Talk pages project/New discussion

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This page talks about the Editing Team's work to improve contributors' workflows for starting new discussion threads on talk pages, across Wikipedia's 16 talk namespaces.

This new workflow for starting new conversations is intended to make it more intuitive for Junior Contributors to initiate conversations in ways other contributors can easily engage and help Senior Contributors do the same with less effort.

This initiative sits within the Talk pages project, our teams larger effort to help contributors, across experience levels, communicate more easily on Wikipedia using talk pages. To accomplish this, we are building upon the Talk pages consultation 2019, and existing community conventions, to evolve existing wikitext talk pages.

To participate in and follow this project's development, we recommend adding this page to your watchlist.  We will use this page to:

  • Share and invite feedback on designs
  • Announce deployment plans
  • Share data about how the feature is being used

Status updates[edit]

This section contains updates about the project's development.

2-October-2020[edit]

Design is underway

The team is working on a few different design directions the New Discussion Tool could take to meet the requirements listed below (see: New discussion#Approach). These design directions are intended to help us make the following implementation decisions:

  • Initial touchpoint: Where and what do people click to start the process of adding a new discussion topic to a talk page?
  • Composition: Where do people draft the title and body of the topic they are planning to publish?
  • Posting/Feedback: What is the best way to communicate to people that the topic they intended others to be able to see and interact with has been posted successfully?

In the next few weeks, you can expect mockups of these "different design directions" to be posted to this page along with a message on the talk page (Talk:Talk pages project/New discussion) inviting to share what you think about them. In the meantime, you can follow the work to produce these mockups by visiting this Phabricator task: T243248.

22-May-2020[edit]

Design approach

  • Initially, we will focus on improving the following aspects of the new discussion workflow:
    • Adjusting the language throughout the workflow to make it more discussion-specific.
    • Enhancing the editing tool so people can write what they want to talk about without needing to learn or know about wikicode.
    • Introducing subtle automations that guide people towards writing and posting topics that make it easy for others to understand and engage with.
  • You can read more details about this approach and examples of interventions we are exploring here: Design approach.

1-May-2020[edit]

Usability testing of existing experience

  • We have completed four rounds of usability tests to better understand what people who are new to editing Wikipedia talk pages experience when attempting to start a new discussion.
  • You can review these findings and what are planning in response below: Usability testing.

27-March-2020[edit]

Usability testing of existing experience

  • To ensure the designs we create meet the needs of newer contributors seeking to talk with other people on Wikipedia, we are running a series of usability tests of the existing "start a new discussion thread" workflow.
  • You can expect to see the research findings posted by mid-April, in the Usability testing section below.

Open questions[edit]

This section contains questions the team would value your input on.

  1. How do you typically go about starting a new conversation/section on a talk page? Does your workflow vary depending on the namespace?
  2. Are there aspects about your current workflow(s) for starting a new conversation/section you find to be inefficient or limiting?
  3. Have you noticed others having difficulty starting new discussion threads?

The team is curious to hear what you have to say about these questions on the talk page here: Topic:Vjl9e4d6kwjbtbxf.

Objectives[edit]

The improvements to the workflow for starting a new discussion thread on Wikipedia talk pages is intended to make it more intuitive for Junior Contributors to initiate conversations in ways other contributors can easily reply to and to help Senior Contributors do the same, with less effort.

We think helping contributors start conversations more easily and with less effort will increase the likelihood these contributors receive the input and guidance they are seeking from others.

It is important to note that making it easier and more accessible for people with less experience contributing to Wikipedia to start new conversations on talk pages could cause an increase in "unproductive" behavior. Accordingly, as this new tool is deployed, we will monitor the edits people publish using it to ensure they are not disruptive to others.

Evaluating impact[edit]

This section will contain the methods and data we will use to evaluate the impact of this feature.

Background[edit]

The Editing Team is committed to improving how contributors communicate about their work on Wikipedia, by making existing wikitext talk pages easier and more efficient to use.

A key part of the process of communicating with other contributors is starting a new discussion thread. Trouble is, as previous research and the Talk Page Consultation 2019 uncovered, contributors, across experience levels, find the workflow for starting a new discussion on talk pages challenging. Specifically, our research has found:

  • Junior Contributors do not recognize talk pages as places to talk with others. To many newer contributors, talk pages look like Wikipedia articles. There is no discussion-specific interface or elements that make it clear to people what these pages are used for: to talk with other editors to improve the encyclopedia. This lack of context makes it difficult for people to recognize the conversations happening on talk pages as well as the affordances (e.g. buttons and links) that would enable them to start new ones.
  • Junior Contributors do not sign their edits. When newer contributors do not sign the new discussions they start, they create more work for people wanting to respond. For in order for them to know who to address their response to, they need to navigate to a separate page (the talk page's history page). Additionally, when people do not sign their comments, others will miss out on the opportunity to quickly reply using tools like the new Replying feature.
  • Junior Contributors find the workflow difficult to discover. Many talk pages contain large yellow infoboxes. While these infoboxes are helpful for communicating the quality of an article, editing instructions and links to archived conversations, they, "...are so prominent they distract people from most important actions on a talk page (start a new topic, reply, edit, etc)." [1] Other research has shown newer contributors can miss the "New section" link altogether, clicking "Edit source" instead, causing them further confusion. [2]

Design[edit]

This section contains information about design strategy.

Approach[edit]

For people to be confident starting a new conversation on a talk page, we have identified four broad conditions that need to be met:

  1. People recognize talk pages as places to communicate with others.
  2. People know what to click/press to initiate the process for talking about something new.
  3. People have the tools they need to represent what they want to talk about in ways others can understand.
  4. People know what to click/press to make others aware of what they want to talk about.
  5. People are confident what they are wanting to talk about is visible to others.

Initially, we are going to focus on improving "conditions" 2., 3., 4., and 5. This means, we will start by experimenting with designs that:

  • Adjust the language throughout the workflow to make it more discussion-specific. An example: adjusting the "Publish changes" button to read "Add topic."
  • Enhance the editing tool so people can write what they want to talk about without needing to learn or know about wikicode. An example: introducing a way for people to draft discussion topics using a rich text editor.
  • Introduce subtle automations that guide people towards writing and posting topics that make it easy for others to understand and engage with. An example: automatically signing new discussion posts and requiring people to include a "Subject" in the section/discussion they are drafting.

Deployment[edit]

This section will contain information about how and where the Starting a new discussion tool will be deployed.

Usability testing[edit]

This section contains information about usability testing the team has conducted to better understand contributors' experiences starting new discussions.

Control test: current start new discussion experience[edit]

Test goals

The primary goals of this test were to better understand the following:

  • What challenges do Junior Contributors face in the process of starting a new discussion on Wikipedia article's talk page?
  • What challenges do Junior Contributors face in the process of starting a new discussion with another Wikipedia contributor on their user talk page?
  • What steps do Junior Contributors expect to be involved with starting a new discussion on Wikipedia article and user talk pages?

Testing method

Four rounds of usability tests were run on usertesting.com with 5 participants per test. Each participant was screened to ensure they were technically advanced web users who have used Wikipedia in some capacity before.

They were asked to start new discussion topics on article and user talk pages on a prototype server via a web browser, while narrating their experience.

These test pages can be viewed here: test article talk page / test user talk page.

Findings

Below is a summary of the test findings. More details can be found in this ticket on Phabricator: T239175#5723843.

Positive

  • The majority of test participants were able to start new section/discussions.
    • With the above said, the majority of people who participated did not do so successfully. Where "successfully" means they signed the discussion they started and had confidence they were taking the right steps to begin a conversation about an article or with another editor.

Challenges

  • None the test participants signed the discussions they started.
  • Test participants did not understood how talk pages worked and what effect starting a new discussion would have:
    • “I'm beginning to see this page is just a transcript for previous things. Maybe Alice is helping people so she is putting it on there for people to see.”
    • "If I known my subject line would be displayed so openly here, I would have written something better. I thought this was a personal message."
  • Test participants expressed uncertainty about whether the actions they were taking would lead them to accomplish the task at-hand. Here are a few examples that demonstrate this lack of clarity and uncertainty:
    • "It was not intuitive - I thought I needed to go to the bottom of the page."
    • "...everything was painful, I got lost a couple of times, the layout is very difficult to digest with lots of text and too much colours that don´t mean much unless you are familiar with the site."
  • Multiple test participants found the calls to action confusing. This quote exemplifies the challenge people experienced:
    • "It was challenging to understand that add topic meant starting a discussion.. these are not the same words and it could be mistaken as a fully new topic for example, a subsection of cats that would create an entirely new page, not just a discussion within the current page."
  • The majority of test participants had difficulty locating the "Add topic" button tab on the talk page (article and user).
    • The templates that appear at the top of many article talk pages (Talk page templates) seemed to distract test participants from locating the button to start a new discussion.
  • Test participants expected to be automatically notified when someone responded to the discussion they started:
    • "I would hope that somehow my email account is linked to this so then I can get an email saying something like “Alice has responded to your question” and thenI can go and click on that link from my email that will open the Wikipedia link and then I can reply to Alice there."

Improvements

The findings above are leading us to pursue the following improvements to help people start conversations, in ways other contributors can easily engage, with less effort:

  • Make it easier for people to find/discover the affordance(s) for starting a new discussion.
  • Make it more clear to people what the effects will be of the actions they take.
    • E.g. People will be confident about knowing where the content they post is published and who it will be able to see it.
  • Make it easier for people to start conversations in ways that makes it easy for others to reply to. Where "easy for others to reply to" means things like:
    • Potential responders can quickly see who started the conversation and when they started it.
    • Potential responders can easily understand what the person starting the conversation is wanting to talk about.
  • Make it easier for people to know when someone has responded to something they have said.

Comments

This test highlighted an important tension many Junior Contributors seem to face: technically they finish the task they set out to complete, but do so without being confident they did it correctly. And if they do realize they have made a mistake, they are not equipped to fix it because the proper ways of doing so are not intuitive enough for them to understand. This tension seems to map to a larger issue that we intend to incrementally address: it is not clear to people how talk pages work. Said another way: the current implementation of talk pages lead people to hold various and often inaccurate mental models for how talk pages work.

Next steps

In response to the findings above, we are designing interventions to address the challenges the test surfaced. We will then share a cohesive design/mockup that we will ask for feedback on.

In parallel, we are inviting feedback from Senior Contributors about their experiences starting new discussions on talk pages. You can review what people are saying and/or add your thoughts on the talk page: Topic:Vjl9e4d6kwjbtbxf.

History[edit]

Many projects have, and are, working to improve contributors' experiences with talk pages. This project is better off for their existence. Some of the projects the team continues to learn from are listed on the main project page and below. If there is a project you think we should be aware of, please boldly add it here.

Glossary[edit]

The Talk pages project glossary is intended to help us all communicate about talk pages more effectively by making sure we have a shared understanding about the words we use in our discussions and documentation throughout the project.