message to community about community decline

message to community about community decline

Dear all:

The Wikimedia Board of Trustees just completed its two-day meeting this weekend in Berlin. We devoted the longest time to discussing declining trends in editing activity and our collective response to it. I encourage everyone to review Sue’s March update, and the editor trends study itself. It is a deeply important topic, and each report is only a few pages long.

The Board thinks this is the most significant challenge currently facing our movement. We would encourage the whole movement - the communities, wikiprojects, Chapters, Board, Foundation staff - to think about ways to meet this challenge. We know many contributors care about this and have worked on outreach and hospitality in past years. We are considering how we can help make such work more effective, and ask for suggestions from the community to this problem now and to invite discussion and suggestions.

Greetings, Ting

Wing20:20, 27 March 2011

Hi Everyone,

Looking at Foundation-L and some message here it seems that our natural reaction is to immediately question the numbers and the underlying studies. We are Wikimedians and will not rest until we are sure that we are looking at 100% accurate numbers.

We could also look at this another way. Looking around me and talking to people about Wikipedia (and sometimes the other projects) I hear a lot of stories which demonstrate our inability to welcome everyone and motivate them to become regular contributors. The data strongly suggests the same thing. Instead of doubting the numbers, lets just assume that we are not doing well enough in this department. As one "old timer" told me last week: "Over the past years I have seen the community become more inward focused, more unfriendly to newcomers and more rigid.... and there was nothing I could do to stop it... "

While discussing this at the board meeting I heard examples of people that are doing great work in this area, but we need to do more. At a past Wikimania I asked someone what they did within the projects, her answer was: "not much"...."I just welcome new people and help them find their way". At that time (and I think this still persists on some level) we seem to value "true editors" more than those that perform other tasks. I don't have enough insight to see if this still the case, but my view is: helping new users find their way potentially has an impact that is way higher than editing...

While encouraging those that are doing this hard work now, I invite others to stop doubting the data, and simply focus on the fact that we have a lot of work to do and lets try to solve this together. It could be something simple like really helping out a new user once a week or sharing a great idea which we can execute together. Our projects are growing, and our contributor numbers are not growing with them. That is hurting quality, and at the end of the day... thats what we are judged on.

Jan-Bart de Vreede Member of the Board of Trustees Wikimedia Foundation

PS: Copied to Talk page on Wiki [4]

Jan-Bart17:15, 28 March 2011

Oh, you are retaining editors, just not the right kind. It is a natural selection after all, just based on wikibrawling skills. To quote en.wp arbitrator "Who could have known that someone could get away with such behavior on Wikipedia with only a single 24 hr edit-warring block." (google this sentence for context), 29 March 2011

I agree with the view that Wikipedia (and its sister projects) is preferentially retaining the wrong kind of surviving editor. See this Summary Diagnosis for the details.

Moulton11:30, 1 April 2011

May I suggest posting something like the following to wmf:Main Page or another highly visible page.

The foundation's number one priority this year is attracting and retaining new users. We would like everybody's help converting new users in to long term contributors. This would mean spending less time deleting articles, reverting edits and other things that discourage new user participation and more time praising new users, encouraging them and teaching them how to create quality content. Please see strategy:March 2011 Update and strategy:Editor Trends Study for more information. Thank you for your support.

Then allow people in positions of influence to sign it. No comments, just a date and signature (i.e. Jimbo, WMF staff, stewards, bureaucrats, developers, admins, etc.). That way Wikipedians can read it in a few seconds and see if users they respect agree with it. I believe this would have a much bigger impact., 29 March 2011

Please, please let's stop referring to the people who edit Wikipedia articles as "users". For one thing, people who read Wikipedia think of themselves as using the encyclopedia. Let's use the term editors for people who edit. Or participants. Or, at worst, contributors (though potentially confusing with those who donate money).

And to implement this, it would be really, really nice if the "User" and "User talk" namespaces were renamed. (Yes, it can be done: the "Image" and "Image talk" namespaces were changed to "File" and "File talk".)

Let's also keep in mind that when technical support people talk about "users", that very often has a semi-derogatory tinge. Worse, the other common use of the term "user" is for drug addicts. John Broughton 01:12, 1 April 2011 (UTC)

John Broughton01:12, 1 April 2011

Hi John!

My name is Brandon, and I am a Foundation employee. I want to make a comment about your concern vis-a-vis the "user" nomenclature.

It may (or may not) surprise you to know that within the Foundation we have a rather rich lexicon regarding our various types of users. Most of our terms revolve around function (e.g., "readers", "editors", "spellcheckers," "patrollers"), a few around actual status ("registered", "anonymous", "autoconfirmed") and some around motivation ("troll," "mentor", "newbie"). All of these terms are subsets of a larger group, "users."

I'm going to disagree with you that technical people think of "users" in a negative light. The use of the term "user" as "any consumer of the product" is and has been common practice in the computer science (and other) industry for decades (long enough that it was considered a widely understood term when Tron was released in 1980). The fact of the matter is that certain industries use certain well-understood terms to create a common vocabulary. Sometimes these terms have different meanings outside of the industry. Since "User" is the common, widely-accepted term for user interface and computer science professionals, we're going to stick with that, I think.

As an aside, I have always had a dislike for the terms "readers" and "editors". That's a very binary distinction, and it actually doesn't mean much when you look at how those distinctions have classically been made (that is, "readers" = "people without accounts"; "editors" = "people with accounts"). We pay very close attention to the processes regarding what we call "anonymous" and "registered" users (we don't call them "editors" since the bulk of user accounts have only 1 or 0 edits). The reason this distinction (for us) is important is the difference in presumptive rights that the two types possess (for example, anonymous users cannot create articles on the English Wikipedia).

Depending on what we're thinking about, we may look at the user base sliced by status, motivation, function, or a vector of any one of the three (e.g., "newbie trolls who patrol recent changes" or "experienced mentors", etc.)

At any rate: no one in the Foundation thinks of "users" as a derogatory term. And, to quote Tron himself, "I fight for the users".

Jorm (WMF)06:34, 1 April 2011

Would you like to rename the User: namespace?, 1 April 2011

We're actually trying to sort out the various categories of users/contributors/participants now:

Nimish Gautam17:32, 1 April 2011

While I agree, that the term "user" is completely normal, non-offensive, and standard practice when discussing software, I'm not convinced that using that terminology in the UI is non-negotiable. Your suggestions however seem to move towards more specific terms, which imply contribution. While indeed to have a user page you must make at least one edit, it's probably not a very genuine term until they contribute productively to the project elsewhere. If there exists a more appropriate term than user, we should consider it seriously, no matter what language was used in a movie made nearly 30 years ago - I just don't know what that term is at this point, so it seems that user remains the most sensible option.

Another thing to consider is that moving a namespace involves keeping the old one around as an alias, and then you have most content linking to the User:* namespace, and the rest linking to the <alternative term>:* namespace. This is unlikely to improve the user experience more than it degrades it.

Finally, what do other sites most commonly refer to their users as? A very important usability guideline that might be relevant here goes something like, "meeting the users expectation is always better than not."

Finally, can someone weigh in on how this gets translated? Is this issue relevant to English only?

Trevor Parscal18:00, 1 April 2011

I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that "User Name" is a pretty common interface term that users expect.

Jorm (WMF)18:23, 1 April 2011

I agree with you that 'user' is sensible nomenclature for people. But if you're referring to their home pages, I think we could start saying "Profile" or similar instead.

Andrew Garrett10:45, 3 April 2011

The American Psychological Association no longer recommends calling people "subjects" in experiments.

At the MIT Media Lab, in our academic papers, the emerging practice is to call them "people" or "participants."

The only two communities that routinely call people "users" are drug addiction and online communities like Wikipedia, so that antiquated terminology is now being deprecated at MIT as well.

On Wikipedia, we find "Users" who are treated as "lusers" to be mindlessly clobbered by a misguided cadre of adolescent Keystone Kops with their toy banhammers, as if Wikipedia were a lame clone of Zynga's Mafia Wars.

Moulton21:02, 8 April 2011

That's a great idea for framing the message. I'd like to see us do this, perhaps as a site-banner for logged-in users. What sort of simpler one-line message could we put on the main page or in a banner for readers rather than editors?

SJ+22:56, 8 April 2011

In my opinion, the decline in participation by new editors — especially editors with relevant academic credentials and academic depth in their chosen field — is due to a pathological hostility toward outsiders.

The core community has grown insular, territorial, and antagonistic toward those outside the sphere of influence of the tribal leaders who run the various territorial cabals of the projects.

Instead of engaging in collaborative learning and collaborative editing (as one would naively expect from a 21st Century learning community), the established editors have mastered the art of competitive editing, ofttimes gaming the complex and bewildering hodge-podge of ad hoc rules to gain an editorial advantage over less experienced rival editors. At times this departure from the norms of fairness and collegiality borders on dispiriting levels of sociopathy.

One of the most off-putting and offensive practices of Wikipedia is the cavalier application of such inflammatory tools as blocking and banning of scholars who have come in good faith to improve the accuracy and quality of the content of the English Wikipedia and its sister sites under the WMF umbrella.

As I have said before (on more than one occasion), I defy anyone to find so much as an ounce of collegiality or congeniality in reprising such anachronistic Bills of Attainder.

Thomas Jefferson was demonstrating collegial insight when he led the civilized world in eschewing and abandoning Bill of Attainder, having recognized that it's a corrosive and corrupt tool of government that inevitably sinks any regime that comes to rely on it.

Shortly after the Founders outlawed Bill of Attainder in Article I of the US Constitution, the British followed suit, similarly abandoning both Parliamentary Bill of Attainder and Monarchial Bill of Attainder.

I am disturbed and dismayed to witness so many misguided administrative officials reintroducing this antiquated relic from the rubbish heap of political history into the prevailing practices of Wikipedia. Is this the kind of unwise practice the Trustees of WMF wish to teach to impressionable youth of the 21st Century? Can you imagine what would happen to anyone who tried to adopt and employ that hoary and unsustainable practice in the real world of an authentic 21st Century learning organization?

Moulton 05:04, 1 April 2011 (UTC)05:04, 1 April 2011

Well Moulton, you got that right. And to all you others who might see my comment, imagine how gobsmacked I was when requesting advice and possible assistance from an administrator on the English Wikipedia admin noticeboard, only to be booted to the incident noticeboard by an admin whose edit comment was something like 'into the mouth of hell with you'. Coincidentally and in a completely unrelated context, that same editor was quite conspicuous on the Jimbo Wales page very shortly later ingratiating himself in a most charming manner. Dr Jeckyll and Mr Admin.

Then, on the incident noticeboard, in short order, three admins more or less (mostly less) politely told me to go away, accused me of trying to pursue a hidden agenda, and threatened me with admin sanctions for disruptive editing, all because they persisted with the assumption I was trying to side-step an existing article's talk page; none of them looked to verify my repeated assurances that this was not the case. My original request for advice and assistance is in limbo, possibly waiting to drop off the admin incident noticeboard because no administrator will now touch it with a barge-pole.

We have administrators who refuse to offer advice and assistance? I am absolutely astonished. What sort of culture have we created where being approached for advice is seen as a subversive nuisance rather than as the pre-emptive flattery it is?

But enough about the whiney 'me, me, me' act. Before we have more of the Gardner infantilism about barnstars and page banners, and all the other shiny nothings some people collect, that's not, in my experience, what makes intelligent, dedicated people want to edit or create articles. What motivates them is the prospect of being able to contribute to an information repository they already use, but in which they see flaws. Those same people, however, won't put up with any snotty bullshit to give freely of their time and expertise. If you want to work out how to attract and keep such people, put the damned statistics away and get in here to find and talk to a few of them. Regards Peterstrempel 14:33, 4 April 2011 (UTC)

Peterstrempel14:33, 4 April 2011

In some cases, the level of hostility from the Adminstrative Cabalistas crosses the line into Cluster B Sociopathy. I've begun to poll world-class experts on how to deal with tin-badged wikicops who manifest the telltale markers of Abusive Personality Disorder. The world-class experts tell me that solving this problem is not only beyond my pay grade, it's beyond their pay grade, too. One of the experts (whose name is Hope) ironically urged abandoning hope, declaring the problem intractable and insoluble.

Moulton22:10, 4 April 2011

I just think that a WYSIWYG editor is needed especially for the Wikipedia language which is not very popular in their country (such as Chinese, Baidu & Hudong is more popular in mainland China so we need to help with getting it become more popular.)

Waihorace13:57, 2 April 2011