The WMF are currently doing their damnedest to get new people editing the Wikimedia projects. Or – more accurately – they’re trying to get new editors to stay once they’ve signed up. It’s no easy task, though; despite repeated encouragement to not bite newcomers, at times it’s hard to remember that there’s a real person on the other end of that username or IP and that the first message that they’re left on a talk page is often the difference between them continuing to edit, or moving on and forgetting about contributing.
So, while I’m no expert, I’ve put together a list of little things (in no particular order) that individual editors, not the WMF or chapters, can do to help.
- Assume good faith: When leaving a new user their first message it’s important that they’re welcomed, even if their only action has been what looks like a test – to see if “it really lets me edit”. Thank them for deciding to try out editing and encourage them to get more involved. Do try and avoid either giving them a curt brush-off or hundreds of links to messy introduction pages. Consider whether templates they’re receiving are friendly – and if not, be bold and improve them.
- Keep your signature under control: While I don’t feel as strongly as some when it comes to user signatures, it’s best to try and avoid making them too fancy. It should at the very least link to your userpage and talk page and, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, your contributions too. It shouldn’t be too wild – signatures should all look uniform. If a talk page features lots of messages with wildly-different signatures at the end it can only make things more confusing.
- Avoid acronyms when talking to new editors (or AAWTTNE, for short): Even though experienced editors remember to AGF and are well aware of the 3RR. We know all about DYK and AfD – but do the new users? This is even more confusing if they don’t speak English as a first language and using jargon such as these TLAs can, and does, exclude people.
- Invite them to the Teahouse: The Teahouse project (named after the “will you have a cup of tea, fathers” guideline, as I refer to it1) aims to provide a friendly space where new editors can interact on a forum with editors new and old alike and get help. The pilot went really well for several reasons; it was all about human interaction (it’s genuinely worrying how many people’s first talk page message is a warning from a bot) and… it looks like a properly-designed website. A decent interface really matters, huh.
- Don’t just point them to the bureaucracy – actually help: If they’re contesting a deletion (and they’re not in the wrong), don’t just give them a link to Deletion review. Chances are that if they’re new they have a snowball’s chance in Hell2 of working out how to use such a process. Offer to help by letting them do it, but guiding them through the process. Even if the article’s been deleted correctly, explain to them why - maybe they’ll channel their energy into positive things and work on content on wiki (or write about something that is notable!).
- Adopt them, or help them find an adopter: So there’s this thing on Wikipedia called adopt-a-user where experienced editors “adopt” someone who needs help and teaches them the ropes. It’s helpful to have someone teach you what to do rather than having to trawl through loads of policies and guidelines and such like. More info here.
- Show them some #wikilove: There’s an extension installed – give it some use; congratulate them when they do something good to encourage them!
- Encourage them to use Userboxes etc.: Even though “it shouldn’t matter” allowing people to identify with subcultures makes them feel more at home; it makes editing Wikipedia more fun. We know it’s not MySpace, but perhaps we can learn something from social networks.
- Teach them the tricks of the trade: It’s unlikely that anyone will be able to pick up how stuff works on the English Wikipedia just by reading through page after page of acronyms and general rubbish. I find that WP:42 sums up the citing-your-sources thing pretty well, for instance. It’s worth showing them where the useful places to find information or help.
- Your suggestions! Please comment below with ways you think that members of the editor community can help newcomers to Wikipedia. It was discussed a lot at Wikimania this year and is a really important issue for the future of the movement.