The Wikipedia Teahouse is a many-to-many support space, designed specifically for new editors.
The Teahouse project was launched in February 2012 by Wikimedia Foundation Fellows and WMF staff in partnership with volunteers from the English Wikipedia community. Teahouse began as a pilot project on English Wikipedia, with a goal of learning whether a social approach to new editor support could retain more new editors there.
What's happening now
Phase 2 of the project on English Wikipedia wrapped up in October 2012, and since that time the Teahouse has been entirely volunteer-run.
Anyone can visit the Teahouse live on English Wikipedia, ask questions about editing Wikipedia, and join hosts and guests for a cup of 'wiki-tea' in a friendly atmosphere of help, support and guidance.
Over the years, a number of original Teahouse content ideas have been dropped as they were regarded as no longer necessary. For example, the 'guest' profile section was eventually removed and marked as 'inactive', as was the maître d' process for hosts to sign up to a calendar of availability, as well as the 'badge' concept awarded to guests and hosts.
Over the five years preceding 2023 there were generally between 70 to 100 editors legitimately signed themselves up as hosts. Teahouse host participation was seen as a good way for editors with some experience of editing to start feeling able to contribute to 'behind the scenes' administrative activities by helping less experienced editors. All those who sign themselves up as hosts are, ideally, given a templated 'Host welcome' message. However, those who had added their name to the list of hosts, but who had never contributed to the work of the Teahouse at all, were eventually removed from the list of hosts after a period of approximately six months.
By 2014 the Host Lounge was deemed unnecessary and also marked as inactive; its talk page was directed to one single talk page, now used for all matters relating to running the Teahouse. Discussions still continue there over the design and running of the Teahouse, and the need to stay distinctive, welcoming, relaxed and friendly to everyone.
The Teahouse is a populated, user-friendly help space that organizes experienced editors to actively reach out to new users in a many-to-many setting and provides on-wiki answers, encouragement and peer support to promising new editors to promote increased engagement and retention.
Imagine an on-wiki support space as an incubator not for content creation but for editor development. The goal is to help new editors become accustomed to community culture, ask questions, develop community relationships, etc – supporting each other on their journey to become experienced Wikipedians.
Although the project will welcome all good faith new users, women are a particular target population. By creating a social-learning experience that helps integrate women into the community and support them in getting past barriers to participation, we hope to impact the gender gap.
The name Teahouse is meant to evoke the idea of a comfortable social space for meaningful personal interaction among peers. The name Teahouse is also a nod to the English Wikipedia essay a nice cup of tea and a sit down, which urges editors to acknowledge one another's good points, and is often used to nudge people towards being congenial when things get heated.
The idea of a cafe-like space for new editors is not unknown on Wikipedia. For example, the Portuguese Wikipedia has Café dos novatos.
- Improve editor retention among promising new editors, especially those from groups that are currently underrepresented (e.g. women), through pro-active outreach and invitations to engage.
- Give new users a place where they can easily and comfortably ask questions and receive explanations without fear of being bitten, to make them more confident editors.
- Model a social approach to new user support, help and socialization into the community distinct from existing 1 on 1 support models (i.e. mentorships, adoption programs, OTRS) and self-support options (i.e. help pages, tutorials).
- Give new users a place to interact with one another and provide peer support as they learn to do things the Wikipedia way.
- Provide a space that is specifically designed for new users which is visually appealing, interactive, and communicates a clear sense of purpose. The space will feature warm colors, inviting pictorial and thematic elements, simple mechanisms for communicating, and a warm welcome from real people.
Rationale and supporting research
Reaching out early to new editors
A large corpus of previous research underscores the importance of providing new Wikipedia editors with support opportunities and personal, positive interactions very early on in their editing experience.
- Negative comments, reverts and rejection are deciding factors in new users wanting to continue editing. The percentage of critical or negative messages (e.g. warnings, deletion notifications) left on new user talk pages has increased over time. These warnings have a negative impact on editor retention. New editors are much more likely to have their work reverted than more experienced editors. Having work rejected (reverted) has a strong, negative effect on subsequent activity, especially for new editors who make a high volume of initial edits. This negative effect has been getting stronger in recent years.
- Positive and frequent interactions between new editors and experienced editors makes a more welcome environment. New editors of Wikipedia do not perceive the same strong sense of community within Wikipedia that more experienced editors do. It's important to foster that environment; the more responses new editors receive from other editors to their on-Wikipedia activities, the more they edit. New editors who receive welcome messages, assistance and constructive criticism from more experienced editors stick around longer and edit more frequently. Receiving personalized messages and responses also makes new editors edit more, while receiving standardized/templated responses makes them edit less (i.e. Twinkle, Huggle).
- New editors that make a higher number of edits in their first edit session are more likely to stick around and become regular editors.
- Many new editors are not aware of on-wiki Help resources, or where they can go to find help. Having accessible, easy to understand resources for help and assistance is a key tool in new user retention and experience.
Encouraging women's participation
Only 9% of Wikipedia contributors are women. While researchers have put forward a variety of theories to explain the skewed proportion of male to female Wikipedians, the gender gap is probably the result of a combination of factors. The Teahouse is designed to address a number of factors that contribute to the gender gap.
- Inspiring confidence through peer support. Common reasons women give for not editing Wikipedia include lacking the self-confidence that is required to edit, being conflict-averse, and a preference for experiences on other sites that emphasize social relationships and a welcoming tone which may be missing from many new editors' experiences of Wikipedia. Providing a welcoming, social environment to help new editors build self-confidence and access peer support to get through conflicts might enable us to retain more female contributors.
- Increasing enthusiasm to increase retention. Enthusiasm can be difficult to maintain when the right support system (peers, family, etc.) isn't in place in any environment. This is especially the case in communities where women, as the minority, might not have the support that males do to contribute; such as in open source communities like Wikipedia. An active on-wiki support system could help maintain enthusiasm and foster retention of more female Wikipedians.
- Encouraging promising women editors to recruit other promising new editors. Proactive invitations to participate can be key to deepening engagement with female contributors. By actively recruiting good faith new contributors to participate in the Teahouse and providing them with a welcoming environment, we hope to encourage them to contribute more and also invite their own friends to participate in Wikipedia.
Boosting on-wiki support and relationships
- Provide an on-wiki space for followup of offline activities. Off-wiki outreach and editing events have demonstrated some success in bringing new editors to Wikipedia by providing a social experience, group support and active mentorship for learning how to edit Wikipedia. Examples include GLAM edit-a-thons, Campus Ambassador events, Geek Girl Meetups, and WikiWomen parties. However, on-wiki follow-up support to encourage these new editors to continue editing and deepen their involvement in the community after these events are over is lacking. As a result, we may be missing opportunities to retain these editors after off-wiki events end. An on-wiki space that attempts to recreate some aspects of the off-wiki support environment as a follow-up to offline outreach might boost longer term retention.
- Help new users build collaborative relationships. Wikipedia has many contributors who have close ties due to long time editing and collaborations, but new users lack these ties. A support system for new editors helps to break the isolation of being new in a landscape where personal interaction is not specifically encouraged. The Teahouse can serve as a welcoming space that is non-intimidating and removes the feeling of being solitary as a new user. This is particularly important for groups like women who are in the minority, but fostering community relationships early on should be helpful for many different groups of new users.
Building a receptive environment for communication and teaching
- Providing a comfortable environment for new editors to learn 'the ropes' of editing. Providing support for fellow editors and allowing user identities to be formed through social experiences can improve communication between editors. As new users feel more included in the community through the Teahouse, they may become more receptive to learning about and understanding community policies. New users' contributions may improve and multiply as they have positive experiences in the Teahouse, find ways to connect to the community in a format that may feel more familiar than traditional Wikipedian communication spaces, and as they explore the curated information resources found in the Teahouse.
- Creating opportunities for group learning. While 1-on-1 mentoring relationships are one valuable way of teaching new users the ropes and socializing them into the editing community, they require a lot of commitment on the part of the mentor, and require a new user to have enough confidence to reach out to an experienced Wikipedia editor on their own, and are not scalable to meet the needs of all incoming new user. We believe that Teahouse will complement existing methods and programs by providing group learning and peer support opportunities, encouraging groups of new users to perform editing work and solve problems together and help each other out, with access to direct guidance or participation of Wikipedia veterans.
To learn more about the Teahouse and get involved in the project, see also:
- Project FAQs
- Kit of parts for building the space
- Teahouse engagement tips for working with new users
...Or just visit the Teahouse live on English Wikipedia, and join hosts and guests for a cup of wiki-tea!
- Long term retention study (November 2015)
- Phase 2 project report (October 2012)
- Metrics report assessing Teahouse's longer-term impact (October 2012)
- Pilot project report (June 2012)
- Metrics report assessing the pilot's impact (June 2012)
Notes and references
- The Rise of Warnings to New Editors on English Wikipedia
- Halfaker et al., Dont Bite the Newbies: How Reverts Affect the Quantity and Quality of Wikipedia Work, WikiSym'11
- Research:Newbie reverts and subsequent editing behavior
- Research:Wikimedia Summer of Research 2011/Deletion notifications to new users
- Bryant, S.L., Forte, A., and Bruckman, A. Becoming Wikipedian: transformation of participation in a collaborative online encyclopedia. In Proc. GROUP 2005, ACM (2005).
- Choi, B., Alexander, K., Kraut, R. E., & Levine, J. M. (2010). Socialization tactics in wikipedia and their effects. Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work - CSCW '10 (p. 107). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.
- Choi, B., Alexander, K., Kraut, R. E., & Levine, J. M. (2010). Socialization tactics in wikipedia and their effects. Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work - CSCW â10 (p. 107). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press
- Panciera, K., Halfaker, A., & Terveen, L. (2009). Wikipedians are born, not made: a study of power editors on Wikipedia (pp. 51-60). ACM New York, NY, USA
- Panciera, K., Halfaker, A., & Terveen, L. (2009). 
- Research:New user help requests/Full report
- Margolis, Jane & Allan Fisher. Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. Cambridge: The MIT Press (2001). P. 47 ISBN 0262133989
- Margolis, Jane & Allan Fisher. P. 115-116
- Margolis, Jane & Allan Fisher. P. 104
- Miller, K. D., Fabian, F. and Lin, S.-J. (2009), Strategies for online communities. Strategic Management Journal, 30: 305–322. doi: 10.1002/smj.735