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Openness versus quality: why we're doing it wrong, and how to fix it

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By Resident Mario

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author only. Responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section. The Signpost welcomes proposals for op-eds. If you have one in mind, please leave a message at the opinion desk.

Wikipedia's motto, from its very inception in 2001, has been "The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit". This emphasizes the openness of the project, which stands today as the greatest example of crowdsourcing on the Internet. With 3.8 million articles, the English Wikipedia alone stands as the largest encyclopedia ever. Yet despite our success, trouble is looming on the horizon. Wikipedia's model, though highly successful thus far, creates an intrinsic conflict between openness, allowing the greatest number of people to edit, and quality, aspiring to clear language and the highest standards of accuracy. Which is more important? In making Wikipedia more open, you risk ending up with poor information, poor writing, and rampant vandalism – turning the project into a big joke. In becoming more restrictive, you gain respect and accuracy but risk alienating users through complex policies, guidelines, and policy creep, which inevitably leads to editor fall-off.

The difference between the current number of editors and the number sought by the Wikimedia Foundation

I penned an essay on my experiences with Wikipedia back in December 2009. There I reflected on my early fascination with the project, my experiences with its mechanism, and how editors fit into the overall model of the project. At the time I was optimistic about the future of this project, saying, for instance, that "time in itself solves all problems".

Now, two years later, I'm not so sure. Editor retention is a worrisome topic, and one that has been at the center of the Wikimedia Foundation's Strategy Initiative since 2009. The difference between the Foundation's numerical goals through 2015 and what has actually happened is quite stark, and earlier this month the Foundation's Director, Sue Gardner, brought the issue firmly into the limelight again in her presentation at Wikimedia UK (see the video).

What happened?

Let's take this statement as an axiom: Discussions on Wikipedia naturally lean towards stricter standards.

There are several reasons for this assertion. First is the growth of Wikipedia itself. In earlier times, editors were more concerned with plugging content holes and filling out red links than with specific, focused, well-cited, quality writing. Instances in which such quality was achieved were cataloged in BrilliantProse (note the name), an early version of today's Featured articles. As Wikipedia evolved, there were fewer content holes to fill, and editors began intensively improving articles. Processed by growth and parsed through instruction creep, BrilliantProse eventually became the featured articles we know today, in which high-quality prose is only one of ten criteria.

Second, we're self-conscious about how Wikipedia is perceived by the wider world. Regular editors spend many an hour laboring at prominent articles read by thousands of people every day, but find that outside Wikipedia their work is viewed as unusual. Some are even ridiculed by their peers, who perceive Wikipedia to be unreliable and poorly written. What are these editors to do? They return to their desks vowing to do better, and become protective of article quality. In discussions, some of these editors express the view that one good article is better than several rather poor ones. After all, we humans are social creatures; we seek to improve ourselves by improving our standing, and the standing of our work, in the view of other people. By writing better we hope to improve the public, outside perception of our work.

Third, it's very easy to increase standards incrementally because the repercussions for doing so take a while to appear. If you increase the quality requirements for a particular process, drama fails to occur. The standard becomes a little harder to reach, but the process generates better results. Examine any process following a major standards discussion and you'll see that the numbers will shift little in the short term. Short-term thinking, driven by idealization and natural growth, is at play here, as everyone accepts the current standards and interprets a bump in the upwards direction as a strictly positive thing. New editors have neither the credence nor the awareness to contribute to these kinds of discussions, thus involved parties tend to be veteran editors already familiar and comfortable with the standard.

Now let's look at the graph above, which shows that the active editing population hasn't grown, but has slowly dropped since 2007! Even more telling of this decline is the lack of activity in one of the most vital and most fluctuation-prone areas of Wikipedia—RfA. In November 2011 only two promotions took place; compare this with November 2006, for instance, when 33 candidates were promoted.

It's easy to miss, but every bump in quality we make is damaging to the new editor population. I like to think of Wikipedia as a tree, and editing as a ladder. You climb the ladder to reach different fruits ("articles"). Each time you make a process a tiny bit harder, you move the fruit a step higher up and add one more step to that ladder. That may not seem like such a big deal, but if you apply quality creep and repeat this process 10 times, you get one very daunting ladder—a ladder of such height that a new editor might say not even bother to climb it. The "low-hanging fruit" that should, in theory, account for this do not exist. The lowest prestigious piece of work a writer can achieve is a good article, and that too is daunting for a new editor inexperienced with Wikipedia's style and formatting. This, in a nutshell, is why Wikipedia is looking ill.

The Wikimedia Foundation, however, has been targeting usability as the core of our troubles. To this effect, they've redesigned the editing layout, softened the Wikipedia logo, introduced WikiLove, and done a host of other things to make Wikipedia a more comfortable place. While I agree that the Wikipedia interface should be friendlier, in key ways it's in a far better state today (I never liked Monobook and a new WYSIWYG interface would be much easier to use), in my mind the initiative has missed the point; thus far the Foundation has failed to address why people have been leaving, only giving them a more comfortable place to sit in during their stay.

But how do we fix it?

So you've read my rant and found yourself nodding at every sentence. Or you're completely opposed to everything I said and are already formulating an equally long rant on the talk page about why I'm completely and utterly wrong. Regardless of your take, we need to think about how we can kick Wikipedia back into the era of good feeling that my magical "five years ago" represents? Well, here's the kicker; we don't.

We've had a lot of time to develop and mature, and you may notice that in discussing why editor retention is falling, I never once explained why it is a bad thing—it really isn't. Now don't get me wrong, a growing population of active editors is always a good thing; but there's a limit to how far we can go, and in my mind, we've already passed it. The reason Wikipedia had such a rapidly expanding population in the first place was because we had so many content holes, we needed every hand available to keep our leaky boat afloat, and once our basis was established, there were plenty of idle hands eager to help. With the HMS Wikipedia now seaworthy, there is more quality content to write. With a limited pool of people with enough ability, interest, drive, and spare time to contribute such writing, a saturation limit develops, past which contributors are harder to find. And as standards continue climbing, this pool continues to shrink.

The Wikimedia Foundation should accept that there's a limit to how active a community can be, and that limit has been passed and distanced from. Openness and quality are a very real dichotomy, and one that has been around longer than the Foundation has, starting with the bitter split between Jimbo Wales and Larry Sanger. Although we can try various gimmicks to increase our credence among potential contributors, nothing short of creating a culture of forgiveness would push contributions back to the rise; and although Sue Gardner has often stressed the importance of not biting the newcomers, in a public system that sees a good deal of vandalism alongside legitimate contributions, a hard line is needed to keep out the trolls. A Wikipedia in which poor edits are reported upon with a shower of encouragements is an unmaintainable system. If editors have the will needed to maintain a presence in the system, they would appreciate real feedback more than petty encouragements.

The simplest thing you can do to reverse editor loss is this: whenever you come across a discussion on increasing the standards for a particular process, remember what it could mean for new editors, and pitch in by suggesting what it could mean for potential editors in the future. This would serve to remind people about the possible long-term consequences of their actions, regardless of immediate justifications.

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  • You ask for technical and strategy and you are right for this point, too complications discourage writers. But my question is : many sorts of knowledge are available on ne Net. People, now, want not only read, use knowledge but produce new knowledge by synthesize available knowledge or by creating new knowledge from her experience : a kind of knowledge that is not acknowledge in Wikipedia. And they want to be graduate also, for using many articles and make a synthetic work, but also to produce new knowledge mixing academic and experience knowledge. See projet WIKEXPERIENCE You can find the project following this link : and you can contribue for writing this project. MARieu, Toulouse, France Mariantoine (talk) 04:41, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

  • Your argument would make sense, except for one problem: Editor numbers aren't just flat-lining for English Wikipedia, but for all the large projects (and many of the small ones). Thus editor retention is not a direct function of project completeness or quality. Also, I have to say that I disagree with your statement that falling editor numbers aren't a bad thing. Considering that our content coverage is quite abysmal outside of the U.S. and Europe, we still have a lot of holes to fill and need a lot more hands to keep building the ship. For example, we didn't have an article on Mexican art until a few weeks ago. Personally, I think openness and quality are both vitally important to the project, and we need to keep them balanced, not simply give up one for the other. Of course how to keep that balance isn't an easy question, and I'm not sure anyone has the answer, even the WMF. Kaldari (talk) 03:11, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
    • I do not want to disagree, except one of the argument. Regarding the non-english Wikipedias. It is true that they are only half-developed - undeveloped in comparison to en:wiki. Nevertheless the autors argument still applies here. In english Wikipedia the quality content rules were developed simply in the moment when they were already much needed. In local Wikipedias - ! we had copied and mirrored the strict quality about the same time they were created in english Wikipedia without any hesitation. Believe me, I am eyewitness from that time in Czech Wikipedia. At about 2007 we had all the important rules in about the smae strictness as they were in en:wiki. Until that time the number of coleagues accelerated every half-year. From 2007 the number of users is almost the same. It would be fallacy to think, that content holes are somehow proving that quality-drive cannot be responsible for User retention. We all were amused by the same idea we shared it, we translated all the rules and through interwiki and google-translate You can find them in all somewhat bigger language versions (sometimes even on the tiniest ones - sometimes one of the first things, which is written there). However, I am not against quality-drive see my comment bellow. Just wanted to comment, that this argument IMHO does not apply. --Reo + 10:00, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • When I first started with Wikipedia in early 2006, it was fun because there were so many editors cruising around helping to fix articles. If I made a mistake in formatting an article in some obscure topic, within hours somebody would come by and fix it. It was a very satisfying feeling. That hardly ever happens anymore. Now, it's pretty much up to yours truly to fix most things that are wrong in any article in the topic area I inhabit, and I just don't have the time to do it all. There are other editors in the topic, of course, but they appear to be in the same predicament. We do need new editors, and in order to get them to stay they need to find that Wikipedia is a fun and satisfying place. I don't know if Wikipedia can make things that way again with the current system. Cla68 (talk) 03:26, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Did you know has its own issues, namely that it encourages you to contribute to a certain point, but no further; you want that 5x expansion or certain amount of text, but there's not real reward for writing it up to B class, for instance. ResMar 16:09, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Nobody asserted DYK was perfect. Only that it exists, and it is the lowest prestige award an editor can achieve. And by the way, Good Article also only encourages you to contribute to a "certain point". Encouragement to do more comes from FA. But I wouldn't object to greater recognition for B class, although the gist of this essay is that if we formalized the process of earning B, and instituted a nomination procedure, then that would make Wikipedia more complex, and that would drive away editors. Right? --Dennis Bratland (talk) 17:06, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Ah but DYK isn't applicable in general, only to a specific subset of articles that are either severely underdeveloped or obscure enough not to have their own article yet. There are some exceptions of course - in my own time with the process I've nominated three articles that aught be too expansive for a DYK - but within my 32 credits, 3 isn't much. ResMar 19:11, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Obscure? Obscure! Really? I don't understand the common belief that there isn't room to create new articles. I create new articles all the time, and within the scope of the Motorcycling project, there are lots of requested articles at Wikipedia:Requested_articles/Applied arts and sciences/Transport#Motorcycles, and at Wikipedia:WikiProject Motorcycling/to do, and even more redlinks at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Motorcycling/Importance rankings. There is no article on the 1958 Honda CB92 Benly, or the 1949 Honda Dream. The articles Daimler Reitwagen and Harley-Davidson XR-750 were only just created this year -- two of the most famous motorcycles in history, not obscure subjects. List of motorcycles in The Art of the Motorcycle exhibition and List of motorcycles in the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu and even List of fastest production motorcycles are full of redlinks. And that's just the easy stuff, the redlinks. There are vital subjects like Öhlins that could be easily expanded 5x for DYK. All that's required is for a new editor to come along and make a minimal effort to look around Wikipedia and understand what's going on and how it works. But instead we have new editors who come along every day and create a page about a motorcycle club with 49 members who have zero hits at Google News or Books, and then wonder why their page got deleted. And then they go off in a huff.

The biggest challenge I see is making new editors understand that they must be willing to do a little homework. --Dennis Bratland (talk) 22:36, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

That's a good observation. It might not even be a wikipedia-specific problem. There are too many people who get all pissed off when you tell them something's not quite right with the way they go about things, and they'll be pissed off no matter how nice you are. It's the "WTF? Just an A-? Why not an A??? I have the right to get an A! In fact, I deserve an A+, damnit!!!"-mentality. Choyoołʼįįhí:Seb az86556 > haneʼ 00:59, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I did say severely underdeveloped as well...ResMar 04:17, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • Mario has one thing right in this... "rant": The "can" in "anyone can edit" means "is allowed to," not necessarily "is capable of." Someone who opens a football-stadium that says "anyone can play" shouldn't be surprised when not everyone will; I certainly wouldn't. I'm completely inept. And maybe, wikipedia has indeed reached the number of people who are capable of it. Choyoołʼįįhí:Seb az86556 > haneʼ 04:58, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • If we're truly to fix this problem, we'll have to do something people for whatever reason seem dead set against—require newcomers to acculturate by making article edits before being allowed to create a new page. Far and away, the hardest bite we give is in allowing a new editor to create an article, only to nuke it a few minutes later for reasons they knew nothing of. Since we can't allow spam/vanity pages, but we also don't want to put off new editors, that's the only way I see out of the mess. It'd greatly cut down on the amount of newpage patrol and speedy deletion work to be done (allowing those editors and admins to focus elsewhere), and at the same time, give new users a much better chance of discerning whether the article they're planning is appropriate or not. Seraphimblade Talk to me 06:36, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
    • Spot on, Seraph. So you wonder why the Foundation railroaded the en.WP community's consensus a few months ago to limit article creation to auto-confirmed users. Apparently, the WMF equates article creation with editor involvement, particularly with the task of attracting new editors into the community. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my view: we are swamped with one-line unreferenced drive-by stubs created by anons or newbies who never come back. Perhaps they get a kick out of boasting at dinner parties that they've created a WP article. What we need is to attract into the community editors who want to improve existing articles, and who might along the way create one or two new ones. Tony (talk) 06:53, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
      • I just made a few new stubs in the last week. And WHAM felt the angry textboxes drop on them in minutes. Sometimes ec-ing me as I built them. And I have been around here a while. If I'm put off by that, think of someone new to the whole shebang. And the people dropping them were young, new contributors, with the little fake policeman huggle-twinkle-whatever symbol on their pages. And they were not working on writing articles (I checked contribs). But were slamming out new pages or RC or whatever it is. (That said, I did have some people jump in and help with cats and templates and the like, just like Cla mentioned.)TCO (talk) 07:28, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
        • Yeah, this is important observation. At least in Czech Wikipedia - which is my home wiki, it is always the "second stage" Wikipedians, some Wikipedians whom we would stop call newbies and whom survived all the tutoring themselves recently (and now thinks that they are schooled enough) who are gonna "teach" all the newbies the most. In my observation it is the Users with about half of an year to the two years of experience who are the strictest to the newbies and most active in swift templating. Moreover there is creep. As they survived some (not lways so-friendly treatment, they do not hesitate to tighten it even one little bit more). There is an evolution of Wikipedians and User retention is concern only for those who stay a little bit longer than those. (And then again, schooling the "second stage Wikipedians" might be detrimental to the retention of those, so it have to happen in some friendly manner too).--Reo + 10:00, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • I completely agree. On both sides. Its quality control and policy toughness, what is in heart of the matter. And we cannot loosen it actually. We must be as friendly and forgiving to the newcomers as possible (and take care that those who start interact with newbies see the newbies retention as concern - see above), while we cannot sacrifice the quality we are achieving. I do not know how to achieve the state, I remember when I came, when the interaction with more experienced users about my mistakes was rather fun. And I was fascinated how the article I started became to grow and how nicely it evolved. That was the satisfying thing. --Reo + 10:00, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • We are raising more money than ever. Our readership is up. Academia is beginning to take Wikipedia seriously and acknowledging that some of the content is very high quality. However most people take Wikipedia for granted. I have tried many things in an attempt to attract people to edit but it seems easier to ask for money (will submit something on my experience in the next few month). Writing most GAs or FAs is a slow and lonely process carried out by one or two editors at most. A banner inviting our readers to edits has not been sufficiently tried [1] Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 10:57, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Indeed. ResMar 16:09, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • Channeling Hans Christian Andersen ... the leveling off should not have been a surprise to anyone at all. It is what "mature projects" (that is, ones which seem to have reached their primary goals) do. All of them. Spending money will not change it. Advertising will not change it. The fact is that Wikipedia is substantially "complete" and so the numbers of editors will level off, as will the numbers of edits by them. The problem, as it were, is exacerbated by the treatment of new editors who are not viewed as being predictable as to behaviours which are enshrined, for good or ill, in Wikipedia practices. The only way to move off the plateau would be to re-imagine how the encyclopedia is organized, and reducing the number of "primary" articles to a much smaller number (articles which are shown as suggested results for any search), and create tiers of related articles reachable from the primary articles only. Yes - this means the current system of GA and FAs is pretty much broken. Collect (talk) 14:03, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • OK, here's my thought: What Tony refers to above as "drive-by stubs", and Wikipedia being littered with page-top or section-top tags, is leaving the real work in hopes someone else will come along and do it. Perhaps both are well-intentioned. The tags, IMO, serve no useful purpose and visually discredit Wikipedia. I mean, really, if you opened a library reference book and saw its pages slapped with warnings that it wasn't well done, how much would you believe the information therein the entire reference book? If an editor sees an article in need, tags are not helpful. Some have been out there for years, without being removed or the article improved. And when I see any editor claim to have created thousands of articles within two or three years, I wonder if they were drive-by stubs. I've done my share of correcting and expanding, but I get more satisfaction out of creating an article from start, hoping I've given the reader enough verified information to grasp the subject I've written about. It takes research and work to do that, but it's a good satisfaction. If nothing else, I'd like to see Wikipedia completely remove the page tags and do away with their use. Tags just serve as litter. Maile66 (talk) 14:16, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • I agree with the assertion that low-hanging fruit is rarely found these days. IMO there are two simple factors contributing to this: our increased quality requirements, and the fact that most low-hanging fruit has already been taken away these days (articles on your favorite obscure garage band, actors most people have never heard of, your favorite video game's characters, etc.). However, I think it is a fallacy to believe that we need to get in more newcomers creating new articles, as it seems the WMF has in mind based on some comments above, or that Wikipedia is now even close to being complete, as one editor has suggested above. Where Wikipedia is lacking is not so much in the number of articles but in the content of these articles. And by that I am referring to both quality and quantity! What good are one-liner articles when nobody cares about extending them? Is it so much more exciting to start a new article rather than expanding existing articles, as Tony has been wondering? Why is new-article count such an important metric on Wikipedia anyway? I just recently learned that for my edits to be auto-patrolled I must have 50 new articles on my list. Ridiculous, considering I'm pretty certain that I'm an experienced editor by now despite having created zero main space articles on my own. Not because I could not – there are countless topics in the areas of my expertise that are not addressed by any article – it is because most other articles in these areas are so severely lacking that I rather focus on improving these! So it seems rather than encouraging newcomers in creating new articles we should get them to edit and extend existing articles. Of course, this still isn't a solution for the general editor retention problem, but maybe some newcomers wouldn't get pissed away when their new article would be deleted straight away. Nageh (talk) 18:24, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
    • Autopatrolled is merely an aid for New Pages Patrollers to help them deal with trusted prolific new article creators who create a lot of new articles (there are some users who have over 50,000 articles to their name). If you never create articles it's pretty much pointless to have the AP bit because you will never show up on Special:NewPages. It isn't used to check your edits on Special:RecentChanges. SpeakFree (talk)(contribs) 00:39, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
    • Haven't thought this out fully, but here's one approach that comes to mind: Getting newbies tapped in right from the start to the WikiProjects in their topic of interest would help socialize them ... perhaps as part of the Welcome userbox. "We see you've posted a new [article on Your Topic ... ]; we'd like to invite you to the Your Topic Coaching Page where experienced people can help make your article a star ..." There are some topics, [biography, etc.] where a New User Coaching Page would make a big difference, especially if the first pieces that aren't notable for Wikipedia could be placed somewhere else. "We see your biography of a living person has citations for verification, so it is eligible for the "AllBiography" Wiki. If you are able to locate citations by third party, independent sources who are not connected with the author, please add them so that your article can be moved into Wikipedia itself." A similar approach would work for the "AllBusinesses" or "AllBands / AllMusic" Wikis. If we let new users get up to speed editing their own vanity pages, which is, after all, what they know best, some of them will stay, or return to apply their skills later. (If we don't help people get started out in the world of Wikis and collaboration, then their skills get honed at commercial content-mill click-through sites instead.) New users don't know what a "Talk page" is, and need coaching at their own level. This might be easier in a dedicated section that is clearly labeled as "New User Coaching". We need more than one type of editor: first, sheer numbers of people willing to do a little bit each, so that the routine cleanup/backlog tasks are spread out over more people. And two, technical / subject / writer / administrator types capable of resolving disputes and getting articles to GA status. The newbies posting their first vanity page could contribute to the "sheer numbers" part somehow; for example, it could be a requirement to post on the AllBiographies Wiki that you have cleaned up a typo in 3 existing Wikipedia biographies. Djembayz (talk) 18:21, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
      • I think dragging constructive newcomers to WikiProjects is worth exploring further. They may find themselves in a surrounding more comfortable and welcoming among like-wise peers, and in the end it could be a winning situation for both sides. Especially since most newcomers don't know about WikiProjects. Maybe adapting welcome templates? Nageh (talk) 19:30, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • So far, the discussion is mostly about the new editor retention problem. How far has the old editor base been affected by retention problems? Is it for similar reasons? Why is it that once very active WikiProjects have become as good as dead over time, with a turning point it seems at around the year 2007? Indeed, working under these WikiProjects is not rewarding at all these days, as your work not only gets unacknowledged but you neither get positive nor negative feedback, and posting on the projects' talk pages is almost a guarantee for not getting a reply at all. Based on a comment by Cla68 above, I think this is a valid concern as well. Nageh (talk) 18:37, 28 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Ah, but we need new blood. ResMar 14:41, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Agreed. Back when I started editing in 2006, every few hours some of the articles on my watchlist get edited (content-wise, not vandalism/revert). Nowadays, the changes made to articles were either done by bot (adding interwiki links), AWB, or reverts and contents are sitting unchanged for weeks. OhanaUnitedTalk page 16:58, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • From what I've seen, "old editors" are leaving at a higher rate; few people notice because there are fewer of them. The other week, I took some time to see just how many editors who started before me (my first edit was in late October 2002) were still contributing, & could only identify three or four of them. I could name dozens of hard-working, devoted & productive editors who were active either when I started or shortly thereafter yet no longer contribute, & whose absense has hurt Wikipedia. Maybe Wikipedia simply lost its appeal & they moved on; maybe the same factors which discourage new users drove them away. (I've often wondered why they left, while I was still around; maybe because contributing to Wikipedia allows me to avoid paying proper attention to my own life. :-/ ) -- llywrch (talk) 18:37, 29 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • "Old editor" here who was extremely prolific back in the day but hasn't contributed much in recent years, contributing his little anecdote as to why. It wasn't creeping growth of quality standards, it was deletionism pure and simple. It was bothering me for a long while but then the straw that broke my back was the "TV Characters and Episodes" debacal - a group of editors swept through the wiki blanking many thousands of pages related to works of fiction and redirecting them (so that they didn't have to go through deletion debate). In the end their methods were decried as inappropriate the damage was left unrepaired, which gave me a definite sense that people felt the ends had justified the means. Seeing all that work destroyed took the remaining wind out of my enthusiasm for the project even though barely any of my own edits got lost in the process. Wikia's specialist wikis have filled in some of the niche that those articles used to since then but it's not really the same - the unity and community isn't there. Oh well. Bryan Derksen (talk) 07:57, 31 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • Another old editor here. Some relativism on your comment about "early editors" is needed - there were only about 40 of us in the first year anyway, and around ten of us remain. That's 25% - which really isn't THAT bad. If you look at a user growth year (say 2005) I'd be surprised if 25% of them are still editing. Manning (talk) 10:55, 23 January 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I'm not convinced that openness and quality are diametrically opposed, It's still the early 21st century and things may look different in decades to come, but at the moment Wikipedia is outperforming less open projects such as Citizendium and Nupedia. One recent study on a set of medical topics showed that other reference sites including the Britannia beat us only on readability, yes I know the argument that Wikipedia only works in practise not in theory, but can those who believe that openness doesn't promote quality point to a reference work that manages to get better quality despite being less open? That isn't to say things are perfect, yes we do need to make more of a fuss over goodfaith smart newbies than we do over trolls, spammers and vandals. Also our rising quality level has reduced the openings for newbies, we don't have so many typos nowadays, and vandalism gets reverted too quickly to recruit the new vandalfighters it once gained us. Where we do have a shortage is in the number of people willing to write neutral reliably sourced content, but I'm not sure that we are shorter of such people than we were five years ago. In our early growth years we were OK with huge numbers of completely unreferenced articles being created as the policy was very much verifiable as opposed to verified. Now we have moved to a policy of verified at least as far as BLPs are concerned, it would be interesting to measure the number of inline cites being added to the pedia over time, and the number of editors who add them. My suspicion is that some of the people we've lost and many who start but we no longer retain are the editors who want to help, but won't or can't work to our current standards. So while openness has a positive rather than negative relationship to quality, higher quality may be reducing our participation levels.
Us active Wikipedians are not average folks, we tend to be more altruistic and more into knowledge than the average; But there are lots of people out there who share those traits, though they may not share our general geekiness. I think that a WYSIWYG editor has big potential there as it could open up the pedia to lots of people who aren't geeky but are smart and altruistic. Though I hope it doesn't bring in a disproportionate number of vandals and spammers. ϢereSpielChequers 01:17, 30 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • My response to the claim that "It's easy to miss, but every bump in quality we make is damaging to the new editor population." is "GOOD!" We need to stop this insane focus on new editors at the expense of quality. Wikipedia has been around for a while. People know what we are for. If thy are interested in contributing they are already here, and have been for years. Any new editors that wander in at this late date are bound to be able to contribute less to articles that are already a lot better than they used to be. The vast majority of my time on Wikipedia is spent cleaning up what editors who shouldn't be here are doing and trying to return articles back to at least the level of quality that they used to have before these newbies came along and thought they'd try to improve things by adding a link to their favorite site/mention of their favorite Pokemon character/some wild idea they thought up/their point of view on a topic. Enough already. Being open is great when we are just starting out, and for picking up some people who for whatever reason (young age? lack of time) who didn't already come here, but otherwise just brings in people who have no business trying to contribute to an encyclopedia. This is not Facebook, this is an encyclopedia. DreamGuy (talk) 20:23, 31 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • Why has no one pointed out that blaming editor decline on increased standards is a clear-cut case of post hoc ergo propter hoc? I remember there were surveys once of quitting editors; did those surveys finger quality increases? Much more importantly, were the surveys even professionally done? Surveys are surprisingly difficult to do correctly, if you've ever had a relevant course or three in assessment... I agree with the comment above that we should be matching newcomers with supportive WikiProjects... –OneLeafKnowsAutumn (talk) 02:08, 2 January 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • I have made some hundreds of edits, but probably only maybe 20 or 30 new articles (almost all US government officials / politicians from 1930 through 1970). All of the articles I created have been improved greatly by others, often very quickly after they have been created. I do have some expertise in some areas, but I have absolutely no interest in getting involved in a lengthy dispute about the rules of wikipedia, so I have no interest in working on any articles anything controversial. I have not contributed much lately, because it seems that there are frequently messages from various other participants that I must participate in this or that dispute because someone is trying to do something outrageous with wikipedia policies, or with an article I worked on. While I don't really have a constructive suggestion, my view (and that of at least a few other people) is that the necessity of getting involved in wikipedias's internal politics and edit wars is a large turn off. With many projects, there is some at least somewhat objective criteria for being able to contribute. With wikipedia it seems that the criteria is "unanimous consent from a large undefined group of anonymous people". Morris (talk) 15:44, 8 January 2012 (UTC)[reply]


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