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The dream that died: Erik Möller and the WMF’s decade-long struggle for the perfect discussion system

 

By Scott Martin. Scott began editing the English Wikipedia in November 2002, and became an administrator in September 2007. He was so disgusted with its management at the time of writing this piece that he resigned his administrator status to take an indefinite break from editing.

 

 

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The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has, in the last few years, embarked upon a number of major engineering projects intended to modernize aspects of its increasingly dated user interface, with the aim of attracting new participants to the ailing encyclopedia project. Referred to internally by the WMF as “Editor Engagement”, these have so far included VisualEditor, a “what you see is what you get” text editor, and Media Viewer. Both were foisted upon a largely unwilling audience of volunteer editors in an extremely unfinished and bug-laden state, leading to large amounts of discord and the generation of any amount of bad will towards the WMF’s “rock star” developers. The latest addition to the WMF’s hall of software fame is Flow, which looks to replace the complex — yet, to most editors of the WMF’s projects, familiar — method for editors to discuss changes in Wikipedia articles. The WMF plans to supersede the old, familiar method, “wiki text” editing of “talk pages”, with a threaded discussion system more akin to that seen in web forums, or the comments section on blogs and news sites. This decision has been no stranger to controversy, attracting much opprobrium from established editors who both see the existing system as good enough to get things done, and have no confidence in the WMF’s programmers after the disastrous experiences of earlier “flagship” projects.

Flow, however, is not the first time that the WMF has embarked on this particular road. For

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