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Another prominent online volunteer I wanted to connect with was @Christopher, the Twitter French Localization Moderator. He lives in Lebanon and does translation for Twitter (@translator), from English to French. He told me more about how he started his online volunteer work via email.

"It was a mere coincidence, which I believe occurred when one of the official Twitter accounts retweeted @Translator," he wrote. "I just signed up and started translating. I was happy to be able to give back to a platform that has given me so much, and I loved the idea that people would be using twitter clients that I had a part, no matter how small, in localizing."

Christopher explained that the Twitter Translation process is a combination of crowd-sourcing and curation, which is a similarity to how Wikipedia articles are constructed. He recommended one video and one articlefor a "very concise and highly informative crash course on Twitter Translation," he said, adding: "As you can see the translation process is very easy," he wrote. "And it's one of the reasons it works as seamlessly as it does."

As hard as I tried to search, I was not able to point to just one article and just one video to give such a concise and informative crash course for Wikipedia. A new volunteer, in my opinion, would have to read several Wikipedia "how-to" articles and watch several videos in order to get the complete picture. The "there are no rules" motto on Wikipedia, which aims to remove any barriers to entry for new volunteers, is actually a barrier in itself, because it has prevented the creation of concise, easy to find instructions.

In fact, this lack of proper, easy to find information was a deterrent for Christopher himself. While the simplicity of Twitter Translation pulled him in as a volunteer, the complexity of Wikipedia kept him away. With Wikipedia, he could not find clear editing guidelines, and therefore his attempts to edit where in "vain". Though be blamed himself for not putting too much effort into it, they key point here is that it should not take too much effort. In his experience translating twitter, "all the guidelines are succinctly gathered on a single page." In terms of Wikipedia editing, Christopher added that having a "manual of sorts, be it a webpage or a .pdf document is very important," based on his own experiences. "So to recapitulate, ease of use and ease of communication are key."

Recommendation #3: There needs to be one, succinct page of instructions for new users - in every language - that is easy to find, simple enough to follow and gives enough information without being too complex. The burden should not be on the user. While highly motivated online volunteers may not be deterred in the absence of clear a manual, they are the minority in the possible pool of volunteers.

Currently, the only direct link to an instructions page on Wikipedia is the "About Wikipedia" page. However, it is not a manual on how to edit and/or create content. It simply has links to other pages who have more information related to contributing. In order to properly and fully understand how to approach editing, the reader must click on, without exaggeration, over 100 links to other pages (This is based solely on my own experience and clicking). The summary pages do not have enough information. The dependence on crowd-sourcing to create policies and guidelines, while democratic, has led to too much information. There are 44 "FAQ" pages, 195 "guidelines" pages and 57 "policy" pages.

There needs to be one central document in each language that informs, step by step, how to edit and create content, with a detailed enough (but concise) description of the guidelines and policies. This document must be highlighted prominently on the main page of each language site, and somewhere on each Wikipedia article as well (being that Internet searches, leading to specific articles, is generally primarily what draws in new users).






This research was done by Michelle Chahine, a second-year SIPA student in the Masters in International Affairs program, specializing in International Media, Advocacy and Communication. Email her at mc3387@columbia.edu.

This is a page under Tapping into Existing Volunteer Networks a sub-topic of Wikimedia in the Arab World.
See also: