Task force/Recommendations/Community health 4

From Strategic Planning

Outline: social networking features


There is some indication that volunteers are leaving the project and that the influx of new volunteers has slowed. In addition, volunteers suffer "burnout". The purpose of this recommendation is to make the site more appealing for volunteers in such a way that the site; is more fun to use, more engaging; connects volunteers to each other more effectively; improves the abilities for collaborative work.


Add social networking features.

In support of improved social features

There have been at least 14 proposals on the Strategy wiki for new social features.

Possible advocates for improved social features on Wikimedia (based on quotes below) include:

  • Ward Cunningham - developer of the first wiki
  • Sue Gardner - Executive Director of the WMF
  • Naoko Komura - Program Manager, Wikipedia Usability Project, WMF
  • Misiek Piskorski - HBS Professor
  • Frank Schulenberg - Public Outreach Officer of the WMF
  • José Felipe Ortega Soto - researcher from LibreSoft.

Supporting quotations

All interviews can be found at interviews.

"Wikipedia can be more social in order to become more inclusive. If people join a club to do hard work together, it’s more enjoyable. Amateur scholarships can potentially sustain encyclopedia for decades." - Ward Cunningham interview.

"Very interesting that there is no social networking on Wikipedia to encourage people to get and stay involved with the community. Possible option: some type of social network that enables you to hang out with other people." - Misiek Piskorski (HBS professor)

"The community of editors would need to be healthier, more vibrant, more fun. Today, people get burned out. They get tired of hostility and endless debates. [...] We need to find ways to foster a community that is rich and diverse and friendly and fun to be a part of. We also have a lot to learn from successful social networking sites. I know this is controversial." - Sue Gardner

She later adds "How can we make the Wikimedia projects more permeable, more porous, so that they are easily interoperable with other projects and tools such as the Encyclopedia of Life, identi.ca, Flickr, OpenID, and not walled off from everything else?"

"It’s difficult to find people with similar interests. Instituting some social networking components, like interest groups, “tracking” your friends, and the like could be huge steps forward." - from the interview with Frank Schulenberg, Head of Public Outreach.

And from José Felipe Ortega Soto, "finally, I'd also like to point out the need for including explicit support of social network contacts, if not for all users, at least for Wikipedia admins. It would be great if the interface allows you to quickly find out who's writing in a certain article, possibly connected to other people you may know directly. Many tools for collaborative content creation are starting to care about this issue of social network support."

In IRC office hours User:Bodnotbod asked Naoko Komura of the WMF usability program, whether she dreaded any interface changes that would come along with improved social features. She said "not at all, it's on our wish list".

Social networking sites are tremendously successful: Wikipedia can share in this success

"Americans have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend at social networking and blog sites such as Facebook and MySpace from a year ago, according to a new report from The Nielsen Company. In August 2009, 17 percent of all time spent on the Internet was at social networking sites, up from 6 percent in August 2008. "This growth suggests a wholesale change in the way the Internet is used,” said Jon Gibs, vice president, media and agency insights, Nielsen’s online division. “While video and text content remain central to the Web experience – the desire of online consumers to connect, communicate and share is increasingly driving the medium’s growth.”"[1]

Social networking memes

There are some common features found on social networking sites that Wikimedia could look to adopt or adapt.

  1. A 'profile page' where users provide personal details including interests.
    1. This equates to a Wikimedian's user page, but it has been suggested that perhaps a simplified means to upload a photo to the user page is desirable.
  2. A 'feed' page where users see activity related to groups they've joined or that of "friends" or those they "follow" (see below).
    1. This is somewhat like a watchlist, however at the moment there is no way to 'watch' a bunch of pages that all relate to the same Wikiproject or Portal. Also Watchlist entries present a one line summary that an action has taken place and are not currently used as a means of communication.
  3. A means by which one user can "follow" another; on Twitter this means you will be shown any messages posted by those you follow.
    1. In terms of Wikimedia this could mean that you see any edits a user you follow has made. It could also mean you see what people you follow have been reading if there were a means by which any user were able to signal that they have read an article (by, for example, pressing a 'Read this!' button on the page or even a 'thumbs up/down' button which would signify it has been read and also act as an article rating of sorts).
  4. A means by which users can join groups; on Facebook this means a user will see messages sent to the group on their 'feed' page.
    1. In terms of Wikimedia this could mean that volunteers have a feed page where any messages sent to a group (or Wikiproject [or category, see below] or Portal) they belong to can be viewed there. It could further mean that any edits made to articles that have a group/WikiProject/Portal affiliation are shown on a users 'feed' page.
  5. A means by which users can find other users with similar interests.
    1. For Wikimedia projects this is partly already enabled by "Category:Wikimedians" and its subcategories. Also Userboxes. But perhaps there is scope for raising the profile of these aspects of Wikimedia and for developing the software to do something dynamic with the categories/boxes (eg, use the data to recommend "friends"). Or a completely new and more elegant solution could be built that helps like-minded volunteers to find each other.

Another concept: Social Networking via 'Tabbed Watchlists' Utilising Categories

This is an idea initiated by User:Bodnotbod to bring social networking to MediaWiki building on the watchlist feature and using categories.

Tabbed watchlist

As things stand the watchlist presents you with changes to all watched pages in chronological order. It is proposed that users be able to break this list down into sections and be able to view these individually.


User A enjoys editing articles on Science Fiction, the Vietnam War and is also a member of ArbCom. She will be able to click the watchlist link and be presented with three tabs:

  • Sci-fi
  • Vietnam War
  • ArbCom

In this way she is able to spend an hour in 'ArbCom mode' and perform those duties unencumbered by seeing changes to pages that are related to her other subjects of interest.

This concept opens up further opportunities to develop enhancements to Mediawiki, including aspects of social networking as I will now outline.

Categories and tabbed watchlists

Once a user is able to add and remove tabs from their watchlist an opportunity to exploit this further arises.

A feature could be created whereby a user visits a category page wherein they will find an "add tab" button which will allow the user to bulk-watch all the articles within that category and view changes dedicated to that category in its own tab. This could be refined with an option to "include all sub-categories" in the watch.

There should be a means to display users watching a category so that they can say "hi" to each other, in this way societies can form around categories; they would, in effect, become a less sophisticated form of WikiProject.

Bringing in WikiProjects

WikiProjects do great work and this needs to be supported. Any social networking enhancements should help WikiProjects to collaborate more effectively but it is also desirable to raise their profile in order that they may recruit new members. WikiProjects would make an excellent training ground for new users as they are more likely to be and feel supported amongst a small group of users rather than up against the community as a whole. Wikiprojects can adopt the role of welcoming users who begin editing in their field. It is proposed that by strengthening and promoting WikiProjects that a feeling of social interaction and bonding will come about.

As things stand it is not clear that an article comes under the auspices of a WikiProject until one visits the talk page. The casual reader or first time editor is unlikely to realise it.

Since membership of Wikiprojects is desirable, it is proposed that WikiProjects make their presence felt on the article itself. Precisely what format this takes is open for discussion but could include one of:

  • A small box akin to current boxes for, for example, notifying the reader that there is further content on another project (eg Wikiquote).
  • A panel below the 'category' panel that displays links to the Wikiprojects the article is relevant to.

Once articles are categorised as being of relevance to a WikiProject it is possible that someone editing the article could be presented with a pop-up which says "This article relates to Wikiproject X. Would you like to join? [Yes / Not Now / Never / What's this?]". The user's choice will then present them with further content guiding them into the project.

Messaging and Messaging 'Feeds' via Watchlists

It is assumed that Liquid Threads will be introduced to all projects.

One important aspect of social networking sites is the ease of communication amongst members and the ability to message people that belong to specific groups or to announce to followers.

As things stand a watchlist provides a one-line entry summarising an edit, it is then for the user to explore the precise nature of that edit.

It is proposed that a watchlist be configurable so that a user can choose to see the whole of a post to a Liquid Thread within the watchlist and be able to 'reply' from that same vantage point.

In effect, this will enable users to see a new post and reply to it with one click. The present process would be to a) see the summary in the watchlist b) click to go to the discussion and view it and c) reply.

Experience of the user when all the above innovations are in use

Here are some examples of how a user might experience Wikipedia with all the above enhancements in place.

Example 1

The user arrives at 'Vietnam War' to read the article. The article makes him aware that the article is associated with WikiProject Military History. Noticing a spelling error the user clicks 'edit' and corrects it. On pressing 'submit' a pop-up appears asking the user if he would like to join the project. He clicks 'yes' and is taken to a page explaining the Wikiproject further. By clicking 'yes' the user now has a tab in their watchlist called 'Military History' which lists all edits made to articles that are in the category.

Example 2

An experienced user who is interested in Science Fiction and the Vietnam War goes to his watchlist and selects the Sci-Fi tab. Here he sees edits made to articles in that category. He also views, in full, messages posted to relevant talk pages. Noting an addition to a discussion he is involved with he clicks reply within the watchlist and adds his comment to the ongoing discussion.

Example 3

A user newly interested in China visits Category:China and clicks the sub-category 'Chinese culture'. On this page he sees relevant articles and also a button saying "add Chinese culture tab to watchlist". Clicking on this he now has a new tab whenever he visits his watchlist displaying relevant edits and posts to talk pages. Furthermore he can access a list of other people who are watching that category and has the facility to send a message to all of those users by posting on the (sub)category's talk page.

Statement of intent and purpose of the above

What should happen, as a result of the above, is that users with shared interests come to group themselves around WikiProjects and/or categories. And with easier access to each others messages and an easier way to respond, they will talk more on their topics of interest. The watchlist will no longer be just a venue for noting "a change has been made" but will provide some full content that can be acted upon within the watchlist itself. In essence the watchlist has now moved some way closer to being a Twitter-style feed (without any consequent dilution of the intent of Wikipedia, to provide knowledge; not a place for idle chatter).

The aim has been to build on what we already have; watchlists and categorisation, so that the enhancements require an evolution rather than entirely new software.

Potential problems and remedies

Criticism of a move towards social features has centred on its potential to create and facilitate cabals and partisan interest groups. If the concept of 'joining' categories/groups were initiated there would be, to pick just one example, the ability to join en:wp's abortion sub-categories; category 'pro-choice movement' and category 'pro-life movement'. It is not hard to imagine that two opposed groups could form and start throwing rocks at each other.

In spite of the fact that we already have policies to sanction unproductive fighting and hostility it would be useful to be able to turn off the 'join' and other social functions of a category were a group deemed to be harming the project.

Frank Schulenberg's ideas

Frank Schulenberg was asked "Any ideas for improving Wikipedia?

Add social networking features and remove technical barriers for participation:

  • Make it easier to get a new user account; setting up your user page and uploading a picture as part of the account creation process (giving Wikipedia a more human face)
  • Fight the “everything­is­done” impression: Let new editors specify their areas of interest during account creation. Then create an "articles of your interest area that need help today" feature
  • Connect new users to others who are in that subject area – ”People who are also interested in what I'm interested in." Hook people into parts of the community.
  • Add features to keep track what your friends do – “Articles your friends improved in last X hours
  • Add a rating feature with an option to keep track of which articles your friends rated. Could be a reason for you to come back.
  • Add a feature to invite people to Wikipedia (like Facebook and other sites have)
  • Improve the collaborative and social features of Wikipedia."

Another concept: Social networking for content evaluation

Idea is

to provide means to attach additional resource to wikipedia’s article: external URL, advertisement, news.

There is one problem to implement it...

The challenge is keep reasonable quality of attaching content, avoid vandalism, self-interested promotion etc.

Solution is to use social network of “trusted adviser” for grading content. Conception is “social network of advisers instead of hierarchy of editors”.

We propose to use one-way relationship "trusted adviser" instead of bidirectional "friend" in typical social network. This mean user choose other users whom he is trusted too. For example he can choose to thrust to some well known expert.

User know expert, but expert need not to know user.

Also it is impossible to impose oneself on anybody as expert.

Friends can be "trusted adviser" each to another. For example if my friend is keen on history I thrust to his grading. Also I can trust to anybody he trust.

Tagging for social network

Some social networks uses tags to classify information. In the proposal content (url, advertisment, news) is attached to wikipedia articles. From this point of view it is collaborative tagging system, where controlled vocabulary is wikipedia articles.

Requirements to wikipedia articles are reasonable requirements as well for tags in social networks Wikipedia articles are from quite diverse areas and number of topics is growing.

Vision from viewpoint of community health

Wikipedia is backbone of service. It contains “undisputable information”. There is concordance about this knowledge, an there is no debates and different opinion(practically).

Disputable information is attached to articles. Such attached information is different for different users.

Approach is do not try to achieve concordance on some disputable topic. But provide information to person accordingly his views. Person implicitly declare his views by selecting “trusted adviser” then building his own social network. Certainly user anytime can obtain information from other viewpoint by selecting other “trusted adviser”.

So different points of view can coexist without fighting each other.

Additional information: Proposal:Fusion_of_social_network_and_Wikimedia