If you've ever contributed to Wikipedia, you're no doubt familiar with the markup coding it's long relied on for formatting its articles.
That wiki markup language, in fact, may well be at least one reason behind Wikipedia's dwindling ranks of contributors, the Wikimedia Foundation believes. That, in turn, is why it has begun testing a new visual editor.
"There is plenty of evidence that wiki-markup is a substantial barrier that prevents many people from contributing to Wikipedia and our other projects," explains a Wikimedia blog post from Tuesday. "Formal user tests, direct feedback from new editors, and anecdotal evidence collected over the past several years have made the need for a visual editor clear."
The first prototype of just such a tool is now available, and the Wikimedia Foundation is seeking testing help and feedback. If you've ever thought about sharing your expertise on Wikipedia but were put off by the logistics, this is a good time to get involved.
A Visual Editor Sandbox
In designing a visual editor for Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation wanted to make sure it could support longtime users accustomed to wiki markup language as well as newcomers looking for a more visual interface.
The current early version of the software offers a basic editing surface that supports the translation of what's on-screen into wiki markup language. It can't yet save or edit documents, but it does support both basic formatting such as bold and italics as well as editing features like cut and paste, and undo and redo.
The visual editor was tested mostly on Firefox, Chrome, and IE9, with support for IE8 as well. IE7 is not yet supported, and the internationalization of the editor will occur in the next release, the Wikimedia Foundation says.
"It's still very fragile, and you may easily end up with an unusable document," Wikimedia's blog post explains. "In the best case scenario, you can use it to generate valid wiki markup that you can copy and paste into an edit box on any MediaWiki wiki."
A demo of the new editor is now available in the visual editor sandbox on mediawiki.org, where visitors can test it out on a range of articles available for pre-loading. The Wikimedia Foundation is targeting June 2012 for first widespread production use.
Putting Expertise to Work
I've always felt that contributing to Wikipedia is a nice way to contribute to the common body of knowledge while demonstrating your expertise in some domain, no matter how narrowly defined it might be. I've done it myself on several occasions.
For a business owner, though, it can only add to your credibility--not to mention potentially including links to relevant information on your company's site.
If that sounds compelling, this would be a good time to help test and usher in a new, user-friendlier editor for the benefit of all.