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
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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