Discussions are the backbone of all Wikimedia projects. Whether it’s finding a reliable source, settling on spelling and punctuation conventions, or picking an article to feature on the main page, our community of volunteer editors makes countless decisions each day simply by talking to each other. However, the way that editors communicate today – using freeform wiki pages – is confusing and difficult for new users to grasp. Flow is the Wikimedia Foundation’s project planned to create discussion and collaboration software that improves the experience for all our users, letting them focus on creating and improving content instead of mastering the talk page form.
When comments and discussion first appeared on the Internet, they brought the promise of brilliant minds discussing the issues of the day in a thoughtful, courteous fashion. Instead, what we got was a lot of: “FIRST POST!” “Jake sucks,” “Kylla rulez”, and “aliens caused climate change!!!” The Internet world dealt with this problem in various ways: by locking down poster permissions, paying staff to moderate content, or even turning comments off entirely.
Wikipedia and its sister projects face some different challenges – while the content of the encyclopedia grows in size and quality through peer-to-peer discussion and collaboration, the fact that anyone can participate in this process is still not obvious to most people who use Wikipedia as a resource. We know that a small, homogeneous contributor pool leads to gaps in knowledge and biased content, as well as overworked and frustrated editors. There are countless potential contributors who could pitch in to help, but who are dissuaded from participating in content discussions because of intimidating software. But, like other online discussion spaces, we also need to balance openness with tools to keep discussions productive and healthy.
Building Flow will be no simple task, and we can’t do it without the help of our editing community. The people who built the encyclopedia also created their own discussion tools and workflows over the past decade, and their deep knowledge of these processes must inform our software choices. Our plan is to work with them to build a discussion and collaboration system that serves their needs and empowers more users to not just consume content, but to help create and curate it. The tools we build together should ensure that good-faith collaboration continues in every Wikimedia project, large and small, for years to come.
If you’re a developer and are interesting in working with us to build beautiful, meaningful collaboration tools, come join our team – we’re hiring! If you’re a community member, sign up for the Flow newsletter to stay updated throughout the development process. Over the next two months, we will be actively reaching out to editors on-wiki to test and give feedback on early features, and to help us set the direction for Flow in the year to come.
Brandon Harris, Senior Designer, Wikimedia Foundation
Maryana Pinchuk, Product Manager, Wikimedia Foundation