ONLY YOU Can Prevent Edit Wars

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Recently, I resolved an edit war on GCPEDIA.  Well, that's a bit of an overstatement I suppose.  I intervened in a situation where a couple of users were beginning to revert each others' edits and exchange words via the edit history comments.  I smelled smoke, then stomped out the sparks before any serious fire could begin.

It would be nice to imagine that as public servants we are less prone to misunderstandings caused by lapses in judgment, errant processes and failure to communicate.  It's just not true.  A university education and a professional work environment can't change the fact that we're still fundamentally flawed, emotional, irrational human beings.  In fact, we might be even a bit more at risk for inadvertent involvement in skirmishes like this.

A degreed professional already has a significant volume of writing under their belt.  You have faith in your own abilities and place a high value on the quality of your work.  When you make a revision on GCPEDIA, it's well reasoned and well intentioned.  So why on earth is that moron fiddling with your stuff?  :)

As an administrator on GCPEDIA, I am the guy who fiddles with a lot of peoples' stuff.  Call me a moron if it makes you feel better, I've certainly been called worse.

One of the jobs I undertook that created a lot of rumblings among GCPEDIANS was to replace nicknames, handles and other abbreviations with the policy-decreed firstname.lastname format.  Boy did I get some interesting email.  I've saved them all, but they've been shared with no-one and never will be.  They're just a reminder that despite being who we are—professional employees treading water in a tumultuous wake of constantly shifting policies, programs, priorities, and acronyms—we really dislike forcible change when it impacts something closely attached to ourselves.

Our birth names are given to us (forcibly, if we want to think of it that way) but nicknames and handles are a personal choice.  They also allow us anonymity, which a lot of wiki users would like.  Wiki policy aside, I don't think anonymity is congruent with the transparency we're aspiring to in government, or even the reality of the workplace as it presently exists.  I don't know about you, but I haven't attended any meetings or conferences lately as "The Overlord" (a nickname I used on computer Bulletin Board Systems in 1990-91).  And honestly, 19 years later I don't look nearly as cool as I once did, so I doubt even I could resist the urge to snicker at that moniker.  But I digress...

Our feelings of professional competence, perceived social value, and sense of self can become deeply intertwined with our editing.  Adding anonymity to the mix makes it even more complicated.   A sense of ownership of our creations combined with a shell to hide inside makes for a dangerous vehicle to travel in.  We can safely drive around, running over toes as we go, while remaining reasonably well protected from flak from others.  But we also make an inviting target.  Not a co-worker, not a person, just a personae.

I haven't swept the user records in awhile; I know there are more of you out there, and I'll have to change your names eventually... :)

But in the meantime, name or nick, I want to see more on GCPEDIA: more openness, more communication, more co-operation, more accessibility.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Create your GCPEDIA user page, if you haven't already done so.  Include all of your business card contact information, a picture, and some interesting personal tidbits about you.  Make it an introduction, and an invitation to connect. If people want to contact you, phone numbers, email addresses, and talk page links allow them to do so using the method of their choice.
  • When you edit, take a look at the article's History tab and notice who the major contributors are to the document. "Major" it isn't  the number of times a name appears in the list either, it's the volume of text they've added or changed.  Compare Selected Versions of the article to see what and how much others are contributing.
  • Use the Edit Summary box to explain what you're doing, especially if the changes you make are significant or severe.
  • In addition, consider leaving a Talk Page message for major contributors, introducing yourself and making a quick remark about your work.  ("Hi there!  I made some changes to the section on...")
  • Phone, email, or leave Talk Page messages to others who have made questionable or EXCELLENT changes to your "pet" documents.
That last point is key.  Don't wait for someone to do something wrong to contact them; a criticism should never be the context of your first introduction to another person. Recognize and praise effort from others.  An unexpected compliment from a stranger is like a pat on the back from a DG.  You have the power to make someone's day, make them more engaged with collaboration, or even make a friend.  Use it.  Do it.

5 comments:

  1. Todd, this post is awesome. I've been wondering about edit wars - I haven't seen or been a part of any myself but I've anticipated this happening eventually. I really like the way you've captured the element of professionalism and interpersonal respect as being key to prevent and resolve conflicts like this.

    We are all learning how using GCPEDIA means relinquishing some control. It isn't easy in a PS-context to get over that perceived barrier. But if you use GCPEDIA then you don't have a choice - just read the caption under the edit window "Please note that all contributions to GCPEDIA may be edited, altered, or removed by other contributors. If you do not want your writing to be edited mercilessly, then do not submit it here."

    However, this can also be liberating. By giving up your work freely to other public servants you are implicitly saying, "I trust you. I trust that you're well-intentioned, I trust that you're capable, and I trust that we can work together for a fruitful resolution."

    If you get trapped in an edit war, Todd is an excellent mediator to help resolve your issue. I also believe that he can temporarily lock a page down to let emotions cool off, as can other GCPEDIA admins.

    Since GCPEDIA is so new, many of the community developed and enforced policies that make other wikis (like Wikipedia) successful do not exist yet. Although this may be a void today, I encourage GCPEDIANs to start the conversation (in GCPEDIA) about which policies should exist, and what the should look like that will govern how to mediate, monitor, be GC-policy compliant, etc. THESE ARE NOT TOP-DOWN POLICIES, these are community developed policies.

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  2. Once more of us are jumping into the GCpedia pool, I'll be glad to have entries like this to link to. Thanks for the concise, straightforward tips we will all need shifting culture.

    Your last paragraph, about recognition, is fantastic.

    Anthony

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  3. Jesse: I don't suggest a page be locked down during an edit war. Lock down should only be used when there is vandalism, not because there is dissenting opinion.

    I don't see from Todd's post why this should be taken to contacting the person directly or via their own talk page; I think this needs to be kept and captured on the page's discussion page; that's what it's for.

    Edit wars happen quite often on Wikipedia, and I think we can find the answer there to solving it, and diverging from that for a made-on-GCPEDIA solution.

    The answer, as I see it for edit wars comes down to review from impartial editors to review the points made. Make a first attempt to capture both views fairly on the page. If it extends beyond this, maybe the answer is in having 2 separate pages that are each more specific on the points made. Of course each is a case-by-case basis, but for that we need more admins (being granted the admin permission with greater transparency or review).

    Anyway, my 2 cents.

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  4. Todd,

    I am out of the office on my BB so I couldn't GEDS you. I am hoping to run a group blog pilot for my workplace via wordpress, and was wondering if you are aware of a clf wordpress group blog template? I know there is a straight up blog template but I haven't found any group blog templates that would be appropriate to use. Yet.

    Kim burnett

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  5. Todd- Good post. I like your suggestions for dealing with edit wars. I'm looking forward to the day that too much editing is actually an issue. I'm still sending emails to people to encourage them to edit my work, not the other way around! ;) Those who have taken the time to do so, or have challenged me, have only made the work better.

    I also have the answer to Kim's question, so I suppose I will look her up and flip her a link or two, if you haven't already.

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