The Wikipedia is difficult to use in order to keep out non-technical users (or “how developers use their power to discriminate against certin users”)

Celeste Lyn Paul talked about a usability study of wikipedia. CLP said usability is based on five main things:

efficiency of use
few and non catastrophic errors
subjective satisfaction

She said users had a very difficult time inserting images due to the interface, and because they were dumped to Commons to upload their images to that site (where they had to create a new login). This is a big issues for larger media companies which are constantly dropping users to various services, and users like seemless experiences. She made a simple suggestions of giving people the code they need to post an image into Wikipedia. She also pointed out that people had trouble with the help system.

The fact is a system like Wikipedia is wildly more complex than other sites out there. She pointed out that the linking system was also very difficult for people.

The interesting arugment that came up is that Wikipedia actually makes editing the system hard so that too many people don’t contribute. Someone in the audience actually said something to the effect of “who are we trying to make is usable for” to which someone countered “anyone.” The truth is that if Wikipedia was easier to use it would be 10x harder to maintain.

Also, the people who can’t figure out how to use the system are considered low-level users by the tech folks I think. If you can’t figure out how to use the system you’re stupid is the thinking of many developers in my exerience (not saying that is what wikipedia/mediawiki developers think–not saying it isn’t what they think either).

One person said: “Maybe users should be intimdated,” which proved my point: it’s hard by design. Just like delicious is, and DIGG isn’t. Delicious was made by a programmer (Josh), and DIGG was made by a media guy (Kevin). Media guys make things easier to use, tech guys don’t care and don’t want losers in their systems.

The editing of wikipedia is another very difficult process for most users as well, and Wikipedia has been talking about adding a WYSIWYG editor. I asked Celeste if she would move Wikipedia to a WYSI and she wouldn’t answer the question (lame!).

From where I sit, if Wikipedia ads a WYSI it will be crushed. I love a good WYSI for blogging, but man can a WYSI destroy a page–especially if users are switching from WYSI to tag-based editing (which wikipedia users today).

Bottom line: the wikipedia is hard to use by design. If it is hard by design, isn’t that against the core mission of wikipedia to allow everyone to edit?

Facinating debate. has more info.

Leave a Reply