Talk pages consultation 2019/Tradeoffs phase notes

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These are notes from the TPC team to think about how to structure Phase 2, the Tradeoffs and Prioritization phase.

March 25, Danny[edit]

The core of all tradeoffs is Features vs Flexibility.

Flexibility is an important advantage of wikitext talk pages. There's no software-imposed structure, so the content on the page is endlessly remixable -- it can be merged, split and restructured. Contributors can perform several different functions on the same page, and change the format as they go along. Over time, the communities have created their own rules and procedures on different kinds of talk pages, which need to be learned and followed.

Features are the software improvements that we can make, which would make discussions easier and more efficient. Some of these features would benefit contributors who are just learning how to interact on talk pages, like being prompted with a place to reply. Some would benefit contributors who participate in lots of discussions, like being able to follow one section on a busy talk page and only get notifications about that specific section.

Building features will probably result in some loss of flexiblity. We need to think and talk about these tradeoffs, to understand the impact of making these choices.

Tradeoffs and prioritization are the core questions of a product team's work. We need to ask questions that don't have easy answers, and find a path that feels right. This consultation is an opportunity for contributors to participate in the difficult work of making product choices, by weighing the pros and cons of each question. As we move forward with the project, we'll be able to refer back to these discussions, to help everyone understand how we're making these choices.

The tradeoffs questions should be based on the list of user stories that we come up with at the end of phase 1. When we have a complete list of the user stories, we'll be able to identify areas that would require tradeoffs.

Here are some initial ideas, based on the discussions we've read so far:

  • Being able to watchlist a single section could mean that splitting or merging a discussion would break that feature. Same for having a permalink to a specific discussion or part of a discussion.
  • Building an archiving system for old discussions could allow us to build a "search archives" feature that actually works, but it could mean that moving individual discussions to the archive by hand wouldn't work.
  • The templates at the top of talk pages push discussions down the page. They can be a pain to scroll through, and new users are sometimes confused by them. On some pages, they have important warnings and information about how to participate in the discussions. They also have information about article ratings and relevant WikiProjects. We could build features to make these more consistent and readable, but that could mean less flexibility for each template creator.
  • One user story is being able to move a discussion from one page to another, and keep the discussion's history intact. This could mean changing the page history from one comprehensive history of the whole page to a system that records a separate history for each discussion.
  • A discussion with complex indentation may look different on desktop and mobile, because a portrait smartphone display may not be able to represent the same number of indents.
  • Building a reply/threading structure could help people reply to the correct message without worrying about counting colons and putting the reply in the correct place. This may reduce flexibility, including the ability to move a comment from one indentation level to another.
  • Including automatic reply links could help people know how to reply to a specific message. This could mean that those links appear in places where you'd rather not have someone reply, like an arbitration case.

More discussion on this to come. :) -- DannyH (WMF) (talk) 00:18, 26 March 2019 (UTC)