VisualEditor's text formatting menu
|Developer(s)||Wikimedia Foundation and Fandom, Inc.|
The Wikimedia Foundation considered it the most challenging technical project to date, while The Economist has called it Wikipedia's most significant change. According to The Daily Dot, Wikimedia Foundation's pursuit of wider participation may risk alienating existing editors. In September 2013, English Wikipedia's VisualEditor was changed from opt-out to opt-in, following user complaints, but it was returned to being available by default in October 2015 after further development. A 2015 study by the Wikimedia Foundation found that VisualEditor failed to provide the anticipated benefits for new editors.
The original web-based Wikipedia editor provided by MediaWiki is a plain browser-based[note 1] text editor, also called source editor, where authors have to learn the wiki markup language to edit. A WYSIWYG editor for Wikipedia had been planned for years in order to remove the need to learn the wiki markup language. It was hoped this would reduce the technical hurdle for would-be Wikipedians, enabling wider participation in editing, and was an attempt to reverse the decline in editor numbers of 50,000 in 2006 to 35,000 in 2011, having peaked in 2007. It was part of a $1m project aimed at developing new features and making improvements. A goal of the project is to allow both the former wiki markup editing and editing with the WYSIWYG VisualEditor. According to Wikimedia Foundation's Jay Walsh, the hope is to redress under-represented contributions from Arabic, Portuguese, and Indic-language versions of the site.[note 2]
According to Wikimedia Foundation "There are various reasons that lead existing and prospective contributors not to edit; among them, the complexity of wiki markup is a major issue. One of VisualEditor's goals is to empower knowledgeable and good-faith users to edit and become valuable members of the community, even if they’re not wiki markup experts. We also hope that, with time, experienced editors will find VisualEditor useful for some of their editing tasks." In 2012, Sue Gardner, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said "we don't think that the visual editor, in and of itself, is going to solve the challenge", and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales remarked "This is epically important".
MediaWiki is used by a large number of wikis, with smaller sites originally conceived as being rolled out first. VisualEditor was planned to be rolled out on the English-language Wikipedia for editors with registered accounts, and then for anonymous editors. The alpha version was made available to select users in December 2012, widened to all registered users in April. It was default editor for users logged-into the English-language Wikipedia in July 2013. It was subsequently made opt-in on the English-language Wikipedia in September 2013 due to community complaints over its stability and implementation was buggy and had limitations (though it remained active for most non-English Wikipedias). In 2015 it completed its beta development phase and was again made available on English Wikipedia.
The Wikimedia Foundation joined forces with Wikia to work on the project. The implementation encountered challenges with the wiki markup language (the basis for Wikipedia articles), due to it being continuously extended over 12 years to include seldom-used rich and complex features making reproduction of the final article appearance dependent on many factors that were not easy to reproduce. The technical implementation required improvements to MediaWiki in parsing, wiki markup language, the DOM and final HTML conversion. A necessary component is a parser server called Parsoid[note 3] which is written in Node.js and was created to convert in both directions between wikitext and a format suitable for VisualEditor. The Wikimedia Foundation considered VisualEditor its most challenging technical project to date.
The VisualEditor MediaWiki extension is available for download by server operators and typically requires the latest version of MediaWiki.
Online rich-text editor
According to the VisualEditor team, the aim is "to create a reliable rich-text editor for MediaWiki", a "visual editor" which is "WYSIWYG-like". The implementation is split into a "core" online rich-text editor which can run independently of MediaWiki, and a MediaWiki extension. The MediaWiki extension is in the category "WYSIWYG extensions".
The Daily Dot suggested that the Wikimedia Foundation's pursuit of more users may be at the risk of alienating the existing editors. Some experienced editors have expressed concerns about the rollout and bugs, with the German Wikipedia community voting overwhelmingly against making the VisualEditor the new default, and expressing a preference for making it an "opt-in" feature instead. Despite these complaints, the Wikimedia Foundation continued with the rollout to other languages. The Register said, "Our brief exploration suggests it certainly removes any need to so much as remember what kind of parenthesis belongs where." The Economist's L.M. said it is "the most significant change in Wikipedia's short history." Softpedia ran an article titled "Wikipedia's New VisualEditor Is the Best Update in Years and You Can Make It Better". Some opponents have said that users may feel belittled by the implication that "certain people" are confused by wiki markup and therefore need the VisualEditor.
The Daily Dot reported on 24 September 2013 that the Wikimedia Foundation had experienced a mounting backlash from the English Wikipedia community, which criticised the VisualEditor as slow, poorly implemented and prone to break articles' existing text formatting. In the resulting "test of wills" between the community and the Foundation, a single volunteer administrator overrode the Wikimedia Foundation's settings to change the availability of VisualEditor from opt-out to opt-in. The Foundation acquiesced, but vowed to continue developing and improving the VisualEditor.
The Wikimedia Foundation ran a controlled study on the effects of VisualEditor in May 2015. The study found that VisualEditor did not increase the number of newcomers who successfully begin editing, did not increase their productivity, and did not increase new editor retention. Editing took significantly longer with VisualEditor, and new editors were less likely to save their work. A previous June 2013 controlled test — when VisualEditor was less mature — showed similar neutral and negative results.
- LICENSE.txt Archived 2018-01-12 at the Wayback Machine, VisualEditor source code repository, phabricator.wikimedia.org/diffusion/
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