When Wikipedia launched, it had from the very beginning a great and yet easily understandable goal: to be an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Since almost everyone knew roughly what an encyclopedia was, it was quite easy for Wikipedia to begin. Over the years, the idea was refined and has considerably evolved, but this initial spark allowed Wikipedia to grow and flourish. It allowed people to start working on the many different parts of Wikipedia without having to first have a centralized discussion about the scope and goal of Wikipedia.
Wikifunctions does not enjoy the same advantage. Wikifunctions’ mission statement is “to collaboratively create and maintain a library of code functions”, and for many potential contributors and users of Wikifunctions that will require further explanation. What is a library of functions? Indeed, what is a function? How is a function useful to me? We previously wrote an essay on the motivations for functions and why they are important. But we expect that this essay is not sufficient to really bring out the message.
We are planning to write text, to appear on the site in possibly hundreds of languages, which will explain what functions are, how they can be used, and why they are useful. We are also considering using other media to spread the message and popularize the concept of a function. Maybe a video? A story? A comic? A lecture? An interactive experience, embedding functions from Wikifunctions? An animation? An infographic? A song?
Do we want a YouTuber to explain what a function is? Do we want an advertisement-style video exemplifying what one can do with functions, shown on the front page? Do we want a comic with a socratic dialog about functions? A short story where the heroes overcome challenges with the help of functions? A celebrity talking (pro bono) about the usefulness of functions? A teaching workshop about a few specific functions and how to use them? All of these?
We would do this because we want to make the concepts behind Wikifunctions more enticing and easier to understand, thus ultimately making it more likely that Wikifunctions succeeds. We want people to have answers to questions such as “What is a function?” and “Why are functions useful to me?” and to popularize the concept of functions. This in turn will allow Wikifunctions more space to grow, since answers to these questions will remain relevant indefinitely and not be tied to the state of the project in its early days.
In addition to the options mentioned above, we are also expecting to create initial tutorials specifically on how to use Wikifunctions. These would be on-wiki, and of course easily editable by the Wikifunctions community to reflect their consensus on how to use the system. Tutorials, and possibly much of the material mentioned above, will be widely linked from the interface within Wikifunctions, in order to help people coming to the pages to learn what the project is all about.
We would like to hear your thoughts, ideas, suggestions—and see your contributions. If you want to sketch out, draft, or even start working on some of this material, we would be delighted. How would you describe the site to someone?
There is no need for all this material to be available before Wikifunctions launches, but it would probably be best if the core tutorial is available at launch. Whereas we are not planning to make a big announcement about launching, it is likely that the first new member of the Wikimedia family of projects in a decade might lead to a few announcements and publications, so having a solid tutorial in place is a good idea.
Next week we will be at our first team off-site. We are very much looking forward to it! This also means that we are not planning to have a weekly update next week.