The first experience for new users to the English Wikipedia

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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.

01:31, 12 March 2011

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.

02:28, 12 March 2011

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.

02:44, 12 March 2011

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...

03:20, 12 March 2011

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.

05:11, 12 March 2011

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.

01:18, 13 March 2011

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. ;-)

06:02, 14 March 2011

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.

09:54, 12 March 2011

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.

11:55, 12 March 2011

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. ;-)

06:18, 14 March 2011

"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.

18:16, 13 March 2011

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.

20:16, 13 March 2011

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.

20:00, 13 March 2011

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!) 07:24, 12 March 2011 (UTC)

07:24, 12 March 2011

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.)

07:34, 12 March 2011

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.

10:01, 12 March 2011

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.

04:28, 13 March 2011

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.

04:46, 13 March 2011

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.)

08:02, 13 March 2011

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.

14:58, 13 March 2011

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.

10:30, 13 March 2011
Edited by another user.
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.

02:48, 13 March 2011

In the old days, people would actually just jump in to new articles and help with fleshing them out -- sadly no more, everything just gets deleted. There's nothing that has hurt the new user retention more than this in my opinion.

18:13, 13 March 2011