Date and location
The Salon meeting took place on September 7, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland.
12 people participated.
Volunteers (wikipedians, wikimedians):
- Ankry – Wikisource admin, chair of WMPL grantmaking committee
- EwkaC – Wikipedian, local GLAM leader
- GiantBroccoli – Wikipedian, newbie
- Leinad – ex-Wikipedia community leader, steward, bureaucrat and CheckUser
- Nostrix – Wiktionary contributor, Wikipedia admin
- PMG – ex-board member, Wikipedia power user
- Soldier of Wasteland – Wikipedian, power user
- TOR – ex-admin and bureaucrat, first Chair of the Board of WMPL
Wikimedia Poland board members and employees:
- Aegis Maelstrom – Chair of the Board
- Ania – administrative staffer
- Magalia – volunteer support staffer
- Tar Lócesilion – Vice-Chair of the Board
Our look at community health was a multi-faceted discussion. We talked about:
- the psychology of contributors,
- what connects individuals into a community, and
- what motivates volunteers to collect, record, organize and deliver free knowledge to the world.
We also looked at users’ interactions with existing rules and customs, and the limitations of the MediaWiki software as a community building tool.
Finally, we looked at how organized support from Wikimedia Poland influences the community.
Our group was fairly diverse – a mix of old-timers and newbies, highly-active editors and retired (burned-out?) users, as well as a mix of genders and minorities.
We believe the result is a nuanced picture of the Polish Wikimedia community.
Summary of the discussion points
It’s somebody else’s job to fix this… isn’t it?
In Poland, and perhaps globally, Wikipedia is the only major, fully decentralized initiative people are exposed to.
“We are perhaps the only global decentralized project that works.”
Because of this, the general public in Poland does not understand how Wikipedia content is created (including a majority of media professionals, academics).
We seem to have communicated the “anybody can edit” part successfully at least in part.
However, the public in Poland still assumes that there is “somebody in charge”. Depending on the person, this takes the form of an assumption that there is an overarching editorial board, an appointed topic or page owner, or some other authority whose job it is to ensure the information is correct.
- Explaining to people that they can make a change themselves takes a lot of time.
- Why do you need to explain it?
- This guy had assumed that every page has a person in charge of it, who takes care of it.
Editor’s note (from TOR (talk)): While this was not explicitly stated in the meeting, there was IMO a strong subtext here. People seem to think that “if it’s somebody’s job, it’s not my job”. This stance is likely highly dependent on culture and may be much more visible in Central & Eastern Europe than elsewhere.
Editor’s note (from Tar Lócesilion (talk)): at the beginning, the point was more about the bottom-up and decentralized ownership of Wikimedia movement. Anybody is free to become a leader. We fail to communicate this widely outside.
Wikipedia changed and who we need the most has changed
A theme we returned to a number of times was how Wikipedia has changed and how this changes what level of knowledge and skill we require from new contributors.
- as more content is created, deeper knowledge is needed to even be able to contribute;
- higher content quality norms (esp. strong citation requirements) mean writing your first article is much harder than it used to be say 10 years ago (more on this below).
“We are still looking for copies of ourselves. We, contributors who registered back in 2005, are looking for others like us. For pioneers, who will survive, even if the tools are lousy. Who will grit their teeth and continue, regardless of what MediaWiki will or will not let them do.”
The group agreed that, as we’re future-proofing our community, we need to recruit a breed of contributors that is significantly different from ourselves.
“It’s kind of like monkeys trying to invent a human.”
The Abandoned Edit: an idea from the e-commerce world
Many online stores and e-commerce sites have an “abandoned cart” functionality. The store automatically reminds you – via the UI or via e-mail – to complete your purchase.
Leinad proposed a similar feature for the wiki world: the abandoned edit functionality.
The working assumption in our discussion was that the user did not click “save” for some reason to do with content rules, tech issues or confusion about how to proceed. Therefore the proposed functionality would be a sort of nudge with an offer of help – ”You didn’t publish your work. How can we help?”.
It was noted that a live chat-based connection with a mentor could be a huge plus here.
The conflict between short-term editorial quality and long-term community health
Connected with the issue described above, we discussed a particular pain point – the moment when a page just created by a new user is deleted.
The group agreed that this appears to stem from a fundamental conflict between short-term and long-term thinking.
Namely, administrators act to preserve the high quality level of Wikipedia content. Due to the (perceived) high volume of incoming content in Recent Changes, and their limited time – they are inclined to take decisive and quick action. And this is, arguably, in the best interest of Wikipedia in the moment.
However, the long-term effects of multiple quick deletions of sub-par first articles by brand new users are potentially disastrous. A user whose work is deleted is much less likely to stay and contribute. This creates a significant barrier to entry for new users.
“Back when I joined, I could write a simple page, and then continue editing it to improve it over time. Today that same quality of writing would likely be deleted.”
The important note is that this is not a technical barrier, but rather a consequence of our values and the ways in which we choose to police our rules.
Proposed solutions (raised, but not discussed in detail during the Salon meeting):
- reform the administrator election process,
- provide communication training to administrators,
- create a tool to enable communication with new content creators.
The Greeters Group
The Polish Wikipedia used to have a group of community builders and newbie mentors, called the Greeters Group. Members of this group reached out and personally greeted each new user with a friendly message.
While no data was quoted at the meeting, all attendees recalled this as a successful and important initiative.
- initiative led by a single user – Przykuta,
- died when he became inactive.
- identify key community processes and recruit leaders to ensure they continue (leadership succession planning within the community),
- immediate, personal positive feedback seems to work as a user acquisition tactic.
The Wikisource and Wiktionary: a completely different beast
We noted that while the Wikipedia community is large, and has a set of issues, our other projects have much smaller communities, with completely different sets of challenges.
It makes sense to approach the issue of community health not as a single problem, but rather a set of interconnected problems to solve.
- we need separate community building approaches for the different projects,
- what can small projects learn from the early years of Wikipedia and its early growth phase?
Value of Live Meetings
Multiple people have pointed at the value of live, physical meetings on their personal experience as Wikimedians.
The positive results of meetings cited were:
- forming lasting friendships with fellow wikimedians,
- receiving positive feedback on our work on wikimedia projects (largely lacking in day-to-day editing on-line).
Currently a portion of the Polish community meets regularly twice a year.
Smaller, regular local meetings (city-level) were pointed to as a tool that could help maintain activity and expand the number of wikimedians who participate in live meet-ups.
Quote: “There’s this photo taken in 2011, of Maikking and me, resting on a couch after Polish Wikipedia’s 10th birthday celebrations. We created that event together because we liked each other and it was a well-prepared event. It would not have happened if we hadn’t met live earlier and become friends.”
A partial substitute of these live interactions were meetings and chats on IRC (also raised in the discussion by Aegis) – which have largely ceased some years ago.
We’ve lost the middle layer
The attendees talked about a group of Wikimedians that we seem to have lost over time, which we’ve termed “The Middle Layer” for lack of a better term.
This refers to people who chose to work between wiki editors and Wikimedia Movement activists. In that middle space, they cared about more than a page at a time, but were focused on smaller pieces than the global Wikimedia community is tackling (e.g. this strategic process).
They were community organizers, WikiProject leaders, volunteers, tinkerers and developers.
We believe there is no clear path that leads to taking up these sorts of informal or self-appointed roles today, and the people who did fill them in the past naturally burned out over time.
- did the same process happen in other projects?
- how to re-create this middle layer without imposing a formal structure and “duties” onto what seemed to work well informally through volunteers?
We need more positive feedback
It is really easy to get negative feedback within the Wikimedia community. Your page can get deleted, your edit can get reverted. And this takes a click or two from the person providing negative feedback on your work.
It is much harder to receive – and to send – positive feedback.
- Kudos or hearts (from Leinad)
- Achievements and elements of gamification (from Nostrix)
Recognition and Competition: organized content creation contests
We noted that content creation contests appear to stimulate user activity within the Polish Wikipedia community.
An interesting point made was that it is not the prizes that seem to motivate the participants, but rather a sense of recognition and competition with peers.
These also create a controlled and safe environment, which makes it easier for new users to participate (including one of the Salon’s attendees).
- enable the community to organize these types of activities in a bottom-up way (currently these are organized and managed by Wikimedia Poland, i.e. top-down – see the “We’ve lost the middle layer“ section)
Last but certainly not least, the group talked about diversity of our community.
Does the content of articles about minority-related topics impact our ability to attract new community members representing those minorities?
“Take our pages on LGBT and the autism spectrum, for example. People, who see the [poor] level of our writing about them don’t want to come and edit Wikipedia. They don’t want to be in a place which describes them incorrectly.”
While we’ve not come up with a solution to this issue, it was noted that more controlled environments, such as thematic workshops or editing contests held live (see Recognition and Competition: organized content creation contests), can provide a way for minorities to enter our community more easily.
On February 22nd Wikimedia community in Poznań met to talk about the strategy process. There were 9 people present: one staff member of WMPL and 8 volunteers (the participants were a diverse group, representing different levels of experience, different roles in the community and different interests). The conversation was facilitated by Natalia Szafran-Kozakowska, WMPL staff member.
We started with introducting the participants to the whole process and discussing it phase after phase to help them understand the moment in which we are now and the process that brought us here. It was a day after the time for discussing the strategy recommendations so the participants were mostly interested in:
- what will happen next
- how will the implementation process look
- how can implementations affect the editing community: what difficulties they can bring and what possibilities open
The main interests were centered about safety and community support. The meeting helped the community understand the importance of the strategy process and the chances and possibilities it brings to the movement.
Reflections from participants or partners
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