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Why the Core Contest matters

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By Casliber
Casliber is a reviewer, administrator, former member of ArbCom, and coordinator for the yearly Core Contest, as well as, with more than one hundred featured articles and countless good articles under his belt, one of English Wikipedia's most prodigious editors. We featured an interview with Casliber to commemorate this fact last May; here he presents his views on core content on Wikipedia through the lens of the annual Core Contest, and why you, too, should participate.
In 2011 TCO published his findings on progress in the quality of core articles on Wikipedia. His findings, summarized in this PDF and available in full here, were that most of our most important articles have barely improved since at least 2008.

Wikipedia was in many ways a very different place a decade ago, but in some important ways it was also very much the same. In October 2004, user Danny created the page for the first of three eponymous "Danny's contests", one of Wikipedia's very earliest organized content drives. The three iterations of Danny's contest—focusing, in turn, on creating new articles, destubbing, and featured content—would see editors rewarded for their work in key areas of Wikipedia by hundreds of dollars in Amazon vouchers. The third contest, held in September–October 2006, was the most innovative of these, focusing on improving the quality of established broad articles and in particular on trying to correct or influence the flow of featured content. In introducing the contest, Danny presaged many of the changes that Wikipedia would undergo, stating:

It was on these principles that the contests' spiritual successor, the first English Wikipedia Core Contest, was organized in November 2007. Running from November 25 to December 9, 2007, the Core Contest presented its rationale in its introduction, stating that "we all acknowledge the ideals of quality over quantity and the vital importance of core topics - yet how many really key articles do we each know of in really poor shape? to improve [on] this situation we are announcing a two-week-long contest focusing on Wikipedia's most important articles." Danny and several other users had begun development on Veropedia at the time, an early Wikipedia content scraper which solicited recommendations on high-quality Wikipedia articles from editors for the purposes of static re-hosting, a motivating factor in their assistance in organizing this newer, broader effort. Mirroring the negotiations that still take place with broad community initiatives today, the project generated extensive discussion in late 2007, with the greatest topic of concern in particular being sourcing the monetary reward. This was at first to be fulfilled by Danny again, but after a delay in sourcing it (according to speculation, due to the condition of the success of Veropedia) the winners were finally announced and their prize money awarded on November 25, 2008, with the prize money supplied by Proteins. But despite the success of this first iteration of the contest, the bumpiness of actually awarding the winners discouraged future versions, and so the project went on an indefinite—and seemingly final—hiatus.

I have been interested in contests and games as a way of promoting content-building on Wikipedia for as long as I've been an editor here, and in a particularly glib moment in 2008, I started drafting the Flaming Joel-wiki award, a wiki-award offered to editors who improve one of the many subjects mentioned in Billy Joel's eclectic song "We Didn't Start the Fire". When I stumbled across relics of the Core Contest page in late 2011, I immediately saw value in this project and began the process of reviving it. The community scaffold that keeps Wikipedia running had gone through quite a bit of changes and improvements in the intervening time, so I was able to solve the funding issues which were so problematic in the first effort through application to the Wikimedia UK's microgrants program, which provided enough for a modest but sizable prize.

I decided to use vouchers to steer away from a direct cash incentive, hoping that that would lead to more scholarly and Wikipedia-related purchases on the part of the prize-winners, and I chose Amazon again because I suspect that any winner of such a contest could find something of use to purchase through them. I think that a prize on hand as an incentive is an important thing to have: they are a nice concrete gesture for the hours of work that some folks put into the place and a way to move away from sticks and towards carrots in steering featured content quality and focus.

I have run the competition on four occasions since then: March 10 to March 31 2012, which saw £250 in Amazon vouchers shared by six editors; August 2012, which saw the same prize shared by seven editors; April 2013, with the prize shared by three editors; and 10 February to 9 March 2014, with the prize shared by five. Each time the prizes have come from a WM UK microgrant, and buoyed by the success of this program, I resurrected the Stub Contest as well. Each time the contest has run, I have been impressed by the work that has been done, with the top 2 to 3 entries of each contest being particularly memorable. I almost hate singling out a favorite article, as that would mean omitting others I see as being just as important and enjoyable, and I invite readers to take a look at the diffs in the entries section of the contests to see first-hand what it is that I find so exciting about this program.

The featured article process is becoming ever more rigorous, but while this rigour is improving the quality of the articles we generate though the process, it is at the same time leaning heavily in favor of smaller, more esoteric, and more narrowly-focus articles more easily navigable through the straits of featured article candidacy. I continue to be excited about the Core Contest because I see it as a way of encouraging the expansion of broad articles that are typically neglected by our article improvement incentives, a problem that, though it first emerged in Danny's time, has only become more and more stark today. In examining the edit histories of many of the articles brought before the contest, I notice that the majority of our coverage of broadly-constructed topics, those most critical to our success as an encyclopedia, have seen little in the way of substantive community improvement over the years; except in the cases where specific editors make focused drives to bring an article to good or featured status, our core articles as they appear today were mostly written long ago, their content having changed for the most part only cosmetically in recent years. Though the times and the context we edit in have changed, the central principles of the Core Contest remain the same as they were when the contest first ran: to improve the encyclopedia where it matters most yet sees it the least. I see Wikipedia as being at a crossroads: the novelty of being newfangled is wearing off, replaced by the rigour of guidelines, restrictions, and rules that have proven essential in the evolution of Wikipedia. I believe that Wikipedia is traversing a grey area, where the goal is status as an established and reliable online encyclopedia, and we need to strive to ensure our core content is being improved along the way.

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  • Thanks for resurfacing that 2011 slideshow. It is a great read for anyone who wants to understand the way that Wikipedia has been developing and will continue to develop without an intervention. Blue Rasberry (talk) 21:41, 12 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • It's good that someone added TCO's report as an image and caption, to the op-ed. It was highly regrettable how little attention the Signpost gave to it at the time. As I recall, TCO submitted an essay explaining his work, that the Signpost never ran. Don't recall if it's on-wiki or just on email (I don't think my email archives go back past 2012), but if it's around, it might be worth running.--Wehwalt (talk) 11:28, 13 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
@Wehwalt: I wasn't able to find any further information about this submission on-wiki. I think we'd run it today, pending updating, but then again what was the concern at the time that prevented it from being run originally? ResMar 20:30, 13 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
This was before my time as editor, but TCO's report was one of more controversial things to happen to FAC, especially if you include the aftermath (which I suspect Wehwalt remembers all too well). If you're curious about the Signpost-related discussion, this would be a good place to start; the SP talk archives hold little. I'm curious to know why we didn't run anything about it, not even an in brief. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 08:26, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I am reluctant to characterize it as it involves editors I am known to have been in conflict with, one of whom is still active and she might take umbrage, and therefore ... but as I recall, there was a request that it not run without a rebuttal, and then no rebuttal was written, so the piece never ran. I suspect that if you check TCO's contributions for that time you will find it and the discussion.--Wehwalt (talk) 11:48, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Groan. I am uncomfortably familiar with this after all, then, but in a different context. ResMar 15:17, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • Wow. I am unfamiliar with the above history, having long dismissed contests as being about producing crisp, pleasant articles about matters of great interest to few people. Together with the old slideshow, I now see the present piece as only incidentally a promotion of Core Contest. It is more an indictment of GA/FA, for failing to give due weight to traffic reports or WP:CORE or other hints of article importance. By this reading of the question, the answer is, those thoughtful and discerning judges ought to do that. If that means adding an extra hurdle in a process already excessively difficult, then relax some other criterion. WP:TAFI similarly doesn't show the right emphasis. Of course, mine is the opinion of an editor who only goes back to 2006 and has mostly mucked around in the middle to lower reaches of our great cesspit of articles, thus may be clueless where a clue is much needed. Jim.henderson (talk) 15:01, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I inserted the slide-show into the piece because Casliber was running it on his contest page and he OK-d the change. I wasn't aware there was sordid history involving its non-publication here. I've listed my personal opinion below. ResMar 15:17, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • Right, my personal opinion. FA is not worth the tedium. I'm a huge fan of GA, minus the backlogs, and have near-zero intention of ever returning to FA—GA articles are 90 percent of the content with 10 percent of the stress; they're more fun to write and more fun to review, and are much closer to an ideal balance between strength of writing and strength of will to get there. In fact I'd say a GA today is of the same quality as an FA from back when the dispatches were still active in 2010. I wonder what the broad trends have been in articles being brought to either venue, incidentally.
I'm sorry if I crowded out your piece, Casliber, that...wasn't my intention. ResMar 15:17, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Not fussed - it was enlightening to read TCO's piece again. Just makes me wonder how I could make the contest more frequent without inducing writer fatigue. The Core Contest is only a tool in the bigger scheme of things....but hopefully a fun one :) Cas Liber (talk · contribs) 20:10, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
@Casliber: I think that the best way to make core content more of a priority amongst editors is to work on making collaboration on such articles easier. I've though about taking on Volcano (every once in a while I click on it and get dismayed by its crapiness) but I know I just can't do it alone; nonetheless I'd be willing to tackle the project over the summer with help from other experienced editors. I think that a lot of people have the same feelings about these things. Too often editing Wikipedia consists of quiet work alone. When people manage to build a community in a topic of interest—for instance, with Majestic Titan—things get bright.
I'm a big fan of WP:MILLION on this front, incidentally.ResMar 21:58, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
@Harej: I think you'd find this thread of thought interesting. ResMar 22:00, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • I must say that both the article and the slideshow have opened my eyes and are changing my approach to wikipedia. Being apparently a "dabbler" tackling mostly low importance articles with typically less than 3k views per months (Shepseskare, Sahure, Pyramid of Userkaf, Unas etc.) I used to choose articles for improvement on a more or less random basis. Like everyone else I have read very poor articles on vital topics (e.g. Level 4: Naqada III and Old Kingdom of Egypt, with c. 200k views per year for the latter), yet never thought of doing something about it myself. This is about to change thanks to this article! Finally, three observations:
1) The GA process has a terrible problem: several times, it took me over 5 months to get someone to review my nominations. If one nominates a vital article, one should be able to call for help from someone to get a priority GA review in a timely manner.
2) A vague idea: extremely important articles of poor quality could be the target of bounty-hunter-editors if a monetary reward was attached to these articles (Amazon or WMF shop vouchers).
3) Dabblers exist, among other reasons, because many non-vital articles are in an even worse shape than vital ones. This is quite dismaying for people interested in narrow, obscur, topics and might tend to spur them into action. Furthermore, narrow topics seem easier to cover comprehensively, giving the impression that good quality is achievable with less work. For example, while researching on Shepseskare, I had to consult a dozen primary sources for everything known about him, while doing the same on the Old Kingdom would require consulting thousands of sources. Hence another, less comprehensive strategy is required, which necessitates a selection of sources and important themes to be covered as opposed to "just everything I can find". Iry-Hor (talk) 08:44, 15 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Try moving up from a topic you've already written about! South American dreadnought race was only written after I wrote about the individual dreadnoughts and ship classes. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 09:13, 15 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Good point, so I am in a good position to write Old Kingdom of Egypt. Iry-Hor (talk) 09:52, 15 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
@Iry-Hor: I was thinking of something more like Fifth Dynasty of Egypt. :-) Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 10:07, 15 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
An even better point! And the article has around around 36,000 views a year! Iry-Hor (talk) 10:16, 15 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
For me, I won't make time for GA, being busy with pictures and other matters. Also no contests. Thus, no action to influence others. For those who seek incentives or seek to incentivize, perhaps distinct displays of "pop stars" and "vital stars" would steer some star collectors in the right direction. I shall limit myself to clicking the 30 day page read report and sometimes the 90, as part of deciding to drop or not drop an article from watch. A few years ago I tried using the watching number for that purpose, but almost all were below 30 thus gave no guidance. And I'll try to think about whether I'm looking at an article that matters to the world, rather than just to my own odd though perhaps exquisite tastes. Jim.henderson (talk) 11:48, 15 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • TCO's paper is a fascinating read that confirms some suspicions I've always had about Featured Articles. The threads in the Talk pages linked above also confirm some other suspicions I've had about the FA process & some of the regulars involved -- which is why I've not bothered with subjecting myself to it.

    However, my comment here is to argue a counter-point to creating featured content -- that instead of working to improve one article to FA class it may be far more important to raise several articles from stub or start to B class. Or even to reduce the percentage of stubs on Wikipedia from 54% to under 40% -- which is far easier than it might appear. For one thing, reviewing articles categorized as stub class, I've found 10-25% are actually start class or better. But a lot of stubs are simply in need of some TLC -- & research -- to be turned into useful articles, & would prove good starting places for new editors. (And others might be best merged into related articles.) -- llywrch (talk) 04:46, 16 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]

That's me, all right. Upgrade crap into mediocrity. I'm happy to do that, and as usual in WP specializations, more colleagues would be welcome. We have been discussing incentive programs, starting with a fixed-time contest and branching out with possible tweaks to the GA/FA star system. But how to grade successful crap scrapers so we can proudly display a poop scoop? Jim.henderson (talk) 10:36, 16 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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