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Village Pump (policy): Talk Pages

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Even though we have lots of rules and guidelines, reminding people that the purpose of the talk pages is not to have technical discussions about the article's subject it nevertheless happens all the time, and it isn't surprising:

It seems like the perfect place to ask for help, or to discuss the intricacies of a specific command if a discussion page is right there, next door, to the subject you want to talk about. What better place to have the relevant discussions than there!? Anybody who wants to know about that particular command/subject will find the technical descriptions on one page, and the related discussions on the next one. Makes perfect sense...

Unfortunately, the technology of a Wiki is not really suited for that kind of discussions. Originally those pages were created to talk about what might be appropriate for the article, or to point out errors or inaccuracies. These would be brief exchanges that are solved sooner or later, and then discarded.
The posting tools and technologies are rather basic and not very user-friendly (after all, it's just another Wiki page). There are no threading tools, everything is squeezed together on one page, which may even contain multiple subjects, and finding out who posted what and when, and in reply to whom, is sometimes quite hard. Discussion pages aren't included in the search, so unless somebody is looking for the article page itself, they will never find the content of the discussion via the search function.

So... We got a bit of a dilemma here...

It is obvious that people love the talk pages, and find them the perfect place to discuss the articles. On the other hand, they're not very easy to use, formatting is a pain for non-wiki users, they are not searched, and are frequently purged to make room for new discussions.

Should we just forget about those rules and let the users decide in what way and how much to use them (despite its drawbacks)? Can anybody think of a solution that takes into consideration the shortcomings of the talk pages as well as the needs and preferences of the users?

My ideal solution would be to have a reciprocal link on each article page that goes directly to a connected discussion page on the BI Forum - something like one thread per command etc. But, of course, that would require a serious expansion of the forum, and at the very least the installation of some extensions for the Wiki. Perhaps even some custom coding. So probably not very likely to happen...;)

Just to start off the discussion, here are some opinions posted regarding the talk pages (there were some other ones I remembered making some good points, but I can't find the pages anymore on which they were posted, and since the talk pages can't be searched, I'm out of luck...) --Kronzky 06:56, 19 August 2006 (CEST)

(previously posted opinions regarding the talk pages)

  • "its the best place to do it. everyone can participate, everyone can see it. even the developers think its important."
  • "BIS Forum isnt the place for it - only here decent people still like to talk as the wiki scares the public crowd off. This is probably still a topic for the release version of ArmA. The topic will hopefully (at least partially) become obsolete with the ArmA release or a future patch. One can make exceptions for the sake of usefulness, right? "
  • "This is better suited elsewhere but we all know this will not continue on the BI forums and if it did, would be invaded by the general public. [...] Some of this is extremely relevant and important."

I see it like this. BI said that the wiki should become the primary source for information about the technical part of ArmA. Yet for various reasons the information in here is still rather sparse and incomplete. That is why people ask.
On the other hand it is the only place where some technical details are revealed at all. So people can only find the information here.
Now a discussion can happen as either the information is not clear / comprehensive or (not matter if its true or not) some technical aspects seem to "need" improvement.
So this is primarly pre-release talk about ArmA. Once a playable version is out, people will test for themselves (which is not solely a good thing ).
For this reason i suggest to move those discussions each in a new wiki page to be searchable. No big formating or clean up required. It's temporary chat.
About the overall question of participation: Not many peope already have ArmA in their hands, so people can't say much about it. ;)
I think it's understandable that people aren't merging their ofp knowledge in here at this point. It may either become obsolete soon anyway or they prefere to use their time on their own projects still based on OFP. --WGL.Q 07:49, 19 August 2006 (CEST)

In response to: WGL.Q 07:49, 19 August 2006 (CEST):
I don't think those kind of discussions will stop when ARMA is released, since I doubt that everything will be clear and perfect then.
There were allways discussions about this kind of things, but they took place in the BIS forum or at OFPEC. But honestly, I find this Wiki a much better place for it, since it's easier to maintain and enhance the knowledge base. Much easier and better than a forum on any other site could do. If the discussions are seperated from the Wiki, I bet there'll be less contributions than if they take place here.
If I were with the OFPEC staff, I would think hard about how the OFPEC site and forum could be completely build around this Wiki in the best way possible. Everything else would weaken both this Wiki and OFPEC in my opinion and not help the community much. --rom 13:34, 19 August 2006 (CEST)

In response to: rom 13:34, 19 August 2006 (CEST):
Very true and absolutely agreed!
A simple forum with the ability to search doesn't do complex and most times not even simpe things justice. Content needs to be filtered, reworked and presented well. If you got that, a forum as additional knowledge base is okay, but not the other way round. Therefore i always did heavy administration (edit, delete, move, rewrite) of the forums i managed.
It is no difference here. The sysobs mainly and a few others rework the content which is not up to a useable level. The wiki-engine is just a better base in most aspects than a forum.
It is good to see various high ranking OFPEC staff in here, yet i fully agree that the OFPEC site should be the doorstep and guidance to the next level - (hopefully) the BIKI. --WGL.Q 17:28, 19 August 2006 (CEST)

In response to: Kronzky 06:56, 19 August 2006 (CEST):
I don't really see a problem with the talk pages. On one hand you (Kronzky) state that the talk pages should not be used for technical discussions, but what exactly is the difference between talking about the article that has a technical subject and a technical discussion? Discussing errors or inaccuracies allready is a technical discussion and when things are as vague and complicated as with OFP scripting, then no suprise that those discussions get lengthy.
In the end it only reflects the state of certainty of some topics and in my opinion it's still within the purpose of a talk page that you (Kronzky) suggest.
From what I see, the talk pages are perfect for hatching content for the article pages they accompaign: If there are questions posted to the talk page and/or a discussion starts, then it's not that there's solid info posted that could be put into the article instead, but first it's all vague and only if a discussion has reached a certain point or a question is answered, then there might be some solid info that could (and definately should) be moved into the article. Therefor I also don't see a problem that those pages don't come up when someone is using the search of the Wiki. The content of the talk page isn't solid info yet, so it shouldn't come up if someone is searching for it. Once it's solid, it should be moved to the article page itself and becomes searchable. After it's moved, this part of the talk page becomes obsolete and can be discarded. If you want to find such a talk page again, then you can add it to your watch list, or remember the topic of the article page, as most time the discussion does have something to do with it.
I also don't see a problem with the posting tools not being user-friendly. Afer all this is a Wiki where everyone should be able to add things and that's what the posting tools are made for. Sure they aren't as easy as the ones of current forums, but if someone posting a comment or a question needs to look up how to do it properly, he also learns how to use the tools to edit an arcticle. And the more people learn how to do it, the more people will pobably not just ask questions and comment, but also contribute to the articles. (I for example had no clue about how to do things in a Wiki before posting a few comments on talk pages.)
If talk pages become hard to read, maybe we should make an effort on establishing a proper usage of the posting tools to make those discussions more readable. The tools of a Wiki are powerfull, it's just a matter of how we use them. Again, it's not as easy as with a forum, but I'm sure it can be done with the tools we have.
The main benefit from the talk pages is that it's way easier to move content into the article page, than it would be if all those discussions would be posted in the BIS forum. In my eyes the topics of the talk pages are right within their purpose, they force people to learn how to use a Wiki and therfor enhance the chance of people contributing to the articles. Those benefits outweight the disadvantages quite a bit, I think.
The main problem I see with this Wiki is not the talk pages. It's the fact that a Wiki is much easier to use when you're looking for something. It's relatively easy to go and search for a command or a topic you're interested in. But at least I find it really hard to use if you want to contribute to it without making it a lifelong effort.
Right now the structure allready has a greath depth, which doesn't matter too much if you are searching for something as you gradually advance downwards in the structure, but it's horrible to get an overview. And an overview is what I need if I want to contribute to something. If someone knows something about scripting, then chances are good that he doesn't only know details about one command but quite a few more and he could probably contribute to one or the other. Now if someone has a really good knowledge of scripting, he doesn't really need to search the Wiki to get information as he allready knows what he needs. Therefor those people with the most knowledge don't use the Wiki at all for searching. So how do those people stumble onto articles where they can contribute?
If one has a huge ammount of time, he could just go through the whole Wiki and look where he can contribute, or just pick some topics that come to his mind. But if you don't have that much time and want to spend your effort where it is most needed, you are pretty much lost.
The Popular pages don't help much as it's just an overall view record and it's not astonishing that the main page is the most viewed one, but it doesn't really help to see where one could contribute.
Right now the only way I find practical is to daily check the Recent changes page and go through all the contributions of the day to see if there's something I can add to. That's also how I found this discussion. I also add all the pages (especially talk pages) I find interesting to my watchlist so that I can track where discussions are going on that I could contribute to.
But all this isn't more than a crutch and takes away from the time I could spend on contributing to discussions or even writing articles. It really shouldn't be that hard and time consuming to contribute, especially for people who know many things in many areas and therefor don't use the Wiki as a source of knowledge.
If there would be a view ranking of the talk pages and/or if people would use the AnswerMe template more (does that one work on talk pages?), it would be much easier to see where one could contribute where it's needed without that much effort. --rom 13:15, 19 August 2006 (CEST)