In the 10+ years since its founding, Wikipedia has become an indispensable source of quality information for Internet users everywhere. Here at the Wikimedia Foundation, we’re very proud to support such a project. Yet, despite being a household name, there remain some issues with our user experience that are deeply troubling.

This is especially true for the smaller contingent of people who are the regular contributors to the encyclopedia. Wikipedia’s user interface has failed to keep pace with the the encyclopedia’s growth and the lack of a modernized editor experience has contributed to both a decline in the recruitment and retention of editors (a trend that started around 2007).

The Editor Engagement Experiments team tries to reverse this trend by defining, measuring and fixing these important editing workflows, and improving the experience of Wikipedia volunteers who create content. In this post, we’ll show you one of these editing workflows and invite developers to try their hand at implementing a solution.

An example problem

Imagine you want to create an article for English Wikipedia. You begin by searching for the article on Wikipedia and find that there isn’t one on the topic yet.  This is the screen you get.  Can you figure out how to create the article?

awesome new wikipedia page

The answer is to click on the red link — that’s intuitive, right?

Even if you figure this out, you’re going to have problems. If you don’t have an account (like most readers), you’ll encounter another hurdle: the site will simply tell you that you don’t have permission to create the page. The solution is to create an account, but it doesn’t say that on the page.

Let’s say you register for an account (or log in if you have one) and then get back to the task at hand. Great. But not so much if you’re new to Wikipedia, because all we do is dump a blank text box on you and hope you know what you’re doing. There’s no warning that articles not meeting Wikipedia quality standards will be swiftly deleted. You could start by getting your feet wet by trying out one of the several workflows that are safer for starting a page, but none of these alternatives is presented as an option.

Thousands of people are subjected to this experience every month and all they’re trying to do add to the world’s collective knowledge. If all of this makes you a bit angry, keep reading.

Our approach

The way our team seeks to address this is very simple. Instead of turning away well-intentioned editors who aren’t logged in, or leaving new editors to their own devices by not properly instructing them about the routines to create a good article, we’d like to create a simple landing page system, one that gives proper cues to the editor:

  1. they should log in if they aren’t already;
  2. they can create an article now, but it is subject to high standards; or
  3. they can use their personal sandbox to start a draft in safety.

The goal here is to support authors of new articles on Wikipedia by making clear the various methods for starting a new article.  Each method has varying advantages for users, and should be presented as equal options.

Our team approaches problems like these by using A/B testing and other methods of experimentation to try and measure the impact of our work. While this example focuses on page creators, our past and current experiments have tried a number of other ways to engage Wikipedia users. Recent examples include:

  • helping readers understand that Wikipedia articles are living — not static — documents by letting them know when article was last modified
  • implementing a new signup page that helps new users successfully create an account; and
  • providing simple kinds of positive feedback, such as a confirmation on successful completion of an edit.

Conclusion

If you see the editor decline and our experimental approach not as an intractable problem, but as a unique and interesting challenge, we’re inviting you to help us address this. We have open positions for those who’d like to help us tackle editor retention using experimental tactics. If you’re particularly interested, you should feel welcome to build a prototype of the solution we described above, or describe your architectural approach for us.

If you can show us a solution that could help Wikipedia editors, then not only will we deploy your code, but you’ll make a difference to experience of every editor creating the sum of all knowledge and every single human being who uses it.

Terry Chay, Director of Features Engineering
Steven Walling, Associate Product Manager