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Tips & Tools for Community Discussions

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Description

Aired November 16, 2012


This webinar provides advice on how to start and manage positive community discussion and decision making conversations on your wiki. It covers how to develop policies, guidelines and compromise. It is a great video for admins to learn tips for managing their communities. This webinar also covers the tools you can use for conversations, includes Message Wall and Talk pages, Chat and Forums.

Slides

Community Discussions Slide01
Welcome to the November Webinar - Tips & Tools for Community Discussions


Community Discussions Slide02
Presenters

I’m Sarah Manley a Director of Community Support at Wikia and today joining me is Sannse Carter Cushway, also a Director of Community Support, and Danny Horn, a senior Product manager.


Community Discussions Slide03
Today we are going to overview how to start, manage and develop community discussions on your wiki, what to work towards, what to avoid and what tools to use for different types of discussions.


Community Discussions Slide04
Collaborating

As you all know collaboration is the key to a wiki - but with it can come challenges. Collaborating with others is hard in person, now make it online, with strangers, and its even trickier. But amazingly on wikia we see it work each and every day. It continually amazes all of us that our contributors can collaborate together to make such detailed and often inspirational content. Today our webinar will focus on how this works, how to encourage it and the tools we hope will help you with this.


Community Discussions Slide05
Agenda

To start Sannse will review the types of discussions that often take place on a wiki, what to work towards and what to avoid. Next Danny will take us through the different tools available to you to host these discussions, including a sneak peek at our new forum software he has been working hard on.


Community Discussions Slide06
Intro

Hi all, this is Sannse. In my 10 years on wikis I have participated in a lot of community discussions. One of the earliest I can remember was on the "Grammy Award" talk page on Wikipedia. I was trying to add pages for all the various awards, and discovered that deciding on the exact format for each page was much easier when there were other editors around to talk over ideas.


Community Discussions Slide07
Types of Discussions

In my time as an editor and staff member, I have witnessed discussions of all kinds - from high level theory, to page design, to content questions. These discussions have ranged from very productive, to harmful to the community.

It’s important in all discussions to make sure the goal is to be helpful rather than harmful - so lets start with an overview of when community discussions are needed. Remember every community is different, and so everything I mention can and probably should be adjusted to work within your community.


Community Discussions Slide08
Types of Discussions

So what should be discussed by a community? Any big decision that changes something fundamental about the wiki should ideally be discussed by the community first. For example:

  • Changes to the wiki’s features - if you are removing polls or turning on chat, it's likely you need to get other's opinions first
  • Leadership changes - if you need new admins or bureaucrats, it's good to make sure they will be welcomed by the wider community
  • Policy updates - If you are making a major change to the way the wiki works, for example allowing fanon articles for the first time, that's something that should be talked about
  • Major content changes - it's not practical to talk over every edit of course, but if you are making a major change that affects many pages, it's worth checking with others first. For example, if you were changing pages about filmstars from "first name first" to "last name first", then that's probably something you should discuss.
  • Making controversial changes - Some of the longest discussions on wikis are about controversial issues. For example, a big discussion on Star Wars Fanon, was about whether the term Fanon should be replaced with "Fan Fiction". This led to a big community discussion there, and is a good example of a time a conversation is necessary.

And, of course, you can always discuss something you aren't sure of, or want a second opinion about. It doesn't have to be a big thing to start talking!


Community Discussions Slide09
Timing & Tone

The most important things to consider when you are participating in a community discussion are the timing, the tone and your interpretation of the conversation. You want to make sure you are thinking of the big picture, and keeping what’s best for the wiki in mind.


Community Discussions Slide10
Timing

Lets start by looking at timing. I think there are multiple parts to this - when to have a conversation, how long to continue it and how often to weigh in.

Since we are working online, there may be members in your community living around the world. This is important to remember - the time you post a message may be in the middle of the night for another member, so you may not get an immediate response. After you post a new discussion (or a reply), give it a couple of days to be seen by others, and if you still don’t get an answer you can contact other active members directly and ask them to have a look.

Another important factor in timing is choosing when to start a conversation and how long to let it run for. If a discussion has a deadline or a date the decision needs to be made by, then you should start it with plenty of time to meet it. I would say at least 2 weeks before will allow everyone to participate.

If there isn’t a deadline, how long should a conversation run? There isn't really a set time, it's more about whether the conversation feels finished. It's best not to allow a discussion to go on way beyond the stage where everyone has had their say and a final decision has been made, but you also need to be sure everyone has had enough time. If the conversation is drifting into new topics, it's often best to split that into a new conversation.


Community Discussions Slide11
Tone

Now lets talk about tone, which I feel is one of the most important things to consider during a conversation. Since most wiki discussions are written, it's important to think about the words you use, the way you structure the conversation and the details you provide.


Community Discussions Slide12
The tone you should aim towards:
  • Is open - consider that there are always other perspectives, and valid points of view
  • Non confrontational - be careful not to use language that comes across as angry or aggressive
  • It should be inclusive- try to include others, and invite other opinions
  • You should be caring and calm - Remember that you are all trying to do what's right for the wiki, so work to find solutions that will help everyone do that
  • Offer solutions - Show you are listening to all sides by demonstrating that you understand other's points of view even if you don't agree with them and work to include those in the solution you offer up.


Community Discussions Slide13
Here is a good example that is paraphrased from an actual wiki conversation - it’s clear, open and working towards a solution. These types of messages show the community you are respecting their ideas and dedication, while working towards improving the wiki.


Community Discussions Slide14
What to avoid

And then there are the things to avoid

  • Like negative or condescending messages - the focus of the discussion should be about improvement, and not that one person is better or more correct than another. This will only lead to conflict.
  • And avoid acting superior - no matter your rank on a wiki, community members are all equal people - admins may have more rights to maintain the wiki, but they aren’t on a higher plane than others.
  • And try not to be too ambiguous or write carelessly- if the discussion is important to you, take the time to be clear and careful in what you say - as well as how you say it. Sloppy writing generally does not come off well.
  • And avoid being inflexible - be open to other thoughts and the conversation will flourish rather than be halted.


Community Discussions Slide15
Here you can see an example of bad tone - the message is abrupt, inflexible and unfriendly. Its talking arrogantly and does not leave room for others to participate.


Community Discussions Slide16
Remember to

So once you have your message crafted, before you post remember to:

  • Double check what you written - read through it again
  • Check your presentation - make sure the style is clear so it doesn’t detract from what you are saying
  • Always keep in mind the greater good - will this be better for the community as a whole, not just a particular user or group of users


Community Discussions Slide17
Responding

As the discussion develops, read responses and give others the time to answer. Remember to check in on how you are reading the conversation - make sure you are understanding what others have written, not just what you think they mean.

Be sure to give others the benefit of doubt, and remind yourself not apply certain preconceived opinions on their response. This is one of the most difficult things to do, but will really help you in understanding what others are really saying and being a fair participant in the conversation. One thing I have noticed in my own interactions, is that it's very easy to misinterpret people based on your own biases.

In one case, early in my Internet life, I had a message from forum participant I didn't like much. I read it as aggressive and hateful. Then, I realized I had misread, and it was actually from someone I respected highly. Rereading it, it seemed to have transformed into a positive and wise message - all because of my preconceptions. That was a very valuable lesson in how our own feelings can affect how we understand others. So this is something I always look out for in my conversations today.


Community Discussions Slide18
Decision making

Depending on the topic of your discussion, a decision may be made by a vote, but I would encourage you to work towards a consensus rather than just a majority rules decision. Consensus means that you are looking for general agreement from the participants, rather than a simple vote count. That means that compromise and finding middle ground play a major role in the final decision.

Decision making in a community works best when there is flexibility on both sides, and a goal to put the community first. So look for compromises and see if you can bring people together.


Community Discussions Slide19
Dealing with conflict

At times there may be a conflict, if this does emerge work to reduce it. Things to keep in mind as you work through a conflict :

  • focus on reducing rather than encouraging differences, look for areas you can agree, and leave the disagreement areas for a later discussion
  • find a common ground, a mid point between both sides
  • switch venue - use a different form of communication (chat vs forum) or
  • take a breather - focus on another aspect of the wiki for a short while
  • bring in an outside party - contact other admins or wikia staff if need be


Community Discussions Slide20
A final thought from me, is to remember that the people you are talking to are real people, with real feelings and opinions behind every username. Just because you are online doesn’t mean this isn’t real life. Everything you say and do has an impact on others and the wiki itself, so always keep that in mind. If you have any questions, please feel free to send them in and I will answer them during the Q & A.


Community Discussions Slide21
Thanks Sannse for that insightful feedback. Now Danny will talk to us about the features on Wikia you can use to have these conversations.


Community Discussions Slide22
Intro

  • Danny -- product manager here at Wikia
  • Started contributing to wikis in 2005, when I founded Muppet Wiki with some friends
  • Immediately fell in love with collaborative writing, building a huge website together
  • Started working for Wikia in 2007
  • A community of writers -- one of the few places on the internet where people talk in paragraphs.
  • Conversations tend to be really deep, and thoughtful.
  • Product manager -- create new features and improve on existing ones.
  • Last couple of years, focused on helping people have those thoughtful, interesting conversations.


Community Discussions Slide23
Goal for all of my projects is to make conversations more accessible and more efficient. Overview the main tools for discussions, and when to use them.


Community Discussions Slide24
Chat

  • Start with Chat -- optional feature that admins can turn on in Wiki Features. Great way to get to know other contributors. Helps to avoid misunderstandings that Sannse talked about. Also good for new contributors who have questions, or need encouragement
  • Remember: contributors can be from all around the world, ome students, some adults, some full-time jobs, some online all the time
  • Chat isn’t always the best place to have a big community discussion that results in a decision
    • people will be left out
    • won’t know what the decision is or how you got there
    • usually best to start the big discussion in chat, but then take it to a more permanent place, like a Forum

Also: real-time magnifies some differences

  • some people type fast or slow, stop & think or jump in swinging
  • people who aren’t as fast can get run over and left behind
  • people who are super-fast can overreact and blow something up quickly

If the chat doesn’t feel good, probably best to leave the chat and take the discussion to another place where people have more time to think about what they write


Community Discussions Slide25
Message wall & Talk page

Direct conversation -- Message Wall or User Talk Page

  • thanks for something they added
  • ask a question
  • show them something you’ve done -- you want help, or give them an example, or just show off :)
  • if they’ve done something wrong or broken a rule, give guidance

All wiki conversations are open, other people can see & they can participate too


Community Discussions Slide26
Hard about traditional MediaWiki conversations is how you get notified when someone responds
  • Follow a user talk page, and you’re not just following the discussion you’re interested in
  • Built a new notification system for Message Wall and new Forums
  • helps you keep track of the conversations you’re involved in
  • automatically notified about discussions on your own page
    • automatic for conversations you participate in, can turn off follow if you’re done
    • click follow on conversation you haven’t participated in, to keep watching it
  • Notification takes you right to the conversation that you’re involved in


Community Discussions Slide27
Forums

Big community discussions often happen on Forums-  A community space where anyone can start conversations and talk with other contributors

  • a record of past decisions, and process

I’ll show the current MediaWiki forums, and then the new Forum system that we’re just about to release


Community Discussions Slide28
Traditional MediaWiki forums are in their own namespace
  • mostly, people find Forum under Community tab in the wiki nav
  • landing page at Forum:Index -- welcome mat, and guide to find conversations

Forum categories -- specific types of conversations

  • support requests, general discussion, requests to adopt wiki


Community Discussions Slide29
Look in the support request category -- you can read, participate, or start a new discussion

Some wikis, Forums are active, some not

  • there are some things that make these less efficient
  • no clear notifications when there’s a response
  • creating a new thread means adding templates to a page, newbies looking for help may not know how
  • difficult to search, it’s hard to find interesting threads


Community Discussions Slide30
New Forums

Look at new Forum we’re working on -- being tested on some wikis

  • soon released to Wikia Labs for everyone to try out

Screenshot from Muppet Wiki

  • Forum link is in the On the Wiki tab in wiki nav
  • brought to Forum index page -- layout and information here is a bit different
  • board list, also highlights the latest active discussions & people who have posted


Community Discussions Slide31
Admins
  • Manage boards button at the bottom
  • take you the board management page

Default boards when you turn it on

  • General Discussion
  • News and Announcements
  • New on the Wiki
  • Questions and Answers
  • Fun and Games

On board management -- admins can set up what they want

  • create new boards, with titles & descriptions
  • rename boards
  • delete boards you’re not using, merge threads into another board

Someone starts a thread on the wrong board

  • you can move discussions to the correct board
  • notifications, history and links will all stay connected
  • if it happens a lot, consider renaming / rewriting boards to set people up for success


Community Discussions Slide32
Keep up with conversations
  • Board page
    • browse for conversations, highlights the recently active
    • prompt at top to add a new thread in the board
  • Notifications
  • RC and Wiki Activity
  • Follow every conversation on the board -- Follow button in the toolbar, you’ll be notified of every new conversation


Community Discussions Slide33
Admins: Particularly important discussion on your wiki -- use Highlights
  • gives every logged-in user a one-time notification about that thread
  • admins can turn highlights on & off
  • better chance that everyone will see announcements, more visibility than current Forum or Community Corner

Topics

  • a way to connect threads to each other, and to article pages
  • bottom of thread, anyone can add Topic or edit / delete them
  • when you type, fills in with article pages that exist -- helps people avoid misspellings, or different ways to describe the same one
  • you can connect the same conversation with several Topics -- ex: Kermit & Miss Piggy in Manhattan.
  • helps you discover more conversations about topics that you’re interested in


Community Discussions Slide34
New features coming soon in Wikia Labs!
  • Integrating Forum threads with the rest of the wiki
    • uses Topics to add links to Forum threads at the bottom of relevant article pages
    • provides a way to start Forum threads from article pages, not disconnected
  • Way to display your wiki’s forum policies and FAQs
  • Few more features to help you manage conversations

Remember: the new power contributor to your wiki could be on the other side of the screen -- so be welcoming to new people participating in conversations!

Where can you see the current version? Community Test, Muppet, South Park, Lego, Xenoblade

Wikia Labs in a few weeks let us know what you think!


Community Discussions Slide35
Thanks Danny - we will now move onto to questions from the community.


Community Discussions Slide36


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