I would propose a few tools to support and give feedback to both newcomers and oldtimers. (Just me trying to write down some ideas, aka ranting…
- Random award
People tend to continue doing things where they get a slightly random award. People tend to keep trying to get such rewards, even if the likelihood are pretty small. Compare to casino-like games.
It is rather well-documented how and why this work, and some people use it as an argument for free contributions vs paid contributions. That is probably wrong, but the argument is made anyhow. Its origin could be hunter-gatherers, and a continued quest for food even if they often failed.
That makes me believe there should be a page where new contributions are highlighted. A kind of special page “in the work”. That page can pick pages with larger contributions after they are patrolled or some time after the contributions are uploaded. Because the list should be limited it would be slightly random which page (contributions on that page) reach the special page. It is a feature that only some reach that page, but it could be possible to include more on the page if the reader choose to do so. Imagine the page as a “recent changes” with a lead paragraph with a list of the last contributions, and notify the user when his/her contributions reach the special page.
A practical implementation would pick pages that are above a certain threshold in size, and likewise a threshold on contribution. Above that threshold it would be included with a probability that scale with the accumulated size of the contributions.
- Activity feedback
Users at Wikipedia are very eager on measuring their impact and reach, which makes me wonder if it is possible to create some kind of simple indexes or badges. It could be a kind of “six degrees of wikiholicks” with some funny comment popping up in the notification centre when you reach a higher level. As activity changes, it could be measured over some timespan, with some feedback (badges) early on that is pretty simple to get. Later on it could be logarithmically harder to get badges. Now our only feedback to newcomers seems to be a notification that their edits are rolled back, which gives a negative feedback.
Comparable systems are Khan Academy, Duolingo, and several other.
- Ongoing work
I've been wondering if it would be a good idea to have a note on user pages about what page the user is editing. It would be like an implicit Kanban queue. If a page is open for edit in a tab, we could use a ping to the server and keep track of it in the session, and the user has several recent changes to the page, then it gets posted as “current work” or “work in progress” on the user page. If the user hasn't any contributions to the page, or if the contributions are too old, then it will not be listed. Likewise if the edits are not patrolled. A similar note can be posted on the content page itself, thus giving a positive feedback to the editing user. By limiting the number of listed pages it will give the contributor a sense of what s/he should focus on, ie. finish the current work, yet it allows the user to do random edits on other pages.
Note that “current work” should follow the page, and when another user moves the page to another title the note should keep pointing to the correct page.