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Wikipedia simplifies article editing for world+dog

New visual editor invites unwashed masses into the Wikifold

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Wikipedia is developing an easy-to-use visual editor to make it easier to muck up emend, revise, and polish pages of "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit".

The new editor is currently available only in a decidedly beta and somewhat buggy sandbox version – which you're free to toy with to your heart's content – but it's clear that the Wikifolk are aiming at a simple, standard interface.

In the current sandbox, you can easily control layout items such as bulleted and numbered lists, along with text boldness, italics, and off-page linking. A variety of header styles are also offered, as are indentation options.

Wikipedia visual editor sandbox

Choose a header level
(click to enlarge)

You can also toggle side-by-side views that present the page, along with your changes, in wikitext, HTML, or JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). Keyboard shortcuts are also provided, as is a history listing.

The visual editor effort is apparently in response to Wikipedia's declining popularity among contributors and editors. As noted by The Economist, the number of active editors of the English Wikipedia peaked in 2007, but has declined steadily since then, with the greatest decline being among casual editors.

Wikipedia's page views, however, remain healthy, currently running at about 7.5 billion per month. It could be argued that active editors have declined because the site's coverage has become somewhat saturated, with fewer entries needing to be emended or polished since the halcyon days of 2007.

Wikipedia visual editor sandbox

Format text, add a link
(click to enlarge)

It also could be argued that making Wikipedia easier to edit may not be the wisest move, if clarity, correctness, and completeness are the Wikimedia Foundation's goal. Not that The Reg doesn't trust the unwashed masses (much), but the thought of making it brain-dead simple to change a Wikipedia entry gives us pause. After all, the mere fact that Wikipedia pages took a bit of thought to construct and edit was a barrier to the thoughtless.

Now the Wikimedia Foundation is lowering that barrier, and we'll discover whether easier-to-implement participation improves the quality of the content found on Wikipedia – which, even its critics must admit, is often solid – or whether a broader range of participation weakens the credibility and usefulness of "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit".

Call us elitists or call us Cassandras, but we'll keep a close eye on Wikipedia after the Foundation begins to integrate the easy-peasy editor into the site next June. ®

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