This capacity focuses on the challenges, strategies, and activities that encourage new contributors to integrate with wiki-culture, persist and grow. However, it does not include “outreach” activities that encourage “potential” new contributors to contribute.
- Newbie biting: While many communities may have a formal policy or behavioral guideline against harsh treatment of new contributors, many communities observe (and sometimes report) the behavior. This behavior can include punishment for rules not known or understood by the new contributor, or harsh or reprimanding language for mistakes. Overall, newbie biting has been anecdotally reported to erode a new contributor’s confidence and motivation, and may be cause for leaving the Wikimedia community.
- That empty feeling: New contributors sometimes give up if they contribute significant work on one or more pages, and receive no feedback, human or automated, about their work on the wiki. Finding and recognizing or supporting good-faith new contributors is time-consuming and sometimes difficult for a community to sustain.
- Use of revision control: Multiple Wikimedia projects and communities employ FlaggedRevisions, although the implementation varies by community. However, along with the advantages of using FlaggedRevisions come a few disadvantages (including a potentially overwhelming backlog, which could mean that the contributions of new contributors could take an excessive time - even months - appear on wiki).
- Grace period: For a set amount of time after a new contributor joins, the community is more tolerant of mistakes, even repeated mistakes. While this “grace period” might be a formal or informal policy, it usually includes the behavior of correcting mistakes via personalized messages that explain the mistake and provide advice or helpful resources. For example, within the Tamil community, this grace period can be up to 6 months.
- Personalized welcomes to new contributors from an experienced contributor, rather than a bot-driven message or a standardized template.
Peer recognition and appreciation of new editor contribution can take many forms. Below are a few examples gathered from across communities. Please add any examples that have been successful in your community!
- On-wiki recognition and appreciation: Barnstars (or their local equivalent), WikiLove, and the thank button have all been mentioned as an easy way to show new editors appreciation for their contribution. These on-wiki tactics were reported to be particularly successful when the recognition comes from an experienced member of the community. A few community specific examples include:
- Physical tokens: Since 2011, the Ukrainian community has sent out monthly Wikizghushchivkas (condensed milk) to the editor with the most contributions in that month and the new editor with the most contributions in that month. A new editor is one who has been editing for less than 90 days. This local award has expanded to be awarded not just for active contribution, but for other projects as well.
- Encouragement to take on sysop positions: Within the Malayalam community, relatively new contributors are sometimes encouraged to take on sysop positions. These new sysops were then encouraged to lead an off-wiki gathering.
Mentorship & Resources
Formal or informal mentorship programs are structured to pair an experienced contributor with a new contributor, providing the new contributor with an identified resource for questions, guidance, and feedback. These 1-on-1 relationships can be very successful, as new contributors feel more welcome. However, despite their advantages, formal mentorship programs can be difficult to execute (e.g. fitting the right two individuals together), leading communities to prefer more informal relationships.
Mentorship can include:
- Personalized feedback that acknowledges contribution or offers advice
- Directing new contributors to “how to” materials or resources, e.g. tutorial videos in the local language (seen for example in Hindi, Kannada, Odia, and Spanish)
- Building relationships off-wiki, through social media, email or phone.
Off wiki events
Creating a casual, off-wiki space for new contributors to meet and learn together has had positive effects across a range of communities. While community interest and logistics remain an obstacle, off-wiki events from meetups to regional conferences have been reported to lessen the intimidation around editing, boost confidence, and reinforce the sense of community through socializing.
Grants for such events are available from the Wikimedia Foundation via the Project and Event Grants (PEG) program.
Sketch of a possible capacity-building project
- hard to motivate new contributors to persist; too frequent newbie-biting
- experiment with welcoming/mentorship models to determine which one to adopt
- Key steps
- Identify practices or models that seem appropriate to the community and at least worth experimenting with
- Decide what to experiment with first
- Design an experiment, with appropriate timeline, resources, and evaluation metrics. For example, creating a mentorship space, or instituting a formal grace period and enforcing it.
- Set up an evaluation baseline: for example, number of new contributors making their 100th mainspace edit per month.
- Run the experiment for the determined period.
- Evaluate and discuss the experiment from both quantitative and qualitative aspects. If the community is happy with the results, keep it, or enact it more formally as policy. If not, undo the changes, and pick another strategy to experiment with.
- 3-4 months per experiment
- Means and resources
- WMF mentorship in experiment design
- WMF funding for events
- compare experiment results to baseline; assess community satisfaction through discussion or surveys; assess satisfaction among successfully-integrated new contributors and (if possible) contributors who gave up or had a very hard time.
Below is a list of resources that is not comprehensive. Please add any resources you have found useful or help curate this list!
- Wiki markup cheat-sheet on English Wikipedia (and see inter-wiki for other languages)
- The Co-op is a place to find a mentor on English Wikipedia
- The Teahouse is a friendly place to help new editors become accustomed to Wikipedia culture, ask questions, and develop community relationships.
- Snuggle is a tool to help identify new good-faith contributors
- Visual Editor should make it easier to make contributions
Below is a sample of learning patterns on this topic. Search the Learning Pattern library for other learning patterns on the topic of new editors.
- The Wikimedia Foundation is interested in assisting interested communities in developing new contributor engagement and growth capacities, for instance through experiment design or event funding.
- Sign up below if you are interested in implementing this in your local community: