The development of a Visual Editor is one of the Foundation’s top priorities for the upcoming year, as laid out by the 2011-2012 Annual Plan. There is plenty of evidence that wiki-markup is a substantial barrier that prevents many people from contributing to Wikipedia and our other projects. Formal user tests, direct feedback from new editors, and anecdotal evidence collected over the past several years have made the need for a visual editor clear.
Developing a web-based visual editor is an extremely complex task. It is perhaps the most challenging technical project ever undertaken in the history of MediaWiki development. Here are some of the characteristics that make this project unique:
- We have to support editing in both the new way (via the Visual Editor) and the traditional way (via wiki markup). This is important since it’s what our communities have used for more than 10 years: We can’t completely change the way they do their work overnight. We need to, however, simultaneously support potential editors who are not comfortable with wiki markup. So any editing system will need to be able to go back and forth between the Visual Editor and wiki markup with minimal, if any, disruption to the end user. We will have to perform back-and-forth transformations without breaking things. Anyone who has used an editor that has both “visual” and “html” modes should have a feeling for the challenges, but it’s even harder with wiki markup, because:
- Wiki markup is enormously expressive, complex and complicated, and there’s a huge amount of content which uses every facet of this markup language. Wikipedia articles employ a rich set of layout features, including images, tables, citations, mathematical formulas, “infoboxes” and other dynamically loaded templates which preserve a consistent look and feel for certain information, and many other elements that enable a compelling and educational reader experience (see the article on Calculus as an example). Supporting compatibility with the full breadth of these features is an enormous technical challenge.
Over the past several months, the engineering team at WMF has made a lot of progress in developing this visual editor. Today, we’d like to share the first prototype of a basic editing surface which supports the translation of what’s on the screen into wiki markup. The demo, which can’t yet save or edit documents, supports both basic formatting (e.g., bold, italics, section heading) as well as many of the required features that people take for granted (e.g., cut/paste and undo/redo). However, it’s still very fragile, and you may easily end up with an unusable document. In the best case scenario, you can use it to generate valid wiki markup that you can copy and paste into an edit box on any MediaWiki wiki.
This version of Visual Editor should support most of the modern browsers but was tested mostly on Firefox, Chrome and IE9. We do support IE8 as well, but not IE7 (yet). The editor isn’t internationalized yet, but will be with the next release.
Try the visual editor sandbox
You can view the demo and see the wikitext translation by visiting the visual editor sandbox on mediawiki.org and playing around with any of the articles available for pre-loading.
We would love to get your input on our progress. Please leave us comments by clicking on the “Leave Feedback” in the upper right hand corner of the demo, which will place your feedback on this page. Thoughts on which tasks this interface makes easier or harder compared to your current workflow would be particularly helpful. We’re very excited to share this progress and look forward to your feedback.
Where do we go from here? From here on, we will iteratively release features, bug-fixes, and updates. We’ll continue to make this tool useful for more real-world use cases, and tick off additional features: creating pages, saving them, editing existing pages or sections, adding/removing images, editing data in templates, editing tables. . .the list goes on.
Our goal is to enable real-world editing of a subset of content soon, but it’ll still be some time until we can serve all the needs of even a small wiki community, let alone Wikipedia’s. Currently we’re targeting June 2012 for first production use at scale, either on a smaller wiki or a section of a larger one. It’s the biggest and most important change to our user experience we’ve ever undertaken, and we look forward to your help in making it happen.
– The Visual Editor Team, Wikimedia Foundation
Trevor Parscal, Inez Korczyński, Neil Kandalgaonkar, Roan Kattouw, Brion Vibber, Gabriel Wicke