User:Aichon/Other/So you want to be a sysop?

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This guide was written in late 2010. Policies may have changed since it was written, and it only expresses the views of one individual, so take everything it says with a grain of salt.

IMPORTANT: This page SHOULD NOT be used as a checklist of things to look for in a candidate before giving a vouch, since almost no one meets the standard this page sets. It's meant to be used by potential sysop candidates that are curious about the position and want to learn how they can improve both themselves and their chances of attaining the position.

So, you want to be a sysop?

Honestly, chances are that you're simply mistaken and that no, you don't want to be one. What you actually want is a status badge so that other people recognize you. Or maybe you want a podium from which you can bring about changes in policies. Perhaps you think you need to be a sysop to do anything around here.

Most people seem to do and think things along those lines. That's fine. It's perfectly human of you. We don't hold it against anyone. In fact, we basically expect it. That doesn't make any of them good reasons to be a sysop, however. In fact, all of those are lousy reasons.

Review time

Before we talk some more about how you might become a sysop, let's first review a few important things. If you don't get these ideas, your chances of being a sysop are slim at best.

What a sysop is

In a word: janitor.

If you've never read it before, the first thing you should read are the Administrative Guidelines regarding sysops. They explain, in brief, what sysops are, what powers they have, and how they are supposed to use those powers in practice. Read the entire thing. Mull over it. Understand it and why it says what it does. It's important, and you can be guaranteed that if you want to be a sysop, you'll be expected to be an expert on that page.

To summarize, sysops are just regular wiki users. They have access to a few more buttons at the top of their pages than normal users do, which allows them to do stuff like move pages, delete pages, protect pages from editing, and other things of that sort. They also have some special authority on administrative pages such as Move Requests, Protections, Speedy Deletions, Deletions, and Vandal Banning, to name a few, which allows them to rule on cases or act on requests made by users. Aside from the authority they have on those pages, and their special buttons that they can press, sysops are simply regular users.

To be fair, however, sysops are typically expected to be model users of the wiki, so you'll see them doing a lot of janitorial or maintenance work around the wiki, but the truth of the matter is that with 99% of that work, anyone can do it (*hint hint*).

Some of the sysops also attain the rank of Bureaucrat. We generally have two Bureaucrats at any given time, and their only additional power and responsibility is to handle promoting and demoting sysops. That's it. Nothing else.

What a sysop isn't

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about what sysops are around here, so let's clarify a few.

  1. Sysops can't use their buttons to do whatever they want. There are specific guidelines that explain when they can and can't use their abilities, and how they must use them. Failure to do so properly gets them sent to Misconduct. For a sysop to misuse their powers is a serious matter, and past sysops have been banned for extended periods of time due to abuse of the buttons.
  2. A sysop's word is not law. Unless they are acting in an official capacity (e.g. to hand out a warning on a user's talk page), whenever a sysop chimes in with a comment on a non-administrative page, their word carries no more weight than that of any other user. In fact, sysops that bully other users with their status or use their status as a badge of authority are likely to be brought up for misconduct.
  3. Sysops don't dictate policy. Sure, they have some leeway to interpret it via precedent, but regular users, including sysops, come up with policies and then vote on them. The sysops just enforce those policies.
  4. Sysops are not the only ones allowed to do most of the work. Just because you'll usually see sysops doing janitorial work like cycling suggestions on Developing Suggestions or Category:Current Suggestions, or else updating Featured Articles each week does not mean that sysops are the only ones allowed to do those things. They just happen to be good and active users that do it to help.
  5. Sysops are not intermediaries in disputes. That's what Arbitration is for. A sysop might be able to help two users come to an agreement, but their word is no more binding than that of any other user, nor is their help to be demanded more than that of any other user.

Who gets to be a sysop?

Let's start by looking at the current ones, shall we? The current list of sysops is here. As you can see, there aren't many of them. In fact, generally speaking, we only have about a dozen or less at any given time. Of those, you can usually count on a few of them being inactive or infrequent contributors. Even so, for this size of community, we really only need about 3-5 active and contributing sysops in order to keep things running smoothly, though more are welcome, and we've worked with less in the past when life has happened and people have had to be inactive for a bit.

What I'm getting at is that this wiki really doesn't need that many sysops, so it's generally only exceptional candidates that are promoted. So then the question is, just what does an exceptional candidate look like?

The answer is that it's anyone that "the community" thinks deserves to be one and that the Bureaucrats agree would be a good fit. If you're curious what a "good fit" is, check the Promotions page for information regarding what it takes to be a sysop. You'll notice a list of five key criteria, and while the page does say that, "If a user is highly exemplary in one criterion, a certain level of give may be extended to other criteria," in practice, if you're relying on this fact in order to get promoted, the truth of the matter is that you're probably not the exceptional type of candidate that is going to get promoted and that you should seriously look into improving in those other criteria before applying for the job.

Let's go through the five criteria, since they're very important:

  1. Significant time within the community.
    • Officially, this means that you've been editing for at least two months. Unofficially, most people can't prove themselves to the community in such a short time period. Most candidates take a minimum of 6 months or longer before they are realistically treated as a viable nominee. Don't let that dissuade you from pursuing nomination if you're new. Just be aware of the fact that you'll have an uphill battle ahead if you rush in and try to get promoted immediately.
  2. Significant activity within the community.
    • Officially, this means 500 edits in the last six months. Unofficially, it means more like 2000 if you want to be taken seriously. Keep in mind that 500 is considered the minimum, not the optimum.
    • Of very important note, quality does matter. If you have several thousand trash edits, or you primarily edit your group's page, people's talk pages, or your own userspace, people will tend to ignore those edits when counting how many you've made.
    • To give you an idea of the current level of activity of the sysops, out of the 8 currently serving, 2 are basically inactive and have below 500 edits in the last 6 months, leaving things to the other 6 sysops. Despite that fact, the average, even including the inactive ones, is roughly 2700 edits in the last 6 months.
    • If we exclude the 2 inactive sysops, the average is more like 3500. So, you could say that a normal, active sysop, at this time, is averaging about 3500 edits every 6 months. Put another way, that's 583 edits a month, or 19 edits a day, roughly.
    • To give you an even clearer picture, of the 6 active sysops, 3 of them are over 4000 edits in the last 6 months, and one is over 5000 edits. To say that having only 500 edits in 6 months is frowned upon is an understatement.
  3. Prior interest in maintaining the community.
    • Officially, it means that you do janitorial work and have taken on larger projects. Unofficially, it means the exact same thing.
    • This is one place where people routinely overestimate themselves. So many people either have no experience whatsoever at janitorial tasks, yet put themselves up for promotion, or else they make a token gesture at doing janitorial work for a week or two so that they can point at it and say that they did it.
    • To put it another way, this criteria basically says that janitorial work should be part of your everyday routine on this wiki. If it isn't, you fail to meet this criteria.
  4. Desire to become a System Operator.
    • Officially, it just means that you accept the nomination (or else nominated yourself). Unofficially, it means the same thing.
    • Truth be told, this one is easy to meet. Even people who are very reluctant at accepting their nominations are never given any trouble over this point.
  5. Indication of trust in the candidate.
    • Officially, it means at least three people (preferably one of which is a sysop) are willing to vouch for you. Unofficially, it means that most people are willing to vouch for you.
    • This point is a little odd. We've had some sysops get accepted despite having less than half the commenters vouch for them, and others get turned down despite having more than half. As the Promotions page says, it's not a vote.
    • There are really only a few ways to build trust. I would say that the key points are as follows:
      1. Be seen. People need to see you engaging the community and interacting with others. If you go gnoming around in the background where no one but the other janitors see you, most people won't recognize you, and thus they won't trust you.
      2. Deal with drama intelligently and maturely. Most nominees get nowhere if they have no experience with handling drama, so you do need to make a point of stepping into places where it's at as it happens. That said, nothing will sink you faster than being seen as rash, immature, cracking under pressure, or incapable of forming intelligent opinions. Keep that in mind. The sword cuts both ways, and you need to establish that you can be trusted to handle the pressure, not that you are untrustworthy.
      3. Be active. People who come and go frequently, especially without explanation or notice, have a more difficult time establishing trust, since no one knows whether or not they'll up and disappear the next day.
      4. Be consistent. If you're arbitrary in your actions, people can't trust you to act in a manner that makes sense. By being consistent in how you deal with situations, people learn what to expect from you and can trust you to conduct yourself in that way in the future.
    • UPDATE: This criteria was removed by a policy in early 2011, but the points discussed above are still valid regardless, so I haven't removed or edited them, even though it is no longer an official criteria.

You're not done looking at the Promotions page yet. Look through the archives on that page and see why people succeeded and why people failed. Look at the sorts of complaints and criticisms that were directed at the candidates, and see both how others reacted to them and how they addressed the comments. It should help you see what sorts of things are important or not important. You'll probably notice that time and again, people seem to overestimate their own level of qualification. A lot of users think they fit the criterion better than they do, or else they never really consulted with others to see if others thought they would be a good candidate. Had they done so, they'd have gotten a nice dose of reality prior to their nomination, which might've helped make things go better for them.

Looking forward

Now, I can hear you squirming in your seat, wanting to say, "That's great, but I already know all of that stuff and am a great candidate. Get to the juicy part!" I'm glad you're eager, but slow down a bit. Make sure you really understand things. If you don't, you will get called on it and it will come back to bite you.

Who really gets to be a sysop?

Okay, so while anyone could be a sysop, in practice it doesn't work that way, of course. Here's a list of unofficial criteria and additional traits that I'd say are important for any potential sysops out there.

  1. A model user. Pretty much all the rest of these points are just details for this one. The simple truth is that the best sysops are the best users. If someone knows their stuff, contributes well, and helps others, they're likely a good candidate for sysop.
  2. Maturity. Sysops are called on to rule in a variety of cases and routinely need to deal with drama. Being able to act as an adult when others are behaving as children is important.
  3. A demonstrated ability to deal with drama. In case you haven't noticed, this wiki has some drama on it. Sysops need to be able to wade in and set things straight without getting pulled into it.
  4. Technical expertise. Whether they like it or not, sysops get a LOT of questions about how to do X or Y on the wiki, and they have to fix things that break. As a model user, sysops should have a solid understanding of all of the major wikicode concepts, from headers and text formatting to tables and templates. You don't need to be an expert, but you should be a solid intermediate.
  5. Critical reasoning skills. While some cases have established precedent, it's not uncommon to see new cases around here that stretch and pull at the boundaries of what is or isn't acceptable. Any monkey can rule on a case, but a sysop should be able to form a cohesive idea in support of their side, taking into account past precedents and the differences in the case. Speaking of precedents...
  6. Understanding of past cases and history. You don't need to be a history expert on the case law of the wiki, but it's always best when a sysop comes in with a solid understanding of the major cases that have come up over the years.
  7. A good sense of humor. A lot of what happens around here is meant in a good natured way, but could be taken differently. You need to know when it's right to crack down on stuff and when it's best to just chuckle and ignore it. And no, that doesn't mean playing favorites. In fact...
  8. Impartial. Massively important. You need to be able to rule fairly with everyone. You WILL deal with people you just can't stand, as well as people that you're friends with. You need to be able to judge them both using the same standard.
  9. Being an authority. If you're the go-to guy for something on the wiki, be it wikicode, case history, or even just dealing with certain users in a reasonable way, it helps solidify your position in the community.
  10. An established history of janitorial work. Seriously. Nothing convinces people faster that you're fit for the job than being good at contributing to the janitorial work.

What are the perks?

Now, it may have sounded so far like being a sysop is all work and no fun. That's because it is, and if you think otherwise, you don't understand the role yet. But, that said, even work animals get fed occasionally, and there are a few perks to being a sysop.

  1. Toying around in your namespace. One unwritten perk is that everyone pretty much looks the other way if you decide to use the sysop buttons in your own namespace, so long as you don't break any other rules in the process.
  2. Not having to file requests. There are a lot of things that sysops are allowed to do without having to deal with the bureaucracy of filing requests.
    • Scheduled actions. Various deletions and protections are considered "scheduled", meaning that as soon as a sysop sees them, they can deal with them. It makes some janitorial tasks, such as archiving admin pages or suggestions, much easier.
    • Moving pages. A little known fact is that sysops can move pages without filing requests to do so.
    • Editing protected pages. Sysops can edit protected pages, so long as they do so for a valid reason.
  3. Spaminating. As one of the few real perks that sysops have, they get to spaminate bad suggestions earlier than a normal user can, allowing them to cycle them faster. They still need good reason to do so, of course.
  4. View deleted pages. Sysops are able to look through the entire history of pages, including anything that's been deleted by other sysops (besides images Update: deleted images can be seen as well, following a wiki software update in 2011). You wouldn't believe how useful it can be sometimes.

Of course, as with any perk, the community needs to watch out for abuse. Any perceived abuse of these perks will very quickly land a sysop in hot water. And since all of these perks involve using sysop-only abilities, sysops will be brought up on misconduct charges in a hurry if they abuse them in the least.

And the downsides?

Downsides, you ask? Are there ever!

  1. Drama. Sysops oftentimes need to deal with drama, and talking with people who want to argue and rant for no good reason will fray anyone over time.
  2. Time commitment. While you can definitely go inactive, if you want to be a good sysop, that means being on the wiki when the wiki needs you, which isn't always convenient.
  3. Being "The Man". No one likes the people who govern things, and the wiki is no exception. Sysops get insulted, abused, and mistreated simply on account of their position. That's not a complaint, just the honest truth.
  4. Held to a higher standard. As a sysop, everyone is watching and waiting for a slip-up to happen. When it does, people are quick to pounce and the other sysops are quick to show that they don't unjustly favor their own.
  5. Punished for doing your job. Most sysops are charged with misconduct at some point, and in many of the cases, they simply thought they were doing their job. Sometimes they made an honest mistake, other times they acted in ways that were uncalled for. Even in the case of honest mistakes, warnings or bans are not uncommon punishments.

If you're still interested after that, then you probably need to get your head examined. As one former sysop put it, anyone that nominates themselves or accepts a nomination for sysop has to be a little crazy in the head. It is so very true.

Before nomination

Before you go nominating yourself (or getting your friends to nominate you), there are definitely a few things you should do that you won't find written up in many places around here.

  1. Analyze your own motivations. Figure out if you're in it because you want the status or if you really do want to help. If you really do want to help, ask yourself why you need sysop powers to help in that way. There's very little that regular users are incapable of doing.
  2. Be active and a regular contributor to janitorial work. I'll cover this in more detail in the next section, since it's probably the most important thing.
  3. Stop making mistakes. If you're making mistakes such as posting in the wrong places (especially on admin pages), doing maintenance tasks incorrectly, or suggesting ill-informed ideas, it tells everyone that you are not qualified.
  4. Look at your regular activities on the wiki, and determine exactly what would be different if you were a sysop. For most people, nothing at all would change if they were a sysop. If that's true for you, then maybe you shouldn't be one.
  5. Be patient. People that seem too eager for the position routinely get shot down. Especially so if they've been advised to work on one or more of the Promotions page criteria and haven't waited long enough for real change to have occurred.
  6. Be aware of whether or not you're ready. If you have to ask someone else whether or not you're ready to be a sysop, here's a hint: you're probably not. Having to ask also tells people that you don't understand what it takes to be a sysop. Nonetheless, you really should ask other people anyway, that way you can get some feedback and can work on it for a few months so that you'll be ready later.
  7. Prepare to have the wiki ruined for you. Sysops, as with pretty much any other role of this sort, tend to get cynical in a hurry and lose the fun they had before. It doesn't happen to all of them, but it happens to enough that you'd be advised to consider whether or not it's worth it.
  8. Ask yourself.

Work

People seem to forget that being a sysop is work, not play. They're just glorified janitors, and this fact is important enough that it gets hit home in its own section. Let that be a clue to you. Sysops just rake muck around all day, but for some reason people can't get it through their heads that it isn't fun to do. Since the sysops tend to be part of the "in" crowd of the wiki, people think that being a sysop is cool, but they have it so very wrong.

Janitorial Work

Most sysops have extensive lists of janitorial projects and work that they've engaged in before they get nominated for the position of sysop. Here are just a small handful of regular maintenance tasks that can be done by anyone.

  1. Archive the administration pages (including relevant talk pages) each month/quarter/whenever, then ask for the archived ones to be protected.
  2. Archive Guides/Review, Historical Groups, Historical Events, Policy Discussion, and other similar pages with voting that lasts for a fixed time as soon as the voting is done.
  3. Update Featured Articles once a week. (no longer necessary)
  4. Cycle (i.e. archive) old suggestions from Current Suggestions, then ask for them to be protected.
  5. Cycle (i.e. delete) old suggestions from Developing Suggestions if they haven't been commented on in a week.
  6. Move the news from all 100+ suburb pages to the suburb news archive pages once a month.
  7. Maintain all 100+ of the suburb group templates by bringing them in line with the guidelines whenever people make mistakes.
  8. Maintain the Recruitment page by removing ads older than two months, identifying and removing ads that break the rules, and helping people fix their broken ads.
  9. Categorize uncategorized images and uncategorized pages.
  10. Locate pages that are eligible for Speedy Deletion and put them up for it.
  11. Update the Wiki News when appropriate.
  12. Update Category:Suburb History with more recent screenshots periodically.
  13. Remove outdated entries from Community Projects as appropriate.
  14. Fix unintentional wikicode mistakes that people make.
  15. Help others on General Discussion and Wiki Questions.
  16. Don't be caught unaware of something happening, since it's embarrassing if you're on the sidelines clueless while others do the work. Monitor the pages already mentioned.

Honestly, if you start doing these things regularly, your name will likely start getting circulated as a sysop candidate, even if you don't want it to be. People around here love trustworthy and honest workers that go about the work without a lot of fuss. If you chip in with intelligent opinions whenever changes to pages come up, or offer good technical solutions to problems, people will take note. Remember, people need to recognize you before they can trust you, so you do need to get out there, do stuff, and get known for being a helpful user.

Drama Work

The number one complaint people have for otherwise-competent nominees is that they lack experience with drama on the wiki. If not that, then it's that they haven't established their ability to rule reasonably on cases by voicing their opinions on various matters, especially controversial ones. If you aren't doing at least some of these in advance of your nomination, chances are that you'll get similar complaints from people.

  1. Vote on Deletions and express your opinion. Make it a smart one, and give it some thought, even if you disagree with others. If you do disagree, make sure it's for a good reason.
  2. Serve as an Arbitrator and make reasonable and well-considered rulings. Be careful about this one, since the sword cuts both ways easily. Give your rulings a LOT of thought.
  3. Voice your opinion on A/VB's talk page and A/M as cases, particularly tough ones, come up.
  4. Don't be a "yes man". Come up with your own opinions, buck the trend when it needs bucking, and think for yourself, but don't just disagree for the sake of doing so. Back up everything you say with sound reasoning.
  5. Make yourself aware of what's going on with the wiki by either watching lots of pages or checking Recent Changes frequently. Specifically, you should be paying attention to all of the administrative pages, as well as any other pages that have voting.
  6. When drama comes your way, if you're wrong, admit it quickly, apologize, and work towards a better solution. If you're right, winning is not everything; how you handle it is just as important, if not more so, than being right.
  7. Seriously, I'll say it again: even if you have all the evidence on your side and are technically correct, you can still make an ass of yourself by being argumentative, a prima donna, or a sore winner.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, most of you won't be persuaded one way or the other by this mountain of words that's been thrown your way. But I'm hopeful that some of you will get a better idea of ways you can help around here, and will become more productive users as a result, or else will have a better idea of what you need to work on before you do decide to apply to be a sysop, which will mean that you'll be a better sysop than you would have been otherwise. If those happen, then this article has paid off.

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