A case study documenting the unlucky experience of a newbie,
with suggestions to make MediaWiki's user interface a little bit "wikier".

Here is what happened to me out of the blue, while I was passionately trying to give my contribution to Talk:Exterior algebra. This is a case study documenting the unlucky experience of a newcomer dealing for the first time with Wikipedia user interface, editing policies, and unfriendly administrators. I hope it will be useful for Wikipedia "Personnel" (WPP; e.g. Stewards, Boureaucrats, Administrators) and MediaWiki Developers (MWD).

Based on the experience summarized below, I suggested a series of improvements in MediaWiki user interface, essentially aimed at teaching critical issues to inexperienced users and preventing or immediately and effectively correcting their unintentional misbehaviour. If you don't want to read the details, throughout the text you will find a few short notes marked as "Note for WPP and MWD" or "Suggestion for WPP and MWD".

I was accused of intentional misbehaviour. Please feel free to think I was guilty. Paradoxically, my suggestions would be valid even if I were in bad faith, because they assume other newcomers will be in good faith. This open letter is not meant to be a public self-defence. It is an amazing story narrated from two different standpoints, a controversial contribution which the reader is invited to use as food for thought and interpret as he prefers.

A short summaryEdit

Error-prone humansEdit

This is just a list of reasonable but incredible acts of two normally error-prone humans, deceived by a wonderful but perfectible system (MediaWiki):

  • I was an inexperienced user and, by ignorantia legis (ignorance of the law), I infringed twice Wikipedia editing policy.
  • Matthews, a Wikipedia administrator, immediately warned me.
  • But he did not realize that I was not able to read his warning, and this caused his understandable reaction (a 24 hour block of my IP) and my legitimate expectation that, after my clarifications, the block would be removed;
  • in turn, this expectation caused my unintentional block evasion, made possible by a bug in MediaWiki...

I was accused of intentional misbehaviour. Please feel free to think I was guilty. This open letter is not meant to be a public self-defence. It is a story narrated from two different standpoints, and a final judgement is not even necessary.

The message (inspired by the Hawaiian word "wiki")Edit

  • Several weaknesses of MediaWiki user interface were highlighted below, and suggestions were given to prevent or "wikily" (quickly and friendly) correct unintentional misbehaviour by inexperienced users (e.g. a method to make sure they read important messages from administrators; fixing the bug permitting unintentional block evasion; examples of "monkey proof" context-specific help on critical issues, etc.).
  • Please improve MediaWiki's user interface, make it "wikier" (in both the Hawaiian and English senses) where it is still weak, and fix the above-mentioned bug .

See the paragraphs labeled "Note for WPP and MWD", or "Suggestion for WPP and MWD", throughout the text. Paolo.dL 15:38, 15 May 2007 (UTC)

Once upon some time ago...Edit

I have blocked you for 48 hours. Evading the block imposed on the IP is not intelligent. Wikipedia policy takes a negative attitude to those who simply argue at great length. This account counts as a Single Purpose Account (Wikipedia:Single purpose account). You can contact me by email from User:Charles Matthews but you should respect the idea that you are being asked to edit within Wikipedia policy. Charles Matthews 15:38, 11 May 2007 (UTC)

I know I'm not involved, but can't we just assume good faith? The guy's a newbie for Pete's sake. He was just trying to help, and he is a constructive editor. Give him a chance. He wasn't doing any real harm. Cool Bluetalk to me 16:59, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

Thanks a lot Cool Blue. You are welcome: this page is public, and we need the opinion of somebody who is not involved emotionally. Paolo.dL 09:00, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

The block was due to a perfectible user interface and a bugEdit

I understand Matthews's reaction, but it was caused by a sequence of misunderstandings, due to a perfectible user interface and a bug in MediaWiki.

  • 1) 08:27, 10 May 2007 Matthews asked the participants in the discussion Talk:Exterior algebra not to "personalise their remarks" (most likely referring to my previous comment "Clarification 3").
  • 2) I immediately removed some lines in which I maintained that another user showed "dogmatic mentality". I agreed with Matthews it was improper (and I didn't even know he was an administrator).
  • 3) Then I removed Matthews's request (not knowing that this is forbidden in Wikipedia: this was my first talk), because I was convinced it was not needed anymore. I now agree I shouldn't have done that.
  • 4) As far as I can understand now, Matthews warned me with a message, but either:
a. I didn't see the red "you have a message" warning (it was at the top of the page and I was passionately editing the end; moreover, I didn't even know it was possible to receive messages from Wikipedia users), or
b. it didn't appear (I didn't have an account yet, and my signature shows I used two different PCs:, and
  • 5) Matthews also inserted his request back in Talk:Exterior algebra.
  • 6) I interpreted that as a request to remove some other statements in my comment "Clarification 3", in which I complained about the fact that a user kept referring to earlier comments of mine ignoring that I had already agreed to change my mind about the topic discussed there.
  • 7) I immediately removed my complaints and even did my best to edit all of my previous comments to make them totally impersonal, as requested by Matthews.
  • 7b) I immodestly assumed that I managed to perfectly impersonalize my text according to his request.
  • 8) Then I removed again his request, being convinced - in absolute good faith - that other readers wouldn't be able to understand it anymore. Anyway, I now agree I shouldn't have done that.
  • 9) But Matthews blocked my IP address from editing for 12 hours.
  • 10a) I answered explaining the misunderstanding,
  • 10b) I apologized,
  • 10c) I explicitly accepted to comply in the future with Wikipedia's editing policy.
  • 11) Matthews's block notification started with an explanation about "properly signing". I wanted to follow that indication, and also to be able to write e-mail to Matthews.
  • 11b) Thus, I opened a Wikipedia account (this one: Paolo.dL).
  • 12) Later I entered again into Wikipedia, trying to find Matthews's answer. I wanted to check if Matthews had accepted my explanations and removed the block. From my standpoint (10a-c), I legitimately expected that.
  • 13) But it had become impossible for me (an inexperienced user) to find the page containing Matthews's block notification (it had been neither copied nor linked to my new talk page). That's a weakness in MediaWiki user interface. You cannot blame me for that.
  • 13b) I also opened Talk:Exterior algebra, looking for a link to Matthews's notification, but the warning on pink background saying "your IP address has been blocked from editing" didn't appear anymore.
  • 13c) As I later discovered, my IP was still blocked, but my new account was not, although I had created my account using the same IP address! MediaWiki might at least extend an IP block to (a) new accounts (b) created using that IP and even (c) logged in with the same IP, but unfortunately it doesn't! That's a bug in MediaWiki. You cannot blame me for that.
  • 14) Thus, I thought Matthews had kindly accepted my explanations and removed the block, as expected..
  • 14b) Then I tested the block by trying to edit the talk, and I was allowed. That's due to the above mentioned bug in MediaWiki. From my standpoint, this bug confirmed the hypothesis that my IP had been unblocked. You cannot blame me for that.
  • 15) The first thing I did was to insert a proper signature - just as requested by Matthews - under all my previous comments of the same day (the only ones for which I could remember the approximate editing time). Then I added my last contribution.
  • 16) Matthews was mad at me, and blocked my new account for 48 hours. I was appalled. Only now I can understand his reaction: he assumed my bad faith and interpreted my action as an intentional block evasion.

Paolo.dL 16:00, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

Showing good faithEdit

I believe that my good faith and my respect for other users (including Matthews) was shown in several occasions:

a) See point 2.
b) See point 7.
c) See point 15.
d) See the level of my contributions to the above-mentioned discussion (also withnessed here by User:Cool Blue and here by User:Silly rabbit, the main contributor to the same discussion).
e) See this comment of mine in the above-mentioned discussion (inserted 2 days before Matthews's first request; see point 1 above):
1) I have read again the Neutral point of view article, and I now agree with Silly Rabbit that my preposition expresses preference and therefore a non-neutral point of view. Thus, it violates Wikipedia's policy.
f) I didn't delete the first part of Matthews's request: "sign properly", because I had not been able to meet it for all my previous messages (see point 15 above). I deleted only the part that I thought I had totally met: "do not personalize your remarks" (point added on 15 May 2007 UTC).

I believe I deserved a severe warning (the first one by Matthews, which I could not read in time) but no block. I am asking now to be unblocked. Paolo.dL 16:00, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

Ignored explanationsEdit

This blocked user's unblock request has been reviewed by an administrator, who declined the request. Other administrators may also review this block, but should not override the decision without good reason (see the blocking policy). Do not remove this unblock review while you are blocked.

Paolo.dL (block logactive blocksglobal blockscontribsdeleted contribsfilter logcreation logchange block settingsunblockcheckuser (log))

Request reason:

see below

Decline reason:

You were blocked as (talk · contribs) for modifying people's talk pages comments despite warnings. You may not have known that was bad but you are considered responsible for heeding warnings. You then create an account for block evasion, which you may not have known was prohibited, but at the very least you should have known was against the spirit of the block. Your block will expire in about 20 hours. Consider this a learning experience: Don't modify talk page comments, and don't make new accounts to evade a block. —dgiestc 22:59, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

A) "Blocked ... for modifying people's comments despite warnings". Despite warnings? No, there was only one warning, and I didn't receive it (see point 4 above). The second message (which I received) was not a warning, but already a block notification, otherwise I would have just respected Matthews's warning, and avoided the block. MediaWiki's method for dropping warnings is not effective. By the way, I have an idea :-). Being an administrator, you may be able to access log files. Please check, and you will know for sure that I didn't see Matthews's first warning in time.

B) "You then create an account for block evasion". For block evasion? No, it was to comply with the very first request by the administrator who blocked me! (see point 11). And I had good reasons to legitimately assume that the block had been removed by him, after he received my explanations (see points 12-14). MediaWiki allows a user to evade an IP block, even though he keeps the same IP! That's nonsense. It's just a bug. How can you assume I did know how to evade? Please just fix the bug, rather than accusing a user for being deceived by it. (see point 14b) Paolo.dL 09:23, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

Well, this is a guy who misunderstands things comprehensively, or takes the wrong actions. Paolo needs to slow down a bit. If asked to sign on a Talk page, and not to attack other people for 'not reading' your postings, you need to sign, and perhaps drop a note of apology. Not to re-edit the page as in Orwell's Ministry of Truth. The exterior algebra page will still be there in a day's time. By the way, the discussion with User:Silly rabbit shows great restraint on SR's part. Charles Matthews 20:45, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

Charles Matthews accused me to "Re-edit the page as in Orwell's Ministry of Truth." This is an unfair personal attack. The truth is this:

  • I deleted twice Matthews's posted request, but for an honest reason, and after editing my postings according to that request; would the Ministry of Truth behave like that?
  • I did not intentionally evade a block. Opening an account is not a sin (it's the contrary: I did it for complying with Matthews's request to sign properly, and the fact that Wikipedia allowed me to edit after I opened an account, even though I did not change my IP, is an easily corrigible bug in MediaWiki. An inexperienced Wikipedia user can legitimately interpret this bug as a legitimately expected block removal (see point 14b above).
  • I did many other things right (see notes a, b, c, d, e above).

If Matthews will examine this with attention, he will see that I did not deserve a block, but a severe warning, as the one that he dropped the first time, and I didn't receive (see point 4 above). Dear Matthews, I know you were upset and it is difficult to remove negative emotions after they are born, but can you deny I just did what you asked, and I did it well? (see notes a, b, c, d, e above). Paolo.dL 08:46, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

Some limitations of MediaWiki user interfaceEdit

Note for WPP and MWD. Of course, I might have just "dropped a note" to Matthews, to warn him that I had deleted my "personal attack". And even before, I might have dropped a personal (rather than public) note to Silly Rabbit to ask him to read my comments before answering them. But I didn't know it was possible to "drop notes"! I didn't even know about the existance of "User talk" pages! No way for me to know.

Note for WPP and MWD. When I clicked on User:Silly rabbit's signature I was redirected to a page where (please check):

  • there was appearently no possibility for me to contact him in private, e.g. by e-mail (consider that I didn't have an account and didn't have a cue about its utility);
  • no message appeared saying that I could possibly send him an e-mail if I just opened an account.

Suggestion for WPP and MWD. Thus, I suggest not to hide the "E-mail this user" link in the toolbox to not-logged-in users. Just make it visible but redirect it to a page or dialog box explaining that "you must sign in to be able to send e-mail to another user!"

Paolo.dL 08:46, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

Being fair and learning the lesson (as seen from both sides)Edit

Look, I really hope you get it. Accusing me of being involved emotionally is really pointless. I have three years of admin experience, about a year and a half as an Arbitrator too. I have seen numerous people get off on the wrong foot on Wikipedia, as I would see it. Many of them quickly see that WP has policies, rules, community norms. My block was not punitive, but what I thought was right for you. The Orwell comment is precise about what you did wrong, and not a personal attack: it is an accurate and concise explanation about why that policy matters. When your block expires, I hope you will have a better time editing here. Charles Matthews 11:58, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

Judge and persecutor. The Orwell comment is "precise and accurate"? The very fact that you keep saying it shows that you are not being objective. This is nothing else than an offense, when compared with what I actually did: everybody can still see that I just scrupolously followed your request (see point 1 above), and can compare this with the behaviour of a "Ministry of Truth". I "wasn't doing any real harm", as withnessed here by User:Cool Blue. You keep totally ignoring my explanations, and you even want to convince me that you are a fair judge! In no court the judge could be at the same time the prosecutor, as you are! You cannot prove your accusations, you keep delivering judgments (the Orwell comment) that distort the truth, and you assume bad faith (see User:Cool Blue's comment here).
A fair judgement. A fair judgement is based on assuming innocence and proving guilt. You can't prove that I saw your first warning. You actually might even be able to prove the contrary (see point A above)... But you acted and keep acting based on the assumption that I read your first warning. You didn't even try to prove your accusations. On the contrary, I was forced to prove my good faith. That's not fair, and I feel offended because of your behaviour. However, in one judgement you were right: I was not intelligent. I assumed you had assumed good faith and removed my block, after receiving my explanations (see point B above). In short, I assumed you were fair. And that's the reason why I think I was punished. That's what I learned, my dear teacher: not to assume your fairness.
Politeness. I also noticed you inserted your answer to my explanation (20:45, 12 May 2007) right above my explanation (16:00, 12 May 2007). Yet another example of proper and polite behaviour (by the way, I have just restored the correct cronological order). You can still be fair: you can admit you were not fair.
Paolo.dL 09:09, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Initially fairEdit

Matthews, I learned about some rules by reading your comment on Talk:Exterior algebra and your first warning. So, initially you were a good teacher (that's why I assumed your behaviour is now influenced by emotions which distort your perception).

Notice that I would have behaved exactly as you initially did, if I had been an Arbitrator. I would have blocked the criminal for 12 hours. But then, I would have read his explanations and would have removed the first block, understanding that by no means I could prove he read my first warning (see point 4), and recognising that he had just complied to his best with my request. Then everything else would not even have happened... assuming good faith is a Wikipedia policy, isn't it? That's what you failed to teach me. Paolo.dL 08:39, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Nonsense (as perceived from both sides)Edit

Look, the only useful advice I can give you is this: "when in a hole, stop digging." It is not unusual for people to make mistakes on Wikipedia. Mostly people in that position type and protest less. You constantly jump to incorrect conclusions. There is no convention about ordering threaded discussions, so why assume there is, and make a further issue? I sent you an email saying that you were now free to edit, and we could forget about all this. Charles Matthews 09:34, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

(c1) Where did I assume there was a "convention"? What about politeness or fairness, both implying respect for my explanations? Yes, I do expect arbitrators to be polite and fair, but don't worry, this is not a written rule.
(c2) Do you mean you accepted my explanations and removed the block?
(c3) I would like you not to forget; instead, I would like you to ask MediaWiki developers to remove the above mentioned bug and to find a way to make sure that users read important warnings by administrators.
(c4) "Stop digging"? I am defending myself against someone who is at the same time the offended part and the judge. Do you call this digging? I "keep digging" to make this a case which can be properly considered by you and other administrators. One of my main purposes is to avoid that this can happen again to other users.
Paolo.dL 10:07, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Oh, really, just read the timestamp of my first notice here. It says "48 hours", so the block had ended by 15:38, 13 May 2007 (UTC). Charles Matthews 10:26, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

So the block just expired by itself. I suspected that! Thanks for answering my only rethorical question (c2), the only one which didn't require an answer. Paolo.dL 15:30, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Other detailsEdit

You know, you quote very inaccurately. Where you say at 1) that:

Matthews asked the participants in Talk:Exterior algebra not to "personalize their remarks"

I actually asked:

Can you (a) sign properly, and (b) not personalise your remarks in that way?

which was certainly addressed to you. As a point of English Can you ...not? just means in the future.

But Matthews blocked my IP address from editing for 12 hours

You should read more carefully, it was 24 hours. Charles Matthews 18:21, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

(d1) Yes, you also asked me to "sign properly". But that's a definitely irrelevant detail in this context because:
  • I didn't delete that part of your comment (see point f above).
  • Until you blocked my IP, I didn't receive the instructions about signing (on User talk:
  • Notwithstanding my ignorance, I tried to comply with your request by manually adding my IP address to all of my signatures.
  • After receiving the instructions, I immediately started signing correctly.
(d2) About the duration of the block (another trifling detail), you are almost right:
  • Yes, you first blocked my IP for 24 hours (see User talk:
  • But no, I didn't read the wrong number (12 hours), I just remembered it incorrectly. As I already explained (point 13), I absolutely had no cue about how to read again page User talk: I didn't even know, on the 11th of May, that the messages were stored forever in a "User talk page"! And this is a non-trifling detail (see my suggestions below).
Paolo.dL 18:50, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

The point about the IP numbers is correct: if you edit, not logged in, from, and, how is it a 'bug' if Wikipedia cannot tell that each of these is Paolo? It is not a bug if MediaWiki treats an account as an account, considering that ISPs often give shared IP numbers to different people. These comments are not reasonable. We recommend that people create an account. Charles Matthews 18:21, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

(d3) The main problem is that you assume (and you can't prove) that people reads warnings possibly delivered to a different IP, and based on that assumption you punish them!
(d4) About your question "how is it a 'bug'...?", see my suggestions below.
(d5) You "recommend that people create an account", but I didn't receive that recommendation. Similarly, your first warning would have been very useful to me, but I couldn't read it. Messages are useless when they are not properly transmitted. (see my suggestions below).
Paolo.dL 18:50, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Since User talk: has carried a message since May 7 about signing, and it arrived as you were on the site editing (as Talk:Exterior algebra's history shows), you'll have to forgive me for scepticism about your not knowing about that. Our software doesn't have psychic powers, and WP admins can make reasonable assumptions. Editing and not logging in makes you a second-class citizen. Charles Matthews 18:54, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Questionable assumptions. I didn't even dream that a "user talk" page existed for my IP. Your assumptions were reasonable initially, but now you should not regard them as such anymore, after considering my explanations (which I doubt you did):
  • As far as fairness is concerned, your assumptions were shown not to be reasonable enough to deny the requested block removal.
  • As far as politeness is concerned, even if they had been reasonable enough to confirm the block, they wouldn't excuse you for offending, instead of better informing, all of the inexperienced users who never before participated in a talk and neither have an account, nor have a cue about the utility of having one.
Paolo.dL 19:06, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

The investigations started (but stopped too soon)Edit

And that's curious: you investigated only about the automatic message explaining how to sign properly, posted on May 7. A detail of little importance (even if I had read it, it would have not prevented the ensuing sequence of misunderstandings). What about your first warning, which appeared some days later in the same User talk: page? When did I read your first warning for the first time? That would be a much more interesting piece of information. Why you didn't investigate that when I publicly asked you to do it (see above)? So, please complete your investigation, if you can (e.g. look up - in a log of User talk: - the date and time when I first uploaded that page).

  • If you cannot do it, by acknowledging it you will admit you cannot prove I am guilty.
  • If you can do it, you might be able to prove you were wrong in assuming bad faith.

In both cases, that would mean, paradoxically, that you are a fair judge, because all judges can be wrong, but only a fair judge is able to admit it. And it would mean that I misjudged you. I am ready to admit it, if you can prove it. Then you might be able to delete your remarks based on bad faith from this long talk, and I will be able to cancel my answers and comments about your apparent lack of fairness and politeness.

It will only remain the list of reasonable acts of two normally error-prone humans, deceived by a wonderful but perfectible system (MediaWiki), which I summarized above (see Short summary). Can you see how strong and useful and synthetic this case study could become, if we could agree that I was uninformed and in good faith?...

...or at least that I was possibly uninformed and possibly in good faith, and you were possibly wrong? Paolo.dL 15:38, 15 May 2007 (UTC)

Other suggestionsEdit

Suggestion for WPP and MWD (see point d2 in here). The User talk: page for my IP was neither linked nor copied to that of my new account, which I created using the same IP. And I had no cue about how to access "my" old user talk page. I didn't even know it existed! When needed, I suggest to add to new user talk pages a short warning such as:

"You might have messages here (the "user talk page" associated to your IP address). Please check."

Suggestion for WPP and MWD. Here are two possible solutions to the above-mentioned bug (see point 13c in here and d4 in here):

  1. MediaWiki might extend an existing IP block to all accounts created with that IP address after the block was imposed (this would fully solve the problem); and/or
  2. it might forbid account creation from a blocked IP (this would be only a partial solution).

Suggestion for WPP and MWD (see point d5 in here). Inexperienced users passionately participating in a discussion are likely not to see the red note "you have a message". When administrators need to send an urgent warning to a newbie (such as this), wouldn't it be wiser to have:

  1. a special page appearing automatically, rather than only a small red note? Or better,
  2. some kind of "polite block", which an administrator can use to invite the user to read the message, and which expires automatically as soon as the user reads the message? (for instance by means of a link provided at the end of the message, that the user can click to automatically unblock himself).

Paolo.dL 18:50, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

An incontestable factEdit

I was glad to learn from Matthews about History pages. Please see this comparison: Revisions of Talk:Exterior algebra. It shows my good faith, and reveals another minor weakness of MediaWiki. This automatic message (by HagermanBot ) appeared below one of my first postings:

I did my best to follow that suggestion (which did not include a clearly labeled link with explanations), and manually changed the line as follows:

It should be clear now that I am not used to ignore the messages I receive. My behaviour repeatedly showed the contrary. Unfortunately, however, I can't help ignoring those I don't receive, and that's why I was punished (see point A above).

Suggestion for WPP and MWD. The automatic warning by HagermanBot is cryptic for inexperienced useres (see above). If you want it to be effective, please include a clear clue about how to sign properly. Consider that those who read it are deemed to be inexperienced users, possibly without an account, who most likely don't even imagine the existence of a "User talk" page for their IP address... for instance, modify HagermanBot's warning as follows:

Paolo.dL 09:18, 16 May 2007 (UTC)

OK, another 'incontestable fact' is that the Main Page has a 'help' link on it, leading to a good tutorial, in which a number of basic points such as signing, the advantages of logging in and so on are explained. However, no one can make anyone read tutorials, obviously. Charles Matthews 09:52, 16 May 2007 (UTC)

Please let's be positive. We need ideas to solve the above-mentioned problems. And let's be realistic. By definition, wikis such as WikiPedia are built to be easy to use and uncomplicated. People find and use the help link on the Main Page only when they have a problem. For instance, I didn't have any problem. I simply clicked "edit this page", and was allowed. What I am suggesting above are a series of "monkey proof" methods to instruct inexperienced users for very specific and crucial issues just exactly when needed (e.g. a method to make sure they read important messages from administrators). Paolo.dL 12:15, 17 May 2007 (UTC)

Conclusion: our dreamsEdit

In the real world, people who dream about getting the help they need, "exactly when they need it", without reading the instructions, can get into trouble. Arguing that everyone else does the same is only suitable for sheep. Now, you have wildly exaggerated the kind of trouble you have been in. As I said before, you needed to slow down. Charles Matthews 15:06, 20 May 2007 (UTC)

I explicitly referred to "very specific issues". I am not dreaming about inexperienced users being "contextually-helped" on everything they need. I dream about them receiving crucial information in time and, most importantly, not being punished for not receiving it! Don't you think it would have been greatly appreciated by other users (including you) that HagermanBot could teach me immediately how to sign properly? Don't you realize that even your own comment in Talk:Exterior algebra and your own first warning were just specific help given "exactly when needed"? It would have been nice if your first warning had been immediately effective, wouldn't it? It was not immediately effective because I received it too late. Do I have to remind you what is the meaning of the Hawaiian word "wiki"? Context specific help exists in most modern computer applications, and improving it is useful and desirable. Paolo.dL 08:20, 21 May 2007 (UTC)

Actually, it says this below the editing box: On talk pages, please sign your comment by typing four tildes (~~~~). Your policy may be to disregard text unless someone forces you to read it; the text is still there. Charles Matthews 15:20, 23 May 2007 (UTC)

Passionate discussion. Well, I wrote it already: MediaWiki is almost perfect, while humans like me are typically error-prone (e.g. see the subtitle of this open letter, or the short summary, or points 3 and 8 in here). Moreover, humans passionately participating to a discussion typically focus on it and don't look around. That might be also the reason why I didn't see your first warning (see point 4 in here), and more importantly the reason why in the future other newcomers possibly will not receive critical information in time and will unintentionally misbehave, as I did.
Dreams or nightmares? Again and again, you focus on trifling details (e.g., see Other details) and ignore my main message. I suggested small improvements in MediaWiki which none the less would have prevented my misbehaviour and, more importantly, would prevent other people's misbehaviour (see summary), while (a) you are not accepting any of my suggestions, (b) you are not giving alternative solutions, and although (c) you could not prove I received your first warning (see The investigations), (d) you keep defending your behaviour. Hence, in general, for the future you seem to suggest to punish "possibly uninformed" newcomers, as you did with me, rather than prevent their unintentional misbehaviour by kindly making sure they immediately receive the needed instructions or warnings (please carefully read point 4 in here; see also Ignorantia juris).
Main message. However, this open letter is not meant to be a mere defense of my behaviour and/or accusation against you (see The investigations). Readers are free to think I am guilty of intentional misbehaviour. The main message of this open letter is another, and paradoxically my suggestions would be valid even if I were in bad faith, because they assume other newcomers will be in good faith, and at the same time make it easier to prove their possible bad faith.
Paolo.dL 19:44, 23 May 2007 (UTC)

Comments by other usersEdit

Can't we just assume good faith?Edit

I know I'm not involved, but can't we just assume good faith? The guy's a newbie for Pete's sake. He was just trying to help, and he is a constructive editor. Give him a chance. He wasn't doing any real harm. Cool Bluetalk to me 16:59, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

Thanks a lot Cool Blue. You are welcome. This page is public, and we need the opinion of somebody who is not involved emotionally. Paolo.dL 09:00, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

Sorry to hear itEdit

Hi Paolo, I'm sorry to hear what happened to you. I think you made a valuable contribution to the exterior algebra article, and made me reassess my own thinking (and learn a few things in the process). Anyway, I hope you continue to contribute on Wikipedia. Don't let stuff like this get to you too much. WP is like that sometimes. Sincerest regards, Silly rabbit 21:33, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

Thank you. I have enjoied discussing with you, and I am sure I have learned much more from you than you from me. My initial point was out of focus, and without your help it would have remained biased and ineffective. My kindest regards, Paolo.dL 08:06, 21 May 2007 (UTC)

Documenting what a newcomer perceivesEdit

Thanks for comprehensively documenting what a newcomer perceives when they edit Wikipedia for the first time. After editing long enough, rules and conventions become second nature, and it can be difficult to remember that others are still learning how everything works. Foobaz·o< 12:06, 11 June 2007 (UTC)

:-) Paolo.dL 06:18, 13 June 2007 (UTC)

And justice for all ...Edit

[I added paragraph titles to the following comment, and archived here the last part of this subsection. Paolo.dL 10:15, 21 July 2007 (UTC)]

My experience. This is a fascinating (if somewhat redundant) account of the problem with being a newbie. I myself was bitten hard by someone (not an administrator) whom I then attempted to communicate with in good faith. Having looked at her user page and her comments to other users, though, I thought she would most likely presume not only that I was acting in bad faith but also that I was stupid. Sure enough, this was her response. Although she has been a member since last year and has a number of featured articles to her credit (at least as a "significant contributor"), her attitude and actions show that she does not adhere to the most basic Wikipedia tenets. For this reason, I'm debating about whether to take further action. For instance, is a report to an administrator in order? Or should I try to give her a comeuppance, especially since the argument in her response was so poorly reasoned that maybe pointing out its weaknesses would help to recalibrate her assumptions about others? (After all, I don't see how she could become any more defensive....) But the praise she has received from others for her contributions, along with the Wikipedia community's permissiveness in letting her get away with such behavior for so long, makes me doubt that anyone would see the wisdom of trying to educate her about the proper treatment of newbies or anyone else....

Fault on both sides. But I digress. What I see in your situation is fault on both sides. Mr. Matthews does seem a bit impatient at first and fails to use his first encounters with you to direct you to a handful of explanatory essays on Wikipedia policies and/or guidelines. Doing so would have done much to stop what followed from happening.

Your mistakes. However, the blame also falls on you. No one should assume anything when entering an entirely new space and community. Since you are not a native English speaker, I suspect that, before traveling to an Anglophone country, you would try to find out something of the culture so you would minimize your faux pas. I also think you would expect that of someone traveling to your country. And Wikipedia is, for all intents and purposes, a different country. Thus, one should approach it with some humility. One should also try to be curious about how it runs, especially if one continues to make faux pas, especially big ones. Also, considering that each user's signature on a talk page links to a user page, you could have learned quite a bit about how communication works on Wikipedia simply by making one click. Then there are all the links on the main page, no matter what its layout, to different parts of Wikipedia. Your indifference to them was not wise.

Mr. Matthews's mistakes. I do agree with you, though, that some of Mr. Matthews's comments are volatile and would almost certainly be taken personally by anybody. Comparing the actions of a newbie to those of the Ministry of Truth in 1984—even if referring only to actions—has a huge potential to set anyone off. I would hate to have anyone say that about my actions and would feel personal offense. Mr. Matthews did assume bad faith and did not use the situation to teach you; for example, he could have said, "I realize you're a newbie, and you probably feel frustrated by what has been happening on the talk page. But it's standard practice here to keep a history of what has been said (see 'X page'), and, if you like, you can use the strikethrough option to keep your entire previous comment (and mine) but 'edit out' parts in response to others' criticisms. Or you can do what most people do, which is to add a comment after that of the person making the criticisms and say, 'I think I resolved the issues you brought up. Please let me know if I haven't.' Also, since I see that many of your comments are good, and we need more people with math expertise, why not set up an account? If you do, you'll be able to do things like A, B, and C. To get started, go to 'Y page'. If you ever need help, just ...", etc. How much more time would it have taken to write this rather than some of the "shorthand" Mr. Matthews employed? A minute or so.

The problem with being a newbie. And this points to what your situation shows, which is that administrators and longtime users seldom if ever take the little bit of extra time to educate newbies, instead reverting edits immediately without explaining why they're doing so; referring to something without showing a newbie where specifically to find more information on the topic, thus sending newbies into a labyrinth without much of a map; etc. Seasoned users often seem to forget that learning about Wikipedia becomes more difficult and time-consuming the later one joins it. Since there are so many debates, policies, guidelines, and neologisms, and since they constantly change or proliferate, we newbies end up suddenly facing a bulk of information similar to the 2007 U.S. tax code. If we newbies had started much earlier (and Wikipedia's just a few years old!), we could have experienced the Wikipedia world more incrementally and thus found it easier to assimilate. Instead, the WP world is a little overwhelming and, just by going about its business, makes the learning curve for each new user higher and higher and longer and longer.

The problem with being an administrator. But to return to your specific incident. Probably Mr. Matthews and the other administrators are impatient with the silliness that goes on here. Please remember that administrators do not get paid: they do what they do out of love for Wikipedia and its mission, and all of their time here is volunteer. Vandalism shoots up faster than weeds and thus requires constant vigilance, eating up time that should be spent on more important things. (Of course, other kinds of silliness rear their heads, too, as they do in any human community of any size.)

Coping with criticism, mistakes, personal attacks and misunderstandings. And we all have to remember that events in our personal lives will affect our ability to weather even the most thoughtful and constructive criticism or to abide even the most innocent mistakes. Maybe both of you were just having a couple of bad days. Still, since it seems that online writing has more potential than other media for emotionalism, personal attacks, and outright misunderstanding, it behooves us all to take a step back, manage our anger (or other emotions), empathize with the other person, and ask for more information. (I have as many problems with these things as anyone else!) When these steps are followed, people stop relying on assumptions or on "shorthand" but questionable phrases, both of which, rather than saving time, tend to cause rigmaroles that last hours or days.

Take care, and I wish you all the best with your continuing Wikipedia experience! It definitely sounds as if we need someone of your expertise and perseverance! Scrawlspacer 15:48, 29 June 2007 (UTC)

Thanks for your exhaustive, well written and thought provoking comment.
My mistakes, I agree about the need to respect different cultures, as well as Wikipedia policies and guidelines, but there are two important differences between a foreign country and Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an international community, and the "encyclopedia that anyone can edit". In the introduction to Wikipedia, anyone is encouraged to edit immediately: "Don't be afraid to edit — anyone can edit almost any page, and we encourage you to be bold! [...] Make your first edit right now!". Wikipedia welcomes inexperienced newcomers (see here), and accepts their initial ignorance (see here), provided they are in good faith and ready to accept advices, as I was. I did mistakes (e.g., see points 3 and 8 in here), but not reading the "user's guide" was not a mistake. If I had been forced to study instructions, policies and guidelines before contributing, I wouldn't have contributed. I thought that being in good faith and open minded was enough, and this page confirms I was right. Contributing to the writing of an article or to a discussion on a talk page is time consuming. Among the inexperienced users who have no time to browse the "user's guide", there's a lot of talented people, and Wikipedia community knows that. That's why they are patient with newcomers. However...
Suggestion for WPP and MWD: It would have been nice if, after posting my first contribution, I had been somehow invited by a bot to read this short page, containing advices to avoid common mistakes.
Mr. Matthews's mistakes, I agree that his initial note was very laconic, but it was clear enough for me to understand, and basically obtained the desired effect (see points 1-8 in here). Similarly, HagermanBot's automatic warning would have been enough for teaching me about signatures, if it had been just a bit more explicit (see above). This shows that there is no need of great effort to educate newcomers who are willing to listen.
The real cause of all the trouble was that I did not receive Matthews's warning about editing policies. Matthews has no responsibility for that. We were both deceived by a fault in MediaWiki user interface. However, Matthews's successive behaviour remarkably amplified the trouble: even after receiving my sincere apologies and detailed explanations, he kept acting as if I had received and ignored his first warning. This shows that people in some circumstances are not ready to (publicly) admit their mistakes. A conclusion which seems to be confirmed by the experience you reported. Paolo.dL 10:15, 30 June 2007 (UTC)

Internet SnobberyEdit

From reading the entire text of your explanation and the replies, I just can't help but feel that this is yet another example of internet snobbery. An established member of an internet community starts taking a pedantic, condescending, why-should-I-bother-to-listen-to-what-you're-saying tone, and it's all downhill from there. I'm sorry you had to go through this, man. You deserve one heck of an apology. Karasuman 23:16, 30 July 2007 (UTC)

:-) Paolo.dL 23:26, 30 July 2007 (UTC)

Experienced EditorsEdit

I've had numerous problems with all Editors on this site, I post from an IP address which is used by a public school network. I have had to write apologies for unneccessary edits and the like due to my follow classmates being silly or just destructive. A lot of your points were very good, and this is a fine example where a mod, editor, admin become way too confident in their power and act like they own the world and when you try to say no, they're like "Who cares?". But, Paolo, you defended your case well and Matthews needs to give you a true apology. :-) ElvenAmericans (talk) 14:18, 24 November 2008 (UTC)

Thank you for your support. Paolo.dL (talk) 20:17, 25 November 2008 (UTC)

A cupcake for you!Edit

  Just wanted to give you some appreciation for your Open Letter page:) As a newbie (created the account last year sometime, but I've only started logging in this week), I created my first article and submitted it for review, only to get a "request for speedy deletion" within just a few hours. It wasn't anything compared to what you experienced, but it was still upsetting and a bit discouraging since I'd just read an article about how Wikipedia is having a hard time holding onto editors.

An administrator removed the deletion request and said I'd done the correct thing in the first place when I submitted the article for review and that the review process should have been allowed to continue rather than jumping right into a "speedy deletion." She/he also gave me some good tips on how to improve my article.

Still, it's daunting as a newbie, not knowing all the rules.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience, so that newbies and Wiki old-timers alike can learn something! skatoulaki (talk) 05:07, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

You welcome. There's a lot of people with different backgrounds out there. They will hardly understand your points, but be patient. Although their feedback might be sometimes difficult to digest, in most cases it contains bits of useful information. Paolo.dL (talk) 18:11, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

Perhaps WP can learn to be more 'wiki' from the 'Stack Exchange model'Edit

Hi. Having joined Wikipedia recently, I can only have sympathy for your case (although I haven't had such slip-ups)

I feel that another community driven model, the Stack Exchange platform, would have prevented almost all of the problems mentioned. If you'd like to know more about SE, look around their website, they're pretty good at discussing themselves ;) .

  1. On SE, users basically cannot do things that no one should be able to do, e.g. deleting mod messages.
  2. There may be some bad things some users have to do. However, the site automatically grants users (minor) moderation powers if one gains 'reputation'
  3. Comments, posts, questions and answers are clearly separated.
  4. Disputes over whatsoever have a clear and public place for the whole community to discuss in (if public discussion is wanted)
  5. Bans are usually unnecessary, due to reasons 1 and 2.

(Reputation is a score based on the opinion of the community of your contributions) So, newbies can't mess up and delete a page, as is possible here, last time I checked.)

I hope it is clear how technology can help! Although in the end, users and mods are human, I don't think we need to go this far and rely too much on good human nature for WP to succeed. I think that WP can learn a lot from SE on supporting your editors with proper tools.

ShearedLizard (talk) 11:05, 20 March 2018 (UTC)

Interesting, thank you. Paolo.dL (talk) 11:15, 20 March 2018 (UTC)

Inappropriate suggestionsEdit

RayvnEQ posted here an interesting but lengthy contribution in which he most importantly maintained that Mr. Matthews is 100% wrong, but contrary to what I suggested, it is inappropriate to block an IP address from creating an account, unless you know for sure that it is used by only one editor. I moved the full text to this archive. Paolo.dL (talk) 11:00, 8 August 2015 (UTC)