The tradition to show appreciation to Wikipedia editors with virtual barnstars is almost as old as our community itself. On Ukrainian Wikipedia, volunteer editors adapted this custom by giving out virtual tins of condensed milk.
Twelve years ago, Wikimedia Ukraine took the initiative offline and started sending out real-life tins of condensed milk. Today, it remains the organization’s cutest project, in the words of one community member, helping us retain new volunteers and show appreciation to experienced editors and administrators.
The concept – showing appreciation to new and experienced volunteers by making their life a bit sweeter
Ukrainian Wikipedians have been rewarding each other with virtual tins of condensed milk – embodying a sweet dessert popular in Ukraine and other countries – since at least 2007. The concept is based on English Wikipedia’s barnstars but adapted to the local context.
As one of the project’s founders Andrii Makuha once wrote on the project’s talk page, “[the concept of] American barnstars… is unclear to a wide Ukrainian audience… Thus, condensed milk has been chosen as an adapted analogue because some youth groups (students, scouts) still use it as a kind of ‘universal reward’. Actions that qualify for such (practically symbolic) reward border on enthusiasm, consistent with Wikipedia’s spirit”.
The concept behind virtual condensed milk tins is simple. As the guide puts it, “if you like a contribution of another UkWiki user – go ahead and add a condensed milk tin to his or her talk page, explaining the reason behind your show of support and appreciation. Maybe it will be your attention and virtual taste of sweets that will spark the person’s additional inspiration, prompting them to write another dozen of featured articles ;)”
In 2011 Wikimedia Ukraine members expanded the initiative to include regular real-life rewards. The idea is to identify most active users over the past month – divided separately by the categories of newbies and experienced users – and offer them to send a physical package containing condensed milk and Wikipedia-branded souvenirs.
The project had been on pause for a few years since 2016 but relaunched three years ago and thrives since then. Today, we reward users across five categories:
- Most active newbies (up to five people monthly)
- Most active experienced user (one person monthly)
- Most active patroller (one person monthly)
- Most active bot operator (one person monthly, though sometimes we have to skip a month, as there are not that many active bot owners)
- Most active administrators (six people once in six months)
The goal is to indicate appreciation to Wikipedia’s most active volunteers – show new editors that their contribution has been noted and remind prolific experienced Wikipedians of their value to the community.
The algorithm for rewarding people goes as follows:
- Generating automatic lists of most active users on Wikipedia
- Checking users’ contribution to disqualify those with major violations of Wikipedia rules (e.g. sometimes sockpuppets manage to make a sizeable contribution before they get blocked)
- Contacting the winners to reward them with a virtual tin of condensed milk & offer them to provide their physical address so we can send a real-life equivalent
- Sending out condensed milk and making the winners happy 🙂
So we have greater diversity of winners, one person can get an award twice a year at most. The project has an organizing team of a few volunteers in charge of checking the contribution of potential winners, and it’s supported by Wikimedia Ukraine’s staff members.
Wikimedia Ukraine also has a separate program where we reward the most active volunteers of Ukrainian-language sister projects (like Wikiquote and Wikisource) annually.
Maintaining the project during the war
A year ago Ukraine entered a state of all-out war following Russia’s military invasion. Wikimedia Ukraine had to pause physical deliveries for half a year, though we still offered virtual rewards to most active volunteers – supporting them was as important as ever.
In late 2022, we’ve been able to resume regular physical deliveries, both working through the backlog that accumulated since the beginning of the year and starting to regularly deliver packages to new winners.
Overall, in 2022 we rewarded 41 newbies, 12 experienced users and 12 patrollers, 15 administrators (including 3 temporary admins who stepped in to help fight vandalism in the first, most difficult days of the full-scale war), and 5 bot operators.
Room for growth
As the project has matured, we’re thinking about how it can be expanded. Two most obvious ideas come to mind:
- Scaling it up by increasing the number of people (especially newbies) who are awarded. The biggest roadblock is the time of experienced volunteers who can check the contribution of potential winners and potentially give advice on what can be improved.
- Measuring the program’s specific impact on newbies – whether & to what extent it encourages them to stay on Wikipedia (we do track how many winners keep on editing Wikipedia later, but it’s hard to control for other factors and measure whether our award specifically had an impact)
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