Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

Posts by Steven Walling

Inviting anonymous editors to join the Wikipedia community

There’s a silent majority that edits Wikipedia every day, but who we do not know. Called anonymous or “IP” editors, these are people who contribute to Wikipedia without logging in. They are identified in page histories only by their IP address, a string of numbers used in Internet routing and addressing systems.

This month, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Growth team is embarking on a new project to learn more about anonymous editors on Wikipedia, and to see if we might attract more of them to join the community of registered Wikipedians.

Our first experimental call to register, triggered when a user clicks edit

Why ask anonymous editors to register?

We think that having an account on Wikipedia does enormous good for people who wish to edit the encyclopedia. While not requiring an account reduces friction for the very casual contributor, an account on Wikipedia is quick to set up, requires no personal information, and comes with a host of benefits for editors — like notifications, a personal contribution history, and access to new beta features.

Anonymous editors already represent a significant chunk of new people signing up for Wikipedia. 10% of new registrations in English are editing anonymously before registration, and this proportion is much higher in many other major languages: 18% in German Wikipedia, 19% in Spanish Wikipedia, and 21% in Japanese Wikipedia. We also know that people who edit anonymously before registering are much more likely to be successful contributors after they register.

Our second experimental call to register, triggered after a user saves an edit

There are a variety of simple and fairly unobtrusive ways we can educate more Wikipedia users about why they might want to register an account. While we might also target some of these improvements to readers as well, anonymous editors are extremely likely to be interested in these calls to register.

What we’re testing

Starting this month, we’ll be launching interface experiments to ask more anonymous editors to register. Until now, the only time that unregistered users are told they may want to log in is mid-edit, forcing them to abandon their work. Our first test, launching in English as well as a handful of other languages, will compare asking people to sign up just before or just after they edit.

We’ll measure the success of these tests based on how well they retain productive contributors on Wikipedia. Future tests ideas include making it easy to sign up and save an edit at the same time, showing registered-only features and then prompting login, and more. You can learn more by viewing our research and design documentation.

Learning more about who anonymous editors are

On the English version of Wikipedia alone, anonymous users make about 900,000 edits every month. These edits represent roughly a third of all contributions to the project. Anonymous editors may have a huge influence on our project, but we know little about who they are.

We actually don’t even fully understand how many people contribute anonymously. There are about 350,000 unique IP addresses editing every month in English. However, an IP address is a poor representation of a single device or person accessing Wikipedia. Individual users (especially on phones or tablets) may change IP addresses regularly. Contrast this with the fact that a handful of IP addresses can represent a large institution like a government office, school, library, or (in at least one case) an entire country.

We have recently learned more about the volume and impact of anonymous editors, but we have a long way to go. Through experimentation to improve the user experience for these contributors, we’ll also collect data that gives us insight into the role anonymous editors play in the Wikipedia community.

Steven Walling,
Product Manager

Typography refresh: A new look for text on Wikimedia sites

Soon, we’re releasing a small but important update to the typography on the desktop version of Wikimedia sites. All Wikipedia readers and editors will see the change one week from today (Thursday, April 3rd), while other Wikimedia sites will receive the update earlier, on Tuesday, April 1st.

We approached this change to Wikimedia’s default typography with the following requirements in mind:

  1. Readability: Type must be readable and beautiful at all sizes and in as many scripts as possible. Type is also an element which must help differentiate interface elements (such as site navigation) from article content.
  2. Consistency: A consistent visual experience across desktop and mobile devices. A growing proportion of our readers and editors access content on multiple such devices.
  3. Availability: All typefaces we use must be already usable (or made available) on all platforms where Wikimedia projects are present. Any selections must degrade gracefully across devices and platforms (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, and mobile operating systems).
  4. Accessibility: Wikimedia content must be highly accessible to all, including those with impairments.

What’s changing

Our sites have historically used text styles which present many issues at small sizes and in non-Latin scripts. Most prominently, all body copy and captions were small with tight leading, while font families for body text and headings were set merely to use your browser’s default sans-serif font. This haphazard set of defaults created a lot of readability issues that have not been consistently addressed, until now.

Changes we’re releasing include: increased text size for body content plus headings, specific font family settings for body text, serif headings to help you scan long articles, improved leading and spacing between sections, and other minor updates. In the long run, we may explore delivering a single font stack to all via web fonts. For now, we have opted to release this incremental improvement, which does not require you to download additional fonts and thus will have far less impact on page load times, if any.


An example of old typography (above) and the new (below) on OS X. More comparisons are available on the project FAQ.

How we tested and introduced these changes

These efforts began more than a year ago, with the release of new typography for mobile web browsers. Later, we introduced very similar typography on an opt-in basis, using the new beta features framework that makes experimental new functionality available to those who log in via desktop. During this desktop beta, the new typography was tested by over 14,000 people on the largest Wikipedia communities alone. Thank you to all the community members who participated in the discussion and provided feedback. Your help was invaluable.

Learn more

We have an extensive FAQ available, if you’d like to delve more into our rationale for some changes. If you have additional unanswered questions, please contribute to the associated Talk page, or leave us a comment here.

Vibha Bamba, Senior User Experience Designer

Steven Walling, Product Manager

New draft feature provides a gentler start for Wikipedia articles

For most of Wikipedia’s history, we encouraged editors to create new encyclopedia articles by publishing immediately. Just find a page that doesn’t exist, type in content, and after you hit save, it’s shared with the world. This helped Wikipedia grow to the millions of articles it has now, but the project has matured in many ways, and we need additional tools for creating great new encyclopedia articles.

Starting on the English-language Wikipedia, all users (registered or anonymous) now have the option to start drafts before publishing. A draft simply has “Draft:” before the title of the page you’re creating, like this example. Drafts are not visible to readers using Wikipedia’s default search nor in external search engines such as Google, though you may find them using the advanced search options.

Why we need drafts on Wikipedia

Wikipedia’s goal is to be the most comprehensive and reliable reference work in your language, so you might ask why we would encourage people to not publish their articles immediately so readers can enjoy them.

In small Wikipedias like Swahili or Estonian, you’d be right — we’ll probably encourage all authors to skip writing drafts. However, in larger Wikipedias where quality standards are very high, thousands of new articles are deleted (sometimes within just minutes) because they don’t meet essential requirements for what makes a good Wikipedia article.

Our most recent data indicates about 80% of the articles started by brand new users are deleted, when examining Wikipedias in English, Spanish, French, and Russian. By creating a draft, authors will have more time and space to gradually work on a new topic, and can get constructive feedback from other editors. In fact, even advanced Wikipedia editors sometimes use sub-pages of their user profile (sometimes called “sandboxes”) as an unofficial draft space.

We should note that we don’t want drafts to prevent editors from following their curent process for article creation. Wikipedia articles are all works in progress, even after publication, and this fact won’t change any time soon. We’re simply adding another option for people that want the time and space that drafts affords.

What’s next

This is a very early version of drafts on Wikipedia, and frankly it’s missing a great deal of functionality. In the future, we’ll be adding features to drafts that will make them more useful. We’re exploring different design concepts to make it easy to request and provide help during the draft process, better support the publication of drafts as articles (and moving them back to draft state if they need more work), and encourage collaboration between editors.

design comp

Design concepts for Search and editing of Drafts

If you’d like to help us in this effort, please sign up for a usability testing session. In these sessions, we’ll show you prototypes of new features and get your feedback. No prior experience with Wikipedia editing is required!

Pau Giner, User Experience Designer
Steven Walling, Product Manager

Try the new login and account creation on Wikimedia projects

An account creation and login process that is simple and pleasurable to use is a must-have for engaging more contributors to Wikimedia projects. On just Wikipedia’s English-language version, more than 3,000 people sign up for an account on an average day. These interfaces are often the first time a new editor interacts with the site, beyond consuming content.

We’re happy to announce that, starting today, users of all Wikimedia projects will be able to try a new look for our account creation and login. For about a week, we’re asking all Wikimedia volunteer editors to give the update a try and help us spot any nagging bugs or errors in translation. We’ll then enable the new forms as the default on all our wikis.

The new account creation (mockup)

The new account creation (mockup)

Help test the new forms

If you’re a current or prospective member of a Wikimedia community, we need your help. Please give the new interfaces a try, report bugs, or leave comments for us on your wiki’s preferred noticeboard.

We’re providing this week-long testing period–instead of simply rolling out the new interface with less advance notice–to get help making sure our localizations are correct and the interfaces will be bug free for the 800 or so wiki communities we support.

Both links above are to our largest and most active community, English Wikipedia, but if you’re a contributor to any other project, you can try out the new forms by simply appending &useNew=1 to either URL on your favorite wiki. You can also find more detailed, step-by-step testing instructions if you’re willing to go a little deeper with testing the forms.

How we got here

The new login (mockup)

The new login (mockup)

The Wikimedia Foundation’s Editor Engagement Experiments team has been optimizing these forms, using weekly controlled tests to measure the impact of our new signup form and iterate on our ideas. (See our original announcement.)

Overall, the results of these experiments were encouraging. Using English Wikipedia as our proving ground, our most successful experiment gained around 800 additional signups over a two week period. The relative increase in conversion was 4 percent, from 28 percent to 32 percent of users successfully creating an account after visiting the signup page. The total number of new users gained will change based on seasonal trends. We also decreased the number of errors which held up users after they submitted the form by 14 percent.

This interface redesign marks the first time MediaWiki core (the platform shared by all our projects) is using the new form styles that we have experimented with in account creation, our new onboarding experience for Wikipedia editors, and in other features. The patterns we’re introducing via the new account creation and login, codenamed “Agora” by the Wikimedia Foundation design team, will now be able to be reused in a more standardized way by MediaWiki developers.

The redesigns we’re introducing to login and account creation are hardly radical. Simple use of typography, color and vertically-aligned form fields are not what could be called bold innovation in design. Nonetheless, we’re extremely happy to be releasing an experience that will make signing up and logging in less of a burden for the many contributors to Wikimedia communities, and thus enable them to create great, free educational resources.

Steven Walling,
Associate Product Manager

Suggesting tasks for new Wikipedians

If you had just signed up to become a Wikipedia contributor, what kind of experience would you like to have? Would you know exactly where to get started, or would you prefer some suggestions?

For most of Wikipedia’s 12-year history, we have done very little to proactively introduce new participants to tasks that are interesting and easy. Right after account creation, for instance, we merely suggest that you check out your preferences. If you look around, you can find guides like Wikipedia:Tutorial. Most of this documentation is focused on the rules and mechanics of how to contribute, rather than suggesting real tasks to try immediately.

Naturally, the kind of people who have tended to thrive in this environment already know what they want to contribute, or are deeply motivated to go and find it. Unless you’ve spotted an error or a missing piece of information, there is little pointing you in the right direction. That lack of direction is a big part of why only about a quarter of all newly-registered accounts complete an edit.

This phenomenon is far from unique to the site, and in fact it would be surprising to hear of any site where 100% of signups become devoted content contributors. However, when considering the enormous workload we face, the sheer waste of human capital is staggering. In English Wikipedia alone, there are…

  • more than 200,000 “citation needed” tags
  • 3,000 articles that need basic copyediting
  • over 14,000 pages that need more wiki links

The list goes on, and these are just the items that have been explicitly added to the backlog. Wikipedia is in fact bursting at the seams with small problems that need fixing.

So how do we match the thousands of people who sign up every day, eager and willing to help, with tasks that are easy to do? That’s the question we’re attempting to solve with our work onboarding new Wikipedians, at the Wikimedia Foundation’s Editor Engagement Experiments team.


Adding guided tours to Wikipedia

One of the great strengths of Wikipedia is that community members can employ the same tool used to write the encyclopedia – a wiki – for collaborating on documentation about the project. The downside of this approach is that these pages, written by encyclopedists, tend to be broad and extremely detailed. New contributors to Wikipedia face a daunting list of thousands of help pages, policies, guidelines, and best practices that have developed over our 12-year history.

Today, we’re happy to announce interactive guided tours, a new software feature that will enable Wikipedia editors and readers to learn about the project in a way that is much easier to digest. Wiki-based documentation can now be complemented by concise, step-by-step instructions presented via tooltips. Instead of simply describing a process, we can show you how to complete it yourself, and when you’ve seen enough, you can dismiss a tour instantaneously.

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 2.58.10 PM

A step from our new tour introducing first time contributors to the mechanics of editing Wikipedia.

Our team, editor engagement experiments, has built two Wikipedia tours to go along with today’s launch. First, a meta-tour to show community members how they operate, and second, a tour associated with our experimental “getting started” workflow, which helps people who’ve just registered make their first edit to the encyclopedia. You can see the test tour for yourself, right now.

We’ll be adding more tours soon, including in languages other than English, but Wikipedians won’t need to wait for us. Using simple JavaScript, community members can build their own tours, empowering each Wikipedia to create content that fits their particular use case. For Wikipedians and developers interested in creating guided tours, be sure to check out our project page. Our implementation of guided tours uses a version of the open source Guiders.js, and we’re happy to say that we’ve contributed back upstream to the original library as we’ve adapted Guiders to our needs.

Today’s release is just the first step toward experimenting with guided tours. We hope that in the weeks to come, we can find more areas of the encyclopedia where these tours can provide simplicity and clarity to the process of learning how to contribute to Wikipedia.

Steven Walling, Associate Product Manager

JSTOR provides free access to Wikipedia editors via pilot program

Prolific Wikipedians strongly favor access to more research materials, according to our December 2011 Editor Survey

One of the challenges facing the volunteer editors of Wikipedia is finding reliable sources to use as reference material — in our last editor survey, 39 percent named this as one of the largest problems hindering their contributions. The need was especially pronounced among our most active volunteers, who make hundreds or thousands of edits per month.

To address this issue, the Wikimedia Foundation is collaborating with JSTOR, a service of the not-for-profit organization ITHAKA, to provide 100 of the most active Wikipedia editors with free access to the complete archive collections on JSTOR, including more than 1,600 academic journals, primary source documents and other works. The authors who will receive accounts have collectively written more than 100,000 Wikipedia articles to date. Access to JSTOR, which is one of the most popular sources on English Wikipedia, will allow these editors to further fill in the gaps in the sum of all human knowledge.

While some Wikipedia volunteers may already receive access as part of their professional affiliations or through institutions like public libraries, this access is far from universal. This program will empower some of our most active editors to create new content on the huge variety of topics covered by the journal archives on JSTOR. Access during the pilot will be for a year, after which JSTOR and Wikimedia will collaborate on potentially expanding the program.

Wikipedia contributors beyond the pilot group can also take advantage of growing access, as can readers. JSTOR provides free access to Early Journal Content and recently introduced Register & Read, an experimental program to offer free, read-online access to individual scholars and researchers who register for a MyJSTOR account. More information may be found at

While Wikipedians are volunteers, their work on the encyclopedia is most definitely of a scholarly nature. We hope that this pilot will show that amazing things can happen when you provide dedicated volunteers with access to great source material.

Steven Walling, Associate Product Manager (Wikimedia Foundation)
Kristen Garlock, Associate Director, Education & Outreach (JSTOR)

Fix this broken workflow, and help thousands of Wikipedians

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?

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.


Testing a new signup page for Wikipedia

Wikipedia doesn’t require to you to sign up for an account. We like giving everything away for free, and even let people edit without creating an account. But if you’d like to register, there are plenty of good reasons to do so.

The current signup page in English

However, it’s been a long time since the registration process for Wikipedia got any love. In fact, it’s pretty clunky, and it may be contributing to the decline in successful registrations in the last few years.

To address this, we’ve started testing changes to the account creation page on English Wikipedia this week. We’ve updated the visual design to be far less cluttered and expose a clearer structure, and reduced the amount of instructional text that appears before the form. As a side benefit, mobile users should find the page easier to use, though our mobile team is working on further enhancements, too.

We’ve also added a simple list of benefits to account creation, such as being able to start new pages, upload photos, and have a presence in the Wikipedia community, but these won’t appear on small screen sizes. In a second iteration, we’ll be adding live validation to the form, so you will know if there are any errors right away.

Our mockup

Please note: the new look is delivered only 50% of the time, as part of an A/B test, so the best thing to do if you want to give us feedback is to comment on the mockup here, or on our documents related to design and data analysis.

Some readers here may remember that back in 2011, a Fellowship project on account creation experimented with ways to encourage people to edit during or immediately after the signup process. However, basic limitations in the core functionality still plagued that project, not to mention anyone trying to create an account.

For this work, we’re focused on simply making the signup page itself be a less frustrating experience, with the secondary goal of gently introducing people to why an account is useful. After the trial, we’ll be permanently incorporating features that help more people register.

Steven Walling, Associate Product Manager
S Page, Software Engineer
Munaf Assaf, User Experience Designer

Is this thing on? Giving new Wikipedians feedback post-edit

Figure 1. One of the messages used in the test (confirmation).

We recently tested a simple change in the user interface for registered Wikipedia editors. We’re happy to report results from a trial of post-edit feedback that lead to an increase in the productivity of newcomers to the project, while still maintaining quality.

The problem

The user experience problem was fairly straightforward: Wikipedia fails to tell its new contributors that once you edit an article, your change is live and can be immediately seen by every single reader. Simple, consistent feedback to new contributors make good sense from a usability standpoint. There is also evidence from the scholarly literature that delivering feedback after successful contributions can help newcomers feel motivated to continue participating.

Our first test of a solution

In this test, we examined the effect of a simple confirmation message or a thank you message on new English Wikipedia editors registered between July 30 and August 6. We randomly assigned newcomers to one of these two conditions, or to a control group, and we consistently delivered the same feedback message (or none, for the control group) after every edit for the first week of activity since registration.

The results indicate that receiving feedback upon completion of an edit has a positive effect on the volume of contributions by new editors, without producing any significant side-effect on the quality of their work or whether it was kept in the encyclopedia.

We focused our analysis on a sample of 8,571 new users with at least one edit during the test period, excluding to the best of our knowledge sockpuppets and other categories of spurious accounts. We measured the effects of feedback on the volume of contributions by analyzing the number of edits and edit size per participant in the different groups; we measured the impact of the test on quality by looking at the rate of reverts and blocks per participant in the different groups.

Impact on edit volume

Figure 2. Log-scale box plots of edit counts of new users presented with the confirmation message (left), no message (control group, center) or the gratitude message (right) after saving an edit.

We compared the edit count of contributors by condition over the first 2 weeks of activity and found an increase in mean edit count in the two experimental conditions of about 23.5% compared to the control. The difference was marginally significant in the confirmation condition and very close to significance (p=0.052) in the gratitude condition.

We also analyzed the size of contributions by editors in each condition, by measuring edit size as bytes added, bytes removed or net bytes changed. The results indicate that both experimental conditions significantly outperformed the control in net byte count changed per edit. The confirmation condition significantly outperformed the control for positive byte count per edit, while we found a marginally significant effect for gratitude. No significant difference was observed on the negative byte count per edit (or content removal). Therefore, receiving feedback has an effect on the size of contributions by new editors compared to the content added by editors in the control condition.

See our edit volume analysis for more details.


Impact on quality

Figure 3. Mean success rate for edits by new users in each condition: Control group (left), confirmation message (center), gratitude message (right)

While feedback may increase the volume of newcomer edits, it might do so at the cost of decreased quality. This is concerning since increasing the amount of edits that will need to be reverted represents a burden to the current Wikipedians. To address these questions, we measured the proportion of newcomers who were eventually blocked from editing and the rate at which their contributions were rejected (reverted or deleted).

Analyzing the proportion of newcomers that were blocked since the beginning of the treatment, we found the experimental treatment had no meaningful effect on the rate at which newcomers were blocked from editing – the difference was about 7% for each group, not enough to be declared significant relative to the sample size.

We also examined the “success rate” for each user, measured as the proportion of edits that were not reverted or deleted in the first week since registration. We calculated the mean success rate per newcomer for each experimental condition and found no significant difference between either of the experimental conditions and the control (figure 3).

These results suggest that the experimental treatment had no meaningful effect on the overall quality of newcomer contributions, and therefore, the burden imposed on Wikipedians.

See our newbie quality analysis for more details.


What’s next

The results of this first test were promising, and we’re currently working to implement an edit confirmation message for new contributors in the current editing interface, as well as in the upcoming visual editor. However, confirmation messages or messages of gratitude are just two of many different types of feedback that could motivate new contributors.

We’re currently testing the impact of letting people know when they reach milestones based on their cumulative edit count. Some Wikipedias already have community-created service awards based on edit count and tenure, so we’re extending these awards to a newer class of contributor, by letting them know when they’ve completed their first, fifth, 10th, 25th, 50th and 100th edits to the encyclopedia.

If you’re interested in participating in the research and analysis process for tests like these, please chime in and give us your feedback. We’ll be publishing open-licensed data for these experiments, when possible, on our open data repository.

Steven Walling, Associate Product Manager
Dario Taraborelli, Senior Research Analyst
on behalf of the Editor Engagement Experiments team