Research:Rhetoric of the welcome message

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Research project
Rhetoric of the welcome message
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Melanie Kill
Start 2011-06
End 2011-06
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Topic[edit]

Welcome messages are likely among the first interactions new editors have with the Wikipedian community. This sprint asks what these messages have said and currently say, or don't say, to new editors about 1) Wikipedia and its larger mission, 2) the Wikipedian community, 3) the types of participation new editors are welcomed into. The central goal of the sprint is to consider how welcome messages might be targeted to work with the new StructuredProfile feature in MediaWiki to best work toward three of Wikipedia’s five strategic priorities:

  • Increase participation
  • Improve quality
  • Encourage innovation

RQ2.2

Process[edit]

In the first stage, looked at welcome messages left on user talk pages for a random sample of new editors between 2004 and 2011 to catalog standard (and some non-standard features) with particular interest in how both templated and personalized messages created avenues for action and avenues for identification. In the second stage, I examined welcome templates collected on the Welcoming committee’s welcome templates page (not including user hosted templates).

Results and discussion[edit]

Development of welcome messages[edit]

These early messages are opportunities to provide avenues for identification and avenues for action that help new editors get a sense of the mission of Wikipedia, the spirit and dedication of Wikipedians, and where they as new editors can get started.

Wikipedia and its mission[edit]

Link to the five pillars[edit]

In bulleted lists of links, a link to the five pillars often appears first.

Vision/mission statements[edit]

Welcome messages link to a great deal of content, but vision/mission statements were not common. A project vision/mission statement along the lines of Firefox's "Made by a global non-profit dedicated to shaping the future of the Web for the public good" might help to educate new users about Wikipedia and its goals. This is one potential avenue for identification that could motivate a diverse demographic of users to continue contributing beyond those first few edits.

The Wikipedian Community[edit]

Greeting and welcome[edit]

Almost all welcome messages start with some variation of hello and welcome. Some address the new editor by username. Negative welcome messages tend to skip the greeting.

Thanks and praise[edit]

Some version of "thank you for your contributions" is standard to most positive welcome messages. These statements vary in specificity by, for example, linking to a user's contributions or indicating a topic area.

Offers of help[edit]

In addition to suggesting that "you might find these links helpful," welcome messages often point new editors to the village pump, new contributors' help page, explain {{helpme}}, and/or invite questions on the welcoming editor's talk page. This is one of the most dominant features of positive, and some negative, messages.

How to sign posts[edit]

It is standard to include a statement explaining the four tildes signature.

Welcoming images[edit]

Some welcomes include images of a plate of cookies, a bowl of fruit, etc.

Being a Wikipedian[edit]

In addition to the generally friendly and enthusiastic tone of positive welcome messages, some refer to the new editor as a Wikipedian, invite them to introduce themselves, link to information about mentoring, link to the Wikipedia Signpost, etc.

Types of Participation[edit]

'Edit'ing[edit]

There is a strong focus on 'editing' and 'edits' with some mentions of 'developing', 'creating', and 'writing'. Within Wikipedia, the term 'edit' is used in a somewhat specialized sense and may need some quick, in-line explanation. For example the statement "I hope you enjoy editing here and being a Wikipedian!" may suggest a limited vision of the wide range of useful tasks available to new contributors.

Links to how tos[edit]

The tutorial and other specifics like how to edit a page, upload an image, and create an article are common.

Links to policies[edit]

In 2004, one early welcoming editor writes, "Some time when you're bored, you can read through our policies and guidelines." By 2011, many negative welcome messages include links to specific policies and guidelines. Consistent with the focus on editing, the Manual of Style is standard.

Links to tasks[edit]

Over time, welcome messages that link to open tasks or descriptions of the variety of tasks available (i.e. stubs, cleanup, Wikiprojects, etc.) have fallen out of use.

Current welcome templates[edit]

TemplateW-basic

The strong emphasis of most current templated welcome messages is on improving quality of content by directing new editors to a range of resources on editorial policies and guidelines and by offering help. Attention to encouraging participation among new editors is also demonstrated through friendly greetings, expressions of appreciation for early contributions, instruction in signing talk page posts, and, again, offers of help. The emphasis on promoting quality and responding to potential problems has tended to dominate the tone of the welcome messages so that despite their enthusiasm, many if not most reflect the identity of the community as one dedicated to rules. Focus on greetings, appreciation, links to help resources, and offers of help appear largely to the exclusion of directly communicating Wikipedia's mission, the wide range of tasks and roles that contributors can take up within the project, and the goal of encouraging innovation through thoughtful, responsible community participation, all of which could be key strategies for increasing participation among diverse demographics of new users.

The templates have developed a set of standard lines that appear with some slight variations in many of messages, the messages include variations of the following:

  • Hello, Username, and welcome to Wikipedia!
  • Thank you for your contributions.
  • I hope you like the place and decide to stay.
  • I hope you enjoy editing here and being a Wikipedian!
  • Please sign your name on talk pages using four tildes (~~~~); this will automatically produce your username and the date.

General messages[edit]

TemplateW-informal

This set of templates targets all new editors with a focus on friendly greetings, links to resource pages, instruction on signing talk page posts, and offers of help. The primary differences between templates are in the message length, the number of links, and layout. Especially in the longer templates, links direct new editors to a range of resources, but statements about mission, community, and variety of opportunities for participation are rare.

W-informal is an exception in that, with both language and links, it emphasizes the importance of individual editors and their participation in the community. It is also one of the few to link to the page on contributing to Wikipedia.

Specialized messages[edit]

This set of templates is primarily targeted to new editors whose early actions on Wikipedia have involved a misstep. Overall, these messages assume good faith and avoid negativity. (Welcometest even thanks new users for successful test edits and directs them to the sandbox for future experiments.) These templates differ in the degree to which they explain the problematic issue in message rather than relying on new editors following links to policy pages to figure out what they have done wrong. Those templates that offer more direct explanation also tend to personalize the assessment of the problem with phrases like "I notice that one of the first articles you edited appears to be . . ." (Welcome-COI and Welcomeauto).

Exceptions in this set are Welcome-belated, which acknowledges that the editor has been successfully editing but nevertheless gives them the same advice and directs them to the same resources as a fresh newbie, and Welcome0, which removes the link to existing contributions for editors who have not yet edited. There are also subsets of templates for anonymous editors (encouraging them to get a username, addressing vandals, and thanking vandal fighters) and for students and teachers.

Topic-specific messages[edit]

Just seventeen topic specific welcome messages are listed on the welcome committee's template page. In most cases, this set of templates is modified quite minimally with the addition of topic portal links and invitations to join Wikiprojects following a standard welcome message.

Countries Topic areas Pop culture Sports U.S. geography
Australia Biography Dragon Ball Cycling California
Estonia Medicine Star Wars Rugby union U.S. roads
Germany Physics Video games
Norway
Russia
Switzerland
Ukraine

Future work[edit]

Moving forward, I see a lot of potential in continuing to think about how welcome messages might be developed to appeal to increasingly diverse demographics of editors and to help new users see not only how but also where they can make contributions. Next steps might include examining the templates currently in use and working toward analysis of the effect of various past templates on editor retention.