Community Central
Community Central

If you’ve read the Technical Update blogs that we post every other Friday, or you tuned in to Community Connect, you may know that Fandom has a product development team known as the User Generated Content (UGC for short) team that focuses exclusively on tools for wiki editors and Fandom staff. The team has a pretty extensive remit, owning nearly 150 MediaWiki extensions (VisualEditor and Create New Wiki among them), other services like Image Review and Phalanx, and content moderation tools. They were formerly known as the CATS team (Creators Admins Tools Staff), and are the same team that built things like Interactive Maps and mobile theming last year.

In this blog, we’ll go over what the UGC team is doing, how we’ve shown success in increasing the number of editors in the community, and a new change that’s coming out for the 2017 VisualEditor to reduce distractions and increase the number of successful first time edits.

You can also skip to the very end for a TL;DR recap of the blog, with its main points!

We’re successfully growing the editor community[]

The UGC team, led by product manager Eva and engineering manager Tomek, has three key goals this year: increase the number of new editors on Fandom, increase the number of active editors on Fandom, and maintain or increase editor satisfaction. Why these goals, you might ask? Since 2018, and despite tremendous growth of the Fandom platform as a whole, the number of editors participating in wikis has declined – not so much power editors and admins, but more so new editors who make their first edit and then, hopefully, stick around for more. We’ve been doing a lot of research lately into why, which we’ll share some of in future blogs – don’t want to bury the lede on this one because…

In May, and for the first time in four years, we observed year over year growth in both new and active editors! Year over year growth means that May 2023 was the first May since 2019 that the number of editors increased from the previous May. The UGC team (as well as our User Experience team with a change earlier this year) accomplished this through a few initial successful experiments that we turned into live experiences for the platform across the board, and I’ll talk more about experiments in a moment, and as those experiments and product shipments continue we expect to see those numbers continue to increase.

Experiment to Prove: what we've done so far[]

If you attended or watched Community Connect, you probably saw that one of the themes for this year at Fandom is “Experiment to Prove.” For most changes we’re making on the site, we first run them as an experiment to see if they actually drive meaningful results. If they do, we ship them live for the platform. If they don’t, we don’t release them.

For the UGC team, the experimental focus is in two key areas:

  • Onboarding of new editors, which we can do with things like:
    • Raising awareness that wikis are collaborative, community-driven resources - nearly two thirds of site visitors aren’t aware of what a wiki is or that they can contribute, so we can find ways to make it clearer.
    • Making entry into editing easier to discover, so as people become aware that they can contribute it’s easier to figure out how to start.
    • Simplifying the editor by reducing hurdles and distractions on the way to saving your first edit.
    • GOAL: Get more visitors to publish their first edit.
  • Retaining casual editors beyond their first edit so they join the community, with things like:
    • Providing recognition for successfully published first contributions.
    • Providing guidance for where to edit next.
    • Showing a pathway to leveling up your editing skills.
    • GOAL: Get more one-time editors to keep returning for more.

These are our missions for UGC this year, and are the main focus areas for the team – along with bug fixing and general operational needs (like improvements to Image Review and other staff tools).

Successful experiments so far[]

For the first few months of the year, a lot of the UGC team’s time was taken up by the upgrade to MediaWiki 1.39, given all of the extensions that the team owns. Of course, that wasn’t the only thing they worked on. In those first three months, they also tested and then released Mobile CSS editing for admins, which was in partnership with the Community and SEO teams – two key partners to the team in general. They also released post and reply history for Discussions, Comments, and Walls, added shortcuts for moderator actions to Discussions profiles, and began the early work for enabling the Thanks extension, which we expect to fully release next month once the current testing period ends.

By April, focus shifted over to experiments. There’s two key ones that have helped contribute to the increase in editors that we observed in May:

  • Changing the default landing page for new users. Back in 2019, when Discussions was being revamped, a decision was made to make Discussions the default landing page for newly registered users. That meant if you clicked the wiki’s logo, for instance, you were taken to Discussions instead of the main page – unless you changed that in your account preferences. In re-visiting that decision, the UGC team’s hypothesis was that setting the default preference back to the main page, thereby showing a wiki experience instead of a social one, would increase the number of people making first-time edits. Unsurprisingly, it was very successful so we released the change site-wide.
  • Changing “View Source” to “Sign in to edit” for anon users. For the longest time, logged out users would see a button that said “View Source” instead of “Edit” at the top of the page on wikis that don’t allow anonymous editing. As we thought about it, that seemed pretty confusing. I’ve become a fan of saying that sometimes successful experiments can come from someone looking at the site and saying “that button is stupid, we should change that.” And in this case, that’s exactly what we did and we saw an increase in registrations that led to logged in editing. So, we released this on wikis that the admins have chosen to disable anonymous editing and that aren’t marked as a Wiki Directed to Children.

Another change that helped, which the User Experience team launched in January, was moving the registration button for logged out users from the lower left-hand corner of the global nav to the upper right hand corner of the page. This prominent placement led to an increase in registrations, which in turn led to an increase in editors.

It’s pretty amazing that such simple changes already are proving out positive results and building momentum, but sometimes simplicity works. I’m really excited to see what we can continue doing by fixing little things like that and taking some bigger swings, like with the Thanks extension that’s coming soon.

So what’s next?

Removing distractions from the 2017 editor[]

We recently ran an experiment with the following hypothesis: the 2017 editor, which is the default editor used by most new and casual editors, offers a distracting and overwhelming experience with all of the options it includes. The global navigation bar and the local navigation bar only add to the clutter and increase what can feel like overwhelming options, while providing little value to users while they’re attempting to make an edit. So we thought, why not hide those for users in the 2017 editor and see what happens?

The results were successful. By the end of the experiment, we observed a statistically significant increase in the number of people who make their first edit in the test group (which didn’t see the two nav bars) vs the control group (which did see the two nav bars). Through this one experiment alone, we project that it will lead to several thousand new editors per year. Compared to the size of the editor community, which is tiny compared to the size of the platform, that’s a lot. So the next decision was obvious: we should release this site-wide.

Here’s what this change looks like:

A mockup of the 2017 editor with the global and local navigation bars hidden, to reduce distractions for first time editors.

If you’ve followed our product blogs before, you may be familiar with some of the fun quirks we throw into our mocks – you may think this is a page for Grogu based on the image, but it has the title of a Friends episode and the biography of Master Yoda.

With this change, the editing experience will be front and center for new users. I do want to stress that this change only applies to the 2017 editor, and not the 2010 editor used most often by power editors – if you’re in that group, you’re already deep into wiki editing and have been doing so for probably a good amount of time now!

As of today, we’ve officially removed the global nav from inside the 2017 editor. We are still working on implementing the change for the local nav, which will come soon. When that change happens, the local nav will be hidden by default – but those who use the 2017 editor will have a way to recall it back, if it’s something they find useful.

So if you hear about this or notice it yourself, we wanted you to have this overview so it didn’t seem like a bug!

What’s next for UGC?[]

We’re continuing to run more and more experiments to see how we can improve the experience for new wiki editors, and while we’re limited in how many we can run at one time (a relatively tiny editor pool means we can only put so many editors into so many tests without losing statistical significance), it’s something we’ll continue doing throughout the year.

Normally we won’t announce these experiments until after they’ve concluded, so as to not unintentionally bias the results, but one cool one we did announce at Community Connect was that we’d be showing a celebratory notification after a user makes their very first edit. That experiment is in flight and we’ll know more about whether it was successful soon. We’ll also be releasing the Thanks experiment, assuming we see successful results from the test we’re running now.

TL;DR Recap[]

That was a lot of blog to cover! In case you don’t have time to read through all of it, a quick recap of the main points seemed like a good idea. Here’s the TL;DR:

  • We have a User Generated Content (UGC) product development team focused on increasing the number of new and active editors on the site and on increasing or maintaining editor satisfaction overall.
  • This is the same team, albeit renamed from CATS, that built features like Interactive Maps, mobile theming, and post/reply history for Discussions, Comments, and Walls.
  • Starting in April, their main focus has been on experiments meant to increase the number of new and active editors – which had been decreasing since 2018.
  • So far, they’ve been able to do that! Thanks to new changes like switching the default landing page for newly registered users from Discussions to the wiki main page, changing “View Source” to “Sign in to edit” for logged out users on wikis with anon editing disabled, and moving the registration button to the top right corner of the page, we saw our first year over year increase in new and active editors in May for the first time in four years.
  • Our next change, based on a successful experiment, is to remove distractions from the 2017 editor experience. As of today, we have removed the global nav from inside the 2017 editor. In the near future, we’ll also release a change that removes the local nav.
  • There are more experiments to come and we’ll keep you updated!

In the meantime, we’re happy to answer any questions you may have about the UGC team, the experiments we’ve run, and the 2017 editor change!

Fandom Staff
Hey I'm Brandon, VP of Community at Fandom.
I'm a huge fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel.
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