[Gendergap] Thinking about Solutions

Brandon Harris bharris at wikimedia.org
Wed Feb 9 18:54:36 UTC 2011


	This is a long-winded email.  I have broken up my thoughts into 
multiple mails for ease-of-threading; this mail is a larger "overview" 
and I'm going to include my actual "forward thinking" solutions in a 
reply to it so that we can discuss those separately from this.

	I am interested in opening a discussion about things that we can do to 
help alleviate the gender gap (as well as encourage further 
participation across the board).  I alluded earlier to the fact that I 
have several ideas about this, and I want to open a dialog here (and am 
planning to have a broader conversation on-wiki).

	First, I suppose I should really introduce myself.

	My name is Brandon Harris, though most people seem to know me as "jorm" 
or some variant of that (my staff account is "Jorm (WMF)").  I am an 
employee of the Foundation - a designer.  For the past several months I 
have been tasked on-and-off with redesigning LiquidThreads (LQT), which 
is a next-generation discussion system.

	Originally, I approached the problems of LQT from a position of "how do 
I make what is there better."  I have since come to the conclusion that 
this approach was incorrect, and refocused my thinking to a more 
holistic approach to the larger problem of editor participation, 
retention, and ease-of-collaboration.

	Unfortunately, the "big problem" of editor attraction, retention, and 
drop-off is a "death from a thousand cuts."  If there were a single 
point of failure, we could easily identify it and suture it closed.

	That doesn't mean that we can't solve it, however.  It just takes a 
different approach.

	If I were to define the single largest knife, however, I would have to 
say that it is social in nature.  This is very specifically highlighted 
in the "gender gap" problem.  Many of the largest communities on the web 
have fairly equal gender balances.  It is my assessment that a large 
part of this is because they have a strong social bend - a bend that 
Wikipedia lacks.

	I do not believe that WYSIWYG editing is the silver bullet and I think 
it is a mistake to focus on that.  The "editor hump" is not specific and 
it's not that difficult: many, many people write blogs or make websites 
with even cruder tools.  Once you learn to edit, it's not a problem.

	The biggest barrier to editing is one of motivation: people will edit 
if they want to edit and it doesn't matter how easy it is to edit if 
they don't want to.

	We have several barriers here, most of which are social in nature:	

	* People are not actually aware that they *can* edit
	* People do not feel that they have the *right* to edit
	* People do not feel that their edits will remain
	* People do not wish to deal with the social bureaucracy
	* People do not feel that they have anything worth contributing

	First, I think that we have to stop thinking about "how to we increase 
the number of *editors*" and instead ask "how do we increase the number 
of *participants*." This is a subtle but important distinction.

	Whenever I sit down to make a product more usable, I think about 
several persons in my life who represent typical problems.  When 
thinking about Wikipedia, I use three personas:

	* My father, who knows nearly everything about James Bond and baseball, 
and is eager to share that knowledge, but would *never* be an editor;
	* My mother, who has advanced degrees in mathematics and English, and 
who would probably love to be an editor, but would be horrified by the 
culture; and
	* My girlfriend's father, a retired engineer who used to work at 
Lawrence Berkeley, who would probably be an editor. He would not be 
horrified by the culture but would find it tedious and its rules overly 

	All three of them could be rather easily transformed into participants 
(and possibly editors, given enough time).  For instance, my father 
would want to be able to easily discuss facts or statements in the 
articles, so giving him obvious tools to do that would transform him 
into a participant.

	(One way to help do this would be to place a [discuss] link next to the 
[edit] link on a page section.  With LiquidThreads, we could key that 
link to open immediately to an existing discussion about the section (or 
create a new one if one wasn't there).  Bam! Now he's involved.)

	However, the biggest problem (by far) is not "widening the funnel" of 
participation on-ramp but rather providing a solid social structure to 
ensure that new people in the participant funnel can actually 
*participate*.  That is the the subject of my next email.

More information about the Gendergap mailing list