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Hello Disruptors and Wikithusiasts!

Today we begin the third installment in our fabulous series on navigating and becoming an active contributor to the free encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  We’ve talked about why this is so important, and we’ve talked about the difficulty of entering and feeling welcome in a community you’ve been marginalized from.  This week’s installment will begin our discussion about “how.”

Now if you look at the welcome links in the last post, you will see that there are a number of resources out there already, which have a great deal of information about how to edit, as well as encouragement about doing so.  The problem is, you will generally not find these unless you know where to look.

Mist through a forest

Enter the mists of Wikiland…

A little known fact about Wikipedia is that there are multiple arenas within the Wiki realm.  There are the articles that you see when you “Wikipedia something,” which most people are familiar with.  However, there are also talk pages, user pages, forums, and then there are the inner-Wikipedia pages.  The titles of these articles begin with “Wikipedia: “, and among other things, they include a collection of guidelines about how the community works.  The problem is, if you search for them within the main Wikipedia search engine, you won’t find them.

I’m not sure why this is — maybe to streamline things, maybe to keep the encyclopedia looking sharp — but the practical outcome is that many people have no idea that these pages exist.  One of the biggest barriers I have seen for new editors trying to get their foot in the door is that they break guidelines that they were not aware existed.  Then they are corrected by another editor, then they break another guideline they had no clue about, then they are corrected more sternly by another editor.  By the third time this happens, the would-be new contributor has earned a reputation for themselves as a vandal, has endured the frustration of being treated as such, and decides to wash their hands of the whole ordeal.  There are real vandals out there, and I have removed many an “I like cheese” from the articles that I contribute to.  That being said, the majority of people seem to have good intentions and just have no idea what to do with them.

The answers for how to bring your best intentions to fruition are in the inner-Wiki pages, and you can search for them as follows.  If you place “Wikipedia: ” in front of any search in the main Wiki engine, or if you do so in Google, the resulting pages will be within the inner-Wiki.  Try it out: go onto Wikipedia and search for “guidelines.”  Then do the same search for “Wikipedia: guidelines,” or “WP: guidelines” if your fingers are tired, and compare the results.

Knowing the community guidelines, even if you just look them up as you go, has two big advantages.  First, you will be less likely to spend hours on an edit, only to have it be reverted on a technicality.  Second, if someone else is making edits to a page that are in violation of Wikipedia’s guidelines — for example, putting pseudoscientific, non-reliably-sourced information into a page on homosexuality — you will know exactly what your rights are to remove the information, and you will know what standards you can hold for the other editor if they choose to redo their edit.

So, that concludes our lesson for the day!  For your exercise this week, try navigating through the inner-Wiki pages, and see what you find.  Learning new guidelines can be tedious, but having even a basic familiarity with them gives you the knowledge and power to make sure that everyone is playing by them.  At the end of the day, this works to everyone’s advantage: it helps Wikipedia work toward its mission of neutrality, and it gives you the resources to speak up when someone is violating that mission.

Happy Googling!