User:Malinaccier/Administrative retention philosophy

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It really is not all that unexpected that administrators should burn out and retire:

Administrators are called upon to deal with all the scum of Wikipedia. Endless cases of vandalism, sockpuppetry, incivility, arguments, and abuses of every tool and mode of editing Wikipedia are basically all that administrators see and respond to. What do they receive in thanks? Not much. Many say that this is what makes a good administrator--the willingness to work purely to help the encyclopedia--and while this is generally true, these editors will not stay long if they do not feel appreciated. Considering this, it's not hard to imagine an administrator wishing to quit.

The real issue[edit]

Now the real issue is finding out how to keep administrators active in the project despite their necessary involvement in the dirtiest areas of the encyclopedia. The main ways to address this would be through either lightening the burden administrators have to bear or to implement positive reinforcement.

Decreasing workload[edit]

As of now, this is probably the most popular method being promoted by the community. Editors are urged to run for adminship, as every new admin will share and decrease the amount of work that faces the community. This is a sound strategy as long as the incoming stream of applicants increases at a rate faster than or at least equal to the increase of work needing to be done. Until the fall of 2008 this threshold was being met readily, but now that applications have decreased and standards have been raised disproportionately, the number of new administrators has decreased significantly

Now that fewer admins are being promoted than are becoming inactive, new ways to spread the workload have been looked into. The main methods of doing this would be to "unbundle" the administrative tools or to decrease standards at RfA. So far--in the case of the rollbacker and account creator user rights--unbundling has worked. The only problem now is that the remaining administrative powers are much too potent to dole out to the community. With this in the way, the only other way to decrease the administrative workload appears to be to decrease the standards held at RfA which has been fruitless as can be seen at WT:RFA and throughout its large number of archives.

Positive reinforcement[edit]

In positive reinforcement, administrators would be rewarded for either performing a certain number or quality of administrative actions, or for remaining an active administrator for certain increments of time. While any of these three things would increase administrative activity to some extent, each has several specific problems.

Reinforcing administrators who do the most work or perform the highest number of administrative actions would increase the number of actions and time spent on administrative duties, but quality of work would decrease and this does not really address the aspect of burnout. Because the main goal would be to get a large number of actions, administrators would not spend as much time checking that their actions were of the highest quality (much the same as the problems faced with piece wages and decreased quality). While this would make administrators eager to complete actions and remain active for some time, they would be facing even more of the senseless vandalism and grime that causes disillusionment in the first place.

Reinforcing quality of work would not result in keeping administrators active either. Once again administrators would be called to complete the same activities they normally do. This may be preferable to reinforcement of a high number of actions because it would not encourage increased "exposure" to vandalism, but it may also result in too much extra pressure being placed on administrators to get the call right (not that this is not important!).

Active time based reinforcement would provide bonuses to administrators that remained active for longer periods of time. This would not have the immediate response in increased activity levels like the other two would have, but would have a positive long term result if done correctly.

Rewarding behavior[edit]

The very point of positive reinforcement is to reward humans for performing desired behaviors. This is where the idea gets hard to implement on Wikipedia. Many forms of rewards such as monetary based gifts are ruled out because they are not in line with Wikipedia's free encyclopedia philosophy. Other physical rewards or benefits can also easily be ruled out. The primary form of reinforcement would have to be through recognition, although the methods of this would have to be narrowed for several reasons:

  • Adminship is not meant to be presented as an exclusive group so rewards should not be so lavish as to inspire anything more than respect for those in power. In other words, non-administrators should not resent the reinforcement.
  • The rewards should not be like barnstars where administrators compete to see who can collect the most. WP:MMORPG provides an interesting and satirical view on this subject.
  • The reinforcement should be encouragement and not payment.

A parallel idea for the general community exists at WP:SVC, but for such an award to be more than just a userpage tag, the value of the status would have to be increased to a certain point where respect is generated for the receivers of the reward rather than resentment.

Why go there?[edit]

Wikipedia exists solely to provide information that anyone can edit, and nearly every single registered user created an account to edit an article or information regarding article content. It is strange then that so many editors gravitate toward the type of anti-vandalism work that wears admins down and results in so many retirements. Simply stated, it is not "natural" for editors to work in these maintenance areas.

The question then is why editors even feel the need or desire to do this work. Wading through pages and pages looking for vandalism and dealing with the nastiest trolls on the internet is not fun, editors are not paid for such work (or any work on Wikipedia officially), and there is no recognition such as getting an article on the main page. The only explanation for their edits is that they believe that by doing semi-administrative duties they will soon be chosen to become an administrator themselves, and they think that the power they wield (for it is power, even if we use euphemisms such as "tools" to refer to them) will make the work glorious.

See also[edit]