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Happy 2015, disruptors!  Start your year off the right way by fucking around on the internet.

We’ve already gone over why editing Wikipedia is a social justice issue and touched on some of the emotional hurdles in the path of awesome people who want to take this on.  Today we are going to discuss how to use talk pages in Wikipedia.  I feel this follows nicely from our last topic, Wiki’s hidden pages, because Talk pages are one of Wiki’s most important features that are hidden in plain site (ba-dum pshhhhhh).

When you go to an article in Wikipedia, there are two tabs at the top Left of the screen: one for the “Article” page, the place where the article itself can be found, and a page next to it that says “Talk.”  You may find it helpful to open the page and click with me as we go:

Main page of Wikipedia "Feminism" article

Click to enlarge, but press the back button to return to this page because I’m not tech savvy enough to make this pop up in a new window.

Clicking the “Talk” tab will bring you to the Talk page, pictured below.  At the top of the page are the instructions for what a talk page is and what it is not.  A talk page is not a place for discussion about the article’s topic, but rather a place for editors to discuss potential improvements for the article and to resolve disputes.  And of course there is a big need for dispute resolution, as any two editors rarely share a view of what content an article should contain.

Top of talk page of Wikipedia "Feminism" article, with arrow pointing to guidelines about not using talk pages to discuss the general subject.

Click to enlarge

Talk pages also contain established guidelines for a given page, especially if the page is considered contentious.  For example, the guidelines for the Feminism article were voted upon by the Wiki community at some point in the past (see below).  So if, for example, an editor adds information to the article from a misognyst source, rather than an encyclopedic discussion of feminism as a topic, you can refer them to the guideline at the top of the talk page and make a strong case for removing their content.

Click to enlarge.  Image of Wikipedia consensus on Feminism talk page noting that the Feminism article does not have to present anti-feminism opinions in order to be considered a neutral article by Wikipedia standards.

Click to enlarge. I like this image of Wikipedia consensus on Feminism talk page noting that the Feminism article does not have to present anti-feminism opinions in order to be considered a neutral article by Wikipedia standards.  It may be small, but for a brief moment all is right in the world.  Don’t go straight from here to mainstream news.

“Where do I speak up to make that case, Barbie?”

I’m glad you asked.

When two editors disagree on an edit, Wiki good faith practices encourage both parties to take it to the talk page.  Any editors caught participating in an edit war, defined as removing (or reinstating) a piece of content more than 3 times within 24 hours, are considered to be in an edit war.  These editors may be blocked from editing the page for a given length of time, or even banned from editing Wikipedia altogether.  IP addresses can also be banned, so editing without a user profile does not protect you from needing to follow this rule.

This is probably the number one newbie mistake made by those who do not know about the Edit War rules or talk pages, and it can get well-meaning people blocked who do not understand why their edits seem to keep disappearing.  Therefore, if you introduce content to an article and later find it gone, or the opposite, you come back to find that content you removed has been replaced, do not edit further: instead, head straight to the talk page.

But before doing so, we need to know what exactly we are talking about.  When you make an edit and suddenly it vanishes, you don’t magically know why.  So let’s back track a little bit.  First click on the page history link at the top right of the screen:

Wikipedia feminism article with arrows pointing to "page history" tab

Click to enlarge

This will bring you to a log of all changes made to the article, going clear back to the very beginning of the article’s creation.  We’ll go over how to read and use this page in a future post, but for now, have a look where the red arrows are pointing in the image below.  Before heading over to the talk page to dispute a change to your edits, first look in this list to see if you can find a note on why the change was made.

Image of the page history of the wikipedia article, looking at an editor's comment about why they changed back an edit that someone had made: "not an improvement"

Click to enlarge

According the page history, Eekster reverted an edit that they felt was “not an improvement” to the article.  For the sake of practice, let’s pretend we made the edit that Eekster reverted, and we want to put it back.  To the talk page!

Repeating the earlier step of clicking on the “Talk” tab at the upper left of the screen and then scrolling down, you will see a number of conversation threads among editors who contribute to or watch the article.  If the issue you need to discuss is already present, join your commentary onto that discussion.  If the issue you need to discuss is not yet presented, you will need to make a new thread, but for now let’s say it’s here.  Find the title for the conversation you want to join and click “Edit,” on the title’s right:

Image of discussion threads on Wikipedia talk page with arrows pointing to the "Edit" option

Click to enlarge

As you can see once you click, if this is your first time, it can look like there’s a lot going on here.  Be not afraid.  Even if you do not feel comfortable learning a new format, you can still scroll down to the bottom of the window, type in your comment, and press “Save page,” or if you prefer, the “show preview” or “show changes” buttons.  If you use the preview option, you will be given an option to review your comment and only then to save the new page.

Don’t worry about messing anything up.  One of the great features of Wikipedia is that any previous version of a page is saved and can be recovered with a simple click (we’ll have a later post on this too).  So just go to the bottom of the text box, write your comments, such as explaining why the edit that was removed should really be left in, and then press save.  If a more experienced editor feels strongly about the formatting of your comment, they will just go in and fix it for you.

Image of the place where you can edit talk page threads to join a conversation, as well as a sample edit that reads: I am practicing the art of speaking up when I have something to say!  I did not press save on this though because that would be a bit weird.  But you can if you want, once you've added a comment.  If someone reverted an edit you made, this is where you could ask why, explain why you think the edit should be returned to the article, or ask for assistance from a more experienced editor if someone is being a jerk.  ~ Barbie"

Click to enlarge; Comments also entered as alt-text.

Or if you don’t see your topic and need to start a new thread, scroll back to the top of the page and click where it says “Click to start a new topic.”  The instructions after that are basically the same: choose a heading, add your comment, and press save.

Photo of talk page of Wikipedia feminism article, with arrows pointing to the link to start a new topic for discussion.

Click to enlarge

Here ends our mini-tour around the talk page.  Try it out!  The best way to learn this kind of thing, in my opinion, is to do.  Click on random stuff.  Mess around.  Type in comments and preview them to see how it comes out.  Everything in Wikipedia is saved: there is nothing that cannot be undone if need be.  In other words, Be Bold.

Though do be careful about saving any edits if you are editing without a username, because if you do so, the article will use your IP address as your signature.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on how to win an edit war, how to use the article history page, and more!  Please post any questions, or if you are an experienced Wikipedian, your suggested advice or improvements to these instructions, in the comments below!