Proposal:Improve software, keep up with the times
MediaWiki is ancient. It employs technology that was invented over 20 years ago and makes little to no use of what computer technology can do today. The result is not only a technical barrier to entry for new contributors, but also a difficulty of use for experienced contributors: effort is wasted on technical issues (e.g. syntax) that should more appropriately go into writing or discussing articles.
MediaWiki has not been developed significantly over the past few years. Websites all over the web have appeared which make use of new technologies; the web has become a suite of applications and not just a collection of pages. MediaWiki has so far not kept up with the times. It has the air of a dinosaur.
Part of the problem is traditionalism. The established population of contributors is used to the tools available, and due to human nature they oppose any change. The MediaWiki development team is too forgiving of this resistance and not bold enough in pushing changes, thus missing their opportunity to appeal to a wider contributor-base. Additionally, the MediaWiki development team is apparently unable to weigh suggestions according to the expertise of the suggester; in particular, most suggested changes are changes to the UI, but come from people untrained in UI design. The result is a large, disparate set of technical features, which are very useful, but only usable by very technically-minded people.
The proposal is to rethink the way in which Wikimedia approaches and manages development of the MediaWiki software. Several possible options include:
- Find, perhaps even employ, a professional UI designer or two.
- Establish trust between developers and contributing non-developers. Combat the prejudice that UI designers don't know what they're talking about just because they aren't programmers.
- Make a more directed effort to obtain ideas from non-technical people, keeping in mind that non-technical people will tend to communicate their ideas in less technical ways. Counteract the instinct to think of non-technical people as less worthy of attention because of their lack of technical skills. Do not reject ideas purely because they are not worded technically.
- Make a more directed effort to cater for the needs of non-technical people wishing to become users, i.e. people who are not already users. Accept the reality that, for example, a character-based formatting syntax appeals to a very small proportion of potential contributors. Consider that a majority of users would expect a "discussion" page to look more like a discussion forum and less like an article. Realise that the only people opposed to such changes are people who are already users, which are very few.
- After you've done all of the above, develop a UI that genuinely attracts more users, as opposed to just making already-existing users happier. Remember that develop includes a specification and design stage, not only implementation of a vague idea.
The motivation is simple. Virtually nobody contributes to any Wikimedia projects. Virtually nobody is able to, as it requires unreasonable amounts of technical understanding.
- How serious are we about enabling "anyone" to edit?
- Can a reference website that aspires to be up-to-date afford to look and feel last-century?
- Can a reference website that aspires to be all-encompassing afford to maintain a strong bias towards computer enthusiasts?
- Are we losing out on useful contributions because our outward impression is intimidating rather than inviting?
- Requires the recruitment or dedication of a skilled UI designer.
- Requires the recruitment or dedication of developers who accept input from a UI designer who does not engage in programming.
Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Improve software, keep up with the times.
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