Interviewee from fr-Wikipedia

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Interview December 2009

Tell me your Wiki-autobiography: When did you get involved in Wikipedia and what were your personal reasons for starting to participate in Wikipedia? Please tell me what for you are the most important or compelling aspects of Wikipedia and its mission.[edit]

I created an account in 8/2005. My first edit was to fix a grammatical or spelling mistake. Working now with Media Commons. I make a few edits in English W. I started with minor edits, because like a lot of folks I did not realize I could actually modify the text. Then I was afraid of breaking something, so I kept small modifications. Then my confidence grew to bigger edits.

Do you remember a specific event or moment that made you decide to first join?[edit]

I’ve used W since 2004, but didn’t realize what it was until later when in 9/2005 I was working on a PhD thesis. That led to a lot of research, so I spent much time on the Interntet, which included W. That made me more aware of what W is and how it worked.

I didn’t’ consider myself a reader of W before, so there was no “transition” from passive reader to contributor. I just joined immediately.

Please describe your progression of involvement: How long did you read before starting to edit (what subject?)? What inspired you to go beyond reading/editing and start writing (and beyond)?[edit]

PhD candidates have a lot of time to research, so I did hundreds of edits in the first few months.

Do you contribute both in [native language] as well as English? Any other languages? What are your activities in each language? Which is the most frequent after [native language], and so on?[edit]

I’m familiar with some policies and guidelines on the English W, but my focus is on the French community, which has fewer editors and writers.

Have you ever recruited someone else to become a Wikipedian? If so, what typically convinces them to register and begin editing and writing?[edit]

When I became involved in my home chapter, I went to schools and libraries to make presentations. To inform what W is how it works and how it should not be used. Also I guided people in workshops to show them how to edit.

When you talk to people in your country about becoming a Wikipedian, are there consistent reasons they resist converting from a reader to a contributor? Please elaborate. How do you personally address those reasons?[edit]

The major hindrance in French W is its negative impression in the press. So we have a lot of clarification to do. Bad press holds that it’s not reliable etc. But the French newspapers and TV like to W bash. I’ve tried to address it, but for the press it is more interesting to condemn W than understand how it works. But if I give a presentations people really understand and come around.

What anecdotal stories can you tell me about the experience new Wikipedians have in your [native language] Wikipedia community? Are there typical impressions, common feedback of any kind, positive or negative?[edit]

I don’t remember having a bad experience. But in 2005 the community was more welcoming. Now it’s harder, because we have more articles and editors, and a lot of people try to preserve the W temple. Sometimes they are trigger-happy. I hear a lot of stories like this when I present, about edits and reversions. I reassure that no one editor represents the whole community, so if they had a bad experience, they have to understand it’s one user and not W. W is a large community and the good experience can be good or bad, depending on who responds to your edits.

At the highest level, then, my question is: Are there any differences to note between the English-language Wikipedia community and the practices in the [native language] Wikipedia community?[edit]
I understand that mandatory polices – such as the five pillars, verifiability, no original research, and neutral point of view – should not be different. But how about in terms of guidelines, or general culture? For instance, let’s walk through the following and you can verify whether they are consistent in your community compared to the English-language community:

There are several differences: on English W you have the manual of style – a collection of help pages that tell how to format links, references, etc. French W has none, and sometimes editors who come from English W are very surprised we don’t have one. The only reason we don’t have one is simply because the French-language Wikipedians never been able to agree about how an article should be written. We have general guidelines of course, but not as detailed as the English W manual of style. For example, you can find a lot of history articles with verbs in the paste tense, and another set in the present tense. Usually it’s a result of the main author’s decision. Regarding using the references and citations, it’s different because we are codified. But the structure of paragraphs and sentences – the style – that’s what’s different.

I’m not familiar with notability guidelines on English W, but I can say that an article that is written by a longtime member of the French community with wiki links, categories, portals, references, etc. would probably not be released for deletion. But if a new editor wrote a new article on the subject without the links categories etc. it will probably be deleted very shortly. On French W, a lot of users no longer care about deletions, because they have better things to do than arguing about what’s notable.

In your community, what are the typical roles available to Wikipedians when helping to write, edit, or generally improve an article?[edit]
If your community is non-English-language, do you note any differences between your community’s roles and what you know about the English-language Wikipedia community?
For instance, the following list describes personae a newcomer will run across in the context of content creation (refer to

• Author: Creates new articles, adds sections to existing articles, improves articles
• Copyeditor: Improves the article's language
• Subject matter expert: is involved in a WikiProject; watches article's edit history; does incremental review; reviews the article as part of a formal (internal) review process
• Photographer / mapmaker / table builder: Adds visual aids to the article
• Formatter: Formats articles (community term: "wikifying") according to the style conventions
• Maintainer: Takes care of the article's integrity (community term: "recent changes patrol")
• Consensus-keeper: ensures that editorial consensus is kept.
• Facilitator: Provides guidance on social norms that are conducive to constructive discussion. Moderates discussion on controversial topics to keep focus on neutral point of view, verfiability, etc.
• External reader: Participates in the content improvement by leaving notes on the talk page; doing minor edits

(Most Wikipedians play several of these roles. E.g. someone can be a subject matter expert for an article's topic and at the same time maintain the article's integrity.)

On the French W there is a code for frequent authors who are good. There is pressure against those who choose to concentrate on just one persona or role in which to participate, such as a facilitator only. There’s a community consensus that everyone should make half their edits on the main name space, and not on community discussion, deletions, etc. It’s different for map makers, photographers, etc. in French W. They can specialize in their contributions because media files are still considered to be “encyclopaedic content”..

In the same vein as the above question, are there any differences in how an article evolves in your non-English-language community compared to the English-language Wikipedia community?[edit]
(Refer to

1 Creation: a new article is born
2 Beginning of incremental improvement
3 Experimentation with collaborative editing software
4 Maintainance: "wikifying"
6 Protecting article integrity
7 Added to WikiProject
8 Editorial discussion on talk page begins
9 Substantial article improvement process begins
10 Second quality assessment
11 Good article process
12 A new development
13 Further incremental improvements

I think it’s good overall, but there are of course many differences. Each article has its own story of progression. It’s possible that a stub starts, but stays that way for a long time, and the result is no one else is interested in extending it, or that they lack the right knowledge. Or perhaps there’s nothing more to say. So some articles can remain in poor condition for a long time.

On the French W there are fewer users, so it’s possible that even if an articles has been claimed by a wiki project it stays poor for a long time.

Let’s talk about standards for Community and Communication in your region, which involves how to communicate and how to reach consensus and manage conflict.[edit]
The core tenets of the wiki way, like Assume Good Faith and Please Don't Bite the Newcomers, have been with the community since the beginning. How are they holding up in your community?

AGF principle – people try to avoid invoking these principles because others usually say it’s nice to AGF but they are being played. It’s used as an excuse or weapon. So AGF is misused when a vandal invokes it. So Assume Good Faith tenet is watered down, so people don’t refer to it explicitly.

As for the Please Don't Bite the Newcomers principle: if you ask any W user, they would agree that it is a good ideal. At the same time, a lot of the same users will blank a new page without explaining what was wrong with the page, or they will revert without leaving an explanatory message to the user. Or they block a new user who’s having trouble understanding how W works. Because it’s easer to block/revert/delete rather than taking the time to explain what’s wrong.

Younger users like to do counter vandalism, so they are keen about editing blocking and reverting. It's like a first-person shooting game, only this one is in “real life” with real people.

Have there been any significant Content Disputes and Edit Wars in your region because of regional history or cultural norms?[edit]
(Case Study for Poland: Gdańsk/Danzig - In the case of Gdańsk/Danzig, the particular problem of referring to places now in Poland, but which were in Germany before 1945, dogged the English-language Wikipedia almost from the outset.)

One French W problem not visible on English W is the fact that the vast majority of users come from France. But others come from other French speaking countries and they have to careful about their perspective –as it’s so easy for French citizens to take the French only perspective. For instance, one major edit war occurred about the correct word for a certain vegetable, which was different depending on whether you live in France (“endive”) or Belgium (“chicon”).

Have you seen any notable incidence of Wikipedians in your community taking advantage of the corollary of fifth pillar, which can be interpreted as “If the rules prevent you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore them.”?[edit]

We have an equivalent of Ignore All Rules on French W, but it is rarely used. In fact, the page for IAR was created only in 2006 or 2007, quite late.

Would you say that the incidence of content disputes and editing wars between editors in [native language community] is any higher, lower, or about the same as you observe in your English-language activities? If so, why is that?[edit]

I’m not that familiar with English W so I couldn’t say. But one difference between two is the way the arbitration works. In English W the Arbitration Committee inherits power from Jimmy Wales, which makes them influential. So the Arbitration Committee must be more efficient on English W vs French W, because our Arbitration Committee has dedicated people, but we say they are crazy enough not to realize the difficulty they are taking on. Whereas in English W, being on the Arbitration Committee is a very high level position. So the French W Arbitration Committee has less power and is less efficient, making conflict management through Arbitration Committee less effective.

I’m going to walk you through a few components that will make up some but not all of the education and recruitment materials the Bookshelf Project is preparing.[edit]
In some of the pieces, the content will include an interpretive approach to present the subject. In other cases, the content is more straightforward and factual. We have resources for them all, but would like your opinion in each case if you have a particularly strong feeling about what needs to be emphasized – perhaps based on your own experience when presenting this information to potential Wikipedians in your community.
Welcome Introduction (Inviting the audience in, creating excitement, reasons to contribute.)

As I said, the bad reputation the press promotes in France is a barrier to convincing people to join. Also, we should not forget that editors are also users, so if they have a bad experience that hurts us. So somewhere we should explain the nature and intent of our encyclopedia, including what you can and cannot do with content on W. We like to say that Wikipedia’s content is a starting point only, that you should not rely only on it as a sole or primary source, and that you need external sources and cross check the facts etc. The first step is to understand how W works, so that users can make good use of the content. And when they known how to use W content, they will be inclined to participate themselves.

Wikipedia is often evaluated for what it is not, held up to unrealistic expectations. It’s not a classic encyclopedia. But if we manage expectations it will be easier to convince people to join the project.