web: Wikipedia editing ideas

Wikipedia wants to attract and retain editors. “Ideas are cheap, implementation costs,” but here are my thoughts anyway as a long-time but sporadic contributor. For all I know these have been discussed at length and rejected or deferred…

New pages

The original WikiWiki vision was to encourage wiki links to nonexistent pages, and if you then follow the link you jump straight into editing the missing page. Wikipedia has interposed a “Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name” page in this workflow, and disabled the creation step for users who aren’t logged in altogether, but it’s still emphasizing page creation.

With a mature web site, most of the time people shouldn’t create new pages. The information is there, but under a different name or more likely as a section on another page, or it doesn’t qualify for inclusion. My impression is most new pages get an immediate delete or flag as Article for Deletion, and that seems extremely unmotivating (judging from Slashdotters whining about their deleted pages).

Don’t delete new pages, redirect

=> Rather than deleting, encourage redirects to sections, make it easier.

(Does Wikipedia have a policy that every significant topic in the world should have a web page? Perhaps it should, especially for languages with less coverage than English Wikipedia. It seems forward-thinking, when projects like Wikidata will allow making statements at a finer granularity than existing wikipedia pages.)

=> Instead of deleting pages, maybe add to them a redirect to a more general article (the obscure character redirects to the TV series’ page, the minor local band redirects to the musical genre, the lesser novel redirects to the novelist). The redirect page could even keep the original text but show it in a pink section “This is {{reason for deletion}} so is not its own article, hence it redirects to [[Real page]], but here is the original material“. People would be free to link to this &redirect=no page, it would remain part of the Wikipedia site, but it would not be part of the Wikipedia corpus of knowledge presented to the world. This “thanks but redirect” makes deletion less a slap in the face than an “OK, but…”. It also solves the difficulty of  seeing a deleted page’s contents. It might be a good way to let pages develop.

Editing existing pages

References preview

I usually edit a section to avoid accidental changes to other parts and because it’s faster. But in section editing there’s no references/reflist, so you have no idea if your {{cite web}} works or not.

=> when previewing a section, add an opportunistic uneditable References preview (if any) {{reflist}} that shows references. (Trick: what about references that are only spelled out in other sections — <ref name="Other Section">?)

Accidentally edits to parts elsewhere

=> It would be good if preview summarized how many “lines” you changed/added, or even tried to tell what section(s) you changed. This would encourage better edit summaries. (Note most Wikipedia markup is paragraph-oriented not line-oriented, so a straight diff is often misleading; maybe there’s a sentence-oriented diff.)

cite-o-matic sentence editor

Often when I’m editing a page I’m just updating with some new information. Imagine an editor that only preps a sentence for inclusion. It starts with

As of June 2012, your text here {{citation needed}}

If you click on the {{citation needed}} it brings up an {{cite web}} template editor that helps you build the citation, and also encourages best practices for finding original sources, permanent link, removing extraneous query string parameters, etc.

The downside is this encourages fragmentary additions rather than article-wide holistic re-editing. But does Wikimedia Foundation want more editors or better page improvements?

Social page improving

Wholescale page improvements are daunting. They’re hard to get right and the instigator ought to be soliciting feedback and participation before submitting a major page reorganization.

The coding community has solved this. On github, you can suggest an improvement as an Issue, people can chime in, and you or others can develop it in your fork of the project, and invite review, and eventually someone can pull some or all of the discrete changes comprising the update into the main version. You can also run an Etherpad or Google Docs and have real-time archived comment and chat as you improve. It’s a collaborative community process. On MediaWiki, not so much:

  • you can make a version of the page as a subpage of your User:page/ , but it has no connection with the original
    • you can’t diff it with the original
    • nobody knows you’re working on it unless you mention it on the Talk page
  • there’s no “Talk page for proposed revision Xxx”
  • there’s no Page Review tool
  • there’s no way to apply a series of edits from your test version of a page back to the main page
  • there’s no Issue/Feature tracking for a page. (Do the current Article Feedback Tool ratings appear in a page quality section?)


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