Wikipedians have long felt the need for higher-bandwidth channels of communication: IRC channels, small-group and one-to-one instant messaging, Skype, blogs, etc. However, it is tough to learn about these elements of the community and non-trivial to figure out how to use some of the technology. To the extent that it can be done by appropriating other free software, Wikimedia projects should integrate these features directly into their MediaWiki sites.
Add the following features (pending the availability of compatible free software):
- In-browser Wikimedia-hosted IRC-type chat rooms. On Wikipedias and Wikinewses there should be a channel for each article, accessible at a click, so that any users working on an article at the same time could chat.
- Blogging--like with blog.wikimedia.org--available to all users (with the expectation that blogs will be generally focused on the Wikimedia projects and related topics)
- Contact lists to keep track of when collaborators are online together (revealing online status would be optional, obviously)
- Instant messaging between users
- Voice chat
Wikimedians are already using all these types of communication (except article-specific chat rooms) to extend the social sphere of the Wikimedian community beyond the confines of the sites themselves. Participation in these more social aspects of the community likely contributes to many members sticking around and contributing as much as they do, and when they are at their best these channels make it more fun and more emotionally healthful to be part of the community. However, the need to go off-site to access richer communication tools (for both collaboration and casual conversation) excludes many users. Providing as many of these communication tools as possible directly within Wikimedia sites would strengthen the community and make collaboration easier.
- How many more users would contribute if the projects were more personal and interactive social environments?
- How much do the current social environments on projects (or lack thereof) act to primarily attract users of certain psychological dispositions and repel others? (Is there any validity, for example, to the study that found Wikipedians to be more disagreeable and anti-social than the general population? If so, is that caused in part by the social limitations of the software environments of our projects?)
- How would the learning curve for new editors change if they could type their questions into a real-time chat window on any page and be answered by experienced editors?
- What impact would features that encourage private collaboration by default have on the openness of the decision-making process on Wikimedia projects?
- Volunteer or paid developer effort
- Server and energy costs
- Distraction from editing for some users
- More new users who treat Wikimedia sites solely as social sites rather than collaborative knowledge projects
- More work for administrators and other community members to ensure the new tools are not being abused
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