Newbies or Better information?
- "Here, before you do anything, memorise this two-hundred-page manual. Then, when you begin editing, your work may suddenly and inexplicably disappear at the whim of some seemingly anonymous, malign entity or your modest efforts may unleash a torrent of harsh criticism from said entity."
Actually I would say our main problem is that we do not adequately warn new users about this before they start editing. What you describe is the reality of how Wikipedia is: if you want to edit productively here, you had better read a lot of manuals (and read them repeatedly, because many of the concepts take time to sink in). Over on the Help desk, a lot of baffled new users ask Why was my page deleted? - they ask because they had no idea that Wikipedia has a thriving deletion industry that feeds on newbies, until after they got suckered.
I think part of our problem is our misleading use of the word "Save". Most people have used productivity software on their computers, which has conditioned them to expect that when you save something, it stays the way you saved it, until you edit it again.
On Wikipedia, "Save" doesn't mean anything like that. There is no predictable outcome from saving. Instead you are spinning the roulette wheel. Or maybe spinning the chamber of the revolver pointed at your head.
It's hardly surprising that we are seeing a drop in new users. What do we think happens when we delete someone's article? They probably get angry, and tell all their friends about how they got suckered into wasting their time. Word starts getting around that editing on Wikipedia is not a fun thing to do.
We shouldn't pretend that just because we think we have all these righteous and pure reasons for deleting articles, we aren't doing incredible damage to the way people perceive us.