Wil, the tl;dr here is "Philosophical beliefs aren't an effective
underpinning for good software design. Start over."

It's taken me a while to piece together much from the early discussions
about Flow and figure out how we got to where we are now.  It's my opinion
that the root of the problem is that, much as the WMF wants to move toward
being a "software" or "tech" organization, it really doesn't have very much
history or experience in the kind of  ground-up software design and
deployment that is conducive to successful implementation.  Tech
organizations seeking to redevelop a core function normally start by
gathering extensive data on the current system,  identifying key functions
that must be incorporated into the new system, understanding how the
current system is used, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and ensuring
that even early iterations will at least include the key functions and
strengths from the soon-to-be-deprecated system.  This baseline background
research was never really done before investing in the development of Flow.
Instead, Flow very much comes across as software being designed according
to philosophical principles rather than function.

The major deficiencies that have long been identified in the current
discussion system (and that can be addressed by technology) are all able to
be addressed in MediaWiki software or by extensions. Automatic signatures
have been done by bots for years; indenting could be added to the editing
function gadget and moved to an extension; much work has already been done
on graceful resolution of edit conflicts.  The ability to watchlist an
individual thread or section of a page is more challenging but, I have been
told, still possible.

Several of the features identified as "must-do" have turned out not to
quite work out.  Automatic signature (something that is currently
functional on Flow, but is not customizable) turns out to be more of a
challenge when users are widely known by a signature line that doesn't
match their username, and there is no method by which users can add an
"explanatory" note to their signature such as "formerly known as
User:Whatever".  The "more efficient" indenting has reduced possible
indents to three levels, without exception; even in simple discussions,
it's pretty clear that hasn't really worked out as it's often difficult to
figure out who is responding to which post.  "Rigid predictable technical
restrictions on who can edit what" has resulted in inability to remove
posts that are obviously unsuitable (there's no "undo" or "revert"
function), replaced with a "hide" function that can only be applied by
certain users that's practically a red flag for people to look-see what the
problem edit is.  With broader early discussion, some of these would
probably have been fleshed out before getting this far.

At the core is whether or not there is value in developing a "discussion
system" that is radically divorced from any other interface used by the
system.  This is a philosophical question, and doesn't actually have that
much to do with technology - and this conversation has never really taken
place anywhere but by a bunch of guys who are into making cool software
and, often as not, have little interest in the kinds of discussions that
normally occur on Wikimedia projects.  There has certainly never really
been a discussion with the broader community about what would better serve
in discussions. More importantly, some of the core assumptions and goals
upon which Flow has been built[1] have very little to do with technology at
all - plenty of research indicates that new users are driven away by the
nature of discussions rather than the technological challenges of
participation -  and the lack of active broad community consultation means
that the development team really doesn't know what's working well, what's
problematic, and what kind of efficiencies experienced users are looking
for. There's absolutely no basis to believe that Flow  is in any way likely
"to encourage [more] *meaningful conversations* that support
collaboration".  (I'd love to see what kind of metrics would be used to
assess the meaningfulness of conversations!)

And the other key issue is a complete lack of recognition that the more UIs
a new user needs to learn to develop competency, the lower the likelihood
that they'll actually be able to develop the necessary skills to become
fully functioning members of the editing community.  The Wikimedia "family"
has largely bought in to the necessity to introduce a WYSIWYG editing
interface (that would be VisualEditor), and to recognize that wikitext
editing needs to remain in existence as well.  Adding a third one whose
primary purpose will be to talk about the content being created using the
other two is counterintuitive at best.


[1] https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Flow

On 5 September 2014 21:53, Wil Sinclair <w...@wllm.com> wrote:

> Risker, what do you think might get us all back on track for Flow?
> Should the WMF consider a reset of the project and proceed only after
> making specific and enforceable commitments to work with the
> community? Is a total rewrite in order? Should we go completely tabla
> rasa on it and revisit whether we need something like this at all?
> ,Wil
> On Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 10:58 AM, Risker <risker...@gmail.com> wrote:
> > I think there have been some pretty strong indications over the years
> that
> > the current talk page system needs to be improved.  However, there's been
> > little discussion at all about whether Flow is that improvement.  I have
> > been following the development for quite a while, and it really looks
> like
> > the system was developed backwards: essential functions for effective
> > discussion that already exist and are used on a daily basis were not
> > included in the initial designs, while the design incorporated plenty of
> > bells and whistles that were considered desirable (although the reasons
> for
> > desirability weren't necessarily universally held or particularly clear).
> > This has resulted in a huge amount of re-engineering to incorporate (some
> > of the) needed functions , and a lot of downplaying of the feedback given
> > because the feedback has conflicted with the "bells and whistles" of the
> > original design.  There is also the fact that it would add another
> > completely different user interface to the editing process, which
> increases
> > barriers for existing users but even more so for new users.
> >
> > In other words, the issues with Flow are so deeply rooted in its core
> > design and philosophy that it may not be possible to come up with a
> product
> > that is actually useful on the projects we have to replace the discussion
> > system we have.  It seems that the Flow team has assembled the
> ingredients
> > to make a chocolate cake with the hope that it will be a suitable
> > replacement for vegetable stew.
> >
> > Risker/Anne
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > On 5 September 2014 13:29, Wil Sinclair <w...@wllm.com> wrote:
> >
> >> This somewhat circuitously brings us back to the subject. We have a
> >> chance to rollout Flow the right way. There are some questions that
> >> come to mind that might tell us if we're headed for a big win or a
> >> bigger debacle:
> >>
> >> 1) Is the WMF working with the community as closely and substantially
> >> as possible to make sure Flow is ready for primetime?
> >>
> >> 2) Is the community preparing itself for a major change, not only in
> >> interface, but to some degree in wiki-philosophy about how discussions
> >> are conducted- not to mention the notion that, while wiki software can
> >> do almost anything involving asynchronous online communication, it
> >> can't do everything as well as other interfaces?
> >>
> >> I think Flow will be particularly challenging. I deployed Liquid
> >> Threads on another site. I liked the threaded interface, as did
> >> others. But overall it was roundly rejected because it was harder to
> >> search (I only found out you have to add the namespace to the
> >> searchable namespace in LocalSettings.php later), and it invasively
> >> took over all discussion pages, among other headache. Problems like
> >> these could easily be addressed before a rollout, but they should be
> >> addressed as early as possible. It is notable, however, that the more
> >> our users used it, the more they seemed to like it.
> >>
> >> What can we do to make the Flow rollout as smooth as starting '''now'''?
> >>
> >> ,Wil
> >>
> >> On Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 9:34 AM, Marc A. Pelletier <m...@uberbox.org>
> >> wrote:
> >> > On 09/05/2014 11:12 AM, Yaroslav M. Blanter wrote:
> >> >> On 25.08.2014 06:07, Marc A. Pelletier wrote:
> >> >> FLOW?
> >> >
> >> > Last I checked, Flow isn't deployed except as experiments in a handful
> >> > of places, and is still in active deployment.
> >> >
> >> > But you're correct that this would constitute a replacement rather
> than
> >> > a new method alongside the old.  A long, long overdue and desperately
> >> > needed replacement -- but a replacement nonetheless.
> >> >
> >> > That also explains the very deliberate development and feedback loop.
> >> >
> >> > -- Marc
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >
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