Thursday, December 20, 2007


Admin burnout

A copy of an email I wrote to WikiEN-l:

George Herbert wrote:

> It's been a recurring theme, but the point is that we still haven't
> figured out how to detect and head off (talk to, counsel, convince to
> take a stress-break and come back, whatever) flameouts by admins and
> longtime editors.
> There's a difference between people chosing to leave the project, and
> a project where the usual mode of leaving for experienced participants
> is an antagonistic conflict incident blowing up.
> That we haven't really come up with good solutions doesn't mean that
> we should stop noting incidents as they happen.

"Admin burn-out" is one of those topics that I've been interested too -- especially since at any given moment I post on WP:AN (or related pages) I am the Admin who's been on Wikipedia the longest; I once described myself as starting on Wikipedia back when Jimbo Wales was not even a "God-king" but just an aristocrat who bought himelf a magic book. In some cases, I have been an Admin longer than some Admins have had Wikipedia accounts. (This has been the case since Zoe bailed earlier this year.) And this is a distinction I'm not especially happy to hold.

(Note: there are a number of Admins senior to me still active on Wikipedia; occasionally I'll wonder what happened to someone, look at their contributions page, & see that she or he made a few dozen edits -- often more -- in the last couple of days. However, they keep an even lower profile than me, rarely, if ever, appearing on the Admin Noticeboards & related pages. Why is that if an Admin doesn't burn out, he retreats to an obscure corner of Wikipedia or just limits himself to Wikignoming? Your guess is as good as mine.)

I don't know whether my longevity is because I *don't* try to handle the hard cases, edit controversial articles (at least not after I learn the hard way that they are controversial) or work very hard at fighting vandalism or spam -- in other words, maybe I'm just Admincruft -- or its because I stumbled across the secret at surviving the often vicious atmosphere at Wikipedia. For anyone who's curious, my strategy has been to remember that the problem people always, in the end, get themselves kicked off of Wikipedia, & act accordingly. For example, when I'm in conflict in an article, & I'm convinced that the other person is a (insert here your favorite term of abuse) who is entirely, undeniably wrong (or has been doing most of her/his research with the help of illegal substances), what I do is ... sit back & wait 3 months, then go back & edit the article. Sometimes I make the changes I was originally fighting for, but more often I realize that the section in dispute ought to read another way -- sometimes the exact text what my opponent was arguing for, but for one reason or another I wasn't persuaded. Amazing what a curious mind can learn in three months!

For this admittedly passive attitude towards Adminship (if not Wikiepdia in general) to work, obviously I rely on other Admins to do the dirty work. For this reason, it would be useful to know how I can support the harder-working Admins so they can keep doing what they do. Telling me to "keep an eye on them" is not a good solution, since much of my work for Wikipedia is researching content -- out of 8 hours I might spend on Wikipedia, at least half of it is reading various sources, more often books than webpages, & trying to figure out how to usefully integrate it into the relevant articles. (BTW, even in my most focussed moments of researching, I find that 90% of what I find is not immediately usable for one reason or another -- most often because I don't see how I can add it to an article.) This means I often learn about the latest "blow-up" several hours -- if not several days -- after it appears to be all over, & someone has put a "Topic closed" notice on the thread.

If anything, I find myself more & more arguing with other Admins over how to deal with a perceived troublemaker; either there are an increasing number of people on Wikipedia who think in black-n-white, think anyone who criticizes Wikipedia is more dangerous than _The Register_ (or whoever is this week's most dangerous threat), & are upset that we are "too easy-going" on the troublemakers, or I am far too laid back. Since I have no problem dropping an indef block on people who are clearly troublemakers (anyone can look at my Admin log to see that I have dropped the banhammer from time to time), I don't think it's the latter. Most of the people who claim that Wikipedia's not honest about the claim that "anyone can edit" are, undeniably, the ones who got banned for good & understandible reasons; but I'm finding an increasing number of cases where newbies are getting the bum's rush for obvious newbie mistakes, & end up complaining about how Wikipedia is run by some inner circle.


(Sorry, I don't have anything new to say about Carolyn Doran -- except to note that I received around 500 hits on my post "Uh, what?" yesterday, which is not only far more than any other post I've written, but more than any five other posts I've written. I guess this story has legs.)

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You were on metafilter. So was I. I've been hoping to get on mefi for years. :) Good times. (Er, except for that whole Incredibly Damaging Scandal.)
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