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By Kudpung

On 3 December 2018 with over 188,000 edits since 2008, COIN expert Jytdog scrambled his password and left. The details of his retirement are a separate issue but over 80 testimonials in recognition of his work demonstrate that his efforts to keep the encyclopedia clean are almost irreplaceable. A growing consensus on his talk page suggests that an essay he wrote in 2017 should be made widely available. Here it is:


Before he left Wikipedia, Jytdog often used this essay to welcome and attempt to guide editors with an apparent or actual conflict of interest.

This is a narrative to get you oriented to how this place works, and to the key policies and guidelines.

This place is wide open – like a city with no locks on its doors – and anybody can just wander in, with their own notions of what they should do here. We have no training process and you don't need any license. We rely on that ancient, all-the-way-back-to-our-primate-roots human sociality for people to absorb the mission, and the policies and guidelines. Somebody could write an interesting paper about how that works (and doesn't work).

The welcome messages provide a series of links, but there really is no single narrative provided anywhere. So this is meant to sort of grease the wheels of the normal learning process here, for people who are in a hurry or who have been here a while but somehow never got the memo, as it were.

What we do, where things are, and governance

The first thing, is that our mission is to produce articles that provide readers with encyclopedic content that summarizes accepted knowledge as a free knowledge and education resource for every day people, everywhere in the world who can read English, and to do that as a community that anyone can be a part of, working under pseudonyms if they choose. That's the mission. (!)

You have done excellent work here in developing our approach to COI--because of the effort you have put into it, we will be able to continue, and I for one, feel a specific need to try to compensate for your absence--.

I'd like to thank you for all of your extensive COI work. Among other things, you were (ironically) the instigating force behind at least two very important and effective ArbCom cases, as well as a number of non-ArbCom cases of very extensive and complex webs of organized COI editing which spanned numerous noticeboards and talkpages.
– Softlavender

I can't believe this. WP will not be the same without you. Even though I am an admin and you are not, you were my go-to person whenever I suspected COI editing...
– Randykitty

I don't like to see a Jytdog-shaped hole in Wikipedia either...
– Bishonen

I want to add myself to the list of people who are grateful for all the good work you've done here and to tell you that you'll be missed...
– Boing! said Zebedee

A lot of people come here mistaking Wikipedia for an extension of a company website, or as social media, or as some kind of directory or place to promote or denigrate people, companies, products, projects, religions, a political candidate, or some idea (like raw foodism or the paleo diet). That is not what we are about. This is described in WP:NOT, which describes what Wikipedia is, and what it is not.

I cannot emphasize how important it is, to understand this! If you mistake Wikipedia for a blog or some other form of social media, or for a scientific journal or a newspaper, you are going to waste a ton of your own time, and the time of experienced volunteers. If you understand the mission, many things here in Wikipedia will make sense; if you don't understand it, many things here will just seem bizarre or arbitrary.

Probably the hardest thing for people to get used to – especially people who are used to writing scientific articles (or anything, really) – is the fundamental, well... epistemology here. In Wikipedia, you are not an authority. Nor is anybody else. Sources are authoritative. The reason for that, is that we are editors. Nobodies. Our names do not go on the articles we labor on. Please really, really think about that and take that in deep.

What we do here, is summarize sources. So, writing what you know, and sticking a citation behind that, is not OK. It is not how we work. Grabbing some research paper that excites you, or that the media is hyping, is not what we do either.

The kind of source that is most authoritative here, is a source that is a) independent of its subject; b) aiming to provide accepted knowledge – the state of play about X, whatever it is; c) written and published by people who are widely respected in the field of the subject. And again, what we do is summarize those sources. (We do fill in around the edges with what we call "primary sources" sometimes, but they don't drive content. A primary source is a person or company's own website, or a press release, etc. (A scientific research paper is also a primary source, btw). It would be really bad to have a page on Wikipedia driven almost entirely by citations to a person or company's own website, right? If that happens, the Wikipedia page is just a proxy for the person's or company's website, and that is not what we do here. We are not a PR vehicle. But sometimes primary sources are good for simple facts, like a birthday.)

That is really, really crazy hard for many people to wrap their heads around. But that is what has made Wikipedia possible. We don't argue about which Wikipedia editor is smarter or has more insight. Instead, we argue about what sources are most authoritative. And when we summarize them, we don't pick just one. We pick the best ones, and listen to them, and summarize what they say, aiming to transmit enduring, accepted knowledge, as it is understood at the time in the given field.

How did that come to be? This way of doing things evolved in the community over the past 16 years, through the decision-making process of this place. As you can imagine, if this place had no norms, it would be a Mad Max kind of world interpersonally, and content would be a slag heap (the quality is really bad in parts, despite our best efforts).

It was kind of a Mad Max world at first, back at the beginning. There was this idea – the first statements of the mission – about creating a free encyclopedia... but what did that mean? People tried to add content based on their own authority, but the community had no way to verify who anybody was, nor any real interest in trying to figure out a way to do that. (People who wanted articles to be written by experts actually split off and formed Citizendium... which was not able to attract enough volunteer experts and died). There were fierce and long discussions about how articles should be constructed here, and how to make decisions as a community at all.

One of the first group decisions that was made, and what became one of our most fundamental norms, is that we decide things by consensus. That decision itself, is recorded here: WP:CONSENSUS, which is one of our "policies". And when we decide things by consensus, that is not just local in some specific discussion, but includes and builds on all the discussions that have happened in the past. The results of those past discussions (especially discussions about key issues) are the norms that we follow now. We call them policies and guidelines – which are described briefly in the section below – you will see how they all fit together, to make the mission possible.

More high-level orientation first, however.

The policy and guideline documents (which are just writings that reflect the ongoing, evolving, living consensus) all reside in "Wikipedia space".

This gets us a bit into navigating the site. Articles exist in "mainspace". That is what almost everybody thinks of when thinking of Wikipedia. But there are other "spaces" used by the editing community. The policies and guidelines and various notice boards reside in "Wikipedia space" – pages in Wikipedia that start with "Wikipedia:AAAA" or for short, "WP:AAAA". WP:CONSENSUS (Wikipedia space) is different from Consensus (mainspace – this is the encyclopedia article about this concept). There are other "spaces" here, like draft space Draft:X, where draft articles reside, and user space, for sandboxes and other things – this page is in my userspace, User:Jytdog/.... Lots of people have 'sandboxes' where they store stuff related to their work here – User:X/sandbox – please note that userspace cannot be hijacked to serve as personal webhost space – it it just for doing work here. There is also "help space" – all help starts at Help:Contents and takes off from there.

So how does this place work, governance-wise? It was founded on kind of a libertarian ethos, trying to maximize individual freedom but keeping people responsible to each other and the mission – it also has a communitarian ethos. The tension between these two is what has made this place possible as well. Like a lot of internet-based projects, each person is expected to read the manual and educate themselves about how this place works; more experienced users are happy to help, but you have to show that you are trying to engage the policies and guidelines, and not just their letter but their spirit.

This being a place built by humans, there are lots of disagreements. When these arise we try to just talk it through, as simply as possible. That discussion focuses on sources, and how to generate content from them, based on the policies and guidelines. (Not on the basis of: "I know what I am talking about and you obviously don't".) Talking to each other on the foundation of the policies and guidelines, is always the first move. We have plenty of other ways to resolve disagreements – noticeboards and the like. These are described at the dispute resolution policy page. We also have administrators ("admins") who have the power to block people as well as having advanced permissions, like deleting pages. And there is a ~sort of~ "court" system here that we can escalate especially thorny problems through, that ends up at our "supreme court", the Arbitration committee or "Arbcom".

People have tried to define the governance structure of Wikipedia and have come up with all kinds of questions and claims – is it a democracy, an anarchy, or controlled by a secret cabal? In fact it is a clue-ocracy (that link is to a very short and very important text about how this place works).

At a yet higher level... there is a nonprofit organization called the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF). It owns the servers that host the English Wikipedia, the many other language Wikipedias, Wikidata, and MediaWiki, which is the open-source software underlying Wikipedia and similar websites. WMF has employees who do behind-the-scenes things like keep the servers running, work on the software, as well as very public things, like outreach activities. However WMF does not get involved in the governance of the projects, except in rare cases when legal issues arise. Governance is left to the community of users in each project. Every time you make an edit to Wikipedia, you are agreeing to the Terms of Use contract between yourself and the WMF. The Terms of Use explain the governance, and that your use of Wikipedia obligates you to follow community policies and guidelines. (By the way, when people "donate money to Wikipedia", the money goes to the WMF. Which has nothing to do with content but rather, with the stuff above.)

And following on that – please keep in mind that Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit. That value of openness is very important to us and editing is a privilege offered to everyone. But the privilege comes with a responsibility to pursue Wikipedia's mission and to learn and follow the policies and guidelines. The community gives people time to learn, but eventually restricts or removes editing privileges from people who just cannot get grounded on the mission of Wikipedia, or who will not or cannot follow the policies and guidelines.

For people in business, you can think of the policies and guidelines as the strategy through which the editing community realizes the mission. For sociologists, you can think of the policies and guidelines as the norms that govern the community. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to understand Wikipedia's mission. (see the very top of this section, if you don't remember what it is!)

The policies and guidelines

There are policies and guidelines that govern content, and separate ones that govern behavior.

Again these were all built by the community over time, and they make perfect sense deep down... this is how a community of anonymous people can collaborate to build and maintain articles that summarize accepted knowledge.

Here is a very quick rundown:

Content policies and guidelines:

In terms of behavior, the key norms are:

If you can get all that (the content and behavior policies and guidelines) under your belt, you will become truly "clueful", as we say. If that is where you want to go, of course. I know that was a lot of information, but hopefully it is digestible enough.

New articles

If at some point you want to create an article, here is what to do.

  1. look for independent high quality sources that comply with WP:MEDRS for anything related to health, and WP:RS for everything else, that give serious discussion to the topic, not just passing mentions. Start with great sources. Think New York Times not "some blog" and not the company website, and think New England Journal of Medicine, not Biology and Medicine. (The latter is published by OMICS Publishing Group which is the most often discussed predatory publisher. Be aware that predatory publishers exist, and don't use articles in journals they publish; you can check publishers at Beall's list.) Also beware of churnalism sources that look like they are independent but are lightly edited press releases. Once you have seen a few of these they are very easy to spot. See also WP:PUS for the kinds of sources to avoid.
  2. Look at the sources you found, and see if you have enough per WP:Golden rule to even go forward. If you don't, you can stop right there.
  3. Read the sources you found, and identify the main and minor themes to guide you with regard to WP:WEIGHT – be wary of distortions in weight due to recent events (see WP:RECENTISM).
  4. Be mindful of the manual of style in all things (WP:MOS) but also go look at manual of style guideline created by the relevant WikiProject, to guide the sectioning and other subject-specific style matters (you can look at articles on similar topics but be ginger b/c WP has lots of bad content) – create an outline. (For example, for biographies, the relevant project is WP:WikiProject Biography and for companies, the relevant project is Wikipedia:WikiProject_Companies/Guidelines, for articles about health/medicine, there is WP:MEDMOS).
  5. Create the blank article page following the process described at articles for creation for your first few articles. (If you don't know how to create a new article directly... maybe wait until you do, to try, and just rely on AfC for awhile :) )
  6. Start writing the body, based only on what is in the sources you have, and provide an inline citation for each sentence as you go. (See note about formatting citations below) Set up the References section and click "preview" plenty as you go, so you can see how it is going.
  7. Make sure you write in neutral language. The most rigorous way to do this is to use no adjectives at your first go-round (!) and add them back only as needed. Also write simply, in plain English. Not informally, but simply. Try to write so that anybody with a decent education can understand.
  8. When you are done, write the lead and add infobox, external links, categories, etc (for external links, please be sure to follow WP:ELNO – we only do one "personal" external link, so don't include their own website and their Facebook page and their Twitter feed etc. Just one.)
  9. Consider adding banners to the Talk page, joining the draft article to relevant Wikiprojects, which will help attract editors who are interested and knowledgeable to help work on the article. (You can look at the Talk pages of articles on similar topics, to see what WikiProjects are involved in them). If you have a COI for the article, note it on the Talk page, too.
  10. The completed work should have nothing unsourced (because the sources drove everything you wrote, not prior knowledge or personal experiences); there should be no original research nor WP:PROMO in it.
  11. If you are using AFC, submit your article for review by clicking the "submit your draft" button that was set up when you created the article. You will get responses from reviewers, and you can work with them to do whatever is needed to get the article ready to be published. If you have created the page in mainspace, make sure you have previewed several times and that everything looks OK, and click save.

Again that was a lot, but the goal is to get you somewhat oriented.

Editing where you have a conflict of interest

Wikipedia is a widely-used reference work and managing conflict of interest is essential for ensuring the integrity of Wikipedia and retaining the public's trust in it. We have a policy that requires disclosure of paid editing (WP:PAID) and further guidance in our conflict of interest guideline (WP:COI).

Indeed a January 2018 "supreme court" (our Arbcom) case stated as a principle:

2) Because Wikipedia is intended to be written from a neutral point of view, it is necessary that conflicts of interest are properly disclosed, and articles or edits by conflicted editors are reasonably available for review by others. Editors are expected to comply with both the purpose and intent of the applicable policies, as well as their literal wording.

Please note that there is no bar to being part of the Wikipedia community if you want to be involved in articles where you have a conflict of interest; there are just some things we ask you to do (and if you are paid, some things you need to do).

As in scientific publishing, conflict of interest is managed here in two steps – disclosure and a form of peer review.

Disclosure is the most important, and first, step. We do not ask anyone to disclose their real world identity, but relationships should be disclosed and for any edit where you have received or expect to receive compensation, you must disclose your employer, the client, and any other affiliation that is relevant.

There are various templates used for disclosure and there is specific guidance on how to use them, in the policy and guideline linked-to above. We generally look for the disclosure at your userpage and at any article talk page where you will be working under a COI. Please ask for help if you find anything confusing!

The form of "peer review" is the second step. This piece may seem a bit strange to you at first, but if you think about it, it will make sense. In Wikipedia, editors can immediately publish their work, with no intervening publisher or standard peer review – you can just create an article, click save, and voilà there is a new article, and you can go into any article, make changes, click save, and done. No intermediary – no publisher, no "editors" as that term is used in the real world. So the bias that conflicted editors tend to have, can go right into the article. Conflicted editors are also really driven to try to make the article fit with their external interest. If they edit directly, this often leads to battles with other editors, which is not good and one of the key reasons we seek to manage COI.

What we ask editors who want to work on articles where their COI is relevant, or which they are paid to work on, is:

a) if you want to create an article relevant to a COI you have, create the article as a draft through the WP:AFC process, disclose your COI on the Talk page with the Template:Connected contributor (paid) or Template:Connected contributor tag, and then submit the draft article for review (the AfC process sets up a nice big button for you to click when it is ready) so it can be reviewed before it publishes; and
b) And if you want to change content in any existing article on a topic where you have a COI, we ask you to
(i) disclose at the Talk page of the article with the tags as mentioned above; and
(ii) propose content on the Talk page for others to review and implement before it goes live, instead of doing it directly yourself. Just open a new section, put the proposed content there, and just below the header (at the top of the editing window) place the {{request edit}} tag, to flag it for other editors to review. In general the proposed content should be relatively short so that it is not too much review at once. Sometimes editors propose complete rewrites, providing a link to their sandbox for example. This is OK to do but please be aware that it is lot more for volunteers to process and will probably take longer.

By following those "peer review" processes, editors with a COI can contribute where they have a COI, and the integrity of WP can be protected. We get some great contributions that way, when conflicted editors take the time to understand what kinds of proposals are OK under the content policies. (There are good faith paid editors here, who have signed and follow the Wikipedia:Statement on Wikipedia from participating communications firms, and there are "black hat" paid editors here who lie about what they do and really harm Wikipedia).

But understanding the mission, and the policies and guidelines through which we realize the mission, is very important! That is why I wrote the section at the top of this page. Learning and following these is very important, and takes time. Please be aware that you have created a Wikipedia account, and this makes you a Wikipedian – you are obligated to pursue Wikipedia's mission first and foremost when you work here, and you are obligated to edit according to the policies and guidelines. Editing Wikipedia is a privilege that is freely offered to all, but the community restricts or completely takes that privilege away from people who will not edit and behave as Wikipedians.

I want to add that per the WP:COI guideline, if you want to directly update simple, uncontroversial facts (for example, correcting the facts about where the company has offices) you can do that directly in the article, without making an edit request on the Talk page. Just be sure to always cite a reliable source for the information you change, and make sure it is simple, factual, uncontroversial content. If you are not sure if something is uncontroversial, please ask at the Talk page. Please err on the side of caution.

Editing basics

Am not going to go into the details of this. There is training available at Editing basics. Please also see the help boxes away below, at the very bottom!

Please be aware that there are two main "text editors" used by editors. There is the new-fangled Wikipedia:VisualEditor that was built to be "what you see is what you get". There is also an old-school text editor that people use to manually type wiki markup to get things done.

I do want to talk about formatting citations a bit though.

Formatting citations

Everything comes down to sources as mentioned above, and it is very important to provide complete citations, so that other people can use them. Other editors use them to verify the content and to build more content, and readers use them to dive deeper into the subject matter. (some readers use Wikipedia only to get quick access to the sources and pretty much ignore the content!)

There are templates for citations that are very useful. If you look at them and try to create them manually, this looks like a nightmare. I avoided templates for years and just did simple ones like this:

But then I learned that there are automated tools that will create templated citations for you super fast and this is how I work now... and it is good for you and everybody if you use them. Below is a description first of how to autoformat refs in the "Visual editor" interface, which many new users use, and then in the older Wikitext editor. In either editor, if you are writing about health, the part of the citation we care about the most is the pmid. Please be sure to use it.

We really value references that are available free-full text, so if there is free full text version please be sure to include the pmc field for biomedical refs or a URL to a free full-text if it exists elsewhere (but don't link to a version that someone has posted online in violation of copyright – see WP:COPYLINK as well as WP:ELNEVER).

Tool inside the Visual editor

The resulting citation will look like this:
  • Begley, C. Glenn; Ellis, Lee M. (2012-03-28). "Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research". Nature. 483 (7391): 531–533. doi:10.1038/483531a. PMID 22460880.
the underlying wikicode looks like this (a nightmare right? Thank goodness you don't have to generate this by hand):
  • {{Cite journal|last=Begley|first=C. Glenn|last2=Ellis|first2=Lee M.|date=2012-03-28|title=Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research|journal=Nature|volume=483|issue=7391|pages=531–533|doi=10.1038/483531a|pmid=22460880}}
Please note if you use the "Re-use" function of the Cite tool in VisualEditor, it will create a "reference name" for the original instance of the citation and the subsequent ones, that looks something like this: <ref name=":0"/> Please know that this is a software bug that the editing community has tried to get the developers to fix for a long time now because those reference names are not useful because somebody editing after you, who is looking at the source text, will probably see only <ref name=":0"/> and not have any idea what reference that is, since it is often in a different section of the article. He or she will have to close out the editing window or open another tab to see what the original reference was. This is a waste of everyone's time. When you are done, please go back and change them to something that is unique and meaningful.
So if the VisualEditor did this to the original citation when you Re-used:
  • <ref name=":0">{{Cite journal|last=Begley|first=C. Glenn|last2=Ellis|first2=Lee M.|date=2012-03-28|title=Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research|journal=Nature|volume=483|issue=7391|pages=531–533|doi=10.1038/483531a|pmid=22460880}}</ref>
and did this for subsequent instances:
  • <ref name=":0"/>
Please go back and change both ref names to something like <ref name=Begley2012> for the first one and <ref name=Begley2012/> for the subsequent ones. You can just search the source text for ":0" etc to find them. The VisualEditor just counts up in the reference names, so you may find ":0", ":1", ":2", etc, depending on how many references you re-used.

Tool inside the Wikitext editor

If you are working in the older Wikitext editor, there is a similar function. In this editor, there is also a toolbar, and on the right, it says "Cite" and there is a little triangle next to it. If you click the triangle, another menu appears below. On the left side of the new menu bar, you will see "Templates". If you select (for example) "Cite journal", you can fill in the "doi" or the "PMID" field, and then if you click the little magnifying glass next to the field, the whole thing will auto-fill. If there is a pmc version of the article, this tool does not pick that up. You have to expand the "additional fields" at the bottom of the citation-creator – you will see the "pmc" field down there, to the right. The Wikitext editor does not have an automatic "re-use" function – you need to do that manually. There are auto-fill fields in the templates for news, websites, and books, too.

Other tool

Here is a handy tool – you can plug in the url, isbn, or doi, and it will create a templated citation for you, that you can copy and paste into an article. Jytdog (talk) 17:54, 6 October 2018 (UTC)[reply]

In this issue
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Discuss this story

”Outrageous personal attack?” Nonsense. Reader, look though the talk history and see. (Quickly, before someone covers his tracks with a revision deletion). Hyperbolic? Sure, the explicit reference to Godwin in the edit summary is a clue that that just might be deliberate.
What is outrageous is this attempt to polish the reputation of one of Wikipedia’s serial offenders just in time for his inevitable return. Qwirkle (talk) 15:15, 4 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]


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