Perth, Western Australia - 6th to 10th January 2014

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VisualEditor: Wikipedia's new editing system, and how you can use it too

Project: VisualEditor

(with Roan Kattouw)

Wikipedia is meant to be “the free encyclopædia that anyone[citation needed] can edit”. We know from research, however, that most people can’t edit, and so we, a team from the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikia, are building a visual editor to bridge the gap. This is particularly challenging because MediaWiki’s syntax, “wikitext”, is a significant superset of HTML, and Wikipedia’s content is so complex, using every possible form of it.

In the two years that we have been working on this project, we have encountered some unique challenges posed by creating an editor for wikitext and deploying it to an enormous corpus of existing articles, which have led us to push the limits of Web browsers, JavaScript, parsers and our own creativity.

VisualEditor is now the default way people edit Wikipedia. We have provided a simple way to create and edit articles, from tiny stubs to mature and complex articles, in any of the 300 languages we support, while still allowing experienced editors to use the old wikitext editor if they want to. With an eye to the future, we have also been carefully preparing the way for the later addition of real-time collaborative editing.

One of the key objectives of the VisualEditor project has been to de-couple the Javascript editor from MediaWiki; to do this, we have built a separate parser service to switch between wikitext and HTML. We want VisualEditor to be the best possible FLOSS HTML editor out there – so great that other Web applications want to use it too. To achieve this, there are extensive possibilities for plugins to edit new forms of content, and how it can integrate with other platforms.

We will talk about and show off the work we’ve done, the decisions we made, and the issues we worry about. We will ask you what you think, how you might use it, and what more we can do to make VisualEditor the best HTML editor on the Web, whilst making editing Wikipedia – and all our wikis – truly open to everyone.

James Forrester

James Forrester is the Product Manager for the VisualEditor project. Formerly working for the British government, where he helped found their transparency efforts, acting as initial head, he has been a volunteer with Wikipedia since 2002, and in 2012 joined the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that operates Wikipedia and other collaboratively-edited reference projects.

Roan Kattouw is Senior Software Engineer on the VisualEditor project, having worked on a number of MediaWiki engineering projects since 2007, initially as a volunteer developer, including the API system, the UsabilityInitiative, and the ResourceLoader loading system. He has been a staff engineer of the Wikimedia Foundation since 2009.