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Technology report

New Page Patrol receives a much-needed software upgrade

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By Sam Walton and Novem Linguae

Following a widely supported community campaign which kicked off in 2022, technical updates and a new user interface have been deployed for the New Pages Patrol PageTriage software. Sam Walton, Product Manager for the Moderator Tools team at the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), and Novem Linguae, English Wikipedia administrator, volunteer developer, and lead NPP coordinator, explain how collaboration between the WMF and volunteer developers was key to the success of this project.

What is New Page Patrol? What software do they use?

The English Wikipedia's new page patrollers aim to review every newly created article produced by newer editors. To help tackle this large workload, specialised software (called PageTriage) was deployed in 2012 to help patrollers navigate and take actions on the new page backlog. This software powers Special:NewPagesFeed and the Page Curation toolbar. Becoming the default mechanism for patrollers to review new pages, the software grew over the years to incorporate the wide array of moderation processes, including adding maintenance tags, sending WikiLove, and the various forms of deletion nominations. In 2018 and 2019, the WMF Growth and Community Tech teams worked to improve the extension by incorporating ORES scores, integrating Articles for Creation into the software, and adding a variety of requested features.

A call for help

After the burst of work on PageTriage in 2019, because WMF and volunteer developers had not spent focused time on PageTriage for a number of years, issues began to arise. Workflows such as PROD tagging were broken, and AFD tagging had a tricky bug causing it to regularly fail.

As a result of these mounting issues, NPP coordinator MB wrote an open letter to the WMF in July 2022 as a call for help. The open letter asked the WMF to direct resources towards PageTriage, asking for more time to be spent fixing bugs and developing new features in the software. Gathering 444 signatures (becoming one of very few English Wikipedia pages to achieve 400+ signatories), the English Wikipedia community rallied to support the open letter. There was a watchlist notice for it, emails with WMF staff, and Atsme and Novem Linguae each attended a "Conversation with the Trustees" with the Community Affairs Committee of the WMF's Board of Trustees.

Following this widespread support, the WMF's relatively new Chief Product and Technology Officer, Selena Deckelmann, joined in conversations with patrollers. The WMF shifted some resources from improving mobile web (which was in the Foundation's 2022–2023 annual plan), and designated the Moderator Tools team to begin exploring PageTriage's issues. The Growth Team also made contact with the NPP team, and three video meetings were arranged to brainstorm improvements to the new article creation process (such as the article wizard).

Another outcome of the open letter, and other community discussions from the past year, is that it encouraged the WMF to rethink how it receives community opinions for technical requests. The ongoing Future of the Wishlist planning and discussions factored in lessons learned from the NPP open letter and PageTriage software improvement process.

Help arrives!

The WMF's Moderator Tools product team began work internally to understand the problem space: How was PageTriage being used? What problems did it have? Why wasn't it being actively maintained? One of the big findings from these discussions was that the extension was in a poor technical state: it was built a decade ago, and since then features had been added as needed, but without a coherent strategy or consistent technical choices. Tackling technical debt had not been prioritized during that decade, and many of the technologies used in the software were at this point out of date or unique to this extension. It is not good for software in a large ecosystem such as MediaWiki to have unique technology, because it means that other MediaWiki developers are less likely to know how to support it. This made it very difficult for staff or volunteers to make improvements or changes, and it particularly wasn't an appealing prospect to throw more new features onto the pile.

In January 2023, the team announced that it would be spending at least 3 months working on the PageTriage extension. The work would be focused primarily on technical modernisation, with a view to maintaining the toolset in the longer term, but the details were left open for the team to figure out over the coming months.

Over the course of these months, which spanned well beyond the original 3 months allotted, two collaborative processes took place to figure out the priorities. Patrollers were interviewed to ensure that the Foundation understood how the software was being used, and to identify any high priority workflow-breaking bugs which might need attention. At the same time, the team met with volunteer developers to jointly prioritise the various ways in which the codebase might be improved technically.

It's fair to say that both the WMF and volunteers approached this collaboration warily. WMF staff were faced with an overwhelming set of bugs and a long list of requested features. On the community side, some NPP coordinators and volunteer developers had little experience working directly with WMF staff, and were concerned that the WMF would want to change the software's appearance too much, possibly disrupting patroller workflows.

Over the following months, what ensued was a very productive collaboration between the Moderator Tools team's engineers – Jason Sherman and Susana Cardenas Molinar – and volunteer developers, including Novem Linguae, MPGuy2824, TheresNoTime, DannyS712, Sohom Datta, and Chlod. We were able to agree on ways forward which preserved the existing behaviour of PageTriage, while making substantial improvements to the underlying codebase, including replacing old Javascript frameworks with modern Vue.js, updating deprecated code, and improving test coverage. Weekly office hours and active discussions on Discord meant that WMF and volunteer developers collaborated closely on defining and solving problems – feeling like one coherent team. New volunteers became involved, and Sohom Datta updated Special:NewPagesFeed to use Codex components, giving it a much needed visual facelift! More information on the work achieved during this project can be found in the project's final update.

Empowering technical volunteers

The project was also an excellent opportunity to involve volunteer developers more in the MediaWiki technical community. PageTriage patches ended up being Novem Linguae and MPGuy2824's first patches ever submitted to Gerrit, the MediaWiki code review system. Novem Linguae and Sohom Datta also underwent an RFA-like process on Phabricator to receive "+2" certification for the PageTriage code repository, confirming they had the technical community's trust to approve other developers' PageTriage patches. Having more developers with +2 rights for a repository is a big help towards improving its technical maintainability in the long term. Finally, Novem Linguae attended technical conferences and discussed PageTriage there with developers, product managers, and leadership. Sohom Datta's participation in the PageTriage project began after meeting Novem at a conference and working on a PageTriage bug report together.

Looking to the future

Going forward, the Moderator Tools team has taken over as official maintainers of the codebase, and is continuing to provide code review and office hours for volunteer developers, as well as working on high priority bugs and potentially tackling more technical debt in the future. Between this and the active volunteer developer community around PageTriage, both the WMF and PageTriage's volunteer developers feel that the extension is in a much better place than it was a year ago. We hope that this project can serve as a positive example of collaboration between the WMF and volunteer developers to make Wikipedia's tooling better.

We also hope that this can serve as an example of the power of the open source movement and philosophy. The fact that Phabricator tickets, Gerrit code review, and the PageTriage source code are all public, and that volunteers have a process by which they can apply to receive +2 rights to MediaWiki repositories, enabled volunteers to step up to the plate and very actively participate in the process of modernizing PageTriage. Working side-by-side with WMF software engineers, much more was achieved than if either group had worked in isolation.

A full overview of the project and the updates posted over the course of this year can be found at Wikipedia:Page Curation/2023 Moderator Tools project.

This year the Moderator Tools team and other product teams are prioritising other improvements aimed at supporting experienced editors as part of the WMF's annual plan focus on editors with extended rights. That work includes Automoderator, Edit check, patrolling on Android, and Commons Upload Wizard improvements. Input is welcome on all of these projects, as well as the draft goals for next Fiscal Year.


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