Reading/Q&A with Toby Negrin

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The Reading department is currently evaluating potential strategic approaches, including how priorities are defined and what to expect for the working strategy for the team and its products. More details are available here . Comments and questions are welcome on the talk page.

How do you define readers?

I like to think about our readers as individuals, so I usually try to think of what country they are from, what languages they speak, what kind of information they are looking for, and so forth. I also consider the editors who have a vested interest in reviewing the content they’ve created—a very important set of readers.

Every month about half a billion people visit the Wikimedia sites. It’s both humbling and a reminder of the responsibilities we have as part of working at the Wikimedia Foundation.

Tell us a bit about your own reading behavior?

I studied history at university, so I read a lot of history articles, and I never read articles about pop culture. ;) We’re at Wikimania in Mexico City right now (editor's note: at the time this interview was conducted), so I’ve been exploring current Latin American politics as well as the history of the region. Like everybody else, I use Wikipedia to look up facts and concepts as well as to settle the occasional bet.

What overlaps exist between reading and editing?

Our editors create and maintain the content on the sites, so they have an interest and a responsibility in how the information is displayed. We talk a lot with the Wikimedia Foundation’s Editing team on how we might make this easier to do within our editing tools. One of the best parts of Wikimania is meeting new editors and understanding their motivations for what they do; it’s great input into our product strategy.

In developing communities, internet penetration, accessibility, and literacy are all issues that need to be addressed before we can address usability challenges. Do you think partnerships could help, or is the Foundation’s focus on technical issues unrelated to these social and economic situations?

Getting Wikipedia to people who need it is very important to me personally, and I think there’s a big opportunity to do this across the Global South. I like to start projects with a goal in mind and then figure out what we need to do to meet that goal; if we make it a priority to work specifically in the Global South, we need to address all the issues you raise. I’m not philosophically opposed to partnerships but we do need to make sure that we work with people who are in line with our values and our mission.

The Wikimedia Foundation’s native Android and iOS Wikipedia apps are less than two years old. How can the Foundation provide seamless cross-platform functionality between apps and web?

The apps are an investment in platforms where our readers are as well as an opportunity to take advantage of new capabilities in how we display the article and provide knowledge. They also may be key to reaching new users via pre-loading and other methods of distribution. Seamless cross-platform functionality is more of a means than a goal but we owe it to our readers to provide consistent if not completely identical experiences across app, mobile and web.

Are you going to run tests to ask users to download the app via banners, in the near future?

We’re going to run a small test of an on-site download notice this quarter and see if readers will install and use the app when prompted this way. If this is effective, then we’ll consider wider distribution with the community as I’d like to know if this strategy will work before we discuss a wider rollout. I also want to make sure that we don’t convert mobile web users to app users simply because we can.

Reading is a new department that involves both web and native mobile apps development and design. How do you see the corresponding teams working together?

I think that if we can incorporate these key principles into our day to day work as a team, we’re going to be able to work together effectively:

  • Communications: I’m a pretty flexible manager, but the one thing I demand from my team is clear, respectful communications. We need to have the trust to work together to understand each other’s viewpoints and find solutions acceptable to everyone. I’m confident that if we do this, we’ll be able to work together in new ways.
  • Transparency: it’s still hard to be able to understand what we’re developing and the current status from our workboards. The team is working on higher level descriptions of projects that will be more useful to community members. We also want to be more transparent in our prioritization processes, particularly with community requests.
  • Community: we don’t do a good job of “design by community” and I’m excited to figure out how we can work together to make changes to our interfaces to make the reading experience better.

A very important role for me is to lead by example and make sure that team members are doing the right things.

In such a new process, is there an overlap between data and intuition?

We’ll use data to test our intuitions!

Generally speaking, how do you see the Wikimedia Foundation using data to build solutions for readers, who represent a wide and complex group with less publicly available data than editors?

We need to understand (together) how we balance understanding our users with respecting their privacy. Proposals such as tracking unique behavior, using third party software, or services to speed up development are areas that are currently under consideration in the context of our privacy policy. Rest assured that these will be discussed with our communities before they are developed.

We have seen some recent projects such as Collections and Wikigrok. How does the Foundation plan to evaluate these experiences?

Editor's note: Collections is a beta feature on the English Wikipedia mobile web site that enables users to create a list of articles and give it a name. You can activate the feature from the “Settings” menu, while logged in. Wikigrok was an experiment to support micro-contributions via gamification, inspired by a game developed by Magnus Manske.

We need to understand the impact theory behind these experiences and if we’ve been successful in meeting our goals. Regardless of if we decide to move forward with Wikigrok and Collections, there are valuable learnings in both that we will utilize in the quarters ahead.

Readership is a new focus for the Wikimedia Foundation with many possibilities. How do you plan to define your priorities?

Our core process is designed to experiment with a lot of new ideas as quickly as possible and then move forward with the ones that are most effective. With impact as the most ultimate goal, I generally start with trying to identify a desired outcome, then finding the biggest impediment to achieving that outcome; testing solutions and deploying the winners. I don’t feel like we have identified an outcome yet and that’s where our strategic focus is at the moment.

I’m also looking forward to working with the community on validating and prioritizing these ideas.

How does the Wikimedia Foundation plan to move forward with a strategy for readership, and how are you going to assure transparency in the process?

We are working on a strategy process in the Readership team that is designed to incorporate community feedback in a variety of ways. We are currently testing this within the team and are targeting the 4th quarter to communicate more broadly about it. For now, you can check our work in progress on MediaWiki.org.