Grants:TPS/Ocaasi, Valeriej, The wub/Open Help Conference/Report

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Event name: Wikipedia Meets Open Help

Description of your participation:

Summary of work

The Open Help Conference in Cincinnati was filled with folks from the open source movement. Documentation teams were there from Wordpress, Mozilla, Gnome and other groups. For the first two days we participated in a Conference. We heard speakers from the Ubuntu Community, StackExchange developer network, and RedHat (a full list of speakers is here). The last three days we worked in a sprint to improve Wikipedia's help documentation and new editor spaces.


During the sprint days, Siko and I worked on designing and creating an effective mechanism to request new features, 'make a wish’, for the Wikipedia Teahouse. We defined what attributes make a wish, and created build plan. I created a table, based off of the design of MediaWiki’s mw:Project:Calendar, to list key attributes a wish. I created a module to translate parameters into images to make identifying key information easier.

Next Steps

One of my possible tasks was to work on during the sprint days was curating links and resources for new contributors to MediaWiki for the Starter Kit. After hearing the conference talks, I was hesitant to work on curating links that may or may not be serving the purpose of supporting contributors, new and old. In an effort to be proactive and address issues for new contributors before they happen, I am working to create a survey for MediaWiki contributors to determine the effectiveness of our current docs and attempt to find the deficiencies. Effective documentation will go into the Starter Kit, and we can work to redesign deficient pages to be more effective.

For the Teahouse, I will keep on developing the table templates and modules that I started during the sprints to make it as easy as possible to create an entry in the table.


For the conference I spoke along with Siko on a new trend of creating help spaces that are inviting and social. Our talk, Can Help Be Fun? Wikipedia Experiments with social help reviewed design developments in Teahouse, IdeaLab, and Wikipedia Adventure. These designs emphasize a playful spirit and supportive community atmosphere. We laid out the principles of "Fun is serious business" design, detailed how that was implemented in the Teahouse community, and talked about opportunities for enhancing other spaces with a similar approach.

During the sprints I mainly focused on big picture principle documents. I worked with Peter Coombe (The Wub) to draft a Wikipedia Help Project best practices guideline for all of the help pages on Wikipedia. We started with the existing Help Project practices and incorporated the best of them with new learnings from a review of other open source communities' design principles.

With Siko, I helped draft a similar vision document about the Teahouse design principles. These largely made explicit that well-developed design ethos that has driven the Teahouse since its opening. Drafting this document, however, will make it feasible for new Teahouse members to contribute to the community in line with its guiding spirit and practices.

Next Steps

The next step for the Help Project is to move from Guideline to Assessment. We plan to hold an assessment drive in which editors collaborate to assess the quality and importance of every Help article on Wikipedia. The next step for the Teahouse project is to seek review from other Teahouse founders, current hosts, and guests. Then we will apply these principles to a Wishlist feature of the Teahouse where participants are organized around tasks (wishes) that will add to the functionality of the Teahouse.

the wub[edit]

During the conference I learnt a lot from the experience of others in the open source movement. Particularly interesting to me were the talks "Listening to your Audience" by Rich Bowen (Red Hat) and "How Mozilla supports users all over the world" by Michael Verdi (Mozilla). Ideas from these, other talks, and the open discussion sessions fed directly into the work on the sprint days. I also gave a brief talk myself, titled "Wikipedia: Too Much Documentation" (slides). This covered my experience as a Community Fellow working on help pages, the challenges Wikipedia help faces and how we have attempted to overcome them. This seemed to strike a chord with other participants, and led to some discussion.

In the sprint days I had the chance to work more closely with the other Wikimedia attendees: Siko, Valeriej and Ocaasi. My first goal was to create a set of guidelines for developing and editing Wikipedia help pages. Working closely with Ocaasi, we managed to lay down principles based on what we had learned from the conference. After the guidelines were written I developed quality and importance scales for assessing help pages, and adjusted the Help Project templates to allow assessments to be performed. This was something that I had long desired for the Help Project, as it will help myself and other volunteers prioritise work much more effectively.

Also during the sprint days I got involved and provided input on the Teahouse wishlist project, helped Valeriej with an introduction to Lua, revamped the Help Project main page and cleaned up and converted two Wikipedia introductions (Help:Introduction to talk pages and Help:Introduction to policies and guidelines) to a new, more usable format.

Next steps

The next stage for my work with the Help Project is to start a regular collaboration to drive interest. The first target for this will be assessing all help pages according to the criteria developed in the sprints. This will help prioritise what needs to be done, and hopefully increase participation in the Help Project. I also intend to have a special edition of the Help Project newsletter soon to share more of what I learnt from the conference.

What lessons were learned that could help others in similar events?[edit]

Giving talks was a highlight. I think it helps bring a lot of focus and energy to your efforts to address a problem by collecting your thoughts and sharing them with a larger group. We nicely transitioned from big picture brainstorming to smaller scale execution. We paired off in teams and then gave cross-advice between groups. We regularly raised questions for discussion when new issues came up or people were stuck. We collaboratively edited and copyedited documents. We split up our strengths between those who are respectively best at research, design, writing, coding, and outreach. We regularly gave each other progress updates.

If we had the chance to do it again we would have done more cross-team checking in, with other groups who attended the conference. With often similar problems it would have been useful and interesting to bounce more ideas off of them as we sprinted on our individual issues. That had to be balanced, however, with completing our own projects.

What impact did your participation have on the Wikimedia Mission goals of Increased Reach, Increased Quality, Increased Credibility, Increased and Diversified Participation?[edit]

  • Increased Reach:
    • Making sure that help pages are simple and easy to navigate, ought to particularly help those users and readers who are non-native English speakers.
  • Increased Quality:
    • The development of best practice guidelines and an assessment system for help pages is a major step in improving their quality.
    • Codifying the Teahouse design principles should help the Teahouse to maintain its distinctive and high quality design as it continues to grow.
  • Increased Credibility:
    • Improving the explanations through help pages of how Wikipedia works, ought to increase transparency and public understanding.
  • Increased and Diversified Participation:
    • The Teahouse has already been successful in reaching out to new users, particularly women, in order to encourage them and increase participation. The development of the wishlist feature and Teahouse design principles will further help this effort, and get more users involved.
    • Improving help pages in line with the guidelines developed at the conference should reduce the barriers to entry for new users.

Detail of expenditures[edit]


Conference Registration: $100
Flight roundtrip from IAH to CVG: $294.00
Bag check fee: $25.00 * 2 = $50.00
Shuttle to Hotel: $32
Hotel 5 night stay at $89 + tax: $520.70
Total: $996.70


Conference Registration: $100
Flight roundtrip from PHLto CVG: $344.80
Shuttle to Hotel: $32
Hotel 4 night stay at $89 + tax: $416.00
Total: $892.80

The wub

Conference registration: $100
Coach to/from LHR: £37 = $58
Flight round trip from LHR to CVG: $1083.06
Shuttle to/from hotel: $32
Hotel 5 night stay at $89 + tax: $520.70
Total: $1793.76


Amount underspent/left-over (please specify currency): Expenses ran a bit over due to unexpected hotel taxes and airfare cost increases. We understand if the overage can't be reimbursed, but we would really like it to be if possible. Thanks very much to the WMF and PSP program for making this possible.