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.