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Figured this was the best place to inquire.

On our wiki, there is a bit of controversy around admins and their activity status. Some people believe that inactive admins hurt the wiki and others believe that it's more of a non-issue. We have no policies regarding activity and how active admins should be. We also have plenty of active staff, so there isn't any matter of not having enough people around to take care of things.

So, I really want people's opinions and insight on this: Does having inactive admins hurt a wiki? Why or why not? If an admin knows they are going to be away for a while, then stepping down would be the polite thing to do in that case, and they could probably regain their status on their return. But other than that, so long as the wiki has staff and can take care of itself, I just don't see how inactive admins hurt anything.

Looking forward to the discussion, and thanks to all who reply. Tatzelwyrm Talk [DV] 14:36, October 23, 2012 (UTC)

I believe that inactive admins should retain their powers. They can just use it when they are back. It really doesn't hurt anyone. — Ultimate Supreme talk · wiki I · wiki II  14:57, October 23, 2012 (UTC)
If you ask me, it's ok to be inactive for a few days or even a week. But more than that and it starts hurting the community.
Many problems should have gathered by the time, which can be solved only by admins. Admins' behaviour should be example for the rest of the editors.
If your not going to be active, just ask the community who is best to be supervisor instead of him, and pass the rights and drop yours. voice (talk) 15:56, October 23, 2012 (UTC)
It's really silly to say that admins should be setting an example. Admins are just people with access to a couple of extra buttons, who like to waste their time doing boring tasks. There is no need for them to be incredibly active, and as a general rule, if an admin make only one action while they are one, then it is a net positive to the project. As to if admins should be removed when inactive, I'd generally say no, but if you have a huge list of admins with only one or two active, it becomes hindersome to new users trying to contact one. ajr 16:36, October 23, 2012 (UTC)
The "net positive" comment is interesting, I've never heard that. We have less than 10 admins on our wiki, two being inactive, one hardly around at all but still shows up every so often, and one currently temporary. Our wiki isn't too terribly large, but still quite active, so it seems maybe what we have isn't enough, but our rollbacks (another ten or so users) have been modified to also be able to deal with spam, so admin action isn't really needed much of the time when our rollbacks are online often enough to take care of most things users would usually need an admin for. One reason I've heard that our two inactive admins hurt us is because it's harmful to users trying to find someone to contact about something but.. there are still plenty of other people that can be contacted to deal with, say, spam and inappropriate comments, so that reason is sort of moot, I guess. Tatzelwyrm Talk [DV] 20:35, October 23, 2012 (UTC)
Edit; Come to think of it, I believe much of our community does expect our admins to set an example for the rest of the community, which I guess would be why some feel inactives hurt us. Not really sure, but that makes sense now, whoops. Tatzelwyrm Talk [DV] 21:04, October 23, 2012 (UTC)
Install InactiveUsers. Or create a "Hey, I'm not here right now, try someone else" template and stick it on their profile and talk page. Lunarity 20:43, October 23, 2012 (UTC)
We have the inactives listed as such, but I'll pass those ideas along, thanks. Tatzelwyrm Talk [DV] 21:04, October 23, 2012 (UTC)
This is a really good question, but it depends on what you mean by "hurt". I also think admins should "set a example", which is why I have zero tolerance for people with admin rights who think they're better than other users. But if your wiki doesn't have a written policy that admins should set an example, then it's hard to say that they're supposed to. The first thing I would do - and did - is develop some policies for users with admin rights.
Should an inactive carpenter keep the company's hammer? Should a waiter carry a hammer? Admin rights are a tool, like a hammer, given to people who need to use it. If your carpenter isn't going to be using your hammer for 6 months, you tell him to leave his hammer, and you give it to him when he gets back. If he keeps his hammer with him, people will keep asking him to nail things. (It's a poor analogy, I know)
The "net positive" comment is interesting, but it has no bearing on what to do about inactive admins. If a user is given admin rights, make a bunch of constructive edits over a month and then never edits again, then the decision to give them the rights in the first place was a good one, but it isn't a reason to leave the rights, as admin rights are not a reward, they're a tool.
I've had to handle a situation of an inactive admin myself, and while it started out as no problem at all, the admin had said that he was busy and would return in 6 months, and there was another active admin taking care of everything. The problems started because the admin would sporadically return, and as he was not keeping up to date on the policy changes on the wiki, his edits were not constructive. For instance, he would randomly add old deleted categories and revert perfectly acceptable edits because he was unaware of the changes which had been discussed.
It's also a good point that people may leave messages for inactive admins - that also happened with this admin. But good admins always watch RecentChanges and will be able to spot misplaced messages.
I agree that if an admin knows they're going to be inactive, they should say so, and ensure that there are enough admins to cover for their absence. If an admin abandons a project for more than 6 months, they're unlikely to return. They can always be given their hammer back if they need it again. -452 01:33, October 25, 2012 (UTC)
Policy changes as a reason to remove inactives is applicable for projects like Wikipedia, but even that is a stretch. If you can trust an admin to follow policies once, they can probably handle some changes. The examples that you gave would still be done whether or not the admin kept his tools. That being said, there could be a situation in which a page gets deleted for a now-invalid reason, but in those cases it usually only takes a note to get the person to do things the new way.
You mention all sorts of things about how adminship is a tool, not a reward. Sorry if I'm missing the point, but why does this mean it should be taken away after a given time of activity? While it's true that my medals haven't been taken away after six months of not wearing them, nobody's taken away my powerboat operator's license either, and that one has definitely gone a while without use. I know that lots of people argue the whole reward vs. tool thing when talking about inactive admins, but they fail to explain how exactly the fact that adminship isn't a reward is a reason for removing it when the user is inactive. That makes adminship seem more like a title, and a sense of entitlement around adminship is even worse than calling it an award. So, to summarize, not sure why there is any point of taking it away, especially if you are willing to give it back so quickly. ajr 02:10, October 25, 2012 (UTC)
You're right, that wasn't a very good example, sorry. All the other examples I can think up also have holes in them, I'm afraid. The main issue was really that he wasn't a very competent admin to begin with, so the inactivity is just a minor part.
The reason why you think you were missing the point is that you may have been reading my examples as if I was taking sides, when I was trying to offer different issues to think about, which is why I provided things which could be taken for and against it. There is not a "yes or no" answer to this question, only different factors to consider.
  • "That makes adminship seem more like a title"
Like it or not, many users do treat admin rights as a badge of honour and I wish that something could be done about it. (Check out User blog:Brandon Rhea/Tips for being a great admin for some more on this topic). (Some users also treat their edit count as a badge of honour, and some wikis even have achievements enabled which award "badges" based on contributions, so it's hard to see a way to fix the problem so that all users are actually equal.)
  • "nobody's taken away my powerboat operator's license"
An excellent example. While I don't know much anything about powerboat licenses, I know that my automobile license expires every 3 or 10 years (depending on how much I paid for it). A friend with both a Massage Therapist and a Gaming Attendant license tells me that they have to be renewed yearly at significant cost. If you're not using them, you don't bother renewing them, and they are "taken away". I'm not sure how this applies to admin rights, but you were the one who mentioned licenses.
Since you're asking for clear reasons, here's one: One of the primary ways in which users are told to find admins is Special:Listusers/sysop. It's best that inactive users aren't in that list.
Another points which has only just occurred to me is that if someone abandons a project for an extended period without a word, you no longer know if they can be trusted. Like it or not, people can change a lot in a year.
In the end, it's up to each individual wiki to define whether access to admin tools is dependent on that user remaining an active contributor.
With most things in life, "rights" come with "responsibilities" and people who do not do fulfill their responsibilities usually have their rights taken away. Whether that applies to admin rights depends on the policies of a particular wiki.
On the wiki where I am a Janitor, access to admin tools is given to anyone who needs them, where "need" means "regularly asks admins to do tasks which they cannot". Users who do not use admin tools when necessary do not need access to admin tools, including users who are not active. (Although I'm thinking that should be revised to "people who are likely to need them", since the last 2 users I thought would eventually need admin rights moved on from the project sooner than I thought they would. I don'y want to use admin rights as an incentive for people to contribute, but perhaps they would have contributed more while they were active if they had had access to the tools) -452 02:10, October 27, 2012 (UTC)
I say yes, inactive admins can hurt the wiki, simply because since the admin team is filled up, other users do not get a chance. Tenbennyson (T-C) 02:17, October 25, 2012 (UTC)
Wait, what? Admin team is full... what?? Since when is there a limit of the number of admins a wiki can have? How does having 4,000 admins make it any harder for a bureaucrat to go to Special:UserRights, check the box beside "administrator" and press save? ajr 02:38, October 25, 2012 (UTC)

I'm a pretty firm believer that while you shouldn't have too many admins, having inactive ones does not create a problem whatsoever, so long as they are properly marked as inactive. As an admin that has had less time to be on wikis lately, I find myself being surprised at some of the changes made while I was gone, but I follow them anway. If an inactive admin comes back and starts making changes against new policy, they need to be notified of it. If they continue, their rights could be stripped. Joe Copp 12:12, October 26, 2012 (UTC)

I was recently inactive on my wiki for six months. The wiki functioned fine without me; there were some conflicts, but some of the more experienced users stepped in and solved them, and although there were some tasks that only an admin could do, I caught up to those within a week. Those tasks didn't go anywhere, and they were waiting for me when I found time to return to my wiki again. In the meantime, the wiki didn't dissolve into a vandalism-filled realm of chaos.

Note that I admin a small wiki (less than 200 articles). I am also the only current admin. My proves that an admin can step away for as long as several months, and it will do no harm to the wiki. --BlazingStar (My talk) 00:56, November 2, 2012 (UTC)