Wikipedia talk:Help desk/Archive 2

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Archive 1 Archive 2 Archive 3

Automation of archiving

I've asked Cryptic if he can get his bot to automate the addition of new supersections and moving of old supersections to the archives. He's working on archiving TfD at the moment, but will look at the help desk once that is running smoothly. I'll post here again before Cryptic lets his bot loose on the live page. --GraemeL (talk) 16:59, 15 January 2006 (UTC)

I've run this in read-only mode for the past few days, and it seems to be working correctly. I'm going to start running it on the live page tonight. Please let me know on my talk page if it does anything wrong, instead of just quietly fixing it, or it'll keep doing it wrong; but do fix it, too, since I'm not at my computer around midnight and won't usually get the message until about 15:00 UTC. (I already know about the new day's header being misplaced if a new section sneaks in between midnight and the bot's update; it just appends it to the bottom. That shouldn't be a problem here unless it takes a lot of retries to get the TFD edits to go through, though.) —Cryptic (talk) 08:27, 23 January 2006 (UTC)

Preventing usage of help desk for factual questions

Something really, really needs to be done about all the factual questions people ask on the help desk. How about putting a large label at the top, "this place is not for questions about specific subjects" or something like it? -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 07:46, 23 January 2006 (UTC)

I thought it would be a good idea to make some boilerplate text to that we can use to save us the trouble of writing the same message everytime. We could even add a "new section" link to the section of the reference desk in question.--Max Talk (add)Contributions 08:07, 23 January 2006 (UTC)
People (1) don't understand that "this place is not for questions about specific subjects" applies to their questions; (2) don't read such a statement; (3) can be generally daft. We've tried making the purpose of this page more pronounced—you don't see anything as large as that "How to use Wikipedia" on other pages—but it's impossible to see any improvement because of the general increased traffic to Wikipedia. jnothman talk 08:41, 23 January 2006 (UTC)
I made the template that I mentioned above. It inserted by writing {{Reference desk}} and it expands to:

Symbol move vote.svg Have you tried Wikipedia's Reference Desk? They specialize in knowledge questions and will try to answer just about any question in the universe (except how to use Wikipedia, since that is what this Help Desk is for). Just follow the link, select the relevant section, and ask away. I hope this helps.

Feel free to improve it, I might try to add an optional field where we can specify a subject, and even include an automatic new section link.--Max Talk (add)Contributions 21:36, 23 January 2006 (UTC)

I've added a bit to it so people will be sure what we mean. An optional subject with new section link would be great, for example {{Reference desk|Math}} should have a link leading here. But I don't know how to do the conditional thing. And about people not realizing that their question does not belong here, how about something like "Questions about humanities, science, mathematics, languages and the like belong on the reference desk, not here"? -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 07:35, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
I created a shortcut ({{RD}}) to it.--Max Talk (add)Contributions 08:12, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
I added an optional section parameter, so that, for example {{Reference desk|Mathematics}} will link to Wikipedia:Reference desk/Mathematics. The down side is that unparametrized links now have an extra trailing slash, but that doesn't matter much since the appropriate redirect exists. —Ilmari Karonen (talk) 08:45, 24 January 2006 (UTC)

How do I make a ceratin sentence appear only if the parameter is non-empty? I want to add a link to the actual "post a message" URL, but of course only if the parameter is given. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 08:56, 24 January 2006 (UTC)

Unfortunately, you can't, really. There's a request for such a feature, but it seems to have stalled in the absence of a patch. Existing alternatives include {{qif}}, which more or less works but makes the code look ugly if substed and is claimed to cause needless server load, and CSS hacks, which look even worse both substed and in browsers that don't support CSS. Of course, what we do currently have is parameter defaults, meaning that you could make the target category default to, say, "Miscellaneous". —Ilmari Karonen (talk) 11:34, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
Really? I was sure I saw such a thing implemented. Oh well, I guess we shall have to resort to other methods. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 19:49, 24 January 2006 (UTC)

I think the problem is with the title, "Help desk". It probably would have been better to have titled it "Edit help desk" (or something similar), and the "Reference desk" as "Topic-subject help desk". That would have likely eliminated about 99.0 to 99.5% of the misdirects.  ~Kaimbridge~14:11, 24 January 2006 (UTC)

I think you're exaggerating with the percentages. And actually changing the names of the pages is a bigger change and I guess a lot of discussion will have to talk place before such a thing is agreed upon. But I still support the idea of a sub-heading of Helpdesk "isnotisms". -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 19:49, 24 January 2006 (UTC)

Hey everyone, Check this out. If you know the topic the question belongs to, use for example {{RDT|Mathematics}}:


If you don't, just use {{RD1}}:


-- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 20:07, 24 January 2006 (UTC)

Very nice. Good Job!--Max Talk (add)Contributions 21:25, 24 January 2006 (UTC)

I found what I've been looking for. The answer is {{qif}}. Now you can use {{RD1}} and {{RD2|Mathematics}}. {{Reference desk-Topic}} and {{RDT}} are now obsolete, and I will soon TfD them. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 12:23, 25 January 2006 (UTC)

on using Template:RD

Three points about the use of this template since its advent:

  1. Do not use the template when the reference desk won't want the question either (eg a question about how to graduate from Harvard University)
  2. If the RD's response will be to give a link to an article, just give the questioner the link yourself (maybe as well as a link to WP:RD; eg a question on use of APA style)
  3. When you DO come about to using the template, please subst it to avoid extra weight on the Wikipedia servers.

Thanks. jnothman talk 03:06, 26 January 2006 (UTC)

  1. Don't forget to sign your name as always.
--Max Talk (add)Contributions 05:03, 26 January 2006 (UTC)
Sounds fair. But substing the template reveals its weakness, that the whole qif structure is being substituted, which I'm not sure is what we want. Any ideas on how to make only the relvenat part be copied? -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 06:41, 26 January 2006 (UTC)
For now, the best solution would probably be to split it back into multiple templates. —Ilmari Karonen (talk) 07:51, 26 January 2006 (UTC)
I'm not so sure. I don't think we should have different templates. What I've mentioned is a problem, but not big enough to justify that. Readability of the code isn't a real issue, since this is the kind of answer that shouldn't be replied to anyway. And my guess is that with the way data is compressed on the servers, it shouldn't have a long-term impact on hard drive space either. And we really should at least try to find a solution before starting to create templates all over the place. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 08:22, 26 January 2006 (UTC)
I've made an addition to the template, but it still needs to be worked on. Basically you can type {{RD3||APA style}} to get:

Symbol move vote.svg You might find what you are looking for in the articles [[]] or APA style. If you cannot find the answer there, you can try asking your question at Wikipedia's Reference Desk. They specialize in knowledge questions and will try to answer just about any question in the universe (except about how to use Wikipedia, which is what this help desk is for). I hope this helps.

Truth is that questions rarely get answered on talk pages. I think the reference desk is better for questions and we should just remove the talk page link. jnothman talk 11:43, 26 January 2006 (UTC)
I guess that would depend on the popularity of the article. AFAIK it is better practice to ask about a specific subject on that article's talk page, so we should offer this option. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 12:05, 26 January 2006 (UTC)
  • I think it might be better to split {{Reference desk}} to avoid the conditional parameter logic. I have proposed this on the tempalte's talk page. DES (talk) 23:27, 30 January 2006 (UTC)

Restructuring ref/help desk with subpages

There is currently discussion at Wikipedia_talk:Reference_desk#Restructure_with_subpages about restructuring the reference desk with subpages instead of having one huge page. This idea could potentially extend to the help desk. Your comments and thoughts would be most appreciated. Thanks! enochlau (talk) 23:27, 29 January 2006 (UTC)

Featured Portal

I have an idea, and I want to see who agrees with it: We should have a "Featured Content" Portal. That way, members who only trust featured articles can just navigate between those. JaredW 12:12, 31 January 2006 (UTC)

Something like Portal:Featured content? :] --CBD 12:36, 31 January 2006 (UTC)
And, Jared, the place to propose such an idea is not the talk page of the help desk. Try the Village Pump. jnothman talk 12:55, 31 January 2006 (UTC)

Email addresses

Why do we have a policy of deleting email addresses posted on the help desk?--Max Talk (add)Contribs 05:59, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

  • Partially out of stubbornness: that's not how this help desk operates, and if a user can't read the instructions...
  • Mostly because email addresses posted in public places get lots of spam (spammers spider for email addresses on web pages) - and every page of Wikipedia gets mirrorred many many times in public places. So we do the user a small favour.
jnothman talk 06:22, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

Help for new users

Wikipedia:Newcomers help page has just been rejuvenated and now functions much like the Help desk so you (Help desk volunteers) might considering paying a visit.

New users can also place {{helpme}} on their talk page and that puts them in Category:Wikipedians looking for help.

There is also the #wikipedia-bootcamp IRC channel for real-time help. If you are unfamiliar with IRC you can click here to be instantly connected. In the IRC channel a bot reports if anyone has added {{helpme}} to a page.--Commander Keane 10:16, 20 February 2006 (UTC)

What is a factual question?

One of the first things I read when visiting this page is the referral to the Reference Desk to ask factual questions? I find this very confusing. What is a "factual" question? So I went and looked it up. I now realise that "factual question" is actually a technical term. But it doesn't seem very user-friendly to use confusing jargon up front on a help page. Is there not a simpler and clearer way of expressing this? Carcharoth 11:55, 20 February 2006 (UTC)

How about "See the Reference Desk for questions about the world not covered by Wikipedia"? --Malthusian (talk) 12:00, 20 February 2006 (UTC)
That sounds to me like an invitation to post here any question on anything covered by Wikipedia (i.e. anything with an article). Is factual question really confusing/technical? Not that most people read the intro. Notinasnaid 12:11, 20 February 2006 (UTC)
I think the term "factual question" is fine, but that more elaboration is required. I've made a go at rephrasing it in a way which, hopefully, will be clearer to those that do read the intro. What do you think? -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 14:12, 20 February 2006 (UTC)

There are two distinctions I don't think everyone is making when using the Help desk:

  1. Between "using Wikipedia" (which is an encyclopedia), and "looking up ______ on Wikipedia", which is exactly what an encyclopedia is used for.
  2. Between asking "how do I look up ______?" and (whatever it is they're looking up).

So the big question is, if a user needs help looking up something in the encyclopedia, why can't they ask at the help desk? Why can't they get the "help" they need? --Go for it! 20:47, 9 March 2006 (UTC)

Time for a name change?

Here's the problem: we are telling them right at the top of the page that this is where to get help using Wikipedia. But Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. And the main thing you use an encyclopedia for is looking things up. So the main kind of help people will need is finding a specific piece of information. Then we tell them that we can't help them here, that they have to go somewhere else. The problem is that it isn't intuitive. People don't want to have to read instructions. Instructions are boring. The function of a "help desk" for something should be intuitively obvious - to help them with whatever they need help with. To a lot of people the obvious type of help to be offered should be with the information they are looking for. It is an encyclopedia after all. Maybe we should change the name of the Help Desk to make its function more obvious. --Go for it! 20:47, 9 March 2006 (UTC)

I think there's some validity to this, but someone has to come up with a compellingly better name. · rodii · 21:35, 9 March 2006 (UTC)
"Technical Help Desk"? --Sam Blanning (formerly Malthusian) (talk) 21:37, 9 March 2006 (UTC)
"Help with Wikipedia", "Editing help", "Help for Wikipedia contributors", "Help using Wikipedia" -- Finlay McWalter | Talk 21:39, 9 March 2006 (UTC)
Mentioning something with "editing" would be good - that really differentiates it from anything else someone might need help with. -- Natalya 04:02, 10 March 2006 (UTC)
My two cents worth. I think the help desk should become a subsection of the Reference desk. So people will have to choose between Science/Humanities/Language/Math/Misc/Wikipedia. "Help desk" and "Reference desk" are silly names (although I see you are working on that) - since they are completely interchangeable and thus useless.--Commander Keane 10:06, 10 March 2006 (UTC)
Commander Keane is probably right that the names "Help desk" and "Reference desk" are quite arbitary. But I'm not comfortable with the idea of placing the HD as a section of the RD - it doesn't logically belong there. There's a difference between asnwering questions about the world - divided into humanities, science etc, and answering questions about Wikipedia. Naming it "Editing help desk" and the like looks promising, but the HD is not just about editing, it's also about every other aspect of using WP such as searching, navigating, citing etc. But if we do change the name (which I'm not sure will help much), I'll go for "Editing help desk", for lack of any better term. But here's a better idea - since most questions (afaik) are refdesk-type, how about making sure that every place that lists possibilities for asking questions has RD before HD? People tend to go for the first option presented. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 10:25, 10 March 2006 (UTC)
I agree, I'm not sure how well the Help Desk would work as a subsection of the Refernce Desk. As much as we want to make sure RD-esque questions aren't asked on the Help Desk, I think it's important to keep the Help Desk easily accessable to anyone who would need help, without having to go through the Reference Desk. Meni Rosenfeld has a good point, though, that the Help Desk is not just for editing help. At the same time it's not wholly for questions on using Wikipedia, because many people will interpret "using Wikipedia" as finding information. This is for more of the technical side... but all the names I've come up with that describe that are much too long. "The Help for Using Wikipedia, Including Searching, Editing, and Navigating, but Not Factual Questions Desk" doesn't really work out too well... ;) -- Natalya 19:16, 10 March 2006 (UTC)

Maybe it would help if the really big words at the top said "How to edit, search and otherwise use Wikipedia"? --Sam Blanning (formerly Malthusian) (talk) 19:16, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

Perhaps. But I think the wording you suggested still has some ambiguity. Maybe a different wording would work. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 19:46, 11 March 2006 (UTC)
True, but I think that given Wikipedia's scope a completely unambiguous sentence would be far too long. If the word 'edit' is the first verb in the sentence as opposed to 'use', it might stick in people's minds. --Sam Blanning (formerly Malthusian) (talk) 19:55, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

I have a proposal that may be technically impossible but, if not, would likely provide a conclusive solution. Probably most coming to the help desk ask their question using the "Click here to ask your question" button link, rather than directly editing the page. If that button linked first to an intermediate page, with some text such as:

"Before you ask your question, please note that the help desk is for help with using wikipedia; if you have a factual question...etc....if you still want to ask your question at the help desk: (and then a similar button link to) "Ask my question."

If this is possible, I imagine far more people would actually take in the differences between the help and reference desks --Fuhghettaboutit 21:47, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

I think that it should be simply renamed, not moved. Two of Finlay McWalter's suggestions seem good, "editing help" and "Help for Wikipedia contributors". The other two may cause confusion. Here are some more: "Help for contributors", "Help for editing Wikipedia", "Contributor help" and "Wikipedia editing help". "Editing help" and "Contributor help" are my favorites. -- Kjkolb 22:07, 11 March 2006 (UTC)
I think I've found a solution, though a name change wouldn't hurt. See the next discussion topic for the solution. --Go for it! 19:47, 14 March 2006 (UTC)

Solution to the misdirected Desk-traffic problem

I've been working on the problem. It has more to do with how users get here than what they see once they're here. Yes the names of Help Desk and Reference Desk are arbitrary and ambiguous, and because of this so are any links that they are mentioned in. So the simplest solution is to get rid of those links and replace them with links that are not in the least bit ambiguous. So, I'm in the process of sweeping Wikipedia of links to all its question answering departments, and replacing them with a single link in each location to route all questions traffic through an upgraded Wikipedia:Questions page. This should help take the ambiguity right out of the overall design of the question answering system, and make it very obvious where to go to get any particular question answered. Please take a look at Wikipedia:Questions and help remove any remaining ambiguity in the department descriptions on that page. Thanks. --Go for it! 19:44, 14 March 2006 (UTC)

Wikipedia:Newcomers help page is an exact duplicate of this department

Is this redundancy good? Should that department be merged with this one? --Go for it! 17:36, 14 March 2006 (UTC)

It's really a redundancy, but wouldn't the merge clutter this page? Fetofs Hello! 00:41, 15 March 2006 (UTC)
No, it just means this page would grow longer faster, and would need to be archived more often. --Go for it! 01:05, 15 March 2006 (UTC)
I disagree that it's a redundancy. Yes, there is considerable overlap, but it caters to a different market. The Newcomer's help page is really directed at those straight-up newbie questions (who are also likely to respond less timidly to a page whose title has "newcomer" in it), while the Help Desk is for any questions on how to use Wikipedia, even from more experienced contributors. I don't see a problem with this, and the split keeps both pages at a reasonable length. Unlike the ref desk, I don't see any harm in there not being clear guidelines on "what question goes where?", because most of the questions asked are only of relevance to the person asking them already, and most people using either desk will not trawl through the archives looking for the answer they seek (unlike, perhaps, the ref desk, the archives of which are a great fount of random knowledge). I say let them both live. One more entry on your watchlist won't kill you :) — QuantumEleven | (talk) 21:04, 15 March 2006 (UTC)
Yes. It's a redundancy in terms of content, but the title is likely to appeal to either user. Fetofs Hello! 13:22, 16 March 2006 (UTC)
As Fetofs eluded too, without the Newcomers page the Help desk may fill up too fast. Then, like the Reference desk, the help desk will need to be split up. Help desk 1 and Help desk 2? Maybe Help desk and a help desk for newcomers (ie WP:NUH). There is also the comfort factor for new users (I was too timid to ask a question at the Help desk when I was new).--Commander Keane 14:24, 16 March 2006 (UTC)

I've perused both departments, and even though they are exact duplicates, covering the same topics, etc., there is no lack of support in either department, so no harm done. Processing 2 streams of message traffic may actually be more effecient than processing just one. The only other issue I can think of is a minor one, and that is since the archives of the two departments cover the same subject matter, they should probably include links to each other.--Go for it! 11:08, 17 March 2006 (UTC)

MediaWiki Support Page

I just came across another MediaWiki question on the help desk and I discovered the link to the MediaWiki supoprt page was removed from the header. Can someone please put it back in without killing the layout of the table? - Mgm|(talk) 10:09, 30 March 2006 (UTC)

It looks like Jnothman took care of it! -- Natalya 12:28, 30 March 2006 (UTC)

update FAQ pages?

It doesn't seem anyone updates any of the WP:FAQ pages based on questions asked here (or pretty much anywhere else ;) ). Given the volume of questions that get asked here alone, I think we have a pretty goood database of questions from which the frequently asked ones can be determined. Can I interest anyone in taking this on as a project? With appropriate markup on the FAQ pages, we could start answering the frequently asked ones with "see WP:FAQ#37", perhaps encouraging folks to peruse the FAQ pages before asking questions here. Any takers? -- Rick Block (talk) 04:02, 31 March 2006 (UTC)

I agree that references to the FAQ aren't a bad idea. I have updated a few small bits and pieces in the FAQ, but I agree that a few more people contributing common questions and answers won't hurt... — QuantumEleven | (talk) 16:29, 31 March 2006 (UTC)
Good thinking. It seems like we'd want to include the most commonly asked useful questions here (providing they aren't already there). Is there any better way then manually parsing through all the archives to do so? If that is the only way (which I would suspect), we should probably try to do it in a semi-organized fashion to make it as easy as possible. -- Natalya 23:24, 31 March 2006 (UTC)

Archive access added to header

I have added instructions on accessing the help desk archives to the header. This was suggested to me by the current project page section, many users can't find their help desk answers --Fuhghettaboutit 15:35, 8 April 2006 (UTC)

Header design - remove the icons

I think the new header deisgn, with the icons, is a too busy and difficult to navigate. I think returning to the older style (incorporating any recent improvements) would be a good idea.--Commander Keane 16:08, 10 April 2006 (UTC)

I'm actually rather partial to the style with the icons, and think it helps to keep the number of Reference Desk-esque questions down. If someone comes here to ask a question, BAM, it is right there, and they have to actively make a decision that their question belongs here and not at the Reference Desk (or elsewhere). -- Natalya 18:31, 10 April 2006 (UTC)

General complaints

I've removed the link because the General Complaints page is redundant, confusing, and a PR disaster. I put a link to the "contact us" page in the same spot, which leads users by the nose to a greater degree. I'll watch the OTRS traffic and change it back it there is excessive noise as a result. The Uninvited Co., Inc. 22:12, 10 April 2006 (UTC)

When to use this page

I've noticed a lot questions concerning the Help Desk itself being posted on the Help Desk itself. Shouldn't they be placed on this page instead? I'm talking about questions like, "Users cannot find their questions on the help desk."--Max Talk (add) 18:24, 15 April 2006 (UTC)

I suppose so. But since the help desk is itself a talk page, this is kind of vague. Besides, a question about the help desk is a question about using a certain feature of Wikipedia - and as such, possibly belongs in the help desk itself. But I do agree this page is the more proper place. -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 19:11, 15 April 2006 (UTC)
It is ironic that you need to know how to use the Help Desk properly to ask questions about it on this page. Ansell 23:38, 15 April 2006 (UTC)

Daniel Chester French

needs HELP fast. I think Carptrash 20:28, 23 April 2006 (UTC)

With what? Powers 23:11, 23 April 2006 (UTC)
Someone replaced the wiki code with the html source code they pulled up using their browser. It's been taken care of. No worries.—WAvegetarianCONTRIBUTIONSTALK EMAIL 00:01, 24 April 2006 (UTC)