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VisualEditor Media Q&A[edit]

Why is the Wikimedia Foundation developing VisualEditor?[edit]

One of the fundamental objectives of the Wikimedia Foundation is to make it easier and more welcoming to contribute to Wikimedia projects. Through data-driven research, we have identified several technical hurdles that make it difficult for new contributors to edit Wikipedia, including the significant challenge of learning wiki-syntax, the markup language currently in use on Wikimedia sites. We believe that introducing an easier-to-use editor, where Wikipedia articles look the same regardless of whether the user is reading or editing them, should remove that barrier.

Wikitext, as a Wikipedia editor has had to type it in so far (top), and the resulting rendered HTML that a reader sees in her browser (bottom), which can now edited directly thanks to VisualEditor

How does VisualEditor work?[edit]

VisualEditor lets Wikipedia editors create and modify articles visually, using a new system where the articles they edit will look the same as they do for reading, and their changes will show up as they enter them, like writing a document in a standard word processor. VisualEditor removes the need to learn complex wiki markup, and so simplifies editing for both new and experienced editors. We hope that this will open up editing to more people, and along with other efforts will encourage more editors to start and continue to contribute.

VisualEditor's primary purpose is to make editing wikitext/HTML simple:

  • possible actions should be discoverable, coherent and consistent with each other, and everything should be reversible;
  • it should be easy to do the "right" thing;
  • tools should work the way people expect them to work (given their prior experience from their operating system and other content editors);
  • tools should be progressively complex as users want to do more, adopting the "principle of least surprise"; and
  • users shouldn't need to know something exists to interact with it (be it linking to another page, adding a category, inserting a media file, transcluding a template, or other).

How long has the Wikimedia Foundation been developing VisualEditor?[edit]

Discussions have been underway about a simpler Wikipedia editing interface for years; however, specific work on the software that would become VisualEditor has been underway for about two years.

Why has it taken so long to complete VisualEditor?[edit]

VisualEditor is the most complicated software development project the Wikimedia Foundation has undertaken.

  • A requirement from the very beginning was that the VisualEditor has to support the existing wikitext syntax as it has been used and developed by Wikimedians over more than a decade. Several proposals for simpler editing interfaces had been made that would have required us to deprecate and disable some aspects of the syntax. But we decided not to cut corners and not to force changes in the by now over 27 million Wikipedia articles in >250 languages.
  • A common problem for visual editors in general is what our development team calls "dirty diffs". These are changes in the source wikitext that do not result in any difference in how the result is displayed to Wikipedia reader, but show up when Wikipedia editors compare different versions of the article. Because such comparisons are an important part of Wikipedia's internal quality control system and should not be disrupted by VisualEditor, the development team put a lot of work into avoiding dirty diffs, constantly testing code changes against a test database of 100,000 randomly chosen Wikipedia articles.
  • Behind the scenes, VisualEditor heavily relies on "Parsoid", a software component that for the first time provides an equivalent conversion between wikitext (the representation of an article that Wikipedia authors have been dealing with so far) and the HTML5 version that your browser displays. It was developed from the ground up, replacing the previous one-way parser which provided no way back from HTML to wikitext. We decided on this thoroughly new approach not only because it was necessary to make VisualEditor possible, but also because it is expected to yield many more benefits down the road, because storing the article content in HTML5 format makes automatic processing faster and more flexible.
  • However, the development of Parsoid has been a highly complex project, for example because the wikitext syntax has grown organically over the years and is not defined by clear grammatical rules (technically, it is not what computer scientists call a "context-free" language). You can read more about these technical challenges and how they were overcome here:
  • After an initial release and extensive testing by editors and developers in 2012, we changed how it worked significantly, which required many months more development. We're very grateful to the many testers who have taken the time to help us refine the product. This early testing means that we are able to ensure a better VisualEditor and a smoother deployment for everyone.

After all this effort to create a WYSIWYG editor, aren’t you essentially developing something that has been common for a decade or more?[edit]

Similar technology has existed for years on the Internet, but this is the first time we’ve introduced a rich-text editor to the Wikimedia community. The complex requirements for VisualEditor make it quite different from superficially similar web editing interfaces. Our interface also needs to be flexible enough to ultimately work in all of the 280+ language versions of Wikipedia.

Will it still be possible to edit using wikitext after VisualEditor becomes the primary editing interface?[edit]

Yes. While VisualEditor will become available by default, a method for editing the underlying “source” text will continue to exist. There are no plans to remove the “Edit source” option.

Will VisualEditor enable real-time collaborative editing?[edit]

Ultimately we are aiming to have an editing system that provides the simpler editing interface, and one that allows multiple editors to simultaneously collaborate on an article (like you might see in a Google Docs collaboration). For now edits made by users need to be previewed and saved in a manner similar to earlier editing interface on Wikipedia.

Do you hope that editors will stop using wikitext after VisualEditor becomes the primary editing interface?[edit]

We expect that more and more people will find that using VisualEditor will be more efficient and easier than using wikitext, though we are sure that some power users will continue to prefer wikitext. In some cases, like remarkably complex templates, we expect VisualEditor to supplant them and make them less necessary to execute complicated tasks.

Are you worried by the potential for a large increase in vandalism?[edit]

No. We think that those who come to Wikipedia with the intent to vandalize are probably already vandalizing. It’s just as fast (if not faster) to hit the “Edit source” tab and blank a page using the wikitext editor as to do the same thing using VisualEditor.

What happens if your core base of users decide they don't like VisualEditor and demand it be turned off?[edit]

The VisualEditor team has been working with the Wikipedia community for months, inviting Wikipedians to test the new editor, provide feedback and comments, and generally help make the VisualEditor better for Wikipedians. As the VisualEditor is in its beta phase, we are continuing to work closely with the community to examine technical issues, make changes, and discuss improvements.

Our community has been asking for a simplified editing experience for years, and we believe both new and experienced editors will work with us to make VisualEditor an even better product.

However, ultimately the official policy of the English Wikipedia states that the editors are not technically in charge of the website or its software. See WP:CONEXCEPT: "Some matters that may seem subject to the consensus of the community at the English-language Wikipedia are, in fact, in a separate domain. In particular, the community of MediaWiki software developers, including both paid Wikimedia Foundation staff and other volunteers, and the activities of Wikimedia Commons, are largely separate entities, as are the many non-English Wikipedias. These independent, co-equal communities operate however they deem necessary or appropriate, such as adding, removing, or changing software features, or accepting or rejecting images, even if their actions are not endorsed by editors here."

Has the Wikimedia Foundation received grants or other large donations for its development?[edit]

Yes. The Stanton Foundation donated $3.6 million to the Wikimedia Foundation in 2011 to start the development of what was then the new editing interface (the grant also supported development of new technical features to make Wikimedia a friendlier and more understandable environment for new editors, and an improved mobile experience for readers and editors).

Can users install VisualEditor on their personal wikis outside Wikimedia?[edit]

Yes, but right now they would do so at their own risk. The software for VisualEditor and Parsoid are available for download but they're still experimental; note that Parsoid requires nodeJS. If users do install and use them, they should let the Wikimedia Foundation know what worked and what didn't in Bugzilla.

How can users leave feedback about VisualEditor?[edit]

The central feedback portal for VisualEditor can be found here:

What is the schedule for enabling VisualEditor on Wikipedia?[edit]

As of December 2014, VisualEditor is available, either as an opt-in beta feature or by default, to all users of all Wikimedia Foundation wikis except the Wikisources and and most Wiktionaries. See the list of rollouts at VisualEditor/Rollouts for more details.