Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that not just anyone can edit

Wikipedia logo Wikipedia is amazing, but I’ve come to realise that getting involved in actual editing work there is a very daunting prospect. Adding a link or fixing a typo is simple enough, but when it comes to creating a new article from scratch a new Wikipedian will discover that they have a lot to learn.

In this post I’ve listed what I think are the barriers to entry for an aspiring Wikipedia editor. This post may also be useful as a ‘getting started’ guide.[1]

== Understanding the wiki concept ==

Today most people probably have a basic understanding of what a wiki is, but I wonder if many understand that a wiki is as much a philosophy as a technology? The notion of a website that anyone can edit is a powerful idea, and one very much in the spirit of the World Wide Web.

A wiki seeks to involve the reader in the process of its creation. An open wiki like Wikipedia undergoes a constant a natural selection process — or ‘Darwikinism’ — which theoretically should lead to the creation of higher quality pages.[2] The red link invites the user to add information that doesn’t exist yet; to contribute something. Red links indicate that a page does not yet exist, and clicking one doesn’t result in the usual 404, but instead presents the reader with an edit window and invites them to write the content themselves.

== Copyright / Creative Commons ==

Understanding copyright is an important conceptual hurdle that may have to be overcome too. Many people seem to feel that anything they find on the internet is copyright free, while others can’t imagine ever giving up a single word of their own intellectual property without compensation. To add to Wikipedia, an editor must respect the copyright of others, yet be prepared to release their own contributions into the public domain.

== Notability ==

Then perhaps a new editor will have to face up to the fact that the article that they want to write (or the link that they want to add) may not be suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia.

Every minute of every day, Wikipedia is flooded with new pages created by bloggers, ‘entrepreneurs’ and other self-important individuals who feel they deserve an entry. Others are created by small business owners, new bands, marketing and SEO noobs, hoaxters and vandals, and newbies with good intentions who simply haven’t taken the time to learn how to write a good article.

The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.

Many articles destined for deletion will be removed (or require significant modifications to be made) because they lack references to good third-party sources. The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.

Articles may also be rejected if they are not written from a suitably neutral point of view, if they contain original research, or simply if they do not fit into Wikipedia’s goal of being an encyclopaedic reference. Further, any biographies of living persons must be treated with extra care and sensitivity.

It is important to format citations and all other aspects of an article in a consistent way so Wikipedia looks and feels (as much as possible) like one body of work.

== Writing guides ==

Besides just having good basic copyediting skills, a Wikipedia editor needs to follow the Manual of Style to ensure consistency of formatting, page titles, the layout, dating and numbering systems, capitalisation and grammar rules, and much more.

There is some flexibility with regards to the actual writing style used in an article, but certain conventions are important, such as writing a concise lead section that summarises the subject, while establishing its notability.

== Meta-work ==

Then once a new article is properly written, formatted and referenced there are various good housekeeping chores to be completed, like including it in the relevant categories, disambiguation pages, lists, portals, setting up redirects, and adding geographic coordinates, navigation menus, and probably lots more I haven’t encountered yet. None of this is required of you (as a volunteer you are not expected to do any more work than you want), but these extras all add to the value and usefulness of your entry.

In addition to these tasks, it is good practice to write descriptive edit summaries, keep an eye on your watchlist and talk page for any activity related to you and possibly flesh out your user page a bit to tell other Wikipedians a bit about why and how you use Wikipedia.

Some varieties of contributor enjoy working on these meta-tasks. While not of interest to many, this kind of maintenance work is vital to keeping Wikipedia’s standards up.

== Jargon ==

As you might expect, Wikipedia has accumulated a huge amount of esoteric jaron, abbreviations and ‘WikiSpeak’, which could overwhelm newcomers. Some of my favourites include: 0RR, 1RR, 2RR, 3RR (various degrees of ‘revert rules’), Abcdise (alphabetise), autoconfirmed users, Barnstars, ‘convenience links’, copyvio (or CV), diff, ‘Don’t-give-a-fuckism’, edit conflict, ‘Esperanzify’, ‘Gdanzig’, hatnote, ‘ignore all rules’, namespace, NPoV, ‘Pokémon test’, redlink, stub, tl;dr, wheel war and many more.

== Wiki markup ==

<nowiki><big>[ Wikipedia], the [[Free content|free]] [[Encyclopedia|encyclopedia]] that {{highlight|not just}} [[Wikipedia:Introduction|anyone can edit]].</big>{{citation needed}}</nowiki>

Wiki markup starts pretty simple, with equal signs used for ==Headers==, apostrophes for ''italic'' and '''bold''' text. Links get a little more complicated, with slightly different approaches for [ external links] and [[Wikipedia:Linking|iternal links]].

Going further down the rabbit hole, curly brackets are used for transclusion, generally to insert templates for frequently used {{Menus}}, {{Message boxes}}, {{citation needed}} flags, {{hilite|highlighting text}} and tons more recursive and complicated stuff.

On top of all that it is sometimes necessary to use some HTML for things like <blockquote>s and <!-- Comments -->, along with pseudo-HTML markup like <ref> and <poem>. CSS is also permitted, making advanced layouts possible.

Wikipedia does recognise that this complexity is a significant problem, and a more modern visual editor is in the works.

== Politics ==

Association of Deletionist Wikipedians logo Like any community, Wikipedia has its fair share of internal politics. Edit wars rage where editors repeatedly override each other’s contributions, and the inclusionists argue with the deletionists over what should or shouldn’t be included the encyclopedia.

There is enough infighting in Wikipedia that they have run several Great Wikipedia Dramaout campaigns to encourage editors to focus on article work.

In the Great Wikipedia Dramaout, similar to the Great American Smokeout, editors are asked to engage in a five-day period of abstinence from drama at Wikipedia; the most addictive and yet cancerous aspect of our community. During this five-day drama blackout, it is requested that regular contributors to the non-article-space areas of Wikipedia, including but not limited to, the various administrator noticeboards, the reference desks, the village pumps, or any other non-essential areas of Wikipedia cease working at those areas for the length of the Dramaout and instead work on article content.

More seriously, a contribution could (perhaps quite innocently) run into some legal problems.

== Be bold! But… ==

Wikipedia encourages new users to be bold: “The Wikipedia community encourages users to be bold when updating the encyclopedia. Wikis like ours develop faster when everybody helps to fix problems, correct grammar, add facts, make sure wording is accurate, etc.”

This very page that seems to exist to embolden new editors then goes on to warn them not to be too bold. It seems there are many places where they would prefer you to be rather more timid, like when editing templates or categories or other’s user pages or portals or altering layouts or — for some reason I can’t fathom — when editing pages in non-article namespaces.

This nicely illustrates the problem Wikipedia has: They want the encyclopedia to be open and welcoming to everyone, but the reality is that the work is very complicated and intimidating, especially for those less-technically minded.

== See also ==

== References ==

  1. Wikipedia itself has an over-abundance of beginners guides: Wikipedia:Introduction, Help:Contents/Getting started, Help:Getting started, Wikipedia:Starting an article
  2. There is some evidence to support this notion: Wikipedia:External peer review and Reliability of Wikipedia

4 thoughts on “Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that not just anyone can edit

  1. Helo there,

    Your observations here are spot on. Just one of the above factors alone are enough to put some people off contributing, never mind the whole lot combined. I’m an administrator on the Welsh Wicipedia, and again the above all apply, except maybe the politics bit, and also the notability is different as what is considered notable wiithin Welsh speaking popular culture wouldn’t last more than a few hours on the English Wikipedia, which I feel suffers form being quite Anglo/US centric at times. We also create our own problems on the Wlesh wici by not being quite so strict with citations (which again are harder to find, on-line at least, for Welsh language ‘stuff’), and then users get pissed off when an administrtor tries tighten things up, same with copyright.

    I’m going to lead a session on the Wicipedia at Hacio’r Iaith this weekend, mainly to try and get ideas for increasing the number of contributors. A recent look at the stats show that article creation is steady, but the number of contirbutors is droppping, which doesn’t bode well, especially considering the pool of contributors was very small to begin with. Anyway, I’m going to make us of this post as a starting point for discussion on barriers as well if you don’t mind (full citations given of course!), and will feed back here if I feel it’s relevant.

    Love the header by the way – even spookier than Jimmy Whales’s one.

    • Thanks Rhys. I have been meaning to update this article with a section on uploading images (which I hadn’t tried at the time I wrote this article) and with a more pointed conclusion.

      It’s interesting to hear your view on the Welsh Wicipedia. I’m not surprised by any of your comments, except perhaps that internal politics are less of an issue. Perhaps that’s a result of a smaller community and a greater shared purpose?

      And of course, I’m more than happy for you to use this post in any way you like. Have a productive Hacio’r Iaith! :)

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