Structured Discussions/FAQ

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 Release and features FAQ[edit]

Is Structured Discussions replacing talk pages?[edit]

The Structured Discussions discussion features are being used successfully on user talk pages, help spaces and village pump-style group discussion pages.

There are other, more complex use cases for some wiki talk pages, which may be addressed in a future "Workflows" project.

What wikis are using Structured Discussions?[edit]

As of December 2016, Structured Discussions is enabled on 25 wikis (see Structured Discussions/Rollout); some of them are using it as a beta feature on user talk pages. You can make a request to have Structured Discussions on your wiki (WMF wikis only). The technical process for rollout, is documented at Structured Discussions/Rollout#Process.

Can I opt out?[edit]

In terms of viewing, you cannot opt out of seeing Structured Discussions. If other users have converted their talk pages to Structured Discussions pages, or reached consensus that a Wikipedia or article talk page should be converted, there's no way to avoid using Structured Discussions if you want to contribute to that page.

What happens to current talk page discussions?[edit]

When Structured Discussions is enabled on an active wiki talk page, the existing discussions are moved to an archive page. There's a link in the Structured Discussions board's side rail to the archive page. Old discussions aren't thrown away; we know how important discussions are to understanding the collaborative history of a wiki page or project.

We won't be able to "convert" wiki talk pages into the Structured Discussions format, because there isn't a clear one-to-one correspondence between a wiki talk page edit to a Structured Discussions post. It's more respectful to the discussions if we preserve the original format, on an archive page.

What about IP/anonymous editors?[edit]

Anonymous users are able to use Structured Discussions-enabled talk pages as any other user. However, subscriptions to individual topics, and notifications based on those subscriptions, will only be available to logged-in users.

Why don't we use a pre-built system, like PHPBB or Discourse?[edit]

On a wiki, the discussion system needs to connect to the rest of the wiki systems, including history pages, contributions pages and diffs. It would be harder to integrate a pre-built system than it is to build our own.

Why not use LiquidThreads?[edit]

LiquidThreads (LQT) was an early attempt at creating a structured discussion system. It has both strengths and weaknesses. After exploration and discussion, LQT was abandoned as a solution going forward for several reasons: poor performance, due to the way individual comments or posts are stored, parsed, rendered, cached, and assembled; no support for globally unique identifiers; and lack of flexibility with regards to workflows and collaboration techniques beyond simple discussion.

We have a conversion script that turns LQT discussions into Structured Discussions topics, which was used to convert all the LQT threads on MediaWiki.org into Structured Discussions. Details at Flow/Converting LiquidThreads.

How does Structured Discussions handle spam and vandalism?[edit]

In the current release (September 2015), each topic and individual post comes with a set of moderation features. These are:

  1. Hide (equivalent to reversion/rollback);
  2. Delete (equivalent to revision-deletion), and
  3. Suppress (equivalent to oversight or suppression)

Handling spam and vandalism in Structured Discussions should actually be easier than dealing with it on existing talkpages. Because Structured Discussions topics and comments exist as discrete elements, a specific post can be removed with a single set of actions: there's no need to go through the page history removing intervening comments, for example. In terms of spam, Structured Discussions is integrated with the AbuseFilter and the global and local Spam Blacklist. See mw:Extension:Flow/Moderation for technical details.

Does Structured Discussions support wikitext or VisualEditor?[edit]

Both. Structured Discussions is linked into Parsoid, which is the software that VisualEditor uses to read and write wikimarkup. Hooked into that is a wikitext editor and VisualEditor. Users are able to pick which they want to use, and the last edit-mode that is used to edit the content within, will be saved as a hidden preference. VisualEditor is used as the "preview" function.

Does Structured Discussions support all the templates and other markup we need in discussions?[edit]

Whatever markup Parsoid supports, Structured Discussions can support. Generally speaking, anything users commonly need to use (mathematical symbols, references, templates) can be added to a Structured Discussions post. You can see and test templates and other markup in the sandbox, e.g. this topic has some examples.

What happens to my custom signature?[edit]

Structured Discussions will not directly support custom signatures, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that they're disruptive from a UI point of view. Custom signatures are great for letting people know who said what; they allow for a specific user to be easily, visually distinguishable in discussions. The problem is that the way this comes about is by allowing refactoring of where links live, how they're displayed, and so on. As a result, there's a complete lack of consistency, which hurts the ability of users to navigate easily. One user might have their talkpage link in one place – another in a different place, and with a signature that doesn't actually reveal their username. The second is technical; allowing people to add raw HTML formatting into Structured Discussions boards could cause serious issues and errors in how the page is displayed.

Having said that, we appreciate the advantages of a custom signature; it allows for some visually distinguishing elements, and it allows for forms of identification that extend beyond username (e.g. in a second language). We're going to be working a "preferred name" field into the interface to allow for the latter; while it won't be as malleable as the status quo, it will allow for some originality. Your own posts will be visually highlighted to be more easily findable.

Can I edit other people's posts?[edit]

Yes. In the current release, autoconfirmed users are able to edit the posts of others, to fix problems or look at the wikitext. When you edit another person's post, there's a clear signal on the page that the message has been edited.

How will you support all of the processes Wikipedia uses?[edit]

It's a complex problem, which is why we started with the most basic process first – unstructured user-to-user discussion.

In October 2015 the Collaboration team postponed the Workflows project, which would handle the more complex talk page use cases.

Instead or in parallel of Structured Discussions, will VisualEditor be enabled on talk pages?[edit]

No. This question comes up quite often.

  • VisualEditor (VE) is designed to edit content, plain pages of text.[1]
    • Talk pages aren't encyclopedic content. Many of the tools and design patterns that make VE nice to use to edit content make it poor to use for discussions.
    • To make it usable for discussions, we would have to remove or break many of those patterns in VE.
  • Traditional talk page discussions often appear fairly well-structured through the use of section headers, indentation and the like. However, this kind of structure cannot be parsed by software to determine with certainty who has replied to whom.
    • In Structured Discussions, each post is independent with a unique ID, linked to other posts and to a Topic (also with a unique ID), with a specific history, and all posts can be targeted precisely. It would be possible in the future to have conversations at multiple places, to move topics or replies, and to create sub-discussions with Structured Discussions. Classical talk pages, using VE or not, do not currently have that feature, and adding it might prove cumbersome.

I can't use any page on Structured Discussions. Why?[edit]

It is probably a compatibility problem; see Structured Discussions/Known problems.

Why do you use Topics and replies URLs that are not understandable by a human (like Topic:RdZ3SJY7W5Wtr)[edit]

These URLs are an unique ID. Structured Discussions was designed to allow cross-pages and cross-wiki display which have a unique ID. It is not possible to have multiple topics titled ''Topic:Hello''. A way to change topic names was investigated to have something more explicit, like Topic:Hello-RdZ3SJY7W5Wtr, but that still have that necessary unique ID somewhere.

Is there a way to all find pages that use Structured Discussions ?[edit]

For wikis using CirrusSearch this can be found using the "contentmodel" keyword, e.g. Special:Search/contentmodel:flow-board. This will only find Structured Discussions pages, not the threads within them until they are cleanly separated (T73196).

Design FAQ[edit]

Why is there so much whitespace/padding?[edit]

Whitespace is used for your eyes' resting spots. It helps you focus on content and increases content comprehension by 20%,[2] which is important in discussing complicated issues. It decreases user dissatisfaction, which could result in an unhealthy discussion and harassment. We know what kind of harm to productive conversations misunderstandings and misinterpretation can do.[3]

In addition to the above, white space helps structure a wall-sized amount of text, communicates the relationship between content, and improves scannability and readability. "The eye cannot focus on excessively close lines and … the reader expends energy in the wrong place and tires more easily. The same also holds true for lines that are too widely spaced ... Where reading is smooth and easy, the meaning content of the words is grasped more clearly[.]"[4] The optimal text leading is x1.5 of the text size. The text size used for Structured Discussions is 16pt at 25pt leading.[5]

That being said -- there is a wide range in users' preference for information density. Core MediaWiki is very information-dense, with a completely fluid width and tight line spacing -- and, possibly not coincidentally, experienced MediaWiki users tend to prefer greater information density. (This may be the equivalent of natural selection.) One of the goals for Structured Discussions is to make the discussion system more accessible for new users, and part of that may include a less info-dense design. We're still figuring out the right balance, and this may include individual preferences for display density, with Gmail's 2013 redesign as an example.

See the following for more discussion and analysis of whitespace and font sizes on the web:

Why is there limited indenting/threading of comments?[edit]

Mobile readership is growing dramatically (currently, representing almost 1/4th of total pageviews to Wikipedia),[6] so we need to build for a future where we have users who are purely mobile-only. Multiple indentations will have problems displaying on a small screen.

There are also many general usability arguments out there for why discussion systems that use indentation (also called nesting, branching, or threading) to indicate the relationship between comments are problematic.[7] As Joel Spolsky writes:

Branching is very logical to a programmer's mind but it doesn't correspond to the way conversations take place in the real world. Branched discussions are disjointed to follow and distracting. (...) Branching makes discussions get off track, and reading a thread that is branched is discombobulating and unnatural. Better to force people to start a new topic if they want to get off topic.[8]

We want to structure conversations in a way that makes sense and fosters a healthy discussion. The framework we're proposing places more emphasis on discussing the topic and less on tangents. (Users can still engage in tangents with one another, but the primary action that is emphasized is responding to the topic.) To complement this system, we are planning to add the ability to easily split tangents off into new topics, since it's likely that long tangents are, in fact, different discussions altogether. What we want to de-emphasize (without entirely disabling) are long back-and-forth tangents between two users that have no relation to the main topic. This is usually the hallmark of an unhealthy conversation or just one that needs to be moved off to a new discussion.

Why are we using big colored buttons?[edit]

The buttons in Structured Discussions are part of OOUI (previously from Agora), a new standardized UI library for Wikimedia projects. We use colored buttons to emphasize what to click next in order to complete a particular workflow. The blue-colored button signifies a progressive action that requires more steps ahead, while a green-colored button signifies the final progressive action. Links are used in areas where the action is not necessarily encouraged or discouraged (e.g., replying to any specific post).

Are you working on a design without JavaScript, for users with accessibility or browser concerns?[edit]

The aim is to make most of the core Structured Discussions functionality work without JavaScript, on older browsers, etc. The software will work, but it will not work optimally. Also, given the nature of the way Structured Discussions is designed to behave, disabling JavaScript "for performance reasons" may actually create poorer performance than with JavaScript. For example, the plan is for Structured Discussions to make use of a technology called lazy loading that will reduce immediate request overhead for browsers that have JavaScript enabled. This will have the effect of causing the pages to appear to load faster than the non-JavaScript version, which will require all elements to load before achieving full functionality. Replying to a post with JavaScript enabled will be done in-line and quickly, in the background, while replying without JavaScript will require loading a new page, submitting the reply, and then reloading the discussion.

Why is there gray text?[edit]

Pure black text is harsher for the eye to read on a white background, due to strong color contrast. Text will start to flicker, users will experience eye fatigue and strain, and they will be tempted to stop reading. If my eyes gives me a limited amount of time to read and try to understand a discussion thread, especially a complicated one, I'm more likely to get frustrated and give up. That's not a good user experience. The benchmark of text color on white backgrounds to avoid these issues is #333.[9][10]

Why does it look like Facebook/Twitter/StackExchange, etc.?[edit]

The Wikipedia community has very different values from many of the other popular discussion websites. But the important thing to remember is that those sites have done lots of elaborate user research and A/B testing to find what works best for facilitating discussions, reducing flame-wars, and creating inviting and easy-to-use interactions. We don't want to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the basics of online discussion, and we don't want to create something that breaks most Internet users' expectations of what a discussion system looks and behaves like. Structured Discussions should be intuitive enough for anyone to use without having to read a manual, and that means following the best practices of discussion interface design.

However, we are aware that the discussion system on Wikipedia is more than just a tool for communication, but also a medium for collaboration and consensus-based decision-making. We are going to keep iterating and responding to your feedback on how to better serve those usages.

In addition to the sites you may be familiar with, here are some other sites we look to for inspiration/guidance that have structured discussion systems:

  1. YouTube
  2. Flickr
  3. PhpBB
  4. Simple Machines Forum
  5. Gawker
  6. Discourse
  7. Gizmodo
  8. StackOverflow
  9. Medium
  10. Quora
  11. Tumblr
  12. The Verge
  13. Reddit
  14. Livejournal

If there are patterns from these sites that you think might be interesting to explore on Wikipedia – or if there are patterns you feel do not belong in a Wikipedia discussion! – please let us know.

Why are we using this Topic and Post order?[edit]

The default order in the current release is: new topics appear at the top of the page, and new posts within those topics appear at the bottom, below older posts. There is also a sorting feature that allows users to see the most recently active topics at the top.

Topic order

Infinite scroll, and the elimination of the need to archive - this aspect necessitates top-posting.

More intuitive for newcomers and more efficient for seeing new/updated content. New/updated topics appearing at the top follows standard set by many forums, social media, and email.

Post order

Replies to topics appearing oldest to newest (top to bottom) make sense as a way of encouraging users to read through the existing conversation before jumping in to comment.

  1. Based on James Forrester's message on wikimedia-l mailing-list, June 2016
  2. UI Design Newsletter – December, 2005, Human Factors International
  3. Norman A. Johnson, Randolph B. Cooper and Wynne W. Chin, Anger and flaming in computer-mediated negotiation among strangers, Decision Support Systems, Volume 46, Issue 3, February 2009, Pages 660–672
  4. Barbara Chaparro, J. Ryan Baker, A. Dawn Shaikh, Spring Hull, & Laurie Brady, [1] The Software Usability Research Lab (SURL), July 12, 2004
  5. Michael Martin, Typographic Design Patterns and Best Practices, Smashing Magazine, August 20th, 2009
  6. Mobile Pageviews, Wikimedia Report Card
  7. Jeff Attwood, Web Discussions: Flat by Design, Coding Horror blog
  8. Joel Spolsky, Building Communities with Software, Joel on Software blog
  9. Aries Arditi, Designing for People with Partial Sight and Color Deficiencies, Lighthouse International
  10. Oliver Reichenstein, The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard, iA