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Community Guidelines Webinar

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Aired September 14, 2012

This webinar focuses on building and updating community guidelines on your wiki. We overview what to work towards, what to avoid and provide examples of good guidelines found throughout Wikia.

Slides & Transcript

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Welcome to the September Webinar - Community Guidelines.

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I’m Sarah Manley a Director of Community Support at Wikia and today joining me is Trella Rath, a Wikia Community Manager.

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Today we will be talking about community guidelines, why to create them, examples of good and not so good guidelines, and how to work with your community to establish them. At the end we will be taking questions, so feel free to submit them at any time via the gotomeeting software.

Com GuidelinesSlide04
What are Guidelines?

So what do we mean by guidelines? Well according to Wikipedia  a guideline is a statement by which to determine a course of action. Essentially this means a guideline is similar to a rule or policy, in that it provides guidance around a certain action you take. On a wiki this may be a guideline relating on how to contribute, or how to behave.

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Guidelines on Wikis

So how to do guidelines relate to wikis? Many wikis have developed guidelines to help their community to set certain expectations and principles. Since wikis are open to anyone to participate, guidelines can provide guidance for both new and experienced contributors to work together.

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Guidelines help users to know the type of content to add, the style it should be presented in, and what is acceptable behavior within a given community. It helps to set clear expectations that everyone on a wiki is aware of. It also helps admins to maintain the wiki - so that penalties such as blocks aren’t seen as personal.

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It’s important to remember though the word guide in guidelines - and by this I mean that they are to guide members of the community but they should not be held as hard and fast laws. There will always be exceptions to the rules or a new way of approaching a situation that the guidelines may not cover. It’s important to keep this in mind while on your wiki.

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Where to find Guidelines

So you might be wondering, where can you find a wiki’s guidelines? On many wikis the term guidelines and policies are used interchangeably. Many wikis have a link to their policies in their navigation, generally under the the community tab.

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Here you can see an example from the Avatar Wiki. Their policies are linked from the community tab in their navigation. This is a good place to put them, so all users can access them from anywhere on the wiki at any time.

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Many wikis also categorize their policy and guidelines so they can be easily found and connected to each other. Here is an example from the star wars fanon wiki.

So when you first join a wiki, where should you look? I recommend first checking in the links in the wiki navigation as well as the wiki’s main page. If you are still having trouble, contact one of the local adminsand ask where to look. If the guidelines are buried, you can make a recommendation to the admin to put them in a more obvious location.

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Types of Guidelines

So what should guidelines refer to? Guidelines can refer to almost anything on the wiki - but there are three general areas that tend of emerge - content, style and behavior.

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Content Guidelines

Content guidelines focus on the content that is added to the wiki with the most basic addressing the type of content the wiki is focused on. This could be encyclopedic, fan fiction, role playing or a mix. Including this, as well as what perspective the content is written from can help to make sure everyone knows how and what to contribute. Content guidelines can also cover image use, categorization, protection and deletion.

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Here is an example from the My Little Pony Wiki. They have a guideline on how to write about fiction, since the show My LIttle Pony is a fictional show on TV. Their guideline describes how to write about the characters, the tense to use, and much more.

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Here is another content guideline example from the League of Legends. This is their deletion policy, and spells out when content will be deleted. It lists the type of content the community would like on their wiki, and provides a place for new users to learn why and what might get deleted.

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Style Guidelines

Style is another major area for guidelines. Style guidelines most often apply to how a page is formatted, the designs applied to templates, or a wiki’s entire cssor javascript.

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Here is an example from the Runescape Wikiwhich outlines how a quest page should be styled. It provides the code for the template that should be used as well as what type of content to include. This type of guideline helps to keep similar pages looking like each other.

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Behavior Guidelines

A third important area are guidelines that refer to user behavior. This can be be a bit trickier to develop, but is important for community interactions. These type of guidelines should not all be about behavior to avoid, although that will include some component, but should focus more on behaviors you want to encourage. Tips on how to work together, how to best use features, how to deal with problem users and vandals, as well as clear consequences for less than admirable actions.

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Here is an example from the Red Dead Redemption Wiki. Their policy page starts with user policies, and states behaviors they want to encourage:

  • All editors are equal - a reminder that everyone on a wiki is an equal - no matter your user right or edit count
  • Assume good faith - to remember to assume that people are most often trying to be helpful not hurtful - and if they did something wrong, it’s likely because they misunderstood, rather than did it to be malicious
  • And others.

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Good Guidelines

Now Trella will walk us through examples of good guidelines and how to go about creating guidelines on your wiki.

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Building Guidelines

Hi all! I’m Trella and I often work with communities to help build and develop their guidelines. Today I am going to provide examples of good guidelines, guidelines you should avoid, and how to work through the process of developing them. So to start, good guidelines are positive, concise, and written in a clear manner.

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Here is an example of Community Central’s guidelines- as you can see the most important guideline to us is for users to feel they can participate. Next we want to make sure that the community as a whole is accepting of those who do jump right in! Let’s now explore good guidelines for content, style and behavior.

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Guideline Advice

So for content, start by thinking about the content type you would like to see on the wiki. Does your community want to focus just on encyclopedic content, or would you like to integrate fan fiction as well? Once that’s decided, you can get into more details such as how to name pages as well as images, what categories should be added to these pages, and what qualifies for deletion.

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Here is an example from the Glee Wiki. They list what they accept as appropriate content for their wiki, what they don’t feel belongs and the proper manner for page creation. I recently worked with this community, and they have done a good job in building out clear and concise guidelines.

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Now lets look at style guidelines. My main point of advice here is to not make your style requirements too complicated. Styling templates and using css can get complicated very quickly, especially for new wiki editors. Try to keep your style guidelines basic, with explicit directions on how to apply them.

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Here is an example from the Final Fantasy Wiki. You can see they list how to apply color to their tables along with the code for this color. Providing this information helps users make sure they choose the right one.

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And last, but certainly not least, behavior guidelines. As Sarah mentioned earlier, it’s important to start by focusing the types of behaviors you want people to follow. Those we highly recommend are: Assume good faith, Be bold and Don’t feed the trolls. By this we mean, if there is a problem user, do your best to undo their bad edits, and then ignore them. Most trolls are just looking for your reaction, so by not giving them one, you are stopping their gratification. Once you build out guidelines for what constitutes a block, admins can then assess the situation, and apply the proper block if needed.

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Here is an good example from the Call of Duty Wiki. They list the behaviors they would like users to display, actions to avoid and behaviors they discourage. The first guideline they list is is to be bold - this encourages users to not be afraid to edit and to jump right in. This is a behavior we hope all editors embrace.

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What to avoid

So what should you avoid when writing guidelines? Avoid yelling at your community, coming off too harsh or un-compromising. Make sure your guidelines all align, and aren’t directly contradicting themselves.

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Remember, guidelines will change and mature as your community grows, so don’t worry about getting every little thing covered from the beginning. Focus first on being clear about process and expectations, and then let the guidelines grow from there.

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Creating Guidelines

So you might be wondering, ok so how do I start this? I’ll now walk you through some advice on how to get started.

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So to start, you need to write down your proposal and then make sure your community sees it. You want to start this conversation on a talk page, a forum thread or in whatever place your community communicates the most. For some wiki this may be on a blog post or on a talk page thread. Start with a fair and neutral policy, one that doesn’t point fingers at others, and simply states the goal of the guideline. Then make sure the community sees it, especially the local admins.

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Here is an example from the Degrassi Wiki. Sannse, another Wikia Community Team member, recently helped them to create new guidelines. She kicked off this conversation with a blog post, which the community then used to discuss their thoughts and build out new local guidelines.

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Once the conversation has been started, it’s important to move towards a wiki wide consensus. Consensus means the majority of the wiki is in favor of the proposal - not just a direct vote that wins by a few votes. This may mean you need to adjust the guidelines and compromise on sections of it. Focus on discussing the actual guideline, providing reasons why you feel a certain aspect should or shouldn’t be included. With clear explanations and the best intention, the result should be that the most number of users are happy.

You also want to make sure that those who may be most passionate about the particular topic are aware of the discussion. Give the discussion enough time to develop, so that all those who want to participate can. I do recommend setting a deadline, so that the discussion doesn’t go on forever and a clear guideline is developed.

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Here you can see a good example from the Camp Half Blood Wiki. They dedicate a specific part of their forum to consensus building, providing a place to build, comment and update guidelines for the wiki.

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Involving the community

Once a consensus has been built, it’s time to finalize the decisions you made. We recommend that an admin writes up the final guidelines. Then they should be placed in a public and obvious location, such as the mainpage or wiki navigation. You can use the community corner to inform others that a new guideline or update has been made. You can link back to where the decision was made, and I recommend reviewing these decisions from time to time to make sure they are up to date.

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Here you can see an example from the Dragonvale Wiki. They recently updated some of their guidelines, and so listed in in their community corner.

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And last, but certainly not least, remember community is at the heart of a wiki. Without the community, a wiki is not nearly as successful, so make sure to keep that in mind as you develop, use and enforce your wiki’s guidelines.

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Thanks Trella - we will now move onto to questions from the community.

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