» These questions and answers are intended to address some frequently asked questions about the Teahouse project.
What is the Teahouse?
The Teahouse is a many-to-many support space on Wikipedia designed specifically for new editors. In the Teahouse, new editors are invited to ask questions and get help from friendly, experienced editors, meet other new editors, and support each other as they become more experienced Wikipedians.
What is the goal of the Teahouse project?
Our main goal is to provide a social approach to new editor support, and see if these methods improve our ability to retain more new editors on the English Wikipedia. We want to help new editors become accustomed to Wikipedia's community culture, receive answers to their questions, and build community relationships.
Where can I find the Teahouse?
Who is organizing the project?
The Teahouse began as a fellowship project in the Wikimedia Foundation's Fellowships Program. WMF participants Sarah Stierch, Jonathan Morgan, Heather Walls, and Siko Bouterse continue to be involved in the project on English Wikipedia, alongside countless Wikipedia volunteers who serve as Teahouse hosts and keep building more awesome things into the space every day.
How does the Teahouse fit with the strategic goals of the Foundation and the Wikimedia movement?
One of the movement's strategic priorities is to increase participation, so the Wikimedia Foundation has set goals to increase the overall number of active editors from 90k to 95k and to increase female editors in particular from 9k to 11.7k by July 2012. Although Wikipedia's readership keeps growing, the number of active editors on many Wikimedia projects, including English Wikipedia, is declining. We think some new approaches are needed to retain more new editors and a more diverse group of editors, so we've focused on designing a space and support models that were missing from the Wikipedia editing experience.
What is the connection between Teahouse and Wikipedia's gender gap? Is the Teahouse aimed specifically at women?
All good-faith new editors are welcome in Wikipedia and the Teahouse! The approaches we're taking should appeal to all genders, and men are expected, welcome, and do contribute to the Teahouse. By creating a social-learning experience and supporting women specifically in getting past barriers to editing Wikipedia, we do hope Teahouse has a positive impact on Wikipedia's gender gap. Only 9% of active editors are female. Wikipedia aims to provide free access to the sum of all human knowledge, and we think that having more female editors involved in Wikipedia is another way to further this goal. Everyone brings their own passion and interests to the subject matter on Wikipedia, and improving the gender gap should help broaden our coverage and maintain the neutral stance that Wikipedia is known for delivering.
What are some of the barriers to editing Wikipedia?
We see both technical and social barriers to editing. Technically, wiki-markup takes a while to learn, so new editors often need assistance with the proper way to do things like format links and create citations. Wikipedia has evolved a lot of complex policies, processes and guidelines over time, which means there are a lot of rules for a new editor to read and interpret to understand the proper ways of contributing. Socially, the consensus-based process of making decisions on Wikipedia occasionally involves lengthy or heated discussion, and new editors don't always feel comfortable with this process or understand how they are expected to participate. Although editors are encouraged to "be bold", many new editors' first interaction with the community today comes in the form of a warning or reverted edit for doing things incorrectly, rather than a welcome or supportive feedback. This experience can be discouraging.
What kinds of approaches to new editor retention are important in the Teahouse project?
Teahouse models three main approaches to engage with new editors:
- Using the power of invitation – we're reaching out to new editors on-wiki to personally invite them to a space designed just for them
- Warm and welcoming answers - we're maintaining a space where new editors know they'll get quick, friendly answers to all their editing questions from experienced Wikipedians
- Peer-to-peer support – we're providing a place for new editors to introduce themselves, get to know each other and build a sense of community early on in their editing experience
Wikipedia already has help systems for new editors; do we need a Teahouse too?
It's true, English Wikipedia does have a welcoming committee, help desks and documentation, and adoption programs for new editors. These are mostly focused on either one-to-one mentorship, self-service or advanced-level help. While these approaches work well for some, they don't address every new editor's needs. Many new editors don't know these systems exist, find the documentation confusing, or don't have the confidence to seek mentorship from more experienced editors; so their first interaction with the Wikipedia community may just be a semi-automated warning message for doing the wrong thing. We want to reach these editors before that happens and give them a more positive learning experience. Social learning environments, peer support, and increased personal outreach to new editors could help us retain more and different kinds of editors. That's what we're trying to do with this initiative.
Is the Teahouse available in languages other than English?
The Teahouse project was first piloted on English Wikipedia. As the approached proves to be successful, over time other communities are adapting it for their needs.
What inspired the design of the Teahouse?
We sometimes hear from new users that the style of Wikipedia looks and feels unfamiliar to them. We wanted to design a space that makes new editors feel at home and perhaps more closely fits with their experiences of online community spaces on other websites. The Teahouse is designed to be simple and easy to navigate, with clear calls to action, small amounts of text to read, and not a lot of wiki-markup in the spaces that new users are expected to edit. The Teahouse is intended to be visually warm and welcoming, so the design incorporates color and lots of images of real people to convey the feeling of a populated, friendly community space.
Does Teahouse have any impact on new editor retention? How do you know it works?
During the pilot phase of this project, from March to May 2012, we measured engagement and retention outcomes for new editors who participated in the project compared with a similar group of editors who do not participate. We also surveyed new and long-time editors who participated in the Teahouse to learn more about their experiences. Our research so far shows that the Teahouse does have a positive impact on the editors who participate - Teahouse guests edit more articles, add more content to the encyclopedia, more of their content survives, and more of these editors remain active on Wikipedia in the following weeks. We're encouraged by these findings so far, but we're not done yet. Work continues on the project and we'll continue to measure the outcomes in coming months as well.
Who should I contact for more information?
- Sarah Stierch; Wikimedia Foundation Community Fellow: sstierchwikimedia.org
- Siko Bouterse; Head of Community Fellowships: sboutersewikimedia.org
- The Teahouse project hub has links to more documentation about the project
- The English Wikipedia Teahouse has hosts waiting to answer all your new editor questions