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Share a story about starting a new discussion

Summary by PPelberg (WMF)

More information about the work being done to improve the workflow for starting a new discussion can be found on the project page here: Talk pages project/New discussion.

Whatamidoing (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Please tell us a story about starting a new discussion. What worked? What didn't? What was most memorable?

Barkeep49 (talkcontribs)

I could tell stories about talk page discussions I've started but it's more about how the discussion went than the starting it. These days it's easy enough to start a discussion, in my mind, in both a flow and non-flow talk environment so there's not a lot that is memorable about starting the discussion itself for me. To the extent I have a story it was nervousness about putting my thoughts out there and what would or wouldn't happen.

JKlein (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Can you say more about your "nervousness"?

Praxidicae (talkcontribs)
Whatamidoing (WMF) (talkcontribs)

Oooh, a hand-typed forged datestamp! I haven't seen one of those for a while.

Whatamidoing (WMF) (talkcontribs)

If you start a new section on a talk page, what's your workflow? Do you use the "+" or "New section" buttons at the top? Do you edit the last section and hand-type the ==Section heading== underneath (and hopefully remember to change the section heading in the edit summary, which my wiki-friends often don't)? Do you hand-edit the URL to add ?action=edit&section=new?

Praxidicae (talkcontribs)

I almost always do == to start == and occasionally will do new section. Often, like on m:SRG, I'll just edit the section above so as not to have to load the whole page and add my own section below the last.

JKlein (WMF) (talkcontribs)

In this scenario, do you approach it as editing the full page?

Alsee (talkcontribs)

I know the Foundation loves this "story" approach, but this topic seems so basic that I'm having a hard time answering in the requested format. I'm not sure what they're really looking for, but I'll try to run through it anyway.

Starting a discussion is an almost trivial step more than just posting a comment. There are two methods, the +Start_new_section button and the standard EDIT button.

  • The +new_section button only allows starting a new discussion at the bottom of the page, which is the standard case. You fill in the subject box, write your comment in the edit box, and sign. Simple.
  • The standard EDIT button lets you comment anywhere on the page, and to make a new discussion you merely start your comment with a subject heading. Normally it's a level two ==Subject_heading==, but in some cases you need a ===level_three=== or ====level_four==== heading. The Discussions Tools probably shouldn't try to address use cases other than a standard level 2 heading at the bottom of the page. The other cases are somewhat uncommon and trying to address those cases would make the UI more complicated.

And a question in return: Is the team's design concept that the wikitext EDIT button is for "power users"? And that "non-power-users" won't be using the wikitext EDIT button?

By the way, welcome to the product as liaison @Whatamidoing (WMF). As liaison, I was wondering whether it occurred to you to inform the product team that there is a significant community situation brewing in regard to this product? As you are aware, I am in the process of installing a new English Village Pump page for the explicit purpose of organizing the community to address issues with the WMF. And as you are presumably aware, I wrote that my first order of community-business on the new page would likely be to deal with this product.

To help you put the pieces together, before you arrived I made all reasonable efforts to warn that this product has serious design problems. My warnings were ignored. The project manager has stated that he has no intention of fixing the problems. When it became clear that further efforts to discuss the issue would also be ignored, I concluded that repetition would be an unproductive waste of my time and a waste of staff time. I have learned to avoid wasting staff time in that fashion. I have found it is far more productive to move discussions to the community at that point. I intend to propose the product be banned from deployment unless the design flaws are fixed.

Barkeep49 (talkcontribs)

Alsee I've seen you reference a couple of times the fatal flaws (here and in a phab ticket) but haven't quite figured out what those are after a (minimal) amount of digging. Could you tell me (perhaps at EN as it's a bit off topic here) what those are in your mind?

Alsee (talkcontribs)

I'm not sure how much of the technicals you're familiar with, so I'll give some background. Back in 2011 the Foundation published a strategy to eliminate wikitext. Talk pages would be replaced with chatboards (Flow). Article pages would dump wikitext and save everything as HTML. Because wikitext was to be eliminated, they built a Visual-type editor with no ability to edit wikitext or wikipages. VisualEditor can only edit HTML. They couldn't immediately eliminate wikitext, so they built a temporary hack to get VisualEditor to work on wikipages. They built something called Parsoid. It goes like this:

  1. Parsoid translates the wikitext page into a variation of HTML (HTML/RDFa).
  2. VisualEditor edits HTML/RDFa.
  3. Parsoid translates the HTML/RDFa back into wikitext.
  4. The wikitext is saved.

This is why the early versions of VisualEditor screwed up the wikitext so often, the translation steps. VisualEditor itself actually worked well, but the double translation through Parsoid would cause all sorts of messes in the saved wikitext. The developers put a huge amount of work over the years into various methods for hiding and avoiding those problems.

The Foundation is so obsessed with the VisualEditor strategy that they're still trying to eliminate our wikitext engine and replace everything with VisualEditor's Parsoid engine. When you use the new Discussion Tools to reply, what it does is run part of the existing page content, and the new comment, through Parsoid translating it into HTML/RDFa. That step is utterly pointless, because we're not about to edit it in VisualEditor. Then they run the content through Parsoid a second time, trying to reconstruct the original content. Then they save the reconstructed content. That's dumb, because the reconstructed content is sometimes damaged. They have the original undamaged content, they could simply save the original undamaged content.

The double-translation process is so insanely complicated that it's essentially impossible to predict all of the cases where it will damage the wikitext. One example is that replies containing a table get damaged. Part of the table markup gets lost and it spews raw table markup onto the page. Posting a new comment can also break existing content on the page. (Note: I can't post the example in Flow because Flow has the same problem, Flow screws it up even worse.). You can see the example in this diff. The comment of 08:33, 31 December 2019 contains a /span tag. A few days later the reply of 20:01, 5 January 2020 causes damage to the old comment. The reply shouldn't touch anything in the old comment, but old /span tag vanishes. That causes the red color style to spill out turning the timestamp red and turning the ==welcome== red. In other cases it could cause markup to spill down the entire page messing up every section below it.

J. N. Squire (talkcontribs)

I'm not sure what's implied by "story". Are we supposed to report something unusual from the usual way we start a new discussion?

Whatamidoing (WMF) (talkcontribs)

All of the above, @J. N. Squire! Your usual method, your favorite method, what you remember from the first time you started a new section, the strangest method you ever saw, whatever you want.

PPelberg (WMF) (talkcontribs)


The "Start a new discussion" project page has been published: Talk pages project/New discussion. It contains information about the goals of this work and the questions we are still trying to answer.

Pelagic (talkcontribs)

I know the Foundation loves this "story" approach, but this topic seems so basic that I'm having a hard time answering in the requested format.

This throws me out of kilter, too. I’m good at learning concepts but not remembering anecdotes. “Tell me a story” might suit some people, but I find it alienating.

@Alsee@Whatamidoing (WMF)@J. N. Squire

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