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A Wiki Citizen's Guide to Communities

Sannse November 14, 2012 User blog:Sannse Google
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We often talk of wikis as "communities", but I don't know that we stop and think about what that means.

A community originally meant a group of people living and working together in the same area. But Wikia certainly isn't that, there are people from all over the world here, and you are probably more likely to come across people from the other side of the world than you are your hometown.

Communities are more than just people connected by a common location, they are also people linked by a common interest, or occupation, or belief. We are a community because we care about wikis, and using wikis to create awesome sites about things that matter to us.

And within the wider Wikia community, there are many smaller communities. From Adventure Time Wiki to Zeldapedia we come together as communities to write about and share our love for a vast range of topics.

But every community has its challenges, and wikis are no exception. People may share a common interest, but that doesn't mean that everyone will always get along, or will always be good community members.

So what makes a good wiki citizen? The most important part of promoting good relationships with your fellow community members, is to remember that they are real people, with real feelings and opinions. People online have a tendency to "depersonalize" others online. That is, they tend to lose the emotional connection to others around them, and so feel it's OK to treat them in a way they would never consider OK in the "real world".

And the term "the real world" is a symptom of another problem - sometimes people discount the online world as "not real", and so without consequences. This can lead to all sorts of behavior that can end up affecting you, those you interact with online, and even those you know offline. So remember that your actions online can affect others, and your offline life

Some other hints for being a good wiki citizen:

  • Learn about a community before joining it. Every community has it's own style, policies, and norms. The more you can learn by reading and observing the wiki, the better chance you have of joining it smoothly. What style do people use in discussions? Is it lighthearted and jokey, or serious? What are the policies of the wiki? What is considered important in creating articles? Learning these things will help you more quickly become part of the community.
  • Ask questions. If you don't know, ask! It's important to try and find the answer for yourself first, but if you aren't sure how to do something, then it's often better to ask the question than jump in and do it wrong.
  • Make friends. The main reason people join a wiki is to write and talk about something they love, with people who love the same thing. So making connections with others on the wiki is something that can help you enjoy the site more, and will help promote understanding and cooperation between you. Stop by and say hi to another editor, or congratulate them on a good edit. Being friendly goes a long way within a community.
  • Leave articles better than you found them. Taking care to write clearly and understandably (and spell correctly) will improve the article - and it will give people a better impression of your abilities.
  • Leave an edit summary. We all skip edit summaries sometimes, but they are a good way of quickly explaining what you are doing on a wiki, and can help prevent misunderstandings.
  • Remember there is usually more than one way to do things. Often we see people insisting that their way is the only possible way. But a good wiki citizen will try to think of alternative solutions, which might be something everyone can get behind. Don't get stuck on an "only way" and block off other possibilities. Other people's opinions matter, and there may be middle ground that you can both agree to.
  • Look after the newbies. We were all new once, and newbies are the wiki's future regulars. Try to welcome them into the community, and mentor them as they find their way around.
  • Answer questions. Now that you are the one who has the answers, you can pay back the community for the help they gave you by answering the questions of the next group of newbies.
  • Don't write in anger. It's important to understand how your emotions can affect what you say, and how you interpret what you read. It's a great idea to take a little time to move away from the keyboard and calm down, and then re-read what you have written and decide if it's really what you want to say.
  • Be nice. I'm a great believer in keeping my side of interactions as polite and pleasant as possible, even if the other person is not. It can be hard not to bite back, but it increases your reputation as a good wiki citizen, and may even calm the situation.

A lot about being a good citizen is common sense: Learn as much as you can, be polite, respectful and kind to others, and do all you can to help your wiki and your community.

Please share your thoughts below on how to be a good citizen of your wiki. And don't forget that there is a webinar on best practices for community discussions this Friday - register here if you are interested in learning more!

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