Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

Usability initiative

Fighting usability beta bugs

Another quick update from the Wikimedia Usability team — the Foundation team working on user interface and editing system improvements for Wikipedia and the Foundation’s projects.

If you are one of the usability beta users, you might have noticed that dialogues for links and tables, and dynamic collapsible table of contents have been disabled. We regret that we had to take away these features temporarily. The babaco enhancements release which was deployed in February caused text formatting problems. So we decided to temporarily disable these features until we have solid solutions. The plan is to restore at least the dialogue feature mid-March.

The beta opt-in rate in February suffered from challenges as well. It is possible that the decline is related to the formatting issues with the release mentioned above, but we could not pinpoint the correlation. February ended with a total of 571,579 users having tried the beta. Although the monthly retention rate for all projects for the month declined by one percent to 80.4%, the cumulative retention rate since the beginning of the beta in August 2009 across all projects held steady at 79.8% as of February 28. Close to a half million users continue using the beta, so we wish to restore all beta features as soon as possible. The updated beta status by Howie is found here.

Lastly, we have a pretty big release coming up this month. The release nick name is Citron, and it is scheduled in the week of March 15. The main feature of this release is to collapse templates, aka scary double curly brackets in the editor, and provide a form-based interface, so that users do not need to navigate through the templates. Mock-ups, Parul, Hannes, Nimish and Adam worked on, can be found here. Template-collapsing and form-based editing interface will be staged on prototypes soon and we will send out invite for you to play with it. These features are planned to be enabled under user preferences for the gradual rollout.

Naoko Komura
User Experience Programs

Extending our user experience effort

Our very positive revenue perspective (we have already exceeded our fundraising targets for the fiscal year, and received a very generous $2M grant from Google) allows us to do something we’ve hoped to be able to do: make our investment in user experience (see original press release) permanent.

It makes obvious sense for any major website to have a permanent team focused on user experience improvements in the broadest sense. This includes eliminating obvious barriers to entry, but beyond that, we want to improve the experience as a whole for both readers and editors.

We’re now referring to this work as “user experience” (UX) work, which includes usability.

Naoko Komura will be Head of UX Programs, while Trevor Parscal will be the lead front-end developer on the team. Congratulations to both of them. :-) Naoko is currently assessing the remaining contracts and will share further information as these decisions are finalized.

In the immediate future post-April, we’ll be concerned with tying up loose ends from the usability initiative, and finishing functionality that we had to put in the parking lot. We’ll work on a roadmap and staffing plan for 2010-11 and beyond as part of our business planning process.

Our long-term focus will be determined in significant part based on the recommendations from the strategic planning process; see especially the community health recommendations.

While we haven’t finalized priorities, the single biggest piece of work is likely going to be the transition to a rich-text editor as the default editing environment for all Wikimedia Foundation wikis, particularly Wikipedia. But, user experience to us also means assessing how people self-organize and communicate in Wikimedia projects, how they get stuff done, and how they read and navigate our projects. Even among the areas of work we’ve already identified, there’s enough to keep us busy for many years. :-)

Please note that the original usability initiative hasn’t concluded yet. The team is working on its final release, which will include some of the most-anticipated changes, including collapsing of templates to simplify the editing interface, and the production release of the new feature-set to all users. As always, we’ll continue to communicate progress through this blog and the tech blog, and feedback and participation is welcome at

Erik Moeller
Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation

Give us a B! Give us an I!

B is for Bold (in English)

An update from the Wikipedia Usability Initiative – the team working to streamline and simplify the editing experience on Wikipedia.

You asked and we listened.  In an effort to be comprehensible in many languages, the Usability Initiative’s beta toolbar used the letter “A” for character formatting icons.  In our recent release, we updated the toolbar to use language-specific icons (for example, “B” for Bold and “I” for Italic in English and “F” for Fettdruck and “K” for Kursiv in German).  These have been created by Hannes Tank using the free Droid Serif font by Ascender, which has an extensive character set, contains over 43,000 glyphs, and continues to grow.

We, unfortunately, cannot create all of the icons that are needed for all the languages and wikis out there.  We need your help!  Let’s collaborate!  To help you help us, we have created this “How To” guide to walk you through the steps to create these icons and get them on Wikimedia Commons.  If you use a language wiki that does not have language-specific icons already on Commons, and have basic knowledge of Inkscape + Gimp (open-source illustration and photo editing tools) or Adobe Illustrator + Photoshop, we welcome your contributions.  To incorporate these into your language wiki, you need to have administrator privileges.  If you have sufficient privileges, please see our description of the technical implementation here.  If you don’t, please get in touch with a local administrator for the wiki in questions.  We encourage you to discuss within your language community to determine which letter or icon is right for you.  Thank you in advance for your participation and contributions – we couldn’t do it without you.

Do you have thoughts and opinions on going language specific?  Please share!  Do you have questions or suggestions for improvements on our How To?  Please leave them on the discussion page.

Parul Vora, Wikipedia Usability Initiative

Iframe bugs

The usability initiative recently deployed some changes to the beta features, most notably the replacement of the textarea on the edit page with a content-editable iframe (mistakenly referred to as a “rich text editor” by some users). Users at various wikis have reported some issues resulting from this change. We’re fixing these bugs as fast as we can and deploying fixes as soon as possible (once properly tested of course). Below is a list of bugs associated with the rich text editor and their status; we’ll keep this page up to date as we push out fixes. If you’re bothered by these bugs and don’t want to wait for fixes, you can turn off the content-editable iframe by leaving beta (click the “Leave Beta” link at the top of any wiki page).

UPDATE Feb 12 21:01 UTC: It’s been reported that the loading cover doesn’t go away in Firefox when certain gadgets are enabled. For this reason we’ve removed the loading cover for now.

UPDATE Feb 12 22:31 UTC: Because there’s still some issues with the iframe and most users are just using the toolbar, we’ve disabled the iframe for users that only use the toolbar. This means that if you disable the navigable table of contents in your preferences, you shouldn’t experience any of the iframe-related issues (such as those with pasting text).

UPDATE: Around midnight UTC in the night between Feb 12 and Feb 13, we’ve disabled the navigable table of contents and the enhanced dialogs until we work out the remaining bugs.

Roan Kattouw (Catrope)

  • bug 22311 (Pressing tab in edit box should go to summary box): fix deployed
  • bug 22393 (Charinsert tools at the bottom of the edit page and old toolbar don’t work): fix deployed. Charinsert may have to be fixed in site JS on some wikis, depending on the local Charinsert implementation; this has been done on the English and Portuguese Wikipedias as well as Commons; I checked the other top 10 Wikipedias but they didn’t need a local fix. You may heve to Shift-Refresh for this to work on Commons.
  • bug 22394 (Pasting formatted text preserves formatting): fix deployed.
  • bug 22398 (Extra line breaks inserted when pasting text): fix ready, will be deployed soon
  • bug 22402 (Leaving beta doesn’t turn off experimental features like TOC and dialogs): fix deployed.
  • bug 22413 (Old toolbar disappears when TOC enabled): inadvertently fixed when bug 22393 was fixed (love it when that happens)
  • bug 22428 (Line breaks in pasted text not saved in Safari, Chrome): fix ready, will be deployed soon
  • bug 22435 (Literal &nbsp; and <p> in article text gets removed on save): fix deployed.
  • bug 22440 (Random cursor jumps in Firefox 3.5 and above): fix ready, will be deployed soon

Deployment of Babaco Enhancements

The Usability Team is preparing a supplemental release which will bring more stability and functionality to the features of their Babaco release, which has been available to logged in users of Wikimedia sites since October 2009. Among the changes which have been made are many improvements in interactivity and aesthetics, but the most critical change is using an HTML iframe element together with a special design mode that modern browsers support, in favor of the previous HTML textarea. This paves the way for developing a rich editing experience with collapsible templates and syntax highlighting, as well as provides a foundation on which a WYSIWYG editor may eventually be built upon.

The table of contents, which now features controls for expanding, collapsing and resizing, is also much more accurate than before. The link dialog which once had a tabbed interface for making internal or external links now intelligently detects the type of link you are making, an improvement we designed and prototyped while literally watching users struggle with the software during usability testing. Finally, there is now support for language specific icons in the toolbar, with a several languages ready to go such as German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish. This feature allows us to provide a more native experience by using language specific mnemonics. So far we’ve applied this feature to the bold and italic buttons, which are now B and I for English, F and K for German and G and C for Spanish. Languages without customized icons will continue using A and A.

The team will be deploying these upgrades in the coming days. To learn more about the Wikipedia Usability Initiative, check out their website at

Multimedia Usability Project Underway

Some new faces have joined the Foundation’s multimedia usability project, and important developments are underway to improve uploading and sharing of multimedia materials on Wikimedia’s projects.

We are excited that Guillaume Paumier, Product Manager of the Ford multimedia usability project , has moved from Toulouse, France and joined the Wikimedia usability team at our San Francisco office. We are also excited that Neil Kandalgaonkar has joined the multimedia usability project as a software developer. Neil brings in rich technical background from major social networking sites such as Flickr and

The multimedia usability project will focus on the following three areas:

  • Simplify and streamline the media uploading process to Wikimedia Commons
  • Create a staging area where incomplete work can be reviewed and amended
  • Integrate interwiki uploading so that uploads from Wikimedia projects are directed to Commons (the binary repository for all Wikimedia projects) seamlessly, and support moving of existing files from Wikimedia projects to Commons

These focuses were determined based on the discussion at the multi-media usability meeting in Paris with active Wikimedia Commons contributors and the objective of the Ford grant to increase participation to Wikimedia Commons.

We have a lot of ideas and features we would like to improve, but our resources are limited; we need to prioritize and focus on a few core changes. In order to accomplish various aspects of the usability of Wikimedia Commons, collaboration with the volunteer contributor community and partnership with our global chapters will be vital to achieve successful results. The multi-media usability meeting in Paris sponsored by Wikimedia France was immensely valuable to set the groundwork for this project. Wikimedia Deutschland is leading an initiative in the development of multi lingual search so that rich internationalized content can be retrieved by a global audience.

Guillaume has been actively publishing his initial research work, the survey result, user interviews and domain research to the multimedia hub of the usability wiki. He is also working on the initial mock-ups of simplified user work flow for uploading media files to Commons. Have a look and post your feedback on the discussion page.

We are also working with Michael Dale to integrate an Add-Media-Wizard into the enhanced Wikimedia project toolbar which is currently offered as a part of the usability beta. Add-Media-Wizard allows users to search relevant media files from Wikipedia articles and insert into the article without leaving the editing window. Michael’s work is already available as a gadget, but the plan is to offer to wider audience by integrating into user preferences. To have a sneak peek of this feature, you can visit the usability sandbox. Just click the image icon in the toolbar, and you can experience the intuitive way of including media assets. Please be aware that the sandbox is an experimental area, so the condition of the software changes constantly.

If you’re online and have access to IRC you can join the multimedia usability team for ‘office hours,’ where we’ll be available live to take questions and discuss ongoing work around the usability project. The next office hours take place Thursday, February 4 at 9AM to 10AM PDT (16:00 to 17:00 UTC). Visit the IRC Office Hours planning page for more info and for assistance in joining the conversation.

More usability improvements are coming! Stay tuned.

Naoko Komura, Program Manager, Wikimedia Usability Inititative

How is the usability beta doing?

Thank you for your feedback and comments about the usability beta through the survey and via the usability project wiki. The usability beta initially started off with the new skin called Vector and the toolbar (release nickname: Acai) in early July and it was enhanced with the navigable table of contents within the editing box and dialogues for links, tables, and search & replace (release nickname: Babaco) at the end of September.

The Babaco features have to be activated through the user preferences. The most recent enhancement was to move the tool for watching and unwatching pages into the top navigation (star icon). This feature was implemented based on a high volume of related user feedback. Navigation tabs now collapse in case tabs start overlapping when the screen resolution is reduced, or where tab widths are wider because of language specific characters.

The usability beta was visited and tested by close to 380,000 users by the end of November 2009. The beta has been drawing roughly 100,000 users every month, and close to 300,000 users have kept the beta enabled as of December 1, 2009. As I briefly summarized in my blog post in September, the beta program was adopted relatively well by the beta users of English Wikipedia (83% retention rate), and in other English language projects such as the English Wikinews (95% retention rate). Spanish and Portuguese Wikipedia beta users have the second highest retention rate at 81%. German, Russian, Chinese, French and Italian Wikipedia beta users are retained in the range between 70% and 79%. Retention rate for Polish and Japanese was relatively low, with 65% and 60% respectively.

The list of the beta retention rates for the top ten most visited Wikipedia languages is summarized in this table and the list of all projects in all languages can be found here. The opt-out survey and feedback forms were available to beta users and the survey responses provided rich quantitative and qualitative data to understand how the beta is received and understand the reasons for what people like about the beta and leaving the beta.

One of the questions we sought to answer via the opt-out surveys was the impact of different browser types. The usability tech team has been pounding on Internet Explorer related problems and we thought the browser type will have significant impact on the beta adoption pattern. According to our own browser statistics, about 56% of users access Wikipedia through a version of Microsoft Internet Explorer, and about 30% of users use a version of Mozilla Firefox. The browser distribution pattern for the beta users for the ten mostly visited Wikipedia language family indicates stronger favor towards Firefox over Internet Explorer except for Japanese and Chinese Wikipedia whose browser distribution is dominated by Internet Explorer instead of Firefox. If we slice the beta retention rate by browser distribution, we see the the repeated low retention rate for Internet Explorer users. However the variance of retention rates by browser types is not significant enough to conclude that browser distribution has a substantial impact on the beta adoption.

The qualitative survey responses brought up language-specific issues. Japanese Wikipedia beta users found the font used in the new interface is too small. Chinese beta users also expressed the difficulty adjusting to the smaller font in addition to the perceived slowness of the new interface. Switching between Traditional and Simplified Chinese was not well supported. We hope issues with overlapping tabs expressed by German users have been addressed by the recently released collapsible tabs. Finally, we are aware that we often break popular user gadgets, and we appreciate that developer communities gradually embrace the usability updates so that the gadgets are compatible with the usability beta. The survey comments are available in ten languages so far, and we will continue making the surveys available for more languages.

The usability beta continues to evolve and the usability team is actively working on the next release, Citron. This release will have the new features such as collapsed templates, form interface for editing templates, and side-by-side preview. Citron is currently scheduled to be available in January. Beta feedback will be incorporated in this release to address language specific issues which were surfaced from the survey.

As the general acceptance of the usability beta is supported by a majority of beta users, we would like to start discussing the timing of making the new editing interface and the toolbar the default interface after resolving any remaining language specific issues.

This survey data was analyzed and put together by the team effort. I would like to thank Howie Fung, Product Consultant, for organizing and analyzing the survey data, Nimish Gautam, for integrating machine translation into the qualitative survey, and Roan Kattouw for tracking and normalizing the data.

Naoko Komura, Program Manager, Usability Initiative

Beyond Text: Report from the Multimedia Usability Meeting in Paris

What’s Wikimedia Commons?

Expanding our collective knowledge requires not just text, but contemporary and historical photographs, paintings, maps, figures, video footage, spoken text, animations — in short, multimedia. With more than 5.5 million freely usable media files, Wikimedia Commons is a vast repository of such content. It was founded in 2004 to be the central clearinghouse and library of multimedia for all of Wikimedia’s projects, and also serves the free content and education community as a whole.

Wikimedia volunteers act as photographers, illustrators, discoverers, reviewers, catalogers, researchers and engineers. Sometimes, in order to make more material available, they serve as liaisons with cultural institutions. Most recently, for example, the Tropenmuseum in the Netherlands made 35,000 historical photographs of Indonesia available (more about this partnership).

From November 6 to 8, a group of about thirty people met in Paris to discuss how to improve the processes and technologies for contributing multimedia to Wikimedia projects. It was the first meeting of its kind, sponsored and organized by one of Wikimedia’s chapter organizations, Wikimedia France, in partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation.

In July, the Wikimedia Foundation received a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to make it easier to add multimedia to our projects (see previous blog post). The purpose of our meeting in Paris was to support the kick-off of this initiative, and to bring volunteers doing multimedia-focused work together with software developers. Beyond the scope of activities within the Ford grant, we hope to see a large number of volunteer projects flourish that will enrich the Wikimedia experience beyond text.

We used the three-day meeting to both plan specific projects and activities, and to actually develop working code. Among the outcomes:

  • Increased awareness of our shared activities through demonstrations and discussions (list of projects we reviewed).

  • Experimental roll-out of functionality to track usage of media from Wikimedia Commons across other Wikimedia projects; a first implementation of wiki-editable subtitles for videos, and smaller hacks and improvements.

  • Draft ideas and concepts for improving the user experience on Wikimedia Commons as a whole: upload, site experience, metadata, search, third party use of Commons content, education about the project mission.

  • A clearer articulation of the needs that are specific to working with cultural institutions (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums – “GLAM”): case studies and success stories (a first case study was developed at the meeting), metrics, mass uploading tools, support processes, etc.

Developers developing

Developers developing

Summaries and notes from the respective work groups are available. If you’re interested in participating in any of these efforts, feel free to add yourself to the relevant “movers” section.

Unlike Wikimania and other larger Wikimedia gatherings, this meeting was a rare opportunity to focus on one specific problem area, and the first international gathering of this type. This approach turned out to be highly productive, and we hope to be able to use it in other problem areas in the future.

Because it’s rare for such an international and diverse group to meet, some participants met prior to the multimedia meeting to support the Wikimedia-wide strategic planning process; notes from this pre-meeting can be found on the StrategyWiki.

We want to thank all the participants of the Multimedia Usability Meeting for attending, and hope to organize similar meetings focused on other challenges and opportunities in the future. The Wikimedia Foundation wishes to thank Wikimédia France for sponsoring and organizing the meeting. Furthermore, we are grateful to Wikimedia Nederlands, Wikimedia Deutschland, and Wikimedia Polska for additional travel sponsorships. Your donations to the Wikimedia Foundation and to Wikimedia chapters help us to support future meetings like this one.

Erik Möller, Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation
Delphine Ménard, Treasurer, Wikimédia France

UX + Usability Study Take Two!

Usability Study No. 2


The Wikipedia Usability Initiative partnered with Bolt Peters and Davis Research to evaluate the changes we’ve implemented so far and inform our work moving forward.  If you don’t know what changes we are talking about, check out our Beta (including a new skin, new toolbar, improved search, and more) by following these instructions.

Overall, the study confirmed that we are on the right track with our beta features – showing us room for improvements, maybe a bug or two along the way, and work yet to be done!  You can view the full report (and soon the full videos) on our project wiki, but we thought we’d share with you some highlights:


“It was easy, and I wouldn’t have thought it would be that easy.”

“Before there were a lot of tools, and I liked that they were all spread out in front of you, but this actually makes a lot of sense. I had to muddle my way through the older system, but this one seemed fine.”

“Websites don’t have common sense, but programmers do.”

The majority of our 8 interview subjects found and used our features and tools without instruction and with success.  Special victories go to our more spacious and grouped tabbed navigation, improved search and new searchbox location, and built-in toolbar.  In using these features, users were not only less intimidated, but also showed a greater ease of use and increased performance.  All of the 8 users successfully found the “edit” tab with a minimum of hunting; no one resorted to Google to get to the Wikipedia article they were seeking; two of our users even expressed pleasure and delight in the process!  Perhaps small victories, but a major change from our first study if you remember!

Needs Improvement

“Uh-oh, I think I may have made the wrong kind of link before. I’ll go to the preview window to see if this is a link. It would have been nice to just edit it in the preview.”

“This is different, it’s got these hot-links [the table of contents]. That’s nice.”

“Links are so easy to screw up. I’m not sure if we’ve correctly typed the link markup. Ah, there are these buttons…”

Some of our tools are definitely still rough around the edges – their flaws and failures were seen in technicolor when observing people using them.  Our link dialog caused the most confusion.  6 of our 8 users initially made some errors in using it, and some received a false positive assurance when they had not actually accomplished the link behavior they were attempting.  Oops!  Our features need to err on the side of a user’s expectation rather than giving users access to the technical structure or wiki syntax, which they did not in this case.  For example, to create a new link in our prototype, users were asked to specify whether they wanted to create an “external link” (to a website) or “internal” link (to a different article) – a differentiation that exists in wiki code, but not in the eyes of a novice user.  Additionally, our toolbar buttons need to behave consistently and be grouped accordingly.  Having dialogs for links and tables, and not having one for a reference was not acceptable and led to some quite confused and persistent button pushing by our subjects.

Speaking of buttons, our “Bold” and “Italics” toolbar buttons use the roman character “a” – the result of our struggled effort to be accessible to an international community while attempting to take advantage of software standards.  In our effort to generalize, we became too general – even those users who correctly guessed the purpose of these buttons had to hover over or use them to confirm their assumptions.  We’re going all in – look out for our efforts to make our toolbar icons language specific soon!

As if we didn’t already know it – adding media or “embedding a file” was the least understood toolbar action of our study.  Most users avoided it, but when they did the sample text that it inserted provided no additional insight.

Moving Forward

“I’m completely intimidated by that [template].”

“I’m not sure what that is. I’m going to save it and then see, because this preview is too confusing.”

Our study illustrated how large an effect a small change can have and brought to our attention tweaks and enhancements that need to be made to our current features.  It also showed us that we are just a slice of what is a very, very large pie.  We had many deja vu moments seeing users flounder around previewing and saving, many times adopting strange techniques and multiple windows to add a simple sentence.  The terms “code,” “computer lingo,” “html” often came up and highlighted the separation users feel from their content while editing.  The expectation for editing a wiki to be similar to editing a blog or word processing document was still prevalent.  And though our Table of Contents and built-in cheat sheet put out some small fires, when navigating an lengthy article or searching for help, we again heard “there sure is a lot of stuff to read” and “this is where I’d give up.”

As we’ve mentioned before, we cannot tackle the full scope of issues that our study participants surface.  But I think I can speak for our team when I say we all felt a certain amount of satisfaction in the results of those problems we did address and it has only made us more eager to attack new problems and iterate on solutions we’ve proposed.  As always, we look forward to your comments, insights, and feedback!  We also appreciate your contributions during our fundraiser – it’s in part community support like this that makes the Foundation’s work possible.

Parul Vora, Wikimedia Usability Initiative

English Wikinews adopted the usability beta as default


Earlier today, English Wikinews adopted the usability beta as a default interface. The usability team is thrilled that en.wikinews community has reached the consensus to be the first adopter of the usability beta as default. We will continue enhancing the interface to simplify and make it easy to navigate and edit.  Our sincere appreciation goes to the entire en.wikinews community for embracing our work. It is a great day for the usability team. We feel blessed.

Naoko Komura, Program Manager, Usability Initiative