Orientations of users

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Having studied some Wikipedias of different sizes, and having supported new people in de:Mentorenprogramm, I believe that I have found an(other) useful way to describe user's motivations.

Four orientations

Wikipedia users can have the following four orientations:

  • Wikipedia orientation: improve the project, the free encyclopedia
  • Thematic orientation: contribute to certain subjects
  • Other interests orientation: support a goal outside encyclopedia and knowledge
  • Language orientation: support a specific language and its linguistic (cultural) community

It seems that the most devoted editors ("core editors"), those, who do also the cleanup and other meta work, have a Wikipedia orientation. They want to do good to Wikipedia in general, they are proud of helping such a project and also promote it outside Wikipedia. From these people the Wikimedia organizations recruit their active members.

Others are fans or hobbyists or specialists and want to improve the content about certain subjects. For example, take the person who knows everything about Mexican railroads or Finnish wildlife. These people are very important for Wikipedia because they produce content, although they remain in their own territory and do nothing else. But - most Wikipedia oriented people might have started with a thematic orientation and became slowly share holders. Improving Wikipedia in general means also protecting and giving value to one's "own" contributions.

Some people come to Wikipedia because they are advocating not free knowledge but their peticular ideas or businesses. They contribute political or religious propaganda or promote their company (or themselves) more or less openly. Of course, these people meet a lot of resistance although there it is not explicitly forbidden to write about your company. The average Wikipedian feels that these people are not to be welcomed in Wikipedia, and that is how they behave towards them.

Then again, there is another group which is a little bit a mixup of all three other groups. If you work a lot on, say, Suahili Wikipedia, you might be asked why you do not edit on a bigger Wikipedia, of a "more important" language (like English). But as a native speaker or fan of Suahili you want to support the Suahili language and its community, provide content to exactly those speakers. The language oriented Wikipedians want to improve (one specific language edition of) Wikipedia, they are working on content suitable for their readers, and they want to advocate their language.

Reader conversion

What does this mean for the purpose of turning readers into Wikipedians? It general, looking at the different orientations can help understanding some conflicts between Wikipedians. When a WP oriented user reverts an edit that give just too much information in a certain article, or when he reverts an edit that looks like a non neutral point of view, then we see conflicts because of a different orientation.

If you want to make new Wikipedians you may want to imagine what orientation the new Wikipedian would have:

  • Is this person a fan of knowledge, of proper presentation of knowledge, or maybe a librarian or information worker? He (or she) might obtain a Wikipedia orientation and support Wikipedia because he finds it so great.
  • If we talk about a hobbyist or specialist he might want to join because his favorite subject has so few articles (or these articles should improve).
  • Of course, it is not a good idea of talking social democrats or buddhists into going to Wikipedia and "support their cause" on encyclopedic ground. But there is a grey zone to the hobbyists, and we can suppose that buddhists know a lot of interesting things about buddhism.
  • Some people may want to join because they are big fans of Suahili, Esperanto or Dutch Low Saxon, and they want to support that Wikipedia in peticular. Think about linguists or folklorists who are interested in the language and culture anyway and would also profit a lot from a good Wikipedia in that language.