Newbies or Better information?
Llywrch, Yes, it is absolutely worthwhile to worry about a decline in new editors. I also believe that quality of content is directly related to openness, and true openness can only be achieved through low-threshold access, which wikipedia does not currently have (by nature it is only available through internet, which still does not reach the whole planet etc.).
Sue, thanks for this study and the analysis. I do find these numbers fascinating and the discussions that accompany them (especially the work on female editors). I am still not quite convinced however about the magnitude of the problem. Yes, women are under-represented, as are Danes, Africans, Australians, retirees, and many other large groups of individuals. It would be helpful to say, select 100 articles from the 1911 encyclopedia and 100 articles from subjects on the WWII era (or any other notable event post 1912 copyright), and 100 articles that have been created on issues from on some US-based modern newspaper top-stories list and analyze the metadata on those articles, including the added edits to those 3 groups of articles over time.
Llywrch, I think it is an interesting idea to be able to offer different materials to passive members or newbies! I am not sure why you would want this for readers though. A more informative pop-up message to ip-users who have been blocked informing them what a block is would be a good start. I remember working for a company (no names) who used an intranet wiki extensively for product development and who linked back regularly to the live Wikipedia for detail information on basic terms. Their ip was banned probably because casual users there could not discern the difference between the two (or perhaps vandalism by disgruntled employees, who knows?). The people who worked there were completely dumbfounded by the message they saw (this was a few years back though). Jane023 09:19, 11 March 2011 (UTC)
Jane023, why do you "believe that quality of content is directly related to openness"? Is this a faith claim, or an observation based on some kind of evidence? Does anything in the real world work that way? For example, if we open up all the prisons, and eliminate police and door locks, will crime disappear? In every example I can think of, the way to increase quality is by weeding out incompetence and malice. There has to be a selection process of some sort, which recognizes and promotes competence and good faith. You want the recruitment to be open, of course, so you start the selection from the largest possible candidate pool. Wikipedia's selection process revolves around its astounding complexity. To edit on Wikipedia, a person has to be comfortable working within the minefield of things like en:WP:CSD, which punishes (often unwitting) transgressors with almost sociopathic indifference.
Also, why do you believe Wikipedia must be edited by everyone to achieve high quality? Isn't it more likely that once the pool of editors reaches some critical size, further increases in size will yield diminishing further improvements? (In other words, how many people does it take to write an encyclopedia? Ten thousand? One million? No previous encyclopedia has had as many editors as we do, I think.) If various groups feel less like learning how to edit on Wikipedia, how is that a problem? If Wikipedia's editors consisted only of white men, or only black women, as long as there were enough of them, they would still be a broadly diverse group. And Wikipedia is not supposed to contain original research. All we do is refactor information previously published elsewhere - and all that requires is the ability to read and write, not a particular gender or nationality. If the available sources themselves have bias, we have to reflect that bias faithfully, or else we violate en:WP:SYN.
Since I love to generalize, I will just go ahead and generalize on my earlier comments by saying that nobody is as smart as all of us. As to your remarks on prisons, though I am not sure how relevant that is to "openness", whole countries have been founded by groups of unwanted "criminals" from other countries... Jane023 13:45, 11 March 2011 (UTC)
Prisons are full of people who don't like to follow instructions made up by other people. In some cases the instructions are unjust, and then they are prisoners of conscience who may be admired in the future. But the typical prisoner is a person who does not cooperate very well with other people, for example someone who disrespects the property rights or personal rights of others. People who frequently get in trouble with the law (in a state with just laws) tend to be impulsive and with an ability to rationalize taking what they want by force. They also tend to be disproportionately young and male, for what it's worth.
I have heard of some countries that gained part of their population from penal colonies. Either those prisoners were well managed by people with fewer criminal tendencies, or enough of them outgrew their criminal tendencies as they aged to form a stable society. When criminals take over everything you may end up with failed state like Somalia.
Openness is great but only when accompanied by good faith and empathy. We want Wikipedia to be as open as possible to everyone who genuinely shares Wikipedia's goals. Most people do not share Wikipedia's goals entirely, and they can only choose to conform to Wikipedia's goals in their editing activity here if they read and understand the detailed description of what Wikipedia wants.
One of Wikipedia's goals, then, is that every editor will read and understand enough of the manuals to understand what Wikipedia is and isn't.
People who come to Wikipedia without any desire to read the friendly manuals are less likely to help, even if they mean well. Unless by some miraculous coincidence their personal goals align with Wikipedia's goals in every detail.
@Teratornis You might be a computer that only refactors information. I would not generalize that to everybody. Some people are actual human beings with passions, interests, beliefs and such ;)
It is true that humans are emotional. That is why humans are having a harder time becoming Wikipedia editors. To edit on Wikipedia requires essentially abandoning many normal human impulses, such as the urge to advocate for causes and write one's beliefs. Instead we are supposed to be neutral, and simply focus on refactoring previously published material without getting emotional about it. All we are supposed to do is summarize and attribute what other people have written about "notable" topics. The most important personality trait for a Wikipedia editor is wikt:sangfroid - the ability to remain calm for example when deletionists are calling one's work "crufty" and "non-notable".
I'm not suggesting Wikipedia's requirements for editors necessarily represent the highest possible form of human attainment, but rather that these requirements are distinctly unobvious to new editors. Most people who decide to start editing on Wikipedia have no clue what they are in for. They don't realize we have a thriving community of deletionists who have been getting better for years at destroying the work of successive waves of new users making the same new user mistakes. If we want to "fix" what is "wrong" with our "software", I'd suggest trying to make it more informative as to what editing on Wikipedia is really about. Editing on Wikipedia is about figuring how to defend what you want to write against the criteria for speedy deletion and all the other rules about what we cannot keep on Wikipedia. I'm thinking about those rules every time I edit. The new user probably doesn't even know those rules exist.
Imagine building a minefield, and noticing that fewer people are making it out alive each year. Is the solution to make the minefield look more enticing, so more people will blunder in without realizing it is a minefield? Or might it be better to clearly label all the mines before people step on them? I don't think it is charitable to lure people into a minefield under a false pretext. We should be honest about how many articles we delete. Why doesn't every first-time editor know that number?
Last edit: 19:45, 11 March 2011
I'm a newbie but very interested in these topics. For me quality increases through the diversity, accuracy, depth and engaging style of articles. Diversity is well served by newcomers, though they may not provide the accuracy, depth or engagement more experienced users do. I recently read about the diverse roles played by Wikipedians, and related to how each user takes on different roles. It seems that roles evolve too, and the role of a new user is to stir things up, inject new ideas, whereas an experienced user may spend more time refining, editing, mentoring and deleting. I imagine our goal would be to find ways of encouraging all users to adopt/retain the qualities of those at the other end of the experience spectrum so we can keep all aspects of quality high.