Different communities, at different times, have used many different methods for communication, depending upon their needs, preferences, and available options. This page describes some of the methods used at different times by the larger Wikipedia communities.
2001: Wikipedia started
The English Wikipedia began on 15 January 2001. By the end of the year, 18 different Wikipedia communities had started. You can see what the English Wikipedia looked like at https://nostalgia.wikipedia.org/.
- Before Wikipedia, wikis had no separation between talk and content. Editors would place discussions underneath the regular content, on the same page. See, for example, the https://nostalgia.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutral point of view policy.
- The early history of wikis had seen debates on how to handle discussions on wiki. Some people preferred ThreadMode, i.e. a series of signed comments added to a wiki page in chronological order, which were then removed and replaced with a summary to keep the size of these pages under control. Others (including wiki inventor Ward Cunningham) preferred refactoring them into a coherent DocumentMode page.
- Even after the introduction of separate discussion pages (a Wikipedia innovation that Cunningham called "brilliant"), the Talk: namespace did not yet exist. "Talk pages" were regular sub-pages of articles, so questions about the article
[[Example]]would be placed on a subpage
- Although there were ways to communicate with other editors both on and off wiki, it was less common; "the wiki way" was to form an implicit consensus through boldly improving upon other editors' contributions, and welcoming them to do the same to yours.
- Brief announcements were sometimes made on wiki, but following the (single) mailing list was considered a better way to stay in touch with other editors. Requests for Adminship would be handled in the mailing list until 2003. Making someone an admin required manual intervention by a dev.
2002–2003: Conversations were mostly off-wiki
In addition to the mailing list, many editors communicated in real-time on IRC, and even on USENET. The talk pages were used, but not as much as they are now. Bigger, more important discussions tended to happen off-wiki.
- The Talk: namespace debuted with Phase II software on 25 January 2002 at the English Wikipedia. Other wikis followed soon after.
- In March 2002, a new wikitext feature allowed editors to type
~~~~to have the software automatically insert a link to your userpage and the time stamp. Before then, and even for a while after that, most comments were unsigned or signed with only a username. The convention was to use a horizontal line (rather than ==Sections==) to separate comments. (Example)
- The English Wikipedia's original Village Pump was created in mid-2002. For announcements, a central newsletter was started on Meta in 2002. The German Wikipedia's Kurier began at the end of 2003. (The Signpost at the English Wikipedia wasn't created until 2005.)
- IRC had some limitations. There was no public log, so new editors couldn't read past discussions. People sometimes used different names on IRC than on wiki, and editors' IP addresses were routinely exposed. However, for many wikis, the established editors were highly active on IRC, so that's where many big decisions were taken, or planned in private chats. As one editor put it, "IRC is the new VP".
- IRC channels are still active for several languages, although few of the editors who have joined in the last decade use it.
- The original mailing list survives, but mostly as a place for old hands to talk about general concerns. It's no longer a place where decisions are taken about content, policies, or users.
- USENET faded away over time. In some respects, USENET interacted with Wikipedia much like Reddit does now, e.g., these discussions about USENET discussions and users.
2004: BBS proposed
The Talk: namespace was an improvement over the previous practice of writing directly on the article pages, but there were ongoing proposals for further improvements, including requests for threaded messages, better integration, voting software, and more.
The English Wikipedia's WikiProject Aircraft talked about creating their own mailing list, and then voted to start an off-wiki bulletin board system ("BBS"; similar to an internet forum) for discussions among group members. This would be an off-wiki system, but it would give them features that were unavailable on a free-form talk page, such as message threading and automatic signing. The fact that this vote was successful was discussed in multiple forums, including the Village pump, and a month or two later, a volunteer proposed, on the mailing list, creating our own "on-wiki" BBS, and named it LiquidThreads ("LQT"). The proposal was probably discussed informally in private e-mail and on IRC, but the initial proposal was posted to mediawiki.org and announced on the main mailing list.
2006: LiquidThreads started by a volunteer dev
A volunteer started building LiquidThreads. Some editors at the English Wikipedia were concerned that it would disrupt their workflows, so it was first installed on a non-Wikimedia Foundation wiki first (version 1), in approximately 2007.
Editors didn't always remember to sign their comments, and in December 2006, the English Wikipedia approved their first signature-inserting bot, to insert forgotten signatures.
2007–2008: Sudden growth
The "Eternal September" effect on Wikipedia led to the rise of the bots and scripts, including Twinkle and the MiszaBot archiving bots. When bots maintained talk pages, the mess was less painful for established editors. On the largest Wikipedias, editors turn to complicated templates and bots to manage discussions: templates for advertising discussions; templates for voting in discussions; templates to mark discussions as resolved; templates to communicate that an editor believes that a page should be improved, deleted, merged, split, or renamed; bots to archive discussions and bots to fix wikilinks that were broken by the archiving process, and more. However, these tools were (and still are) only available at certain projects.
There are enough new-ish people that IRC and even the central mailing lists are eventually declared to be inappropriate places for making decisions, but John Broughton's 2008 book on Wikipedia still recommended them as active and valid channels, and important announcements are still made there a decade later. For example, the decision to set external links to "nofollow", due to growing concerns about people spamming links into Wikipedia to influence search engine results, was announced on WikiEN-l.
2009–2010: Strategy wiki
The first big strategy consultation at strategy.wikimedia.org is also the first wiki operated by the Wikimedia Foundation that used LiquidThreads. The Wikimedia Foundation hired Werdna to update LQT – resulting in version 2.0 – and later installed it on some more wikis, including Wikinews, which still uses it. (Most wikis, including this one, stopped using it in 2015.)
Long-simmering communication problems result in disputes such as the Eastern European mailing list ArbCom case. Off-wiki communication tools may be more efficient for some purposes, but having them on wiki improves transparency and allows all interested editors to participate.
The Wikimedia Foundation hired a long-time admin at the French Wikipedia as its first product manager, for the Usability Initiative. This was the project that produced the 2010 WikiEditor, which is still the default wikitext editor on desktop at most wikis, the Vector skin, and the UploadWizard tool for Commons.
2011–2012: Change happens
- Also, the technically complicated process of placing a custom barnstar template on someone's talk page is simplified with WikiLove, which is still sometimes the only way that some newbies can figure out how to leave a note on someone else's user talk page.
- The Notifications (Echo) project is begun. Although there were some complaints when it was first deployed, this is the first major alternative to free-form talk pages that proves popular with experienced editors at the established communities. A long-time English Wikipedia editor was hired to coordinate between editors and the product team during the deployment.
- When people started looking at creating a Version 3 of LiquidThreads ("LQT3"), it quickly became apparent that the real need was a new tool that let editors get their work done, rather than just a place for a conversation. It got a new name, a new codebase, and a new database structure. The project, if fully realized, would have freed volunteers from the need to maintain some complicated templates and bots, by replacing complex workflows, such as the English Wikipedia's Articles for Deletion system or the specialized pages maintained by its corps of Arbitration Committee clerks, with a custom-built tool, with automatic timers, built-in categorization, and other features that are currently handled through scripts and templates. Many communities would be able to use these tools for voting processes, such as Requests for Adminship.
- In-person user testing with editors was begun in late 2013.
The Community Liaisons are hired to support communications between editors and developers about VisualEditor, a few weeks before the first deployment, which was on 1 July 2013.
- Announcements are made on hundreds of wiki pages, in many languages. CentralNotice banners are run for weeks. Still, some editors never see any of the messages, and some people who do see them have trouble contacting the team.
- Separate wikitext pages for feedback on this major software change are set up across dozens of wikis. Most of these are later centralized into a few locations here on MediaWiki.org.
- A few very large discussions and votes were held on wiki about the new software. In some cases, this resulted in a single discussion swamping a page that is normally focused on other subjects. However, there's no easy way to move the discussion and keep the contribution history intact and make it easy for participants to find the new location.
- Feedback is provided off-wiki through multiple formats, including face-to-face conversations at Wikimania and other events, discussions on mailing lists, private e-mail messages, social media, and more.
- Talk pages consultation 2019/Tools in use – Where to document what your community or group currently uses for communication.
- This volunteer was hired by the Wikimedia Foundation about three years later. At the time this proposal was made, the Foundation had zero paid staff.