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On Meta: Meta:User:Rspeer

Helping new users[edit]

Throughout my time at Wikipedia, my goal has been to make WP a more welcoming place for new users. This is not an easy task; aside from the large number of policies that new users are expected to understand quickly, Wikipedia has less-formal conventions that aren't conveyed very effectively to new users.

If you talk to ordinary people who have used Wikipedia a few times, you'll find a very widespread conception that Wikipedia editors are unfriendly and elitist. And our policies and procedures don't do much to fix that.

Part of the problem comes from established users who see newbies as an aggregate mass, and wonder why they never learn. The reality, of course, is that every newbie (aside from hardened vandals) is capable of learning and becoming a Wikipedia contributor, but they need to be given the chance. We want more contributors than just the ones who are lucky enough not to screw up in their first few days.

The right intentions[edit]

Of course, Wikipedians as a whole try to make WP more welcoming. Here are some aspects of Wikipedia where this has been done well:

  • Wikipedia allows anonymous editing. For all the problems caused by anonymous users, this is definitely worth it. It allows users to get a feel for Wikipedia without taking the seemingly-large step of creating an account, allows them to screw up a few times without it sticking on their record, and actually makes it easier to track down real abuse when it happens (because we have their IP address).
  • We give users up to four warnings besides blocking them. Some feel this is too many. I think that being lenient to newbies, even when it seems unreasonable, is a good habit to be in -- and I've seen vandals have a change of heart before they get blocked.
  • Most user warning templates are written with care to not be too confrontational.
  • The Wikipedia:Don't bite the newbies policy is a good policy to have -- but that policy, ironically, has no teeth.

My unpopular, pro-newbie opinions[edit]

The aspects above aren't enough, though. There are many aspects of Wikipedia that are inherently unfriendly, and the problem is that fixing them requires extra effort and patience from established users, who tend to be unwilling to spend so much effort on clueless n00bs.

For a short-term cost in the convenience of established users, though, we get a long-term payoff of more contributors to Wikipedia. I think this is very important. So I will state my unpopular opinions here. How you react to them is up to you. You can conclude that I'm an idealistic newbie-hugger who's not worth listening to, or that I'm out to destroy the things you like about Wikipedia... or maybe you'll agree with me, and help to change Wikipedia culture to be more accepting.

Articles for Deletion[edit]

Wikipedia:Articles for Deletion is one of the most popular processes on Wikipedia. Discussions on AfD are probably more visible than discussions at the Village Pump. Some Wikipedians even devote so much of their time to AfD that they conclude that the AfD community is the Wikipedia community.

Let's face it: AfD is entertaining. It's also highly prone to biting newbies. I fear that may be why it's entertaining. Many newbies' first encounter with other Wikipedians is when an article of theirs goes to AfD, so the first thing they see is a page collecting the worst of Wikipedia, which happens to bring out the worst in Wikipedians.

Sure, these newbies made pages that suck. They weren't necessarily doing so out of malice; they just don't understand Wikipedia yet. Welcome them and help them understand.

For what it's worth, I helped develop the WP:PROD process that makes fewer AfD discussions necessary, and have worked to fix parts of the sock-puppetry policy that led to baffled newbies on AfD being called "meatpuppets" to their face and treated as if they were malicious sockpuppets.

Username blocks[edit]

The Usernames for Administrator Attention noticeboard (known as WP:UAA) is full of trigger-happy administrators who think the way to deal with minor violations of an unimportant policy is to block newbies immediately. I have tried to explain there the idea of talking to the newbies and asking them to change their username. This idea is gaining hold among a few people, but the prevailing motto on UAA still seems to be "block first, ask questions later".

Some UAA regulars defend their quick blocks, saying that if the block is erroneous the newbie can simply contest it or create a new account, no harm done. Here's the thing: newbies don't like being blocked. Ggggggggggggggg12, for example, was a potential contributor who started out very excited about Wikipedia, and was driven off Wikipedia by two admins who put the username policy above common sense and WP:BITE.

The mood at RFCN and UAA is always hurried. They have built up processes, interpretations of the username policy, and bots so that they can get from a mildly unsavory username to a block as quickly as possible. What's the rush? Wikipedia will not collapse if a few people make a few edits with bad usernames.

WP:BITE has no teeth[edit]

I said this above: though it is an important policy, Wikipedia:Don't bite the newbies has no teeth. It should, but it doesn't. If an established user and a newbie get into a conflict, the established user will always win, no matter how harsh and unwelcoming they have been. After all, the newbie was breaking some sort of rule, so they deserved what they got, and newbies are expendable, right?

I have tried to discuss WP:BITE with the kind of users who bite six newbies before breakfast, but the responses are about what you'd expect:

  • "Why are you sticking up for those newbies? They're all just spammers and trolls, and they'll never change." (It is very easy for newbies to misunderstand Wikipedia in a way that gets them labeled as a spammer or a troll.)
  • "How dare you question such a valuable contributor?" (Maybe if I do, we'll have five more valuable contributors next year.)
  • "Do you value vandals more than our tireless, long-term contributors?" (No, of course I don't value vandals, but I do value the off-chance that they may not be one. I simply extend more good faith to newbies in a conflict, because they're the ones who really need it.)


I thank the others who, recently, have helped me work against elitism on Wikipedia and make the wiki a better place for new users. I've seen some progress in various areas, and I hope it continues. A welcoming environment is something that has to be sustained by everyone, and it pays off eventually, in dedicated new users and an improvement in the way the public views Wikipedia.

Teaching account[edit]

I have an alternate non-admin account, User:Resper, that I use in contexts where I am teaching people about Wikipedia. Having admin links on the screen would be a needless distraction.

Try this sometime[edit]

I will admit that I am as prone to Wiki-rage as anyone. De-escalating disputes is the right thing to do, but sometimes writing the perfect retort is so temporarily satisfying. So here's what I do:

Sometimes when I'm in a heated debate, I go ahead and type exactly the caustic, snarky flame I really want to respond with. Then I click "cancel" and close the browser window. There: I get to vent, and nobody has to see the result. rspεεr (talk) 07:51, 18 November 2009 (UTC)