Part of the reason we have a problem with dealing with good faith new users is because we
assume they understand things like we do. They don't.
Try and imagine you are a genuine good-faith new user (hard for us, but I get to see them
face-to-face so I get some insight into their experience). Imagine that you have just
spent quite a number of minutes making your first ever change to a Wikipedia article. You
found it quite difficult, strange jargon, incomprehensible tool bars etc. Lots of things
didn't work, so you explore more menu options, blah blah blah. But you finally
prevailed! You saved your edit and you could see your change on the screen in the article.
Hurray! Do a little dance to celebrate! Sacrifice a goat! I must show Mum!
Then the edit gets reverted.
The first question to ask is how does the user know it got reverted.
* The article does not show their edit when they look at it later; they do not know it was
This is the likely scenario if they are not still logged in to their user account (or at a
different IP address if they did an IP edit) They find out next time they look at the
article. Remember how proud they are of that edit. They may show the article to someone
"look how I changed Wikipedia, hey, why can't I see the change I made?".
Now how do they react to this? They may be thinking "maybe it's awaiting a
review" (remember newbies don't know how things work) so they wait and wait ..
Maybe, perhaps after some waiting, they decide they must have not got it right. Remember
they struggled to do that edit; they found it difficult; they can imagine that they did
something wrong. So they might just give up thinking "I am not tech savvy enough to
change Wikipedia". Or they might think "I have to give it another go and see if
I can get it right this time. So they repeat the edit (possibly not being logged in) and
presumably it gets reverted again.
* they may see a an alert or notification so they know it was reverted
If they are still logged in or at the same IP address, they may see an alert or
notification. I say "may" because not being a new user I am not sure how they
are shown a reverted edit. Someone else who knows will have to answer this. But I do know
from face-to-face observation that new users often do not notice things in the user
interface like alerts, notifications, message etc even when they remain logged-in. Their
eye focus is entirely on the article content. Lots of studies of eye tracking and their
heat maps show us that this is normal behaviour on most web pages, people are focussed on
where they think is relevant to them. Since this user's experience of Wikipedia is
99.99% as a reader, they are 99.99% pre-programmed to look straight to the article
content. As regular contributors, we are probably far more aware of things like alerts,
notifications, etc (but equally would you notice a change in the elements of, say, the
left hand tool bar as quickly).
Assuming they see that there is an alert or notification, do they know to click the alert
or notification to find out that their edit was reverted? Again, stuff we take for
granted, but it's their first time. So they may still not know their edit has been
Assuming they managed to navigate the GUI to get to the revert notification, they might be
seeing the edit summary on the reversion and/or a talk page entry (probably a
Edit summaries are by their very nature short and they can be empty, or very cryptic or
use unfamiliar jargon or link off to pages full of more jargon [[WP:SOMEPOLICY]]. Messages
on talk pages can be longer but not necessarily any more helpful. For example, the
default Twinkle response for a revert (level 1 vandalism) says that the reverted edit
"did not appear constructive" and points the user to the Sandbox (not helpful)
or to the Help Desk (potentially helpful). Also, the user did an original VE edit, they
may be unable to interpret a page they are pointed to which uses any markup example (which
occurs if they have done something wrong technically rather than policy-wise).
If they got this far, it is very likely that although the user knows their edit was
reverted, they may still not know why either in general or in particular about what was
wrong with their edit. Or they may know what was wrong but be unclear on how to fix it.
Why was my citation not reliable enough? Etc.
Assuming they have not given up, they will probably feel the need to talk to someone about
their reverted edit. Depending on how they were notified of the revert, there are a range
of places that they have been shown as a place to have such a conversation. These include
their own user talk page, the user talk page of the person who wrote a message on their
user talk page, the Help Desk, the Teahouse, the article Talk page, talk pages of
Wikipedia policies, etc. So we don't know how they choose where to go but there are
problems with all of them. The first problem is technical. We are asking a new user who
needs help with Wikipedia to get that help via Wikipedia's methods of communication
(Talk) with which they are not familiar. Plus if they did their first edit with the Visual
Editor, they have the scary markup hurdle as well. So that's the technical hurdle to
asking for help.
But there are other hurdles in asking for help. They don't speak our language. They
don't how to provide a diff link for example, which may make it harder to anyone to
respond, particularly if their enquiry is not using the user account (or IP) of the
original edit (i.e. cannot connect the user account to the problem edit). So their
description of the problem could be quite confusing which may make it hard for anyone to
give them a good response and if the person responding is not the reverting editor, then
they may be unsure what problem the reverting editor (who might be a subject matter expert
familiar with reliable sources for that topic, conventions in that topic space) might have
seen in the edit.
The final problem is social. Now some of the places I mentioned above are just not good
places to go. Responding on their User Talk page *should* work but reverting editors do
not appear to actively watch such accounts for responses so their response may be ignored.
So even if they successfully write a message on one of these places, there is the
possibility that nobody is actively watching it, or that even if it is actively watched,
or just not think it is their responsibility to reply ("I didn't revert the edit,
not my problem"). The talk page of the reverting editor *should* get a response, but
it depends on their personal goodwill towards new users. Presumably the Help Desk or
Teahouse would respond, so these are probably the best places, but the newbie doesn't
Assuming someone does respond to their plaintive cry for help, how does the newbie know
they have received a reply? Remember they don't know about page watching. While the
folks at Teahouse etc do tend to ping (probably for this reason), it's very possible
that there may be a reply but they simply never see it (again, if they become logged out,
they will not see it). Again, are we relying on alerts and notifications to reach them.
OK, let's assume they've received the reply. They may now have an answer they can
work with or they may have be referred to read a policy page (which they don't
understand) or told to ask the newbie to ask at a different Talk page (e.g. the Help Desk
often tells the person to ask the question on the article Talk page).
I think if we draw the newbie revert experience out as a flow chart, it becomes very clear
that there are plenty of ways the newbie can reach a dead end or get into an infinite
loop, and perhaps not so many ways they can get to a sufficient understanding of what they
did wrong and how to do it right (assuming it can be fixed, as Ziko points out, not all
good faiths edits are acceptable to Wikipedia).
What I think this enumeration of steps draws out is that the things we could do to improve
the new user experience are:
1. find ways to communicate with them so they know their edit was reverted in the first
place (if they have an email address for their account, email them). Encourage them to add
an email address at account creation by explaining the benefits (currently it just says
"optional" without explaining how it will be used, at least there could be a
link called "benefits of providing your email" which could mention password
recovery and easier ways to get help to provide positive motivation to provide it)
2. provide individual feedback not generic templates in the first instance of reverting
(yes, I see the obvious problem with this and doubt we can do much to change the behaviour
of random reverting editors)
3. to get help, don't force them to use Talk, let them use email or chat (and by chat,
I don't mean IRC) that may be more familiar to them and make sure it happens in a way
in which they can't miss the reply
4. don't give them too many options on where to seek help -- try to funnel them to a
single place where they will receive individual specific help in newbie-friendly language
(the Teahouse is probably the best option if it had an email/chat interface), this means
making sure all the templated response systems include this information prominently (or
better still have a clickable link, see below)
5. automate the asking-for-help process in some way so that if they talking about a
reverted edit, that edit is presented to the person trying to help them (the not-logged-in
problem, can't provide a diff problem), ideally an revert communication (whether it be
an alert, a user talk message or email etc) should have a "click here to ask for help
about this reverted edit" and that clickable link will have the diff embedded in it
Apart from item 2 (which depends heavily on the time and goodwill of individual users),
these steps are all achievable. There may be some objection to increased use of email over
Talk because of the transparency but email communication is supported by Wikipedia. And I
can see if we encourage new users to communicate via email.chat, then they may expect to
continue to use those communication methods to be their communication mode as they become
more experienced users. It may be that we need some email/chat gateway to Talk (but then
we have to be careful that everyone understands the visibility of the email they will
send). Or of course we could just ditch Talk completely and move to Flow (or anything
vaguely 21st century). Why should it be so easy to have a conversation on Facebook and so
hard on Wikipedia? (How many colons do I need ...)
From: Wiki-research-l [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of
Sent: Sunday, 30 September 2018 5:01 AM
To: Wiki Research-l <wiki-research-l(a)lists.wikimedia.org>
Subject: Re: [Wiki-research-l] Results from 2018 global Wikimedia survey are published!
This discussion about reverts, combined with my recent experience on ENWP, makes me wonder
if there's a way to make reverts feel less hostile on average. Do you have any ideas
about how to do that?
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