How can we do better next time? With confidence and support of the communities.
Max: An important difference between Discovery and Visual Editor is that community actively opposed VE. In our case, they are opposed to stuff that we aren’t actually doing. There is a lot of fighting with windmills, caused by lack of communication.
Julien: At some point, we start feeling shame about what we’re doing, which causes problems. 3 of our goals are about search. The Knight grant talks about a search engine, and some mock-ups look like google. There are legitimate reasons people might think we might be planning to create a google competitor. People can come up with all kinds of ideas. People who understand what we are trying to do tend to like it. Surface more content. Make it easier to find content. Improve the portal. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that. We already have a search engine. Google doesn’t care. The portal can be a great marketing tool for our projects, to help people discover all that we host. Wikispecies, wikiquote, etc. We’re not even talking about WDQS yet. Just more content from within the wikimedia projects. But we have to be honest with ourselves. Yes, we are building a search engine on our portal page, along with API’s. We are doing the right thing. Getting the portal code into git was difficult, and we should be honest that it’s going to stay there unless we find a reason for it not to. As a team, we should have a discussion about what we are doing with the portal, and we should be proud of it, and communicate it. We should also explain what we are not going to do (e.g. a google-style knowledge graph).
Tomasz: I see this going into our strategic goals for next quarter and next year. We should schedule more time with the team and Dan, because there are a lot of good ideas here. We should be clear that we are building an internal search engine, and we are not building a broad one.
Lila: We tried to say that in the blog, but maybe it wasn’t clear. We are struggling with how to communicate this. It’s like Amazon having their own search system for products.
Tomasz: We should be proud. It’s about delivering value to our users and donors.
Yuri: Wiki page, with lots of detail.
Wes: Our existing page doesn’t seem to be enough.
Yuri: Link from more places. Help people find it.
Lila: Julien is right. This team should be proud. The vision is there, and is right. We’re struggling with the community buy-in and communication. In other orgs, that would be handled by product marketing, which we do not have yet. It’s important that you feel supported. What you are doing is very pivotal, in my opinion, to our future. There is so much content in our projects, which is not exposed by our search or by external search engines. For example, wikiquotes, commons, wikisource. Our communities are asking for this information to be easier to find. It will help the whole movement. I hope we will learn and get better. At a minimum, we need to get clearer. Every one of us needs to be able to clearly state what we are doing and why because everyone needs to communicate with community here.
Lila: Thank you Tomasz, Wes, and the rest of you. Let’s sync up next week.
Tomasz: Thank you all of Discovery for all the work you are doing.
Lila: You have started to move the needle. We need to help everyone realize what is actually happening. Thank you for your advice. Don’t hesitate to contact me directly. If you see something that is not being communicated clearly, please let me know right away.
Max: Can we say publicly that we had these plans, but we don’t any more?
Yuri: What can we *not* say? I don’t want to have to ask permission for everything.
Lila: There isn’t anything you cannot say. But be clear between ideation and actual plans. What could have been vs. what we actually planned to do. The words are important, especially our literary culture, use them wisely. Let’s have a follow-up meeting.