Structured Discussions/Project information/status
Last update on: 2014-12-monthly
Official start date of Flow (messaging pages).
Infrastructural work for Flow only until January 2013. Work there can be found in the Database_sharding page. Unrelated but there is an active discussion concerning the differences between Flow and LiquidThreads.
Work on Flow will officially start in January. In the meantime, preparatory work will focus on Database sharding.
Development work for Messaging on MediaWiki (code-named 'Flow') will start officially in January 2013 (after Echo first deployment). This new user-to-user messaging infrastructure tool will be developed by Wikimedia's editor engagement team, including Fabrice Florin, Vibha Bamba, Ryan Kaldari, Benny Situ, Matthias Mullie, Brandon Harris, Oliver Keyes, Howie Fung and Terry Chay. In the meantime, Performance engineering + Matthias Mullie are doing the underlying prep work with the RDB store (database sharding) on AFTv5 (and proper abstraction).
Flow entered the product design phase in early January. OPW intern Kim Schoonover began user research regarding how user-to-user talk pages are handled, and collected data about the difficulties that new (and existing) users have when using them. Engineering discussions started about potential back-end and scaling difficulties, the possible use of Wikidata's ContentHandler, and the evaluation of Wikia's MessageWall. A plan for community engagement was proposed and accepted, with a consultation about the problems faced planned for early February, with experienced and newer users alike.
In February, we analyzed and collated user research concerning talk pages. Early designs were shown to members of the Board of Trustees to ask for their input. Jeff Atwood (from StackOverflow and Discourse) came in to give us a brain dump of his work. Design work was done on secondary "modules" as examples for how existing workflows can be rebuilt within the Flow system. Community engagement strategies saw the beginnings of implementation with the creation of a "Portal" that will engage discussion about Flow at three locations (mediawiki.org, meta, and the English Wikipedia).
Design work continues and several discussions were had about what constitutes a minimum viable product for the first iteration of Flow. Brandon Harris is now building an interactive prototype to help describe multiple functions.
Discussion portals were announced and opened on three wikis: the English Wikipedia, Meta-Wiki, and mediawiki.org. An interactive prototype was released to the public for discussion. Discussion is on-going, and the definition of the "minimum viable product" is being worked on.
This month, we released two new prototypes to showcase some ideas around Flow-enabled user-to-user discussion. We continued to collect user feedback and prioritize use-cases for a potential minimum viable product.
In August, we continued development of the Flow prototype by implementing revisioning, moderation, and display code, on top of the storage and block abstractions. We have deployed this prototype to an internal labs instance to encourage the full team's involvement in development. Additionally, we participated in an agile workshop run by Arthur and Tomasz from the mobile team. This workshop facilitated planning the Flow MVP and setting goals for the team's first development sprint, along with providing information about agile guidelines and practices that have worked well for the mobile team.
This month, we continued back-end work on the Flow first release – integrating with the recent changes table (to ensure that users will be able to monitor Flow boards via the watchlist and Special:Recentchanges, in the same way they monitor wiki pages), mentions and notifications, and an early experiment with VisualEditor-enabled posting. We also kicked off a sprint to create a new visual design treatment for the board and discussions that will work across desktop and mobile platforms. We are aiming to implement this design next month, in preparation for several rounds of new user and experienced user feedback before the first onwiki release.
In October, the Flow team implemented a new visual design treatment on the Flow prototype (currently hosted on WMF Labs), and we continued to work through the set of features needed for a minimum viable product (MVP) on Wikipedia. We held an in-office User Experience workshop, primarily with users new to Wikipedia, to get feedback on the usability of the new design. We're planning to demo the Flow MVP to interested WikiProjects in November to get more feedback on what's needed for a first on-Wikipedia trial.
This month, the Flow team finished out the feature set for our minimum viable product. We added watchlist integration, the ability to see board, topic, and post histories, and did a first round of community feedback and testing with our product to date. We also prepared for release to production wikis in December by working on Operations and Security needs.
In December, we deployed Flow to a few selected pages in production (Talk:Flow and Talk:Sandbox on mediawiki.org) and collected feedback about the features and design to date from the community. The results of the feedback period are summarized at Flow/Research#Experienced Users. Throughout the feedback period, we worked on implementing design changes – such as a more compact view of the board and different affordances for topic and post actions, as well as different visualizations of history information – based on the comments of users testing the software.
We also began a straw poll about launching Flow as a beta trial in the discussion spaces of WikiProject Breakfast, WikiProject Hampshire, and WikiProject Video Games on English Wikipedia. Based on the outcome of these polls, we hope to deploy Flow to those pages in January.
This month, the Core Features team worked on integrating MediaWiki tools for dealing with spam and vandalism (AbuseFilter and Spam Blacklist) into Flow. We also launched an updated visual design and UI, based on the first round of experienced user feedback last month, as well as ongoing user testing with new users. Lastly, we created a script to disable Flow and return Flow discussions back into unstructured wikitext, so that we can begin trialing Flow in production in an extremely safe-to-fail manner. We are set to deploy our first trial on February 3, 2014 to two WikiProjects that volunteered on the English Wikipedia.
This month, Flow was launched on the talk pages of two English Wikipedia WikiProjects that volunteered to be a part of the first trial, WikiProject Breakfast and WikiProject Hampshire. We've continued to iterate on the front-end design of the discussion system based on user feedback, releasing a new visual treatment during the trial and starting work on a front-end rewrite for better cross-browser and mobile compatibility (to be released sometime in March). We also spent time making sure Flow integrates better with vital MediaWiki tools and processes (e.g., suppression and checkuser) and improving the handling of permalink URLs.
This month the Core Features team focused on improvements to how Flow works with key MediaWiki tools and processes. We made changes to the history, watchlist, and recent changes views, adding more context and bringing them more in line with what experienced users expect from these features. We also worked on improvements to the API and links tables integration. On the core discussion side, we released a Flow thank feature, allowing users to thank each other for posts, and began work on a feature to close and summarize discussions. Lastly, we continued work on rewriting the Flow front-end to make it cleaner, faster, and more responsive across a wide number of browsers/devices, which will be ongoing over the next month.
In May, the Flow team prepared the new front-end redesign for expected release in mid-June. We completed work on sorting topics on a board by most recent activity, also for mid-June release. We changed hidden post handling so that everyone can see hidden posts, including anonymous users.
Back-end improvements include optimizations on UUID handling and standardized URL generation. We also merged Special:Flow for release; it's a community-created improvement that makes it easier to create redirects to Flow boards. We also made no-JS fixes for topic submission and replies.
Bug fixes include: Firefox errors, WhatLinksHere fixes, special characters in topic titles, topic creation on empty boards, curr and prev links in board history for topic summaries, and cross-wiki issues with user name lookup.
In June, the Flow team finished an architectural re-write for the front-end, so Flow will be easier to keep updating in the future. This will be released to mediawiki.org the first week of July, and Wikipedia the following week.
The new feature in this release is the ability to sort topics on a Flow board. There are now two options for the order that topics appear on the board: you can see the most recently created threads at the top (the default), or the most recently updated threads. This new sorting option makes it easier to find the active conversations on the board.
We've also made a few changes to make Flow discussions easier to read, including: a font size now consistent with other pages; dropdown menus now easier to read; the use of the new button style, and the WikiGlyphs webfont.
In July, the Flow team built the ability for users to subscribe to individual Flow discussions, instead of following an entire page of conversations. Subscribing to an individual thread is automatic for users who create or reply to the thread, and users can choose to subscribe (or unsubscribe) by clicking a star icon in the conversation's header box. Users who are subscribed to a thread receive notifications about any replies or activity in that thread. To support the new subscription/notification system, the team created a new namespace, Topic, which is the new "permalink" URL for discussion threads; when a user clicks on a notification, the target link will be the Topic page, with the new messages highlighted with a color. The team is currently building a new read/unread state for Flow notifications, to help users keep track of the active discussion topics that they're subscribed to.
In August, the Flow team created a new read/unread state for Flow notifications, to help users keep track of the active discussion topics that they're subscribed to. There are now two tabs in the Echo notification dropdown, split between Messages (Flow notifications) and Alerts (all of the other Echo notifications). Flow notifications stay unread until the user clicks on the item and visits the topic page, or marks the item as read in the notifications panel. The dropdown is also scrollable now, and holds the 25 most recent notifications. Last, subscribing to a Flow board gives the user a notification when a new topic is created on the board.
In September, the Flow team enabled new test pages on French WP and Hebrew WP. The French test is for the Forum des Nouveaux, a Help space for new contributors (similar to the Teahouse on English WP). The Forum des Nouveaux hosts reached out to the Flow team after Wikimania, excited to try out the new discussions system. The Hebrew WP test is helping the team diagnose problems for Right-to-Left languages, and general i18n issues.
The team also refined the new Echo notifications functionality, with lots of feedback from contributors on Mediawiki.org and En.wp. New topic notifications are now bundled in Echo, and we fixed several bugs related to the behavior of the Alerts and Messages tabs, and getting excess mention notifications.
In October, the French WP Forum des nouveaux offered a Flow board as an alternate way for new contributors to ask for help. The Forum is currently using both a wiki talk page and a Flow board; a goal for the team is to build all of the functionality that the Forum needs in order to switch over completely to a Flow board. The team also built a new modal dialog for moderation actions, put unread Echo notifications in reverse chronology, and worked on the back-end needed for creating a Search feature on a Flow board.
In November, the Flow team completed our first conversion of LiquidThreads (LQT) pages into Flow pages, on the private Wikimedia Office wiki. The team now has the ability to turn LQT pages into Flow boards, keeping the items in history and user contributions intact, including edits made to LQT posts. OfficeWiki also has existing wiki talk pages, and the team prepared a conversion script to archive the existing pages, with a prominent link to the archives in the new Flow board headers. The conversion of all talk pages on OfficeWiki will happen in early December.
The team created a new Flow dashboard in Limn to chart usage across all projects. This is a helpful baseline for comparison when we make changes and build new features. We're also working on implementing EventLogging in Flow for the first time. Feature work included front-end work on a Table of Contents feature, and back-end work supporting an upcoming Search feature.
In December, the Collaboration team completed work on the first iteration of Flow's Table of Contents feature, for release in early January. Catalan Wikipedia now uses Flow on their new Village Pump/Technical page, and we're working on feature requests that will get Flow ready for further rollout on both Catalan and French WP.