How to be a Wikimedia sysop

From Wikiversity
Jump to: navigation, search
Favicon.gif Action required

Favicon.gif Templates

Favicon.gif Development

Favicon.gif Reference

Favicon.gif Events and news

This learning project can help you learn how to be a Wikimedia sysop (wiki administrator).

The topic of "how to be a Wikimedia sysop" is one which engenders a great deal of emotion among some people, so please be patient while this project develops, or if you need to blow off steam, use the talk page. Thank you!


Purpose of this course[edit]

Newcomers to Wikimedia Foundation wiki projects are often filled with enthusiasm at the start and often feel they would like to contribute on the administrative side as well as on the content creation side. The openness of Wikimedia projects is inviting to newcomers. Back in the early days of Wikipedia, rules and conventions were fewer and the paths to full involvement shorter and easier. As time has gone by, Wikipedia and some of its sister projects have become awesome monoliths of bureaucracy (at least to the outside eye) and it is much more difficult to become fully and deeply involved.

This development is really nothing different from what one sees in other fields of knowledge and ability. In the ancient days of computing, most programmers were self-taught and it didn't really take a lot to become famous. These days you need several years of carefully structured training even to get a modest income. Like it or not, with Wikipedia at over 4 million articles and the #6 internet website by traffic, the days of training for Wikipedia are here. All other fields of special abilities and knowledge are like this, beginning with autodidacts and maturing with educational programmes in which experience is accumulated and passed on to maximize the efficiency and quality of each subsequent generation.

The most obvious side of training is, of course, training editors to be editors: e.g., how to

  1. make your first edit
  2. create bulleted and numbered lists
  3. sign your name
  4. use a template, etc.
  5. For more info, see this page

Wikiversity aims to develop an extensive range of tutorials for wiki participants, and will hopefully become a place where other Wikimedia Foundation projects send their new participants.

Giving people administrative tools can be a good thing. People may feel like their fellow participants trust and respect them. The added responsibility may give them a sense of pride. They may also feel they have a greater stake in the success of a wiki which can encourage them to become more involved, stay longer, and contribute more. Being a good administrator can also be incredibly difficult. Peers can often be highly critical of the decisions made. Peers often feel that they would have done a better job or made better decisions. This can cause administrators to feel alienated from their peers. Keeping yourself enthusiastic, optimistic, and uncritical can be extremely difficult to achieve, even on small wikis.

Status of this course[edit]

Progress-0250.svg Completion status: this resource is ~25% complete.

This course is optional! Whether this course will contribute towards your personal goals is entirely up to you. This course does not confer or guarantee responsibilities - but it may transfer ability. Nobody should feel that they have to take this course in order to obtain sysop tools or other tools on any Wikimedia project. Nor should you think that taking this course somehow guarantees that your fellow peers will support you receiving sysop tools.

Constructive criticism of this learning concept[edit]

There is a school of thought at Wikimedia which tries hard to retain the original amateurishness of sysop status. People who follow this school of thought may make comments such as " no big deal" (implying anyone from off the street can do it) and will find it hard to conceive of or accept how anyone could train sysops. There are perhaps other schools of thought with opinions about sysops. As a part of this course, representatives of these schools should be given an opportunity to express their viewpoints.

What makes a good sysop?[edit]

This is a rough sketch of the general areas which a sysop should try to cover, one way or the other.

Human resources[edit]

People matter. People are a greater asset than a wiki's content, especially in a collaborative learning environment like Wikiversity:

  • Teachers create learning materials.
  • Researchers present new ideas and information.
  • Editors improve the quality of materials.
  • Learners provide useful feedback.

You don't have to be good with people to be a sysop, but if you aren't, please try your best to stay away from people-related tasks. People-related tasks include:

  1. Orientating and having sympathy with newcomers
  2. Retaining, supporting and encouraging established participants
  3. Feeling out and developing consensus and expressing where you think consensus lies
  4. Defusing heated conflict between participants

Staying away from people related tasks is often easier said then done. While on many wiki's having sysop tools does not give any special editorial control over content, this fact is frequently misunderstood by other editors. It is easy in the course of an ordinary disagreement about the content of a resource for users without sysop status to feel that a sysop is pulling rank. If you ever feel this is the case it is best to remind the other editors involved that you have no special privileges. This can require a lot of maturity from the sysop in particularly difficult disagreements.

Technical abilities[edit]

Knowing how the mediawiki software works and being a good editor. Sysops don't have to be techies, but if you aren't, try to recognize this and ask those who know better (make sure you know who the technically good people are). Nonetheless, you should probably master the most basic technical tasks, such as those associated with recent changes patrolling, and make sure your core editing skills are high. Techie tasks include:

  1. Knowing how the sysop tools work:
    • Rollback: Be careful. Let's say that a user makes four edits to one page, but only the last edit is vandalism. If you use rollback it will remove all four edits by that user back to the last version edited by someone else. In this case you would want to use Undo instead. The other occasionally tricky thing with rollback is that you're not really sure what the version you're returning to looks like, and on rare occasions you might revert back to a version that was vandalized already by another user (or even the same user if they have a shifting IP). That's more often a problem on Wikipedia than Wikiversity though... Wikipedia has a lot more vandals.
    • Deleting
    • Blocking
    • Protecting: There are certain templates that are targets of vandals, for instance inserting a crude message or image in {{welcome}} Take a look at the log edit summary to get an idea of how it has been used in the past. [1] A short protection might be used if there is an edit war, but you would need to think about that one carefully. Would it really cool off a heated argument or make it worse? Protection may also have been used a couple times to prevent recreating pages that were deleted as being outside the scope of the wiki. Advertising, for example. Also, click on the Protect tab and read the comments in the drop down box which are some of the common reasons. Notice also that there are options like Block New and Unregistered Users from editing which can be used to prevent vandalism, while allowing existing users to continue working on the page. You can also specify a short duration that is longer than the attention span of a vandal.
    • Revision deletion: Page edit histories and action logs can have specific entries deleted. This reduces transparency and is only to be used in very specific situations, such as serious libel, highly offensive material, identity outing etc.
  2. Templates
  3. Style sheets (the CSS things)
  4. Bots (a rare skill)
  5. System messages

Organisational skills[edit]

  1. Categorisation
  2. Tagging
  3. Archiving
  4. and other organisational issues

Hybrid skills[edit]

Being both a people person and a techie is a difficult thing. If you can combine them, it's good.

  1. Advising on the use of the wiki
  2. Recognizing the subtle differences between good and bad faith edits and knowing how to deal with this in a manner which strengthens rather than weakens community

Problem solving skills[edit]

  1. Communication options
  2. Key policies
  3. Good practices
  4. Not so good practices
  5. Possible actions:
    • Administrative templates
    • Undoing
    • Reverting / rollback
    • Deleting
    • Protecting
    • Blocking
    • Oversight

Fun and enthusiasm[edit]

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. -- proverb

You might be wondering, what does having fun and enthusiasm have to do with being a good sysop? Sysops are volunteers, and like any volunteer sysops need to stay motivated. Remember to have fun. Having fun is a good way for sysops to stay motivated and enthusiastic about a wiki. If a sysop works too hard the work can become dull and boring.


The general idea behind this course is that it should be an active teaching and learning process with real interaction between experienced and inexperienced users. Within their time availability, the initial concept is that tutors will involve students in regular learning and maintenance activities and provide them with feedback on their performance.

Things you really ought to know beforehand[edit]

If you are going to be a sysop on any Wikimedia or MediaWiki project, here are some things which you really ought to know about, preferably already. It would be a faux pas not to be capable in these areas. Find out quickly and don't get caught with your trousers down.

  1. Transclusion and Substitution
  2. Templates
  1. The difference between consensus and majority rule
  2. Proper etiquette for discussions, including:
    • Signing properly
    • Civility
    • Not disrupting other people's posts by inserting content in the middle
  3. Namespaces
  4. Image copyright
  5. Security: hacking into a sysop account is a prize attraction for vandals and pretty well spells your wiki-death; try and use a secure password. Some people didn't.

Things you should tour, learn about and do[edit]

This is a beginning of a list of the "places" and "tasks" that a probationary and/or relatively inexperienced custodian probably should engage with - please expand or link to detailed info:

  1. Tools
    • Blocking, deleting, protecting, rollback. Try the last 3 on your own pages as a test; then try blocking yourself and see if you can repair the damage. You'll notice you have a couple new buttons: "protect" and "delete". Best way to experiment is create some pages in your userspace and see how they function. On your watchlist and recent changes you'll also notice 2 more options: edits can be rolled back, and you have the option to block users. Try rolling back your own edits somewhere, and maybe block yourself to see what blocked users see when they try to edit (don't worry, you can unblock yourself... you just can't edit while your block is in place). Finally, have a look at Special:Log/delete. If you go to one of the deleted pages, you'll see an option to view/undelete. have a look at pages deleted recently to get an idea of what should just be deleted.
    • When to use the tools (which is mostly about knowing when not to use them and knowing all the many alternative courses of action which exist)
  2. Generating dynamic content with MediaWiki
  3. Managing vandalism
  4. User page - some ideas for sysop user pages - update your user page accordingly
  5. Sysop-related content for specific WMF sisterprojects:
  6. Local Project:Policy: Each sister project has its own local policies, as well as each also subscribing to some overarching Wikimedia Foundation policies. Familiarise yourself with these - also check their talk pages to help anticipate related issues that are likely to arise.
  7. There's nearly always custodians on our IRC channel as well, if you want to pop in!

Long-term projects[edit]

This is currently a list of ideas. Feel free to expand.

  1. Creating tutorials for newcomer editors. Sometimes would-be sysops are themselves still weak at their basic wiki editing skills, and one of the best ways to perfect your own skills is to pass them on to somebody else. By creating tutorials for newcomers, students of this course not only contribute to Wikiversity in practical terms, they also raise their own editing skills to the level where they will be able to help and advise newcomers in the future. Suggested tasks:
    1. Improve Help:Contents and Help:Wikitext quick reference
  2. Participating in and extending the maintenance hub. The maintenance hub is a wide, varied list of maintenance chores which can be performed at Wikiversity, and gives students experience of the typical problems which arise in the everyday administration of an active MediaWiki installation. Most things which sysops do don't actually require "sysop status" and can be practiced before becoming a probationary sysop.
  3. Discuss the future of Wikiversity. A good way to learn about the present of a project is to face the challenge of trying to help plan its future. See Wikiversity:Vision.
  4. Checking licences of uploaded files (mind you, this could also go on the maintenance hub).

Short-term projects[edit]

  • Creating this How to be a Wikimedia sysop project.
  • Drawing up a religious content policy. WV has increasingly become a target for fringe religious groups who clothe their advocacy materials in various layers of educational intent. How do we deal with this? Check the recent contributions of McCormack and SB_Johnny to find materials with which to start putting together a draft policy.
  • Developing Advanced Wikiediting


Discussions can sometimes be frustrating things where worn-out issues arise again and again without any conclusion being reached. On the other hand, engaging in them can be educational, in that one learns about the issues rather than the solutions which Wikimedia projects constantly face. Old hands may hate these topics, but newcomers need to work through them all the same and experienced users will need to tolerate and help with this process. These discussion options are offered in the hope that participating in them will be educational, not in the hope that agreement will necessarily be reached.

  • Big deal: are offices and privileges on Wikimedia projects a "big deal" or not?
  • Etiquette: suggests some good practices for handling difficult situations on Wikiversity.
  • Models for adminship: has adminship on Wikipedia become a mere fetish? has Wikimedia Commons found a better model?
  • What is consensus? - and how to reach consensus.
  • Unwritten rules. User:Poetlister left the following comment about "what makes a good sysop": "Each wiki has its culture, often not explicitly written down but understood by regulars. Even sysops on one wiki often make mistakes by failing to realise that things may be different on other wikis." Should unwritten rules be allowed, or is the job of the good sysop to ensure transparency of operations?

People involved[edit]

Current tutors[edit]

It is proposed to have a clear division among participants between tutors and students, where tutors are experienced sysops and bureaucrats from Mediawiki (and especially Wikimedia) projects. It is further proposed that there should be no one-to-one relationship of tutor to student - a team-teaching concept is preferred. This is different from mentorship of custodian candidates, which is a one-to-one thing. In team-teaching, all tutors are collectively involved with all students.

Current students[edit]

New students can add themselves here. Use a *-list.

Graduated students[edit]

Credits and externally recognized certificates are not awarded for this course, but for those who have successfully participated, the tutors will, in general, be willing to support a subsequent admin or custodian request, citing the student's successful participation. Please do not add yourself here - you will be added by a tutor in the course of time.

  • User:Jtneill has been certified by me as having successfully participated in this project. User:Jtneill is further recommended to become a tutor on this project. --McCormack 08:09, 9 May 2008 (UTC)
  • User:Gbaor did a great job as well. --McCormack 06:51, 28 August 2008 (UTC)


Sysop terminology[edit]

At Wikiversity we call sysops or admins "custodians". This is an unusual term, and as this course caters for projects all over Wikimedia (and outside it as well), a more general term is preferred. In the MediaWiki software itself, the internal programming term for the status is sysop, which is therefore the term which will be used in this course.

See also[edit]






  • List of learning resources related to Wikipedia - ordered by type, including external links
  • Admintools wiki - if you don't have your own wiki to practice with, on this project anyone can become a sysop and so, you could practice with the tools there. (Note that probationary custodians on Wikiversity get provisional tools access anyway).