wikiHow is open by design. Many new editors are surprised or even shocked to discover that wikiHow is completely open for anyone - yes, anyone on the Internet - to edit. While this leaves us vulnerable to a certain amount of abuse by way of bad faith edits in the short term, wikiHow works precisely because we are so open. It may be difficult to accept at face value, but in the long run even anonymous editors make wikiHow better, not worse.

EditIdealism vs. Pragmatism

Openness is often seen as having to make a choice between adopting naive optimism versus facing the harsh reality of practical experience. In the case of wikiHow, however, this is a false choice that belies the good possibilities for making the most of the potential for mutual compatibility of idealism and pragmatism.

On the one hand, a dose of idealism does serve as part of the foundation compelling wikiHow's openness because we believe that openness should thrive on wikiHow for the sake of its own merits. Openness leads to sharing of knowledge, sharing of ideas, reaching out to as many people as possible and being prepared to listen to and learn from all perspectives.

On the other hand, our main desire for openness is really driven by the fact that we think it is the best and most practical solution to building our how-to manual quickly, efficiently and thoroughly. Pragmatism encourages accuracy, certainty and a positive grounding of lofty ideals.

In an open environment, bringing together idealism and pragmatism in a mutually compatible way creates a place for the greatest sharing of knowledge and ideas with the greatest potential for high quality, accurate and relevant information.

We compromise our openness only when all other options have been exhausted.

EditGood Anonymous Contributions

Wikis work in their earliest stages because of helpful anonymous editors, not in spite of them. About one third of the edits on wikiHow are from anonymous editors and the vast majority of those edits are good edits, targeted at improving wikiHow.

If we made a decision to ban the anonymous edits or new articles from new users, it is absolutely certain that we would have less high quality information than we have to date and we would lose much of the inspiration provided by anonymous users that stimulates other editors on wikiHow. Many of our best pages were submitted by anonymous editors, such as How to Survive a Freestyle Rap Battle and How to Choose a Good Office Plant.

In the case of these articles, the people chose to contribute anonymously. Why? There are any number of possible reasons: Maybe they didn't want to share their name or any identity whatsoever with us; maybe it was a passing moment of interest in the site that later sparks into something more. Even more likely, such users probably didn't want to register only to share one piece of their knowledge and leave. It is hard for us to judge their motivations but it is fair to say that if we prohibited anonymous contributions we would have, well, fewer contributions.

And let us not forget that many of our registered users began life as an anonymous user and "found their niche" doing so. It would be unimaginable to prevent such contributors from growing into regular wikiHowians through anonymity.

EditPotential Effect of Becoming Less Open

So, what might happen if we banned anonymous editors either from editing or from making new articles? It is certain that we'd see less of both the good faith and bad faith contributions. In addition, it would undoubtedly slow our growth rate and the amount of good information we receive on wikiHow. It would also have the undesirable effect of requiring vandals and other bad faith editors to register accounts and essentially join the community. Instead of just being faceless bad faith anonymous editors we can delete with impunity, there is the possibility that disruptive users may become more troll-like as they defend their bad faith edits.

Unsurprisingly, it is emotionally easier for administrators to revert or delete pages done by nameless anonymous editors than it is for edits made by a new registered community member. This is because there is greater detachment from the contributor. Once people include their contributor's name at the bottom of an article, it is realistic to expect that the registered author or editor will be more vocal in demanding that it not be deleted or merged. Thus, the ironic outcome of banning anonymous editors from making new articles could result in an undesirable decrease rather than an increase of the quality of information that stays on wikiHow.

EditTaking Care with Making Assumptions

Given that anonymous editors make many edits on the site and that anonymous editors, in general, add good quality information, it is important to recognize our own inherent bias towards anonymous editors. As mentioned earlier, it is easier to delete a nameless person's edits than those made by a registered contributor. Keep this in mind when assessing the edits of an anon. Is the idea or concept behind the edit solid but maybe the grammar or spelling is not? If so, try to keep it and overlook a natural bias to dismiss the edits of an anonymous editor - tidy the edit but keep the information. Always think twice when anonymous edits are not vandalism or bad faith - there may be a gem of human knowledge there waiting to be polished by you.

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