One of the Wikipedia projects that has been developing slowly over the past two years is the Article Feedback Tool. In its first incarnation, it let readers rate articles with a star system (1 to 5 stars for each of the areas of being Well-Sourced, Complete, Neutral, and Readable).
The latest version of the tool, version 5, shifts the focus of the person giving feedback to leaving a comment, and noting whether or not they found what they were looking for. After some interation and tweaking, including an additional abuse filter for comments, it has recently been turned on for 10% of the articles on the English Wikipedia.
This is generating roughly 1 comment per minute; or 10/min if it were running on all articles. In comparison, the project gets around 1 edit per second overall. So if turned on for 100% of articles, it would add 15-20% to the editing activity on the site. This is clearly a powerful channel for input, for readers who have something to share but aren’t drawn in by the current ‘edit’ tabs.
What is the community’s response? Largely critical so far. The primary criticism is that the ease of commenting encourages short, casual/random/non-useful comments; and that it tends to be one-way communication [because there's no obvious place to find responses? this isn't necessarily so; replies could auto-generate a notice on the talk page of the related IP]. Many specific suggestions and rebuttals of the initial implementation have been made, some heard more than others. The implementation was overall not quite sensitive to the implications for curation and followthrough.
A roadmap that included a timeframe for expanding the tool from 10% to 100% of articles was posted, without a community discussion; so a Request for Comments was started by an interested community member (rather than by the designers). This started in mid-January, and currently has a plurality of respondents asking to turn the tool off until it has addressed some of the outstanding issues.
The impression of the developers, here as with some other large organically-developing feature rollouts, was not that they had gotten thorough and firm testing, but that editors were fighting over every detail, making communication about what works and why hard. Likewise there has been a shortage of good facilitators to take in all varieties of feedback and generate an orderly summary and practical solutions.
So how did things go wrong? Pete gets to the heart of it in his comment, where he asks for a clearer presentation of the project hopes and goals, measures of success, and a framework for community engagement, feedback, and approval:
I think it’s a mere mistake, but it does get frustrating because WMF has made this same mistake in other big technical projects…
What I’m looking for is the kind of basic framework that would encompass possible objections, and establish a useful way of communicating about them…
WMF managed that really well with the Strategic Planning process, and with the TOU rewrite. The organization knows how to do it. I believe if it had been done in this case, things would look very different right now…
It is our technical projects that are most likely to stumble at that stage – sometimes for many months – despite putting significant energy into communication.
Can we do something about it now? Like most of the commenters on the RfC, including those opposing the current implementation, I see a great deal of potential good in this tool, while also seeing why it frustrates many active editors. It seems close to something that could be rolled out with success to the contentment of commenters and long-time editors alike; but perhaps not through the current process of defining and discussing features / feedback / testing (which begs for confrontational challenge/response discussions that are draining, time-consuming, and avoid actually resolving the issues raised!).
I’ll write more about this over the coming week.
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