Sunday, May 22, 2011

History: Tips Worksheet

In terms of subjective trope definitions, technical page action, and general policy matters, I was largely able to answer most questions tropers posed. But for information on administrative changes I had no recourse but to go back to the forums to ask moderation staff for an explanation. I can only remember a few times I did this. Twice it was because of changes in the moderation staff pages. When Janitor's name was removed from the Know The Staff page, I ended up making an inquiry so as to confirm her official departure from wiki operations. I had to make a similar request when later I discovered that the name of a cut master (specifically, the one who had earlier insulted me) had been removed. In this case I was investigating complaints made by several tropers that the Cut List had been backed up. After the facts of the situation were eventually clarified I stated that regardless of why the cut master had been removed, tropers were concerned about the status of the Cut List and that something had to be done to fill the gap. The cut master's powers were eventually restored, and the Cut List returned to normal.

The second case had more of a lasting impact. At some point, Fast Eddie had apparently become so upset with the Natter that infested TV Tropes that he implemented a radical solution and removed all indentation markup. Most Natter is the result of bullet points that appear underneath examples, which more often than not are conversations or clarifications about whatever content was in the discussed examples. Fast Eddie removed the indentation related to this markup. This was not a popular action. Not so much because people liked Natter, but because without indentations most example listings were very difficult to read. It was hard to tell where one example ended and another began. This was made even more difficult by all the already existing Natter, where the abrupt shift in tone quickly proved to be very disorienting.

The complaints against this change were so fervent and strong that even in the forums, the outcry against the change was very strong. Fast Eddie actually ended up caving on the matter and returned the wiki to its previous, indented form. This happened relatively quickly- no more than a day or two after the changes had been originally implemented. It happened so quickly, in fact, that by the time I joined the forum discussion the changes had already been rescinded. I had only known about them secondhand from various panicked discussion page postings.

While the indentation-less TV Tropes was horribly ugly to look at, I thought Fast Eddie's basic idea wasn't really a bad one. Natter is a very noxious, irritating thing. Even when a person tries to clear a page of Natter, there's a very good chance that someone will get upset about "good" content being removed, even though Natter is by definition not content. Pages on TV Tropes are not forums where topics are discussed, but recitations of general examples. This is a difficult and tiring topic to explain, so some form of preemptive measure working against Natter could hardly hurt.

I thought that maybe we could just use a different kind of indentation that's more aesthetically pleasing. This went nowhere, but at some point over the course of discussion Fast Eddie offhandedly mentioned that "pages are supposed to look like they were written by the same person". This wasn't an axiom I had ever heard before, though it certainly made sense given what I knew about wiki policy. I stated right away that this fiat was not well-known in the discussion pages and that no one knew that this was how pages were supposed to be written. Everyone in the thread was very surprised at this apparent revelation. As a result, a new notification system was proposed and acted upon- the Tips Worksheet.

Unlike the previous notification system which had largely been ignored, the Tips Worksheet actually functioned quite well. A tip from the worksheet appears above the edit box every time someone tries to edit a page. Out of habit people tend to read from the top-down, so these tips were difficult to ignore, and were almost always followed by those who were aware of them. Initially the only "tip" was "pages need to look like the same person wrote the whole thing", but several more general policy statements were added and cycled in as time went by.

From the time the Tips Worksheet was implemented, I noticed a sharp decrease in the editing activity being proscribed against. It confirmed a fact I had already realized from my time in the discussion pages- casual tropers are ignorant, but not arrogant. They'll accept some basic guidelines if they have reason to believe it will make their writing more effective, and the simply explained, very authoritative tips did exactly that. The Tips Worksheet took advantage of the fact that most tropers see themselves as contributing to a group project. For this reason, it was the last effective administrative change I can recall being implemented- the punitive measures that became popular after this point used a rather different psychological dynamic.

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