WikiProject Editor Retention
This week, we spent some time with a project that develops tools and methods for improving the user experience in the hope that new users will continue editing the encyclopedia. The project was started in July 2012 and has grown to include 124 members. The project's members partner with the Teahouse (interviewed last year) and the Welcoming Committee to spread WikiLove, welcome new users, encourage civility, crown an Editor of the Week, test new versions of Snuggle, research the reasons why people leave Wikipedia, and invite departed editors to return. We interviewed Dennis Brown, Buster7, EpochFail, Amadscientist, Go Phightins!, and TheOriginalSoni.
- What motivated you to join WikiProject Editor Retention? What does the project do to improve editor retention? Why are the project's efforts important?
- Dennis Brown: I started WP:WER after noticing several editors quitting due to frustration, often with the bureaucracy itself. I wasn't sure what we could do at the Project but I knew that listening was the first step in creating changes, and sometimes people just want to know someone cares enough to do just that, listen.
- Buster7: I was looking for something to do. I try to welcome at least 25 new editors a day and edit/talk/research 3 o 4 articles? I was looking for a project and WER got started right under my nose. I was hooked from Day One. I was involved in some of the early construction and Brainstorming when the project moved from D Brown's talk page to become a reality.
- WER has been able to focus attention on the recent infux of retiring editors. Other members may be more aware of solutions, discussions, etc...more than I. I have pretty much focussed on the EotW sub-project.
- EpochFail: I first joined WER because the goals of the project closely aligned with my academic work studying the rise and decline in active editors. Right now, I'm working on WP:Snuggle, a tool that is designed to make identifying and supporting good newcomers who run into trouble faster and easier for wiki-mentors. I'm hoping that the combination of this software and efforts like the WP:Teahouse will reverse the declining trend of desirable newcomer retention. Joining Wikipedia ought to be a welcoming experience for anyone who wants to help.
- Amadscientist: I was motivated to join Editor retention by two other editors who inspired me to look at editors a little differently. Less as needing to be dealt with and more about interacting and collaborating whenever possible. That is the main function of WER right now. To get editors look at each other as humans and not just text on a screen. Just getting editors to be more patient, a little nicer and reachout to each other for help. I think WER's efforts are important because they are geared and focused at keeping editor's from leaving. Getting them to find new outlets for their work and meet other editors who encourage collaboration and willing to answer your question and just help where every we can as both individuals and as a group.
- Go Phightins!: I first joined WER to fulfill a requirement for a final test in an adoption course; that said, I would have eventually joined anyway. Even in the eight months since I have been active here at WP, I have found that anything Dennis starts is unlikely to fail for lack of effort. This project is no exception. Though we really do not have any formal processes other than EotW, which Buster and I started, the biggest thing that I see is the term "editor retention" being tossed around. Awareness is key. How do we retain our best editors without alienating newer ones who might someday join? Those are key questions that are being thought about more now that we have a project for it.
is a tool designed to help editors mentor new users
- At nine months old, WikiProject Editor Retention is a fairly young project. What were some of the toughest obstacles the project faced when it was first unveiled? What chances of success do other new projects have as Wikipedia matures?
- Buster7: Projects bring together editors of a similar mind or interest. Right now I think WER is in the brainstorming process: a melting pot, gathering thoughts and ideas and solutions that can be implemented to retain editors...waiting for that new idea to stimulate action. One early idea was to pay closer attention to what retiring editors were saying on their way out the door. Most were angry over something or dissapointed in what they felt they had experienced. I need to re-visit that. I have my notes here somewhere.
- Dennis Brown: Direction and scope. You have a lot of people who want to make Wikipedia a more enjoyable environment but a lot of different ideas on what that means. Sometimes, consensus is difficult to achieve.
- Amadscientist: The "flash in the pan" route was something to worry about but the editors we have are pretty passionate about the talk page and retention issues and new ideas that it seems to maintained a pretty interesting discussion. Our Wikiprojects are seeing some rebirth recently and I see that a growing interest in working together and that is always very inspiring.
- Go Phightins!: I concur with Dennis above. What does our project do? Is it a place solely for discussion? Should we have more concrete projects on which to work? Right now, other than EotW, WER is not terribly active in its project space. It will be interesting to see what the community sees as goals for editor retention and how a project like WER can help facilitate those goals.
- The project has a variety of teams dividing the project's workload and some members are assigned to leadership positions. What purposes do these teams serve? Have they been successful in motivating editors to contribute toward specific tasks?
- Buster7: The team concept never took off. We should probably edit that out since it never got wings.
- TheOriginalSoni: Although the team format is now defunct, we currently have three active places where work is currently being done -
- The first is the WER page, where every once in a while, we have someone asking others to give their opinions etc on matters related to editors leaving Wikipedia and other such related topics.
- The second is our Editor of the Week award where we try and recognize off-the-radar quality editors whose work has gone under-appreciated by the community. Many of our recipients have been motivated even further to keep up their excellent work.
- The third is Snuggle, where Aaron Halfaker has been working on a Huggle-like interface to monitor and help welcome contributing newcomers to Wikipedia. It is a work-in-progress.
- Dennis Brown: As someone else pointed out, the teams idea didn't take off. We aren't a top down managed project, so I didn't expect that to work. This means we try a lot of things. To be honest, the most valuable things that come from the project aren't written on the Project pages. For members, the Project is a mindset that affects everything they do. We try to think about retention in everything we do. It reminds us to reach out, to take the time to explain to new users instead of templating them, to mediate when needed, and when participating in policy discussion, to consider how it affects editor retention. The other programs we do are nice, but the biggest difference we make doesn't happen on the Project pages, but on the talk pages of editors new and old.
- Amadscientist: While the teams have not worked as hoped, one thing has caught on and that is an asserted effort from members to help others, answer question and be as positive a force as possible.
- What research has the project conducted on the motivations of new editors and the reasons editors leave Wikipedia? What were your findings?
- Buster7: I found this quote by Dale Carnegie:* People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing. If we at WER remove the frustrations, we find that one of the things that fills the void is fun.
- EpochFail: In the summer of 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation hired a team of researchers with experience studying aspects of participation in Wikipedia and tasked us with identifying the reason for the decline in active editors. Together, we produced 28 micro studies exploring the newcomer article deletion rate, where newcomers go for help, how newcomer's first experience affects retention, etc. These studied led to a report published in American Behavioral Scientist detailing how changes to Wikipedia's counter vandalism system (the bots, WP:Huggle and warning templates, that saved Wikipedia from being drowned with vandalism in 2006) had degraded the experience of being a new editor. My work with WP:Snuggle is one of our recommended directions from the paper -- to build a system that would allow newcomer socialization to operate at the scale that counter-vandalism has attained through intelligent software support.
- Amadscientist: From the material we looked at, as well as few other graphs, the perception of a decline in editors is not as bad as it appears when you look at the bigger picture. But from paying attention to the community and just watching there are some problems that a little more patience couldn't hurt.
- One of the project's initiatives is the Editor of the Week, a way to recognize editors who make substantial improvements to Wikipedia but often go unnoticed. What is the reasoning behind this program? Who is eligible and how are nominations made?
- Buster7: My interest and involvement w/ WER has mainly been constructing and monitoring the Editor of the Week sub-project. Our first Award was presented January 15th. The intended purpose of the EotW sub-project is the same as the Main Project---to retain editors. It is not to just hand out shiny trophies for some editors trophy case. In our (members) travels we search out editors that are doing the work of the encyclopedia. These editors rarely get caught up in time-consuming drama. That is why they can be invisible...hard to find. They have very little name recognition. They are busy working while the rest of us argue over whether its "The Beatles" or "the Beatles".
- A lot of editors proudly announce their retirement on the Cathedral door. But, some editors just slip away because no one seems to notice them...or care about them. The surprisingly emotional response of some of the recepients tells us that the EotW award has been a great tool to brighten the spirits and gladden the hearts of the recipients. It's made them smile. It's made them happy. It's made editing WP fun. We don't need to work at retaining editors that are having fun. EotW is an effort to bring the fun back to them. Every editor is eligible EXCEPT for Admins. A couple have been nominated, but we decided that they already get plenty of acclaim and recognition and accolades.
- I do some "advertising" on other editors pages whenever possible. We have, I think, about 6 Accepted nominees right now, in a Queue. Some early discussion revolved around perhaps distributing them more often than once a week. It was decided to start with one a week (distributed on Sunday night).
- Amadscientist: The main idea when this was proposed was something like a barnstar...but in a more formal way. Although no such awrd of this nature on Wikipedia fas a true formal nature, we wanted to encourage newer users that following best practice can produce great content and to let othees see these contributors so that they may have the chance interact with as many people as possible. That is the whjole point after all, and EOTW does that very well.
- Has the project collected any success stories about preventing editors from quitting or bringing retired editors back to Wikipedia? How do you know when the project's initiatives are achieving their goals?
- Buster7: One sure way of measuring success is how people respond to what you are doing. Check out Wikipedia:WikiProject Editor Retention/Editor of the Week/Recipient response.
- Dennis Brown: This is difficult to measure as most of our victories are small ones. How do you measure someone who is thinking about leaving but doesn't, or measure someone enjoying Wikipedia more, or being frustrated less? Often, the results are subtle or you simply don't know. As individuals, we get involved with singular problems, but the real job is making Wikipedia a more enjoyable environment for everyone. This means we want ways to reduce bureaucracy, simplicity in dealing with disputes, and equity in how everyone is treated. I imagine our biggest victories are unknown even to us. Honestly, you never know how close someone is to leaving, or how much of an impact you make. We don't get a lot of direct feedback that way, but we know all the little victories add up, so we keep moving on.
- Amadscientist: One way that one can measure some success is see the mantra and logo on other editor's user/talk pages. "This editor is willing to lend a helping hand. Just ask". See that mantra grow has been kinda fun and seeing others take it to heart is certainly some small victory.
- Go Phightins!: I kind of started EotW by accident. Dennis mentioned something at the WER talk page one day. I jotted down a few ideas in a sandbox, and since then it has taken off. There are really only a couple of editors still working on its administration, but that is OK because a project like this doesn't need much administration. That's the beauty of it. An editor sees someone while working on an article; it's a user name they do not recognize. They spend five or ten minutes perusing their talk page and contributions and see that the person is seldom awarded barnstars or any recognition, so eventually, maybe on a bad day (this has happened), the editor gets a big shiny barnstar declaring they are the editor of the week. No bureaucracy, no responsibilities, they are just getting recognized for everything they have done. I would have to think that is a great feeling, and based on the recipients' responses, it has been.
- How often does the project collaborate with other WikiProjects? Are there any redundancies that could be consolidated?
- Dennis Brown: We often send new users to the Teahouse, or direct people to other projects or venues when they have issues. In some ways, we act as a clearinghouse, helping by just getting them to the right area to get their questions answered. We try to not duplicate the efforts of other projects, and instead help the other projects out. Many members of WER are Teahouse hosts, for example. Others like myself, work to mediate disputes that the current bureaucracy has not addressed.
- Amadscientist: I have noticed a number of WER members also at the Teahouse, on the AN/ANI and other boards. While not even an informal DR process, WER has helped get editors involved with retention issues in both individual cases and in more general discussions on the talk page.
- TheOriginalSoni: Most of the times, the collaboration with other WikiProject happens to be through the members, and not between WikiProjects. One of the best things WER provided me was to get to know other editors - other friendly editors. Half of the interactions most users have with others are through article improvement, which can be hostile. But through WER, I know exactly which bunch of editors to call for, when I want to help at a particular WikiProject. WER members have been found at many pro-active projects here, like the Teahouse and TAFI. Some of our members have recently also started eating at WikiProject Breakfast.
- What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new member help today?
- TheOriginalSoni: As the name suggests, Project Editor Retention's most urgent need is to retain and build a stronger and healthy community behind our editors, both new and old. All our actions in the Project have, and will serve to this very purpose. We have been doing the same for some time now with a little success, and hope to continue the same in the future.
- We at WER love collaboration, and would surely welcome anyone who can help in any way possible. Aaron could certainly use the services of a programmer or two; while the EotW would be more than happy to have more people helping to recognize the true workers of our encyclopedia. If you have any such editor in mind, nominate them today! Most importantly, every editor should strive to ensure no good contributor to the encyclopedia goes away, whether through this project, or outside it. That's what our Project is all about.
- Amadscientist: The greatest need is letting editors know about the project and the entire concept of actively working to retain our contributors by helping them whenever you can and have patience.
- Dennis Brown: For me, the best way a new member can help is with new users. Either at the Teahouse, patrolling new articles or maybe helping out at the understaffed WP:AFC. Wikipedia's maze of policies exist for good reason, but can be intimidating. We need to use templates less, and just warmly and sincerely let new users know we understand how confusing the place can be at first, and offer to help. Some of these new users have exceptional talents and skills that we will lose forever if we don't extend a hand and an ear. Of course, you don't need to be a member of WER to do that, and Wikipedia would be a richer place if we all put just a little effort in that direction.
- Go Phightins!: Again, I agree with Dennis. New users are the lifeblood of the project. Someone who vandalizes a page today may be the next Muboshgu-like content creator tomorrow. We need to retain vandals as productive, not destructive contributors. We need to retain newbies who are confused by the wiki-code and we need to retain the established, burnt-out, content creators we already have if we are going to build the encyclopedia we dream of. EotW is a great initiative, but it's not the end-all, be-all. Every user should feel they are in a helpful, positive environment where they can contribute, and that, to me, is the goal of editor retention.
- Buster7: Our (EotW) most urgent need is of course a full queue of accepted nominees. It would be nice to have to make the decision to hand out more than one a week. Here are some of the EotW links for your perusal:
- I especially like recipients responses. It lets us know we a striking a chord with derserving editors. At WER/EotW, our newest member has already been tasked to notify the nominator the day after his nominee gets the award. The basic task of a new member is to visit the recepients page the day or two after and offer congratulations. The more "pats on the back" the better.
Next week, we'll play ball in the Land of the Rising Sun. Until then, take a swing at our previous reports in the archive.
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