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Submissions/Dynamics of Wikipedia Talk pages: serving the article, showing the community

From Wikimania 2010 • Gdańsk, Poland • July 9-11, 2010


This is an open submission for Wikimania 2010.

Title of the submission
Dynamics of Wikipedia Talk pages: serving the article, showing the community
Type of submission (workshop, tutorial, panel, presentation)
Author of the submission
Jodi Schneider
E-mail address or username (if username, please confirm email address in Special:Preferences)
Country of origin
United States (now living in Ireland)
Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)
DERI, National University of Ireland Galway
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (please use no less than 300 words to describe your proposal)

Talk pages have interesting dynamics, which can help foster community and connect people to each other and to information. But Talk pages don't always live up to their potential, and tangled discussions can sometimes hinder, rather than help, their purpose of improving the article. Can Talk pages become an even more effective tool to help improve articles?

This presentation will be based on my recent study of 100 Talk pages from English Wikipedia, my own experience as an editor, and existing research on Talk pages. Its goals are to bring the community and research closer together - to help focus research questions on topics that might better serve the community, thus audience participation and feedback is expected and encouraged. This is part of my Ph.D. research on collaboration, online discussions and arguments, and Semantic Web tools for the Social Web.

While studying Talk pages on the English Wikipedia, I've noticed some interesting dynamics. I'd like to share some observations and prototype tools with the community, and get feedback.

Some phenomena stand out:

  • Comments on Talk pages do not always lead to improvements in an article, and sometimes the cost of discussion seems to outweigh its benefits.
  • Discussions sometimes result from collaboration to improve an article -- for instance in response to a peer review or to move an article to Featured status. But voluminous discussion about an article can also be a sign of a lot of controversy, many casual editors, or off-topic discussions.
  • Sometimes a single editor with a very different perspective comes to edit an article, or to challenge the existing consensus on a Talk page. Depending on their skill and the community's acceptance of their ideas, this can be either fruitful or problematic. (For instance, see Talk pages on Poppers and Antisemitism).
  • Articles need to draw a certain amount of attention and visits in order to be edited and improved. However, as more visitors come to a page, coordination is harder, due to a lack of shared history (such as earlier decisions and discussions) and more repeated ideas. FAQs and archive searches attempt to address this, but favor existing editors over new ideas.
  • Articles that continue to develop may face repeated questions. These endless discussions can lead to editor fatigue: As English Wikipedia user Hans Adler explains: “That’s the problem with endless discussions: They get even longer because you have to repeat every argument each time someone asks who (understandably) didn’t read everything.”
  • Some articles become well-developed without any discussion. For instance, Ballad_(Glee) on English Wikipedia is a Good Article, yet it has no Talk page discussions, just 3 info boxes indicating the relevant Wiki projects, despite the article's dozen editors, and a number of revisions.
  • Editors may sometimes be 'talking to themselves' if a Talk page fails to gain critical mass. The 'pace' of a Talk page -- the extent to which it's edited, and the speed of decision-making -- varies significantly.
  • Archives can be difficult to access, but moving discussions to the archive quickly can be used to focus attention and shorten the active Talk page. (For instance, discussions can be archived after a very short time -- such as 3 days for the Talk page for Michael Jackson on the English Wikipedia!)
  • Many Talk pages have active users who contribute to several threads of the discussion. A very active user can dominate the discussion, which may benefit or thwart the development of the article.

I think this shows the need for better tools for showing the existing consensus as well as the tools that evolve--both to protect existing editors from "endless discussions" and to facilitate evolution of the page, when appropriate.

With Semantic Web techniques, we can develop new ways to display Talk pages. We have been experimenting with adding semantics to MediaWiki Talk pages, indicating for each comment what it is requesting (e.g. help on another page, editing coordination for a given page) or referring to (e.g. a previous edit, a source). This metadata can be stored alongside each comment (by adding RDFa markup to the Talk page), and later extracted, to offer new ways to browse or read the page.

We will show mockups of several approaches of modifying Talk pages, to get feedback from the community about which directions seem most fruitful. For instance, one plugin we have written highlights relevant comments on a single Talk page, to show, for instance, all comments requesting information. We can also develop queries to get "views" on top of MediaWiki pages, for instance to find all comments mentioning a source. These queries, using SPARQL, also open up exciting possibilities, such as automatically collating comments, for instance transcluding Requests for Information into a more appropriate spot, such as (for Wikipedia) the Reference Desk for that topic, thus enabling new ways to automatically gather particular kind of comments, and facilitating the coordination process in MediaWiki instances.

This session would be ideally scheduled prior to the LiquidThreads presentation, since LiquidThreads is designed to modify Talk pages. I particularly hope to have discussions about what further enhancements could benefit Talk pages, and would appreciate insight into how Talk pages are used on other WikiMedia projects, and on non-English Wikipedias. Personal experiences (e.g. why you use Talk pages) and ideas about what kinds of Talk page discussions have been most helpful or harmful to your editing would also be particularly welcome.

Track (People and Community/Knowledge and Collaboration/Infrastructure)
Knowledge and Collaboration or People and Community

Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted? Yes
Slides or further information (optional)

Slides on slideshare

Our Research

  • Jodi Schneider, Alexandre Passant, John Breslin A Content Analysis: How Wikipedia Talk Pages Are Used. In WebSci2010, Web Science Conference. Paper and Poster

This is a preliminary report on a study of 100 Talk pages from the English Wikipedia. The Talk pages I analyzed were associated with 20 articles with the most contributors of 2009, the 20 most-viewed articles of November 2009, and a selection of controversial, Featured Articles, and a Random sample using the random article generator.

  • Jodi Schneider, Alexandre Passant, John Breslin Enhancing MediaWiki Talk pages with Semantics for Better Coordination - A Proposal. In The Fifth Workshop on Semantic Wikis: Linking Data and People Workshop at 7th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC), Crete, Greece, 2010.

Prototyping the Semantic Web techniques

Other research on Talk pages or using Talk pages we'll draw from

  • N. Bencherki and J.D. Uwatowenimana, “Writing a Wikipedia Article: Data Mining and Organizational Communication to Explain the Practices By Which Contributors Maintain the Article's Coherence,” Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association, Montreal, Quebec, Canada: 2008.
  • K. Ehmann, A. Large, and J. Beheshti, “Collaboration in context: Comparing article evolution among subject disciplines in Wikipedia,” First Monday, vol. 13, Oct. 2008.
  • A. Kittur, B. Suh, B.A. Pendleton, and E.H. Chi, “He says, she says: Conflict and coordination in Wikipedia,” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, San Jose, California, USA: ACM, 2007, pp. 453-462.
  • B. Stvilia, M.B. Twidale, L.C. Smith, and L. Gasser, “Information Quality Work Organization in Wikipedia,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, vol. 59, 2008, pp. 983-1001.
  • B. Suh, E. Chi, B. Pendleton, and A. Kittur, “Us vs. Them: Understanding Social Dynamics in Wikipedia with Revert Graph Visualizations,” IEEE Symposium on Visual Analytics Science and Technology, 2007, pp. 163-170.
  • F.B. Viegas, M. Wattenberg, J. Kriss, and F.V. Ham, “Talk Before You Type: Coordination in Wikipedia,” 40th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2007. HICSS 2007., 2007, pp. 78-87.
  • H. T. Welser, D. Cosley, G. Kossinets, Austin Lin, Fedor Dokshin, Geri Gay, and Marc Smith, “Finding social roles in Wikipedia,” Proceedings of the American Sociological Association 2008, Boston, MA, USA: 2008.

Interested attendees

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  1. SiocWiki 13:18, 21 May 2010 (UTC)SiocWiki[reply]
  2. Mayooranathan 21:37, 21 May 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  3. Kocio 00:28, 4 June 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  4. CaptainSwing 22:08, 4 June 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  5. GlimmerPhoenix 18:21, 10 June 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  6. Przykuta 20:56, 16 June 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  7. --Phauly 14:12, 18 June 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  8. Natkabrown 18:28, 4 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]