Don’t be afraid of the Wiki!

There was some discussion, following Rex’s post on Wikipedia, as to whether or not people were ignorant or lazy in failing to edit Wikipedia articles. Since the examples Rex gave were of people who actually figured out enough of the technology to edit the “Talk” page, laziness seemed like the more likely option. However, I do think that learning a new user interface (and sub-culture) can be very intimidating. So I was very glad to see this excellent tutorial: How to contribute to Wikipedia.

I especially like this quote from Wikipedia’s own introduction:

Don’t be afraid to edit pages on Wikipedia—anyone can edit, and we encourage users to be bold…but don’t be reckless! Find something that can be improved, either in content, grammar or formatting, then fix it. Worried about breaking Wikipedia? Don’t be: it can always be fixed or improved later. So go ahead, edit an article and help make Wikipedia the best source of information on the Internet!

One criticism, however: I think that one of the major hurdles people have with using Wikipedia is that they don’t realize that there is a built-in “undo” function, or that you can even compare edits over time to see what has changed. A really good tutorial should explain how this works as well, since I think it would make people feel more comfortable contributing.

7 thoughts on “Don’t be afraid of the Wiki!

  1. Savageminders seem to think that contributing to a wikipedia article should be easy, but there’s some simple factor holding people back–either there’s an interface quirk, or people just don’t want to take the effort. I think the major factor is that for most people, writing is hard. This is especially true if one is trying to write a clear expository article for consumption by the general public. For me, this kind of writing requires a lot of time and effort, and it’s even worse when I’m trying to edit other people’s prose and insert my own contribution. All the while I’m thinking that I really ought to be working on my “real” writing…

  2. At the risk of outing myself as either ignorant or lazy… ;-P I’ve been lurking at Wikipedia for some time, considering how I might be able to contribute, but I haven’t yet posted there. I’ve read the various tutorial and background information and, having done so, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate if I came across a simple typographical or factual error. But, in terms of making a more substantive contribution, I haven’t taken the plunge yet (although I would hope to do so in the future). If a sample size of one means anything, I can list some of the reasons I have not contributed to date.

    (1) I prefer to lurk for some time before I contribute to any online forum – to read background information and to feel relatively comfortable with the rules of the road. This takes a while – and the Wikipedia is a slightly more complex online space than many.

    (2) Aside from simple typographical editing, I personally find it difficult to edit someone else’s writing. Even when I edit my own writing, I tend to be of the “tear it up and start over” school – and barrelling in and rewriting someone else’s work from beginning to end just doesn’t seem like the best way to introduce myself to Wikipedia. I recognise the “be bold” principle – but can’t get away from the feeling that, when I am a newcomer to any forum, discretion can be the better part of valour…

    (3) The ideal for me would probably be writing something from scratch, and I would hope to do this in the near future for social theory topics where I have some background. My dilemma here derives from the NPOV principle – which I respect, but which is not normally how I write. So, where I could sit down and write an argument in my field in a comparatively brief period of time based on the experience I already have researching, teaching, etc., it will take a great deal more work (for me) to formulate a true NPOV article: I’ll need to rethink how I usually write, how I usually organise information, etc. I’m a bit reluctant to conclude that I’m either lazy or ignorant for not having done this yet – although I recognise that, any time I’m saying that something will take some time, and I haven’t taken that time, I am saying that something else in my life has, to date, taken higher priority…

    These sorts of personal issues aside, I was wondering, reading through the Wikipedia tutorial material, whether some of it also might drive new posters away: there is quite a bit of material, including some that does make clear that Wikipedia community members can occasionally take offense at unwelcome edits and, while this is less of an issue for me personally, I did wonder while reading it whether it would give some potential posters pause…

  3. Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. I myself have contributed far less than Rex has. And many of my changes have actually resulted in my getting pissy comments about how I should read the Wikipedia style guidelines. These guidelines make editing Wikipedia much more difficult than the tutorial would suggest – especially adding a new entry. I find the guidelines difficult to follow and confusing, since they require complex formatting rules depending on the type of entry. My feeling is that it is OK to just let someone else fix it and send me a nasty comment about how I should read the guidelines, rather than not doing anything at all – after all, that is what text I quoted suggests the correct attitude should be!

  4. I have just done my first Wiki edit, adding two paragraphs to the entry on Victor Turner. Check it out and let me know what you think.

  5. No offence at all – I’m very conscious that I have a “free rider” status with Wikipedia – using it, and recommending it, to others, without having contributed yet myself. And I do agree that it’s important to contribute. I just believe that the reasons that people hesitate are a bit more complicated than laziness or ignorance – that potential contributors who try to be conscientious and read the tutorial materials, style guidelines, history of the community, etc., can actually come away with the sense that they need to spend more time acclimating, before they take the plunge.

    That said, I have spent some time trying to convince my academic colleagues that the Wikipedia project is a respectable and worthwhile one, and a fantastic resource for students – so, if fighting skepticism is a contribution, I’ve done my small bit… ;-P

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