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

Eugene Eric Kim eekim at blueoxen.com
Mon Jun 7 15:52:07 UTC 2010

On Sat, Jun 5, 2010 at 1:00 PM, Gregory Maxwell <gmaxwell at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Sat, Jun 5, 2010 at 2:03 PM,  <susanpgardner at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Sorry for top-posting.
>> Austin, think about who "everyone" is.  The folks here on foundation-l are not representative of readers.  The job of the user experience team is to try to balance all readers' needs, which is not easy, and will sometimes involve making decisions that not everyone agrees with. People here have given some useful input, but I think it's far from obvious that the user experience team has made a "mistake.". (I'm not really intending to weigh in on this particular issue -- I'm speaking generally.)
> Sue, you appear to be making the assumption that the folks here are
> writing from a position of their personal preferences while the
> usability team is working on the behalf of the best interests of the
> project.
> I don't believe this comparison to be accurate.

I agree that this comparison is inaccurate, but I disagree that this
was Sue's assumption. All she said was that vocal outcry on a mailing
list should not be construed as community consensus. I hope that no
one disagrees with this.

I see a good thing and a bad thing happening in this thread. The good
thing is that this discussion is airing a lot of legitimate concerns
about the specific change in question. I expect that the resulting
design changes will be better after this whole thing plays out, which
is The Right Thing.

The bad thing is the us versus them tone in this and other messages.
There is a larger question about ownership and decision-making that is
subtle and hard, and we need to continue to work these out. Since I'm
going to put myself in the vocal minority and disagree with most of
the points in this message, I'll start with what I agree with. :-)

> I think the people here are speaking up for the sake of the readers,
> and for the sake of preserving the best of the existing design
> principles used on the site.  I know I am.

Absolutely. Assume good faith. I know you and many others feel the
same way about the UX team

That said, keep in mind that most people assume that everyone thinks
like they do. This is not an us versus them thing; this is a natural,
human thing. I heard a great tip from a psychologist once: If you want
to know what people truly think, ask them what they think other people

Given this quirk of human nature, we need more rigorous ways of making
decisions than polling people, especially small, self-selecting
groups. Being data-driven is one of those ways. But being data-driven
is hard, too, because you still have to interpret the data. Which
brings me to...

> I was alarmed when I heard the click rates: 1%.  That's an enormous
> number of clicks, considerably higher than I expected with the large
> number of things available for folks to click on.

Agreed. 1% is absolutely a large number of clicks, especially given
our overall traffic. Someone in a different message also pointed out
that click rates alone don't tell the whole story; if they did, then
one could argue that we should eliminate the Edit button.

Good design isn't just about following the user path; it's also about
guiding the users in a way that's appropriate to the mission of the
work. In that vein, I think the substance of most of the messages in
this thread have been very positive. It's resulted in data (such as
Max's numbers) that have helped to round out everyone's understanding
of the issue, but most importantly, it's resulted in critical context
as to why people may be acting a certain way and why these things
matter in the first place.

> There is a clear attitude from the foundation staff that I, and
> others, are perceiving in these discussions.  The notion that the
> community of contributors is a particularly whiny batch of customers
> who must be 'managed', that they express demands unconnected from the
> needs of the readers... and that it is more meaningful when a couple
> of office staff retreat to some meeting room and say "we reached a
> decision".  Sadly, this attitude appears to be the worst from the
> former volunteers on the staff—they are not afraid to speak up in
> community discussion, and feel a need to distinguish themselves from
> all the volunteers.
> This needs to stop and a point needs to be made clear:

I mostly disagree with this. First, let me refer back to Sue's
original point. The people on this list are not representative of the
community of contributors. It is a self-selecting sample. That doesn't
invalidate the substance of what's said on this list, but it does
raise questions about claims of consensus when there seems to be a
large, vocal group of people agreeing on a point. Passionate discourse
on this list is a data point, but it's only one data point, and it
needs to be interpreted in the context of many data points.

Second, most people -- both staff and people on this list -- _are_
disconnected from the needs of the majority of the readers. None of us
represent the average reader, and so we need other data points to
truly understand what the average reader experiences. And frankly,
only a few people in this thread seem to acknowledge this.

You're essentially claiming that certain staff members are copping a
"we know better" attitude. That may be true (although I honestly don't
see it in this thread), and if it's happening, it's wrong. That said,
people on this list are copping the exact same attitude. Let's not
draw generalities about us versus them based on a few individuals.
Let's instead find smarter ways to make decisions that will help us
fulfill our mission. You have been one of the best at doing this, and
we need more of it.

> This community is who made the sites. I don't just mean the articles.
> I mean the user interfaces, the PR statements, the fundraiser
> material, _everything_. The success rates for companies trying to
> build large and popular websites is miserable. Every successful one is
> a fluke, and all the successful ones have a staff and budget orders of
> magnitude larger than yours.

What's the success rate for community-run web sites?

Drawing a company vs community-run comparison like this isn't just
wrong, it's pointless. The level of success of all of the top web
sites is a fluke to some extent. There are great, great community
sites -- both grassroots and company-run -- that will never reach the
scale of Wikimedia or Google.

We're facing huge challenges right now. We need everyone to help. The
Foundation staff understands this. Most people here understand this.
The question is, what's the best way to grapple these challenges?

For starters, we need to come to a better, collective understanding of
what it means to come to consensus. It's not reasonable to suggest
that every single design decision first be tested on foundation-l, nor
would that lead to the best decisions, even if it were reasonable.
Developers (including non-staff) need permission to Be Bold. We all
need to have permission to try things, to make mistakes, and to learn
from them. If you want to draw any lessons from the top web sites on
how to grow a successful site, that would be the most important one.

It's not clear to me that Trevor should have reverted Aryeh's change.
But isn't it remarkable that Aryeh had the power to revert in the
first place? And that the end result was that Roan re-instated the
revert? If the Foundation were on some power trip, would that have
been possible?

We have this beautiful opportunity to learn how to do good user
experience collectively and at scale. No one has figured out how to do
this yet, but everyone is trying. There are going to be bumps along
the way. We have to continue to Assume Good Faith and encourage each
other to Be Bold.

> Somehow, the community knows how to take the ragtag assembly of its
> members: the whining, the warped personal preferences, the inspired
> motivations of individuals and small groups, the collective voice of
> the uninformed, and a smattering of contributions from world class
> experts the likes of which we'd never be able to hire and retain, the
> good and the bad—and fuse it into something which can build output
> with broad appeal and generally consistent, if somewhat strange,
> performance.

In some areas yes, in others, no. We all still have a lot to learn,
and we need to learn this together.

> If Wikimedia itself can't learn how to either develop the same
> coalition-building skills, participate within the existing community
> process, or stand out of the way—we'll lose something great.

I assume you mean the Foundation here. This, I agree with, although
I'll also note that the community includes the Foundation. The
community process is itself dynamic, and it needs to evolve in
positive ways.

> I think it's unfortunate that the foundation has an apparent
> difficulty in _contributing_ without _commanding_.

I don't see evidence of that here.

> There are areas
> where the community's coverage is inadequate or inconsistent, and I
> think that dedicated staff acting as gap-fillers could greatly improve
> the results. But not if the price of those contributions is to exclude
> or pigeonhole the great work done by the broad community, either
> directly by "we reached a decision"-type edicts, or indirectly by
> removing the personal pride and responsibility that people feel for
> the complete site.

I agree with this. Again, I don't see evidence of exclusion happening
right now. I think the discourse has been positive, I think there are
still some things that need to be worked out, and I think the right
thing will happen in the end.


Eugene Eric Kim ................................ http://xri.net/=eekim
Blue Oxen Associates ........................ http://www.blueoxen.com/

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