Most ideas are bad, on Wikipedia as in life – and that's just counting the original ones. There are many good ideas, but they are dwarfed by the sheer quantity of bad ones. People often become famous for having just one really good idea, among a lifetime of bad ones.
That's not all bad news, but it means we have to be aware of how to handle bad ideas when they arise. If a bad idea is handled well, it can become a useful thing for all involved. If a bad idea is handled badly, it can result in frustration and conflict.
Why ideas may be bad
Identifying where an idea went wrong can be the first step in turning it into a good idea. On Wikipedia, an idea can be bad for many reasons:
- 1. It relies on a misunderstanding of current practice
- 2. It is technically unfeasible
- There are limits to what can be done with the MediaWiki software and its enabled extensions. Technical changes can be proposed at the Village pump or Phabricator, but getting them implemented requires developer buy-in and a lot of patience.
- 3. It contradicts a well-established consensus
- Consensus is the central decision-making process on Wikipedia. Consensus can change, but the firmer the established consensus is, the higher the bar is for overturning it.
- 4. It lacks details necessary for implementation
- This doesn't mean an idea is necessarily fundamentally flawed, but its proposal doesn't address questions that must be answered before it can be properly evaluated.
- 5. It creates more problems than it solves
- 6. It doesn't fix the targeted problem
- 7. The targeted problem isn't really a problem
- 8. Etc.
If you put forth an idea, and it gets shot down:
- Be civil. You won't get anywhere by insulting your critics or acting like the Savior of the Wiki. Make your argument coolly and rationally, without ad hominem attacks, and you're more likely to get cool, rational feedback. A few nice words ("Thanks for your feedback") can go a long way.
- Look for ways to revise. Most ideas aren't 100% bad. Maybe your idea addresses a real problem, but it's not quite the right approach; maybe your idea is almost there, and just needs a little tweaking. Look at ways you could revise your idea to address criticisms, and don't be afraid to ask for help.
- Learn something new. Wikipedia is a complicated beast, and there's always more to learn about it, even for veteran editors. If your critics link to policies, guidelines, essays, or other material, give them a look, even if you have before; you might just pick up something valuable.
- Don't get discouraged. Most ideas, even those of veteran editors, don't get very far. If your idea gets rejected, don't take it as a personal insult, and don't give up on contributing to Wikipedia – your next idea could be a gem!
If someone else puts forth an idea, and you think it's terrible:
- Be civil. Even if an idea is utterly worthless, and even if the person putting forth the idea is being rude about it, you have nothing to lose by being nice. Argue against the idea, not the person. Remember, you've had plenty of bad ideas yourself.
- Give reasons. Explain why the idea is bad. Refer to policies, guidelines, essays, other discussions, etc., but give context – don't just throw acronyms out there (especially WP:MIAB).
- Offer tweaks. Most ideas aren't 100% bad. Maybe the idea addresses a real problem, but it's not quite the right approach; maybe the idea is almost there, and just needs a little tweaking. Look at ways the idea could be revised to address the problems, and don't be afraid to offer help.
- Keep an open mind. Although most ideas are bad, some are good – and we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Make sure you've really considered the implications of an idea before you reject it outright. Original ideas can sometimes be mistaken at first glance for old ideas that have been rejected before. Some good ideas also get rejected for bad reasons, like institutional momentum (a fancy term for fear of change).
- Perennial proposals: This is a list of ideas that are frequently proposed on Wikipedia, and have been rejected by the community several times in the past.
With respect to article content: