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By Tony1 and Jan eissfeldt

New community fellow to improve help pages

Peter Coombe, new Wikimedia community fellow

The community is now increasingly aware of the urgent need to present a more welcoming environment for new editors; this was underlined by executive director Sue Gardner’s statements about editor retention to The Signpost in January ("we are having serious difficulty retaining good-faith new editors, and that will cause our community to dwindle if we don’t fix the problem"). Over the years, the English Wikipedia's help system has evolved into a huge resource ranging from introductions for beginners to advanced technical documentation, and is widely regarded as a critical part of inducting and retaining new editors.

Anouncement. The Wikimedia Foundation has announced that Peter Coombe (User:The wub) will take up a six-month full-time community fellowship over the next six months to improve help documentation on the English Wikipedia. Based on an original fellowship proposal on meta by former Signpost managing editor Ragesoss, the fellowship is a fresh approach that could turn out to be an important part of solving the editor retention crisis. For some idea of the scale of the problem, Pete points out that the central help page – Help:Contents – gets a staggering 10,000 hits a day. Despite a number of revisions over the years, he says “anecdotal evidence suggests that its current form is not proving very useful, either to new or experienced editors”.

Siko Bouterse, the Foundation's Head of Community Fellowships, says what really attracted the foundation's interest was Pete’s experience in "breaking down complex topics into clear written information". He has a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Science degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge. He's an experienced editor on the English Wikipedia and an active member of Wikimedia UK. He's created online teaching and learning modules on advanced materials science and engineering topics at Cambridge and has worked for a publisher to create books that teach senior citizens how to use computers.

Aims and challenges. Among the aims of the fellowship are to identify opportunities to improve current help pages and critical use cases that should be addressed by help pages, coordinate community discussion, generate new content and/or designs for a number of key help pages, and perform usability testing of old and new pages. Pete told The Signpost that one of the biggest challenges is trying to see things from the perspective of a new user.

“Over time a lot of Wikipedia's workings and jargon become second nature, and it's so easy to forget what it must be like for someone totally new to the site and looking for help. That's why I've been studying a lot the types of questions newbies currently ask, and where they're getting stuck. My aim is to improve the help pages to be less daunting and better at helping users to find what they need.

“Certainly the length of some of our help pages is an issue, especially where they’re attempting to cover topics from the perspective of both newbies and experienced users. I think many help pages would benefit from being shorter, with improved navigation between them. Personally I'm a fan of using a more personal and informal style where appropriate, as currently seen in some of the tutorials. Ideally, though, we want to try multiple approaches and see what works. Looking at what they do in other languages and projects is certainly on my to-do list."

Data-driven approach. Pete explains that "since my time is limited, I really want to focus on making changes where they will have a significant impact. There are a huge number of existing help pages, and page view statistics are one (admittedly crude) way of highlighting important ones. The testing methodology to use is something I'm very much still thinking about. The article feedback tool can hopefully be easily adapted for other namespace pages, and I've been in contact with the people working on that. Projects like the warning templates research have already done some great work comparing user statistics and activity levels, the plan is to do something similar here."

Interwiki opportunities. We asked whether the fellowship will involve forging ties with editors who know their help page systems in other language Wikipedias or Commons. "The plan is mainly for my work to focus on the English Wikipedia – that's the project I'm most familiar with, and sadly the only language I'm fluent in! However we should hopefully learn a lot from that about what works in help pages, and definitely want to share those lessons with other projects. Once we start getting results I'll be reaching out other communities with our findings. One of the things my initial research has highlighted is how often images are troublesome for newbies. So if we decide to focus on addressing that, there will obviously be some overlap with Commons."

How will he build on the work done by Oliver Keyes (WMF Community Liaison, Product Development)? “Oliver's done some investigation into the current help pages, including an impressive (and quite intimidating) map showing how a lot of them are linked together. That's really been helping me get to grips with the current system. He's also done some statistical analysis of readability scores for the pages, and has been advising me on that front.”

The project page mentions usability testing; what kind? "The Foundation has done usability testing in the past, for example when working on the Vector skin, the revised edit box toolbar, and the Commons upload wizard. The idea is really to get some 'outsiders' using the pages, setting them tasks or questions, and seeing how they cope and what problems they run into. All quite informal stuff."

Pete sees the fellowship primarily as a collaborative effort with the community; in particular, it will support the existing Help Project and WikiProject Usability, both of which he describes as excellent. He encourages editors who have ideas and comments, even at this early stage, to post on the project’s talk page.

Request for comment on Wikitravel

April 18 marked a new stage in the ongoing debates on whether to integrate WikiTravel and comparable projects like Wikivoyage as to create an open travel guide project as a new member of the Wikimedia universe (Signpost coverage).

After weeks of largely constructive discussions, Doc James started a request for comment on meta, asking the community to confirm that the foundation should consider allocating sufficient resources to carry out the required technical aspects of establishing a Wikimedia travel guide project. More than 20 users have already contributed, and so far the proposal is unopposed.

The move comes after a broad preliminary agreement was reached on the basic principles. The five pillars of the new project would state that it must be a fair and free travel guide that anyone can edit, use, modify and distribute in a respectful and civil manner without firm rules for user actions and interactions.

The WMF is open to the idea and is following the progress closely, stating that the basic question of whether to create such a project is up to the community to decide.

WikiWomen's History Month wrap-up

A parody of the famous "We Can Do It!" poster but with the words "Do It" replaced with a MediaWiki-style section edit link.

The final report on the WikiWomen's History Month in March (Signpost coverage) was published on April 17 and covers the results of edit-a-thon events on four continents and online projects.

The result is the creation or expansion of more than 100 new articles and the uploading of 55 files. While half of all in-person events were in the US and focused on a wide range of topics, a meetup in Canberra, organized by Laura Hale, worked on women's softball. An event in Girona improved the biography of the Catalan artist Ángeles Santos Torroella in cooperation with the Museu de l'Empordà. Netha Hussain organized a google hangout-based event to allow participants from across India to discuss and refine the article of Sarojini Naidu.

The report concludes that handling real life-events can be improved by better coordination with Wikimedia entities, and enhanced outreach to potentially interested WikiProjects and external organizations in the field.

Brief notes

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