WikiEducator roadmap/Improve discussion functionality
The MediaWiki software used by WikiEducator supports a discussion model called talk pages. These are regular wiki pages whose only distinction is that they are associated with a content page. That is, these two types of pages are always linked to each other, a content page and a talk page.
Since talk pages are regular wiki pages, they suffer many usability shortcomings:
- minimal threading
- Only the subject headings are used to identify what discussion a particular comment belongs to. These headings are not dated and cannot be sorted.
- too many places
- Since every content page has an associated discussion page, visitors can post questions in countless different places, and it easily becomes tedious to look into all of them.
- no automatic archiving
- Old discussion have to be removed manually when a page gets too long.
- no transparent user identification
- Users have to explicitly sign their comments, a requirement not found in any traditional discussion system.
- no transparent response mechanism
- In order to respond to a comment, users have to edit the page or section, manually position the cursor under the comment they want to respond to, and manually indent the comment. This process is highly counterintuitive, and new users often are completely baffled by it.
- no conversation tracking
- Since comments and threads do not have an object identity in the system, it is impossible to effectively track comments one has left, responses received (regardless of the location), and so on. The only mechanism in place is a very basic notification mechanism for messages directly sent to the user -- in all other cases, the user has to search the wiki for responses.
- no syndication, gateways, etc.
- Advanced functionality like RSS syndication, mail-to-wiki communication, and so on, is not even conceivable in the current system.
Proposed course of action
A reasonable detailed description of a wiki-like discussion system that does not suffer from these disadvantages can be found at LiquidThreads. An incomplete implementation was developed by a student as part of the Google Summer of Code 2006. This implementation is sufficiently advanced to justify further development to the point where it can be tested in an active wiki environment.
Because discussion systems are social tools, a complete and satisfactory implementation can only result from revision based on user feedback. However, a first implementation with the specified functionality is likely to already be at least a suitable replacement for existing forums outside the wiki environment.
The first phase of the implementation, prior to this test, should take no more than a total budget of EUR 7500 (including administrative overhead); however, the same amount should be planned for functional improvements.