Interface and tools for community health

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This article examines how new interfaces and tools can reduce burnout among core editors, and reduce the learning curve for new editors.

Volunteers experience different vulnerabilities at different stages in a their life cycle. Quantitative data shows that new editors are likely to leave in their first 15 days of contributing, and that new editors often don't know how to contribute, or where they might focus their efforts. Quantitative evidence also shows that it takes approximately 200 days to become integrated into the core. There is also quantitative evidence of core user burnout. Administrator activity has noticeably fallen in the past two years, and the most active Wikipedia projects see core editors leave the project entirely (as opposed to gradually scaling back their edits).

Expert opinion has confirmed that tools could support experienced editors, and reduce the learning curve for new users. The community has made many proposals to make working on Wikimedia projects easier. First, editing should move to a "what you see is what you get" style interface, which should include operations such as renaming an article and adding commonly-used templates. Secondly, research should be simplified by compiling a list of reliable sources, creating an easy way to search these sources, and simplifying citations. Thirdly, it should also be easier to flag articles for peer review, for merging, and for deletion. Fourthly, there should be a tool that easily matches an editor's skills and interests with work that still needs to be done. There are many other valuable proposals, such as making discussion pages easier to find and use, improving watchlists, clarifying article history pages, simplifying image/media uploads, and creating new control panels and wizards.

Facts

Quantitative data

Users are vulnerable in their first two weeks

  • New users are likely to leave Wikipedia in the first 15 days of activity (Although this problem is less likely in the English Wikipedia.)
A "hazard" function for the top ten Wikipedias, showing the frequency at which users leave. The chance of leaving drops off quickly over the first 15 days of a user's activity.

Users take 200 days to reach the "core"

  • It takes users approximately 200 days to become a core editor, among the most active 10% of volunteers
  • Once a user reaches the core, they usually stay there for another 200-400 days.
The median time to reach core status is around 200 days (red). Once reaching the core, editors stay for approximately 200-400 days (blue).

New users are confused about how and where to contribute

  • There were two significant findings in terms of interface and tools:
    • Many people don't know how to contribute.
    • Many people don't know where they can contribute and be helpful.
Contributions would be more likely if users knew where Wikipedia needed their help, and knew how to contribute.

Administrator and core editor activity indicates burnout

  • Active administrators, some of our biggest contributors, have fallen in activity over the past two years.
  • Core editors on the most active projects (German and English Wikipedias) are more likely to leave entirely, rather than scaling back their edits
The number of active admins on the English Wikipedia peaked in early 2008 and is currently 15% below peak.
Survival time of editors after leaving the "core" of authors. More than 40% continue to contribute for at least another 500 days.

Expert opinion

  • Mitch Kapor (Advisory Board member): “Wikipedia needs on-ramps and training. Otherwise there will be a tiny priesthood of people who can edit.”
  • Neeru Khosla (Advisory Board member): "The plateau in contributions makes me think about reasons for that... Is it because people have reached the limit of what they want to write about? Or have more users taken over the contributors? ... Does the user interface make contributions and eventually usage difficult?"
  • Jennifer Riggs (WMF Chief Program Officer): "Very strong cultural norm. It's explicit -- all online. So explicit, huge transaction cost to participating. Only get people who are willing to give up enough of their own personal culture to participate."
  • Sue Gardner, (WMF Executive Director): I believe that energy dedicated towards creating user-friendly tools to make it easier to do the stuff people are already trying to do via hacks and workarounds, would be really powerful to 1) support existing editors, and 2) make it easier for new people to edit. (Quoted from discussion page)

Experience at other Wikis

Jack Herrick (Founder of WikiHow), made two powerful findings about interface:

  1. "Unlike Wikipedia, wikiHow has two ways to edit – guided editor and advanced editing. Advanced editing is the MediaWiki standard, and guided is a slightly easier to use version. We did a study where we said “What happens when we take away the guided editor?” We took about 50 articles and pushed them to only open in advance editing. Came back a year later, and saw how the number of edits compared. We got something like 30-50% more edits with guided editor."
  2. "The other thing we did was a lot less scientific: I asked folks at various wikis what their “edit abandonment rate” is. In other words, of all the people who press edit, what % end up pressing save? What we found is that on wikiHow about 30% of edits get saved, so we have 70% edit abandonment. The founder of Wikitravel told me at one point that they have 90% edit abandonment, and they use standard MediaWiki. Erik Zachte said 16 to 25% for Wikipedia. At Wikia – they added WYSIWIG and save rate went up to 80-90%."

He also mentioned that communication tools have helped create a "friendly, open, welcoming, pleasant place to collaborate":

  • "We try to build tools to make it so that people can communicate more. For example our talk pages are more usable for the average internet user. It’s a big comment box. We’ve also tried to enable that into other aspects as well. Recent changes patrol – you can leave editors messages without ever leaving recent changes. If you have editors actually communicating, it stops feeling like a video game and more like collaboration."

Proposals

Simplify basic editing

Simplify templates

Simplify research and citation

Simplify processes (peer review, AFD, MFD)

Make it easier to find work to do

Simplify discussion pages

Improve tools to monitor article status and history

Simplify picture/media uploads

Sandbox or restrict tricky features

Wizards

Control panels

General requests for interface improvements