Feedback from New Editors

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I've been a new editor several times, in the sense that I start editing, maybe make an account since I've forgotten the last one, and quickly get disillusioned and leave. This has happened maybe 4 times over the last few years.

What usually happens is I'll see a place I could contribute something interesting too, or that clearly needs more information or accuracy, and I'll go from there. Invariably my first interaction with the Wikipedia community is with either a bot or a person telling me what they think I'm doing wrong. They're often polite, sometimes not, but they nearly always come across as supercilious and condescending. I (and other people I know) get a real "I'm better than you" vibe from a lot of experienced editors, even some who probably mean well.

For instance, the first thing someone told me on one of my talk pages was that my completely innocuous username might violate WP:Gibberish and WP:Huh?. Other times I've run into people on the talk pages citing WP:I'mRight, WP:GoAway, and WP:YouSuck in a ridiculously overdramatized 'discussion' over edits. The fact that the senior editors are much more familiar with these wikipedia policies means that they will always be able to justify their position in an 'edit war' -- whether or not they are misquoting the policy. (WP:NPOV and WP:OR, for instance, frequently become arbitrary slogans that each side in an argument is defining in a completely different way.) Ultra-possessiveness of pages and subjects, and over-aggressive arguing, citing, and mis-citing of policies drive many people away.

And of course the most irritating 'welcome' to Wikipedia - and probably the most common - is to have your edit reverted or your new article deleted. Notability is the most common reason, and the issue of 'notability' is usually decided by one or two senior editors who may or may not know anything about the subject in question. Another version of this is when an edit is flagged or outright deleted due to 'citation needed' when the information is indisputable to anyone who has the most basic knowledge of the subject. Rooting through a poor-quality book to find a line that says the equivalent of "Botanists study plants" or "Surfing is a water sport" should not be a prerequisite for editing.

Well, that's my feedback. I'm not sure how to change such an entrenched culture, or convince senior editors to stop viewing whole swathes of topics as 'theirs' (especially, good god!, when they have no idea what they're talking about). But it needs to happen before Wikipedia becomes a place for casual users to edit.

06:01, 14 March 2011

I am encouraged to see considerable use of "citation needed" tags and/or cleanup tags rather than outright deletion. I do understand references and I have found it to be quite difficult to do it properly on Wikipedia. Is there a 'fill in the blanks' form or something similar to guide the user (and make it much easier to get consistent syntax)? Notability will always be a thorny issue, and some of the rules are kind of arbitrary (even though necessary). I have experienced a deletion, but it was accompanied by a reason and a link to a relevant discussion that explained it further. That not only prevented me getting upset about the deletion, but also gave me a starting place for working out how to do better next time. The human touch is very good, but we can probably also improve bot notifications with a bit of thought.

07:11, 14 March 2011

There are citation templates, but my experience of them is they are more trouble than they're worth. It's almost impossible to find out how to refer to an article within an anthology, a book with multiple authors and a translator, to say which edition you are using, to figure out how to add the Google Books URL for the page ref . . . and the output looks bizarre unless you are used to Harvard-style refs. They are therefore not mandatory, but are there for those who like them, and I understand there's a way to get a link to them into your toolbar, but it involves downloading a widget. Personally I prefer acceptance of multiple citation styles, it keeps Wikipedia open to editors from different places and fields, but folks have produced systematised aids in this - and umpteen other areas. There are some really industrious and helpful people on Wikipedia. I wish the mindset was more that that's good.

03:50, 15 March 2011

I think it would be a great asset to give users sources. For instance, if Wikimedia could acquire a large amount of miscellaneous information, it could be ordered, structured, sorted, etc. by users to improve articles. Just like writing a research paper involves sifting through the whole library to produce a concise, detailed essay, so should writing an article have a supply of resources. These sources don't have to be orderly, just accurate.

In counterpoint, if we have the information, it's probably already in the encyclopedia...

Edit: Is Wikisource a credible source? Just curious.

00:37, 19 March 2011

(This is off topic but I am not going to let that stop me.)

I think it entirely depends on what source one obtains via WikiSource - but they have been chosen because someone thought they might be useful. For example, yesterday I made this edit. That's not a very good source, not because it's on de.wikisource or because it dates to 1889, or because it's in German, but because it's another encyclopedia. Secondary sources - for example, academic works on the history of the Cologne archdiocese or on the 15th-century politics of the German states - would be better. But since I started by translating the de.wikipedia article, my next step was to check its references (in this case sources) and use those I can get access to. Today and/or tomorrow I'll look for other works I can cite, with emphasis on non-encyclopedic books and articles. And that isn't a bad source - that particular encyclopedia (and the one I cited with the next 2 edits) are known to be good. As it happens the older one is available on wikisource, while the newer one is online in a pdf or something similar. That's not really the issue in using them - it's their nature as sources that matters.

I think Wikisource is laudable, and very useful for older stuff (for example, de.wikisource also has the text of all editions of Grimm's Fairy Tales, but handicapped by being restricted to sources free of copyright. GoogleBooks gives me access to far more and I don't think Wikipedia either can or should try to beat GoogleBooks at the digitization game. It would be a waste of effort, and with regards to helping editors, it would be analogous to those books that collect together articles on both sides of an issue to make it easier for students to research their first ever research essay. There's always more stuff in the rest of the library, let alone on the internet.

19:25, 21 March 2011