Proposal:Reward editors

From Strategic Planning
Status (see valid statuses)

The status of this proposal is:
Request for Discussion / Sign-Ups

Every proposal should be tied to one of the strategic priorities below.

Edit this page to help identify the priorities related to this proposal!

  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
  2. Focus on quality content
  3. Increase Participation
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation

The writer of this proposal now regards Proposal:Traditional_Volunteer_Management_Rewards_and_Recognition to have superseded this, so if you like this proposal please consider throwing your support behind the newer one.


It's all about rewards. If we make quality Wikipedia (or sister project) editing even more rewarding we will see more contributions from established editors and inspire new people to join and contribute quality work. The result will be a virtuous circle. The "Barnstar" that will get you hired, if you will.


Imagine a world where we not only worked on presenting the sum of human knowledge to everyone on the planet, but where we also landed a new job partly because we helped do that. Or imagine a world where our parents would beam with pride when they told a neighbour "my son/daughter does voluntary work for Wikipedia (or Wiktionary or Wikimedia or...etc)".

The aim of this proposal is to get to a point where you would make Wikimedia contributions a highlight on your resumé or on your job application form. The aim is to get to a point where the sort of person who may buy you a drink when you tell them you work at a homeless shelter providing food would buy you a drink when you tell them you edit a Wikimedia project. The aim is to make Wikimedia project contributions a matter of great pride, and something that is recognised as a worthwhile sacrifice of time and energy, that the general public will smile at you for when you tell them.

Wikimedia projects are famously those that "anyone can edit". That's a hugely important aspect of them. The downside is that when you tell someone you work on a project, because they know "anyone" can do it, they may not take it very seriously. What does it mean to someone who isn't intimately involved with a project when you tell them you're a contributor? Often, I don't think it means very much to them. They've likely heard of Wikipedia, but they may well be very sceptical about it.

Most of you reading this proposal are probably fairly committed to Wikimedia projects. It is not the passing editor that gets involved with strategy. Like me, you probably find participation rewarding in itself. Perhaps you feel you don't need further rewards. But we do know that even long-time contributors can drift away. Improving rewards benefits everyone, especially you, and encourages new people to get involved who wish to attain similar recognition for their work.

It's my firm belief that if we make contributing to projects palpably more rewarding we will not only retain good editors, we will encourage mediocre editors to do better, we will attract new people and we may even make vandalism a more shameful activity. I also believe that improved rewards will create a "virtuous circle"

So, what form should these rewards take? Well, let's look at what we have now:

Current rewards

  1. The intangible and personal reward of participating.
  2. Achieving adminship (or a role on ArbCom or even a seat on a board etc).
  3. Barnstars.
  4. Position on the edit count league table.
  5. Featured content recognition - Stars for contributing featured content
  6. ... (feel free to add to the list, it's a wiki after all).

Number one (personal satisfaction) is enough for many of us, certainly for me at present. But I think it's not too much of a stretch to suggest that any "encyclopedia nerds" (or "word nerds" for Wiktionary, or... etc) who were naturally drawn to this activity have found us by now. We need a further reward to break into new groups. To attract those who do not yet edit because the personal satisfaction of contributing isn't enough of a motivator.

Number two (promotion to admin, Arbcom etc) motivates some. But part of the problem with it is that it changes your function at Wikipedia. Some people will always prefer to spend all their time actually editing articles than becoming involved with the administration behind it all. So, for some people, there is no desirable step-up from being an editor, because to take that step means... they have less time to edit articles (or take pictures for Commons, or to add words to Wiktionary etc).

Number three (barnstars) are a lovely surprise when we receive one. The trouble is they're extremely random. There is no process behind them. They're acts of kindness from other users. We've probably all done great work and have not received a barnstar for it because nobody noticed our contribution right away, or the person who thought the work was great didn't know about barnstars, or they were grateful for your work but in too much of a hurry to award you a barnstar.

Number four (edit count) seems to provide a great deal of motivation for some people. I know I used to get a real kick out of seeing where I was on the en:wp table and where I'd moved when the next table was released. I've dropped off of it completely now, and spending time here instead of en:wp won't help matters :o)

But as many people have recognised, edit count can motivate people to do things which aren't particularly valuable in and of themselves. One editor might correct 50 typos in an article in one edit. Another editor who cares deeply about edit count may change one typo per edit and so get 50 times as many "points". This sort of activity renders the edit count figures an unreliable indicator of the value an editor gives to a project.

So the question we must ask ourselves is, what can we do to improve on the current rewards for doing good work?

A way forward

It's at this point that I feel we as a community should focus our discussion. I am far more interested in this proposal being accepted as a premise to work on than as a specific guide to action. However, I do have an idea, which I will now share with you.

We already have a system in place for assessing contributors. We assess contributors when they request they be made an admin (or seek other powers or positions). What we don't have is a system for assessing people who just wish to contribute at the editor level and do not seek powers or position.

It is too much to ask that many people will spontaneously trail through other contributor's edits trying to find someone to reward. So I propose we have something like a "Request for Assessment". Now, no sooner do I state that than it occurs to me that this will rapidly become over-subscribed. So we would need to set some measure(s) that a contributor would need to reach at minimum before they are eligible for assessment. We could say, for example, that you must have been a part of a project for two years and have a minimum x number of edits (yes, counting edits has its problems, as we've established. But it has the benefit of being something the Mediawiki software already counts automatically). For Commons we may say that a contributor needs to have supplied x number of media (photographs, sound files etc). At any rate, it is clear we would need some way to keep Requests for Assessment at a manageable level.

Assessments could be done by a volunteer panel, probably made up of admins. The panel could be assisted by assessment software tools created for the purpose.

Is this more work for the community? Yes, of course. Will it be worth it? Yes. I'll tell you why when I address the virtuous circle. But first...

The Great Rewards

Again, I feel the community - should it buy into this proposal - will probably come up with better ideas than I, but nevertheless I do have an idea.

Wouldn't it be great to have a letter or certificate from the Wikimedia Foundation stating that you are a valued contributor to a project? This needn't cause the WMF as much of a workload as it may first appear:

  • Letters would be easily completed templates, perhaps interfacing directly with Mediawiki software to give a one-click creation.
  • Delivery made via .pdf, so all done electronically. No postage costs to the WMF. No envelope stuffing. (Perhaps there's some way to certify such documents to prevent people 'fraudulently' creating their own letters and passing them off to potential employers?)

Lower down the scale there could be some kind of user box, or something to put on one's user page that grades you as an editor. Such a box should take one to a special page that verifies the user has indeed achieved this award and not just introduced it by writing their own wiki mark-up and placing it there. I would absolutely counsel against awarding anything along the lines of A+ B- C etc. Because who wants a C? The boxes should all be very complimentary and have a feel good factor. People who are assessed who do not come out of the process well would simply just not receive an award, there will be no FAILS, no scolding (except for vandalism); someone assessed as poor would simply be told "you haven't met our criteria for an award yet, but please keep up your contributions and re-apply when you've [made x more edits, for example]."

This is the important bit: even such a user box should have enough fundamental value that, in time, an employer would recognise it as a palpable achievement. In a "reaching for the stars" moment, I will even wildly suggest that you imagine - just for a moment - that you could put the Wikimedia Foundation down as a reference on a job application. Again, such an idea would have to be achieved with heavy automation so as to cause minimal strain on the WMF itself.

Motivation: The Virtuous Circle

I believe this proposal is very powerful because I think it will create a positive feedback loop which, as our article says, "is often amplifying and 'explosive,' i.e. a small perturbation results in big changes."

The loop (I feel I could have drafted this more elegantly. If an editor can improve it without losing any of the content, then please do):

  1. Current contributors of long-standing receive their rewards for outstanding quality and/or quantity of work.
  2. Less experienced contributors see this and aim to receive those same rewards, and so produce better quality and more quantity of work.
  3. Rewards given to those who were less experienced but have now met the criteria.
  4. People who have never edited learn of the rewards and are inspired to edit. (They're set on their path to reach #3 then #2, then #1...)
  5. The quality of the Wikimedia project increases.
  6. The reputation of the Wikimedia project increases.
    1. Better perception of project in the press.
    2. Better perception of project with the public.
    3. Better perception of project with potential employers.
  7. Someone gets a job / praised by a peer / bought a drink primarily or in part because of their work on a Wikimedia project.
  8. Goto 4...

Key Questions

  • What would be the minimum requirements to qualify for assessment?
  • What would be the differing levels and names of rewards? ("Featured Contributor"(?))
  • How can we really get a prospective employer to take our rewards as a serious marker of diligence, good character, skill and other desirable qualities?
  • How can we get those who have never and will never contribute to a project to, nevertheless, appreciate that good work is done? (Perhaps we need a page or even video that celebrates our best contributors that can be linked to).
  • There is the question that, since we are seeking to - in effect - certify contributors, it may be necessary to associate a person's online identity with their real life one. Not everyone will be open to that. What questions does that raise? Can we "semi-protect" the association between someone's "user" persona and their "real life" persona in a way that makes people comfortable, yet still allows for an employer to engage with the reward with confidence?
  • For the highest awards it would be immensely gratifying if Jimbo or high profile staff would sign the occasional letter/certificate. But what is it reasonable to expect? One a day (it's only a signature, remember), one a week, one a year (we are a LARGE community, at a rate of one a year, that's a high bar indeed)?
  • How does this differ from en:Wikipedia:Editor review?

Potential Costs

  • Software development:
    • It's important that the rewards are verifiable. That's to say, there must be a way to prevent undeserving people passing themselves off as having achieved an award when they haven't. A prospective employer or family member must have confidence that the reward has value and isn't a fake or fraud. Can this be achieved with some kind of software certification (if that's the right word, I'm not a technical person)?
    • It's important that the WMF staff are not inconvenienced by this proposal, so the actual award-giving must be 99% automated. Only with the very highest possible rewards should Jimbo or other staff member find themselves having to sign anything or post something in the mail.
  • Time:
    • Community involvement in assessing a user's contributions.


See also

Community Discussion

Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Reward editors.

Want to work on this proposal?

  1. .. Sign your name here!