Recently, Jimmy Wales said that some people are “afraid” of editing Wikipedia and adding content to the site upon seeing the Wiki mark-up code they have to use to make their contributions. He suggested that “good people” who come to the site “don’t want to break something” by tweaking around with the code. Is the complexity – or perhaps a perception of it – discouraging contributors with solid knowledge who feel they are inept of dealing with what, at first sight, may appear to be difficult code to conquer?

Wikipedia is undoubtedly a marvelous tool; although it has its downfalls in terms of vandalism and inaccurate information, recent research suggested that the accuracy of scientific articles on Wikipedia was almost identical to that of the Britannica encyclopedia – written by professionals in the field, paid to compile information. However, in order to create a site where users feel motivated and happy to become part of the community and edit its content with good contributions, you first need to entice those people. What Jimmy Wales has referenced to, and what many people – particularly in the newer generation of internet users – understand, is that simplicity is everything when it comes to getting people to edit the site.

Not everybody who wants to edit Wikipedia is very confident or knowledgeable about computers. Even if they are able to use one with ease, many feel they are straying out of their comfort zone when they click on “Edit” and are faced with, what appears to be at the time, an amalgamation of foreign codes and riddles. They say that practice makes perfect, and no doubt with time and effort, people would come to realize they just perceive the code to be incredibly difficult and in time they can come to understand it. However, when people become terrified by the sheer number of symbols and range of terminology the site uses, they are very unlikely to ever return, meaning the site loses out and the magnificent offerings of these users. Many people simply don’t have the time or the desire to put enough effort in to allow the Wiki mark-up to become second nature to them. Those who are familiar with certain programming languages are likely to find editing very easy, but many people are put off by the thought of something which, to them, looks like a different language.

At present, Wikipedia does allow its users to use buttons and mouse clicks to format certain lines in articles, but this editor is still not ideal. Surely a more advanced WYSIWYG editor would be beneficial as it gives a much friendlier interface to the editing screen. Even the simple editing techniques and buttons used on the site today can become cluttered and confusing to understand. Users who simply want to make their contributions do not want to trawl through different codes or learn various strings which they need to use in order to make their contributions. At first, when viewing the Introduction page to Wikipedia editing, the process appears to be quite simple. It introduces to users a sandbox that they can use to make a test edits and to build their confidence before moving onto the main articles. Unfortunately, as you move deeper into the information about editing on the site, technicalities and certain guidelines become more complex – where you should and where you shouldn’t use certain codes and how you should lay your article out becomes stricter; how you organize and format your writing is controlled; pages informing you about how to make edits become more difficult to understand and are lengthened. As users see how much they need to read, and realize how much time they need to dedicate to building up their confidence and understanding rules which come from long pages about everything from images and sounds, citations and references and style and content, they become discouraged from editing and their knowledge may be lost forever. Every rule on Wikipedia seems to have sub-rule, which itself has a conditions and different situations. This leads to complexity, and a lack of new contributors.

It’s not just a case of the complexity of editing and understanding the rules, but also the reversal of one’s edits by other, often more experienced users. Although there is an initiative which allows experienced users to teach and work with newer users to build their skills, often a person with good intentions will make their edit, only to immediately see them shot down by another power user, who often will bluntly or candidly phrase why they’ve done it. Immediately, newer editors feel they aren’t doing it right, or that they are almost being told off for doing something incorrectly and might not understand how exactly they should go about doing the edit properly. The technical terminology unique to Wikipedia which administrators or power users employ might confuse newer members. This again discourages intelligent people with good information from editing the site.

What do you think? Is Wikipedia difficult to edit? Is its interface to ugly? Are you a newer user – do you experience any of these problems? Have you been discouraged from using Wikipedia because of the complexity of its codes and rules? Are you a regular user? Did these references used to apply to you? Tell us what you have to say; leave a comment.

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