Meta serves three distinct roles, which are all closely related but often involve different subsets of users.
- Discussion and formulation of Wikimedia projects, in particular policy discussion relevant to across projects, such as open-content licensing. The central venue for discussion is the Wikimedia Forum. Some high-level discussions, held mainly in 2009, were split to Strategy Wiki.
- A place for interlingual (cross-wiki) and international coordination concerning the Wikimedia projects and the Wikimedia movement in general, including discussion in languages other than English. This includes requests (for pan-Wikimedia or other wikis), translations and news, and the description, documentation, and discussion of real-life activities and facts related to the Wikimedia Foundation and affiliates. See also reports, events, outreach, and grants.
- A forum for personal essays about Wikimedia projects. Because these are usually not delivered from a neutral point of view, they should be summarized on neutral issues pages from multiple points of view using formats such as TIPAESA or its subset IPA. There is a degree of freedom in determining what is related to Wikimedia projects, which makes Meta also a meatball wiki of sorts, discussing such matters as wiki culture and patterns. Documentation of MediaWiki is mainly excluded now (see below). This role includes more formal research and related discussion.
The categories provide a big-picture representation of Meta's content.
What Meta is not
- A disposal site for uncorrectable articles from the different Wikipedias
- A place to describe the MediaWiki software. The software has its own wiki at MediaWiki.org. Content and pages such as these should be transferred.
It has often been discussed whether Meta has a community. What's sure is that it doesn't have a community of its own, separate from the communities of the Wikimedia projects: as someone said, «a meta-project—existing for and about the other Wikimedia wikis, not as a content project to itself—a community of communities, rather than its own little island community».
This also means that many discussions, processes and other activities happen on Meta, with different participants and people in charge (if any)—for instance, among many, some Wikimedia committees, the stewards, the WMF staff for grants—: none of them, and all of them, is Meta. Meta is the space and the tool for their participants to achieve their objectives, not an actor in them; and even less a power over them.
Strictly speaking, however, there is a community specific to Meta: it's a loose group of people regularly active in some or many such activities (especially as "gardeners"), who care about Meta serving the purpose above, and who are more likely to intervene to ensure it does.
"Metawikian" is a term also used sometimes, to indicate a member of the specific "Meta community", that is the community of Meta regulars who are more often active on Meta, for instance as contributors to its content pages or as facilitators of other discussions and processes.
Meta-Wiki was first created as "Meta-Wikipedia" in November 2001 to make the English Wikipedia less cluttered, by moving all meta-content (content about the Wikipedia website and its users), as opposed to actual content (encyclopedia articles), to a new wiki. Since its upgrade to Wikipedia's custom MediaWiki software, Meta has become a multilingual discussion forum used by all Wikimedia language communities. As the number of Wikimedia projects and translations increased, so too did Meta's scope. Meta comprises 94,230 articles. Many of the older pages here are still worded as being specific to Wikipedia, but arguably many now apply to all Wikimedia projects.
- Meta:Categories – introductory page for browsing
- Meta's Zeitgeist can give a clue about the main activities of any month (only main namespace, although talk could be more indicative)
- Meta:Babel templates – language competence of Meta users
- Meta:Requests for deletion
- Meta:Requests for undeletions
- Project portals – a list of Wikimedia project portals
- Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia projects.