[Wikimedia-l] Editor retention (was Re: "Big data" benefits and limitations (relevance: WMF editor engagement, fundraising, and HR practices))

Martijn Hoekstra martijnhoekstra at gmail.com
Fri Jan 4 10:57:23 UTC 2013

This thread may have started weird, but it seems to be going in a very good
direction: we're all very concerned about editor retention, we all see
problem areas we agree on, and we are all grasping at new ideas that seem
more or less like straws. This is bad news, but it has to remain on the
agenda, and we have to keep thinking about it or the project runs the risk
of actually failing - the very thing we all laughed away for a long time
seeing wikipedia's success.

When I look back on my wiki time, I see a transition much as Erik
described. I joined in 2005 with the great influx that was going on, or
just coming to an end at the time. The editors who were there, who learned
me the ropes, still very strongly believed in WP:IAR, and the 'it's just a
guideline' principle. What I believe happened is that a new generation of
editors - roughly new editors since the time I joined - who didn't create
the rules had more distance from the rules, and in some ways more respect
for them. These are the vandalism fighters and the new page patrollers
Risker mentions were - and are - very needed. If they are not here, we
might well collapse under the load of bad faith edits. Everyone obviously
believes that their view of what wikipedia is is right, but I believe they
don't grok wikipedia. They don't grok the meaning of a wiki, and neither do
they grok IAR. And yet we need them desperately. As a community we started
revering the rules over the project, and that's very very wrong.

I'm going to go ahead and postulate that the greatest problem with editor
retention is that it is really really hard to do something good for
wikipedia - too hard for many people - and far harder still to grok
wikipedia. This is a two sided problem. The first side is the problem for
new editors: We have set up rules to justify fixing the good faith errors
they have made which are enforced quite strictly. To grok wikipedia you
need experience. As a rule of thumb, I would say about 1000 edits which are
not anti-vandalism edits, and you could grok it. I am willing to go
further, and say that none or very few of those 1000 edits will actually be
very good. But we don't have the manpower in experience to guide all those
1000 edits, kindly explain what's wrong with them, and that it's absolutely
fine that the edits aren't very good. Before that moment has arrived, we
will have had a good meaning good faith vandal fighter strongly
discouraging this user. It's a miracle people even make it this far.

So what can we do? Well, first off, we could stop bothering new editors
about the rules. There are far too many anyway, and while they are a fun
mental exercise for the experienced wikipedian, a new wikipedian only needs
to know a few things: Don't act like a dick, be bold, content should be
verifiable, and you are here for the project - not personal gain. An editor
writes the most horrific sucky article ever, but passes those above rules?
Cool! Thanks! Carry on! Feedback can come later, he already took the hurdle
of writing something that passes the basic rules. (note this is not how
[[WP:AfC]] works). An editor breaks one of the above rules? Take ownership
and responsibility for the rule. If you agree to the rule, you don't need
the blue link to tell him what they did wrong. "Hey, you wrote this and
that article, and you didn't name your sources. Without them our readers
will rightfully question the truthfullness - to them, it's just some guy on
the internet who wrote that. Could you fix that?" No need to bother them
with the finer points of [[WP:V]] and [[WP:RS]]. They're just policy pages
- a pretty nifty summary of consensus.

Now that might be a little awkward and getting used to for our editing
community, but there is another painful truth out there. The people who
have the ability to properly understand wikipedia are spread far to thin to
give this personal attention to newcomers, attention they very much need to
come to be grown up wikipedians, and still be productive in their own
right. We need a cure for that. We tried the cure of dedicated vandal
fighters, and it didn't work, it landed us in the situation where we are
now. We need something else, and whatever that something else will be, it
will be very very painful, and will go against everything our wikispirit
stands for, and we will hate it, but it will be needed. Possibly flagged
revisions on all pages. Possibly a far simpler blocking policy (I for one
strongly support abolishing any form of time-expiring block which are
punitive almost by definition. You are blocked indefinitely, and you are
unblocked if you ask for it, and give a good reason why the problematic
behaviour won't be recurring. There is never a reason to unblock because
three days have passed) If some administrator has the strong feeling that
they are not here to build an encyclopedia, begone. Is that fair? No. There
is a large factor of arbitarity there, mistakes will be made, and it
requires far more responsibility from our admins than we should ask of
them. But we need it to protect the time of our more experienced members to
grow more experienced members. We will need to make things worse now to
make them better later, or they will be far worse in the future - one of
the greatest projects of our time dead in the water, with no hope of
expanding it, just draconic measures to protect it.

Now people like Tim, who have their wiki heart in the right place (thanks
for kicking this up Tim!), and seem to grok the project, can work on
technical means that alleviate the pain for the technical editing
experience. People like Leslie who recently became the focus of a
hypothetical discussion on the medical expenses policy of the WMF (wtf?)
can do her work to provide the infrastucture our platform needs. This will
never be enough if we don't change as a community.

We all know the 'oh fuck' graph of editor retention. For you viewing
pleasure, the equivalent in admin retention:

On Fri, Jan 4, 2013 at 9:18 AM, Federico Leva (Nemo) <nemowiki at gmail.com>wrote:

> Erik Moeller, 04/01/2013 08:02:
>  I'm wondering whether the key findings in Halfaker's recent "rise and
>> decline" paper resonate with you:
>> http://www-users.cs.umn.edu/~**halfak/publications/The_Rise_**
>> and_Decline/<http://www-users.cs.umn.edu/~halfak/publications/The_Rise_and_Decline/>
>> Existing data like the above supports strongly the notion that
>> well-intentioned, good faith contributors are much more heavily
>> discouraged in 2012 than they were in 2004 or 2005, but this can be
>> explained in significant part with the influx of bad faith
>> contributors that have necessitated increasingly heavy handed ways to
>> control against bad edits (Huggle, Twinkle, AbuseFilter, etc.) --
>> which catch good faith editors in the crossfire -- as well as
>> increasing expectations of what constitutes an acceptable quality edit
>> / page creation.
> The paper does contain good news though:
> ----
> To explore Hypothesis: Norm formalization & calcification, we first looked
> for changes in the rate
> of new policy creation following the introduction of a structured proposal
> process in 2005.
> Figure 8 shows that growth of policies and guidelines began to slow in
> 2006, just as Forte
> (2009) reports. The results from our analysis of new policy/guideline
> proposals show that the
> number of new policy proposals accepted via this process peaked in 2005 at
> 27 out of 217 (12%
> acceptance). 2006 saw an even higher number of proposed policies, but
> lower acceptance
> with 24 out of 348 proposals accepted (7% acceptance). From 2007 forward,
> the rate at which
> policies are proposed decreases monotonically down to a mere 16 in 2011
> while the acceptance
> rate stays steady at about 7.5%.
> ----
> In other words, it would seem that en.wiki, contrary to popular belief,
> has developed a good immune system against bureaucracy norms expansion. :-)
> The paper is actually of little use in this part IMHO, because:
> 1) we already know that users who joined in 2005/2006 are still
> disproportionately active in most community processes like deletion
> discussions and so on,
> 2) everybody knows that to influence how the wiki is run it's more
> effective to change a single word in an important policy than to establish
> ten new policies.
> As for (1), I doubt the Wikipedia thought police is keeping newcomers out
> of discussions, but one can make them look so hard that newbies won't
> participate. However, it.wiki recently switched from the established
> vote-system for deletion to a discussion system as en.wiki's, and a year of
> data for the "new" system seems to prove that it increased the words spent
> and drove away old/unexperienced editors (with 3+ years or 51-5000 edits),
> while newcomers resisted, presumably to defend their own articles.
> https://toolserver.org/~**mauro742/liste/pdc_stats.csv<https://toolserver.org/~mauro742/liste/pdc_stats.csv>
> <https://it.wikipedia.org/**wiki/Wikipedia:Elenchi_**
> generati_offline/Richieste/**Archivio/2011#Lavoro_per_le_**PdC<https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Elenchi_generati_offline/Richieste/Archivio/2011#Lavoro_per_le_PdC>
> >
> Nemo
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