Task force/Recommendations/Community health

From Strategic Planning

Outline: volunteer recognition


Define the goal that your strategy is attempting to accomplish

Although there is discussion as to the extent to which editors are leaving the project or that contributions have reached a plateau, we assert that volunteers will respond well to greater recognition by the WMF and the community. This is a strategy for increased volunteer recognition (or "wiki-love"?) which we believe will attract new editors and retain existing ones.

At least eleven proposals recommending some kind of award, rewards or recognition were submitted to the strategy process.


recommendation of how the Wikimedia movement can achieve the goal

"Working on Wikipedia is hard, and it does not offer many rewards. Editors have intrinsic motivation not extrinsic, but even so, not much is done to affirm or thank or recognize them." - Sue Gardner, Executive Director, WMF.

The most effective volunteer recognition at traditional nonprofit organizations has been a combination of formal and informal actions (see references).

Informal recognition of volunteers happens at traditional organizations when volunteers come in contact with staff members over coffee, talk with board members and other volunteers at special events, see first hand how their contributions are used onsite at the organization, etc. Formal, traditional recognition of volunteers has included special gatherings, small gifts or discounts at local businesses. How could these traditional ways of recognizing volunteers be adapted to recognizing volunteers for Wikimedia?

In order to be effective, such a program should be informed by both a general understanding of volunteer recognition in organizations, and an understanding of the unique characteristics of Wikimedia's various communities.

For the general knowledge, we note the recommendations of Jayne Cravens, an internationally-recognized professional with more than 20 years of experience regarding communications, community/volunteer involvement, and capacity-building for nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations/civil society, government-based community programs, and corporate philanthropy programs. (Fill in some detail: who approached Jayne? How thoroughly was she briefed on Wikimedia?) See appendix for her recommendations.

Assertion: Successful Charities/Nonprofits Take Volunteer Recognition Seriously

The strategy should be supported by several assertions that explain why you believe the strategy will work. The assertions are broad statements that lay out the key points that support your strategy

An endless number of volunteer management books, volunteer management workshops and volunteer management consultants focus on ways to retain volunteers through recognition of their contributions, and most organizations that involve volunteers have some kind of scheme to recognize those volunteers.

In a survey of 2,400 non-profits/charities that use volunteers 35% of them engaged in recognition activities of some kind (such as awards ceremonies) to a "large degree" and 82% of them to "some degree" [1]. Volunteer recognition methods is one of the most popular searches on Energize, Inc., the largest publisher and distributor of volunteer management-related books.

Here is a tiny list of some charities with links to their volunteer recognition activities:

  • The Children's Society UK [2]
  • The International Children's Heart Foundation [3]
  • California Volunteers [4]
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution [5]
  • Humane Society of Northwest Montana [6]
  • St. John Hospice [7]
  • Virtual Volunteering Project [8]
  • Habitat for Humanity International [9]
  • British Heart Foundation [10]
  • Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (day in the life of a volunteer video) [11]
  • Volunteer Canada / Bénévoles Canada [12]

"Give recognition to the person, not (just) the work"

As one volunteering site puts it "Give recognition to the person, not the work". Perhaps a better way to say this is to "Give recognition to the person, not *just* the work."

For this reason things like Featured Articles and pictures should include the username alongside the content if and when they appear on the front page. This has no monetary cost (unless a paid staff person is required to undertake this activity). A downside is that it could lead to fighting over who should be recognised as a contributor to a featured article... if you recognise these three individuals what of these four? You will see discussions of this kind of conflict that can come from such volunteer recognition on online discussion groups for volunteer managers like UKVPMs, OZVPM or CYBERVPM. Therefore, it will be important that the criteria for recognition is transparent.

Volunteering should give you something to put on your resume/CV

As a British Government website says "over 70 per cent of employers would hire a candidate with volunteering experience over someone who has never volunteered" [13]. The Community Health Task Force believes that, as things stand, working on Wikipedia does not have the standing that other voluntary work has. Part of it is a function of the "anyone can edit" ethos; if anyone can do it, then you cannot brag. But we would not seek to change such an important pillar of the project. Part of it is the quality of Wikipedia; many people still do not trust Wikipedia as an information source, but this is something that may change in time and with the application of other recommendations from Strategy. However, if methods of recognition were improved - with rewards, awards and certificates - we believe that having worked on Wikipedia can become a marketable skill when looking for employment and this would be a powerful incentive for further voluntary involvement.

Many volunteering sites suggest that volunteering will look good on your resume/CV.

A few sites that specifically mention the resume/cv motivation include:

  • Barnardos (UK children's charity) [14]
  • CharityGuide [15]
  • Resume With Volunteer Experience [16]

Many Volunteers Want Certificates of Recognition

The Task Force recommends that certificates be issued to WMF's most valued volunteers. Certificates are not costly but must be tightly controlled to retain the prestige of their attainment. Certificates could be awarded to motivate people to work on specific tasks, for example those most involved in creating featured articles, featured pictures, people who successfully partner with GLAMs. The criteria for attaining a certificate could be worked out either by the WMF or by the community, as could the decision of who receives such certificates.

Many organizations give volunteers a certificate that recognize their service. These include:

  • The United Nations Online Volunteering Service [17]
  • American Dental Association [18]
  • Government of South Australia Office of Volunteers [19]
  • Children's Heart Foundation [20]

Volunteers v editors

It has been customary to call Wikipedians "editors" and many or even most "editors" may wish to continue to refer to themselves as such. However, there are many people involved with the projects who have moved far beyond the business of adding or altering text on a wiki such as providing non-text media, working for a chapter or even partnering with GLAMs. If we think of contributors as "volunteers" it immediately suggests a more than subtle shift in approach; there are many ways to help the WMF.

Most charitable organisations have a "get involved" link prominently displayed on their website and this usually leads to a page about ways to donate, volunteering opportunities and also tends to include access to "stories of the volunteers". The Task Force recommends taking this broader view of contributors, including a "get involved" link as a way of inviting more participants to help the WMF in a multitude of ways beyond editing.

Appendix A: Jayne Cravens' recommendations for Wikimedia

Jayne Cravens has recommended some possible ways to adapt traditional formal and informal recognition of online volunteers to Wikimedia:

  • Recognize high-responsibility/high-contributing volunteers the same way donors are recognized (in newsletters, program updates, press releases, annual report, etc.).
  • Emphasize in various internal and external communications the impact particular volunteer contributions have had and the difference the volunteers responsible have made, not just numbers of volunteers and hours they have provided.
  • Profile a volunteer of the week or month on your web site.
  • Prepare customized, downloadable, signed certificates of appreciation for high-responsibility/high-contributing online volunteers, that can be print outed and displayed as they like. It is very important that these be CUSTOMIZED, with the volunteer's name (be sure everything is spelled correctly) and a line about the specific service they provided.
  • If you have a printed or email newsletter or program update sent to donors and partners, give online volunteers -- or at least high-responsibility volunteers -- the opportunity to sign up to receive these as well.
  • Have a bulletin board onsite at the Wikimedia offices with a constant rotating series of photos submitted by Wikimedia contributors of themselves, to remind paid staff that Wikimedia contributors are real humans, not just a login name or numbers.
  • Give a lapel pin, pen, mug, banner, bumper stickers, or other material with the Wikimedia logo to volunteers who have contributed a certain number of hours or are serving in high-responsibility roles.
  • Invite Wikimedia contributors to participate in some way in Wikimedia strategic discussions (not just the one happening now). Inviting their participation is a sign that you value their contributions.
  • Highlight whenever an online volunteer's feedback has been used to make a decision.
  • Invite online volunteers to online special events/celebrations.
  • If you are hosting an onsite event, consider creating a way for online volunteers to view the event in real time.
  • Allow volunteers to submit photos of themselves to include in online or printed recognition (however, note that some volunteers do not want to be identified with their full name or location alongside their photos).
  • Send a postcard or letter with a personal, hand-written note from a staff person.
  • Prepare a short video thanking specific volunteers for their service. Just 30 or 60 seconds would be enough. It could come from your volunteer coordinator, your executive director, your board president, or other volunteers.
  • Develop an online badge or logo that volunteers can place on their individual Web sites or online profiles, which notes that they hold a high-responsibility role with the organization or have contributed a certain number of hours and that links back to your organization's web site.

Appendix B: Current awards, rewards and recognition

We are aware of a number of ways in which volunteers are already thanked or otherwise recognised on the Foundation's projects.

  • Barnstars - these are a great way for one contributor to thank another and we don't propose to change this.
  • Project-based awards and barnstars with criteria: Some projects and/or individuals offer up barnstars and similar recognition on a regular basis, and/or according to specific criteria (e.g., completing one Featured Article, one Good Article, and one "Did you know…" entry on English Wikipedia). Project award example: WikiProject Oregon's "Thumbs-up" Criteria example: Durova's Triple Crown
  • Self-awarded status according to specific criteria (e.g. Wikipedia service awards)
  • Published lists of contributors according to specific criteria (e.g., Wikipedians by edit count, Wikipedians by FA nomination, etc.)
  • Attaining administrative privileges, election to committees, etc. is regarded by many of an endorsement of their work on Wikipedia (in spite of many protestations to the contrary).
  • The English language Wikipedia Signpost has recently been profiling WikiProjects, which offers Wikipedia contributors an opportunity to highlight their own work, and that of their colleagues.
  • Featured content - the community values this content and the editors who provide it but perhaps more could be done to thank volunteers heavily involved in these areas. The idea of a 'featured editor' could be taken up; there have already been some independent community efforts in this direction such as User Phadriel's own 'User of the Day': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Phaedriel/Today/Archive. An attempt to make something like this more formal resulted in a deletion, albeit with absolutely minimal discussion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Miscellany_for_deletion/Wikipedia:Wikipedian_of_the_day .
  • Wikipedia Cup - this is an active and ongoing yearly contest where editors compete to provide/amend en:wp content. It has resulted in much new and improved content for Wikipedia. It would be good if the winner (and perhaps runners up) were to be recognised by the WMF in some tangible way.

Problems of implementation


There are approaching 800 Wikimedia projects (though it appears that a significant number are locked, dying or dead) http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wikimedia_Projects_by_Size .

Tangible, WMF sponsored recognition therefore threatens to place a heavy toll on WMF staff. If what is regarded as possible for one project is extended to all projects, costs in time and effort would quickly mount up. There are ways to mitigate this:

  • Extend the recognition initiatives only to projects that have a certain number of regular contributors or have surpassed a certain milestone (articles for Wikipedias, 'good' books for Wikibooks etc).
  • Make substantial use of the volunteer community. Due to the potentially large number of languages involved it is likely that even a dedicated 'Volunteer Recognition' hire for the WMF would need substantial input from the project's community when making any sort of gesture.

Outline: improve consensus-building processes


Editors of all experience levels risk burnout due to hostility and conflict. Hostility is increasing.


More effective decision-making and dispute resolution processes can resolve conflicts over conduct, content, and policy.


  1. Create a "binding mediation" process as a "last resort" for content-related disputes
    • Although the mediation is binding, the mediators must not arbitrate a decision
    • Authorities (e.g.: administrators, mediators, ArbCom) should be granted discretion to exclude parties who engaged in disruptive behavior
    • The mediated agreement should be represented as a guideline, and should be protected for an interim period
  2. Create "representative consensus-building" processes, to manage the scale of disputes with too many parties
    • Parties would self-organize into factions, with each faction choosing a representative by consensus
    • Representatives would then continue the dispute in a smaller, more manageable forum
    • Each representative would carry the consensus-building weight of the volunteers who chose them
    • If necessary, a mediator can help representatives find common ground, or help parties select an appropriate number of representatives
  3. Encourage consensus-building by taking power away from filibusters and "spoilers"
    • "Spoilers", who frequently take positions in discussions that are outside consensus (or at the fringes of disputes without consensus), should risk losing discussion privileges
    • If the same issue reaches no consensus multiple times, viewpoints that do not make a reasonable attempt to meet core policies should be ignored
    • If the same issue reaches no consensus multiple times, the threshold for consensus should become more relaxed for the next discussion
    • Consensus-building must include a good faith effort to address minority interests, and should never become so relaxed as to become a majority vote

Assertion: The community is experiencing increased conflict, which is causing the community to stagnate

Sub assertion: There is increasing conflict in the community

Fact: Several experts have indicated that conflict is a major factor affecting community health on all Wikipedias

Fact: Several editors from different projects have independently suggested that Wikipedia is growing more hostile

Fact: Activity at dispute resolution pages (on the English Wikipedia) has been rising over the past few years

Sub assertion: Conflict prevents a consensus from forming on issues, resulting in community stagnation

Fact: The current consensus-building process fails to account for volunteers who are unwilling or unable to seek a compromise

Fact: Non-binding dispute resolution processes cannot be used if volunteers are unwilling to participate

Fact: Failure to achieve a new consensus results in the current consensus prevailing

Fact: A study of the English Wikipedia shows that the number of policies and their usage are both stabilizing

Assertion: Barriers to consensus-building can be reduced by improving our decision-making processes

Sub assertion: Wikimedia projects need a binding "last step dispute resolution" for disputes about content (and content policy)

Fact: Many projects do not have any "last step" dispute resolution process at all

Fact: Several projects have an Arbitration Committee that is stated to be "the last step" in dispute resolution, but they do not settle disputes about content

  • However, although the Dutch Wikipedia has an ArbCom with a mandate similar to that of the English Wikipedia (excludes decisions on content), it has so far chosen to also exclude decisions on user conduct (no matter how outrageous). It limits itself to user-to-user interactions.

Fact: ArbCom at the English Wikipedia has recently experimented with binding mediation/negotiation for disputes that involve content, with some success

The following three cases involve a remedy where ArbCom ordered the parties to agree on a process to resolve the dispute. The outcome of the disputes resulted in new community standards, such as a guideline or an approved bot. ArbCom provided three neutral administrators to help build and assess the consensus.

  1. ArbCom orders a binding discussion
  2. ArbCom orders a binding discussion, and insists upon a strict range of accepted behaviors
  3. ArbCom threatens to review conduct of editors if they cannot agree on a process for mass delinking

Sub assertion: multi-party negotiations are more effective on a smaller scale, but the few negotiators must still represent all stakeholders

Fact: As more parties become involved in a negotiation, the number of competing interests increases, which reduces the options for an agreeable outcome

Fact: An important step in multi-party negotiations is to decide who will be at the negotiating table, and this should be determined by the parties themselves

Fact: Mediators should not decide who will negotiate, but can define criteria to help parties decide for themselves

Fact: Mediators should help negotiators notify and communicate with the constituents they are representing

Sub assertion: The current consensus-building process includes disincentives to negotiate, which must be corrected or rebalanced

Fact: If someone has the power to block or veto a multi-party agreement, this creates a disincentive to negotiate

Fact: Threatening to punish or exclude a "spoiler" from the negotiation can encourage them to negotiate in good faith

Fact: ArbCom has encouraged consensus-building by threatening to review the conduct of editors if they fail to reach an agreement

Fact: If parties do not participate in negotiations (if they leave or are excluded), this can jeopardize the quality or permanence of an agreement

Fact: "Spoilers" will negotiate in good faith if they are only allowed to participate within a range of acceptable behaviors

Fact: ArbCom has encouraged consensus-building by excluding viewpoints outside an acceptable range

Outline: demarcate and strengthen volunteer roles


Editors of all experience levels risk burnout due to hostility and conflict. Hostility is increasing.


Make it easier to recognize editors who have a reputation of helping the project, and make it easier to recognize new volunteers in need of help.


  1. Create a "senior editor" role for volunteers who have a record of good judgment, reasonableness, understanding of policy, and constructive behavior.
    • Clearly demarcate "senior editors" in their usernames/signatures
    • To become a "senior editor", one must demonstrate constructive behavior and understanding of policy by writing X number of featured articles
    • To become a "senior editor", one must demonstrate good judgment and reasonableness by resolving Y incidents at various noticeboards
    • A community discussion is not needed to confirm a senior editor, unless they have been previously been sanctioned, or they believe that they qualify with equivalent experience
    • Consider giving certain administrative/bureaucratic privileges to senior editors, to make such privileges open to a wider set of volunteers
  2. Protect new users by demarcating them, and help them find assistance from experienced editors (such as mentors, administrators, and "senior editors")
    • Demarcate new users in their usernames/signatures, so there is no excuse for "accidentally" biting a newbie
    • Strengthen mentorship roles with clearer behavioral criteria and responsibilities
    • Demarcate mentors and administrators in their usernames/signatures, so that new users can recognize helpful volunteers

Assertion: The community is experiencing increased conflict, which is causing volunteers to leave

Sub assertion: There is increasing conflict in the community

Fact: Editors across different projects have independently suggested that Wikipedia is growing more hostile

Fact: Experts broadly agree that the community is becoming more hostile

Fact: Activity at dispute resolution pages (on the English Wikipedia) has been rising over the past few years

Fact: Activity surrounding administrator incidents (on the English Wikipedia) has been rising over the past few years

Sub assertion: Volunteers are leaving

Fact: Active administrators have fallen in activity over the past two years.

Fact: Core editors on the most active projects are more likely to leave entirely, rather than scaling back their edits

Fact: Wikipedians are most likely to leave within 15 days of registration.

Assertion: Community roles should be strengthened, while striving to maintain openness

Sub assertion: Roles can have stronger recognition without stronger authority

Fact: Administrators do not have any additional power in maintaining or writing content

Fact: Administrators represent a position of trust in the community

Fact: Editors decline administrator privileges to focus on editorial roles

Fact: Wikimedia informally recognizes a variety of other roles

Sub assertion: Wikimedia is committed to openness, but gives special status to users where practical and necessary

Fact: Wikimedia projects are not bureaucracies, democracies, or anarchies

Fact: Wikimedia recognizes bureaucratic roles with strict requirements

Fact: Wikimedia recognizes administrative roles with strict requirements

Sub assertion: When volunteers recognize each others' reputations, collaboration improves

Fact: In principle, volunteers naturally build reputations, making their contributions less likely to be reverted

Fact: Data shows that experienced users are less likely to have their contributions reverted

Fact: Without past experience, there is no obvious way to judge another volunteer's reputation

Fact: Mistrust makes consensus-building and collaboration more difficult

Assertion: In addition to administrative roles, Wikimedia should formally recognize mentors and "senior editors"

Sub assertion: Writing a featured article demonstrates an understanding of content and collaboration, and is difficult to "game"

Fact: A study of utterances at featured articles shows that discussion is more likely to be collaborative

Fact: Editors must work to ensure that a featured article complies with core policies such as verifiability and neutral point of view

Fact: An article can only reach featured status if there is a consensus for that status

Fact: There is already a link between the reputation of an author and their contributions to featured articles (on the German Wikipedia)

Sub assertion: many reputable editors are not being formally recognized for their contributions

Fact: Reputation, respect, and feedback are motivating factors for participating in large collaborative projects

Fact: The vast majority of the authors who write featured articles have not been given administrator status

Fact: Many volunteers decline administrator status to focus on editing

Fact: Some projects, such as Wikinews, already offer a special "editor" status that is granted (and removed) by consensus

Sub assertion: encouraging editors to write featured articles will benefit community health (and incidentally contribute to quality)

Fact: authors who revised FAs and participated in talk pages were less likely to leave the project

Fact: Wikimedia projects are striving for greater amounts of featured content

Sub assertion: New users would benefit if experienced "senior editors" were clearly demarcated

Fact: New users cannot tell "at a glance" if an editor that they have never met should be listened to or argued with

Fact: New users may mistakenly conclude a volunteer's words or actions represent "the community", even when that volunteer does not have consensus authority

Fact: New volunteers would be more likely to contribute if they were less afraid of getting in trouble for mistakes

Assertion: New users and helpful volunteers need to be able to recognize each other

Sub assertion: there is a powerful cultural norm on Wikipedia that can be navigated with experience

Fact: Volunteers who make more contributions are less likely to have their contributions reverted

Fact: Experts suggest that newcomers have difficulty overcoming the initial learning curve to become active contributors

Sub assertion: New users would benefit if they could distinguish average editors from administrators, mentors, and "senior editors"

Fact: New users cannot tell "at a glance" if an editor that they have never met should be listened to or argued with

Fact: New users may mistakenly conclude a volunteer's words or actions represent "the community", even when that volunteer does not have consensus authority

Fact: New volunteers would be more likely to contribute if they were less afraid of getting in trouble for mistakes

Sub assertion: New users are sometimes treated roughly, partially because it is not obvious to others that they are new

Fact: Newcomers need to be treated differently from experienced editors

Fact: Volunteers are most likely to leave the project in their first 15 days

Fact: To some extent, volunteers would contribute more if the community were more welcoming

Fact: It is not clear who is a new user from pages such as "recent changes"

Outline: tools for community health


New editors often don't know how to contribute, or where they might focus their efforts. Core editors seldom maintain heavy activity for more than 6-12 months, and often leave the project due to burnout.


Better tools can support experienced editors, and reduce the learning curve for new users.


  1. Create "What You See Is What You Get" editing interface
    • "WYSIWYG" for basic writing and formatting
    • "WYSIWYG" for renaming (not "moving") an article.
    • "WYSIWYG" for commonly-used templates, including citations.
  2. Make research easier to do
    • A comprehensive list of reliable sources
    • A web search engine that provides hits from this list of reliable sources
    • Simplified citations, including "WYSIWYG", and a web parser that can automatically extract author/date/title/etc. from articles at major news sites (e.g.: CNN, BBC...)
  3. Improve support and feedback by facilitating requests and responses
    • Allow "one button" requests for discussion and feedback, including peer review, second/third opinion, mergers, and deletions
    • Create pages or "Wizards" that match users to suitable work (including requests for discussion) based on skills, interests, and Wikipedia experience
  4. Simplify and facilitate discussion
    • Threaded-discussions with "WYSIWYG" interface and "comment box"
    • Make it possible to leave a quick comment to a user without leaving a "recent changes" page (including article history, editor history, and watchlists)
    • Allow "one button" requests for discussion and feedback, including peer review, second/third opinion, mergers, and deletions
  5. Make It Easier to Monitor and Maintain Changes
    • Allow users to watch categories
    • Allow users to create multiple or "tabbed" watch-lists
    • Articles should directly display their current quality level and existing issues

Assertion: better tools can support both new and experienced editors

Sub assertion: experienced editors are experiencing burnout

Fact: Active administrators have fallen in activity over the past two years.

Fact: Core editors on the most active projects are more likely to leave entirely, rather than scaling back their edits

Sub assertion: new volunteers take a significant time to integrate with a project

Fact: Wikipedians usually take around 200 days to reach the "core" of the top 10% most active contributors.

Fact: Wikipedians are most likely to leave within 15 days of registration.

Sub assertion: there are barriers to contribution that can be reduced

Fact: Volunteers claimed they were more likely to contribute if they knew how to edit

Fact: Volunteers claimed they were more likely to contribute if they knew where their efforts would be valued

Fact: Experts suggest that better tools can support existing editors and reduce the learning curve for new editors

Fact: the "usability initiative" has started to reduce these barriers, but may need greater resources, direction, and support

Assertion: Tools should simplify editing, research, discussion, and maintenance

Sub assertion: "What You See Is What You Get" should be standard for most editing

Fact: simpler editing has led to at least 30-50% more contributions on other Wikis

Fact: anecdotes indicate that WYSIWYG drastically reduces the probability that users abandon an attempted contribution

Fact: Wikia adopted WYSIWYG, and found a drastic reduction in the number of abandoned contributions

Fact: templates were optimized for experienced users, rather than new editors

Sub assertion: Tools should simplify research, reducing the learning curve for new editors, and providing support to experienced editors

Fact: Diverse volunteers are constantly aggregating reliable sources (sources with a reputation for fact-checking and peer review)

Fact: Large amounts of work and discussion revolve around the attribution of information to reliable sources

Quotes from Travis Kriplean study:

  • Wikipedia "demonstrates a major shift in emphasis towards attribution work -- making sure that Wikipedia is a source of knowledge where facts are attributed to sources"
  • "policy citations track global shifts in discursive and attribution work, suggesting that policies may be valuable as micro-level indicators of work activity"
  • "[P]olicies relating to attribution are more frequently cited than policies in other categories"

Fact: Community practices indicate desire lines to encourage research

Fact: Community practices indicate desire lines to simplify research and citation templates

Fact: references have been optimized for experienced editors, rather than new users

Sub assertion: Tools should improve how Wikipedians request and respond to requests for help and discussion

Fact: Volunteers have stated they would contribute more if they knew where their efforts would be valued

Fact: There is a strong correlation between those who stay on Wikipedia and those who participate in collaborative discussions

Fact: Processes for requesting discussion/feedback are suboptimal

Sub assertion: Tools should simplify and encourage discussion

Fact: There is a strong correlation between those who stay on Wikipedia and those who participate in collaborative discussions

Fact: WikiHow is supported by a healthy volunteer community

Quote from Jack Herrick interview:

  • "If you go talk to our community members, you will hear about a family feeling: community, friendly, open, welcoming, pleasant place to collaborate. Our ratio of men to women is far more skewed towards normal than Wikipedia. Our % of admins who we can identify, 43% are female. And that’s the people who make it to the highest level of wikiHow."

Fact: WikiHow makes talk pages more usable through comment boxes, instead of "edits"

Fact: WikiHow facilitates discussion by letting users leave messages without leaving "recent changes"

Fact: anecdotes indicate that WYSIWYG drastically reduces the probability that users abandon an attempted contribution

For further information and supporting materials, view Interface and tools for community health.

Outline: social networking features


There is some indication that volunteers are leaving the project and that the influx of new volunteers has slowed. In addition, volunteers suffer "burnout". The purpose of this recommendation is to make the site more appealing for volunteers in such a way that the site; is more fun to use, more engaging; connects volunteers to each other more effectively; improves the abilities for collaborative work.


Add social networking features.

In support of improved social features

There have been at least 14 proposals on the Strategy wiki for new social features.

Possible advocates for improved social features on Wikimedia (based on quotes below) include:

  • Ward Cunningham - developer of the first wiki
  • Sue Gardner - Executive Director of the WMF
  • Naoko Komura - Program Manager, Wikipedia Usability Project, WMF
  • Misiek Piskorski - HBS Professor
  • Frank Schulenberg - Public Outreach Officer of the WMF
  • José Felipe Ortega Soto - researcher from LibreSoft.

Supporting quotations

All interviews can be found at interviews.

"Wikipedia can be more social in order to become more inclusive. If people join a club to do hard work together, it’s more enjoyable. Amateur scholarships can potentially sustain encyclopedia for decades." - Ward Cunningham interview.

"Very interesting that there is no social networking on Wikipedia to encourage people to get and stay involved with the community. Possible option: some type of social network that enables you to hang out with other people." - Misiek Piskorski (HBS professor)

"The community of editors would need to be healthier, more vibrant, more fun. Today, people get burned out. They get tired of hostility and endless debates. [...] We need to find ways to foster a community that is rich and diverse and friendly and fun to be a part of. We also have a lot to learn from successful social networking sites. I know this is controversial." - Sue Gardner

She later adds "How can we make the Wikimedia projects more permeable, more porous, so that they are easily interoperable with other projects and tools such as the Encyclopedia of Life, identi.ca, Flickr, OpenID, and not walled off from everything else?"

"It’s difficult to find people with similar interests. Instituting some social networking components, like interest groups, “tracking” your friends, and the like could be huge steps forward." - from the interview with Frank Schulenberg, Head of Public Outreach.

And from José Felipe Ortega Soto, "finally, I'd also like to point out the need for including explicit support of social network contacts, if not for all users, at least for Wikipedia admins. It would be great if the interface allows you to quickly find out who's writing in a certain article, possibly connected to other people you may know directly. Many tools for collaborative content creation are starting to care about this issue of social network support."

In IRC office hours User:Bodnotbod asked Naoko Komura of the WMF usability program, whether she dreaded any interface changes that would come along with improved social features. She said "not at all, it's on our wish list".

Social networking sites are tremendously successful: Wikipedia can share in this success

"Americans have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend at social networking and blog sites such as Facebook and MySpace from a year ago, according to a new report from The Nielsen Company. In August 2009, 17 percent of all time spent on the Internet was at social networking sites, up from 6 percent in August 2008. "This growth suggests a wholesale change in the way the Internet is used,” said Jon Gibs, vice president, media and agency insights, Nielsen’s online division. “While video and text content remain central to the Web experience – the desire of online consumers to connect, communicate and share is increasingly driving the medium’s growth.”"[21]

Social networking memes

There are some common features found on social networking sites that Wikimedia could look to adopt or adapt.

  1. A 'profile page' where users provide personal details including interests.
    1. This equates to a Wikimedian's user page, but it has been suggested that perhaps a simplified means to upload a photo to the user page is desirable.
  2. A 'feed' page where users see activity related to groups they've joined or that of "friends" or those they "follow" (see below).
    1. This is somewhat like a watchlist, however at the moment there is no way to 'watch' a bunch of pages that all relate to the same Wikiproject or Portal. Also Watchlist entries present a one line summary that an action has taken place and are not currently used as a means of communication.
  3. A means by which one user can "follow" another; on Twitter this means you will be shown any messages posted by those you follow.
    1. In terms of Wikimedia this could mean that you see any edits a user you follow has made. It could also mean you see what people you follow have been reading if there were a means by which any user were able to signal that they have read an article (by, for example, pressing a 'Read this!' button on the page or even a 'thumbs up/down' button which would signify it has been read and also act as an article rating of sorts).
  4. A means by which users can join groups; on Facebook this means a user will see messages sent to the group on their 'feed' page.
    1. In terms of Wikimedia this could mean that volunteers have a feed page where any messages sent to a group (or Wikiproject [or category, see below] or Portal) they belong to can be viewed there. It could further mean that any edits made to articles that have a group/WikiProject/Portal affiliation are shown on a users 'feed' page.
  5. A means by which users can find other users with similar interests.
    1. For Wikimedia projects this is partly already enabled by "Category:Wikimedians" and its subcategories. Also Userboxes. But perhaps there is scope for raising the profile of these aspects of Wikimedia and for developing the software to do something dynamic with the categories/boxes (eg, use the data to recommend "friends"). Or a completely new and more elegant solution could be built that helps like-minded volunteers to find each other.

Another concept: Social Networking via 'Tabbed Watchlists' Utilising Categories

This is an idea initiated by User:Bodnotbod to bring social networking to MediaWiki building on the watchlist feature and using categories.

Tabbed watchlist

As things stand the watchlist presents you with changes to all watched pages in chronological order. It is proposed that users be able to break this list down into sections and be able to view these individually.


User A enjoys editing articles on Science Fiction, the Vietnam War and is also a member of ArbCom. She will be able to click the watchlist link and be presented with three tabs:

  • Sci-fi
  • Vietnam War
  • ArbCom

In this way she is able to spend an hour in 'ArbCom mode' and perform those duties unencumbered by seeing changes to pages that are related to her other subjects of interest.

This concept opens up further opportunities to develop enhancements to Mediawiki, including aspects of social networking as I will now outline.

Categories and tabbed watchlists

Once a user is able to add and remove tabs from their watchlist an opportunity to exploit this further arises.

A feature could be created whereby a user visits a category page wherein they will find an "add tab" button which will allow the user to bulk-watch all the articles within that category and view changes dedicated to that category in its own tab. This could be refined with an option to "include all sub-categories" in the watch.

There should be a means to display users watching a category so that they can say "hi" to each other, in this way societies can form around categories; they would, in effect, become a less sophisticated form of WikiProject.

Bringing in WikiProjects

WikiProjects do great work and this needs to be supported. Any social networking enhancements should help WikiProjects to collaborate more effectively but it is also desirable to raise their profile in order that they may recruit new members. WikiProjects would make an excellent training ground for new users as they are more likely to be and feel supported amongst a small group of users rather than up against the community as a whole. Wikiprojects can adopt the role of welcoming users who begin editing in their field. It is proposed that by strengthening and promoting WikiProjects that a feeling of social interaction and bonding will come about.

As things stand it is not clear that an article comes under the auspices of a WikiProject until one visits the talk page. The casual reader or first time editor is unlikely to realise it.

Since membership of Wikiprojects is desirable, it is proposed that WikiProjects make their presence felt on the article itself. Precisely what format this takes is open for discussion but could include one of:

  • A small box akin to current boxes for, for example, notifying the reader that there is further content on another project (eg Wikiquote).
  • A panel below the 'category' panel that displays links to the Wikiprojects the article is relevant to.

Once articles are categorised as being of relevance to a WikiProject it is possible that someone editing the article could be presented with a pop-up which says "This article relates to Wikiproject X. Would you like to join? [Yes / Not Now / Never / What's this?]". The user's choice will then present them with further content guiding them into the project.

Messaging and Messaging 'Feeds' via Watchlists

It is assumed that Liquid Threads will be introduced to all projects.

One important aspect of social networking sites is the ease of communication amongst members and the ability to message people that belong to specific groups or to announce to followers.

As things stand a watchlist provides a one-line entry summarising an edit, it is then for the user to explore the precise nature of that edit.

It is proposed that a watchlist be configurable so that a user can choose to see the whole of a post to a Liquid Thread within the watchlist and be able to 'reply' from that same vantage point.

In effect, this will enable users to see a new post and reply to it with one click. The present process would be to a) see the summary in the watchlist b) click to go to the discussion and view it and c) reply.

Experience of the user when all the above innovations are in use

Here are some examples of how a user might experience Wikipedia with all the above enhancements in place.

Example 1

The user arrives at 'Vietnam War' to read the article. The article makes him aware that the article is associated with WikiProject Military History. Noticing a spelling error the user clicks 'edit' and corrects it. On pressing 'submit' a pop-up appears asking the user if he would like to join the project. He clicks 'yes' and is taken to a page explaining the Wikiproject further. By clicking 'yes' the user now has a tab in their watchlist called 'Military History' which lists all edits made to articles that are in the category.

Example 2

An experienced user who is interested in Science Fiction and the Vietnam War goes to his watchlist and selects the Sci-Fi tab. Here he sees edits made to articles in that category. He also views, in full, messages posted to relevant talk pages. Noting an addition to a discussion he is involved with he clicks reply within the watchlist and adds his comment to the ongoing discussion.

Example 3

A user newly interested in China visits Category:China and clicks the sub-category 'Chinese culture'. On this page he sees relevant articles and also a button saying "add Chinese culture tab to watchlist". Clicking on this he now has a new tab whenever he visits his watchlist displaying relevant edits and posts to talk pages. Furthermore he can access a list of other people who are watching that category and has the facility to send a message to all of those users by posting on the (sub)category's talk page.

Statement of intent and purpose of the above

What should happen, as a result of the above, is that users with shared interests come to group themselves around WikiProjects and/or categories. And with easier access to each others messages and an easier way to respond, they will talk more on their topics of interest. The watchlist will no longer be just a venue for noting "a change has been made" but will provide some full content that can be acted upon within the watchlist itself. In essence the watchlist has now moved some way closer to being a Twitter-style feed (without any consequent dilution of the intent of Wikipedia, to provide knowledge; not a place for idle chatter).

The aim has been to build on what we already have; watchlists and categorisation, so that the enhancements require an evolution rather than entirely new software.

Potential problems and remedies

Criticism of a move towards social features has centred on its potential to create and facilitate cabals and partisan interest groups. If the concept of 'joining' categories/groups were initiated there would be, to pick just one example, the ability to join en:wp's abortion sub-categories; category 'pro-choice movement' and category 'pro-life movement'. It is not hard to imagine that two opposed groups could form and start throwing rocks at each other.

In spite of the fact that we already have policies to sanction unproductive fighting and hostility it would be useful to be able to turn off the 'join' and other social functions of a category were a group deemed to be harming the project.

Frank Schulenberg's ideas

Frank Schulenberg was asked "Any ideas for improving Wikipedia?

Add social networking features and remove technical barriers for participation:

  • Make it easier to get a new user account; setting up your user page and uploading a picture as part of the account creation process (giving Wikipedia a more human face)
  • Fight the “everything­is­done” impression: Let new editors specify their areas of interest during account creation. Then create an "articles of your interest area that need help today" feature
  • Connect new users to others who are in that subject area – ”People who are also interested in what I'm interested in." Hook people into parts of the community.
  • Add features to keep track what your friends do – “Articles your friends improved in last X hours
  • Add a rating feature with an option to keep track of which articles your friends rated. Could be a reason for you to come back.
  • Add a feature to invite people to Wikipedia (like Facebook and other sites have)
  • Improve the collaborative and social features of Wikipedia."

Another concept: Social networking for content evaluation

Idea is

to provide means to attach additional resource to wikipedia’s article: external URL, advertisement, news.

There is one problem to implement it...

The challenge is keep reasonable quality of attaching content, avoid vandalism, self-interested promotion etc.

Solution is to use social network of “trusted adviser” for grading content. Conception is “social network of advisers instead of hierarchy of editors”.

We propose to use one-way relationship "trusted adviser" instead of bidirectional "friend" in typical social network. This mean user choose other users whom he is trusted too. For example he can choose to thrust to some well known expert.

User know expert, but expert need not to know user.

Also it is impossible to impose oneself on anybody as expert.

Friends can be "trusted adviser" each to another. For example if my friend is keen on history I thrust to his grading. Also I can trust to anybody he trust.

Tagging for social network

Some social networks uses tags to classify information. In the proposal content (url, advertisment, news) is attached to wikipedia articles. From this point of view it is collaborative tagging system, where controlled vocabulary is wikipedia articles.

Requirements to wikipedia articles are reasonable requirements as well for tags in social networks Wikipedia articles are from quite diverse areas and number of topics is growing.

Vision from viewpoint of community health

Wikipedia is backbone of service. It contains “undisputable information”. There is concordance about this knowledge, an there is no debates and different opinion(practically).

Disputable information is attached to articles. Such attached information is different for different users.

Approach is do not try to achieve concordance on some disputable topic. But provide information to person accordingly his views. Person implicitly declare his views by selecting “trusted adviser” then building his own social network. Certainly user anytime can obtain information from other viewpoint by selecting other “trusted adviser”.

So different points of view can coexist without fighting each other.

Additional information: Proposal:Fusion_of_social_network_and_Wikimedia