Help design Wikipedia’s next-generation discussion system


Discussions are the backbone of all Wikimedia projects. Whether it’s finding a reliable source, settling on spelling and punctuation conventions, or picking an article to feature on the main page, our community of volunteer editors makes countless decisions each day simply by talking to each other. However, the way that editors communicate today – using freeform wiki pages – is confusing and difficult for new users to grasp. Flow is the Wikimedia Foundation’s project planned to create discussion and collaboration software that improves the experience for all our users, letting them focus on creating and improving content instead of mastering the talk page form.

When comments and discussion first appeared on the Internet, they brought the promise of brilliant minds discussing the issues of the day in a thoughtful, courteous fashion. Instead, what we got was a lot of: “FIRST POST!” “Jake sucks,” “Kylla rulez”, and “aliens caused climate change!!!” The Internet world dealt with this problem in various ways: by locking down poster permissions, paying staff to moderate content, or even turning comments off entirely.

Wikipedia and its sister projects face some different challenges – while the content of the encyclopedia grows in size and quality through peer-to-peer discussion and collaboration, the fact that anyone can participate in this process is still not obvious to most people who use Wikipedia as a resource. We know that a small, homogeneous contributor pool leads to gaps in knowledge and biased content, as well as overworked and frustrated editors. There are countless potential contributors who could pitch in to help, but who are dissuaded from participating in content discussions because of intimidating software. But, like other online discussion spaces, we also need to balance openness with tools to keep discussions productive and healthy.


Building Flow will be no simple task, and we can’t do it without the help of our editing community. The people who built the encyclopedia also created their own discussion tools and workflows over the past decade, and their deep knowledge of these processes must inform our software choices. Our plan is to work with them to build a discussion and collaboration system that serves their needs and empowers more users to not just consume content, but to help create and curate it. The tools we build together should ensure that good-faith collaboration continues in every Wikimedia project, large and small, for years to come.

If you’re a developer and are interesting in working with us to build beautiful, meaningful collaboration tools, come join our team – we’re hiring! If you’re a community member, sign up for the Flow newsletter to stay updated throughout the development process. Over the next two months, we will be actively reaching out to editors on-wiki to test and give feedback on early features, and to help us set the direction for Flow in the year to come.

Brandon Harris, Senior Designer, Wikimedia Foundation
Maryana Pinchuk, Product Manager, Wikimedia Foundation

Categories: Design, Editor engagement

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11 Comments on Help design Wikipedia’s next-generation discussion system

Thamizhpparithi Maari 2 years

Sharing the knowledge through blogging is a good initiative.

John Thomas 2 years

One thing that would be nice is if the ideal solution could unite discussion threads happening over multiple pages/mailing lists, maybe via some embedded reference which the software could expand on-demand. Being able to switch between date-based message organization and thread-based message organization would be useful. It would also be useful to have better means of filtering and searching through a discussion.

While this may ultimately require a separate technological effort from the discussion system, Wikipedia needs better ways of communicating between the WMF and the editors. Constantly I see editors get frustrated that a point they made in one thread is not getting answered, they get the impression that WMF is ignoring the discussion, when actually there is a lively back-and-forth between the WMF and editors happening on another thread.

Maybe one thing is if you could tag sections of a talk page for a certain topic (say Visual Editor), and then have a public watchlist page for that topic which highlights new messages and perhaps unanswered messages.

Maybe another idea is to have a tag you can put in your message that says “Request reply” – these messages could be highlighted on watchlists, that way the category of “unanswered messages” would not include messages that required no answer.

Just some ideas, lack of time and energy limit my actual participation in the engineering effort, but I can throw out ideas. Maybe in 5 or 6 years I might actually try for the job at the WMF.

Quiddity 2 years

@Sebastian: The main portal at English Wikipedia is but see also the Newsletter link above if you’d just like a specific reminder when there’s fresh news, and fresh requests for input.

Quiddity 2 years

@Alex: There’s a link to “Mobile view” at the bottom of all articles/pages! If you’d like lots of details, and links to the official Wikipedia App on various platforms, see

Quiddity 2 years

@Keith Cofield: Take a look through :)

Sebastian Wallroth 2 years

Hi Brandon,

you write your “plan is to work with them to build a discussion and collaboration system”. Is there a place where we can participate if we are not programmers?

Thank you in advance,

Alex Li 2 years

Simply to make the links on the side easier to click on mobile devices as it is hard to click the right button with my IPad. Maybe make a mobile version on wikipedia.

Charles Matthews 2 years

Not exactly happy with the framing of the issue. ”Participation” is certainly a point. What happens is that there are high-traffic discussion pages, and then there the “long tail” phenomenon of articles with talk pages that may carry only a WikiProject template. Let’s not assume the long tail is being badly served by the current system. And let’s not assume that something more like typical forum software is going to improve high-traffic discussion pages: the point being that forums provide self-expression, and we have actual work to do. Article talk pages need the focus of “what improvement to the current state of the article do you suggest?”, and indented threaded discussion can actual do that. Some people may misuse it as an adversarial system, but that is a social problem, not an issue with the current software. I would suggest exhausting the scope of a divided editing window before anything else.

Keith. Cofield 2 years

I would like to work for you(volunteer) as an editor-at-large. I have had some pretty varid experiences during my travels. Been in Europe and southeast Asia. In my twenty-one year.Military career and my wanderings as a civilian. I’ve had numerous part time jobs to get more experiences. If I haven’t heard about something or actually worked it, I would look it up.
Thanks for your time

Christine Bush 2 years

Hint: it isn’t the Talk page *software* which is intimidating.

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