How Wikipedia can become a no-asshole-zone

Sumana writes, "I gave the opening keynote address at Wiki Conference USA last weekend, and told Wikipedians what needs to change to make the site friendlier and more hospitable. I mixed in wisdom from John Scalzi, XKCD, Hacker School, and the Ada Initiative. The transcript and a thirty-minute audio recording (Ogg) are now up."

So how does that work? How do you make people feel more okay about working in public, which includes sometimes failing or showing ignorance? Well, a No Asshole zone really helps.


So remember when I talked about the selection process? Part of the interview and admissions was a pair programming interview where you tried to solve a small programming problem over the internet, and the main point was not "How good are you as a programmer?" It’s "How well do you deal with frustration, and do you turn into a jerk when you're trying to solve a problem with someone else or teach someone something?" ‘Cause it’s kind of hard to really keep the jerkitude inside, I think, when you’re, like, a little bit frustrated and you’re trying to work with somebody for that. And those people got rejected. It was amazing what a pleasure it was to be in a room with 58 other people, all of whom had specifically been chosen for their ability to collaborate with others.

Also, to keep us from accidentally discouraging other people from doing the things they need to do to learn, at Hacker School there are four social rules. These are social rules to help everyone feel okay with failure and ignorance. No feigned surprise. No well-actuallys. No back-seat driving. And no sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on. Now, the user manual, which is available online, does a great job explaining all these, and I’m going to talk about the first two, because they’re most important for our context.

Feigning surprise. When someone says “I don’t know what X is”, you don’t say “You don’t know what X is?!” or “I can’t believe you don’t know what X is!” Because that’s just a dominance display. That’s grandstanding. That makes the other person feel a little bit bad and makes them less likely to show you vulnerability in the future. It makes them more likely to go off and surround themselves in a protective shell of seeming knowledge before ever contacting you again.

Well-actuallys. That’s the pedantic corrections that don’t make a difference to the conversation that’s happening. Sometimes it’s better to err on the side of clarity rather than precision. Well-actuallys are breaking that. You sometimes see, when people actually start trying to take this rule in, that in a conversation, if they have a correction, they struggle and think about it. Is it worth making? Is this actually important enough to break the flow of what other people are learning and getting out of this conversation. Kind of like I think we in Wikimedia world will say "This might be bikeshedding but -". It’s a way of seeing that this rule actually has soaked in.

Sumana Harihareswara keynote

Notable Replies

  1. I was registered to attend the WikiConference USA in Tribeca, but just 18 hours before the conference began, I received an e-mail from an attorney associated with the Wikimedia movement, telling me that not permitted to attend this conference that was advertised as "open to all" and even welcomed the "skeptical". Many Wikipedians have been asking the conference organizers to provide details on why my registration (which had been made about 4 months in advance) had been revoked, but thus far none have been willing to reply. The new executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation (Lila Tretikov) has a live-in partner named Wil Sinclair. Sinclair has started a petition that he's asking Wikipedians to sign, regarding this strange attendance policy. Thus far, 23 people have added their endorsement.

  2. Nice car, fellas. You chaps always ride around in that thing together?

    some google digging later

    Oh wow. Turns out Dear Mr. Kohs is a Director at Comcast.

    In the spirit of #ResetTheNet (h/t @doctorow), in light of the concerns about netflix/comcast (h/t @xeni) and verizon/netflix (h/t @beschizza) and net neutrality in general (again, cory)...

    ...I would submit that Mr. Kohs' open display of his personal animus toward a non-profit website is a sufficient display of conflict of interest to be newsworthy. He can't be trusted to not throttle wikipedia.

    Here's a cap to prevent the memory holing.

    after some final twitter digging

    PS- Stay classy, Greg!

  3. Who are you going to believe Greggy Kohs or the lying internet!?

  4. Oh lawd....

  5. The basic rules of hacker school are brilliant.

    • no faking surprise
    • no well-actually minutua to undermine someone who's on a roll
    • no backseat driving

    These are contemporary distillations of the elemental building blocks of non-cooperative behavior. They are catchy, sticky, and well-defined which makes them very easy to teach other people. "Dan did you just feign surprise?" and "sorry, I just did a well-actually" very quickly become part of one's lexicon. I've taught them to 2 bosses now, and didn't even have to point them at the website for them to get it.

    (yes, the rules also include no sexism/racism etc, but stating so isn't particularly unique. From what I read though, the way that hacker school acts to enact equality is determined and commendable. (for example, the selection process noted in the keynote)).

    Funny thing to me, is they are a Y-combinator gig. I sure wish their sense of social justice and ethics would rub off on the leadership of their sibling companies - looking at you reddit, airbnb, and dropbox.

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