This week, we spun full circle with WikiProject Tropical Cyclones. After six years in existence, the project has grown to include 116 Featured Articles, 50 Featured Lists, 10 pieces of Featured Media, 42 A-class Articles, and 522 Good Articles. For a look at how the project has developed, check out the Signpost's previous interviews with the project from 2008 and 2009. Project members Titoxd, Yellow Evan, Thegreatdr, Hurricanehink, and TropicalAnalystwx13 brought us up to date.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Tropical Cyclones? Have you ever experienced a tropical cyclone firsthand?
Titoxd: I am one of the original members of the WikiProject, which was founded in October 2005. I believe my first encounter with a hurricane article was when I was looking for information on Hurricane Emily way back in July 2005, and I saw a very informative article on the subject. There already was a small community of editors working on hurricane articles, even before there was an "official" WikiProject. While I have not been affected directly by a tropical cyclone, my hometown saw flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ismael back in 1995, so I have been interested in hurricanes ever since.
Yellow Evan: I joined in 2008, when I was looking for information about TC's. I live in Nevada, so I have next to no experience of a tropical cyclone firsthand.
Thegreatdr: I joined in January 2006, after seeing a news story about the problems with wikipedia and noticing that its meteorology articles were quite underdeveloped. Since I'm a meteorologist/weather forecaster, I felt I could help.
Hurricanehink: I've been editing hurricane articles since December 2004, so when the project started up, naturally I joined it. I had to evacuate for Hurricane Irene last summer, which was a very surreal experience for me. It gave me a new perspective on people being affected by storms.
TropicalAnalystwx13: I am one of the newer members on WikiProject Tropical Cyclones, joining in September 2010. My sole purpose of joining the project was to keep expand and improve existing tropical cyclones articles, and to create new ones when needed. I first became interested in Meteorology, specifically tropical weather, in 2004. I remember being out of school because of Hurricane Alex (2004) and watching the strong winds outside.
WikiProject Tropical Cyclones has been interviewed twice by the Signpost. Juliancolton commented that the project "lost a few key members" between the 2008 interview and 2009 interview. How does the project's member retention look today? What are the main reasons editors leave active projects like WikiProject Tropical Cyclones? What can be done to prevent these losses?
Hurricanehink: The project is typically busiest during the Atlantic hurricane season (mostly between July and October), and each year some of the annual members stick around and become key editors. Fortunately, this Atlantic off-season is much more active than usual, and we still have many of our key members that we had as of 2009. We have a young editing base (most are under 25 years old), and as a result the biggest loss to the project is when users experience that horrifying world outside of our computers known as the real world. The best way to prevent these losses is to abandon one's doctoral degree, music album, or social life. Or, more realistically, work with new users and get them integrated.
Titoxd: Retention in WPTC is stable. Activity in the WikiProject is cyclical, with a large spike in editing activity when a hurricane or other tropical cyclone affects the United States directly. Usually we get one or two new editors to stick around every year, which renews the editor base. As to what to do to prevent losses... well, I don't think that there is much that we can do, since "life" tends to be the most common reason for activity drops for us.
Thegreatdr: I agree with Titoxd. Activity and memberships varies over the years and throughout the year. Activity is naturally increased during the Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclone seasons. Luckily, during the past few years, we have more editors willing and able to expand upon information south of the equator. Also, it is gratifying to see more members tacking the seasonal articles, which have the greatest need of improvement.
Yellow Evan: Activity has increased quite a bit since that point, in 2009, we had 2–3 active editors, now we have 6–9 main editors. Our IRC chat is twice as active as it was in 2009; in those days, the chat would only become active once or twice a day, now the chat is active several times a day. The most common reason why editors leave or become inactive is because of Real Life (RL) issues.
The project has progress bars for three goals: reaching 200 total pieces of Featured material, 150 Featured Articles, and 1,000 Good Articles. Why were these goals chosen and how close is the project to achieving the goals? What new goals will be set when the current goals have been reached?
Hurricanehink: The original goal of those three was getting 500 good articles, but that happened last year. Rather than resting on our laurels, we set another goal to go for the big 1k. At the current rate, the 200 pieces of featured material will likely happen first, but the project won't stop there. The tropical cyclone WikiProject has long been committed to both quality and quantity, which I personally believe is a good model for Wikipedia as a whole. At this point, the project's editors have become so committed to quality that the numbers are more for reference.
Titoxd: To add to what Hurricanehink said, the eventual goal is the original goal.
Yellow Evan: These goals were made during the summer, and we will likely reach some of these goals in 2–5 years.
Thegreatdr: Goals are nice to strive for. People like to reach for numerical goals which are round in number, which is probably why they were chosen.
A frequent topic of discussion on the project's talk page in the past few months has been the use of timelines to illustrate tropical cyclone seasons. What were the main concerns expressed about existing timelines and how did the project resolve the dispute? Are there ways other projects can emulate the decision-making process utilized by WikiProject Tropical Cyclones?
Titoxd: I am not sure I can call that discussion "resolved." It is still a topic of discussion, as evidenced by the very recent AFD on the topic, and I won't rehash the arguments we made there. The main thing I would like the WikiProject to improve is getting the general community more involved with guideline decision-making. We've had discussions on broad topics like timelines, general nomenclature, notability, and the like, yet it seems we can't generate enough external interest in the wider community to comment on them when we request their input.
Hurricanehink: As for the decision-making process, the project has an active IRC channel where we often discuss the state of the project (among other things, such as Pokémon, Lolcats, Politics, RL). We never come to any real decisions on there, but by talking in real time, we're able to find common ground much quicker than on Wiki. Any such compromise always ends up on Wiki, so the non-IRC members can see and add their input. I feel that by talking in real time to some of the other editors is one of the project's strong suits.
Thegreatdr: Despite the existence of the IRC channel, it is good to log any agreements within the talk pages of the project, so the members know what resolution has been made, and also to inform the project of what was discussed. As within any project, agreed-upon standards change every so often.
Yellow Evan: The main concern about timelines is whether or not there are content forks, and if so, are they acceptable content forks? Most of our interaction comes on IRC, so by creating an IRC channel other projects can emulate the process used by WPTC.
What has been the impact of splitting the project's assessments into storms, seasons, meteorology, and geographic areas? Have you contributed to any of the project's new featured articles, lists, or media?
Hurricanehink: I was a proponent toward adding task forces, and to an extent still am. It has led to an additional area of assessment statistics, which I am very fond of. Inspired by the Periodic Table by Quality within the Elements WikiProject, I created a table that indicates the Wikiwork by Atlantic hurricane season. The Wikiwork term is itself lovingly stolen from the Roads WikiProject. I use such a table to find the seasons that need the most work.
Titoxd: It really gives us a quantitative assessment of the WikiProject's status in multiple areas. For example, we know that season articles are not necessarily as good as individual storm articles, and storm subarticles. The assessment tables also allow us to identify "bottleneck articles" — that is, articles that are blocking a Good Topic or Featured Topic nomination. Once we know where the bottleneck articles are, we can focus on them and get them to at least GA status. As for the other question, as my availability to edit is spotty, I am not as prolific in the FA arena as Hurricanehink, but I got List of Arizona hurricanes featured recently.
Thegreatdr: I initially created the tropical cyclone rainfall lists, such as List of wettest tropical cyclones in the United States and List of wettest tropical cyclones by country. I like the fact the others have helped updating both lists since their creation. This is what makes Wikipedia a great place to contribute...it's not all about you. I also have helped make the wind, numerical weather prediction, tropical cyclone, and extratropical cyclone articles featured, with brought numerous other articles within the tropical cyclone and broader meteorology projects up to Good Article status. I tend to stick to the meteorology articles, and since last spring, have been mainly proofing the various articles within the project. Numerous reviewers, including some critics of how Wikipedia operates, have led to positive changes within the wind and numerical weather prediction articles. I appreciate it most when critics of the Wikipedia process provide feedback; it proves they still care about its improvement.
Yellow Evan: The task forces help organize our data and figure out our strengths and weaknesses. I do not have any FAs, but I do have limited involvement in an FL, as well as 30+ GAs.
The Tropical Cyclones Portal is a Featured Portal. What are the greatest challenges to creating and maintaining a Featured Portal? How can projects increase traffic for portals under their scope? Is there a future for the portal concept?
Titoxd: The largest hurdle was to get it initially populated, and then modify it so it basically runs itself. The most editor-intensive part of the portal is keeping the list of current storms up to date, but I have noticed that there is a group of friendly anonymous editors who keep that section updated for us.
What are the project's most pressing needs? How can a new member contribute today?
Titoxd: While we do have a lot of GAs and FAs, we still have a large number of sub-par articles, especially for older seasons. There is plenty to do there for a new editors, and we can teach editors how to find reliable sources if they haven't had any prior experience in the black arts of research. Additionally, we really need editors who are able to read foreign language sources, as that limits our ability to improve our coverage on typhoons and cyclones. Even if article-writing is not your thing, we still need editors to help us verify that style guidelines pass MOS muster, as well as other meta-discussions about the way the WikiProject should approach things.
Thegreatdr: Efforts such as Wikipedia's recent digitization efforts at NARA at College Park, Maryland are a good path forward for this project. I think we are reaching the end of picking the low hanging fruit from the internet/World Wide Web: information that is currently available online. I think the last of these sources which have not been significantly used is the information within IBTrACS, the international tropical cyclone database being compiled at the National Climatic Data Center. The most significant improvements I've made to articles the past couple years involve using information from real, hard-bound books and publications which have not yet been digitized. There are troves of unscanned information at places such as the National Archives, National Climatic Data Center, and the NOAA Central Library which can be scanned and/or utilized for this project. This is the broad horizon the project is about the enter.
Yellow Evan: Editors that work on important articles.
TropicalAnalystwx13: As Hurricanehink said, one of our more pressing matters is that we have a lot of stub/start-class articles, namely the older seasons. The main way a new editor can contribute to our WikiProject today is to try fixing up a lot of our poorer articles.
Next week, we'll sort through Wikipedia's smallest articles. Until then, watch the encyclopedia grow from the archive.