A Culture of Kindness

Translate This Post

How to Make Wikipedia Better - Wikimania 2013 - 59.jpg
Many community members think that ‘being nice to each other’ can help improve Wikipedia.
How can we improve Wikipedia?” photo series by Fabrice Florin, under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales invites community members to ‘be kind to each other’ at Wikimania 2014 in London.
How can we improve Wikipedia?” photo series by Fabrice Florin, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Can we improve Wikipedia by being nicer to each other?

This was the topic of my talk at Wikimania 2014, which you can watch in the video below. In this short post, I would like to share some ideas from community members for growing a “culture of kindness” on Wikipedia.

Over the past few years, I have asked hundreds of Wikipedians the same question: ‘How can we improve Wikipedia?’. I invite them to write down their idea on a notepad, and then I take their photo, which I then share with other community members, as shown here.

Here are some of the most frequent responses I have collected: “Be nice,” “Help the newbies,” “Be friendly.” Participants often observe that participating on Wikipedia can be a frustrating experience for new and experienced users alike, because many of our members lack civility. That hostile behavior turns away many good people, who might otherwise contribute to our cause — and this seems to harm the free knowledge movement.

With that in mind, here are some of the ideas I have collected for building more trust in our communities:

  • help newbies
  • train editors
  • reward kindness
  • build more social tools
  • use friendlier channels
  • give everyone a voice

Help newbies

Be more encouraging to new users. Improve the way we welcome new contributors. Let them know they can help. Show them easy, fun things to do. This can be done through community programs like the Teahouse, as well as through personalized tasks and to-do lists.

Train editors

Invite current editors to be more effective in their interactions with other users, through online training events and mentoring programs. This is easier said than done, as many editors don’t feel like they need to be trained or don’t have the time for this. But everyone can benefit from a bit of coaching when it comes to empathy. And special rewards could be offered to editors who take this practice seriously.

Reward kindness

Identify people who treat others nicely, show them appreciation, celebrate their acts of kindness, honor them as role models, encourage them to show others how to do the same. Kindness can be contagious!

Build more social tools

Simple features can help encourage kindness in subtle but powerful ways, like the popular Thanks notification feature that my team developed for Wikipedia. Other software tools could help invite more civil interactions, such as a better discussion system, real user profiles, or user avatars.

Another way to build more trust is to invite anonymous users to use a persistent identity, with some form of authentication that is more reliable than IP addresses. This idea is still controversial in our movement, but worth considering if we seriously want to improve current community relations.

Use friendlier channels

Communicate over more user-friendly channels: from face-to-face meetings to video conferences — or other ways to humanize how we interact with each other — to complement text-only channels that don’t convey emotions or body language very well. Our video roundtables are a good example of how civil conversations can be encouraged on multimedia channels.

Give everyone a voice

Make it easier for diverse user groups to contribute to our movement. For example, our nearly 500 million readers can help with simple feedback on how to improve Wikipedia content, as our largest user group. Women should also be empowered to participate more actively on our sites: to this day, a vast majority of Wikipedia editors are still men, and more kindness could help close that gender gap. And the same goes with many ethnic minorities and other disenfranchised groups. Giving all these users a voice can help make them feel part of our movement, and eventually engage them as future contributors.

Watch the video

To hear more about these ideas, you can watch this video of my half-hour presentation at Wikimania 2014, which provides more insights collected from community members:

File:A Culture of Kindness.webm

A Culture of Kindness
Fabrice Florin presents ideas for improving how we interact with each other on Wikipedia, speaking at Wikimania in London on August 10, 2014.

Slides for the ‘Culture of Kindness’ presentation, created by Fabrice Florin and licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

This video is also available in other formats on Vimeo and YouTube. Key points of that presentation are featured in these slides (see thumbnail).

I take these issues seriously, as they can slow down our collective work and prevent us from growing as a movement. The hostile behavior many users have experienced on our sites harms us all; I hope that over time, we can all make Wikipedia a safer place, so that more people can feel comfortable sharing knowledge in our projects. To that end, I am now studying the impact of kindness in collaborative environments — and I would be grateful for any recommendations you might have, as well as links to research studies, tools or best practices on that topic.

Some of the ideas above are easier to implement than others, some of them are more controversial. But I believe most of them could make a difference towards encouraging a kinder, more civil behavior within our movement.


Fabrice Florin, Product Manager at Wikimedia Foundation

This is an opinion piece by Fabrice Florin, a former employee of the Wikimedia Foundation. All views are the author’s own; discussion is welcome in the comment section of this blog post. This talk was first presented by Fabrice at Wikimania Social Machines Weekend, held by video conference on May 24, 2014. It was then shared with a larger group at Wikimania 2014 in London, on August 10, 2014. See also: Wikimania audience comments and video conference chat log.

Archive notice: This is an archived post from blog.wikimedia.org, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

Can you help us translate this article?

In order for this article to reach as many people as possible we would like your help. Can you translate this article to get the message out?

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I think closing the gender gap takes more than a little extra kindness.
I takes everyone who agrees women are being silently pushed out of Wikipedia (because the 9% women editors are NOT the same women over time) to openly stand up to sexism and hostility, with a special focus on pages about women and subjects usually considered “women’s interests” (even though, you know, being half the human population, they’re just as “human interests” as any other).

Incivility is a major cancer to the English Wikipedia project. The current model is based on fear. Fear of losing the veteran editors and administrators. As a result there is a double standard for the already too low behavior bar. If you’ve made a lot of contributions you can use the F word, insult, bully and abuse others and when you are taken to ANI you will get a slap on the wrist and sent on your way. If you are a newbie and you misbehave you will be sanctioned and banned and sent on your way. This institutionalized and… Read more »

Thanks for working on this, Fabrice.
I also recommend to your attention, and to the attention of others working on this issue, my own Wiki Conference USA keynote from May 2014, on hospitality, and the Ada Initiative’s recommendations from the Wikimedia Diversity Conference in late 2013.

this is a perennial problem, see also the graph of editor decline.
the GGTF case does not inspire confidence that it will change; the culture is dysfunctional at the highest level.
what funding will the WMF make available to produce the actions items?
what social media groups will organize the civility circles, since civility attempts have historically been driven off wiki.
there are some idea lab items:

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments about my call for more kindness on Wikimedia projects. I really appreciate your good suggestions and helpful links! Luzbelitx, I agree with you that it will take more than ‘a little extra kindness’ to close the gender gap. And I support your proposal for more focused efforts to address that serious problem. At the same time, being kind to each other seems like a good first step in that overall direction. RodgerDodger, I have also observed that incivility seems particularly widespread on the English Wikipedia — and your point is well taken that… Read more »

The post is not highlighting the real root cause: Wikipedia is so fractured and not homogenous it lends itself to abuse in so many ways. There are no website wide standards that cover articles in it’s most basic forms. For example: explain to me how “popular” TV shows like “The Simpsons” and “American Dad” can have (and justify) articles on each episode yet other TV shows that are as equally as popular (Top Gear for example) can go just by fine with seasonal episode summaries or even mere attempts at making episode articles for other TV shows gets them deleted… Read more »

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas! Like other aging online communities, we’re losing contact to our newbies. Nowadays, becoming a respected wikipedian is a 12-month-journey full of traps and obstacles. Double that time if you strive to apply succesfully for sysop or any other ‘higher’ ranks. Triple it if you’re a woman. And you can lose the game anytime, on every day, with a single irate edit. We cannot change this, because we cannot change the rules of group-forming and group-interactions. It’s all about social psychology, not a matter of indiviual behavings. Each new group forms itself and… Read more »

@Luzbeltix what in the major hell are you talking about? If you are going to make claims provide proof that female wikipedia editors are subjected to sexist harassment and that it its only women, and that men don’t recieve an equal amount, otherwise don’t make such baseless claims, unless you provide statistical proof don’t utter such nonsense, that is not going to bring more women in, it’s going to keep them away.

Dear Fabrice, thanks a lot for sharing this. Since in my work in the community support I experience a lot of exchange and feedback from the german-speaking communities, I know how much the “thank-you-notification” has grown into their everyday-wiki-communication and how it has become to make difference to use it, to show appreciation to other community-members. It just shows as well how a culture of kindness is strongly linked with enhancing diversity in Wikipedia. The “Charting Diversity” concept (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3ACharting_Diversity.pdf&page=15) that has been developed by Wikimedia Germany especially with the focus on the “gender gap” of Wikipedia also address key action… Read more »

I’ve rescued a couple of articles about notable women recently, and the problem I have discovered is that actions that are perceived as “hostile” can quite legitimately never be intended as such by established Wikipedians. For example, somebody could write a paragraph about their grandfather, a notable early 20th century engineer, and I could immediately revert it with a summary of “rv POV unsourced” that is understandable to experienced Wikipedians but meaningless gobbledygook to everyone else. I might dress it up in fancier talk such as “Revert. Sorry, but that claim isn’t neutral and really requires a good source for… Read more »

Thanks for sharing this post, Fabrice!

I am one of those people who’s not going to contribute to Wikipedia again because of the barriers I came across. Let me explain why and please understand that I didn’t felt personally hurt through what happened, this is not about sulking 😉 From 2002 – 2012 I was running an independent record label. During the years we were a team of three, one, two persons. With that records label I published CDs throughout Europe and and digital music all over the world. The bands we had signed came from various European Countries, the US and Canada. Most of these… Read more »

There was an excellent and productive roundtable discussion on welcoming and retaining new editors at Wikimania 2014 in London this past year. The outcomes from that discussions are documented on the following etherpad: https://etherpad.wikimedia.org/p/discussionroom1b It includes a lot of concrete ideas to help Wikipedia become kinder and more welcoming; some deal more with behaviors and choices we can adopt personally as editors, some ideas are geared toward research in terms of the questions we don’t have good answers to right now, and yet others are about building spaces intended for new editors. There are a wealth of ideas here, and… Read more »

This discussion is mired in the key Wikipedia problems which are not voiced because no one asks clearly why. As a newbie who most likely will always be a newbie, Wikipedia is impenetrable both physically and conceptually. Editing is extremely proscribed, requires cross referencing a large number of factors from style to programming codes and it is impossible to do it right without initially making it your full time job for a few months. That might be necessary for integrity of information but the shear lack of focus on integrity completely undermines the effort required to edit. The emphasis is… Read more »