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Talking about talk pages

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By DannyS712 and Pythoncoder

Improving discussion pages

LiquidThreads example

An ongoing discussion is happening right now at Wikipedia:Talk pages consultation 2019 at the Wikimedia Foundation's request to consider how discussion pages (including talk pages as well as pages like WP:ANI, WP:AFD, and WP:VPR) can be improved. Discussion pages have been a major focus of the WMF for some time. Previously, the Foundation has invested significant resources into tools to make these pages more accessible (especially for new users).

LiquidThreads (see this example page from a non-WMF wiki), Wikimedia's first attempt, was introduced in 2006. A 2011 RfC resulted in a consensus to not enable it anywhere on English Wikipedia. Development of a similar system, best known on this site as "Flow" and renamed to "Structured Discussions" in 2017 (example Flow page), began in 2012. Flow was activated on some talk pages as a test, but was never deployed on the English Wikipedia on a larger scale. In 2016, Flow was officially uninstalled from the English Wikipedia; at the time of its uninstallation, it was only deployed on two pages, WT:WikiProject Hampshire and Wikipedia talk:Flow/Developer test page. Flow has also been removed from Meta and Commons. Development of Flow ended in 2015 (see previous Signpost coverage, "Flow placed on ice").

The common (no pun intended) thread among both of these was that they were removed from the site after they were met with strong opposition from English Wikipedia editors, with several editors citing lack of consultation with the community by the WMF as a reason for these projects' failure. As the WMF returns to the issue of talk pages, it now seeks to avoid its past mistakes and start this consultation so that the result of their work is amenable to a larger number of communities. In particular, English Wikipedia's opinions are likely to be considered especially carefully, as it is the largest Wikimedia site.

So, what is the WMF looking to get out of this? It is best put on the main page for the consultation:

Desired result from this consultation

One sentence, one paragraph, and one document that describe the overall direction of what we will build.

By the end of this consultation, we'll have an overall product direction for a set of communication features that a product team will be able to work on in the coming fiscal year. We'll have a rough consensus that our contributors agree with that overall approach, including both new contributors and longtime veterans, in multiple languages and across multiple projects.

By the end of the consultation, we'll be able to answer these questions:

  • Are we building one feature, or more than one?
  • Are we improving previous systems, or building a new tool?
  • How will we balance ease of use with the advanced feature set that our most complex use cases require?
  • What are the important open questions that the product team should investigate and test?

The result will not be a complete, detailed product specification. Detailed plans will be developed and revised by the product team over time, informed by design, testing and continued close partnership with our users. But we'll have a solid place to start, and we'll be confident that the team is on the right track.

To encourage trust and good faith, the consultation and ultimate product development will be entirely public and transparent. Every step will be documented on wiki.

Possible solutions

For this process to work, we need to be open to all kinds of directions. It's possible that at the end of this consultation, we end up with any of the following:

  • Building features on top of wikitext talk pages, to make them easier and more efficient.
  • Using Visual Editor on talk pages, with extra features.
  • Building a new software feature that isn't StructuredDiscussions/Flow.
  • Building on top of the existing StructuredDiscussions/Flow feature.
  • Building more than one solution – it's possible that we define separate sets of requirements for user talk conversations, content/project page conversations, common workflows and RFCs, and that there are two (or more) different features.
  • Something completely different that we haven't considered yet.

While we are interested in all good ideas, and might take some up in future, some things are out of scope for the current project:

  • Off-wiki discussion platform – Discussions need to be on the wikis, using Wikimedia accounts.
  • Temporary content – Discussions need to be stored on wiki, so they can be found and referenced later.
  • Tools for a niche audience – Discussions are designed for everyone, with equity in mind. We're not building a tool only for a subset of users (e.g., experience, language, preferred device.)
  • A social network per se – Discussions on Wikimedia should primarily be in service of improving content on the wiki.
  • Real-time discussions – Real-time discussions have value, but our current focus is on asynchronous discussions for the reasons mentioned in points above.


Problems with portals?

As some readers might recall, last April an RfC was held about ending the system of portals. The namespace survived, and since then the Portals WikiProject has been hard at work, creating over 4000 new portals. This streak may be ending soon, however: there is a discussion of pausing the creation of portals using semi-automated tools, which is how many of the portals were created. See the full discussion here. D

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