I recently read that Wikipedia is planning to pay people to make illustrations for some articles. To justify paying for graphics but not article text, the interviewee claimed that “volunteers apparently don’t find it rewarding” to make illustrations.

But I ask: is this because of some inherent property of illustrating (as she seems to be implying), or is it because no good tools currently exist for collaborative, online image editing? If it were as easy to collaboratively make illustrations as it is to write wiki text, my guess is that lots of people would do it for free. It sure sounds fun to me!

Two of my colleagues at MIT are working on separate research projects which I think could greatly contribute to making such a tool practical. But I can’t disclose those projects here without their permission.


  1. Illustrations on the Web said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

    […] been ranting again about how hard it is to deal with images in web applications. I’ve touched on this topic before. It came up again because I wrote a blog post with five or six illustrations inline. It was […]

  2. kalman said,

    March 28, 2016 @ 3:10 pm

    9 years later have any of these projects launched publicly?

  3. admin said,

    March 28, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

    Good question. My best guess about the research projects I was referring to in the original post are:

    • Sara Su’s work on visual undo histories for vector graphics:
    This work suggests a way to show the history of a wiki-edited illustration in a visual format (vs. textual), at a fine level of detail (individual vector shapes).

    • Work from David Karger’s “haystack” group on richer web-based interfaces for querying and editing semi-structured data. One example that comes to mind is David Huynh’s “Exhibit” system:
    Many of us in that research group were trying to push the boundaries of interactivity on the web. Google Maps and Gmail had come out by then and it was clear that rich, visual editing was possible using web technologies. I’ve seen a lot of innovation since then (including major efforts such as web-based office suites from Google, Apple, and Microsoft). However, I continue to be surprised at how slowly the web community overall has moved to embrace richer interaction techniques that have been common in native apps for decades.

    I’m not personally aware of any “wikigraphica” projects underway, but I continue to think it’s a great idea, and I’d love to know if any projects do exist!

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