The first experience for new users to the English Wikipedia
Based on comments I've seen around the net, the first thing many almost-new users to the English Wikipedia do is create a new stub article on their favorite topic and watch it get deleted via any of the many deletion processes within a small span of time. Without slinging names around or blaming everything on the deletionists...
In my mind, the underlying human factors issue here is that the standard Wikimedia way of dealing with problems is to write lots of lots of text about it that only gets read if you already know everything in it. Short & simple = better, especially if you're writing to new users.
Most people will not read Wikipedia:Your first article, WP:N, WP:V, and WP:NPOV top-to-bottom before starting a new article. Certainly not WP:BLP. We need to find a way to condense the most important parts of Wikipedia:Your first article into under a page that can be quickly read before contributing. Sort of like a "forum rules" page. It should also include links to all of the above, plus other helpful pages like WP:Writing better articles and The Missing Manual (which are decidedly nontrivial to find unless you know where to look). However, there needs to be a strict size limit on this introduction; anything added must be compensated for by condensing something else. If it gets too big, it won't get read.
I've never used the article wizard. What does it give me, other than less control over the text I'm creating? ;-)
The first thing to ask yourself is, "Are you doing things right, or doing the right thing?" And if something isn't working, that's a clue that doing more of the same isn't the corrrect answer.
I put this in a separate thread: How to Succeed in Editing Without Really Trying.
"If something isn't working, that's a clue that doing more of the same isn't the correct answer." Thank you for stating that concisely. I think there are two problems for new users at the moment:
- Hostile environment
- Overcomplicated introduction
I don't think the first one is fixable, regardless of how many cheerfully-impersonal templated introductions and awards we put on talk pages. We will always have a vocal minority of editors who are a pain in the neck; the more users we have, the worse the problem will be. So we should focus on the second problem by reducing the complexity of writing articles, learning the policies, and integrating into the community. Instead, we're mostly writing ever-growing quantities of redundant or supplementary text - "more of the same", if you will. I don't know how helpful your guide would be to a new user (really, not sarcasm - I don't know) but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
'Hostile environment' is indeed fixable. Same as any other form of bullying, the problem isn't the bully and the one being bullied, it's all the others standing around watching and saying nothing. Assume Good Faith is necessary but not sufficient. (Neither is it a suicide pact.) Attempted intimidation is not Wikipedian. I'm appalled at the number of 'experienced' Wikipedians (including Admins) who support actual instances of this as long as the "right" words and methods are used. As if. Someone's bullied, they protest, and are immediately hit with a string of 'WP:' things to intimidate them. And that's called 'playing fair'? I don't think so. But as with most weaponry, those intended for defense can, and are, used as weapons of offense by those who know how to (mis)use them. The solution is for the rest of us to put a stop to this nonsense by standing up for anyone we see being bullied. (For example, we should keep an eye on the deletion threads.) I was going to search for some examples of bullying in response to one of Sue Gardner's posts, and inadvertently ended up in the middle of one myself. Read this and the related this. I've been around long enough that I can find it hilarious, but if I had been a newbie I would have been shocked, appalled, and leaving immediately - and telling my friends that Wikipedians are the cyberspace version of gangbangers. Or Daleks. To be avoided at all costs.
Another thing that might help is a HELP ME I'M BEING BULLIED template anyone could put on his/her user page. Include it on the Welcome notice where it can't be missed. Something really simple to get help and support when it's needed. It's a lot easier to explain a problem on one's own Talk page than trying to negotiate the current obstacle course/bureaucracy to figure our both what to ask and how to ask for some 'intervention' - and generally being ignored anyway. (I will be forever grateful Wikipedians aren't in charge of setting up real-life emergency response operations.) Frankly, I'm surprised any newbies at all stick around.
As for the Guide, I expect it would depend on the type of article. Looking at the sort of article most newbies choose, I think it would work. If you know people who have never created an article before, you could ask them to try it out and report back. :-)
The "HELP ME I'M BEING BULLIED" template is a fantastic idea. To new users, confronted with practically no recourse to admin bullying, this would go a long way to help.
But there also needs to be penalties on the bullies. If an admin or "experienced" wikipedia editor habitually bullies newbies, they need to be shut down fast with a notice put on their user page BULLY and editing privileges removed for a while.
You don't have to be a newbie to experience this. I sit down to start an article and then I get interrupted or go to another room to get a reference book so I "Save" as I walk away from the computer. When I return even a few minutes later, someone (and invariably someone who hides behind a pseudoym) has Speedily Deleted it for some reason (usually notability, which hasn't been established because I am in the middle of writing it) or has decorated it with refimprove or something else.
OK, delete new articles that are obvious vandalism with speed. But otherwise I cannot see the point of deleting or complaining about a new article within minutes of creation (rather than being officious for the sake of one's own ego). Why not allow a few days for the article to be developed before assessing it for criteria like notability or complaining about lack of references? Many of us don't have a lot of spare time so have to work on things a few minutes here and a few minutes there. It takes a while to type in the content (especially if you have a disability) and even longer to do references and add images (again, the rapid deletions of one's images is another problem).
A lot of the problem seems to stem from very poor communication mechanisms within Wikipedia. Nobody who performs these deletions makes any genuine effort to first communicate that there is a problem (or it is so cryptic as to be unhelpful). They just barge in and delete or make a very public criticism on your Talk page. I think Wikipedia needs to support a private means for people to communicate -- it's impossible to follow a conversation spread over Talk pages -- and there is no reason why all communication needs to take place in public. What's so wrong with email?
There is a lot of concern (apparently) about loss of active editors and why so few women editors and why so few editors for poor countries (where often education standards are low and computer networks are unreliable). I think the policy of not biting the newbies should be extended to not biting anyone unless they have obvious bad intentions.
Just out of curiosity, without addressing the underlying problem...
Would it help (for the specific issue you mentioned) if we had an automatic, easy-to-use software process for creating work-in-progress articles in userspace and moving them to mainspace when you consider them "finished"? As in, you get a choice between starting an article "now" or putting it in limbo until you've finished working on it, then can transfer it back to mainspace in a single click. If nothing else, that would be helpful for experienced users working on an article over a period of time.
I think that would help a lot during article development. Although it probably wouldn't hurt to have some way to remind editors that they have these limbo articles, so they don't forget them and leave some good work lying invisible.
We can already do this manually with user subpages, and the page creation blurb even suggests doing so. Implementing an automatic UI for this would be relatively easy, I imagine.
Sounds like we have a new feature idea...
I think it might work better by adding a "Save in My Workspace" button (along with Save and Preview). When I sit down, I always think I am going to do whatever I have come to do in one sitting. But the reality is interruptions (if you want to know why so few Wikipedians are women, think interruptions!). So better to defer the decision until the point of standing up and walking away.
Actually, if the Preview button saved the article in the user's workspace as a side-effect, then that would kill two birds with one stone:
- the "interruption" scenario
- the "forgot I did a Preview not a Save and now I've lost my edits" scenario
Of course, increased use of the user workspace increases the risk of edit conflicts.
Adding more features means the manuals have to get bigger. Wikipedia is complex because the underlying MediaWiki software is easy to extend with new features. More features = more complexity = raising the hurdle for newbies.
This is not an argument against adding features, merely an observation about complexity resulting from the endless quest for power.
I don't expect people to read a dictionary before they write an essay, and I don't expect people to read a manual before creating an article. Or before doing an update, as in copying a citation format and changing the fields. We learn the cut and paste concept in kindergarten for a reason: it's easy, it's fun, it's fast. ;-)
Even without an automatic mechanism, there are better solutions than simply rapid deletion. If a new article is on a topic that may have a place in Wikipedia, but is too incomplete or poorly written to remain in article space, an experienced editor could move it to user space and explain on the author's talk page how to work on the article in user space and what needs to be done before returning it to article space. If the subject is one that has no chance of ever being in article space, but it was a good faith attempt to contribute something (e.g., a bio of someone's favorite high school teacher), then the contributor deserves a good explanation of why the subject does not meet Wikipedia's criteria for inclusion plus some guidance (possibly from canned text or a template) on how to find a suitable subject, how to develop the article in user space, citing sources, etc. On the other hand, if the article appears to be blatant promotion, it is reasonable to infer that that the author has a self-interest; there is no reason to expect that such an author wants to improve the encyclopedia.
This sounds like an excellent collection of ideas, especially moving into userspace new low-quality articles that would normally be deleted, which currently has to be specifically requested by the author after the article has already been deleted.
However, I would dispute the notion that all self-promotion articles are created in bad faith. If it's someone's first contribution, they may not understand that Wikipedia should not include pure advertising material. So it should still be deleted, but with a good explanation to the user why such content is not accepted.
Also, I think we need to cut down, not increase, the use of canned template messages. They feel very impersonal, and it's obvious when you get one that it wasn't written specifically for you. I will admit that it's better than nothing, though, which (going by anecdote) is the most common response at the moment.
Anyway, between automatic storing of unfinished articles in userspace and moving such articles out of mainspace rather than deleting them, I think we're rapidly approaching a potential solution to the don't demolish the house while it's still being built problem, which is one of the most frequent complaints on this page and elsewhere.
I really like the idea of moving an article into the author's userspace rather than deleting it. :-) imo that would solve a lot of frustration and anger problems, and not just with newbies. Even if the article isn't suitable at all for Wikipedia, the author might want to put it in a blog or an email or something. Who knows? Deleting it totally is adding insult to injury, and really is unnecessary. (I feel the same way about so-called 'merges' which actually consist of deleting one article while leaving the other as is. They're properly called 'deletes and redirects', but some Daleks realized they could get more buy-in if they suggested articles be 'merged' rather than 'exterminated'.) As for 'restoring' a deleted article, I did that once and only got the latest version. Which was not at all useful as the content had been edit-warred over for months. I was 'helpfully' told it was my own fault and I should keep copy of all my edits. As if. ;-)
"If a new article is on a topic that may have a place in Wikipedia, but is too incomplete or poorly written to remain in article space, an experienced editor could move it to user space and explain on the author's talk page how to work on the article in user space and what needs to be done before returning it to article space."
Or they could simply do what people used to do in the old days and help fill the article out and clean it up.
There are still quite a few people who go around cleaning up articles. The bigger difference from those halcyon good old days is the sheer number of newly created articles every day that are hoaxes, corporate spam, personal vanity pages, and articles with the sole purpose of attacking people. After a while, those who do cleanup can get a bit trigger happy, understandably so.
In a way, Wikipedia is a victim of its own popularity. Everyone who uses Google sees Wikipedia articles showing up near the top, and decide that it's a great way to promote their company, band, career, friends, or just have some fun.
Moving an 'incomplete' article to a userspace would also solve the problem of partisans creating endless numbers of cut-and-paste campaign brochure articles a week before an election - and demanding they not only be kept and 'under discussion' for that week, but that everyone else should do the real work of formatting them, finding references, etc. Meanwhile, the Admins 'interested in helping adjudicate' sit back until after the election is over. We need some way to fight that sort of game-playing with time-dependent articles. Related problem: same partisans flagging every 'opponent' article for speedy deletion, claiming no politician is notable until after an election. Except their own, of course. ;-) Bottom line: the sort of fair-minded Wikipedians we want to attract are rapidly turned off by perceived 'private agendas' which appear to be accepted/tolerated/encouraged, whether wrongful deletions or wrongful additions. Assume Good Faith - until proven otherwise. The second half is as important as the first half.
I rarely participate in deletion discussions, but when I do, I'm usually surprised at people who are arguing that a clearly 100% self-promotional editor would blossom into a useful contributor if only we didn't "bite" them by deleting their first attempt at an article.
The odds against that are so low that it's a poor bet to waste community effort on it.
Somehow we've got to get better at separating the self-promoters and hoaxers from the legitimate newbies so we can afford to "go easy" on the latter, but not waste time on the former.
Perhaps the "Save in my workspace" solution discussed above could help with that, especially if combined with some sort of mandatory mentoring for your first ever article before it leaves the workspace and is moved into article space. (I'd rather face a mentor's criticism than a deletion debate!) 220.127.116.11 07:24, 12 March 2011 (UTC)
You know, if I'd been hit with "mandatory mentoring" I would probably have run screaming.
On the other hand, I read and understood the infamous WP:notability before my first article, and made sure I didn't save before I had a nice lead paragraph with a clear notability claim. No deletion discussion resulted ;-)
In fact, my very first deletion discussion was when I spotted a blatant hoax, and took it to AFD. (Yes, I technically should have PROD'ed it, but the explanation of which process to use was ravingly unclear, and the hoax was 6 months old by that time. Besides, I prefer to err on the side of caution.)
We need to encourage more mentoring, but in a very friendly way. It needn't be mandatory. However, an experienced editor can mentor a newbie without asking permission, by posting on the newbie's talk page. I've done this several times. A majority of the ones I singled out for special attention wound up leaving the project after awhile because they wouldn't or couldn't conform to policy. But, I saved a few well-intentioned editors who probably would have been chased a way if I had not stepped in.
What new users need is for one experienced user to look at their idea for a new article for a few seconds before they sink hours into struggling with the markup etc. It's pretty easy for an experienced user to estimate the likely problems with notability and so on. The most important determinant for the new user is what conditional branch they happen to be on. Someone who wants to write about their garage band is in a completely different class from someone who wants to write about an obscure, but well-referenced mathematical theorem.
Our current method is to use late intervention. Let the new user blindly assume their new article idea is going to work, when in all probability the new user knows nothing about Wikipedia's content rules yet. After the new user has committed possibly hours of work under the expectation of success do experienced users happen by to provide "mentoring" by festooning the new article with ominous template messages.
I think that's the best approach that has been suggested, because of its simplicity, and because it engages a new editor with an experienced one. The current approach (instant deletion of articles that will likely never be kept) turns new editors off of Wikipedia. But simply allowing hours or days for the same article to be avidly worked on by the new editor, and then summarily deleted, is even more harmful. Having new editors start an article in their userspace, and then ask at a New Articles Noticeboard for feedback from helpful and welcoming experienced editors (and not experienced deletionists), would be ideal.
How would new users know to go to the New Articles Noticeboard while they're working on their first article? Would we just force every first article to be created in userspace and moved into mainspace only by an experienced user who has worked with the new user? It seems workable, but not everyone would agree that it's a good idea.
What if we created such a noticeboard, but didn't force people to go to it, instead just strongly suggesting they go to it when they create their first article? (And, if they didn't go to it, suggest again when the article gets deleted and, as above, moved into userspace.)
I'm sure a template could be created that notifies new users, when they try to create a new article, that they can/should/must start in their user space first. Guidance and instruction is desperately needed for new users, otherwise they will continue to be frustrated by the complexities of Wikipedia, usually never to return. Whether it's required, or suggested (with help in doing it), something has to be done to help new users who create articles from being permanently frustrated by Wikipedia.
I really don't agree. My first article was "self-promotional spam", and it's only my persistence and luck in finding somebody nice to take me under their wing that kept me from never editing Wikipedia. People are a bit more than one-dimensional, and it's not unreasonable for somebody who wants to contribute to Wikipedia to start writing articles about themselves and their immediate surroundings as a first step.
Last edit: 02:52, 13 March 2011
I find this "wait and see" approach quite interesting. It might bear research however on how many of the speedy deleted articles are really "bad" articles (vandalism, pranks, etc.) vs how many speedy deleted articles are actually 'articles with potential'. One of the problems I can see with "waiting" to see if an article will improve is that it might soon creat backlogs, I can already see a humongous category of "articles that might someday become Articles, because they just accumulate in some corner of the wiki. Recent Changes patrolling, with whatever tools it is today being done, is a good way to monitor new articles and act upon bad content. I am not sure if people speedy delete by monitoring recent changes, so let's say it's an assumption. If that is the case, it might be of interest to look at some other kind of "recent changes stuff"(something dynamic, rather than static like a category or a special page) where articles that have not been touched/improved in X days pop up again for active patrollers to look at. The thing would go something like this:
- a not-so-good-but-might-have-potential-because-we-don't-know-yet article is created.
- RC patrolling would tag it as "review in X days".We could think of a set of loose criteria that would make an article be tagged "review in X days" rather than a speedy delete (number of edits already made by that editor, lack of vandalims warnings etc.)
- The article would then pop up again in Recent changes (or something equivalent) after the X number of days to see if anything has been added, changed, improved. And maybe a gain after a Y number of days.
- Then deletion may take place if the article has not been substantiated.
The idea would be to decrease the number of bites of newbies, while still keeping the important part of RC patrolling, which is the "dynamic" part of it and try and avoid the "out of sight, out of mind" effect which I suppose might be a big part of speedy deletes that might be too quick. Just playing with ideas here, not sure of the technical implications, that kind of stuff. But trying to address that "incubation" period that people seem to need to get on track.
Last edit: 14:06, 12 March 2011
I'm very doubtful about this assumption that the first thing new editors do is to create new articles. In over five years on English Wikipedia, it seems to me that most people register in order to edit existing articles, or because they've been told on article talk pages that they ought to register. The 'biting' consists of an immediate reversion of their edit, maybe because it's unsourced, or wrongly formatted, or in poor English, with no edit summary, or an edit summary of "revert vandalism", or a put-down of their intelligenge and abilities. Often they are told that they are POV-pushing, and they may be subjected to savage attacks on the talk page. I became a user in 2005, and my first bold edit of an article - with an explanation on the talk page - was reverted within minutes by an established editor (and admin), who subsequently went to war with me on a number of articles, telling me that what I was doing was vandalism and that I would be blocked. The problem I faced is the same problem newbies today face: established editors, even if they remonstrate with their fellow-editor for his or her attitude, instinctively side with him or her because they like the article the way it is, and don't want some newbie to rock the boat. Or, if there is a POV issue, editors of the opposite POV gang up on the newbie, calling him or her a sockpuppet or SPA. This means that even if the newbie is savvy enough to go to the wikiquette page, or AN/I, or dispute resolution, it will never result in the established editor(s) backing down or being sanctioned. Bear in mind that if you use the word "bully", you are deemed to be in breach of AGF and NPA! That's why I'm sceptical about the idea of a "help me I'm being bullied" template. In the end, I feel that what the problem comes down to is the sense of community among established editors (even those who are perpetually at each other's throats), and the newness of a newbie. This is not something that can be easily solved by changing procedures or by "mentoring".
Looking at my contribution record, I find that I first made a contribution to talk pages in April 2007. I progressed to starting a new article in December 08. Since then I think I have started one other article and made amendments/additions to various others. Maybe I've been lucky (or conservative) but none of my contributions has been erased or reverted by anyone other than myself. However, when I first started editing, it was a lot easier than it is now, because the standard layout at that time provided a toolbar. I therefore revert to the old wikipedia format when I sign in. If I were thinking of starting to edit now, using the present format, I would probably give up.
Some people start fixing articles and don't create new ones for ages if at all - I was definitely in that group. But every year many tens of thousands of newbies start by creating an article. I've just looked at en:wiki/Special:NewPages and five out of fifty articles created in the last hour were by editors with redlinked talkpages, and that isn't unusual. Newpage patrol on EN wiki is an intimidating place and extremely unfriendly to newbies, so I doubt if many of the new editors we get there will stay with us, but it is where we meet and reject a large proportion of our newbies.
Most speedy deletions are "correct" as far as policy is concerned, and I've little sympathy with the vandals and spammers who are a significant proportion of these editors. Though I suspect we could re-educate/retrain and recruit a larger proportion of our copypaste merchants whose first article creation is a copyvio - remember every such article tagged as copyvio is an opportunity to create a sourced article.... Though not all are reliable sources or notable subjects.
However the editor survey will leave a lot of these article creators out because it didn't have access to deleted edits, and many of these newbies will have had all their edits deleted. My experience of looking at thousands of articles tagged for speedy deletion is that a disconcertingly large minority are overhasty or simply incorrect tags. Almost every time I go through the category of articles tagged for speedy deletion I find an incorrect tag and a bitten newbie, sometimes with a redlinked talkpage that means they might never know the fate of their article. Some of my fellow admins seem capable of clearing category speedy deletions at a speed that leads me to suspect that many incorrectly tagged articles are deleted per that tag.
Different people like to do different things. Some like to create stubs, some much prefer to add content to an article which already exists, some like to copyedit. I'm happy to have each and every one of them participate. That's what makes Wikipedia work. "From each according to ability, to each..." barnstars? never mind. ;-) Right now, I'd like to find some of those stub people, as each of the Ministries in the Cabinet of Egypt could use an article, even if it only starts off as a modified clone of one of the others. Maybe that will encourage one of the adders to expand it. I'm really not interested in holding my breath until someone who can do every step perfectly shows up, and I'm pretty irritated at those who are chasing everyone else away. What do we want? Content! When do we want it? Now! As opposed to, "after you've spent endless hours reading docs you don't understand and will never use, because that's what we like to do so we're going to make you do the same Because We Can - So There!" (What part of 'wiki' do those guys not understand?!) I can recognize the difference between someone adding junk that's cut and pasted from a brochure, and someone trying to add something or someone notable. There's no need to treat them all the same. Flatterworld 20:26, 12 March 2011 (UTC)
The new user's page should already come with a private sandbox page and a button to create a new sandbox page. It took me forever to figure out that you have to edit the URL string in your browser to make a sandbox page - lots of people don't know how to parse a browser string at all; they find things by clicking links or search.
And yes, new article deletion should be hard. We can be the encyclopedia of everything. If something is an orphan, then maybe there's a whole area of knowledge we need to fill in. - PKM 18:33, 12 March 2011 (UTC)
That's why I'd prefer a simple Template:Help Me rather than having assigned mentors. That allows a lot more editors to go through the list and help out on the things they know about, while skipping what they don't know about. (It also avoids a newbie being indoctrinated by someone who may not always be right but has Very Strong Opinions.)
I once created an article on Big Johnson, it got deleted and replaced with a new article with the exact same title. I then have created articles for ten figure companies such as Triumph Group, Inc. and CDI Corporation, both of which have flourished despite being recommended for speedy deletion. I have also created an article for Salary.com, which got speedily deleted without discussion. In the latter case, I think that Salary.com is a major player in the compensation and human resource management solutions field, and that instead of speedily deleting the article, the article should have at least gone to Articles for deletion for seven days of discussion. While I agree with the deletion of local organizations, the articles that I have mentioned in this post seem to be quite notable indeed. It is kind of discouraging for an article to be deleted, especially after having put so much work into it.
The problem with starting out with "Based on comments I've seen around the net" is that if Wikipedia improves and becomes friendlier, we won't see any large number of online comments saying "I created an article and it was not deleted and everybody is happy". Because it's only those who see their articles deleted that complain. Still, Wikipedia is growing in size and attracts new contributors all the time, so something must be working.
I like the idea to move incomplete articles to user space vice deleting. But I also think we should consider what is going on in the psyche of vandal wackers and deleters, especially if that is all they specialize in (never making content themselves). I'm all for deleting cruft. But I routinely make new stubs that PASS the NPP. But I never get any comment from the one who looked at it. Obviously all they care about is getting rid of the crap, but have ZERO interest in creation. They don't even take a quick minute to pen a sentence or two in the article talk. All stick, no carrot.
I'm not asking for a lot...but why does it not occur to them to engage with the content at all? I'm sure they chat up a storm in the IRC and the like. They should change their attitude of only thinking about eliminating the negative and also accentuate the positive. This blows their mind though...and they've never considered it. Are so engrained with the defend the wiki. And I'm not even asking them to stop wacking a single vandal or deletin a single article. But they have NO interest in the possible positive aspect of NPP!