[Foundation-l] Biographies of Living People: a quick interim update

Michael Snow wikipedia at verizon.net
Mon Mar 9 04:03:30 UTC 2009

Sue Gardner wrote:
> And 4) I believe there is general support for the notion of  training
> Wikipedians to handle BLP issues well.  I personally strongly believe
> that handling BLPs requires a set of specific skills and abilities –
> for example, an excellent understanding of core Wikipedia policies;
> experience with policies such as notability that are particularly
> important in BLP issues; diplomacy, kindness and patience.  I am very
> interested in exploring further how the Foundation could support such
> training, and how it could be scaled up so everyone could access it.
> (I've been kicking around notions such as face-to-face training camps;
> training at Wikimania and the all-chapters meetings; the provision of
> support materials to chapters; monthly “train the trainer” webcast
> sessions, etc.)
I think one of the things that we've never done well at all is to 
actually teach people how to go about creating an encyclopedia, a 
dictionary, a textbook, a newspaper, and so on. We've only set up a 
space where people learn by doing, with one result being that we've 
privileged those who are autodidacts. The oft-noted inadequacy of our 
help documentation is a manifestation of this issue. Addressing 
usability challenges, as we're now doing, is one avenue to dealing with 
it, but I think content problems like this are another side of that 
underlying weakness.

Neutral point of view is an excellent concept, and helps keep Wikipedia 
from going off the rails in many respects. But some of the other 
concepts that have crept into our policies, like "notability" or 
"coatracks", while possibly useful in fending off various abuses, are 
really poor placeholders substituting for the fact that most of us lack 
training in the kind of writing and editing we're trying to do. So we 
end up borrowing approaches to writing from essays and research papers, 
which many of us do know how to do, and we do editing in the copyediting 
sense, but there are levels of writing and editing we have yet to reach.

I think training is a good idea. I think many regular contributors would 
be happy to get some training if they saw how it could help them 
contribute more effectively. I believe there is some portion of our 
audience with a similar willingness to support the projects, but who 
would only feel prepared to contribute if they got the training 
beforehand, instead of getting involved first and trained afterward. It 
appears to me that the community has not found its way to developing the 
training needed (not surprising if many of us do not have it). Which 
brings me to the questions that we need to answer: What kind of training 
is needed, how can the Wikimedia Foundation help assemble it, and what 
is the most effective way to disseminate it?

--Michael Snow

More information about the foundation-l mailing list