How Wikipedia Works/Chapter 11
Chapter 11: Becoming a Wikipedian edit
If you have created an account, edited a few articles, and found yourself getting involved in some aspect of Wikipedia—whether rewriting an article, reverting vandalism, or discussing issues with other users—you're well on your way to becoming a Wikipedian. Wikipedians, of course, are those individuals who make Wikipedia work—members of the Wikipedia community.
Wikipedians, like any large online community, have a fluid and rich culture; they even have their own mascot, the Wikipede (Figure 11.1, “Wikipede, an unofficial mascot”). You'll get a better sense of this culture as you participate in the project. Many people find themselves with some free time on their hands and decide to do some work on the site, but working on a wiki can be pleasurable, even addictive, and working on encyclopedia articles turns out to be fun. Before they know it, some editors are drawn in and hooked on Wikipedia. And as you edit articles, you'll come to know some of these quirky, wonderful people.
In this chapter, we'll discuss how to create an account (and certain things to consider when you do so), create a user page, personalize your experience on the wiki, and talk with other editors via personal user talk pages. Wikipedia has different classes of editor accounts, as some editors become administrators, and we'll explain this process as well.
On Arrival edit
Some people start editing, and they know within days that Wikipedia is right for them. Others may drift into it gradually, copyediting anonymously before creating an account and doing more extensive work.
As Phoebe tells it:
I had read about Wikipedia and spent some time browsing before I got up the courage to actually edit the site the first time, in the summer of 2003. It was browsing, in fact, that convinced me to edit. I carefully read the onsite directions before editing, rather than plunging right in, but it still took a few saves to get the syntax right. I edited Jewelry, which needed some serious fixing up. I felt somewhat qualified to work on this page as I'd been an amateur jeweler for years. Though I had some experience with HTML and creating web pages, I marveled at how easily my wiki edits just appeared.
If you, too, find yourself working on Wikipedia regularly, the next logical steps are to create an account (if you have not already done so) and customize your site preferences.
Registering an Account edit
You don't have to have an account to edit Wikipedia, but creating an account is recommended for all contributors. Editors have two options: They can either register an account and edit under that username or edit without logging in, as an anonymous or IP editor (referring to the way that edits show up by IP number when an editor is not logged in). Because by now Wikipedia is a very visible and public place, editing anonymously versus choosing a username has some implications, which we will review in this chapter. If you do decide to register, you'll follow three steps to create an account: Choose an appropriate username, make sure it is available, and fill out a short form.
Creating an account is a good idea for several reasons. The first is that it gives you an identity on the site that is distinct from your IP address. You will be able to sign comments and discussion posts with a name that people will remember, not a string of numbers. An account helps you become a trusted editor because other contributors see a username as a commitment to doing productive work on the site. Others will be more likely to remember you and will more readily assume that your changes are good ones.
Second, having a username also makes it easier to communicate with others and participate in the Wikipedia community. If you have an account, people will also be able to send you email, without your having to reveal your email address to them, through the Email This User feature.
Third, registered users also gain some editing privileges. After registering your username, you'll be able to create new pages, move pages to new titles, and upload images. You will also be able to edit semiprotected pages (see Chapter 5, Basic Editing for an explanation of these). Finally, having an account gives you access to the site's user-specific features, such as choosing display options and preferences and maintaining an automated watchlist of pages you're interested in.
When you first register your account, you'll be able to create new articles, but you'll still have some restrictions: You won't be able to move pages or work on semiprotected articles. After a period of four days and ten edits, these restrictions are automatically lifted. This is known as autoconfirmation and was implemented in 2005 as an antivandalism measure, in part because page move vandalism (where a good article is moved to an inappropriate title) was rife.
The matter of privacy is significant to anyone using the Internet. A variety of views exist on whether editing without revealing your real identity or not is better. You should know, however, that Wikipedia usernames are much more public than usernames in most Internet forums. Wikipedia content—including user pages and article histories with usernames—is mirrored and archived by hundreds of other websites. If you're concerned about privacy, realize that whatever username you choose will definitely show up in search engine results and be associated with you if you reveal your real name on your user page or otherwise.
If you wish to be absolutely anonymous on the site, your privacy is best protected by creating an account under a pseudonym and never editing the site when logged out. So-called anonymous editing without being logged in is not, in fact, the most anonymous way to edit; in many cases, editing from an IP number is no safeguard that your identity will remain completely unknown. For the most privacy, choose a fresh pseudonym, not one you have used online before.
- Wikipedia respects the right of anyone to contribute either anonymously (not logged in) or pseudonymously (through an account).
- Wikipedia does not advise one way or the other on the use of real names on the site.
- The IP numbers of those editing anonymously are displayed.
- Disclosure of personal details on user pages is neither advised, nor advised against, for adults. Minors, however, are advised not to post identifying details about themselves.
- Accidental disclosures of personal details by users and of IP numbers when accidentally logged out may be removed from page histories using the oversight process. This is a process where particular edits to a page may be semipermanently removed and is only done in special cases. Requests for oversights are made to the small group of editors with oversight privileges. Find out more at Wikipedia:Oversight.
- Disclosing personal details of other users goes against Wikipedia's norms and values and is seen as harassment (see WP:HARASS). In other words, don't ever post personal details about other people, even if you are sure those details are already public knowledge.
- The IP numbers of logged-in users may be used, in a small proportion of cases, in the investigation of problem users. These investigations are conducted via the CheckUser tool, which is restricted to a small group of trusted editors, and the results are never made public. Find out more at Wikipedia:Checkuser and under "Users and Administrators" on Section 3.1, “User Levels”.
To reiterate, if you are concerned about your privacy, the first step is to create an account, and if you are concerned about anonymity, use a pseudonym.
"Anonymous" Edits edit
Anytime you edit Wikipedia without being logged in to an account, your IP address will be displayed in the page history and in Recent Changes. An IP address is the address that your computer uses to identify itself to the network. Since an IP number's owner can often be traced quite easily by whois searches and other more advanced methods, IP editing is not anonymous. How much information is revealed through anonymous editing varies, however. IP addresses do not always identify individual computers; dynamic IP addresses, such as those used by many Internet service providers and wireless hotspots, may only reveal the Internet provider being used.
If you edit when logged out, you may disclose an IP number near other edits from your account; on a little-trafficked article, others may put two and two together. If you're concerned about this, you can use a skin other than the default Monobook solely as an alert to this possibility; the logged-out view of the site will then be very different from what you see when logged in (see "Customizing Skins and Installing Extensions" on Section 1.2.2, “Customizing Skins and Installing Extensions” for information on how to do this).
There are other reasons to log in as well: Not only is an IP address less private than having an account name (if anonymity is important to you), but shared IP addresses such as school and company networks or proxy servers are frequently blocked for vandalism, often affecting many innocent editors on the same network. If, however, you have an account and are in good standing and you are affected by such a block, you can request that the block be modified to apply only to anonymous editors.
Wikipedia Scanner edit
A public tool was created that correlates IP number edits going back over the years (more than 30 million, from 2002) with the IP ranges of corporations and institutions. The tool, called WikiScanner, was built by Virgil Griffith of Caltech; you can find it at http://wikiscanner.virgil.gr/. Thus you can discover anonymous edits and match them to their origins. This means, as several newspaper articles gleefully pointed out in 2007, that the IP range used by a politician's office, for instance, can be checked to see if people editing from there have changed the article on that politician in a way that violates NPOV—which was happening occasionally.
Usernames and Real Names edit
When you create an account, you must choose a username. This username may be your real name or a pseudonym. Don't make this choice casually. You can use your real name, initials, or first or last name as a professional way to present yourself. Many people do use their real names when editing the site (including the authors of this book). Depending on how common the person's name is, contributions can then be traced more readily back to an individual, which can, for instance, provide a way of corroborating claimed expertise. The benefit of choosing a pseudonym, on the other hand, is that it offers a degree of real anonymity. Pseudonyms are perfectly acceptable and widely used on the site. Whatever you choose for your name, you'll become known by it if you make substantial contributions. Choose a username that you are comfortable signing in serious discussion and debate.
Wikipedia has a handful of commonsense guidelines for usernames designed to minimize disruption in collaborative work. Usernames cannot be harassing, misleading, confusing, promotional, or offensive. What constitutes these qualities is ultimately determined by administrators who review new accounts; if a name violates these guidelines, an administrator will ban it, and the editor will be expected to pick something else. Harassing is a username that is aimed at disturbing others, such as one that incorporates an attack on a specific user. Misleading means imitating another well-known person or Wikipedian, whereas confusing means visually confusing (such as nothing but ones and zeros). A promotional username is one that seeks to promote, or is the same as, a business or a group; so don't use the name of your company as a username. Finally, offensive usernames are those that others might find so offensive as to make positive collaborative editing impossible; any derogatory statements or names using obscenities are generally ruled out.
Additionally, a username for the English-language Wikipedia shouldn't contain non-western characters, which can be difficult for English-speakers to read and recognize. Finally, a username can't be a full email address.
Note that usernames follow the same rules as article page names. They are case sensitive—user:Thomas jefferson is not the same as user:Thomas Jefferson—and the first letter of the name is always capitalized, though you can make it display as lowercase by customizing your signature, as described later in "Setting Your Signature" on Section 1.2.1, “Setting Your Signature”. Spaces in usernames are fine.
Deleting, Renaming, and Having Multiple Accounts edit
You cannot delete an account that has made contributions to the site because of technical reasons and the GFDL license that Wikipedia uses. This is another reason to be wise in starting and naming an account. The closest that you can come to removing yourself from the site completely, once you have contributed, is to request that any user pages be deleted; this is part of the wiki-philosophy that users have the right to vanish if they wish to leave the project. Your other edits, except for those to pages that are deleted entirely, will persist and will be permanently attributed to your account.
You can change your username from one name to another. You can request changes at Wikipedia:Changing username. Your request won't be granted immediately, as a bureaucrat must approve and make the change, which will then be reflected in the attribution for all your previous edits. In certain circumstances, established contributors can request to usurp a registered but unused username. These completely unused usernames—names that were registered but never used to make a contribution—account, surprisingly, for millions of registered accounts. To usurp a username, make a request and justify it on the Usurpations subpage of the Changing username page.
An easier solution is to change how your username displays when you sign comments on discussion pages. You can modify how your signature appears, as described in Wikipedia:Signatures (shortcut WP:SIG) and in detail under "Setting Your Signature" on Section 1.2.1, “Setting Your Signature”.
If you are thinking about creating a second account to edit with while maintaining your original account—don't. Although it is not quite against the site rules to have two accounts, the chances of violating the rules against sockpuppetry are quite high.
A sockpuppet is a second username employed by a Wikipedian who already has an account. Wikipedia's policy prohibits the use of multiple accounts to mislead others; for instance, creating another account to support your own position in an argument or voting more than once in a poll. Wikipedia accounts should not be used as masks, and those who do this are usually deprived of the right to edit.
You should also not ask other people to create accounts for you; accounts controlled by another editor are known as meatpuppets. Using several accounts to manipulate or deceive others on the site is unacceptable. Potential sockpuppets are kept track of through Wikipedia:Suspected sock puppets (shortcut WP:SSP) or Wikipedia:Requests for checkuser (shortcut WP:RFCU). These two processes are for determining when sockpuppets are being used. Under certain circumstances, running an extra account for innocent reasons is acceptable; these circumstances are outlined under Wikipedia:Sock puppetry (shortcut WP:SOCK).
Another pitfall to avoid is sharing a password. Don't let other people use your account. Accounts with multiple users are likely to be blocked, and "role" accounts, such as accounts for businesses or groups, are forbidden.
Is a Username Taken? edit
You don't have to make sure that a username is available before you try to register it: The system will tell you if a username is already taken. Therefore, this section on browsing for usernames is optional, but reading it could save you some frustration or might be useful at a later point, such as when making a renaming request. If you're curious whether a particular name is taken, Wikipedia offers a few ways to find out besides trying to register the name.
Start, perhaps, by seeing if the user has set up a user page at User:Nameofuser. This method is by no means fail proof, since registered users are not obligated to set up a user page, and many don't. Alternatively, if the name you're looking for is distinctive, you could search the whole site for it using a search engine, which is quick to do.
A better, more systematic way to check if a name has been registered is to visit the Special:Contributions page. Enter the username you want to find in the IP address or username field. If that username has made any contributions, they will be listed on this page. Registered names are commonly never used, however, so not finding a contribution history doesn't mean the name is not taken. But you can find out if a name is registered: After you enter the username you are interested in on the Special:Contributions page, look at the link for the name directly under From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. If the name has been registered, it will display as a blue- or a redlink. A bluelink will take you to the user page. A redlink means a user page hasn't been set up yet, but the name has been registered. If the name is grayed out, the name is not registered.
Finally, if you'd rather browse through a list of usernames, you can go to Special:Listusers, which is a long list of all registered usernames. Most of these are throwaway accounts, registered by vandals or registered and never used. One way this list is useful, however, is you can enter a username in the Display users starting at text box and see all the users registered with names starting with the letters you entered.
The List of Administrators edit
The special page Special:Listusers can also be used to get a list of all editors who are also administrators (though this won't help you figure out which administrators are active on the site). Simply choose Group: Administrators instead of Group: All to obtain a list of administrators. You can find a list of administrators sorted by who has been actively editing in recent months at Wikipedia:List of administrators.
Creating the Account edit
Once you've selected the name you want to register, creating the account is easy. Simply click Log In/Create Account in the upper-right corner of the screen, then click the Create One link next to the words Don't have an account?. Follow the instructions to fill out the form that appears (Figure 11.2, “The Create account form”). Type the words in the CAPTCHA box (just above the Username field) as they appear, without spaces; then enter your chosen username and password.
Entering a valid email address when you register is highly recommended. Along with allowing other users to contact you while still keeping your email address private, giving an email address means your password can be sent to you if you lose it. A valid email address is the only way to recover a lost password; if you don't have an email address on file and you are unable to log in to your account, you can't do anything. If you do give an email address when you register, you'll receive a confirmation email from <firstname.lastname@example.org>; clicking the link in the email is necessary to be able to use your email address.
Once you've completed these steps, you're done! Now you can edit under your new username, create new pages, create a user page, and set up your preferences and watchlist (all described in this chapter). If you're editing from your own computer, you can check the Remember me box when you log in, so you don't have to log in again every time you want to edit.
Setting Your Preferences edit
You can set a number of preferences as a registered, logged-in user. Once you are logged in, simply click the My Preferences link in the upper-right corner of the page to set and reset any option. These include settings such as what you see when you click Recent Changes, how the date and time displays, your search preferences, how the editing window works, and even how images display. You can also customize your skin, which will change the visual appearance of the site.
Figure 11.2. The Create account form The Create account form
A Note on Passwords edit
Secure passwords include both letters and numbers and avoid dictionary words. Nowadays, passwords should generally be chosen with this degree of security. Although choosing a secure password isn't required, Wikipedia strongly recommends it. Passwords for Wikipedia may be as short as three characters, but they should generally be longer for security.
If you have been active on the site for a long time or become a prominent editor, change your password occasionally. Administrator passwords make for tempting targets for password crackers, and cases of emergency de-adminning occurred in early 2007 when a couple of accounts were hacked into. This is uncommon but certainly preventable with secure passwords!
Clicking My Preferences takes you to Special:Preferences, where a menu of options is displayed (Figure 11.3, “The My preferences window”). Each tab leads to a set of options that you can customize.
Figure 11.3. The My preferences window The My preferences window
Some preference settings, like the following, should have high priority:
Enabling email edit
If you didn't provide an email address when you registered for the site, you can provide one on the first tab (User Profile) of the My Preferences page. (You will have to respond to a confirmation email.) If you give an email address and check the Enable other users box, anyone will be able to email you from the site through the Email This User link on the left-hand sidebar, but your email address will not be disclosed, and those mailing you will not see it. Giving an email address should not lead to spam problems. Though most discussions about content are best posted on talk pages, offsite confidential communications are best done by email, as any message left on a talk page is there for the world to see. Still, administrators don't always enable this option, so it is certainly not essential. You can change your email address under the User Profile tab as well; if you do so, you'll get an email each time asking you to verify your account. Simply click the link in the email to do so.
Passwords and verification edit
We have already mentioned that giving a valid email address is the only way to retrieve your password if you forget it. You can also reset your password under the User Profile tab anytime.
Resetting the clock
Precise timestamps show up everywhere on Wikipedia—in editing histories, in signatures on talk pages, and so on. To change the time to your local time zone, go to My Preferences and click the Date and Time tab. There, you can fill in the time from your browser or set a specific time zone. You can also choose how dates appear. By default, timestamps refer to the UTC time zone. For all practical purposes, UTC is Greenwich Mean Time, which is probably confusing as an option. Setting your time zone preference means that all timestamps will display relative to your local time.
Other settings, like these, are not as crucial, and you can modify them when you get around to it:
Setting the size of the editing window
The Editing tab in My Preferences lets you customize the size of the editing window when you click Edit This Page. For instance, if you edit on a large wide-screen monitor, you will probably want to adjust the editing window dimensions from the default 25 rows and 80 columns of text to something larger. To do so, simply type new numbers here and click Save. Conversely, if you are editing with a small laptop or handheld device, you'll almost certainly want to make the editing window smaller.
Further options on this page can help you find tools that suit your preferences as an editor. For instance, if you often find yourself editing pages as you browse Wikipedia, try turning on Edit Pages on Double-click, which will open an edit window whenever you double-click an editable Wikipedia page. If you are new to editing (or trying to train yourself), try turning on the Prompt me when entering a blank edit summary option.
Customizing which namespaces you want to search by default, under the Search tab, can be helpful if you find yourself often searching for material in the project namespaces. Although you can always change which namespaces you want to search each time, as described in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content, you can save yourself some time by customizing this here.
You can also set how certain elements display: Choose how you see images on the Files tab and mathematical equations on the Math tab. For instance, if you're reading Wikipedia from a handheld device, you'll probably want to set the default thumbnail image size to be as small as possible.
Setting Your Signature edit
You can modify the standard way your signature appears when you produce it on a discussion page by signing with four tildes. The standard signature consists of your username, wikilinked to your user page, and a link to your talk page, with the time and date of the edit:
Phoebe (talk) 01:47, 30 September 2007 (EDT)
You can customize your signature using wikisyntax and HTML. On the User Profile tab of My Preferences, type the code you want in the Signature box and then check the Raw signature box. For instance, placing the following code in the Signature box, checking the Raw signature box and then saving:
myname the great -- talk to me! 01:47, 30 September 2007
If you browse on talk and project pages, you'll see many such signatures, some simply customized with links to talk pages or contributions added and some with different fonts and colors from the default. The code that produces these signatures is visible in the page wikitext.
Although becoming a colorful character in this way is perhaps attractive, rainbow signatures and unusual scripts are not really such original ideas, and signatures produced with a great deal of extra code are actually counterproductive for other editors. Who wants to navigate extra wikisyntax on a discussion page that has been signed a dozen times? A fancy signature is not a way to be taken seriously—better to keep customizations to a minimum. Stick to text, don't use images, and remember that overly intrusive signatures will just annoy other people—don't even think about using the blink tag! The page Wikipedia:Signatures (shortcut WP:SIG) discusses guidelines for using and customizing signatures.
Customizing Skins and Installing Extensions edit
The overall appearance, layout, and style of MediaWiki pages is dictated by skins, or CSS files that style the website. Users can choose and change skins. The Monobook skin is used by default on Wikipedia, and this is what you will see if you're not logged in. This skin is what most of the world assumes is the look-and-feel of Wikipedia. This default skin is also packaged with every MediaWiki installation, so you'll see it all over the Web. If you have no firm preference as to the site's appearance, continuing to use Monobook is generally a good idea, as Monobook is reflected in help page descriptions and is also kept up to date with the new site features. (Note: If the text on the screen is too small, most browsers allow you to change the text size or zoom the view for readability. Pressing CTRL-+ in Firefox makes all the text in the window larger.)
In writing this book, we have been referencing tabs and links on pages as they appear in the Monobook skin. Other skins that you can choose from render pages slightly differently; not all links are visible in all skins, and their placement may be different. To change to another skin, simply log in, click My Preferences, and choose the skin you'd like from the Skin tab. You can always change back if you don't like it!
Skins are customizable in other ways as well, and many people develop their own skins. You can see some of them at the showcase display, Gallery of User Styles on Meta (see "Further Reading" on Section 2, “User Pages, Watchlists, and Edit Count”).
One popular extension is called popups. This allows you to see a preview of an article (including the first paragraph or so of text and the first image on the page) when you hover with your mouse over an internal link. The popup window also gives you a menu with a range of quick options, such as viewing the history of the article or the last diff—handy for vandalism patrol. Popups were originally developed by User:Lupin. You can install popups easily by going to the Gadgets tab in My Preferences and checking the box to enable them. You can also install them by customizing your monobook.js file, available at username/monobook.js. Find out more at Wikipedia:Popups.
Scripts range from a way to add your own custom links to the sidebar, Wikipedia:Tools/Navigation shortcuts, to a way to add extra custom tabs across the top of the page. You can find a list of scripts and more information about installing them at Wikipedia:WikiProject User scripts/Scripts. Other custom tools can be found at Wikipedia:Tools. Some common tools and gadgets can also be found on the Gadgets tab in My Preferences.
Creating an Account
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Why_create_an_account An overview of the benefits to creating a user account, with a link to the form to create an account
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Username The official username policy and an overview of guidelines and how to work with usernames
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Changing_username The page to request a change in username
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Listusers The automatically generated list of all registered accounts on Wikipedia
http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Right_to_vanish Information about the qualified right to vanish
http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Help:Preferences About user preferences, including skins
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Signatures#Customizing_your_signature About customizing your signature
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Tools Various tools for using Wikipedia
http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Gallery_of_user_styles A gallery of skins that MediaWiki users have developed (both for using Wikipedia and for using MediaWiki on other sites)
http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Skins Directions for creating your own skins
User Pages, Watchlists, and Edit Count edit
If you have a username, you have a user page in the form of User:Yourusername. Here you can post information about yourself for the benefit of other editors, as well as notes for yourself (for example, a list of the project pages that you often use). Note that a user page is not meant to be a personal web page: Wikipedia is not MySpace. Wikipedia has a few commonsense guidelines for user pages, as noted here; otherwise, you are free to post whatever you wish.
If you never edit your user page, it will show up as a redlink. Although this is respected (to an extent), not editing your user page will not inspire confidence in your commitment to Wikipedia. Adding at least some information to your user page is recommended. For users who really don't want a user page, one option is to redirect their user page to their user talk page (at user_talk:yourusername). This means when you sign messages on talk pages your username will show up as a bluelink, but people clicking it will be directed to your talk page to leave a message instead.
The content you add to your user page is up to you. Listing your interests and areas of expertise is certainly helpful—or at least what you're interested in working on in Wikipedia. Inform other editors, for instance, if your edits are in an area that you are knowledgeable about or just consider a hobby. This will help other like-minded editors find you. You can also list what you've done on the site on your user page: articles you've written or worked on, for instance. This kind of brag sheet not only helps you keep track of what you've done but also shows others what you've accomplished and where your main editing interests lie. Pride in your work as shown on your user page is not misplaced!
Many editors also list the languages they speak—a courteous gesture for an international project. If you are multilingual, your help with translations may be requested. Wikipedia has a series of standardized language templates for just this purpose. They contain the language code (such as en or fr) and a number from 1 to 4 and then native. The numbers indicate proficiency: 1 means you're a beginning learner, whereas native indicates that this language is your mother tongue. These language templates can be found at Wikipedia:Babel (shortcut WP:BABEL).
User Page Content edit
The way of the Wikipedian is to value spontaneity on the site, not formality. When you post any serious amount of information on your user page, though, you should adopt a thoughtful approach. Keep these three concepts in mind: privacy, which we've already mentioned; authority, which we discussed at length in Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia; and neutrality.
The authors of this book happily use their real names on Wikipedia—and you can immediately discover this from Google. Anything posted on Wikipedia may become very public, and if you use your real name, your user page may start to climb up the Google hits on your name. Keep this in mind if you add a photo, your location, or any other identifiable information about yourself, particularly if you don't want your identity on Wikipedia linked to other online presences or public roles you may have. Just to drive this point home, a search for Charles Matthews—a fairly common name—now leads directly to one author's very own user page in the top few search engine hits. Furthermore, if you're interested in getting involved in the administrative side of the site, that may involve controversy. Any disclosure may attract online stalkers; in a few cases, the antagonists of administrators have tracked down real-life information such as phone numbers. This is unlikely to happen unless you're engaged in controversial actions; however, as with any online forum, this possibility is a genuine concern. Wikipedia itself can do very little in such cases.
Qualifications in academic areas add to an editor's reputation. Should you mention this qualification on your user page? Listing a doctorate in art history will not make you immediately identifiable. It also should not buttress your art history edits against those who think they have identified mistakes; however, those who don't trust your edits to art articles will probably be more likely to check their own facts before inserting their corrections. Many editors view editing Wikipedia as a professional activity, no less important than working on another encyclopedia or scholarly work that merits the respect of others. If you're known in your field or recognized as an expert, about the only way to prove it is to use your real name as a username, and use a professional tone on your user page. You can use a pseudonym to reduce your real name's prominence, but make no secret of your real name on your user page.
A different set of considerations comes into play when you consider posting your affiliations, say political or religious, the company you work for, or any activism you pursue. This can be seen as declaring an interest before editing in some of the more contentious areas. If you do this, your edits will be under more intense scrutiny by other editors for strict neutrality. Self-knowledge helps here. If despite having a commitment to a political party, you really can be neutral in editing political articles, then your reputation as a good editor will grow. If, however, you really cannot be neutral about the company you work for (and many people would find that hard), then if you do edit the article about this company, your declaration may make matters worse. However, fair-minded folk will always give you some credit for honesty, even if you're a declared partisan.
Wikipedia has some limitations on what you can post to your user page. The guideline is at Wikipedia:User page (shortcut WP:UP). You can't, for example, use your user page for blogging, for an activist campaign, or in other ways that simply treat it as free web space. User pages are meant to help the community of Wikipedia editors, and using them in a combative fashion (a blacklist of users you dislike, for example) is a mistake.
Your user page is also not the right place to raise grievances, for the good reason that others are not entitled to reply to you there (though they may leave messages on your user talk page). By convention, no one else should edit your user page without your invitation, though obvious vandalism to it may be reverted by others.
Userboxes and the Boxen War
One of the less-distinguished episodes in the history of the English-language Wikipedia occurred early in 2006, in a huge controversy over an apparently minor matter of onsite policy. Userboxes (boxen, to some of those unconvinced on their centrality to the project) are small rectangular templates designed to be placed on a user page to help with various types of self-identification. "This user is a Scorpio" is a harmless example. But what about "This user enjoys pornography" or "This user supports Senator John McCain for president in 2008?" What about the spoof language box, "This person does not understand Bullshit (or understands it with considerable difficulties)"? Or "This user is a Wiccan?" These are all real examples. The question was over whether these were helpful to the site or, in some cases, inflammatory and whether they should be allowed.
The first userboxes were the language templates mentioned previously, but the userbox fad came to prominence shortly after a rapid influx of new editors in late 2005. Once the fad caught on, userboxes addressing all issues of religion and politics, profanity and sexuality, were being created. These userboxes became the focus of a fervid argument, essentially about free speech; the question was whether Wikipedia was a free forum for its users or a working environment that needed some regulation.
Thousands of userboxes having been created, deleting those clearly created only to test how far Wikipedia was committed to allowing free expression and self-identification took a while, and a great deal of argument (including one notable case of administrator edit-warring) took place regarding some of the boxes. The debate was ultimately settled by some decisions on namespaces; box templates held in the User namespace (rather than the Template namespace) are now less "official." Some arguments do still persist, however, about what a user page may contain (whether boxed up or not). However, Wikipedia is not a dedicated discussion forum, and the general consensus was that self-identification on the site should help the project, not be seen as an end in itself. See Wikipedia:Userboxes (shortcut WP:BOX) for a deceptively calm account of the controversy and a list of userboxes, most related to general interests and professions or education, that you might want to use. Wikipedia:WikiProject Userboxes has taken over this once-contentious area.
These guidelines apply to the user space in general, including subpages. In commonsense terms, these guidelines mean that anything for the benefit of the project can be posted; nothing else should be.
User Talk Pages edit
With a user page comes a user talk page. This is where other people can leave you messages about your work, articles that you are working on, and so on. A typical user talk page accumulates notes and questions from other editors about article content, ongoing projects, and contributions; notifications from WikiProjects the user belongs to; and occasional complaints and holiday greetings. Early messages on your user talk page may well be automated or created by templates. Please don't take this as typical of Wikipedia: Human interaction is valued. General interaction on talk pages, which are a very important part of social life on Wikipedia, will be described further in Chapter 12, Community and Communication, but the basic rule play nice applies here as elsewhere. Note
If you have a specific problem but don't yet know where to go on the site to get an answer, you can add the Template:Helpme template to your user talk page. You should get a response on your talk page from an active editor.
Most user talk pages use a conventional simple structure, where each message is left as a new section (with two equal signs, ==, around the message title to produce the section header). New messages are added at the bottom. If a conversation produces several back-and-forth replies, any further comments should be indented for readability to produce a threaded discussion, as on article talk pages. Finally, all messages should be signed with four tildes (Phoebe (discuss • contribs) 00:50, 14 July 2013 (UTC)) to insert the commenter's username and the date. As described in "Talk Pages" on Section 1.4.1, “Reading and Contributing to Talk Pages”, whenever you receive a message on your talk page, the next time you log in an orange notification box (see Figure 4.6, “A notice alerts you to a new message on your personal talk page.”) will automatically pop up to let you know (this goes away when you "check your messages" by going to your talk page).
You are entitled to keep your user talk page tidy: If you get lots of messages, archive the page periodically to a subpage (see the description of user subpages in "Drafting the Article" on Section 1.5, “Drafting the Article” and directions at Wikipedia:User page). While ignoring any annoying messages left on your talk page is best, you can also remove them, though removing legitimate discussions about content is generally not a good idea.
If you have a question or comment for another user, feel free to go to his or her user talk page to leave a message. You should be polite (obviously), but you don't have to be ingratiating. A good starting point is to assume that Wikipedia is a working environment—so say what has to be said, and be fairly businesslike. For certain discussions, you might consider requesting an email exchange. The user whom you are contacting is free to delete your message after reading it (or even before). This is not something to make an issue about.
What happens when you begin a discussion on another user talk page depends on the user you have contacted. Logically, a thread started on User talk:BeanStalkJack would continue there, with user:BeanStalkJack replying to messages left for him. You can also request that the conversation proceed on your own user talk page: Just finish with "Please respond on my user talk page" before signing the post. If not, you will have to monitor User talk:BeanStalkJack for any answers. You might click the Watch tab before moving on; then all you have to remember is to consult your watchlist. Some users will respond on your user page anyway.
You often have a choice of where to take up a discussion arising from edits to an article. Should you write something on the article's talk page, or would it be better to go to the editor's user talk page? On the article's discussion page, everyone concerned can chip in, so if you have general concerns about an article, post them here. If you want to address a particular editor on some aspect of his or her work or ask a question about a particular edit, then post on the editor's user talk page.
Your watchlist defines your own personal corner of the huge Wikipedia site. It displays a set of recent changes for the subset of pages that you have specifically selected to watch. Using your watchlist means you can easily scan a list of the edits made to the pages or articles you are interested in, without having to go to each of those pages individually. By maintaining a watchlist, you can help defeat vandalism and keep the site tidy while monitoring topics of greatest interest to you. Your watchlist is private—only you can access it.
When you're logged in, you can access your watchlist by clicking My Watchlist, next to the My Preferences link in the upper-right corner.
The watchlist display (Figure 11.4, “A watchlist for a logged-in user”) is similar to Recent Changes. Any changes made to the pages you are watching are listed here, one change per line, with the date of the change, the username of the editor who made the change, and a link to the diff.
One special feature of watchlists and Recent Changes, which is different from reading an individual page history, is the small colored number that appears after the page name and timestamp, but before the editor's name or IP address (Figure 11.5, “Number of bytes changed in a particular diff, indicated in a watchlist”). This number refers to the amount of text, in bytes, that was changed during an individual edit. A green number with a plus sign means text was added; a red number with a minus sign means text was removed. A very large red number, for instance, may indicate that a page was blanked or significant content was removed, and you should check it out; similarly, a large green number with a single edit indicates that a great deal of text was added all at once. Note that the number refers to net change, so major edits may still result in a small number being displayed. A zero will display when a word is replaced by a word with the same number of letters (say four); this could still be a vandal!
Any page, whether it's an article or a project page, can be watched, or added to your watchlist. To watch a page, make sure you're logged in, and then click the Watch tab at the top of the article in question (Figure 11.6, “The Watch tab at the top of an article”). Now any changes made to the page will show up on your watchlist. To unwatch a page, you can simply revisit the page; you'll notice the tab now says Unwatch. Click the tab again to remove the page.
You can also remove pages from your watchlist by clicking the View and Edit Watchlist link at the top of your watchlist; you'll be taken to a list of all the page titles you're watching. On the Recent Changes tab in My Preferences, you can customize the number of changes and the number of days that you wish to display.
Figure 11.4. A watchlist for a logged-in user A watchlist for a logged-in user
When you watch a page you are also watching its associated talk page; so if you watch an article, any changes made to the article or to its talk page will be listed.
Watchlists are not limited in terms of size, but the list tends to grow over time, and your interest in a page may only be temporary. For example, in a user talk page discussion, you might watch the page on which an active debate is happening. But when it concludes, you may have no further reason to be alerted to all changes, so you may want to remove the page from your watchlist. By default, any page you create is added to your watchlist; you can select other options from the Watchlist tab under My Preferences.
Figure 11.5. Number of bytes changed in a particular diff, indicated in a watchlist Number of bytes changed in a particular diff, indicated in a watchlist
Figure 11.6. The Watch tab at the top of an article The Watch tab at the top of an article
Watchlists and Related Changes
Watchlists are easy to use, but they are entirely private. If you'd like to create a tidy shared watchlist for a joint project or a public to-do list, or if you want to watch a related group of pages together, you can use the Related Changes feature instead. Create a subpage in your user space with a list of links to the articles you're interested in. Clicking Related Changes from this page (on the left-hand sidebar under Toolbox) will show you any changes to these pages (though not to their talk pages). If you'd like to include links that won't display publicly, add a link like topic beside topic; the link won't show up on the page since it isn't piped to any replacement text, but Related Changes will register the change.
RSS Notification edit
You can also create other types of notifications or alerts about edits to a particular page. This is helpful if you are only interested in a few pages.
To create an RSS feed or Atom feed (which is an alternative to RSS) of changes made to any page, follow these steps:
- Go to the page you're interested in and click the History tab at the top of the article.
- Now look under Toolbox on the left-hand sidebar menu.
- You'll see two links for feed options (under Related Changes): RSS and Atom. You can add the links for these to a feed reader as with any other feed.
The feed will display as a page of diffs (Figure 11.7, “An RSS feed of changes made to the page List of trees” shows a feed of changes to the page List of trees being displayed in NetNewsReader). This option could be handy if you're in the habit of checking your RSS feed reader but not Wikipedia, for instance, if you wanted to keep an eye on a particular page such as your own user talk page.
Contribution History and Counting Edits edit
If you participate much in discussions about other editors (such as on the Requests for Adminship page), you'll likely hear references to edit count. This means the total number of page changes that a user has made, usually counting edits in all namespaces. Any contributor's history of edits and total edit count is publicly accessible; a record of all changes made by any account or IP address is kept. For any registered account, the user's editing history can be found from Special:Contributions/Nameofuser, where Nameofuser is replaced by the user account name. If you want to see your own contributions, you can just click My Contributions in the upper-right corner, next to My Watchlist. Checking your own contributions can be a quick way to click back to a page that you have been working on or to follow up on a discussion that you have been contributing to.
Checking out an editor's contribution history tells you what he or she has been working on recently. But this display is inconvenient for determining someone's total edit count, especially if that editor has made more than a few thousand edits. You can monitor your own edit count by checking at My Preferences; the count is posted just below your username. To check another contributor's edit count, in addition to Special:Contributions (which gives you a list of edits but doesn't provide a total number), you can use several automated tools that count edits for a given username. These tools can be found at Wikipedia:WikiProject edit counters. One caveat is these edit counters are provided as fun utilities, not as crucial project tools, and they tend to go offline or be unpredictably withdrawn. To see the top contributors, Wikipedia has a list, which is updated but not always regularly, at Wikipedia:List of Wikipedians by number of edits (shortcut WP:WBE). This list currently gives you an idea of the edit counts for the top 3,000 or so editors; as of 2008, you need at least 5,000 edits to appear on the list.
Edit count is important because this measure is the typical one used to enfranchise editors in elections (for instance, in previous years voters for Wikimedia Foundation board members had to have at least 400 edits on a single Wikimedia wiki), so having a certain edit count may bring suffrage in elections where only community members may participate. Additionally, the edit counts and patterns for administrator candidates are also debated (though no particular number is asked for, a count in the low thousands of edits or more is generally required to pass in Requests for Adminship, described in "Administrators" on Administrators). In other words, edit count is a measure of how experienced someone is as a Wikipedia editor.
Edit count is only somewhat useful though. Although edit count is correlated with experience editing Wikipedia, this correlation is rough. Don't think better of someone just because he is poor at finding the preview button. The raw edit count is crude and undiscriminating—counting typo fixes and vandalism reverts is the same as adding thoughtful content or references, though anyone who is truly interested can, of course, sample an account's contributions and draw better conclusions about the quality of an editor's work. Historically, the most committed individual editors, editing normally, have contributed at a peak rate of around 3,000 edits a month, or 100 a day. This rate requires full use of free time and not having a life outside Wikipedia and is not necessarily sustainable.
The author of the original tool for counting edits noted that editcountitis, or an unhealthy obsession with the notion of edit count, can be fatal. Editcountitis is often a symptom of Wikipediholism, which is an even worse disease. The only sure treatment is worrying more about the quality of your edits than the quantity. You have been warned; head over to Wikipedia:Wikipediholism test (shortcut WP:WHT) for a humorous diagnosis.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:User_page The user page guideline
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Userboxes The guideline on userboxes
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Talk_page An introduction to reading discussion pages (including user talk pages)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Talk_page_guidelines Basic principles and guidelines for working on talk pages (including user talk pages)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Watching_pages Help with using watchlists and different watchlist options
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:RSS Instructions for getting RSS feeds from Wikipedia and what areas of the site you can get RSS feeds of
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_edit_counters The place to get an edit counter that will count another contributor's total edits
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions A page where you can get a list of the contributions made by any IP address or username
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_Wikipedians_by_number_of_edits List of Wikipedians with the top edit counts (only lists the top 3,000 individuals or so)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Editcountitis A description of the dread disease of editcountitis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipediholic A description of how to diagnose Wikipediholism
Users and Administrators edit
If you're editing and aren't logged in, you're in some sense a second-class citizen on the site. Expect less tolerance of minor infractions of policy and guidelines. That being said, everyone editing from an account should be treated equally, as an editor. Although editors hold different titles on the site, no one has any actual added authority when it comes to saying what should and should not be in an article.
In particular, the site administrators (or sysops) are not supposed to use their greater technical capabilities to exert influence on content. This is a basic point but one that is easily and often misunderstood. Administrators are usually experienced editors, who will naturally know the system better and will probably be more adept at managing discussions about policy and its application. This doesn't mean that what an experienced editor has to say trumps what a complete newcomer has to offer. From its outset Wikipedia has tried to get by with a very flat user structure, without a hierarchy of editors, and in contributions to articles that ideal persists. Wikipedia does have, however, a small variety of account types with different technical privileges, which are detailed next. 3.1. User Levels
The majority of tasks on Wikipedia can be performed by anyone, whether that person is logged in or not. A handful of user access levels are defined, with progressively broader privileges; these are detailed in full at Wikipedia:User access levels. Note that these are functional distinctions, not an indication of the editor's importance on the site or the role he or she takes in contributing to content. provides some categorization of individuals with particular roles on the site, which may not be related to Wikipedia access level.
Visitors who have not created an account or signed in to an existing account can still do most things, including the most important tasks: editing articles and helping with Wikipedia maintenance.
Signed-up users can do everything IP addresses can do. They can also upload files, start new articles, and once they reach the autoconfirm threshold (after having the account for four days), they can move pages and edit semiprotected pages. The vast majority of Wikipedia contributors, both dedicated and casual, fall into this category.
The English-language Wikipedia has over 1,500 administrators (known as admins or sysops). The main page about them, Wikipedia:Administrators (shortcut WP:ADMIN), lists their quite varied powers and responsibilities. We say more about these later in this chapter. Admins are generally expected to know more about the site and to be much better informed about the workings of Wikipedia than the average user. They are usually good, helpful people to ask about procedures and for help in editing disputes. Admins represent the community of Wikipedia editors in the sense that they are, in almost all cases, elected volunteers who give time to patrolling the site. They also bear the brunt of much bad behavior from those who don't know or don't care about the site, how it works, and its mission.
A bot is an automated program or script that can do some routine tasks. Bot is also the status of an account that is only used to enable mass automated edits. The edits of approved accounts with bot status turned on do not show up in Recent Changes. Although this status, like all statuses other than regular user, can only be given by a bureaucrat, bots are approved by an informal Bot Approvals Group, which consists of interested bot programmers. More information and a list of all currently active and approved bots can be found at Wikipedia:Bots.
The other status classes are listed below for reference. Very few editors, relatively speaking, fall into these classes.
Users with bureaucrat status can turn other users into administrators (but not remove admin status), change usernames, and flag and unflag bot accounts. All of these changes are recorded in Special:Log/rights (or Wikipedia:Bureaucrat log before December 24, 2004). Bureaucrats are created by a process called Request for Bureaucratship (RfB), which is similar to the Request for Adminship process. Bureaucrats are created by other bureaucrats (or by stewards on projects who do not yet have one). Wikipedia has far fewer bureaucrats than admins (and requests on RfB are rare); less than 30 editors are bureaucrats. Thus bureaucrats, like people in the other categories discussed next, make up a small, trusted group of users.
Oversight and CheckUser
These two special technical permissions for tools are generally used only in atypical situations. Users with the Oversight permission can hide revisions of pages from all users (rather than delete the entire page). These revisions can temporarily be accessed and reviewed only by other users with the Oversight permission. A log of oversight actions is visible to all Oversighters, who usually are members of the Arbitration Committee (described in Chapter 14, Disputes, Blocks, and Bans). Users with the CheckUser permission can retrieve the IP addresses used by a username and can also retrieve all edits by users using a certain IP or IP range; this helps fight highly disruptive vandalism and sockpuppet abuse.
A log of CheckUser actions is visible to all Checkusers. Checkusers are generally appointed by the Arbitration Committee; stewards and a few other global project people can also serve as Checkusers. The policies and more information can be found at Wikipedia:Oversight and Wikipedia:CheckUser, respectively; requests for use of CheckUser can be made at Wikipedia:Requests for checkuser.
Stewards have cross-project powers; they can act as an administrator or bureaucrat on any Wikimedia Foundation wiki. They are not commonly active on the English-language Wikipedia. Stewards exist especially to help out with smaller Wikimedia wikis that may not yet have their own administrators; see Chapter 17, The Foundation and Project Coordination.
Developers have the highest degree of technical access (actually at various levels, but these levels are not really visible to users). They can make direct changes to the MediaWiki software and the Wikimedia wiki farm and databases. These people, by and large, do not carry out administrative functions on Wikipedia; they are a handful of trusted users who participate in MediaWiki development and technical administration.
Administrators, often known as sysops (for system operator) or just admins and sometimes referred to as janitors, are editors whose editing privileges have been increased. Ambitious to become one? You'd better know what's involved. The janitor nickname is in place for a reason. Administrators have little extra formal power in making editorial or policy decisions. Instead, they tend to do very messy cleanup work, revert vandalism, keep an eye on Recent Changes, watch out for disruptive users, and delete junk pages.
Administrator powers are given to editors who have proven themselves to be experienced and trustworthy though a process called Requests for Adminship (RfA). Adminship was originally designed as a temporary measure to reduce vandalism on the main page; as the community grew, it became a useful way to grant extra privileges to experienced users so they could do needed work.
So what are their superpowers? Admins can block disruptive editors or IP addresses from editing. This not done lightly, and doing it to gain editing advantages would cause a scandal. This power requires a proper understanding of site policies and customs.
Furthermore, admins are able to delete pages from public view, and they can view the histories of deleted pages. They are also able to delete uploaded files, edit protected pages (such as the main page) and protect and unprotect pages. They can protect pages from being moved (or move a protected page) and edit pages in the MediaWiki namespace, which changes the look and feel of the site. There are formal processes for doing most of these things, including blocking, deletions, and making interface changes, which admins are expected to follow. Admins are accountable for their actions and should respond reasonably when their use of power is calmly questioned.
Adminship is a duty, not a prize. The only reason to become an administrator is if you want to help with tasks that need these particular powers. Wikipedia has plenty of very valuable and respected contributors who are not and do not intend to be administrators. Becoming an administrator also exposes you to a certain level of visibility and controversy that might not be desirable; often administrative tasks involve doing things that other people won't want you to do, such as deleting an article that they wrote. In general, becoming a possible administrator candidate is something that you should expect only after extensive work on the wiki, and not something you should strive for in particular. Admins have no fixed term of service, and particular duties are not assigned. Rarely, admins can lose their administrator status, though generally only if serious concerns have been raised and the Arbitration Committee has ruled on it.
It's No Big Deal
One oft-repeated thing you'll hear about adminship is that it's no big deal. This means that people shouldn't worry about the fine distinctions of who gets to be an admin and who doesn't; any trusted user with some experience who wants to help out should be able to become an admin. This quote comes from an email from Jimmy Wales, sent when the community was quite a bit smaller in 2003:
I just wanted to say that becoming a sysop is *not a big deal*. I think perhaps I'll go through semi-willy-nilly and make a bunch of people who have been around for a while sysops. I want to dispel the aura of "authority" around the position. It's merely a technical matter that the powers given to sysops are not given out to everyone. I don't like that there's the apparent feeling here that being granted sysop status is a really special thing.
A few years later, adminship is a bigger deal (the bar has been raised for becoming an admin), but still several admins are added every week.
Requesting Help from an Administrator edit
Anyone can legitimately request help from an admin, whether on policy, technical matters, or when troubled by another editor. You can find a full list of administrators at Wikipedia:List of administrators (shortcut WP:LA). Checking this out is actually a farsighted thing to do. Early in working on the site, note those administrators who are active in your areas of interest. If a difficult issue comes up in a hurry, you can check whether a particular user is currently online by reading their contribution history (bearing in mind possible time-coding differences) and then leave a message on his or her user talk page. Or you can send an email to an admin who has enabled mail from his or her user page. Finally, you can go to Wikipedia:Requests for administrator attention, which has a long list of the various places to ask for help with various problems, or to the Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard, which is a discussion page just for requests and notices to administrators. This has the advantage that whichever administrators are active at that particular time will see your request.
You are obviously going to be polite in asking for help, so the next key point is simple enough: Be coherent and give the context. When asking for intervention, you must describe the contentious issue clearly enough so that someone else can grasp the problem at hand.
Becoming an Administrator edit
Requests for Adminship (shortcut WP:RFA) is the formal process of requesting adminship privileges, and it goes on in an open forum. Anyone with an account may request adminship; simply go to the RfA page and nominate yourself or (better) have someone else nominate you. Other people will comment on your application and ask you questions for a period of a week. Many criteria are discussed, mainly relating to the applicant's knowledge of administrator policy, but none have any official status. You obviously need to be a user of the site in good standing, but that rules out few serious candidates. Probably the best way to get a sense of the process is to review some recent debates; you can find archives at Wikipedia:Successful adminship candidacies. Once you have an account, you can leave comments on other applicants yourself.
Help, I'm Blocked While Learning About the Site!
Sometimes new editors on Wikipedia find themselves blocked from editing because they are working their way up a learning curve on the site and are making some mistakes. If this happens to you, you are certainly not alone. Such blocks should be short (most likely lasting 24 hours), and the point is to learn from them and rise above it. Your reputation will not suffer. For example, if you infringe the Three-Revert Rule, you might be blocked, though you might feel a warning would have been more helpful and no less likely to make you obey it in future.
But don't waste too much time making that point. This is the golden rule: If you have been given a temporary block, you can more easily make the situation worse than you can improve it. "Come back tomorrow" is the best advice. Wikipedia's system is quite forgiving to those who move on quickly from mishaps. For more about how blocking works, see Chapter 14, Disputes, Blocks, and Bans.
After your nomination closes, a bureaucrat will evaluate the comments and decide whether to promote you; a 75 percent margin of support is generally required. Before trying to become an administrator, you should have at least a few months of experience editing the site and perhaps a few thousand edits across various namespaces. Experience in the areas that administrators work in, such as deleting vandalism, participating in Articles for Deletion, or particularly with helping smooth over controversial articles, is also recommended. Others will be assessing your grasp of major policies but also your coolness under trying conditions. Having a thick skin is useful and a level head even more so.
RfA became formalized as a separate area of Wikipedia in June 2003; until then, adminship requests were made on the mailing list. Before becoming an administrator was formalized even to that degree, administrator privileges were handed out fairly freely by Jimmy Wales to anyone who was a "regular" and known on the site.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:User_access_levels The different types of user access levels
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Bots Information about bots
http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikipedia-l/2001-October/000625.html The October 2001 message from Jimmy Wales announcing that the main page would be locked and temporary admin privileges would be granted
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators Information about being an administrator and the official policy on administrators
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_administrator_attention A place to post requests for help to administrators
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_adminship Requests for Adminship, where prospective administrators are confirmed
Arrivals at Wikipedia are usually a little casual. These are the basics: Get an account, choose a couple of options in My Preferences, and then start your user page. You can take care of the rest during breaks between actual editing.
Proceed slowly with getting more deeply involved, either in the system or (by bad fortune) in battling against it. The site is administered by the community, for the community. In the next chapter, we'll talk about the culture of this community and Wikipedian motivations, the public discussion forums where you can talk to other editors, and some of the ins and outs of participating in the community aspects of the site.