Abstract Wikipedia/Updates/2022-06-10

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Recommendations for Wikifunctions

Design researcher Jeff Howard did another round of research in order to prioritize issues in the run up to launch, and beyond. The full report of the user research has been published on Meta. Aishwarya, the designer on the Abstract Wikipedia team, has read and analysed the research results, and summarized them in a slide deck. This week, Aishwarya presented the deck to the team, and we are offering here a short summary of the presentation.

The goal for designing the function page is two-fold: to be understandable and usable to technical people of all backgrounds, and welcoming to people with low levels of programming expertise. Technical contributors should understand the function creation workflow and the Wikifunctions mental model. Seven technical participants were interviewed using Aishwarya’s designs in Figma (click anywhere on the screen to progress through the slides and remember to expand your window).

The interviewees raised many great questions, validated a lot of our design work, and identified several areas for improvement. Overall, the report validated that we have met the stated design goals of the user interface being understandable and usable for technical people, but the report also highlighted that the contributors did not really understand the function creation workflow and the general Wikifunctions mental model. In short, they could get everything done, but were often confused about what they were doing and why it was presented in that way.

I will not go into the many things that worked out well. You can read about them in the full report and also in the slides. I do want to call out the praise for the work summary diagram, which is consistent with many other reactions we also got in the chat and in other interactions with Wikimedia community members. I also want to use the chance to congratulate Aishwarya on her design work, and seeing it validated so positively. We are all very much looking forward to getting the implemented design out there for you to play with, and learning more about how we can improve it.

Two points were called out by the interviewees in particular as causes of surprise or confusion: the split between function definitions and their implementations, and the multi-lingual nature of Wikifunctions.

In Wikifunctions, we allow each function to have several implementations. We achieve this by having implementations be their own pages on Wikifunctions. Such a separation is not a novel concept: programming languages such as C++ or Ada had header and implementation files for decades, and object oriented languages have interfaces that can be implemented by different classes. But interviewees have repeatedly wanted to jump right into providing the implementation. They were confused that they could publish a function's definition even before having provided an implementation. This was also a request we have seen in previous user tests.

As a side remark, the little word “publish” really did a lot of heavy lifting here. A long time ago, Wikipedia used to use the word “save” for the button that let the contributor store an edit, and this was changed to “publish” in 2017, based on user research that found wiki users surprised and alarmed that merely 'saving' an edit would put it online, in public, for everyone to see, forever. This user study reiterated the point that the word “publish” makes it clear that the contribution will indeed go live to the whole world. But at the same time, several interviewees felt that just a function definition, without any implementations yet, didn’t seem to be useful to be published. The word “publish” really brought out that contrast, and helped us identify this discrepancy in the user’s mental model.

The second point that raised quite strong reactions was the multi-lingual nature of Wikifunctions. That is one of the points that is often questioned in the design of Wikifunctions, often unprompted: why does it have to be multi-lingual? Why labels in different languages? Doesn’t everyone who wants to code just learn English? To quote one of the interviewees, “usually people who speak other languages are just expected to learn English to code”.

Because the world of coding is indeed so English-centered, it is very difficult to find people with coding experience who don’t speak basic English, and indeed all interviewed contributors spoke English.

There have been a number of research studies showing that the English-centricity of programming is a major barrier for many people. People who can use their own language to code achieve results faster. For parents that don’t speak English, it is more difficult to help their children to learn programming. Based on these and other research results, we choose to intentionally deviate from the recommendations of our own user research, as we believe that this aligns better with the Wikimedia 2030 movement strategy recommendations, particularly towards knowledge equity.

There were many smaller, but very good points raised. The contributors asked for a space to describe the functions in more detail (that’s planned for Phase ι, which is up next in our development plan). The term “aliases” confused users. The list of types was too simple. The example table was identified as a place that probably won’t scale for complex entries. The difference between the words “available” and “proposed” and “verified” in the tables showing implementations and testers was confusing. And there were quite a few more.

We also identified a number of larger areas that could be improved: making the use of language more consistent throughout, displaying more meta-data immediately, and improving the text to make the distinction between definitions and implementations clearer. We are going to work on these design challenges.

We are relieved and pleased to see that the designs allowed all the contributors to fulfill their tasks. We are more than excited to implement these designs, and get them to you. We would love to hear from you, if you have ideas or suggestions around the issues discussed here, or in the full report.

Thanks to all the contributors who were interviewed, thanks to Jeff for performing the research, and thanks to Aishwarya for summarizing the results.

Updates as of June 3: Fix-it week

  • May 30 – June 3 was a ‘Fix-it’ week for the Abstract Wikipedia team. During this week, the team paused the development of new features and focused on tasks related to technical debt.
  • Design update: This week, the team kicked off the design work for the ‘lists’ component.