Every month, hundreds of thousands of people press the edit button on Wikipedia for the very first time. And for many of these new users, the first (and sometimes only) message that appears on their user talk page is a template rather than a human response. This is especially true on our larger, older projects.
User talk page templates were developed by the community because of the tremendous volume of contributions that began pouring in as Wikipedia grew more and more popular. Today, with the focus of our movement shifting to openness and attracting new editors, it’s time to rethink the message we’re sending via templates.
That’s why Steven Walling and I have started a project to A/B test many of the template messages received by new users, such as warnings and deletion notices. In collaboration with over 20 members of the Wikimedia community, including the English and Portuguese Wikipedias so far, we’ve designed a number of experiments that will give us tangible data to improve communication on the projects.
How it works
With the help of tools developed by our summer researchers, different messages we want to test are randomly delivered to different groups of users. Tracking the data from these two groups, we can assess the efficacy of different kinds of messages, based on whether users continue to edit constructively after receiving them.
Our working hypothesis, which we are continuing to test and refine, is that making templates more personal will help retain the good-faith editors who receive them, while continuing to detract vandals, spammers, and other bad-faith editors. For both groups, showing them that the encyclopedia is built through the hard work of other people like them is key.
What you can do
There are thousands of different user talk page templates on Wikimedia projects. We need your help to construct and carry out more tests, especially in non-English communities!
Please visit our task force page on English Wikipedia or our interlanguage hub on Meta and sign up. You can add your project to the list if you’re interested in starting new tests.
This is the first time that the Wikimedia Foundation has devoted resources to helping test and improve the template infrastructure the community uses every day to function. We hope that together, we can significantly improve the way Wikimedia projects communicate with editors.
Maryana Pinchuk and Steven Walling