Archive for January 4th, 2011

What you see is FOR THE WIN.

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

I posted to foundation-l concerning the other way to get more people editing Wikipedia: the perennial wish for good WYSIWYG in MediaWiki.

This is a much bigger potential win than many people think. From mediawiki-l in May, a Canadian government official posted how adding a (locally patched) instance of FCKeditor to their intranet got eight times the participation:

In one government department where MediaWiki was installed we saw the active user base spike from about 1000 users to about 8000 users within a month of having enabled FCKeditor. FCKeditor definitely has it’s warts, but it very closely matches the experience non-technical people have gotten used to while using Word or WordPerfect. Leveraging skills people already have cuts down on training costs and allows them to be productive almost immediately.

The geeks refused to believe that not requiring people to wade through computer guacamole worked and that everyone new must be idiots. The poster disabused them of this conceit:

Since a plethora of intelligent people with no desire to learn WikiCode can now add content, the quality of posts has been in line with the adoption of wiki use by these people. Thus one would say it has gone up.

In the beginning there were some hard core users that learned WikiCode, for the most part they have indicated that when the WYSIWYG fails, they are able to switch to WikiCode mode to address the problem. This usually occurs with complex table nesting which is something that few of the users do anyways. Most document layouts are kept simple.

Eight times the number of smart and knowledgeable people who just happen to be bad with computers suddenly being able to even fix typos on material they care about. Would that be good or bad for the encyclopedia?

Now, WYSIWYG has been on the wishlist approximately forever. Developer brilliance applied to the problem has dashed hopes on the rocks every single time. Brilliance is not enough: we’re going to need to apply money.

  • We need good WYSIWYG. The government example suggests that a simple word-processor-like interface would be enough to give tremendous results. So that’s an achievable target.
  • It’s going to cost money in programming the WYSIWYG.
  • It’s going to cost money in rationalising existing wikitext so that the most unfeasible formations can be shunted off to legacy for chewing on.
  • It’s going to cost money in usability testing. Engineers and developers are perpetually shocked at what ordinary people make of their creations.
  • It’s going to cost money for all sorts of things I haven’t even thought of yet.

This is a problem that would pay off hugely to solve, and that will take actual money thrown at it.

How would you attack this problem, given actual resources for grunt work? What else could do with money spent on it?

Magnus Manske, in his usual manner, has coded up a quick editor whose name I’ve stolen for this post. It’s rough, but it’s a nice working example of some of the way there. WYSIFTW. Screenshot.