John Broughton interview

Signpost interview: John Broughton

Earlier this month, editor John Broughton's book about Wikipedia, Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, was released by O'Reilly Media, as part of their Missing Manual series. The book is the first comprehensive guide to editing Wikipedia. This week, the Signpost interviews John Broughton:

Wikipedia Signpost: What first motivated you to write a book about Wikipedia?

John Broughton: In late November 2006, I created and started expanding the page that is now Wikipedia:Editor's index to Wikipedia. It actually started out being called "Wikipedia User's Manual", but it took me less than two weeks to realize that writing a comprehensive user's manual was almost an impossible task, because so many editing concepts were related to other concepts (what comes first?) and because of the wide scope of Wikipedia. So the page became an index, something that could be incrementally added to, and where relationships between topics could easily be handled by "see also" links.
In late January 2007, I realized that I in fact could write a user's manual—a book—because I already had written the index to the book. I also decided that it made sense to do this as a printed book, because there was so much material to be covered.
But my real bottom line was (and is) that Wikipedia is difficult for brand-new editors who want to do more than fix typos, despite all the internal documentation, and that a book—for many people—has huge advantages over do-it-yourself trial-and-error using online help. I hope that this book will make it easier for thousands of new editors to much more quickly become productive. And to help them avoid being bitten by initial mistakes. Or bullied by those editors who use their experience as a club. If Wikipedia gets a significant influx of good editors as a result of the book, I'll be happy, no matter how many copies are sold.

How long has the book been in progress?

I contacted O'Reilly near the end of January 2007 and submitted a sample chapter in mid-February. I signed the contract for the book in early September, and finished the first draft of the book in early December. I did some final edits in early January to try to keep the book as current as possible.

What areas of Wikipedia and Wikimedia does the book cover?

The Wikimedia Foundation is mentioned only in three places in the book, and Jimmy Wales is mentioned only once. So you can see that the book focuses on how to be a good editor, pretty much taking Wikipedia (as it is today) as a given. (The intro to the book does give some context.) I mention Wikipedia's sister projects only briefly.
As for Wikipedia, having used the index as the basis for the table of contents, I'd pretty comfortable saying that the book covers most of Wikipedia. There are, of course, hundreds of shortcuts listed in the book, referring readers to policy, guideline, and how-to pages for more details about various topics.
But perhaps the best answer to the question of what the book covers is to suggest looking at the table of contents. You can also click on any section title in the table of contents to see the first page of that section (with an occasional odd character in the text of the page that I'm going to try to get fixed).

Most of the book is devoted to editing help—how much of the book is devoted to the community (e.g. talk pages, RFA, dispute resolution)?

Part II is called "Collaborating with Other Editors". Chapter 8 is about talk pages, IRC, and email; Chapter 9 covers WikiProjects and other group efforts; Chapter 10 covers resolving content disputes; Chapter 11 is about incivility and personal attacks; and Chapter 12 is called "Lending Other Editors a Hand", which includes getting involved in dispute resolutions.

Who is the book's primary audience? What will new editors get from the book? What will experienced editors get from the book?

The primary audience is threefold: (a) someone brand new to Wikipedia, (b) someone with only a bit of experience, who is intrigued and wants to do more, but has realized just how complex Wikipedia is; and (c) a moderately experienced editor who wants to widen his/her range of editing—for example, to create tables, or to create a really good article either from nothing or from a stub, and wants information about those new topics boiled down to its critical essence.
What readers will get from the book is step-by-step guidance on how to be a good editor, with lots of screenshots and lots of explanations not only of what to do but why to do it. As O'Reilly editors reminded me a number of times, the goal is not to just say "you should do X", but to say "you should do X because ... ".
Having said that, I hope that even experienced editors will take a look at the book (in a bookstore) and see if there is more to Wikipedia than what they know. I certainly learned some things in writing the book.

Are there any immediate plans to update the book regularly, or write another book exploring a different side of the Wikimedia universe?

Certainly not another book; I'm not a writer by trade (though I've written a lot in my life), and this book was purely serendipity—I didn't start out intending to write this book, but there clearly was a need, and I had a tool—the index—that made it much easier. But perhaps a couple of articles—I find Wikipedia to be fascinating, and there are certainly aspects of the project that haven't been covered in the press.
As far as updating the book regularly, yes, I'd like to do that. A number of advanced chapters didn't get into this first version, and I'd like to add them to the next. But that depends on O'Reilly, and I'd guess that depends on how well the book sells. So we'll see.

On, the book is listed as "available for pre-order", and some sites, including and indicate a publication date of March. The book is currently available through O'Reilly Media's website. Where else is the book available?

Since I got a copy of the book on the 24th (via FedEx), I think it's going to be available via bookstores any day now, although I don't know how long these things take. March 2008 is wrong, I believe.

John Broughton's book, Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, is currently available (O'Reilly Media, $29.99, £18.50), and is available for purchase on Amazon ($19.79).[1]

  1. ^ Note: as of press time, attempting to order the book through Amazon showed an estimated ship date in late March. On January 31st, Amazon changed the availability to "Usually ships within 2 to 4 weeks." On February 5th, the availability was changed to "In stock".

Also this week:
  • From the editor
  • 2007 in review
  • John Broughton interview
  • New parser
  • WikiWorld
  • News and notes
  • In the news
  • Tutorial
  • WikiProject report
  • Dispatches
  • Features and admins
  • Technology report
  • Arbitration report

  • Signpost archives

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    Discuss this story

    And this is not spamming Wikipedia, because? - Konk Republik (talk) 04:21, 3 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Because it might lead new editors to a useful resource? — Dulcem (talk) 06:15, 5 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    If any other Wikipedia-related books are published, I'd be happy to do an interview with their authors as well. I'm certainly planning to do one with Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, Ben Yates, and Samuel Klein when their forthcoming book comes to press. Ral315 (talk) 09:04, 5 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]


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