User:WWB/The Grande Guide to Wikipedia (Revised)

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The following is adapted from The Grande Guide to Wikipedia, sponsored by Eloqua, designed by JESS3 and written by myself, WWB. The original version is available on Eloqua.com and Slideshare. While intended for a marketing audience, much of the information contained in this guide can be useful to any potential editor, and it has been released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license to facilitate its use by others. Please note that I will be making improvements and corrections to this guide over time. You are welcome to edit this version insofar as I agree with your changes, just as you are welcome to copy this guide and extend or revise it elsewhere.

Is Wikipedia a Marketing Opportunity?[edit]

Good question! Generally speaking, it's a bad idea to think of Wikipedia as an avenue for “marketing.” Wikipedia is unique among Web 2.0 sites in that its written rules and social mores strongly discourage contributors from treating the site as a marketing tool. But if your company or industry is the subject of a Wikipedia entry, you are probably keenly aware of ways its content is lacking and want to know how you can fix it.

While editing on behalf of your company (or any organization in which you have a financial interest) is discouraged, Wikipedia does not unilaterally forbid such efforts. Instead, it adamantly requires that any edits you wish to make advancing your goals also advance – or privilege – Wikipedia's goals. Otherwise, you're likely to run into big trouble. This Grande Guide helps you think about how to accomplish both objectives.

What is Wikipedia?[edit]

Wikipedia is one of the most popular research websites on the Internet. It's often described as the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” It's a vital resource, although one that is often imperfect. When it comes to being a valued participant in Wikipedia, knowing the basics will only take you so far. It also helps to know how Wikipedia thinks of itself. Fortunately, Wikipedia contains an internal explanation of its purpose, one that will help you think more clearly about how to approach the community.

By its own definition, Wikipedia is “a neutral compilation of verifiable, established facts.” This means that Wikipedia entries should be written in a dispassionate tone, emphasizing accurate information confirmed from quality sources, and should describe relevant opinions rather than promote a single viewpoint. Because it can be extraordinarily difficult for any one person to do this alone, Wikipedia's collaborative process invites contributors from all walks of life to contribute. Where you find opportunities to aid this process, your input is welcome, whoever you may be.

Why Do I Need to Understand Wikipedia?[edit]

If your company has a Wikipedia article, it's probably one of the first pages Internet users find when they look you up. Although you may have invested heavily in creating a high quality corporate website, many Internet users prefer to trust what they read on Wikipedia because they consider the content to be independent. Despite its shortcomings, Wikipedia's convenience has bred familiarity, and its authoritative tone has bred trust. Because the public turns to Wikipedia, it's essential that you understand how to make certain that articles related to your company or industry are accurate. Furthermore, if your company lacks a Wikipedia profile, it's important to understand whether or not it qualifies for one. One word of caution: If your company doesn't qualify for a Wikipedia profile, but you try to shoehorn one in anyway, prepare for a bumpy road.

Busting Five Popular Myths about Wikipedia[edit]

Considering how popular Wikipedia is as an information resource, it's surprising how poorly it is understood, even by its millions of daily readers. Let's try to clear up some misconceptions.

  1. Wikipedia Can't be Trusted: While it is true that information on Wikipedia is not always correct, it would be naive to discount it altogether. Here's how to judge article quality: (a.) Make sure all claims are accompanied by a credible citation, (b.) assess how clearly organized the content is – if it's a bulleted list of random details, you may not be getting the whole story. (Conversely, if it's a well written paragraph, there's a better chance its author knew what they were talking about.) As longtime Wikipedia contributor Andrew Lih likes to say, “There is no better place to begin research, but no worse place to conclude it.” To quote former president Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.”
  2. Wikipedia is Hostile to Outsiders: One can certainly find individual editors who act as if they “own” their favorite pages, behave high-handedly toward newbies, or are generally disagreeable. But these outlier behaviors are inconsistent with how Wikipedia's community aims to treat newcomers. Most “Wikipedians” understand that welcoming volunteers is crucial to the project's long-term success. If someone gives you a hard time, you should always feel comfortable asking for a second opinion (one great place to do so: Wikipedia's Help desk, but more on that later).
  3. Wikipedia is Biased Against Experts: Many experts and academics have written that they believe Wikipedia is hostile toward their input. Some have tried to share their knowledge on the site, only to have their edits undone by an editor with no credentials (except as a Wikipedia editor). This is a misunderstanding: expert knowledge is highly valued by the community, but no one can simply declare they are an expert and expect editorial carte blanche. Even an expert needs to provide external references for the information they contribute.
  4. You Can't Edit Wikipedia Articles About Yourself: Wikipedia editors generally discourage self-interested editors from contributing to pages about themselves, their company or industry. But there's not a non-negotiable ban on doing so. The reason this behavior is discouraged is rooted in the credibility of the site: companies that contribute to their own page have historically done so without regard to Wikipedia's guidelines. Should you try to contribute content to your own page, be extra careful that your edits are consistent with Wikipedia's goals. Not everyone has the knowledge and self-awareness to edit their own page in a Wikipedia-friendly manner. You are welcome to add your voice and get involved, so long as you make clear what you are doing. If you explain yourself well, you can probably find an editor who will help. But immediate results are unlikely.
  5. Wikipedia is Losing a Significant Number of Contributors: Is Wikipedia in danger of falling into obsolescence? Well, in late 2009, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages” that sounded an alarm across the blogosphere about a decline in contributions by Wikipedia's editors. But the report was based on a “generous” interpretation of a study by Dr. Felipe Ortega, who himself suggests the results are unclear. The fact is that while the number of active Wikipedia editors has fluctuated greatly in recent years, it has also remained remarkably stable over time. That isn't to say Wikipedia wouldn't always benefit from additional contributors, but rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated.

Understanding Wikipedia Terminology[edit]

Wikipedia has its own lexicon, but you only need to know a small part of it to understand what's going on. The most common important terms include:

  • Article vs. page: These terms are sometimes used interchangeably but, strictly speaking, an article is any Wikipedia page that is part of the main encyclopedia. Pages have many uses, but articles are what you will usually find through a search engine. (An article may sometimes be called an entry, but only informally.) All articles are pages, but not every page is an article.
  • Discussion / talk: Every article is accompanied by a discussion or talk page where editors confer about what changes should be made to an article. In Wikipedia parlance, “discussion” and “talk” are synonymous.
  • Editor vs. user: While there is no official distinction between the two terms, “editor” typically implies someone who contributes to Wikipedia frequently and considers themselves a member of the community. They sometimes also call themselves “Wikipedians.”
  • History: A type of Wikipedia page that shows edits made to an adjacent page, including articles and talk pages. Every Wikipedia article has a history page, and every edit you make to Wikipedia is saved, so be careful!
  • Infobox: On many articles, these boxed sidebars contain supplemental information like a company's logo or a person's photo, in addition to cornerstone information such as founding or birth dates. Articles about people and organizations usually have an infobox, but it isn't necessary.
  • Navbox: Similar to an infobox, a navbox is commonly found at the bottom of an article. Navboxes provide links to other articles on a related topic, and are less frequently applicable than infoboxes.
  • References vs. citations: Yep, they're the same thing.
  • Reversion: Often mentioned as “reverts,” this is what happens when you undo someone else's edit, or they undo yours.
  • Templates: Templates are implemented through short bits of code to drop in boilerplate messages and / or formatting. They usually look {{like this}}. Know they're there, read up on them later and you'll find them handy.
  • Sentence case: Wikipedia uses “sentence case” for almost everything. Notice how names of articles, titles of section headings, and even policy pages capitalize the first letter and only proper nouns thereafter? This is called sentence case, and you should use it.
  • Usage and punctuation: You will see both U.S. and British spellings throughout. The rule is, if the subject is clearly identifiable with one country or the other, it follows that country's conventions. Where it's not, keep usage consistent with the existing article. One exception: “commas and periods almost always go after quotation marks”, and so do citations.[1]

Understanding Wikipedia's Policies and Guidelines[edit]

Wikipedia's internal rules contain more than 150 basic policies and guidelines, focused on allowable content and acceptable user behavior. Here are a few of the most important, with their searchable abbreviations:

  • Assume good faith: Along with related policies such as “Civility” (WP:CIVIL) and “No personal attacks,” (WP:PERSONAL) this one requires that you approach other editors with the presumption that they want to help build a good encyclopedia, and that they should afford the same courtesy to you. (WP:ASSUME) If you disagree about something, it shouldn't be a personal matter. Of course, you may encounter someone who does not follow this rule. If it happens, ask another editor for help.
  • Neutral point of view: The material you write for Wikipedia should be written in a calm, even-handed tone (WP:NPOV). This means more than just avoiding flowery language and exclamation points. It also means that your contributions should not endorse a particular point of view, but simply describe such views objectively. A neutral point of view is not one that keeps opinions out of Wikipedia articles entirely, but one that describes all relevant opinions fairly.
  • Copyrights: Except when quoting a source, Wikipedia forbids (WP:COPYVIO) the use of copyrighted material within articles. This obviously means you should never copy your marketing language (or “About” page) directly from your website. The tone will be wrong, but that's not all: you may be happy to let Wikipedia use your words, but your text is almost certainly copyrighted. Always write original material for Wikipedia.
  • Notability: This requirement (WP:NOTE) must be satisfied before a subject is considered appropriate for a standalone Wikipedia article. If you or your company doesn't meet it, don't bother trying to create an article — focus on becoming “notable” first. The general rule is that a topic must have “significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject” before it is considered notable. It also helps tremendously to have one of these sources explain why others consider you interesting or significant within your field. There is no “bright line” test to determine this, so you may wish to ask another editor for advice.
  • Reliable source: Publications, usually independent of your company, considered suitable for using as sources in Wikipedia. (WP:RELIABLE) The New York Times surely counts, and your personal blog probably does not, but what about everything in between? There is a detailed guideline devoted to that question, and sometimes the answer is context-dependent. (Occasionally, sources are only considered reliable on certain topics.) However, if the article you wish to cite was not published by a recognized newspaper, magazine, academic journal, or government agency, it probably doesn't count.
  • Verifiability: Generally speaking, any detail you add to Wikipedia should be verifiable (WP: VERIFY), which means confirmable by another editor. Although you really should include citations for anything you add, at the very least make sure you only add details that can be checked in publicly available resources. For example: annual financial reports for a public company will be verifiable, but quarterly information for a private company will not, unless announced or reported.
  • What Wikipedia is not: You already know that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia ... but what does that mean, exactly? Well, there is a lengthy guideline that attempts to describe everything Wikipedia “is not.” (WP:NOT) Among those things: a dictionary, a publisher of new ideas, a catalog or directory, and a manual or textbook. But it is also not a paper encyclopedia, so even if Britannica isn't likely to cover something, Wikipedia still might.

Getting Around Wikipedia[edit]

We've discussed some of the key terminology and policies at Wikipedia. Now let's talk about the different pages that make Wikipedia what it is.

  • Project pages: Wikipedia's content pages, including articles, guidelines, on-site projects, user essays and templates. Each project page has a Talk and History page associated with it.
  • Main page: The front page of Wikipedia. It receives about 5.5 million views per day on weekdays, and about 4.5 million on weekends. Lots to see here.
  • Featured article: The top section on the Main page of Wikipedia. Every day it's a different article, intended to represent the best that Wikipedia has to offer.
  • Talk pages: Discussed above. Talk page conversations typically feature indented replies from their various participants, posted at the bottom of each discussion section with signatures appended so you know who said what and when. The phrase “User talk” refers to discussion pages attached to user accounts.
  • History pages: Every single change made to an article, discussion or project page is recorded in Wikipedia's history logs. Forever. If you click on the “View history” tab at the top of a page, you'll find a reverse-chronological listing of changes made to the page. A few important things to know: “cur” will show you the difference between that version and the current article; “prev” will show you the difference between that version and the previous one; the time-and-date link will take you to the version of the article from the time and date listed.
  • User pages: Once you have an account, this is basically your “home” page. You can decorate this in many ways, such as writing about yourself and your interests and listing pages that you have edited or wish to edit. Many editors include “Userboxes” (see below). But there are two things you can't do: post any copyrighted images or use the page as your blog.
  • User space: You can create sub-pages linked off your main user page for different purposes, such as creating a scratch pad (a “sandbox”) or hosting an article that isn't quite ready for prime time.
  • User contributions: Just as project pages have History pages attached, user accounts have Contributions (or “contribs”) pages attached, showing all of the edits made by a particular account. The format is similar to that of a History page, but not identical. Instead of “cur” or “prev” there is a link type called “diff” which shows you the difference between versions of the page related to that edit. And “hist” shows you the history of the page edited by that user.
  • Watchlist: Want to visit just one page to find out when certain articles have been updated? Then start adding pages to your “watchlist.” Do this by clicking on the star at the top of any Wikipedia article, and it will appear on your watchlist when changes are made. Only the most recent change will appear, so if there has been a flurry of edits, you'll have to go visit that article's history page.
  • Preferences: You can change all sorts of things about your Wikipedia experience in your preferences, but you don't really need to do so. You may wish to set your time zone (the default is UTC) or create a fancy signature. And if you want your watchlist to show all changes (not only the most recent) you can do that here, too.

Understanding the Community[edit]

On top of everything else, Wikipedia is also a community. It's a place with a culture all its own, one which you'll want to understand before you reach out to your fellow editors.

  • Administrators: Although you may think of them as “super-users” with special powers, Wikipedia's administrators (or “sysops”) are typical editors who have access to just a few advanced tools. There's a reason the on-site symbol for admins is a Wikipedia logo with a mop: Administrators are responsible for lots of clean-up. They can delete pages, put certain pages off-limits from editing (if an edit war is occurring) and even block other users (temporarily or indefinitely). You'll want to stay on their good side, but remember that they must respect you as well.
  • Barnstars: Many Wikipedians like to show gratitude as a way to encourage further helpful edits. One way to do so is by giving each other ad hoc awards called “barnstars” (borrowed from a U.S. farming community custom, likening the work of Wikipedia to barn-raising), which are displayed on user pages. Don't worry if you never receive one — only a few editors hand them out.
  • Bots: Did you know that a majority of edits to Wikipedia are made not by human beings, but by automated processes called “bots”? Bots perform simple tasks like correcting spelling and removing obvious vandalism, and are hugely helpful. Sometimes they get things wrong, however, and you can easily revert their edits if they do.
  • Checkuser: If there is one thing you should never, ever do, it's creating multiple accounts and pretending they belong to different people. Some editors try this technique to win an argument or stack a vote. If you do, and someone gets wise, this closely held administrative tool will catch you. (Seriously, don't ever do this.)
  • Commons: Also called Wikimedia Commons, this sister website hosts appropriately licensed (see immediately below) images and other media files. As of early 2011, Commons had nearly 10 million files available, and you may upload as many as you can release under a free license.
  • Creative Commons: An alternative form of licensing content (text or images) between the “All rights reserved” of copyrighted material and the “No rights reserved” of public domain. Wikipedia is released under a Creative Commons license, and if you want an image to be usable on Wikipedia, you need to choose such a license — typically the one called “CC-BY-SA”.
  • Did You Know?: “Did You Know?” is a front-page feature that appears just below the Featured article. If you create a new article, or significantly expand one, you can submit it for inclusion in this feature, which will generate additional attention for the article on that one day. Unlike being “featured,” multiple pages are approved per day, but this also means a shorter period of exposure on the Main page.
  • Arbitration Committee: Sometimes referred to as Wikipedia's “Supreme Court.” You will probably never have to deal with it, but if you've wondered who makes the final decisions, it's them.
  • Help desk: If you have a question about how to do something — or whether you should do something — you can ask here, and a knowledgeable Wikipedian will respond, usually within minutes or hours. The Help desk is not Wikipedia's only such forum; another place to try is called “Editor assistance.” To find these most quickly, use your search engine of choice to look up WP:HELPDESK and WP:ASSIST, respectively.
  • Markup: This is the name used for the code in which Wikipedia articles are written. It's not very difficult to use — it is easier than HTML, for instance — but it still presents a small initial hurdle. Fortunately, Wikipedia provides a “cheatsheet” to help you remember how to do it. The shortcut for this is WP:CHEATSHEET.
  • Wikimedia Foundation: This is the non-profit parent organization of Wikipedia. It's also the driver of various related projects, such as Wikinews, Wikiquote and Wiktionary. The Wikimedia Foundation typically has no role in content decisions on Wikipedia.
  • Recent Changes Patrol: This is a small but dedicated group of Wikipedians who carefully watch all recent changes on Wikipedia to ferret out vandalism and other nonsense. If you've ever vandalized Wikipedia for fun (not that we'd advocate doing that, of course!) and found it gone within minutes, we have them to thank. Also sometimes called “Vandal Patrol.”
  • MediaWiki: This is the name of the software that powers Wikipedia. It was written specifically for Wikipedia, but it is licensed under Creative Commons, so if you ever wish to create your own wiki, you can install it on your own server. However, most of the cool things like infoboxes and navboxes have been designed specifically for Wikipedia, so if you want those it's probably best to hire someone who knows how.
  • WikiProjects: Over time, Wikipedians have self-organized into membership groups by subject in order to collaborate on articles they are interested in. These are based on geographic regions and hobbies, as well as more traditional encyclopedia topics.
  • Userboxes: If you've created a user page, you can add these templates to your user page to represent aspects of your background or personality, even if you wish to stay otherwise anonymous. These include your home country or city, educational background, languages spoken, perspectives on Wikipedia, favorite TV shows, and so forth. You certainly don't have to do this, but they are fun and many editors like to include them.

Best Practices for Getting Started[edit]

Choose a good user name: When you create an account, you may think it's a good idea to name your account for your company. Don't do this! Wikipedia typically views this as promotional. Choose something that is meaningful to you and won't offend anyone, and you'll be fine.

Create a user page: If you have any interests to declare, do it here first. Because Wikipedia allows anonymity, you don't have to use your name, but if you are going to comment or work on pages where you may have a potential conflict of interest, you definitely should mention the companies, organizations, issues or individuals of concern.

Get involved with an article's Talk page before you try making direct edits. When you leave a comment, make your point clearly, succinctly and politely. If you have a request, link to evidence that supports your point here. If the Talk page seems inactive, add the template {{request edit}} to the top of your note and someone will (eventually) get around to it. Always be polite and always disclose your interests.

Understand “non-controversial edits” you can make: There is a Wikipedia guideline called “Conflict of interest” (WP:CONFLICT) which explains etiquette for approaching such topics, and explains which types of edits are uncontroversial and are OK to make without asking for anyone else's help. First among these is fixing spelling and grammar errors. Second is adding citations to reliable sources. You'll always have a better chance of success if you know what kind of edit you're trying to make.

Get involved, off the clock: A Wikipedia guideline, which doesn't apply when updating a page about your own company, is “Be bold.” The nutshell version of the guideline says: “If you see something that can be improved, improve it!” But if you take the time to work on other Wikipedia pages, just to learn and have fun, you will have much more freedom in what you can do with other subjects. Find a topic that interests you, do some planning and research, and get started. That's how Wikipedia got to be as good as it is today, and how it will keep getting better in the future.

Common Mistakes[edit]

Because Wikipedia is complicated, sometimes it feels as though there are too many ways to go wrong. Fortunately, most of the time it's going to be one of the following:

  • Failing to create an account: Remember, if you don't create an account, others will be able to see your IP address when you make edits and perhaps find out more about you than you'd like them to know. Plus, it's very easy to get logged out without realizing it, so make sure you're signed in before you start editing a page.
  • Failing to include citations: Your edit or suggested edit will be much stronger if you can back it up with a reliable source to verify the information it contains.
  • Failing to format references correctly: If you don't put “<ref></ref>” tags around a link you insert, it will become an outbound link instead of a reference. Links within an article should be to other Wikipedia articles, while external links belong at the bottom.
  • Failing to follow Wikipedia's style guide: Unfortunately, there are many ways to deviate from Wikipedia's Manual of Style (WP:MOS), especially without realizing it. Look up the “Words to watch” (WP:WORDS) guideline for some key pointers.
  • Failing to avoid an edit war: If you make an edit and someone changes it, don't immediately change it back. Instead, take it to the Talk page. Take heed: if you revert an edit three times in 24 hours, your account can be temporarily blocked.
  • Failing to sign Talk page comments: If you don't do it, a bot will come along and sign a Talk page contribution for you (whether you are signed in or not). This isn't reassuring to the people you're trying to reach. If you want to be taken seriously, sign your comments.

Frequent Questions[edit]

What do you want to know? We'll guess you're hankering to ask the following:

  • Why doesn't my company have a Wikipedia article? Probably because it is not “notable,” or no one has thought to create one, or someone has thought to create one only to find out it is not notable. If you've had a page deleted, the same reason usually applies.
  • What makes something notable? A basic requirement is coverage in reliable sources, such as newspapers, but this isn't quite enough. A story or profile may be useful in establishing notability if it explains to the reader how your company is a leader in its field. This is an intentionally high standard. If you think your company might not count, your assumption is most likely correct.
  • Why are some articles so good, and others so bad? Wikipedia is only as good as the effort put into it by its many volunteers. Wikipedians excel at current events, technology subjects and anything you can geek out on. Historical and social science topics are sometimes neglected.
  • Who approves new edits? Generally speaking, no one. Wikipedia's Recent Changes Patrol is always watching for vandalism, but otherwise, in the vast majority of cases, if you make an edit it goes live immediately and stays until someone decides otherwise.
  • Who edits Wikipedia? Of course, anyone can. But generally speaking, who actually does? From a worldwide perspective, the average editor is a formally educated, English-speaking male of European descent, who lives in a developed nation in the Northern Hemisphere and is typically white collar, or a student, or retired. And probably a geek.
  • How does the formatting work? There's pretty much no getting around learning at least a little bit of Wikipedia's markup language. But if you know how to boldface and italicize words, create section headings and properly format references, you can get by.
  • Can a page be locked to prevent future edits? Not indefinitely, and if a page is locked at all that's a bad thing: it means an edit war has been taking place. The best way to make sure your suggestions remain is by working through the collaborative process to create quality additions.
  • Can I create a new article if I've never edited before? Technically, you can, but there's a lot to learn about the process first. Start out simple, keep reading and ask for help. You'll learn.

What's Next[edit]

Wikipedia has been around for a decade now, and in that time it has become highly developed as an information resource, formal organization and volunteer community. It's not going to change dramatically anytime soon. But that doesn't mean it will stay exactly the same. Here are some ways in which Wikipedia will be expanding and improving over the next few years:

Probably the biggest project currently in the works at Wikipedia's non-profit foundation is expanding overseas: Wikimedia recently opened its first office outside the United States in New Delhi, India. A similar effort aims to invite libraries, museums and similar repositories of “the sum of human knowledge” to work more closely with Wikipedia.

Otherwise, you probably shouldn't expect a lot to change on Wikipedia, except for gradual site upgrades and, of course, lots of new articles. Wikipedia volunteers are constantly working on many projects, including new editor tools and plans to include more media files on some articles. This doesn't mean they are interested in hosting your store's TV jingle — maybe in a few decades — but if you took video of a cheetah hunting down a gazelle on your last trip to the Serengeti, then Wikipedia wants it!

Online Resources[edit]

Wikipedia Signpost (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost)
A weekly “newspaper” produced by Wikipedia contributors. This should be your first stop.
Wikimedia blog (http://blog.wikimedia.org/)
This blog is written by staff of the Wikimedia Foundation and is the best window into the organization's plans and activities.
The Wikipedian (http://thewikipedian.net)
A blog about Wikipedia's community and culture. (Full disclosure: written by the author of this Grande Guide.)
Infodisiac (http://infodisiac.com/blog/)
Maintained by Wikimedia data analyst Erik Zachte, this blog (part of a larger website) highlights interesting trends and data visualizations of Wikipedia and its sister projects.
Words and what not (http://ultimategerardm.blogspot.com/)
Blog of Wikipedia user GerardM, this frequently updated site offers a handy guide to the different projects undertaken by volunteer Wikipedians.
Witty's Blog (http://www.wittylama.com/blog/)
Written by Liam Wyatt, who helps museums and similar institutions worldwide work more closely with Wikipedia. These are his travels.
Best of Wikipedia (http://bestofwikipedia.tumblr.com/) and Citation Needed (http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/)
Collections of unusual Wikipedia articles and amusing, unsourced statements within articles.
Wikipedia Review (http://wikipediareview.com/)
Careful with this one! This is a message board community of Wikipedia critics. Sometimes they make good points, sometimes they just gripe. But it's interesting.