Wall of text

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In the terms of this project, a wall of text refers to a situation where a reader is presented with an unreasonably large amount of text. The reader effectively "hits a wall" when encountering so much text, and is often dissuaded from reading any of it. (Note that the traditional definition of wall of text is somewhat more limited.)

In cases of complex legislation or policy, proposals may need to be very long. When there are numerous long proposals, their collective mass can present a significant burden to the evaluators, who would have to read through not just one lengthy proposal, but many.

Likewise, in complex discussions, people frequently end up writing significant amounts of text to accurately express their opinion. The outside reader can again be discouraged by the sheer quantity of text and stop following the conversation altogether.

Part of this problem may arise from the nature of electronic, text-based communication. The amount of text a person could reasonably speak in five minutes may appear as a very large amount of typed text. Additionally, while reading electronic text such as e-mails, people often have a very short attention span, very different from when they are, for example, listening to a lecturer.

Proposed solutions

Some suggestions have been made for overcoming the barriers to participation presented by walls of text. You are encouraged to expand on this section.

Length limits

Proposals could be simply limited in length. This has the obvious drawback that sometimes extreme specificity and detail is required in complex legislation. A possible work-around for those situations would be to have levels of detail in proposals: where first a basic resolution is passed, then specific details are worked out in separate sub-proposals. However, length limits on conversations/comments may be very useful in forcing writers to express their views more concisely.

Distributed evaluation

When there are numerous proposals to be evaluated, the number of proposals presented to any particular evaluator could be artificially limited such that they do not have to read more than a set amount of text. If there were enough evaluators, then every proposal would still be evaluated by numerous people, and in a multi-stage process, the number of proposals could be gradually winnowed down to a small number which everyone could then evaluate. In order to preserve the overall democratic nature of the process, when evaluators are presented with a limited set, they still should have the option of seeing more proposals on demand.

Outline views

Break down the proposal into sections. Give sections their own page. The natural design of the wiki should encourage simplification and synthesis. If there was per-edit voting (that is, users could vote up or down each revision), users would have a natural incentive to contribute and refine, while being rewarded for such. Perfection (and understanding) of the proposal would accelerate dramatically. Candiwi should be a solution to this.

Proposal templates

Having well-tested pre-established templates can encourage critical thinking for new proposal writers while the pre-established pattern makes it easier for readers (at least for those who are familiar with the format) who won't have to parse "yet another proposal's" personal format.

Data visualization

Since most information exists in a tree or graph-like structure, there should be a way to get a better view of complex information (not unlike what google search is doing with its "wonder wheel" of search results). With per-page, per-revision voting, this could take the form of an almost literal tree--those branches which are ranked most highly grow vertically, while those which get the most participation and interest spread out horizontally.

In addition, it would be nice if MediaWiki put view history into the title area of each page (a generally under-utilized piece of screen real-estate)--perhaps a little graph of view history, so that newcomers can get some feel for the freshness, or liveliness, of what would otherwise be flat-and-equal text.

See also