[Foundation-l] hiding interlanguage links by default is a Bad Idea, part 2

David Levy lifeisunfair at gmail.com
Sun Jun 6 18:37:10 UTC 2010

Aryeh Gregor wrote:

> I should say that *almost no* users complain about small things.  A
> tiny group of committed users will complain about small things, but
> they're not the targets of the Usability Initiative, so their
> complaints are not relevant here, *except* insofar as they provide
> reasoning or evidence about what most users think.

I'm not claiming that most users complain.  I'm noting that there are
_some_ complaints when there's anything remotely worth complaining
about (and sometimes even when there seemingly isn't).

So yes, it's true that any substantial change to the interlanguage
links' default behavior would have generated complaints, regardless of
whether it was a good idea.  This, however, does not automatically
render said complaints invalid.

If there were evidence that the longstanding configuration caused a
problem addressed by the change, this likely would outweigh the
complaints.  There is no such evidence.

> By contrast, complaints from occasional users are useful in usability
> discussions even if the users provide no reasoning, because the
> complaints are ipso facto evidence of a problem.  (But if we have only
> anecdotal evidence of complaints from occasional users, of course, that
> needs to be treated with the same caution as any anecdotal evidence.)

Agreed.  I don't assert that the anecdotal evidence proves that the
change was detrimental.  But we have *no* evidence (apart from
speculation) that it was beneficial.

> My first guess would be that people didn't complain about interwiki
> links' clutter because they've always been there.

Or maybe there simply wasn't a problem.

> By the time you're comfortable enough with the site to complain, you
> just won't notice them.

We frequently receive complaints from unregistered users lacking any
meaningful degree of familiarity with the site.

> I'd guess that the complaints you see are when things *change*.

See above.

> Experienced users are prone to complain when things change, because
> they've gotten used to how things are.

Even among experienced users, complaints don't arise only when
something changes.  In fact, people complain that design elements are
"stale" and should undergo change for the sake of change.

> If we leave off the links for a year, then turn them back on, I
> predict we'd get complaints about clutter.

You just explained why such a response is inevitable (and I agree).

> Then say exactly what evidence you desire.  What test would you
> suggest to see whether hiding the links helped or harmed things?

Before investigating potential solutions, there should be evidence of
a problem.  I disagree with the strategy of implementing a significant
UI modification on a hunch and testing to see whether this "helped or
harmed things."

I don't know the extent to which the study is ongoing, but it should
include (or should have included) questions intended to assess the
harm (or lack thereof) caused by the interlanguage links' default
visibility.  Until this is shown to be detrimental, the links' utility
(which we know to be nonzero) is irrelevant.

Additionally, Howie Fung has cited interlanguage link usage data as a
major factor in the decision, and I find it very troubling that the
team gathered such statistics exclusively from the English Wikipedia
(given the intention to deploy a single setup across the board).  It
is not reasonable to assume that the links are used with comparable
frequency at other Wikipedias (particularly the smaller ones, whose
articles often contain less information).

But even if we go with the "0.95%" figure, I (and others) dispute the
belief that this is negligible.  It isn't clear whether this refers to
users or clicks (as the explanation's wording conflicts in this
respect), but let's assume that it refers to users.  (If it refers to
clicks, the percentage of users obviously is substantially higher.)
At an organization like eBay or Rhapsody, a design element relied upon
by ~1% of users could be considered expendable for the sake of a
subjectively prettier layout.  Conversely, at the Wikimedia projects,
such a feature can be mission-critical.

The application of a general design principle (without due
consideration of atypical circumstances that might render it
inapplicable) is not a sound approach.

> Data is important.  It's also not always possible to gather.

You cited "the absence of further data" as a reason to reject
assertions stemming from speculation and anecdotal evidence.  We now
know that no attempt was made to gather the data needed to determine
whether the change is beneficial (or even addresses an actual

> When multiple things are competing for attention, you can make one or
> the other more prominent, and it will get correspondingly more clicks.
> But it's up to your judgment to assess whether that's a good thing or
> a bad thing: are more people finding what they actually want, or are
> people being distracted from what they actually want?  If we have more
> clicks on interlanguage links and less on other interface elements, is
> that good or bad?

There is no evidence that the interlanguage links are a distraction,
let alone that users click on them at the expense of other links.

> If we wanted to maximize clicks on interlanguage links, we could
> always put them above the article text, so you have to scroll through
> them to get to the article text . . . but that's obviously ridiculous.

Indeed, such placement obviously would impede access to the article
text.  There is no evidence that the actual placement acts in kind.

> My suspicion is that a long list is not ideal.

Perhaps not.  And when we have data indicating that an alternative
setup is superior to the one currently preferred by the community, we
should switch to it.

Erik Möller has outlined a sensible course of action.

David Levy

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