Thursday, January 31, 2008

Warning Templates

We got a message yesterday that our {{test}} template was very "mean", and that it most likely serves to scare away more well-meaning new users then it does to stop vandals. The text of the template, it was suggested, should be made more friendly so we aren't scaring away new users every time they make a test edit.

On the face, yes. The suggestion that we should "not bite the newbies" is one that every project should take seriously, because new users bring so much to a project. The problem is not that en.wikibooks is mean to it's new users (I posit that we are actually more kind then average), but that our methods and procedures are so far different from Wikipedia's as to be almost incomparable. On Wikipedia, the {{test}} template and it's brethren are used to kindly alert a new user to a simple but well-intentioned mistake. "Thank you for experimenting with Wikipedia", it says and goes on to mention the sandbox and a link to some documentation.

On en.wikibooks, we simply don't have an analogous template to this. When a new user makes one of the common editing mistakes, we find that it's often easier to correct the mistake immediately, and give that new user a warm welcome. Our {{welcome}} template is not entirely dissimilar to Wikipedia's version of the {{test}} template. "Welcome to Wikibooks!", we say, here are the links you need to get started. When needed, we follow this up with an explanation of what they did wrong, if it's even worth mentioning. "I saw that you made a strange edit, I hope you don't mind, but I went ahead and fixed it for you. Let me know if you have any questions about this".

New users are one thing, but vandals are another entirely. Wikipedia has several templates for all manner of warnings: {{uw-vandalism1}} to {{uw-vandalism5}}, and a similar sequence for spam, blanking, etc. A vandal could, conceivably, receive 4 warnings before they are blocked, even if it's apparent from their first edit that they have no intentions to be long-term productive members. On en.wikibooks by contrast, we have one template for all varieties of bad edits: {{test}}. It's our first, last, and only warning. "Do not make inappropriate edits to Wikibooks", it used to say (before it was made more "positive"), " Edits that you have made have been considered inappropriate or even disruptive". No sense here in differentiating between vandalism or spam, because it all falls under the category of "inappropriate or disruptive", and is simply not acceptable. We are much less tolerant of vandalism then en.wikipedia is, and many supporters of that mind-set (myself included) will be happy to point out that we have much lower levels of vandalism compared to our volume of productive edits then most other projects do.

Now, a Wikipedian who comes to wikibooks, sees a new user and leaves them a {{test}} message is in for a rude and traumatic surprise. This demonstrates that perhaps we should rename our template to something that is more indicative of it's purpose: {{vandalism}} or {{onlywarning}}, or even {{Oh snap, son}} would probably create less confusion. I still don't see a need to even have a template for warning new users for test edits, so maybe our {{test}} could just be redirected to {{welcome}} for the same purpose.

This should go to show everybody that the communities, methods, and procedures at different projects can be far different from each other, and you shouldn't assume that templates with the same name do the same things in other places.

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