Topic on User talk:Jkatz (WMF)

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Ruud Koot (talkcontribs)

Some things to think about:

  • Editors and readers are not two distinct groups of people. Editors are a subset of the readers, and very possibly the most active group of readers. They have a good intuition about what is good for all readers. I'm not getting the impression that the current generation of developers are avid readers of Wikipedia...
  • Even if the editors aren't the most important group of readers: Wikipedia was built by the editors and the readers came en masse. Clearly the editors did and are doing something right.
  • There are some very obvious things we could do on Wikipedia that would clearly benefit the readers: license copyrighted images for exclusive use on Wikipedia, employ paid staff to write part of the content, ... Why don't we do this? Because they don't align with Wikipedia's values. But if talk about "Wikipedia's values" really mean the values of Wikipedia's editors.
  • Many editors don't volunteer "for the greater good", but contribute because they enjoy writing and debating about their interests. That we created this great public good, is just a very, very happy accident.
  • The biggest existential threat to Wikipedia is lack of editor retention, not lack of reader retention. If we lose 90% or our readers nothing bad will happen. If we lose 10% of our editors, we are in deep trouble. The previous ED seems to have understood this better than the current one, although even she did not act on this knowledge sufficiently.

There's still plenty of stuff that can be done by the developers that would benefit both readers and editors, or would benefit readers without offending editors. I don't think many people would object to a proper bookmarking tool, for example. If you tie it in with the much requested multiple watchlists feature or a citation management tool, you could really make some friends. Or propose some interface and layout changes that improve readability on the Village Pump and have people vote on it (a different font, perhaps, or larger thumbnails by default, or some Mediawiki enhancements that make it easier to do image and infobox layout properly, ..?) And I think nearly everyone hates the mess that is the table of contents, although fixing that is probably easier said than done.

Jkatz (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Thanks, @Ruud Koot This is a great start to the discussion. For anyone else who happens to be reading, I would like to quote from our discussion that prompted it:

"The underlying thought is wrong as well: Wikipedia is what its editors want it to be, not what its readers want it to be." - this is an interesting standpoint. It certainly is what its editors want it to be by definition. Given it's tremendous success and global impact, it has become a utility for many people - like water or electricity. My initial bias is that Wikipedia's success has made it the property of the world that relies on it, not just the people who dedicate their lives to building it. That being said, I am curious to hear your reasoning (but not on this thread :)), perhaps we can move it to my talkpage? (me)

I appreciate the thought you have put into this and really want to respond thoughtfully to your points above, but also have a lot of internal-oriented work to do today. I will respond to your points sometime during the weekend.

Jkatz (WMF) (talkcontribs)

@Ruud Koot

Hi Rood,

I responded to your thoughts on a point-by-point basis. I hope it doesn’t feel to argumentative. My intention continues to be to understand your way of thinking better so that we can build better things for the movement/mission (are they the same?). I italicized your text.

Some things to think about:

  • Editors and readers are not two distinct groups of people. Editors are a subset of the readers, and very possibly the most active group of readers. They have a good intuition about what is good for all readers.
    • I agree that there is overlap and power users have good intuition about reader needs. However, the needs of a power reader tend to be very different from the larger user base (in this case the rest of the world). Wikimedians are a unique bunch! Examples abound on Wikipedia where a link takes you somewhere mysterious—a shortcut for expert users, but highly disorienting to new visitors.
I'm not getting the impression that the current generation of developers are avid readers of Wikipedia...
    • I am not sure what you mean by this. I am not a developer, so I can’t speak for WMF developers, but I am a frequent reader of Wikipedia. Does that mean I read entire articles at a time? Not, usually—but I don’t think that should matter, unless someone has decided that the only people who matter are the people who read Wikipedia a certain way.
  • Even if the editors aren't the most important group of readers: Wikipedia was built by the editors and the readers came en masse. Clearly the editors did and are doing something right.
    • I agree 100% that the editors did something right and continue to do something right. However, the extent to which it is right is arguably decreasing. The amount of content viewed on site is not quite decreasing, but it is definitely flat, while internet access continues to spread rapidly, most notably in the developing world. We are losing mindshare. If we lose it to other educational initiatives like Khan Academy, that is fine. If we lose it to Candy Crush games and Facebook, then we should be striving to be more engaging. Regardless, I do not think we (wmf or editors) have adapted well to new market and world dynamics.
  • There are some very obvious things we could do on Wikipedia that would clearly benefit the readers: license copyrighted images for exclusive use on Wikipedia, employ paid staff to write part of the content, ... Why don't we do this? Because they don't align with Wikipedia's values. But if talk about "Wikipedia's values" really mean the values of Wikipedia's editors.
    • Yes. As someone who deeply believes in the vision of the WMF, I think movement principles like “freely” come into conflict with the “Sum of all knowledge”. Another similar issue seems to be whether or not our mission is to allow humans to share in the sum of all human knowledge OR to do the above via an encyclopedia. I am personally interested in exploring expansions to what an encyclopedia can do and how learning/contribution can be promoted, but obviously these tests/explorations need more community consultation or buy-in than they have in the past? Why mess with success at all? Well, I really do think that Wikipedia’s impact is being threatened (pageviews are a bad proxy for learning, but they + market dynamics suggest we are facing a decline that will worsen)
  • Many editors don't volunteer "for the greater good", but contribute because they enjoy writing and debating about their interests. That we created this great public good, is just a very, very happy accident.
  • I totally appreciate that from a motivation perspective. However, surely even the most self-oriented editor can recognize that this is now a public good and is bigger than any of our personal needs. Obviously, if editors aren’t happy we have a real problem, but it seems to go against the nature of the movement to ignore the vision. A hypothetical example: if I created an energy machine that turned thoughts into energy and the world was saved, but then I held the technology rights and I leased them to the world. If my motivation all along was entertainment value and I decided that it would be more entertaining to remove the technology and destroy it forever, wouldn’t that be vastly immoral? Doesn’t such an important invention belong to humanity?
  • The biggest existential threat to Wikipedia is lack of editor retention, not lack of reader retention. If we lose 90% or our readers nothing bad will happen. If we lose 10% of our editors, we are in deep trouble. The previous ED seems to have understood this better than the current one, although even she did not act on this knowledge sufficiently.
  • I agree that we are in deep trouble if we lose 90% of our editors. If we lose 90% of our readers, I don’t think it is safe to say that nothing bad will happen. Per my note above, if they decide to go to another educational source that values their privacy and does not engage in censorship or systemic bias, then ‘no problem’, but if not, then the mission suffers.
There's still plenty of stuff that can be done by the developers that would benefit both readers and editors, or would benefit readers without offending editors. I don't think many people would object to a proper bookmarking tool, for example.
  • Yes—let’s identify the mutual wins, but we have editing and collaboration teams and I don’t want to get caught in the trap of only building features for readers if they also help editors. I think a good first step would be to help readers without creating additional burden for editors! Re bookmarking: I think private gather collections + desktop suppor + some UX fixes = a bookmarking tool, but maybe the project is too tainted.
If you tie it in with the much requested multiple watchlists feature or a citation management tool, you could really make some friends.
  • We are currently debating what the cost of this would be and if this is something the reading team should undertake (related to note above)
Or propose some interface and layout changes that improve readability on the Village Pump and have people vote on it (a different font, perhaps, or larger thumbnails by default, or some Mediawiki enhancements that make it easier to do image and infobox layout properly, ..?) And I think nearly everyone hates the mess that is the table of contents, although fixing that is probably easier said than done.
  • Yes!—as part of our evolution we are trying to come to you earlier and earlier in the process. Some new such proposals are being drafted right now! (the current work is on langauge switching for mobile, as we have many many >1 language speakers and the mobile language switching is at the bottom of the article.

That’s it! I hope I didn’t cause any heart palpitations—it is really helpful for me to identify where principles don’t align and where I need to adjust my own thinking, address your concerns, or provide better evidence for my viewpoints. We have a lot going on right now on many fronts, so I can’t promise to respond quickly, but I do hope we can continue what is, for me, at least, a productive dialogue.

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