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Wikimania a success; board letter controversial; and evidence showing bitten newbies don't stay

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By Saqib Qayyum, TheGrappler, Jarry1250, Aaron Halfaker, and Buickmackane

Wikimania draws to a close

Wikimania's official logo

From 4 to 7 August, Wikimedians congregated in Haifa, Israel for this year's Wikimania conference, which also included preliminary events on 2 and 3 August. Unofficial estimates put the number of attendees at around 1,000 when both locals and visitors from 54 other countries around the world are included. The full schedule included some 125 sessions available for attendees, a large number of which were filmed and will be put on both Commons and Wikimedia Israel's own YouTube channel, which already includes shorter teaser videos of highlights from the conference. See also the dedicated coverage of some of the most important sessions in this Signpost issue.

Whereas previous conferences have struggled to make sufficient Wi-Fi coverage available to the hundreds of Wikimedians who attend each year, attendee Christophe Henner tweeted that Wikimania 2011 included "fully working wifi", helping to make hands-on sessions during the event run more smoothly.

The first registration slots for Wikimania 2012, to be held in Washington D.C., are expected to become available later this month. Suggestions for what makes a successful Wikimania are already coming in. Adam Hyland, who attended Wikimania 2011, commented that "diversity made this conference a success", while more mundane suggestions include the designation of a 24-hour lounge area and the creation of a space accessible to curious members of the public.

Further coverage of Wikimania is available from the Wikipedia Weekly podcast, which returned from a two year hiatus to publish three recordings from the conference (44 minutes, 39 minutes and a 20-minutes interview with Liam Wyatt about GLAM outreach). A summary of coverage relating to the technical side of Wikimedia can be found in this week's "Technology report".

Board officers announced, letter on chapter funding

Ting Chen, who retains the post of Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees for another year

During a board meeting coinciding with the seventh annual Wikimania conference, in Haifa, Israel, the Wikimedia Board of Trustees announced the allocation of roles and responsibilities for the 2011–12 board members, the composition of which was confirmed after board elections held earlier this year. According to the posting, Chinese Wikimedian Ting Chen retains the post of Board Chair, which he has held since July 2008, and Dutch Wikimedian Jan-Bart de Vreede regains the post of Vice-Chair that was briefly held by financial expert Stuart West from 2010 to 2011. According to the blog post, West will remain the Foundation's Treasurer and Phoebe Ayers will take responsibility for secretarial matters. The four officers share the board with Samuel Klein, Bishakha Datta, Matt Halprin, Arne Klempert, Kat Walsh and Jimmy Wales (in his "Founder" role). In unrelated news, the new Secretary was responsible for posting a summary of the Board's activities in May and June this year.

As expected, the Board of Trustees took the opportunity to discuss possible adjustments to the method for allocating funding between chapters—in particular, the utility of direct, automatic allocations to chapters of funds donated from within their countries was discussed. Justified by what it described as "its legal and financial obligations to safeguard money" given by donors, the group released a joint letter calling for greater restrictions to this funding channel (the Foundation also offers project-driven grants to chapters). Coming just weeks after the latest round of Foundation–chapter fundraising agreements were signed, the letter's publication has provoked consternation in some quarters. John Vandenberg of Wikimedia Australia said that imposing what he sees as an arbitrary condition (tax deductibility) on eligibility for direct donations so soon after negotiations finished "is not how you do change management". However, overall there was general consensus among commentators that the accountability of chapters needs to be improved; Chris Keating of Wikimedia UK stated that "Chapters' performance in terms of reporting and accountability has not been great on the whole". MZMcBride suggested that it should not be out of the question "to ask for some of the money back" from last year's fundraiser if it had not been used. Phoebe Ayers defended the letter's publication, adding that with the 2011 fundraiser approaching, the Board was "short on time" if it sought to improve practices.

New WMF research substantiates link between newbie retention and rejection of their first contributions

Researcher Aaron Halfaker (User:EpochFail) of the Wikimedia Foundation's Summer of Research has discovered a strong predictor of new editor retention – the rejection they experience when first trying to edit the encyclopedia.

As a response to recent results that point to a decline in new editors retention since 2007,[1][2] Aaron examined the work that new editors perform in their first few editing sessions and the community's reaction to that work, in order to build a model for retention. The results suggest that rejection of newbies' first few edits plays a strong role in newcomer retention. Moreover, the amount of initial investment (edits in the first session) exhibited by a new user exacerbates the effect.

"Wikipedia's climate has changed since the early days before and during the exponential growth. Back then, the community was driven toward building content. More recently, with popular articles becoming longer and more elaborate, a shift seems to have occurred for quality over quantity. I suspected it has become much more difficult for newbies to make edits that wouldn't be immediately rejected and that this would has an effect on their motivation to continue editing. I wanted to look for such an effect and find out how much it matters with respect to the decline in new editor retention."

The changing average length of articles new editors edit. See the write-up.

Aaron's work on the length of an articles the newbies are editing provided him with evidence that editors are editing longer articles, and that this is a strong predictor of being reverted, [3][4] presumably because of Wikipedia's increasingly stringent quality control mechanisms.[5]

To understand whether this increased rejection could explain the decline in editor retention, Aaron used a logistic regression model to explore factors that predict whether a new editor will survive or not. He found that the proportion of an editor's edits that are rejected by being deleted or reverted in their first three edit sessions[6] is a strong negative predictor of survival. This confirms the hypothesis that if a newbie's first experience editing Wikipedia is full of rejection, he or she would be unlikely to continue working in the project. It turns out that this effect has existed throughout the history of Wikipedia and has been increasing over time, though it has decreased somewhat in recent years. What's more, while editors who show a high initial investment in the community (by making many edits in their first edit session) are more likely to survive in general, these highly invested new editors suffer even more from having their work rejected than editors who express a lower investment.

Total and surviving new editors by year of first edit.

These findings suggest that it is precisely the kind of newbies that Wikipedia needs – highly invested and prolific editors – who are being turned away by reverts and deletion.

The proportion of new editors making more than 5 edits in their first session plotted over time.

However, it is also evident that the characteristics of newcomers are changing. Newcomers are expressing less initial investment, making fewer edits than they used to. This could be explained by an early/late adopter effect, or some other external factor.

A WMF report suggests that the number of editors who make acceptable contributions to the encyclopedia is still very high, but a more thorough analysis is needed to determine how much the increase in rejection can be attributed to changes in the quality of new editors' first contributions.

  1. ^ The Editor Trends study [1]
  2. ^ Suh et al., The singularity is not near: slowing growth of Wikipedia. WikiSym'09
  3. ^ Dalip et al., Automatic quality assessment of content created collaboratively by web communities: a case study of Wikipedia, JCDL'09 [2]
  4. ^ Blumenstock, Size matters: word count as a measure of quality on Wikipedia, WWW'08 [3]
  5. ^ Stvilia et al., Information Quality: Discussions in Wikipedia. ICKM'05 [4]
  6. ^ An edit session is defined as a sequence of edits saved in the encyclopedia separated by less than an hour. It's assumed that by grouping edits together this way, the amount and type of work an editor does in one editing session on Wikipedia can be analyzed.

News in brief


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>>The Hindi Wiktionary increased from 50,000 entries to over 100,000 entries this week, VibhijainBot creates thousands of entries about cities in India.

This is not a milestone but a huge disaster. Attempting to inflate the word count, vibhi jain has trashed an entire project by himself in a space of few days. Nearly 50000 entries have been created by taking names of indian cities (in english) from the census list, automatically transliterating them into different languages and creating pages with a single line description "X is a city in india". And the transliteration is erroneous in most of the cases as Vibhi jain doesnt know most of these languages. He has just input the latin characters into the google transliteration tool and generated wrongly spelled names in half a dozen languages. Hindi wiktionary has ended up with thousands of entries where even the word is not spelled right!! Imagine that - a dictionary that couldnt get the spelling of the entries right. This shoudln't be announced in the signpost as a milestone. This is an excellent example of how things can be screwed up immature teenagers who view wiki as a MMORPG and chase numbers.

Unless someone with some sense in the Hindi wiktionary community controls this over eager pre-teen, who seems to think wiki projects are his personal playground, Hindi wiktionary is going to end up as a big joke (if it is not one already).

Wow, that's right. This is really a case of hyperactivity getting on the way of quality. Several of the entries that Vibhijainbot has created are erroneous and most definitely all of them (randomly picked several to check) just contain single sentence as mentioned above and there are about 61,700 of them. And the insane thing is that there exists another bot by the name Mayurbot, which has so far created close to 27,700 similar entries, in parallel to those of Vibhijainbt, containing the similar formatted single line. This link has got the numbers. So, Hindi wiktionary has gone from 12,000 to 100,000 in a matter of few days. That's mind boggling and definitely not an achievement. I guess something is completely wrong here. - DSachan (talk) 01:28, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
The ethos of has shifted (and is still shifting) from "quantity" towards "quality"; that should apply to other wikipedias too. Mass creation of single-sentence placename stubs without any fact-checking is definitely at the "quantity" end of the spectrum. bobrayner (talk) 07:23, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, I don't think it's a good idea either; but anyhow, it's what Special:Nuke was created for. - Jarry1250 

[Weasel? Discuss.] 11:48, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Also it would be helpful if celebrating article milestones was based on more stringent criteria of what constitutes a useful article. Erik Zachte (talk) 13:29, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
To an extent; but if we invest effort in setting up a new metric, people will try to game that metric instead. Maybe we could start praising articles with more substantial content (let's say 2500 bytes); somebody will think of a way to automatically fill articles with 2500 bytes of cruft which has little real value - in the case of placename stubs, it would probably involve coordinates, nearby cities, which province/country the place is in, and a "see also" list padded with similar placenames. Maybe we would react to that by encouraging an incremental, cooperative process to build better content; then somebody will think of a way to game the new metric by giving each of these articles a 20-edit history involving superficial tweaks (for instance, categorisation) by a different account.
People are awkward. (Yes, including me). bobrayner (talk) 14:12, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Mass creation of articles has occured on the English wikipedia in the past, and to a certain extent continues on in small batches. It's just part of the process of filling out articles, it also attracts editors(as is likely on the India Wikipedia) although with diminishing returns once main subjects are covers. Regards, SunCreator (talk) 11:28, 15 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

I think the YouTube channel is bad, with little coverage, and of low quality. As an outsider who tried to participate through the internet, I was extremely disappointed. (talk) 03:12, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

I didn't think it was that bad (videos of individual events are still forthcoming, however) - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 11:48, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • About the research. Has anyone tried to assess the quality of new user's contributions? I can't help but think the trend could be explained by an inevitable decrease in good faith new users as the pool of potential good users gets drained over time, and an increase in bad faith spammers and POV pushers as Wikipedia grows more influential. jorgenev 05:21, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

"the length of an articles(sic) the newbies are editing provided him with evidence that editors are editing longer articles", that would be because an average article is longer then. I would say however it's much harder to add content to more mature articles, because good faith additions without a WP:CITE (or even with a cite that does not meet reliable source) are many times reverted. Wikipedia internally operates on multiple systems of quality requirements depending on the article you edit; so it can be quite confusing to a newbie or even an existing editor that moves from one area of Wikipedia to another. Regards, SunCreator (talk) 12:05, 9 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Regarding the reversion of newbies, I realize that it is a large, multivariate topic, but I know from experience that there is a tendency of laziness among plenty of experienced Wikipedians to just delete a newbie contribution rather than bother to fix the problems with what is clearly a good-faith contribution motivated by a valid content-creation or -improvement motive. One can counter that the experienced Wikipedians are too overworked to take on the added effort of bothering to fix rather than delete. I know that many people have validly discussed that aspect. But my argument is that it doesn't matter what the complication is—what matters is the end result. If we don't stop this laziness, we are gradually killing the project, by killing its community of volunteers. It will be a gradual death of natural attrition failing to be offset by natural growth. If you see a complication that is standing in the way tactically to a strategic goal, you either suck it up and deal with it, or you allow the strategic goal to be defeated. Look at this from a soldier's perspective. Specifically, a soldier who believes that he is fighting for the "right side", and that the war needs to be won. When a tactical obstacle gets in his strategic way, he doesn't cave in to laziness and say, "Well, I'm too lazy to ford that stream or scale that concrete wall, so I guess I'll just turn around and wander off in another direction." That's the way to lose the war, regardless of whether it's cosmically fair or unfair. If building a properly constructed, comprehensive, dynamic, powerful, positive-influence Wikipedia while swimming against the current of apathy and entropy is the war that we are choosing to fight, then we can't win it unless we overcome our own laziness and fatigue. — ¾-10 14:51, 13 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

The way the results of the newbie retention study are presented here suffers from the classic "Correlation is not causation" fallacy. Sure, editors who have their first contributions rejected will be very likely also those who stay away soon after. But that doesn't mean the first fact is the cause of the second. More likely than not, both facts are largely caused independently by another, much more explanatory factor: the crappiness of the newbie's contribution. That also goes for the observation that people who are very active and prolific during their very first sessions but have these contributions rejected are even more likely to stay away. Sure. We all know the typical profile of the kind of contributor who this description fits: people who write their autobiographies. Of course, if you come here with the sole aim of writing about yourself, or some other non-notable topic you have a COI in, the likelihood both of having your contributions deleted and of finding no further motivation for other contributions afterwards will be high. Your lack of motivation for further contribs is not caused by the rejection; you most likely never had any such motivation to begin with. – Similar things are likely true for people whose first contributions consist of political POV rants, or of series of copyvio images. The dangerous thing about the way this study is presented here is that it implicitly suggests a course of action: wikipedians, don't reject newbies' contributions! That may be a very mistaken conclusion. The only factor that ought to guide us in deciding what to do with newbies' contributions is their quality. If a lot of it is objectively crappy, as unfortunately it is, there's not much we can do about it. Fut.Perf. 11:53, 14 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Good counterpoint. I suppose there's an 80-20 thing between your comment and mine, where yours accurately deals with the 80. My exhortations, applying really only to the 20, aren't much good without that. Operational definitions for use in differentiating the subclasses (80 from 20) would be valuable as experienced Wikipedians go about their watchlisting. Some simple heuristics for saying "this anon has close to zero promise of becoming a long-term contributor asset; whereas that anon has a good chance". Then putting the effort into helping only the latter. The fact that our resources for offering help (that is, our own volunteer hours) have scarcity makes this approach worthwhile. In an ideal world, we could just heap endless AGF on everyone, and hold everyone's hand and mother them to no end. But we live in the real world, and we need to allocate the scarce resources appropriately. — ¾-10 15:52, 14 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]


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