Now and then, we like to give the community a chance to get to know people at Wikia who don't post on the staff blog regularly. Today we'll be talking with Earl Carlson, one of Wikia's Interaction Designers, about the VisualEditor, which is currently in development.


The VisualEditor in action

What were the goals that you wanted to achieve with this new design?

We wanted to make it easier than ever for new editors to contribute to their favorite Wikia communities. In addition, the team worked super hard to make sure that the VisualEditor (VE) fixed a few of the major pain points with the current tools.

How did the team get to know a bit more about the target user?

Our target user is one that we have relatively little information on: individuals who have never edited before. Because that group of users is very difficult to target with surveys or any other standard method of research, we decided to just start talking to people. Our team brought in individuals that fit the targeted user, and spoke with them for an hour each. During that time we found out what their hobbies and interests were, how familiar they are with Wikia and it's various communities, then watch as they made edits to an article of their choosing. This informal process allowed us to gain a lot of insights from those users that we normally don't have a chance to interact with. I look forward to using some of our insights to make contributing easier.


An Earl in his natural environment

How did that help inform the product?

A few of the features we've been rolling out were directly influenced by the feedback during our research. A quick example is our recent rollout of a more focussed editing experience for VE. When we asked the research participants to perform some basic tasks inside of the editor, often times we noticed the users being distracted by various features outside of the editing area. Based on that feedback we found a solution that helped the user focus on the content she is attempting to edit which is to fade out most other elements on the page until you are finished editing.

What were some of the other challenges that you faced?

We've got a lot of varying types of content across the many wikias on our platform, and this in particular is a big challenge for the team. On the engineering side, our guys have to focus on making most of the various templates, tables, media and other miscellaneous items display correctly on the screen as it does on the articles. As far as design goes, each wikia has a different personality and a different way that they format content. We've had to make serious efforts to figure out what tools will be the most useful for the largest portions of our target user base.

VE Menu

Accessing source mode

Are there any specific features of the VisualEditor that you want to highlight?

All of them! I kid, I kid. For the guys and gals that are reading this post, I'd say the biggest thing I'd like to highlight is the source mode that we've included in VE. This mode works similarly to the source mode in the traditional editor so users can easily switch back and forth between the "What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)" mode and source mode. It can be found via the menu next to "Publish" and "Cancel".

What are the future plans for the team? Do you guys plan on adding more tools to the VisualEditor?

Once we get VE to a place where it reliably helps the new contributors succeed, we are going to start focusing on lighter-weight contributions and really helping new users become active members of the various communities they are interested in. While we are working on those tools, we will continue pushing out improvements to VE (such as more flexible user preferences). This monitoring period will help us figure out what tools we can make better, and what tools we can add to continue helping people. We look at VE as being an evolutionary process, and look forward to working with our communities to make it awesome!

(If you have feedback on the VisualEditor, please send us a note via Special:Contact!)

Where do you look for inspiration when you're creating designs for Wikia?

There are a lot of people making amazing products right now. A few of my favorite products are Medium, Squarespace, Feedly and Circa. That being said, a lot of my inspiration comes from just talking with users and finding out what their needs are. I can make pretty designs all day, but ultimately if they are not useful then I've failed as a designer.


An Earl, mid-conference

What do you like about working for Wikia and what are your favorite Wikia communities?

The culture is amazing here. I've made some really great friends, mostly because we all have "weird" passions. I mean that in the best possible way, in that everyone has a true chance to flourish in their respective fashions both inside and outside of Wikia. I first got into Wikia via the Binding of Isaac Wiki and generally I hang out on any gaming wikias that I'm currently playing. At the moment I just finished up GTA V, and I'm considering what game to jump into now.

What creative work do you do outside of Wikia, and where can users see more of your work?

I'm a big fan of side projects and I'm constantly tinkering with different creative ventures. A couple things that you can check out are:

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