Problem: Wikipedia is a very difficult environment for new users. In addition to a new interface, the community has its own policies and customs; and that is on top of the already challenging task of approaching the world of information with critical thinking and neutrality.
Reality: Very few people edit Wikipedia, far fewer than those who read it or who have the capability or interest to edit it. Many struggle for days or weeks to learn the basics. Most find the environment off-putting and intimidating.
Solution: Create an educational, interactive, web-game using a simulated Wikipedia interface which leads new users through a series of realistic missions to familiarize them with the mechanics, navigation, philosophy, and practices of actual editing.
Goal: Have new users leave the game feeling capable to start editing, knowing what to do if they run into obstacles, and feeling some sense of success, pride, and possibility as new editors.
The Wikipedia Adventure is a 7-mission interactive guided tour which introduces new editors to basic editing, social, and policy skills. It was started in 2011 as a script and built in 2013 as an Individual Engagement Grant through WMF.
Learning to edit Wikipedia could be hard, frustrating, confusing, and overwhelming for some editors. The purpose of this game is to remove all of that and create a learning experience that 'curates' a person's first impressions and lessons of Wikipedia. So, rather than walk away from the site feeling like it is incomprehensible or worse—threatening, users will graduate from The Wikipedia Adventure ready to face the challenges and opportunities of the real site and community.
One of the Wikimedia Foundation's core goals has been new editor engagement and active editor retention. The Wikipedia Adventure targets these two goals by reducing the steepness of the learning curve to joining the community. If more new editors have a better first experience with Wikipedia's concepts and mechanics, more will go on to be active editors. If those editors are prepared to deal with some of the common pitfalls of the community, then they will be more likely to remain on as productive contributors to the community.
The Wikipedia Adventure is an online guided journey, a learning tutorial, and an educational game designed to make an editor's first 100 edits a positive and encouraging experience. The game takes the user from the first rudiments of editing—registering an account, creating a user page, basic markup — all the way through to more intermediate tasks such as adding images and references and asking for help at noticeboards.
The game centers around the hypothetical article Earth (actually a modified form of the Simple English Wikipedia's article on Earth). Earth was selected as a focal point, because it has literally universal appeal and avoids the cultural favoritism involved in choosing a representative article that may only appeal to some readers (e.g. The Beatles or Mother Teresa).
Through a realistic but not 'live' emulated interface, the user gets to experience what happens at a real article. It begins with an invitation from another user to work on the Earth article and involves interactive tasks such as typo-fixing, identifying reliable sources, crafting writing from a neutral point of view, understanding core content policies, and even dealing with vandalism and nonconstructive edits.
The game focuses on more than just the technical mechanics of editing, infusing the script with mock interactions with simulated 'real' editors. Some of them are friendly, some are less so—and the user has the experience of learning about how to communicate in a productive and effective manner. At the heart of the game is the lesson of cooperation and collaboration, that is what makes Wikipedia work the spirit of the people who write it and that anyone can be a part of it if they learn a few basics.
Throughout each mission editors complete editing and policy challenges about Wikipedia, so that their progress in the game is matched by their progress as real editors. The ambitious goal is that new editors would not feel out of place or ignorant as they confront the actual editing environment of Wikipedia but instead would be prepared and even enthusiastic to get started.
As a result of this game, Wikipedia will have another tool in its arsenal to educate new users and improve their initial experience as members of the community. The game serves the many, but in a personalized way. As an online game, it scales easily and can be delivered to tens, hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people. There is no limit to the game's potential exposure; if effective, it could be a standard element of welcoming new editors across all of our 280+ languages.
It's important that the game's expansion would continue beyond the initial implementation. This would be facilitated in several ways. For one, the game's script and code are all already released under open source, 'free' licenses that permit use, adaptation, or even commercial applications. That would be essential to allowing others to build on the platform. Second, the platform itself would be designed to allow other users to build their own tutorials and modules. We hope that editor will propose or build additional missions, and translate the game into the context or language that suits their community and niche best.
In October 2013 we ran an extended bugfixing alpha-test with over 50 editors and 200 bugs identified and fixed. In November/December 2013 we ran a beta-test in which nearly 10,000 editors were invited to play and 600 did. In January we crunched the data from that test. Here's what we found:
TWA players made more edits: New editors who played TWA made 1.2x more edits than a control group of similar but non-invited new editors. Players made 1.9x more edits than those who were invited but did not play the game.
TWA players were more likely to make 20+ edits: TWA players were more likely (1.2-1.7x) to make 20+ edits than either control group. TWA players were also more likely to make 0 edits than the control groups, however.
Players who finished the game made the most edits: Players who completed the game made 3.2x more edits than those who only started the first level of the game, and were 2.9x more likely to make 20+ edits.
Players enjoyed the experience and felt more confident: 87% of players surveyed were satisfied or very satisfied overall with the game. 89% said 'TWA made me more confident as an editor.' TWA player: "It really left me feeling prepared to make future edits." 89% said, 'Lots of new editors should be invited to play TWA.'
A possible explanation for these findings: new editors who play TWA appear to be making their test edits within the game rather than on articles. Those who continue to edit Wikipedia after playing demonstrate the confidence of a more highly active editor.
"I enjoyed the idea of editing a fake article for practice - in fact, when I first saw the game, I immediately hoped it would incorporate some sort of actual editing rather than just theory or questions or something."
"Well, what's there not to like, or to have an opinion on...the game is great, most-of-all for us users that are just starting up in Wikipedia."
"I didn't know there was talk and discussion among users until I played the game...I just thought you could make comments and report on individual pages."
"I've seen and heard companies, including my own, talk about learning through 'gamification'. I found TWA to be the best example of gamification I have witnessed to date."
"TWA was very informative and helped pull back the curtain on some of the fundamentals of editing."
"I think TWA at the moment is a great stepping stone for new users such as myself. I would love to see it expand to include more 'advanced' topics that can be optionally covered by the user."
We analyzed 3 groups of 165 editors each in November/December 2013. All were selected from Snuggle's desirability algorithm as likely good-faith contributors. 10,000 editors were invited to play using a mass talk page message invitation.
Control group A was not invited to play
Control group B was invited but did not play
TWA Player group was invited and did play
All groups made 1 edit before they were sampled, and made at least 1 edit afterwards, to ensure that they didn't just wander away. In other words, groups 2 actually saw the invites, and group 3 made an edit after the game as well. We found that:
A note on the analysis: we ran this data after a very brief amount of time--barely 4 weeks. A fuller timeframe for analysis which we will conduct by Spring 2014 will be more robust and have more meaningful signals in them. (We plan to conduct statistical significance tests and reports about editor retention and edit persistence).
Editors who played TWA made 1.2x more edits than the pure control group and 1.9x more edits than the invited group that did not play. Players who made it to Mission 7 made 3.2x more edits than those who only started Mission 1. Those who played were 2.8 to 4.6 times more likely to make no edits, but 1.2 to 1.7 times as likely to make 20+ edits. TWA finishers were 2.9 times as likely to make 20+ edits as those who only started TWA.
The trends identified above were equally present when looking only at article-space (NS0) edits. Players made 1.2-1.9 times more average edits, but only half the median edits. Again, players were 1.5 to 2.1 times as likely to make no edits, but also 1.2 - 1.8 times as likely to make 20+ edits. Those who completed the game were far more productive than those who only started it, with 2.4x average edits and 1.5x median edits.
Most editors did not go on to make any talk page edits, but there were still some interesting trends. Editors who were invited to play and played made 1.7 times as many talk page edits, and those who completed mission 7 versus only mission 1 made 3x as many talk page edits. Again emphasizing the hypothesis of deepening prolific engagement, those who were invited and played were 2x more likely to make 20+ talk page edits, and those who completed mission 7 were 4x as likely to make 20+ talk page edits. It's worth keeping in mind that the median number of talk page edits for all groups was 0.
The number of different articles edited showed a pattern of increased variety in editing targets by players of the game. Those who played edited 1.6 to 2.6 times the number of different articles, on average. Editors who played were also 3 times as likely to edit 10+ articles. Again, it's worth noting that the median number of articles edited for all groups was low, only one.
We surveyed the 600 editors who at least made it to the first stage of mission 1. We sent these editors talk page invitations to a Qualtrics survey using EdwardsBot. 42 editors responded between December 23rd and January 4th.
Do you agree or disagree with these statements about The Wikipedia Adventure?
83% were satisfied or very satisfied with the design, 6% dissatisfied or very dissatisfied
76% said the gamification elements were effective or very effective, 6% ineffective or very ineffective
70% liked the design as it was and did not want it to have a more 'serious' design, 14% wished it was more serious
The hypothesis we set out to test was that play could be thoughtful and fun could yield meaningful experience and education. The survey data supports this conclusion.
We also aimed for a target demographic of college-aged men and women. The most common given age group for appropriateness was that demographic, so it looks like we aimed right. It's also worth noting that the bell curve was fairly 'thick' around this demographic, and survey respondents thoughts TWA would be appropriate for many age ranges, especially those 13-29 (but also younger those than 13 and 55+).
How satisfied were you with the design of The Wikipedia Adventure?
How effective were the gamification elements of The Wikipedia Adventure?
What age demographic would The Wikipedia Adventure be appropriate and effective for?
Would you have preferred if The Wikipedia Adventure had a more 'serious' tone and design?
Respondents came from a number of countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, Macedonia, US, and UK. Although globally diverse, the majority of players still came from US/UK.
Respondents matched discouraging gender gap percentages. 11% were women. In alpha testing, some editors suggested that the game was 'male' or 'geeky'. We never thought space and galactic carnival fireworks were particularly gendered, and the 4 survey responses by females supported that--all rated the game and its design 3 out of 5 or above, mainly 4 out of 5.
One editor who was very dissatisfied with the game had 100,000+ edits. This is too small a sample to draw any conclusions, but it nonetheless reinforces the notion that TWA is not for everyone. Indeed, it is Specifically for new editors. New editors may well have different needs than experienced editors and we need to be mindful that what a 100,000+ editor finds 'insulting and imbecilic', may be just what a new contributor needs to embark down the path towards becoming a prolific contributor.
94% of survey respondents had about 100 or fewer edits, suggesting our sample was not biased away from the target demographic of new editors.
How old were the players of The Wikipedia Adventure?
How many edits had players of The Wikipedia Adventure made when they took the survey?
Editors found TWA interactive, educational, friendly and usable, gamified, uniquely and well-designed, reassuring...
"As always with new software, you need to be walked through the features: the game worked well in this context and was useful. Covering all (most) areas is the best bit."
"The interactiveness of The Wikipedia Adventure was an easier and better way to learn the basics of Wikipedia versus trying to run around to different pages and just reading about it."
"Well done basic introduction to Wikipedia."
"Simple, easy to use."
"It's simple for new Wikipedia editors like me trying to learn the basics of Wikipedia."
"Informative and fun"
"The conversational tone is pretty good, It makes it fun even if it's all pretty simple."
"Gave a very good, brief introduction to editing."
"It made stuff easy to understand."
"Fun and intuitive game."
"I completed the entire game because it wasn't as dry as other training tools out there."
"Really enjoyed the entire editing process. A lot of thought was given to it, including the fictional users who guide you through the process. It all flowed very well and was highly educational. I also thought that awarding badges was a nice touch too."
"It was all beautifully designed. I enjoyed aspects such as the challenges and badges that made it feel more like an educational tool or game rather than a lecture, and recorded your achievement to date."
"It was a nice length and about right level of seriousness for me."
"I liked it, very different."
"Designed great, easy to use because of that."
"I think the Adventure should be kept just as playful. It's definitely not serious, but that's not a bad thing. Maybe it might be off-putting for someone who thinks it's too "cheesy" or doesn't like its tone, but I certainly enjoyed it and I'd bet a lot of other people would, too.
"It really left me feeling prepared to make future edits."
A minority of players found the game too silly for their taste, more appropriate for youth, or just plain insulting
"It was kind of cheesy but kept my attention."
"A little too silly for my liking, but it's probably great for young editors."
"Too long-winded and geeky"
"The badges are kinda neutral but the whole thing works very well."
"The forced badges I had to edit out of my talk page were a bit annoying."
"I disliked the way that participants are addressed, as if imbeciles."
"I dislike it because it's like a kid's comic book - first impressions are everything - and I did not like it from the point the big alieny picture arrived."
"I wouldn't disagree with maybe a separate, more formal introductory "page"."
"Maybe split into young-adult and adult streams?"
"Personal I think if you replace the space unicorn with a crashed rocket it would be good for anyone with a sense of fun."
"Even though it felt somewhat silly playing game, it was a good learning experience. It should be serious and have more techniques and points for serious editors."
"Where's the 0-2 category - that is the appropriate level for this stuff - it's at the level of Teletubbies"
"Maybe age specific versions? Space for kids, a fictional vampire wiki for teens, university class stuff for students, etc, etc?
"I still don't know what the blue guide creature is."
"I wish it gave the impression that editors were expected to be mature and intelligent, rather than idiots who could be entertained an educated with this kind of drivel."
I'd like to note that the most negative feedback consistently came from one respondent who had 100,000+ edits. While I do not discount their points--echoed by earlier design debates about the game's playful or even youthful nature--it needs repeating that the target for the game is new editors, and these contributors are different and have different needs than experienced contributors.
Many asked for advanced levels that focus on more specific and sophisticated skills
"I wish there would have been a missions #8, #9 and #10 involving the use of templates, inserting into edits and how to learn and distinguish when to use which. Other elements that would be handy, maybe in an advance mission, would be: tables, logic, advanced programming, advanced templates and formatting."
"May be worth including some information about the policy regarding not editing on behalf of an organisation you belong to. As well as a some additional missions covering what notable enough to be included in Wikipedia."
"Maybe it could extend to more complex rules - when I signed up, I found surprisingly few links to policies or guidelines. For instance, one thing that could be included would be something about red links: I was very surprised to find out they are not only allowed but encouraged, and only found that out at all when someone reverted one of my edits."
"Maybe it should mention how to find sources."
"I think TWA at the moment is a great steeping stone for new users such as myself. I would love to see it expand to include more 'advanced' topics that can be optionally covered by the user. I think these topics should definitely cover how to code mathematical expressions, how to find proper references externally and cite them, more detail on how to structure/format Wikipedia articles"
"I would love more advanced missions. I can't help but feel that, as a beginning editor, my work is barely tolerable and likely filled with flaws or missing elements which could make it better. I know looking at other articles, especially those highlighted on the main page, gives me ideas and allows me to see examples of good work but the mission was an excellent jump start"
"As I said before please cover what is notable enough to be included as an article to Wikipedia. Might be worth covering whether photos on things like Facebook and Instagram are considered free to be included in Wikipedia, i.e. copyright issues. Optional advance information in regards to structuring certain types of articles i.e. TV, music/dance groups, films, etc."
"Formats of different articles and how to raise doubts/ask for references on other articles."
"Adding images to the summary of an article and the understanding of the ideal layout for an article."
"How to add photos and how to best interact with other editors when there is a dispute about content. Maybe the more inner workings of Wikipedia too - for example, how and why do some editors have more authority over content than others."
"Include ways to help practice basics, because many things tend to be washed away without practice."
"Eh? Maybe talk page debate basics, avoiding straw men and the like."
I want to call out one specific suggestion:
"I would like there to be a mentor aspect to Wikipedia. Sometimes I find that I'm not sure of the best way to edit something - it would be great to be assigned a mentor once you complete the Wikipedia Adventure that you could bounce ideas off of and who could give you ideas for pages to edit."
I can't help but note that this winter, Jackson Peebles' reimagining Wikipedia Mentorship grant proposal would likely have been funded, were it not for his passing. This is an incredibly fruitful area for future improvement and we should not pass up the opportunity to reinvent it.