- This fellowship is now concluded. See Wikipedia:Help Project/Newsletter for updates on the help project
The trouble with help pages
Much like article content, the English Wikipedia's help pages have grown organically over the years. Although this has produced a great deal of useful documentation, with time many of the pages have grown overwhelmingly complicated, especially for new users. The number of pages and links has become difficult to manage also, for example there are at least four pages about tables (plus more on other sites) with it being unclear which is most suitable for a given problem.
Even the help page about help pages admits there are serious problems:
Wikipedia's help pages are of varying complexity, from basic introductions to technical documents. This variety however has its flaws: it is easy to navigate to a page that contains concepts that have not already been covered, or is overly complicated for one's needs.
For some idea of the scale of the problem, the main help landing page (Help:Contents) now gets around 10,000 hits per day. Although it has undergone a number of revisions over the years, anecdotal evidence suggests that its current form is not proving very useful, either to new or experienced editors. Improving this and other key help pages could have significant benefits for editor recruitment and retention.
Reasons for the fellowship
There are already ongoing community efforts to improve the help pages, such as the excellent Help Project and WikiProject Usability. However it was felt that because of the importance of this work, it would benefit from additional support. There were also opportunities to make use of Wikimedia Foundation resources e.g. to perform usability testing and implement better feedback systems, plus a degree of overlap with existing fellowship projects such as the Teahouse.
Therefore the Wikimedia Foundation sponsored the wub (talk · contribs) as a full-time Community Fellow to work in this area for 6 months (from April to October 2012). This was based on the original fellowship idea on meta, proposed by User:Ragesoss.
What the fellowship was intended to do
- Identify issues with the current help pages on the English Wikipedia, and what could be done to improve them
- Identify critical use cases that should be addressed by help pages
- Co-ordinate community discussion
- Generate new content and/or designs for a number of key help pages
- Perform usability testing of old and new pages
- Provide a basis for this work to be carried forward, both on English Wikipedia and on other projects
What the fellowship would not do
- Impose new pages by fiat. After testing all changes will be up for community discussion (although obviously we hope to come up with changes that are popular and backed by evidence!)
- Change the content of policy pages such as NPOV, Verifiability etc.
- Fix everything! As stated, there are a vast number of help pages and the aim of this project is to focus on a number of key ones, plus the navigation between them. It is hoped that the lessons learned and the structures established in this fellowship can be taken forward for continuing improvements by the community.
- Identify some of the current issues with help pages, and use cases they should seek to address
- Develop new content, designs and navigations for a selection of key help pages, and use testing to determine whether they are improvements on the current pages
- Co-ordinate with the community to implement these improvements
- Rebooted the dormant Wikipedia:Help Project
- Redesigned project pages
- Started up a monthly project newsletter
- Wrote a script to get regularly updated statistics on help pages, including views, word counts and readability scores - Wikipedia:Help Project/page statistics. These have proved invaluable in targeting the most important pages and prioritising work.
- Conducted an analysis of questions asked at the Help Desk and Teahouse - see Wikipedia:Help_Project/Community_fellowship/Report_2012-05-15#Questions_survey for more information and results.
- Ran a substantial survey of Wikipedia editors (with various numbers of edits) to learn more about what topics they look for help on, where they look for help, and how useful they find it. Results and findings at Wikipedia:Help Project/June 2012 survey.
- Attended Wikimania in Washington DC, gave a presentation on the work conducted up to this point and plans for the future. Also conducted many informal discussions with staff and community members.
- Carried out a number of in-person usability tests on the current help pages.
- Helped get the Article Feedback Tool (v5) implemented on help pages, in order to collect more and better feedback.
- Making use of research so far, created new introductory tutorials on three key areas:
- Making use of the previous research and feedback, as well as help from Wikimedia Foundation designers, created a redesigned version of Help:Contents (currently at Help:Contents/B) to better serve readers and editors.
- Conducted remote usability tests pitting the existing version of Help:Contents against the redesign, and refined the new design according to findings. The new design was preferred by all testers, and some were able to complete tasks with it that they were unable to on the old page.
- Launched a Request for Comments (currently in progress) on replacing Help:Contents, including reasons for the changes made.
- Wikimedia Foundation blog post
- Signpost coverage of announcement and Q&A
- Signpost op-ed
- Wikimania 2012 presentation