Wikipedia:How to lessen wikibattling

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Ice hockey

Ever noticed there are lots of fights in hockey but few in American football? They're both contact sports. Why hockey and not football? Same thing with transportation by car or by walking -- there are numerous instances of road rage but few between pedestrians, even if pedestrians bump into each other. And there is substantial Edit warring here in Wikipedia, but much less animosity when, for example, people discuss politics face-to-face in a coffeehouse.

What's going on?

What's common to all three -- hockey, car travel, and Wikipedia -- is that (1) anonymous competitors can (2) come on suddenly with (3) little or no warning and (4) cause big damage to us. We can not read their faces to get cues about their emotional state. It happens fast, with little warning. And the damage can be substantial -- flipped lying on one's back, crushed in a car accident, an article deleted. The four circumstances create fear, and we deal with the fear by becoming angry, by lashing out, by wikibattling. Maybe we might call it the Wikipedia road rage effect?

  • In ice hockey, an opposing player can seem to come out of nowhere -- from behind possibly -- fast -- and knock us down or trip us or slam us into a wall. Mostly hockey players expect to stay vertical -- falling is an aberration. A blindside tackle can happen in football too, but it happens less often, arguably, because much of the action in football is forwards and backwards. The regular pile-ups in football relieve much of the tension -- players expect it to happen and get used to it -- so there's less anxiety built up, perhaps contributing to a friendlier atmosphere. In football, arguably, there's more time to react -- we can see a huge opposing player coming at us in many circumstances, although football helmets can block the visibility of faces to some extent. There are still some fights in football, but many more in hockey.
  • In driving, we rarely see other drivers' faces. Highway driving means huge fast-moving metallic shapes which can come out of nowhere and crash into our car, wrecking it, causing lawsuits and injury, and potentially killing us. Add traffic, a bit of frustration, hot climate, or other variables, and road rage can happen quickly. Small incidents can quickly escalate -- there's no way to read another person's expression and get a sense of what they're feeling. Walking, however, there is less potential damage of being seriously hurt or killed; and we can read other people's faces and say excuse me or sorry, along with well-established rules for how to co-exist. There are numerous cases of road rage, but few if any pedestrian rage.
  • In Wikipedia, an anonymous handle can come out of nowhere and challenge our addition or edit or even delete our article or block us from editing -- huge damage; happens suddenly; faceless; we do not get to read the other person's facial expressions. Wikipedia is like hockey and driving in this sense.

If this is right -- a big if -- there may be ways to lessen the wikibattling by adjusting the Wikipedia interface in subtle ways with technology. Any means to make users more identifiable, more human-looking, with faces perhaps, might help, as well as lessening the suddenness, or reminding users that changes are not permanent (that in Wikipedia, cars can be uncrashed.) Here are a few:

  • Face icons. Suppose users had face-icons, perhaps their real faces or else an image of another face, or even a cartoon image -- preferably smiling or friendly-looking. Then, perhaps, these thumbnail images could be put next to their contributions on talk or Wikipedia pages (not in articles obviously). It might help humanize Wikipedia, perhaps lead to a friendlier atmosphere.
  • Time buffer. The idea is to lessen the surprise of a huge revert or change. Here's one way it might work but there may be other. Suppose user X adds two sentences. User Y wants to delete those two sentences. So, user Y would delete them -- it looks deleted on Y's screen but not yet on X's screen -- but what user X would see is first a notice that the edit was challenged which appears for some length of time (perhaps ten minutes to a half hour or whatever time period is chosen.) That gives user X a chance to explain the addition to user Y, to fix the sentences or add references. There's less of a shock of a surprise delete -- user X knows it's coming ahead of time, has a chance to react, and when the delete finally happens in terms of what user X sees (the Wikipedia software interface makes the change now), it's easier for X to accept it.

There still will be back-and-forth challenges, but there may be ways such as these to limit the anger by modifying the software interface.