The decline in new users and articles
Three issues ago, the Signpost reported on Sue Gardner's "March 2011 Update", which dedicated a significant chunk of prose to the results of the Editor Trends Study. The study showed a low retention rate for new editors; this joins a mass of other evidence as to the difficulty new users have with integration, and also the decreasing rate of account creation and new user participation. The number of new accounts has been dropping, with 7,428 created in February 2011 compared to 8,161 a year before; at the same time, more recent statistics suggest that the number of new accounts which make more than five edits is dropping, as well as the number of new accounts which make more than 100. This indicates an ongoing problem with the community's attraction and retention of new editors. Gardner's message and the results of the study were also highlighted in a recent "Message to community about community decline" by the Foundation's chair Ting Chen. A session at the recent Wikimedia and last week's IRC office hour with Sue Gardner were dedicated to the problem, too.
Article creation in general has been declining, as evidenced by a graph covering creations from 2001 to the present. One of the reasons given for both the decline in new articles and new users is the reception users receive at Special:NewPages. It is a commonly held belief within the community that the attitude there has the tendency to be WP:BITEy and to discourage new users from contributing further. Statistics gathered by Mr.Z-man from February 2010 show that almost a third of new users who edited (about 21,000 accounts at the time of the data snapshot) choose to create new pages immediately rather than edit existing ones, and only 0.6 percent of those whose articles are met with deletion stayed editing, compared to 4.4 percent of the users whose articles remained.
Restricting new article creation
In line with the Special:NewPages issues, a proposal at the Village Pump advocates preventing users from creating articles unless they have made a certain number of edits and been registered for a specific period of time. User:The Blade of the Northern Lights, who proposed the change, argues it would help by reducing the backlog for the seriously overworked new-page patrollers (saying that he, personally, had to patrol 200+ pages a day to keep the backlog under control) and, as a result, by reducing the bad experiences of new editors (less stressed editors are less likely to bite newbies). New editors would instead be directed to Articles for Creation, or would be asked to wait until they fulfil the criteria. Another rationale in support of the argument include that a large proportion of newly-created articles are inappropriate; sending the new editors through Articles for Creation would ensure that not only are they less likely to be bitten, but those contributions which are approved are of higher quality than current new articles.
Opponents of the idea make several arguments. First, they say, the backlog does not "properly" exist: of the 30-day buffer provided for new articles, the backlog currently leaves 24 days free – the wiki will not burn down if people take a few days off to reboot. Second, shifting newbies to Articles for Creation would not fix the problem, but would just move it somewhere else; AfC would quickly become overloaded, backlogged and understaffed, like Special:NewPages, resulting in the same issues with the community's reaction to new users that is already prevalent. Third, the proposal has the distinct possibility of disenchanting new users by creating an additional hoop for them to jump through, disinclining those who start by creating articles (nearly a third of new users) from contributing in the first place.
The proposal has since been made into an RfC (Request for Comment).
Article incubation and other efforts
In response to Sue's March update and the general concerns regarding the experience new editors receive at Special:NewPages, several projects have been created to tackle the problem. The article incubation trial, supported by Philippe and James at the Wikimedia Foundation's Community Department, is assessing whether user retention rates can be improved if users have their articles incubated rather than deleted, with full assistance and tutoring provided by the users who do the incubating. People interested in getting involved are invited to sign up and begin userfying potentially viable pages.
User:Snottywong and User:Kudpung have been working over the past few weeks to deal with one of the issues: users who show a less-than-pleasant attitude at Special:NewPages. With the help of a bot, Snottywong and Kudpung have produced a list that has looked at
||the most recent patrols from mid-October 2010 to mid-March 2011 that were performed in the Main namespace (413,902 patrols total). It counted how many articles each user patrolled, as well as each user's edit count. It then generated this table, sorted by "Edits per patrol". The users at the top of this list are those who have both a relatively low edit count and a relatively high patrol count. It also lists the date of each user's first edit. The bot initially found a total of 3,310 unique users who have patrolled articles in this time frame, but skipped any users who have patrolled less than 40 articles. This resulted in 882 unique users.
The idea of the list is for it to be a starting point for finding editors who have a tendency to bite newbies while patrolling and nudge them towards more friendly, non-BITEy behaviour.
The list can be found here; editors are invited to use it to gently correct those who may be making mistakes or who are showing signs of burn-out. This is intended not to attack new-page patrollers, but to allow problems to be tackled quickly and for the long-term benefit of the community, the new contributors, and the editor in question.
Other Requests for Comments are ongoing as part of the Wiki Guides initiative: Allow socializing, Change CSD to userspace drafts, and Minimize talk page templates.