Would you like to decide how Wikimedia sites work? You can be a product adviser or a product manager, as a volunteer, and guide the work of Wikimedia Foundation developers.

What is a product manager? As Howie Fung, the head of WMF’s product team, recently explained, when we create things on our websites or mobile applications that readers or editors would use,

there are a basic set of things that need to happen when building a product….
  1. Decide what to build
  2. Design it
  3. Build it
  4. Measure how it’s used (if you want to improve the product)
Roughly speaking, that’s how we organize our teams when it comes to building features. Product Managers decide what features to build, Designers design the feature, Developers build the feature, and Analysts measure how the features perform.

So, a product manager works with the designers, developers, and analysts to identify and solve user problems, while representing the users’ point of view. As Fung put it,

there should be someone responsible for ensuring that the various ideas come together into a coherent whole, one that addresses the problem at hand. That responsibility lies with the Product Manager.

Why do you need volunteers? While the Wikimedia Foundation has hired full-time product managers for the most pressing features our engineers are developing, that leaves us with several ongoing projects that don’t get enough product management. The WMF needs your help to: track the progress of these improvements; comment on tasks or proposals; reach out to the Wikimedia reader and contributor communities to ask for feedback via wikis, mailing lists, and IRC; help developers see what users’ needs are; and set priorities on bugs and features, thus deciding what developers ought to work on next. Here are a few of those activities:

  • File storage, especially regarding Wikimedia Commons. Engineers have been trying to improve our storage system using the Swift distributed filestore but need your help to make sure we do it right.
  • Prioritizing shell requests. When Wikimedians request configuration changes to the wikis, systems administrators can use help understanding which of them are urgent and which of them don’t actually have the necessary consensus.
  • Operations requests from the community. It’s not just shell requests. Right now we have 93 open bugs requesting attention from our systems administrators, and those requests could use prioritization and organization.
  • Data dumps. Wikimedia offers many ways to download Wikimedia data at dumps.wikimedia.org. Your help would improve tools related to import, or conversion to SQL for import, to make it easier for others to use these datasets.
  • Wikimedia Labs. The sandboxes in Wikimedia Labs will host bots, tools, and test and development environments; can you organize the advice on the roadmap and what those communities will need?
  • Admin tools development: WMF engineer Chris Steipp works on tools to help fight vandalism and spam, including major bugfixes and minor feature development to make lives of stewards and local sysops a little easier. What’s most urgent on his TODO list?
Volunteer product manager Jack Phoenix put together a detailed roadmap that was incredibly useful to guide the work of Wikimedia engineers on features like anti-spam tools.

Volunteer product manager Jack Phoenix put together a detailed roadmap that was incredibly useful to guide the work of Wikimedia engineers on features like anti-spam tools.

Has anyone tried this? The first Wikimedia volunteer product manager was User:Jack Phoenix, who created the admin tools roadmap this summer, detailing a rationale for what should be done when. Jack originally signed up because:

this is just something that I know pretty well and hence why I want to be a part of this project and the team….
I want editors to be able to focus on editing — content creation, tweaking, fine-tuning… — instead of having to play whack-a-mole against spambots and vandals all the time. I have plenty of experience in playing whack-a-spambot, and I’m hoping to use that experience to improve WMF sites and also third-party sites…

It’s perfectly fine for the role of volunteer product manager to be a time-limited engagement. For example, Jack did amazing work for three months creating the roadmap. In retrospect, Jack Phoenix has estimated that to manage a product as broad as the admin tools suite, and to do it well, would take at least an hour per day if not two or three; due to time constraints, Jack has now stepped down from the role and is seeking a successor. Thanks for laying the groundwork, Jack! While we’re sad to see Jack go, we’re thankful for the roadmap and we continue to benefit from it.

If that kind of commitment sounds too burdensome, consider becoming a volunteer product adviser first. You’d do some of the same tasks as a product manager, to help check that the feature we’re building actually meets Wikimedians’ needs, and give your own opinion as well. But there wouldn’t be ownership or leadership attached, and the time commitment wouldn’t be as strong.

What next? The goal of the Engineering Community Team is to have at least two Wikimedia volunteers engaged in product management work by the end of December. Talk with us and check out whether this is something you’d like to try!

To get involved, contact Sumana Harihareswara or Guillaume Paumier.

Sumana Harihareswara
Engineering Community Manager