Visual editor demo launched, hailed as "most important change to our user experience ... ever"; but elsewhere over-hasty deployments criticised
Visual editor demo impresses
The visual editor allows for the easy addition of wikilinks
Developers say they are committed to allowing editors to 'switch to manual' if they want
||There is plenty of evidence that wiki-markup is a substantial barrier that prevents many people from contributing to Wikipedia and our other projects. Formal user tests, direct feedback from new editors, and anecdotal evidence collected over the past several years have made the need for a visual editor clear ... It’s the biggest and most important change to our user experience we’ve ever undertaken.
|— The Visual Editor Team, Wikimedia Foundation
Tuesday saw an announcement at the Wikimedia tech blog of the deployment to a sandbox of what many see as having the potential to be a major breakthrough in making it easier to edit Wikipedia. The Visual editor project, which will provide an integrated "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) interface for wikitext, may well be in its early stages, but its demonstration version (released this week) has already attracted a great deal of attention (see "In the news" for media reaction).
At the moment, the visual editor team have focused on support for basic formatting such as bold, italics, section headings and lists, though they are continually adding to the list of supported wikitext structures. Having found native browser support lacking, they have also been forced to reimplement many features that people take for granted, including arrow-key scrolling, cut/paste, and undo/redo. A number of bugs with the editor have already been found in this round of early stage testing; many have since been fixed.
The WMF team responsible for the editor were keen to stress that the editor, which is set to launch to its first wiki in June, will allow for the seamless switch between visual and old-style direct editing modes. Nonetheless, it seems likely that hand-constructed pages will be subject to a one-off normalisation program, after which all manual edits will be silently normalised. Whole wikitext-template structures could also be phased out as part of the transition process.
The most significant limitation with the demonstration is undoubtedly that the interface only allows users to edit a small number of predefined articles, thus avoiding the problem of understanding potentially difficult wikitext. It has been this concern over backwards compatibility that has long been seen as the challenge for developers of WYSIWYG editors, of which a number of competing designs are already available. The difference this time, developers say, is that the introduction of the radically improved new parser will make all the difference when it comes to the provision of a truly comprehensive editor.
[See "In the news" for reactions from outside of the Wikimedia universe.]
WMF takes flak over deployment times
While the visual editor project may have received little criticism so far, it seems that a number of other projects have not been so treated.
On Wednesday, Siebrand Mazeland – the project manager attached to the WMF localisation team – reported in his summary of the preceding WebFonts deployment (covered in brief last week) that he had received complaints over the speed of the deployment. Srikanth L, a self-admitted "critic" of the deployment, explained that one issue was whether "sufficient testing to a large user base" had really been carried out before the rollout. Mazeland responded by stressing that the Localisation team had for some time been trying to build up dedicated "language support" teams to consult with, although to little avail.
The comments came only hours after Lead Platform Architect Tim Starling relayed that he "had been hearing a lot of resentment from community members about the features team deploying extensions" without taking the time to "properly consult the community". On Monday, the recent change to image rotation had also led one upset commentator to deplore a state of affairs where staff developers seemed to make design decisions unsupported by reason (see also previous Signpost coverage). (Starling later pointed out that the recent image rotation adjustment had been a volunteer-led project that WMF developers had only been involved with in a review capacity.)
Starling's comments were made in a wider discussion about the deployment process faced by volunteers and staff developers. He recommended that to restore parity, staff developers focus on gaining wider community input, which would also yield "a huge amount of design input".
Not all fixes may have gone live to WMF sites at the time of writing; some may not be scheduled to go live for many weeks.
ArticleFeedback version 5 goes live: As trialed last week, on 19 December the fifth version of the ArticleFeedback extension went live to a little over 11,000 articles. A number of bugs (one of which forced the extension to be temporarily disabled) were quickly identified and fixed; the extension will now undergo a series of technical tests before being rolled out further. The performance of the various interfaces will also be compared during this phase, with the winning interface going onto phase 2 of the testing.
One of the four possible interfaces users may experience when visiting one of the 11,000 articles version 5 of the ArticleFeedback extension is now live on
- Git migration takes step forward: The migration from SVN to Git, scheduled in September this year, has taken a step forward with the creation of a test repository holding core MediaWiki code (wikitech-l mailing list). Changesets pushed to the test Git repository can be viewed on gerrit.wikimedia.org. IRC meetings to discuss the Git migration are in the process of being held this week, with a preference for many, smaller repositories emerging in the first such meeting (full IRC log).
- Android app nears release candidate: Lead Software Architect Brion Vibber noted on his blog the imminent release of a release candidate of the official Wikimedia app for Android phones. However, in a second post later in the week, he also confirmed worries that much of the code powering the app would need substantial revision for compatibility with the latest version of the Android operating system (4.0, codenamed "Ice Cream Sandwich").
- A code review Christmas ahead?: Official figures show that, as many Wikimedia developers enter holiday periods in their part of the globe, code review figures for MediaWiki 1.19 are considerably behind target. As of 19 December, over 500 revisions are left to review, 200 (or approximately 10 days) off the figure of 300 penciled in as a target (full statistics).
- No more planetary problems on
https: With the resolution of bug #32028, visitors attempting to view certain Wikimedia blog "planets" will no longer be redirected away from the main site when trying (manually or automatically) to switch to the secure,
https version of the site.