Interviewee from pl-Wikipedia
January 2010 Interview
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.
The first Wikipedia articles I explored were about computer science and security, which I was doing in 2004 in support of my regular work. Then I explored more areas in Wikipedia and thought it was fun to go into other subjects. Like a lot of people, I discovered that this is the way to explore different interests and hobbies, and take a break from work. I think often people go to Wikipedia to educate themselves and for fun."
"I was fascinated about the fact that anyone could edit. There were no restrictions. So when I started to edit articles about flowers, I found that I was taken seriously as a contributor even in a non expert area, because of my willingness to contribute.
Do you remember a specific event or moment that made you decide to first join?
My colleague at work and I were looking for an acronym in computer sciences, and he came upon the Polish-language Wikipedia. He commented that Wikipedia often turned up as a result of Web searches. After I explored for a few minutes, I came upon the policies and learned of the ability to edit. I was already familiar with XML languages, so it was pretty natural for me to understand. We were used to turning to English sources to answer our questions, so it was amazing to find what I wanted to read in Polish.
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)?
I registered a few days after my first Wikipedia contact as I worked on a report. When I went back to Wikipedia, I noticed so many things I could help with, so I logged in as a registered user a few weeks later, then became administrator in 2006. I also contributed my own illustrations to articles through Commons.
Then the idea of the Polish chapter came up, which interested me. We established the chapter in August 2005, and I’m a founding member. Part of the motivation to do this was to encourage more Polish projects and publicize them to attract more users and editors. We still have a small community compared to the number of articles in Polish Wikipedia. In May 2007, I was elected to the board. And I’m secretary of the chapter.
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?
I don’t contribute often in English, and I only read in German Wikipedia to check sources mainly. In English Wikipedia I usually do little edits when I write articles in Polish and find differences between my sources and the corresponding English articles.
How much time do you now typically spend contributing to Wikipedia each week. In what capacities?
I used to spend a lot of time until the birth of my child 6 months ago. Before becoming a mother, I usually spent from 10 to 20 hours a week on Wikipedia work, and even sometimes more. Now most of my time is spent working for the Polish chapter. Writing is more difficult because of my home life, but I do edit and I do administrative work for Wiki projects on botany.
Have you ever recruited someone else to become a Wikipedian? If so, what typically convinces them to register and begin editing and writing?
Part of my involvement with the chapter was to give lectures and workshops, plus we put on annual science days at the university, when the whole university organizes presentations to promote various activities. So I would conduct my small workshop on editing, contributing, and the general conventions of Wikipedia. Usually I’d attract about 30 or more students who would attend, but I don’t know how many of them began contributing.
I would say that most potential newcomers are afraid of contributing because they don’t think they know enough to make a difference. They are also intimidated because so many articles already exist and it’s hard to find an opportunity to write a new piece in their field of interest. They also find it more difficult to expand existing articles than to start a new one. In part, in the Polish Wikipedia we are hesitant to edit someone else’s work. Although there are some new editors who are vigorous in doing edits, but unfortunately without reading the rules ahead of time. So they have to rely on learning through experience, and by having edit wars and conflicts. Usually these are teenagers. But we have Wikipedians of three or four years duration who have transitioned from vandalism and fighting to more productive contributions. They have matured and grown through Wikipedia, and we see their progress, which I think is wonderful. I can think of only a couple of cases when it was impossible to work with such young people.
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?
There are three main reasons. One that I’ve already mentioned is the fear of not knowing enough. Second, they are afraid of the mark up language. And the third reason, sadly, has to do with the established community, in that newcomers can get an unwelcome response from older editors. These seasoned editors think the level of knowledge among newbies should be very high, so they don’t take the time to answer questions. On the other hand we have organized welcome initiatives and educational efforts to address this gap. It helps. But taking care of newbies takes time. So older editors rely too much on brusque templates.
My workshops on editing help overcome the markup fear of course. This includes real-time demonstrations of how the edit page, discussion page and history page work.
I’d like to ask about what ensures quality articles in your [native language], and whether there are any regional differences for the Bookshelf project to keep in mind.
- Regarding “Policies and Guidelines, There is a distinction between a policy, which is mandatory, and a guideline, which is advisory. Guidelines are more complex rules that help to keep Wikipedia's quality high. There are three core content policies (V, NOR, NPOV), which are supported by a host of associated guidelines. These guidelines include the concept of notability and various principles defining the boundaries of Wikipedia's coverage.
NPOV is observed very strictly, supported by guidelines that address specifics and the ability to enforce the policy. So I don’t see many differences between the English and Polish Wikipedia communities in this area.
NOR: Also very similar.
Verifiability: It was pretty difficult to implement this policy, so in the early years we allowed writing without sources at first, which resulted in many well-written articles, but without citations. And eventually, the original authors were gone. For the last two years we’ve been trying to add citations to these legacy articles through organized efforts, little by little, with groups of editors who are interested in certain subjects. At the same time, we are strict about new articles having sources, as do any articles aspiring to be good or featured articles.
Notability: We have guidelines about notability in specific areas, but not all subjects are covered. And we add guidelines on notability as the community discusses different things, like biographies, TV programs, and things connected to pop culture.
One of the big differences between that English and Polish communities has to do with editing. A new user (or IP) may see one of two tabs for editing: 'Edit' or 'Edit temporary version'. If he edits and saves changes - he may happen not to see the result, as the latest stable version is displayed. The article's version with his changes don’t automatically show up until a sufficiently experienced editor reviews and releases the version as sighted. So we have no major difference in policies, but just in the process of editing.
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?
- 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:
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?
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
In Polish Wikipedia, we added an initiative (called PANDA w:pl:WP:PANDA), which is a special project to improve article quality before it reaches the point of nomination for good or featured article. This project involves experienced editors who want to be helpful and of service to authors (who sometimes don’t realize that there is room for improvement).
10 Second quality assessment
11 Good article process
12 A new development
13 Further incremental improvements
Have there been any significant Content Disputes and Edit Wars in your region because of regional history or cultural norms?
- (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.)
A few years ago we had a special page for complaining about editors and for soliciting community input. It was very ineffective, as the conversations went on without end. So we organized an arbitration committee, which is the final authority for any conflicts between users and editors or editors and editors. All decisions are final. But before the arbitration committee comes into play, we have another level of mediation, where you can ask a trusted Wikipedian to step into a conflict. Before getting to mediation, people can go to talk on the talk page or discussion page, or our “cafeteria” where special projects are discussed in a neutral way. In this way we try to solve conflicts.
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.”?
We have translated and included all the pillars in Polish Wikipedia. And it has happened that some editors have indeed used the Ignore All Rules option.