I've been on Wikipedia for over four years, and more than fourteen thousand edits as a registered user. I'm now retired, although I still might drop in from time to time to check in on my favorite topics. For the details on my decision, see the section below.
Why I'm Done Here At Wikipedia
It's been almost a year since I've edited here at Wikipedia and chances are, I won't come back to full-time status. While I do sincerely hate it when editors make a big deal out of leaving and stir up drama, after four years here I though I at least owed it to the project to explain why I'm out. Before I start, I'd like to be clear that I'm just giving my opinions here, I'm not wanting to get into any debates on the matter. These are my opinions, and I hold no hope the things that concern me will ever be settled.
There are a lot of questions about editor retention at Wikipedia. This is just my story of how a long-term editor reaches the point where he's tired of contributing to this community.
Quick background, I had an ill-advised RfA last year, which I withdrew. I knew I needed to take a break. I had actually already planned one due to my real life job obligations, I needed to refocus and all of that. In addition, my RfA was pretty rough, as I admittedly wasn't completely prepared for the amount of venom I'd get from any of the oft-blocked editors I'd crossed paths with before.
So I took a Wiki-break, and just promised to myself to avoid those editors when I came back. But after a few months when I returned, I noticed nothing had changed for the better. I looked at ANI, and saw the same old discussions again, and the same editors who had been given free rein to harass me during my RfA had all been blocked again. And again. One of them ten more times.
Ten is a lot of anything, unless you're counting in binary. Another got his eighth block for using a clearly racist term in anger, but even after all that, admins couldn't agree on a ban. What admins don't seem to understand is when someone is blocked, there's at least one other editor on the other side of the equation. After a little while as a productive editor, you get very tired of seeing the same people doing the same unconstructive things, fighting the same battles over and over again.
Giving someone a second chance is an opportunity for that editor, but when they piss on it, and the next one and next one, eventually constructive editors start to notice it's always the same ones causing the disruption.
So upon seeing that regular troublemakers were still shaking off blocks and going right back to their semi-civil disruption, I didn't really feel like contributing my time to the project any longer. If you don’t protect actual editors in favor of making troubled, obsessive editors bulletproof, eventually you’re going to run off people who are…well, sane.
Think about the current state of things. You're hoping that people smart enough to be competent editors who can help Wikipedia are also hard-headed enough to ignore conflict, avoid burn-out, and not notice when people who are primarily here for arguments get free pass after free pass to continue wreaking mean-spirited havoc.
No. Politely put, screw that. I'm not paid to edit here, and when I see admins giving those kinds of people free reign to continue, I don't see any reason to waste my time.
I'm married and I'm employed, which means I certainly have enough conflict in my life already. I don't need to volunteer for any more, especially if I know I'm not going to get any support from admins who are more interested in keeping their friends on the site than protecting other good faith editors who are trying to help. There are a lot of good, smart people editing Wikipedia. Unfortunately, there are some people here so obsessed with their own interests and self-importance, I am eternally thankful I didn’t use my actual name as my Wikipedia ID.
There's a lot of debate about Wikipedia rules, and whether something is a civility violation, or outing, or tendentious editing, or whichever term is being hair's-breadth-debated to death at WP:ANI this week. I'll simplify it, the main rule on Wikipedia should be the same one as in life.
Thou shalt not be an asshole.
That pretty much covers everything, I think. We have too many editors who enjoy being assholes, ladies and gentlemen. No one gets accidentally blocked for violating the rules more than once. After that? You're an asshole. You've either decided the rules don't apply to you, or you don't care, and have chosen to risk it by ignoring the codes we're all supposed to edit by. You’re here to do whatever it is you want to do, whether it’s edit Beatles articles, or jump newbies for vandalism, or pretend you’re important enough to leave long-winded comments on Jimbo’s page, or whatever your particular bag is. When what you want to do is at odds with the rules, you have no problem being an asshole about it, riding out the block, and going right back to whatever you want to do.
So we have an asshole problem, more specifically, the fact that once they get past a certain threshold, editors are freely allowed to be assholes. Edit warring, name-calling, manipulation to get bickering advantage, you name it. Any regular editor can recognize the usual suspects at WP:ANI, coming and going and never changing their behavior, even while they cause actual productive editors to waste their time over and over again.
It’s a tiresome cycle, and one that inspires zero confidence in the process.
I was here for four years and fourteen thousand edits, and no blocks. With no admin support, I don't feel I can continue here any longer without getting knee-deep in arguments and eventual blocks, so I'm out. Good luck to all in the future.
My RfA, and good faith advice on yours
|Closing this off. It's been a year, and the process is even worse now.|
|The following discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.|
Well, I've had my first RfA experience. I'll have to admit...it was hilarious.
If you're considering it, please let my experience serve as a cautionary tale. Here are a few notes and pieces of advice to take in good faith and good humor, just in case you ever decide to file your own RfA.
Be prepared to see old friends.
As I expected, everyone I'd ever crossed paths with in any sort of negative light returned to take their shots, stalking my edits from #1 to #13990, looking for something I'd done wrong. Editors who I'd generously describe as "troubled" took their time to track down any misunderstandings and paint me in a negative light. Almost fourteen thousand edits in three years and no blocks, not even a serious warning that I can remember. All of that time, I tried to calm things down in this ticking time bomb of a website. My reward? A trip before the firing squad, where editors who broke policy and were rightfully blocked in the past took their opportunity to take revenge without fear of reprisal.
If you've been on Wikipedia longer than a month, or if you've ever filed a report at AIV or ANEW, get ready to welcome back some familiar faces ready to take their opportunity to extract their pound of flesh. Which leads us to...
Silence is golden. Yours, not theirs.
Your RfA process is conducted under a cone of silence. No matter what people say, no matter how unfounded their accusations are, you must remain silent. Even if you are criticized by someone who is obviously insane, you shouldn't reply. You dare not appear touchy, even in rebutting pure lies. You must suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, even when they are slung by someone who doesn't even grasp the language. Of the first 175 edits to my RfA, forty of them were from one editor who opposed. Forty! And no one raised an eyebrow, or asked him to even slow down. It's like some kind of frat pledge where you let idiots spank you, just to prove you're a big enough idiot to be in the club.
My first ten "Oppose" votes were from editors with a combined 26 blocks. Who would know better what qualities an admin should embody than a freshly blocked, still-bitter problem editor? It's like letting felons sit on the jury because they know what a criminal looks like.
One of them said I was impolite and not level-headed. Another oft-blocked and still-restricted editor said I stalked him and filed specious reports. Other editors asked for diffs. Evidence? Nope, never another comment or diff, just drive-by douchebaggery. People went so far as to fill the talk pages of people who didn't even support my nomination to run me down. One went rogue and basically started campaigning for his own RfA during mine. Truly insane things happen on those pages, and they're all permitted. It's Thunderdome.
I had an editor (who had been blocked six times himself) oppose and accuse me of being part of some vague conspiracy, since I apparently picked up the lingo too fast and had too sharp of a "learning curve" when I started editing here in May of 2008.
Honestly, please consider which of these scenarios is more likely.
A. I edited here as an IP and picked up the way things work because I'm a smart guy and I can read. Or...
That's the sort of paranoia normally reserved for people wearing tinfoil hats and sleeping in fallout shelters, so the "guv'mint" can't find them.
I always worked here at Wikipedia under the philosophy of "protect each other." When I saw users needing help at AIV, ANEW, BLP, etc, I stepped in to help them. Rest assured you'll get exactly none of that good faith assistance at RfA. There's no requirements for diffs, no explanations, and no one to defend you. Where you walk, you walk alone. Be prepared to have to sit silently and rope-a-dope while shots are taken at you.
Your life is their business.
My RfA was going to fail because I don't create articles. I knew going in I had almost no chance. And I'll admit, the objections to me based on my lack of article creation were completely understandable. I get that. It's a no-brainer, and I certainly hold no grudges for those who opposed based on that criteria. What's hilarious is how some editors couldn't just say that and let it pass, they instead had to pass judgment on me based on what they, as total strangers, would expect from me, another total stranger.
I've tried pretty hard not to reveal anything about my personal life on Wikipedia because I've seen other people hounded on and off wiki. Well, I revealed my profession (writer) in a friendly comment, and that opened the door to all sorts of unrealistic expectations from people.
I was surprised at how many editors seemed to take offense to me working as a writer, but not writing articles a'plenty here at Wikipedia. Like I work 10-12 hours a day covering events and writing my articles, and then the first thing I would want to do when I came home to relax would be to whip out the daily newspaper and track down sources for someone else's research paper.
And let's be honest here. If you volunteer your writing to a website that generates income for someone else, that's fine, it's certainly your business. If you want to be upset at other people because they haven't also given away their skills and talents to make someone else money, then you're a dumbass.
That's an American term, by the way. If it doesn't translate well, feel free to substitute "dumber than a box of hammers" if it helps get the message across.
I write for a living. I write to get paid. Demanding I do so for free doesn't exactly make you seem rational, Skeezix. If you work as a janitor, are you going to volunteer to clean toilets for fun on your day off?
And some editors claimed I wasn't actually a professional writer because I won't write for free...think about what they're saying. Say it out loud, perhaps. Citation needed on that one, friends.
Besides, look at some of Wikipedia's best article writers. Is it just me, or do they have a far greater-than-normal chance of being unrepentant shitheads? Sometimes it seems the greater the amount of content generated, the more self-absorption and inability to deal with others you see.
Anything in your past is fair game. Any detail of your life you've admitted, or that can be inferred from your editing patterns, can and will be used against you. What you've done by volunteering your time here isn't nearly as important as what other editors think you should have done. Protect your information.
For God's sake, be clear.
Anything and everything you say will be scrutinized beyond belief. What you say in your RfA isn't to be taken as words, it's more of a piece of evidence to be broken down and analyzed like the Zapruder Film.
I wasn't clear enough in one of my early statements and from that point, it seemed like every editor looked at my comments like I was trying to put one over on them. Once that misunderstanding begins, forget it. I had lost the crowd. There's no good faith at RfA. One of the things admins like to say is there's really nothing to it, you just have a few extra buttons. There's absolutely nothing farther from the truth. Perhaps that's the case once the tools are handed out but until then, they're guarded with an obstacle course of bad faith, unproven accusations, and attacks from everyone you've ever upset on Wikipedia. One misstep can change the tone of a hundred conversations.
Be clear. Don't be hasty, write and rewrite, then have an admin you trust look at your answers before you post them. You're dealing with an audience looking for fault, and you can't afford to make a mistake because there will be no second chances.
Listen to some of your opposes.
I believe it was Jerry Seinfeld who made the observation when most of us are standing over the casket, we're subtracting our age from that of the deceased, trying to figure out how much time we have left. Sadly, that's what a lot of non-admins are doing at your RfA, figuratively speaking.
Your RfA will be voted on by trusted, experienced admins who can offer you solid advice. Listen to what they have to say. However, it will also be populated by editors who have either been passed over for adminship, are too scared to apply for an RfA, or have a track record bad enough they realize they'll never get the bit. Take anything these editors say with a grain of salt. They're looking at your contributions to compare to their own. They may be voting for you so you'll return the favor, or opposing you because they think you're not as good an editor as they are, and if they don't have it yet, you certainly shouldn't. Listen to editors you respect. Ignore the ones who obviously aren't there to help.
Be prepared to have your eyes opened.
Your RfA, successful or not, is probably the first time you'll be aware of certain things about Wikipedia. There's a good side and a bad side, and if you've been a good editor you may not be aware of how the bad side is tolerated. You are a volunteer here, but you should realize that's not enough. Merely donating your time isn't sufficient to become trusted around here, you have to donate it in a way everyone approves of.
Whatever you think you've done here, whatever you're proud of, whatever positive accomplishments you think have come from your free time, be prepared to be scrutinized by well-meaning editors. Better yet, be ready to be scrutinized by editors who don’t mean well at all, who are there for petty, vindictive reasons.
Truth be told, I figured I'd be leaving Wikipedia whether I succeeded in my RfA or not. You can check my blog for proof, if you'd care to Google it. After 14,000 edits I needed the shock to my system that came from the sudden awareness of what this place is really like, I suppose. I wanted to either be able to actually help, or to be able to walk away with a clear head. Done.
It was fun for a while, but after a time you should be honest and realize you get nothing out of it. Your work goes to pay other peoples' salaries, and can be printed in books and sold without your permission. That doesn't make you a writer. I can't put "Wrote Wikipedia article on obscure college football player" on my resume and expect an employer to care, especially when the possibility is there anyone who goes to his article will see "Mitch Morgan is made of poop" written in the lede.
Thanks for the experience, though. It was fun while it lasted. Like any party, perhaps if it had been more pleasant, I'd have stayed longer. I may come back to fix some problems on subjects that're are important to me personally, but for now, I'm taking care of real life business.
I'd like to say thank you to the editors who supported me, the neutrals who needed to see content creation, and even the ones who opposed based on policy. For the others, good luck in your own lives with your own problems.
By the way, I'm well aware this section is the longest thing I've ever actually written on Wikipedia. Yes, irony can be pretty ironic sometimes. Dayewalker (talk) 22:32, 6 November 2011 (UTC) Blocked and tagged