[Foundation-l] Stanton Foundation $890K Usability Grant

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Wed Dec 3 18:42:16 UTC 2008

As per Michael's earlier e-mail:


We're very grateful to the Stanton Foundation for this important
investment in Wikipedia's user-friendliness. We're aware of the UNICEF
research as well and we'll survey the existing improvements as part of
this project. A few points beyond the press release:

'''When will this project begin, and when will it finish?'''

The project will begin in January 2009.  It will wrap up April 2010.

'''What is its overall scope?'''

The project scope will include the following:

* user testing designed to identify the most common barriers to entry
for first-time writers, and
* a series of improvements to the MediaWiki interface, including
improvements to issues identified through user testing and a focus on
hiding complex elements of the user interface from people who don't
use them. (Specifically, we'll focus on complex syntax like templates,
references, tables, etc.)

'''What does the Wikimedia Foundation consider to be wrong with the
editing interface right now?'''

When it was first developed, MediaWiki was considered reasonably
user-friendly.  At that time, software wasn't as flexible and
user-focused as it is today.  It's logical that by today's standards,
MediaWiki may not seem to be as streamlined or user-friendly as other

We have never systematically examined the editing interface to examine
what kinds of challenges new contributors face, but we do know of
certain common problems.  For example, many people have difficulty
creating new articles, uploading images, and editing templates,
footnotes, and tables.  We hope to make improvements in those areas.

'''Who are the new contributors you are hoping to attract?'''

We are hoping to attract new contributors who are just as smart and
knowledgeable as the people who have always written for Wikipedia and
its sister projects, but who -to date- have been unable or reluctant
to participate because of the barriers posed by the interface.  There
are countless individuals who read Wikipedia and would be great
writers/editors, but are daunted by complex wiki syntax.  They may not
even realize that they can edit Wikipedia. They are the people we are
targeting with this project.

'''What is the nature of the interface improvements that will be made
in this project?'''

In phase 1 (until late summer 2009), we will focus on reducing or
eliminating common, simple barriers to entry.  A possible example
would be, "making the edit button more visible."  These will be
identified through systematic user testing, but also by surveying
existing research.  In phase 2 (until early 2010), we will shift our
attention to identifying complex pieces of "wiki code" (the formatting
language used to write Wikipedia articles) and making them less
visible to first-time contributors and/or helping them achieve the
respective functionality (such as adding tables) more easily.

'''When can we expect to see the first changes to the Wikipedia interface?'''

We hope to demonstrate a first series of improvements by mid-2009,
with production deployment following shortly thereafter.

'''How can the Wikimedia volunteer community be involved in this project?'''

The project will be open and participatory throughout.  Every major
report will be publicly shared, and all code will be developed through
our existing, public version control system.  Volunteer developers and
testers will be encouraged to contribute throughout the process.

'''Are the positions created for this project just temporary?'''

We will allocate at least two existing, budgeted developer positions
to this project, and additional hires will be employed for the
duration of the grant.

'''Why don't these funds count towards your overall fundraising goals?'''

The majority of the funding for this project will go towards costs not
included in our 2008-09 budget.  While we anticipate that the project
will offset some of our operating costs, we also want to retain
flexibility to reallocate funding inside the project budget as

'''Are you going to localize these changes in all the languages of
Wikipedia and the other projects?'''

All code will be ready for internationalization.

'''Are you going to be looking at the entire editing/contribution
process or just the software?'''

This project focuses on technical solutions, but the user testing will
aim to capture problems experienced throughout the editing process.

Erik Möller
Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation

Support Free Knowledge: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Donate

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