Humanizing Wikipedia editing with mobile experiments

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The Barack Obama article was started by an anonymous user in 2004. It has 6256 distinct authors. The Article on the Syrian civil war was edited 305 times in the last 30 days.
Many readers do not see the living breathing community that’s constantly working to create, edit, and update articles on Wikipedia. At the Wikimedia Foundation, the Design team has been conceptualizing methods for doing a better job of showcasing how editors create this knowledge. We want people with no prior edits to feel that contributing to Wikipedia is something anyone with the right intent can do.
When we talk about humanizing articles we want to:

  • Create awareness about editors and their interests on Wikipedia
  • Promote connections within the community using shared interests

This isn’t just creating a ‘show and tell’ social layer. We want to see the site’s design to encourage interactions that benefit and improve the project. For instance: If I discovered an editor who helps newbies or works on graphic design articles, I could seek his help in the future. In this way I’m constructing a relationship with other editors that facilitates content development.
Where are the opportunities for adding these elements that show people, their work, discussions and the process of evolution? Currently we see a last modified link at the bottom of the page. The link is buried at the bottom and takes you to another page that doesn’t do the best job of showing how the article evolved. It looks something like this:

Screenshots and mockups for the mobile interface

A simple experiment

One option for an early experiment is to promote the ‘last modified message’ to the top of the page in a way that it informs, but does not distract, the reader. We’ve sketched a potential option in the image below, where a rollup info-graphic could be made available if a user pulls upward from the article title.

Screenshots and mockups for the mobile interface

These pixels are hidden on first load and we certainly don’t intend for this to interrupt the reader experience. The “unique editors” banner links to a deeper article history page where one can see how the article evolved over time. The key next step would be to enable a user to invoke editor profiles from the history view.
While the details are being refined, we’d be happy to hear your comments or alternate ideas on the general design approach to contributions.
Vibha Bamba (Design)
Kenan Wang & Maryana Pinchuk (Product)
Wikimedia Foundation

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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This is terrible. Not so much for what it is (looks fine to me, a least on the surface), as what it represents. There is a desperate need for outreach to new editors, particularly topic experts and other knowledgable content creators. By making suggestions and focusing on putting resources towards UI changes we are signaling that attracting knowledgable, quality content is less important than turning Wikipedia into social media. We have explicit statements in WP:NOT that Wikipedia is not social media, but these changes undermine that. Is becoming a social media site consistent with the mission of the project? I… Read more »


I liked the idea. Highlighting Editors and their contribution can help the readers as well in making an assessment of the quality of the article. It would be nice to show picture where available of Editors as that will certainly humanize the Wikipedia.

I’m not keen on the idea. Most people with expertise and sufficient intelligence ought to be aware of how WP works. Given the amount of trivial nitpicking and argument which happens on other sites, I’d hate to see WP becoming more of a battleground. At present it’s hard enough work keeping the idiots down on one or two WP pages in which I have an interest. The thought that “editors” might use WP as yet another place to express irrelevant personal views, spread unfounded gossip, or whatever else fills me with foreboding.

I like it. As a technical writer, I use Wikipedia quite a lot for research and source details but am sometimes unsure how accurate it is. If I could easily see when an article was first created and how many people have edited it, that gives me more confidence in the details provided.

Would you be interested to talk about this on Monday with Wikipedia Weekly folks on Google Hangouts?
Event here:

I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it does remove some level of anonymity, and encourages discussion on changes. On the downside, it opens up an easy level of “gang up on the new editor” when a new editor adds information that someone else doesn’t like – be it more true than anyone wants to admit, or more esoteric than the elites would consider fair for Wikipedia’s mission. It’s one thing that any contribution I make to Wikipedia is liable to be edited mercilessly. It’s quite another to be flooded with messages to my e-mail… Read more »

“Unique editors” is far too technical. How about “people”?

I think this is something that we should definitely experiment with and measure if this does benefit bringing in new editors amongst other things. I personally agree with Gillian, I think understand more about how an article is made is a really vital part of the reading process. I would personally like to know if an article was made mostly by one editor or a collection of editors as it is a useful metric for me to decide on the accuracy of the information. UseTheCommandLine I don’t see how this is becoming more like social media and how it reduces… Read more »

At the beginning I thought it was great, then after reading a few comments made me think twice. At the end I believe that the best solution may be somewhere in the middle. So it’s nice to show that wikipedia is being edited all the time by users and show up this data in the way you are showing in the images (nice UI), but on the other hand it may not be needed to show usernames, because some users may use this to promote other things. So instead of a message “Just edited by Zimmerman” it could be simply… Read more »

I’ve been asked to elaborate. (and no, i will not be using facebook or google+, et al. if you can connect that to irc i will be more than happy to participate though) Adding a “social layer” undermines WP’s policy guidance on cabals, meatpuppetry, and other forms of gaming the system, which are already prevalent enough. That guidance exists for a reason, even if it is imperfectly followed or enforced. One of the domains i edit in is social justice related topics. There are frequent, recurrent problems with abusive/racist/sexist/cissexist/homophobic editors in these topic areas. Have a look at the ongoing,… Read more »

My name is Kenan. I am the product manager for Wikimedia mobile products. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, but it is also more than an encyclopedia, precisely because it is also a community. To me the purpose of these design changes is not to turn Wikipedia into something that it is not: a social media site. It is to showcase what it is: a community of thoughtful individuals who are looking to learn, contribute, engage, and create. I think some relevant concerns have been brought up about making the site more about individual opinion or recognition than it is about the… Read more »

Kenan, what exactly are you, as the product manager for Wikimedia mobile products, doing to invite knowledgable, competent editors and content creators into the Wikipedia fold? What, specifically, are you doing in your role to separate out these editors from vandals and abusive editors of whatever stripe?
Because if the answer is “nothing” then you are failing wikipedia and its mandate.

UseTheCommandLine I’m happy to discuss with you the mobile teams roadmap and past successes and failures. Please email me at and we can set up a time. In response to your statement above. I understand your fear in the abstract but don’t see how it plays out in practice. What we are proposing is showing a last modified by username Line. This is information that any mildly experience editor already knows how to get to. I agree that this change will have no positive affect on the issue that you’re discussing but it also don’t believe it will have… Read more »

Please excuse typos above. Typing on mobile 🙂

UseTheCommandLine, can we make this more factual and specifically discuss why this makes it like social media?

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This is a good step forward toward transparency for casual Wikipedia readers regarding how the “enclyclopedia” is written and edited. I would like to see this implemented in the desktop view as well.