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Wikipedia:Volunteer Fire Department

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What is this?

This is an organizational page, in which we invite our fellow Wikipedians to consider themselves part of a so-called (humorous) "Volunteer Fire Department." (Some people prefer the name "The Wikipedia Welcoming Committee.") The purpose of the "Volunteer Fire Department" is as follows: if Wikipedia ever receives a really enormous amount of new traffic, which it very well might, we will ask some "old hands"--the people who have put their name on this page--to help break the new contributors into the process. We'll "call out volunteer fire fighters." However, rather than go into battle against fire, the Department performs Wikipedia weeding. Perhaps it should be called "The Wikipedia Gardening Club!"


As early as December 2001, Wikipedians predicted: "A media barrage: if we stay the course, it's not whether, but when. If we stay the course, however, this will happen probably a few times within the next year or two". Wikipedia had already been Slashdotted once, earlier that year, and been the subject of some minor press coverage. While the timescale of this prediction may be inaccurate, it's still not a matter of whether, but when. In response to this potential threat, the "Wikipedia Militia" (now known as the Volunteer Fire Department) was formed and volunteers invited.

The first time the fire department was called out was in response to the second slashdotting of Wikipedia, on January 22. As well as calling out the fire department on wikipedia:announcements and the mailing lists, various technical measures were taken to reduce the load on the servers. Through these actions the slashdot effect was weathered: the servers became significantly slower, but did not crash, and while there was some increase in vandalism, particularly on articles related to slashdot, it was not significant.

However, Wikipedia has yet to face the major media barrage which is still a concern amongst wikipedians today, so the fire department remains ever vigilant.


A wonderful problem we haven't yet had to deal with: lots of media coverage. Though there have been various types of publicity leading to surges in the number of new contributors, Wikipedia has never actually been the focus of a sustained and enormous barrage of media coverage. Of course, Wikipedia isn't about the publicity, the fame, and the recognition; it is a work of passion and love. But we might indeed get a lot of publicity and that could have some ill effects we might want to be prepared for.

It could happen all at once, too, that many different well-trafficked news websites send us large amounts of traffic, which we might well be concerned about. If it happened relatively gradually, the new recruits could be quickly trained to break in the even newer recruits. But what if it happens suddenly? In the near future, for example, we might break 1,000,000 articles (it should be by mid-2004, using exponential growth analysis), and be going gangbusters. Time (or whatever) might decide to write up a big hyped-up article about it, and that might lead to evening broadcast news coverage, Wall Street Journal analysts mentioning it as the next big thing--the works. It would probably be a mistake to dismiss this possibility. If Wikipedia becomes as large and useful as we want it to be, this will happen.

The accompanying invasion of new contributors. Now, if that happened, of course it would be mainly wonderful and fantastic. What is worrisome is that, overnight, many of the people working on Wikipedia, at that stage, would be new contributors. Suppose there were, say, 5000 people on average working on Wikipedia. (presently, there are more signed up users but around this many contributers.) Then suppose that, over a period of two weeks, that number were instantly increased by a factor of ten, or a hundred: 50,000, or 500,000. A significant minority of new contributors need quite a bit of mentoring, as it were; if new contributors increase their numbers suddenly, the numbers of contributors needing mentoring will also increase--but the availability of mentors would be the same. Unless we commit ourselves to being available in such times of need!

The worry can be stated slightly differently. In the past, the Slashdottings and Kuro5hin articles, in spite of the overall greatly positive effects of these events, have resulted in a lot of dross, which, one might think, we're still recovering from. It's clear we just weren't able to keep up with it. Now consider the possibility that we are suddenly invaded with, say, fifty times that amount of traffic. It could be a major disaster. The face of Wikipedia could change overnight, and for the worse. So it would help considerably if we were prepared to help preserve the quality of articles and the positive elements of the Wikipedia ethos.

The Wikipedia "Fire Department." In case of a media-induced invasion of new contributors, it would be instantly, but probably temporarily, important that we have a very high proportion of old hands (you know who you are) working constantly doing Wikipedia weeding (http://meta.wikipedia.com/wiki.phtml?title=The+art+of+Wikipedia+weeding). This weeding should focus not on each other's work, but on the new contributors' stuff, and particularly the work of the "clueless" new contributors.

In preparing for this (otherwise most welcome) sort of invasion, it would help if we had something akin to a (humorous) "Fire Department," where, when "war" or "flooding" (i.e., the aforementioned media-induced invasion of new contributors) strikes, the "firefighters" are called out to, very nicely assimilate and bring under control problematic newbies. To declare yourself a member of the "Wikipedia Fire Department" is to declare that, when asked, you are committed to doing unusual amounts of Wikipedia weeding, focusing particularly on the contributions of the more "clueless" of the new contributors, as well as the just-plain-malicious people. (Of course, we don't take the "war" analogies seriously. We're actually delighted to be "invaded" when it happens!)

The Fire Department officially loves new contributors. None of this should be construed as a claim that old hands are better than new contributors or that new contributors should be looked down upon. We love them. But very often, as those of us who have been at this for a while know, when there are disproportionately large numbers of new contributors at work here, quality can suffer, and many of the new contributors often need guidance of one sort or another. This is not to say anything bad about the new contributors. Again, we love them. We need them. We want to assimilate them.

Calling out the volunteer firefighters. We encourage you to put your name on the following list. If we are "invaded" as a result of massive amounts of news coverage, any alert Department member can "call out the fire brigade," meaning that somebody will post an announcement on Wikien-L (all firefighter members should be subscribed) as well as on Wikipedia:Announcements, and that will be your cue to "do your duty," namely, do some heavy weeding on the Recent Changes page and on a (hopefully automatically-generated) list of new article topics. We should also, some time after that, try to make a point of declaring that the "invasion" is over; but, of course, as the newer people are still learning, we should still be on "heightened alert."

So, join the Volunteer Fire Department! Add your name to the list below! Wikipediholics should enlist--what more productive way, besides actually writing articles, could there be to contribute to your addiction? :-)

The Wikipedia Volunteer Fire Department Add your name to the list; then you will be enlisted. (the rather scary military references are from the days when the group was called the militia, and don't reflect the current approach...)





  • DGrant I didn't want to subscribe to the -L mailing list. So let me know on my user page if the fire department is called up. I'm on Wikipedia daily, so I'm ready to help.
  • Dmerrill
  • Dreamyshade
  • DropDeadGorgias[?] I don't have the inbox room for wikien-L, and I can't check usenet from work, so put something on my talk page.






  • JeLuF - Gardener
  • JHK
  • Jim Regan - I've been doing it for a while anyway.
  • John Owens - Pardon me while I get out my BFWeedwhacker 9000...
  • JTD 03:06 Mar 1, 2003 (UTC) oh what the hell.
  • Jzcool












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