Wikipedia:Crash Course in Wikipedianism

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The Essence of Wikipedia: A Crash Course in Wikipedianism

Wikipedia is one and at the same time an encyclopedia and a community. The encyclopedia is a central repository of knowledge made available to the public (the entire world), and as such is one version of society's memory. The community is everyone who makes use of or takes care of the encyclopedia, and includes readers, contributors, editors, and the admins of Wikipedia.

Everyone has the right to use Wikipedia, and therefore it is the responsibility of everyone to build, maintain, and defend Wikipedia. Anyone who participates in Wikipedia is a Wikipedian. Wikipedians are self-selected. From time to time, Wikipedians choose from amongst themselves champions to serve in the cause of the greatest good with respect to the caretaking of "the world's encyclopedia". These heroes are known as "system administrators", or simply admins. Wikipedia's admins are selected through a process called Requests for adminship or RfA. Much more than a privilege, adminship is a responsibility. Wikipedia's admins are the encyclopedia's last line of defense against ignorance and chaos. The key question is, are you up to it?

Whether you wish to become an admin, or you simply wish to improve your skills as a Wikipedian, this course was designed for you. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

Knowledge and knowledge access[edit]

Wikipedia is rapidly becoming the world's de facto primary repository of knowledge. Managing it carries great responsibility, and since acquiring an education (that is, attaining knowledge) is a fundamental right of every person, it is only fitting that this responsibility be carried by everyone.

The fundamental structure of Wikipedia is pages and links. Pages include content, and links are a type of content. While words, figures, and images present the knowledge contained within Wikipedia pages, links provide the structure in which pages are organized.

The three knowledge access methods[edit]

Wikipedia provides three ways to access knowledge: the search box, the link system, and the Reference desk forums.

  1. The search box
  2. The center of Wikipedia's formal link system is Wikipedia:Contents. You should know this link system like the back of your hand. It goes hand-in-hand with the search bar as an essential tool for users of the encyclopedia to find what they are looking for. Another key element of the link system is the side bar. We will cover more about these, and the rest of the link system, later.
  3. The Reference desk is staffed by volunteers who help find the answer to any knowledge question, whether the information is contained in Wikipedia or not. First, they will provide a link or links to the relevant information on Wikipedia. And if it doesn't yet exist on Wikipedia, they will scour the Internet to find it, and provide external links to the information. This exemplifies the goal of Wikipedia to be a central source of the World's knowledge.

The center of the encyclopedia[edit]

The most centralized page of encyclopedia content, in terms of where it leads to, is Wikipedia:Contents. Treat this like your headquarters, for it is the encyclopedia's hub of knowledge. Care for it and all the directory pages listed on it, nurture them, and expand them as needed. This link system provides the paths to enlightenment for the entire world's population and taking care of it is one of the two greatest responsibilities every Wikipedian has (the other being caring for the encyclopedia's content itself).

The Wikipedian's best friend[edit]

Wikipedia's sidebar is present on the left-hand side of the screen on every single page of the encyclopedia (when you have the monobook skin selected from my preferences, which is selected by default when an account is created).

As a key and everpresent component of Wikipedia's link system, it is of absolute importance that the sidebar be optimized. Seconds saved from operations repeated over and over by millions of users saves time measured not in man-hours, nor in man-days, -weeks, -months, or -years. It adds up so fast that it must be measured in lifetimes. Lifetimes worth of time can be saved by making Wikipedia's central features more efficient.

If the links on the sidebar do not lead to the pages users make use of the most, then they must be changed. This is a fundamental responsibility that has been overlooked by virtually everyone in the Wikipedia community at one time or another. This is because the side bar is ubiquitous, and easily becomes part of the background – something that is just there, and always has been. It's so obvious, that we glance right over it, a hundred times per day. The sidebar is such a fundamental element of the design of Wikipedia, that when it needs attention, it is up to each of us, including you, to give it the required attention to make it as useful and efficient as possible.

As the usership's patterns of usage change, so should the sidebar, to accommodate them.

Searching vs. browsing[edit]

Maps of the Wikipedia community[edit]

Familiarize yourself with Wikipedia. Get to know the Help:Contents pages like the back of your hand. Then move on to the Wikipedia:Community portal and the Wikipedia:Department directory. While reading, if you come across any links that are blatantly missing from Help, the Directory, or the Community Portal, by all means add them in! But don't forget article space! It's easy to caught up in the Wikipedia community and practically forget that Wikipedia is first and foremost an encyclopedia. An encyclopedia which has a long way to go before being even close to completion. Dig in and learn to your heart's content. The best administrators are also among the best editors on Wikipedia. And remember...

  • The most centralized metapage, in terms of where it leads to, is the Wikipedia:Department directory. You should know this page by heart, and be familiar with every page listed on it.
  • The hub of activity in the Wikipedia community is the Wikipedia:Community Portal.
  • The central directory of instructions on how to use the Wikipedia interface and participate in the Wikipedia community is Help:Contents.
  • Many metapages have shortcuts (nicknames which are easier to type in to the search box than a page's whole title), and these are located at Wikipedia:Shortcuts, which has grown into a de facto directory of Wikipedia's metapages, both departmental and instructional alike.

Learn these maps, and use them extensively. Help improve them, and you help make Wikipedia easier to move about in and maintain, which is beneficial to everyone.

The above maps do for the Wikipedia community what Wikipedia:Contents and its member pages do for the encyclopedia. Once you know your way around Wikipedia, including backstage, you'll know exactly where to apply your strengths and interests.

Take the tour[edit]

Have you taken the tour of the Wikipedia community yet? To do so, browse (click on) every link on the Help:Contents menus, every link on the Wikipedia:Community Portal, and every link at the Wikipedia:Department directory. If you don't have time to read each page, at least skim them all.

The rules of the road[edit]

Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines

Wikipedia:List of policies

Wikipedia:List of guidelines

Characterizing participation in Wikipedia[edit]

Is participating on Wikipedia a hobby or is it volunteerism? That depends. If you simply edit Wikipedia because you enjoy it, and give no thought to the overall objective of Wikipedia, then for you, it's a hobby. But, if in addition to enjoying participation in Wikipedia you are here to further the welfare of the world by making knowledge available to all, then you are no mere hobbyist. You are a volunteer.

Acquire the necessary experience[edit]

Many RfA's get turned down because it is felt that the editor doesn't have enough experience in either the article namespace or on Wikipedia's metapages (the Wikipedia namespace and help namespace). Once you have about 2,000 article edits and another 2,000 edits on administrative-like chores such as participation in AfD's, improving help pages, and helping at volunteer departments like the Help desk, Reference desk, WikiProjects, etc., you should be fine.

Start using AutoWikiBrowser, if you haven't already, to really make an impact.

The two areas Wikipedia always needs more help in are its Wikipedia:backlogs and fighting Wikipedia:Vandalism. It is no surprise then that help in these two areas is favored in RfA proceedings.

Acquire discipline[edit]

Fill in those edit summaries[edit]

We have edit summaries for a good reason – to help other editors understand what your edits were for without having to go into each and every article you edit to find out (which can be quite tedious). A great many RfAs have been rejected on the grounds that the nominee simply was not considerate enough of other editors to provide edit summaries. If you have a hard time remembering to provide edit summaries, there is a setting in my preferences to configure Wikipedia to automatically remind you whenever you forget. To do this, go to my preferences at the top of the page, click on the Edit tab, and then check the box next to Prompt me when entering a blank edit summary.

Maintain your cool[edit]

It's all cool.
Try to stay as cool as a cucumber!

When things start to get to you, and you feel like you are going to explode, it's time to take a wikibreak. Just back off, take a deep breath, and let it go. Walk away.

As time goes on, you will learn more and more about Wikipedia and its operations, so that things which seemed so important while you were embroiled in a confrontation will appear trivial when you look back upon them just 3 or 4 months later. Wikipedia is almost indestructable. You can afford to let things go, back off, chill and watch what happens. It's not going to fall apart while you are gone. Keep in mind that there are probably a dozen other ways to achieve any specific editing goal you might have here. And remember...

...there are many paths to enlightenment in the wiki.

The front lines[edit]

There is an ongoing battle within Wikipedia between those who defend it and those who wish to do it harm.

Vandalism, Recent changes, and RC Patrol[edit]

The primary place for monitoring and dealing with vandalism is Special:Recentchanges, located on the sidebar menu. For instructions, see Wikipedia:RC Patrol. To monitor specific pages, use "Special:Related Changes", located in the toolbox menu also on the sidebar. To set up a related changes link, use Special:Recentchangeslink/pagename where pagename is the target page being monitored. Clicking the link will display all recent changes to the target page and every page which has a link on the target page.

Every Wikipedian should reserve a proportion of their time on Wikipedia to fight vandalism. See: Wikipedia:Vandalism.

Deletion departments and the danger of censorship which resides there[edit]

To safeguard Wikipedia's pages from rampant deletion, the ability to delete pages is entrusted to our admins. But admins are not generally allowed to use this ability except where instructed to by the community. The decisions to delete are made by members of the community in the deletion departments: WP:AfD, WP:CfD, WP:TfD, and WP:MfD. After a nomination for deletion has been made, a discussion takes place between whosoever wishes to participate, and a decision is made whether or not to delete the page in question.

But this is a double-edged sword. Those who desire to censor Wikipedia often attempt do so by nominating for deletion the pages with the content they wish to suppress. Such deletions can go through successfully if a group of people conspire to collaborate on fabricating a consensus to do so. Therefore, general participation in deletion discussions is necessary just to make sure those departments are not misused by special interest groups. You should spend at least a small portion of each of your sessions on Wikipedia in one or more of the deletion departments.

See: Wikipedia:Deletion.

The state of the 'pedia[edit]

For a quick rundown of the state of the pedia and where it needs the most help, from an admin's point of view, check out the category tracker. Also be sure to check the Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard and Wikipedia:Requests for administrator attention often.

More places your help is needed[edit]

A great place to start is Wikipedia's Help desk. You'll learn a lot because just about every kind of weird problem comes across that desk. You'll get to see how others answer the questions, and pretty soon, you'll be able to answer most of them too.

A couple of projects in the Wikipedia namespace that could really use some more volunteers are Wikipedia:Contents (if you like subject matter) and Wikipedia:Tip of the day (if you want to dig into the how-to of Wikipedia). For both of those projects, the talk page is where the action is.

Pertaining to the main namespace, Portal:Contents/Outlines, which provides "cheat sheets" on a variety of subjects is far from complete, and provides an opportunity to share your knowledge in a variety of subject areas. Pick a favorite subject and jump in – or see the detailed task list on the talk page.

Building up to your RfA[edit]

Helping admins with their chores[edit]

You don't have to wait until you are an admin to start getting involved with administrative duties, and enjoying some of the toys admins get to use...

The Vandalism department for instance has tools which provide the rollback feature which admins enjoy having.

Editors in good standing are encouraged to get their feet wet in administrative chores such as closing deletion discussions: see Wikipedia:Deletion process#Non-administrators closing discussions.

"I failed my RfA..."[edit]

If your request for adminship got turned down, don't fret it. Many Wikipedians apply for adminship way too early. Wikipedia is a huge environment, and there are a great many things to do and places to explore without ever having to become an admin to do so. So relax, and...

...become one with the wiki.

There's just so much to do, and so many projects, that fixating on admin status is unnecessary. There are hundreds of projects to work on, and millions of pages. Just keep accumulating experience, and adminship will eventually be a breeze.

Are you familiar with Wikipedia:Tools? There are a great many things an editor can do without being an admin.

Focus on the health of the wiki, and everything else will take care of itself. One approach to becoming an admin is not to worry about it – at all. Just be the best editor you can be, get involved with projects wherever your heart takes you, and eventually someone may nominate you. Being in a hurry is a fast path to frustration. See Wikipedia:Eventualism.

Great editors make great admins. Once you master editorship, becoming an admin is simply a formality.


General advice[edit]

How are your grammatical and proofreading skills? Writing well is the key to editing well. You may want to bone up on your writing skills by studying a good book on grammar, or one on (descriptive) writing.

If you have writer's block, volunteering at Wikipedia's Reference desk or at Wikipedia's Help Desk can help break it.

Are you interested in learning the tips and tricks expert Wikipedians use? They can be found at Wikipedia:Tip of the day. Be sure to add your best tips to the collection, and help spread Wikipedia expertise.

Love makes the world go around, and Wikipedia too.

(more coming soon)

Recommended reading[edit]