Monday, August 29, 2011

Musings of a GCPEDIAC: What makes a great sysop

It's been a great year for GCPEDIA so far. I only wish I had more time to engage with it personally.  As you can see from the lapse between this post and my previous writings about my favourite wiki (or indeed, any blogging at all), I've been busy.

But the wiki has chugged along just fine without me. More users every month and increasingly more complex documents are making the Recent Changes log fly by faster than ever... so much so that I felt compelled to add a bit of code to the wiki to highlight the sysop names in the activity log, just to make sure that there were enough staff online to help the users. (For the record: no problems there.).

One of my very favourite collaborators, Jesse Good, returned to the fold back in January after finishing school, and promptly turned the wiki on its side with his simultaneous injections of content, culture, and fun.  Meanwhile, another of my long-time favourite users, Catharine Au, was finally goaded into accepting a position as a sysop after humbly refusing it before, much to my disappointment.

Come to think of it, Jesse (who is now pursuing another degree!) also initially refused adminship, but was eventually persuaded to wear the hip-waders and galoshes that sysops don from time to time to do the necessary but non-too-glorious maintenance chores...

I think his reluctance (and Catharine's) is significant, as is the type of wikicitizens they are even without sysop powers.

Funny but true: what I've observed as a wiki sysop since 2005 and as a BBS sysop in the 15 years before that is that hardworking users who are the least interested in administrative powers are—almost without exception—the best administrators in practice. My favourite "sysops" have always been users like Jesse and Catharine: ones that involved themselves with every aspect of the site, from the technical tinkering to the community engagement aspects. There's an awful lot of work that you can do on a wiki without having sysop powers.  Whenever I see someone that's realized that and put it into daily practice, I know I've seen another candidate for sysop.

On a wiki the size of GCPEDIA, there's a lot of room for different personality types across roles—including sysops that do nothing but work on the content management—but I think there's a natural leadership role that is a vital part of wiki administration.

If you have the keys to the system, people are bound to gravitate to you for help. Having a genuine interest in people and a sincere desire to help them with what they need, at whatever level they are, makes it so much easier. Some technical types really work best with the software and hardware only. Honestly, I appreciate and understand this. As a degreed social worker and life-long geek, one of the things I love most about technology it that it presents problems that are logical, non-emotional, and solvable (even if the solution is a complete replacement of hardware or software). User administration couldn't be more different.

But GCPEDIA is currently thriving with a small but powerful core of people-focused-sysops, and because of that the software and its users stand to benefit so much.