Discussion in the Wikimania Discussion Room

Last August, Iolanda Pensa and I had the honor to facilitate a discussion at the Wikimania Discussion Room on the topic of Welcoming and retaining new users. This discussion was set up as a brainstorm session, and was one of the more rewarding experiences I had during Wikimania. In the session we focused on ideas on how we as a community can help new users become and remain involved. I hope that some of the ideas will be inspiring to you!

The round table discussion took place during Wikimania and was self-selected. Everyone was welcome to join, there was no expert panel and there was little preparation. The goal of the discussion was to come up with 30 ways to help new users on Wikimedia projects become and remain involved. We wanted ideas that did not depend on the Wikimedia Foundation or affiliate organizations, or on developers. I’m very glad to be able to say that 60 ways to help new users were shared – no doubt with some overlap, but still remarkable! At the end of the discussion we asked every participant to make a commitment for the coming month on how they would personally implement some of the 60 different methods to help new users.

Many people showed up

The ideas brought forward were all over the place. You can find the original list in the discussion notes. In this post I would like to share an abridged list, where some points are merged and clarified.

I encourage every experienced user to browse through this list and explore the different ideas. Similarly to the participants in the discussion, please commit to one of them in the coming weeks – if you want, you can do so publicly by posting a comment on this blog post. Your commitment might serve as encouragement for others to do the same!

Lodewijk Gelauff, facilitator of the Wikimania Discussion Room and volunteer at Wikimedia Netherlands

List of approaches (abridged)

Mentorship:

  • Form tandems between experienced editors and newcomers.
  • Mentorship space/program. Contributors may be matched to new users based on similarity of interests (enwiki).

Welcoming:

  • Send a welcome message, with a direct contact link. For example: “Hello, I’m Trizek, please contact me if you need assistance.”
  • Use Snuggle – A tool for experienced editors to welcome good faith newcomers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Snuggle
  • Join the “Teahouse” (enwiki; hewiki).
  • Find people who are willing and able to communicate in a friendly way – and new users should be channeled to them (where do I land after I created an account?)
  • It’s better to help five new users in a personalized way than to post 50 welcoming templates.
  • Organize/attend in-person meetups to help address the gap between ideal (“anyone can edit”) and reality (“it is tough”) – meetings that can be attended by new users.
  • Invite the new users to meetups – meet the contributors – put faces behind username.

Do not bite the newcomers:

  • Slow down the medium experienced users (~6 months of experience) that are overly enthusiastic and tend to ‘bite’ new users.
  • Rewrite messages into apologies (“we’re sorry if we didn’t understand what you intended; we had to revert your change”).
  • When interacting with new users, be more friendly.
  • Take “don’t bite the newbies” more seriously. Introduce (or enforce) a punishment for biting new users.
  • French Wikipedia had a message with a shark – “you have bitten a newbie” (no more biting newbies at fr.wp now, template has been deleted…)

Less is more:

  • Write shorter and clearer help and welcome messages with clear links. Help pages with 20 links are too much – a two sentence help message is better.
  • Make less use of templates in communication with new users; take more personalized action.
  • Reduce the number of rules (Ignore all rules at enwiki)

Give assignments:

  • Deliberately seeding small errors that are easy to fix. Or perhaps make them on sandbox/non article space? (Wikipedia adventure does that).
  • Organize a Wikipedia semi-regular scavenger hunt. Ask people to fulfill simple tasks, like “fix a dead link,” “fix a grammatical error” and reward them for that.
  • Provide a list of articles that new users can try to edit. (supposedly there’s an example of this on enwiki).
  • Give new users a list of assignments to do. Work queues that people can pick from, based on their interests.
  • Encourage people to play “The wikipedia adventure” (enwiki), or “the tourist bus” (cawiki).
  • More ways to contribute that are safe and have less drama – not only article creation/editing, like images, geo location, more fact checking, cleanup, checking external dead links.
  • Encourage micro editing thorough games.
  • Invite new users to advance in the stages of micro games.

Better training:

  • Produce and share a video of a new user seeing a mistake, going in and fixing it.
  • Set up some form of online training course on how to be a Wikipedia contributor.
  • Train experienced Wikipedians on how to welcome to new users.
  • Training in social manners/communication for experienced users and admins!

Better communication/documentation:

  • Reinforce that edits are live and seen by the whole world, use that as an intrinsic motivation.
  • Make visible how much training in editing someone has. Positive reinforcement for users investing – a progress bar to show how experienced they are.
  • Create a link page from which there is a an organised link tree to ALL possible instructions that the new user never finds.
  • Explain the basic principles of Wikipedia / Wikimedia projects in a friendly and understandable manner even if it is obvious to you and create instruction pages where these are explained in an understandable way.
  • Re-educate experienced users to use more friendly communication.
  • Give credit for being friendly to newbies, recognition, (gamification here?).
  • Encourage the use of discussion pages.
  • we need a much better manual and shorter summarized rule book (each rule is 8 pages long) – every rule should be a single sentence – and then put all nutshells in one page (“WP:Plain and simple” on enwiki?)
  • New editors want to create articles – and the feedback comes after weeks – speed up the process of checking new articles and giving feedback and improve the quality of the feedback.

Positive reinforcement:

  • Giving new editors recognition or a reward or a badge to show that they have learned something – a barnstar that you get for learning something – and each time you learn something the barnstar gets bigger. (example from enwiki) This may expand to include recognition of experienced users who complete education in nonviolent/civil communication or provide hospitality to new users.
  • Show after a week or month how many people saw the change and were positively affected.
  • Monthly emails showing how many people read the page you edited and used your knowledge, with a message like “the change you have made helped this amount of people.”
  • Give a “thumbs up” even for little things – Use ‘Thank you’ button right next to editor contributions.
  • Give recognition of outstanding edits (example dewiki: three level “barnstar type”).
  • Community post “achievement of the week” (enwiki).
  • Choose “contributor of the month” or “of the year” by the community.
  • More motivating messages – we are used to saying “work not good” but don’t get exercise giving out more positive messages.

Other:

  • Consider the expectations and the clash between expectations and reality – find ways to measure why new contributors leave.
  • Be sensitive to the different types of problems in different wiki’s – because every community has a different size and history, they work differently.
  • Recruit new people (events, museums, schools…)
  • Place a banner on Wikipedia with an explicit invitation to edit: if you want to edit follow this link and people are invited to meetup (But this should be displayed as part of the software, not an advertisement).
  • Do better research on why people do not edit even if they want or why they do an initial edit but do not become ongoing contributor.
  • Create a list of good ideas on meta. (Action point: share this list with the list of attendees of the discussion).
  • Introduce a “Panic button”: “here you can get help.”
  • Provide a way for new users to give feedback on how they have been treated.
  • Encourage new users to communicate with each other about their experiences.
  • Improve the (welcome/warning) templates to make them look less impersonal.
  • Provide a safe space for new users, such as a Draft namespace.
  • Make the edit button more inviting: for example, don’t show a blank page when creating a new article. Boost the confidence of new users.
  • Be humble in the front of expertise of new users who happen to be expert – recognize experts when they come around.
  • Specialist groups: specialist gathers users with expertise around a subject.