Wednesday, May 5, 2010

GCPEDIA Peer Helpers - "Official" Rollout

[ Listen to the netcast version ]

Back in September of last year, sometime after I was already entirely swept up by obsessive compulsive wikignoming—grafting and pruning the site in a way I hoped would make it prosper—it occurred to me that a similar role should exist to help users grow and prosper.  I created the Peer helper category on GCPEDIA, made a shiny new badge for myself and pinned it to my homepage, then did almost nothing to promote it, short of maintaining a high-visibility presence in the recent changes log, and jumping in to help whenever I saw someone in need.

I have this tendency to do a lot behind the scenes, but say little about it.  This probably explains why I was made an administrator on GCPEDIA, but also why no one from Communications has called to ask if I'd be willing to leave my job as a policy analyst and come work for them.

If you need another example, a colleague of mine recently expressed surprise that accounts for @GCPEDIA and @GCconnex exist on Twitter.  I wasn't surprised.  I started them, and still manage them.  Other than a couple of (arguably self-serving) #FollowFriday announcements, I haven't done a lot to promote these either.

In my own defence I can only say that the accounts are highly unofficial.  I took the initiative to reserve them because I felt they would (and should) eventually have future official use by the Government of Canada. For now, I use them to transmit information on service outages and new content, although they were also allegedly responsible for rickrolling nearly 60 of you this April Fool's Day.  Unofficially.  But I digress...

Recently, I attended a meeting where it was announced that, at present, about 100 new users create accounts on GCPEDIA each day.  I'm pleased with this growth, but also greatly concerned about retention.  Ultimately, active usership is more significant and meaningful than total users and volume of new signups.  Who's caring for these people?  Technical support is critical, and as far as I know, the project has experienced a recent staffing shortage.  How many users will GCPEDIA lose in short order if recent signups can't find dependable, accessible, timely assistance with their problems?  What percentage of our collective intellectual assets are failing to be captured by the wiki because fear or lack of knowledge about editing content outweighs the desire to share?

I've been a wiki administrator since 2005, and a user for far longer, but I think many of us assume a comfort and ease of use of wikis, and a common knowledge of wikimarkup that doesn't exist.

Not long ago I provided group instruction for about 40 people.  It was productive, but I had difficulty meeting the combined needs of the participants at both the speed and the technical level that they individually demanded.  Some were ready to dive into complex design and formatting, while the majority were extremely anxious about attempting even basic text entry.  The more experienced group was bothered by the interruptions to discuss fundamentals, while the less experienced users became overwhelmed by complex discussions.

This was the Government of Canada in microcosm—a shared desire to contribute professional knowledge, but a greatly variable level of technical knowledge.

This doesn't need to exist as a barrier, nor do staffing and funding levels need to remain a critical determinant of our ability to retain users and capture their ideas.

Today, I'm pleased to announce that Jesse Good, Suesan Danesh, Amy Thorne, and Paula Ibbotson have joined me to assist users who need individualized support to help them achieve their personal or group goals on GCPEDIA.  I will continue to remain available as well, to the greatest degree that I am able, to provide training and support to groups or individuals in person, by phone, and over the wiki.

I'll conclude with an excerpt from my blog on GCconnex, posted last September.  It's written in the first person, but consider it an invitation to contact any one of us:
If you’d like to get your knowledge up on GCPEDIA but are unsure about the markup and layout, please contact me. If you've got a good start going, but things are becoming tangled and complex, or you need to add something new, just write or call.

I’m more than happy to help you to whatever degree you'd like, from a bit of coaching to taking a lead in structure, design and coding.   I can teach you the markup, show you by example by formatting and arranging the data as you need it, or even edit it with you live and in tandem during a phone call.

Don't feel like you need to be an expert to get started on GCPEDIA.   This is, above all else, a collaborative tool.  Those with content but no software knowledge can help and be helped by users with the technical knowledge but no new content to share.

So... let's get started helping each other.