Since (almost!) everyone reads novels, one would expect WikiProject Novels to be one of the more successful projects on the encyclopedia but, surprisingly, the history of the project has been relatively low-key. Started in October 2002 (making it one of the earliest WikiProjects), it never really took off until early 2006 when Kevinalewis, the current lead coordinator, became active member #3 with the plaintive is this project active?. Since then, the project has moved forward fitfully to its current level of 147 members, 29 featured articles, 4 featured lists, and 75 good articles. While this is a respectable record, it is far less than one would expect from an area in which there are upward of 40,000 articles categorized as novels (according to the toolserver).
This week, the Signpost interviews Kevinalewis, the project lead-coordinator, and Alan16, a project coordinator, to explore the pitfalls in this everyman's area, and to identify what you can do to strengthen this neglected continent of Wikipedia.
Let's get right into it. Everybody has a favorite novel (and almost everyone wants to write one!). Yet, the number of listed wikipedians on this project is a dismal 147 with active members probably numbering in the low double digits. Why does this project have a hard time getting members and in keeping them engaged?
Kevinalewis: The membership took a heavy trim - keen editors took it upon themselves to do this - then most of them became less keen soon after doing this. Also it appears most editors on Wikipedia are "fans" of something. There are a few exceptions, but those that seem to get involved in Wikipedia, in the cultural arena particularly, are more attracted to their favourite author, novel, film, musician etc. So a project with a more broad constructive intent seems to have little interest garnered or, if gained, then kept. Also those editors who are more constructive, typically the more general Wikipedian, do loads of sterling editing and authoring work but are less appreciative of the more popularist needs, interests and stylistic likes of others. All in all the character of Wikipedia and the articles of this projects scope often resemble more of a battleground than mutual help / co-operation that is more of the spirit of the thing.
Alan16: As Kevin said, it's because people are fans. A lot of people will only edit/read stuff they have an interest in, so when they edit an article on a novel they might see the WikiProject and decide that it'll be fun to join. This is all well and good, but we need people to edit more than just what they enjoy. A big problem is that too many people join, then just forget about the project. I'm not going to pretend that I'm any different, because I almost did the same thing. Something that's perhaps worth pointing out is that we have 147 members, yet 23 have opted out of receiving the monthly newsletter, which is the easiest way of staying up to date with what's happening with the project. I appreciate the edits these people make both to project related articles and non project related articles, but I'm often annoyed by these people: they sign up for the project, but seemingly do not care to know what is happening with it. It just seems so illogical to me.
That's interesting. From what you're saying, it would appear that the scope of the project is too large to hold the interest of individual editors. But shouldn't the task forces, and I see that there are quite a few, help concentrate the minds of editors? Does that make sense and are there plans to expand the reach of these task forces?
Kevinalewis: No. What I am saying is that Wikipedia as a whole is struggling to attract the right type of editorial input in the culture arena. There are some truly committed people but most seem "fan" like. But yes Task Forces help, but what we could really do with are more people who do high quality research-based editing to the articles, and also those with a true "project" focus who have really caught the Wikipedia visions, and those of the Novels project in particular. Aside from that those who do often have real lives and are busy people, we just need more hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the ..... you get the idea. Yes more strength to task Forces (period based, genre based, age group based, geographical base and others).
I should think that articles on novels are rarely contentious given that the articles revolve largely around the plot and reviews. But, of course, some novels may have been contentious or controversial in the past (Lady Chatterley's Lover and Madame Bovary come to mind!). Have there been any novel articles that have escalated into major disputes in your knowledge?
Alan16: In my experience I've not really come across any particularly major disputes. As you say, most of the information in the articles is related to the plot and the reviews, so the information is all there and not really up for debate. Most disputes I've seen really come down to Wikipedia related topics, rather than topics related to the novels themselves. In other words, it's more disputes over stylistic issues, rather than over issues related to the novels.
What help can the project give an editor who creates an article on a novel? For example, I've just created the article on the novel Losing Nelson by Barry Unsworth. Could you direct me to various project resources that I can use in building my article?
Alan16: I've not been with the project as long as Kevin so I can only talk about the last half year or so. How well does it work? Both well and not so well. Why I say it doesn't work so well is because people just haven't been nominating any articles for collaboration. This has an effect on the good part of the collaboration department because the good thing about it is that it does seem to get people to edit the page, but when nobody is nominating an article, the chances of there being a new collaboration are slim.
Could you give our readers some tips on what they can do to get involved with the project? Things like receiving updates, areas where you could use some help, that sort of thing.
Alan16: Well the best way to get involved with the project is to edit novel-related articles. If this is what you are interested in, then join the project and you'll receive the monthly newsletter which will include updates about what's happening at the project, as well as some general novel news. If you think there is an article on a novel that could be helped by bringing it to the projects attention then definitely list it at the Collaboration department. We're going to be having a coordinator elections over the next month, so make sure you get involved there and cast your vote (I'll be sending out the appropriate information to all members over the coming week). But basically, as I said at the start, just edit novel-related articles so that we can allow the project to reach the potential it most certainly has. Finally, I imagine that there might be some editors out there who are unsure about either making specific edits or about what they can do to help - I know I certainly fell in to this category when I first started. So I'd just like to remind them that they can post their questions at the forum where our members will try and help, or they can come straight to either Kevin or myself, and we will both do our utmost to help them.
Thank you Kevinalewis and Alan16 for taking the time to talk to the Signpost. Readers, if there is a novel that you have more than a passing acquaintance with, please visit WikiProject Novels and see what you can do to send the novel's article on the way to featured status!
Next week, the WikiProject Report will dig into a prehistoric project. Until then, feel free to peruse the archives, newly updated with lost articles from a previous revival.
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