[Mediawiki-l] ramblings on MediaWiki interface design

George Herbert george.herbert at gmail.com
Thu Jan 25 23:34:17 UTC 2007

On 1/25/07, David Gerard <dgerard at gmail.com> wrote:
> Today I had an interesting experience: talking a fairly elderly
> journalist (now mostly an occasional columnist) through creating a
> Wikipedia account and creating an article.
> Apart from en:wp's Byzantine policy considerations, it was an
> interesting experience in finding out in real time just how horrible
> the MediaWiki interface is in some ways. Trying to explain where to
> find the thing that was on my screen and I *knew* was on his screen,
> that sort of thing.
> This is the sort of person it would be nice to create something for:
> someone who knows a *lot*, can't work a computer and loves Wikipedia
> as a reader.
> A major part of excellence in technology design is to create something
> that lets geeks go wild *and* is entirely usable by people who
> basically can't work computers. MediaWiki is pretty good at this
> already, I think - en:wp has quite a lot of contributors who can't
> work computers but are excellent writers, researchers, editors and
> even admins. But there's a long way to go.
> Do we have any friendly organisations who can set up interface testing
> labs with normal people in them? That relative whose computer you
> really, really hate cleaning up for them.
> Phil Sandifer posted about this to wikien-l today with regards to
> en:wp's grossly newbie-hostile policy thicket:
>     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Phil_Sandifer/Susan
> The text is:
> Susan is a hypothetical Wikipedian, selected because she behaves in a
> manner basically consistent with most of our editors.
> Susan is a 40-year-old stay-at-home mother. She majored in English
> many years ago, and still has a fondness for Jane Austen. She is idly
> browsing the Internet, and happens by Pride and Prejudice. In five
> minutes, her son gets off the school bus. She finds an error on the
> page.
> Wikipedia policy and process should be designed so that Susan can make
> this change and have it not get reverted.
> In fact, there ought not be any small task on Wikipedia that cannot be
> completed by Susan.
> This requires some things.
>    1. There must not be any policies or processes that are
> sufficiently complex that Susan would have to look them up before
> doing anything. Everything should be both memorizable and of
> sufficient simplicity that the remembered version will be trustworthy.
> That is to say that Susan should be able to get by with the nutshell
> versions of our policies.
>    2. There must not be a bunch of code or formatting for what she
> wants to do. If Susan has to go "Wait, what's the template for this?"
> then she will have to get up and go meet her son instead of fixing the
> problem.
>    3. We must not require anything that Susan does not have fast
> access to. No research projects, no scavenger hunts. Not even a Google
> search or pulling a book off of a shelf. Susan should be able to
> improve Wikipedia on her own.
>    4. There must be a culture of good faith so that Susan's
> contribution (which will probably come in as an IP contribution) will
> not instantly be met with suspicion. Remember - if Susan goes back the
> next day and her change has been reverted without explanation, she is
> unlikely to edit again.
> Think carefully about these issues when designing something for
> Wikipedia. Susan is intelligent, well-meaning, and a valuable
> resource. She will improve Wikipedia if we let her. And there are
> thousands of Susans out there. Susan, or someone with Susan's
> circumstances, is our average and most common editor.
> Design for Susan.

I also left some comments on the talk page for Phil's concept, but...

1) We should work with a trained Information Architect to identify and
document what the key sets of information are which are required to go
from non-editor to making an "appropriate" edit (non-controversial
with experienced editors).  No professional website design would go
any distance without having IAs look at the layout and user access

2) Second the call for a usability lab review.  I know some usability
lab people but I'm not sure if WP could use those; I will see.

-george william herbert
george.herbert at gmail.com

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