Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

Archive for March, 2011

Project ideas, students, and mentors wanted for Google Summer of Code

For the sixth year in a row, Wikimedia is participating in the Google Summer of Code program. Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is a program where Google pays summer students USD 5000 each to hack open source projects during the summer (read more).

Over time, MediaWiki has benefited from GSoC students and their projects. For example, Samuel Lampa’s 2010 RDF import/export extension in Semantic MediaWiki is in use. And Jeroen De Dauw, GSoC student in 2009 and 2010, is now a persistently contributing member of the MediaWiki community, as is Brian Wolff, 2010 GSoC student.

In the past, the administrative and management challenges of GSoC have been an extra task that take engineers’ time, and too often fell through the cracks. So this year, Rob Lanphier asked me to act as organizational administrator for MediaWiki’s involvement, via the Wikimedia Foundation.

I’m recruiting students to apply, getting project ideas, and managing the application process overall. Once we choose the students and they start ramping up and working, I will also help mentors manage their students and keep communication going, to make sure that every GSoC student’s project gets delivered and gets used!

We hope 2011′s students will develop useful chunks of MediaWiki (core, extensions, gadgets, scripts, or utilities), help us get their code shipped, and stay in the MediaWiki community afterwards.

This year’s ideas include writing and implementing cite templates in a PHP extension, improving the ImageTagging extension, XML dump work, pre-commit checks in our code repositories, and more. And of course we want to hear your own ideas, too! Interested?

University, community college, and graduate students around the world are eligible to apply to Google Summer of Code. You don’t need to be a computer science or IT major, and you can work from home.

We are looking for students who already know PHP. It’s also great if you have some experience with LAMP, MAMP, LAPP, or one of those kinds of stacks, and with the Subversion version control system. If you haven’t contributed to MediaWiki before, How to become a MediaWiki hacker is a good place to start.

If you’d like to participate, check out the timeline. Make sure you are available full-time from 23 May till 22 August this summer, and have a little free time from 25 April till 23 May for ramp-up.

If you’re interested, please sign up on our wiki page and start talking with us on IRC in #mediawiki on Freenode about a possible project! Then you can submit your proposal via the official GSoC website. The deadline for you to submit a project proposal is April 8th, but we encourage you to start early and talk with us about your idea first.

And, to repeat what Brion once said:

If you’re an experienced MediaWiki developer and would like to help out with selecting and mentoring student projects, please give us a shout! We’ll take you even if you live in the southern hemisphere. ;) We need folks who’ll be available online fairly regularly over the summer and are knowledgeable about MediaWiki — not necessarily knowing every piece of it, but knowing where to look so you can help the students help themselves.

We’re looking forward to hacking with you!

Sumana Harihareswara
MediaWiki Coordinator, GSoC 2011

Campus Ambassador program tackles gender gap

A key piece of Wikimedia’s strategic plan is to close the gender gap by encouraging more women to participate in projects. One area where we already see progress is the Wikipedia Ambassadors program, developed in conjunction with the Public Policy Initiative. During the 2010-11 academic year, university students across the United States are writing Wikipedia articles as part of their coursework, and they learn the Wikipedia basics from trained Campus Ambassadors who come into the classroom to teach students how to start contributing.

These Campus Ambassadors are the first face of the Wikimedia movement that most students have seen, and 27 of the 59 Campus Ambassadors this term (that’s 46%) are women. At Indiana University Bloomington, for example, six Campus Ambassadors assist three classes of students — and five of them are women.

“I think I am putting a face on Wikipedia instead of it just being a web site that people use,” says Chanitra Bishop, a librarian at IU and one of the five female Campus Ambassadors there. “Hopefully, if students and professors have thought about becoming involved, they will see that they can and that they have unique knowledge to contribute.” Likewise, Indiana Library and Information Science master’s student Beth Brockman was drawn to becoming a Campus Ambassador because of her desire to make Wikipedia a better resource for anyone to use, but she thinks seeing women teaching about Wikipedia in university classrooms can be an inspiration to the female students in the class.

Chanitra’s and Beth’s views are echoed across their cohort. They don’t focus on being role models for female students. Instead, they try to ease all students into the joys of editing Wikipedia — and closing the gender gap is a nice side effect of their work.

“I would hope that I am providing a model for any new editor, not just women, and I would hope that I am contributing to making Wikipedia a professional and respectful environment,” says Adrianne Wadewitz, a longtime Wikipedian. “Being a Campus Ambassador allows me to join together two things about which I’m passionate: Wikipedia and teaching. It allows me to show professors how useful Wikipedia can be as a teaching tool and it allows me to learn, in turn, from students and other teachers about a variety of subject matters and techniques for communicating.”

Campus Ambassadors in the midwest region

Campus Ambassadors were trained in five regions across the United States in January, including a training in Indianapolis, pictured here.

Ellie Dahlgren is a staff member at the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Indiana, and she agrees with Adrianne that her primary focus as a Campus Ambassador is on what the students get out of the Wikipedia assignment.

“I like challenging instructors to think about teaching and learning in different ways,” Ellie says. “I like being part of a team that creates unique and practical (i.e., real-world) experiences for students.”

And it’s not just Campus Ambassadors closing the gender gap. More than half of the 600 students contributing to Wikipedia through the Public Policy Initiative this term are women. Two classes feature an all-women roster: women’s college Simmons’ “Public Relations Seminar” and Georgetown University’s “Women and Human Rights.”

Brenda Burk is a librarian at nearby Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and she travels to Bloomington to assist in the classrooms there. Becoming a Campus Ambassador has given Brenda a new way to connect with students, she says. Brenda says the principles librarians support — understanding resources, determining source reliability, and verifiability — complement Wikipedia well. And she’s particularly excited to see the students in her class continue contributing to such an important resource.

“Seeing me use Wikipedia and edit encourages them to jump in,” Brenda says of her students. “In the class, the women are a bit more cautious starting to edit and create articles. Once they start and become comfortable in this environment they get excited about it. Hopefully the enthusiasm continues.”

Learn more about the Public Policy Initiative, the Wikipedia Ambassador program, and the classes involved so far at WikiProject United States Public Policy.

LiAnna Davis
Communications Associate, Public Policy Initiative

Article Feedback Pilot: Next Version

On March 14, we launched v2.0 of the Article Feedback Tool.  Version 2.0 is represents a continuation of the work we started last September.  To quickly recap, the tool was originally launched as a part of the Public Policy Initiative.  In November, the feature was added to about 50-60 articles on the English Wikipedia, in addition to the Public Policy articles.  The purpose of adding the tool to these additional pages was to provide us with additional data to help understand the quality of the ratings themselves, namely do these ratings represent a reasonable measurement of article quality?

Since then, we’ve been evaluating the tool using both qualitative and quantitative research.  We conducted user research on the Article Feedback tool both to see how users actually used the tool and to better understand the motivations behind rating an article.   Readers liked the interactivity of the feature, ease of use, and the ability to easily provide feedback on an article.  On the other hand, some of the labels (e.g., “neutral”) were difficult to understand.   A detailed summary of the user research has been posted here.

We also did some quantitative research on the ratings data.  Though the ratings do appear to show some correlation with changes in the content of the article, there is ample room for improvement (see discussion of GFAJ-1).  It also appears as though articles of different lengths show different ratings distributions.  For example, there appears to be a correlation between Well-Sourced and Completeness and length for articles under 50kb, but for articles over 50kb in length, the correlation becomes far weaker (see Factors Affecting Ratings).

Based in part on the results from the first version, v2.0 of this feature was designed with two main goals in mind.

  • First, we wanted to see if we could improve the correlation between ratings and change in article quality by segmenting ratings based on the rater’s knowledge of a topic.  We introduced a question which asks the user whether she is “highly knowledgeable” about the topic.  The answers to this question will enable us to compare ratings from users that self-identify as highly knowledgeable versus ones that don’t.
  • Second, we wanted to see if rating an article could lead to further participation — does rating an article provide an easy way to contribute, leading to additional participation like editing?  We wanted to test this hypothesis in light of the recent participation data.  We don’t know whether this will actually be the case, but we wanted to get some data.  In v2.0, there is a mechanism that shows a user a message (e.g., “Did you know you can edit this article?”) after they submit a rating.  We will measure how well these messages perform.  (These messages are dismissible by clicking a “Maybe later” link).

We also made some UI changes based on the feedback from the user study.  For example, “Neutral” was changed to “Objective” (as were some other labels) and the submit button has been made more visually obvious.  There are a number of other improvements which may be found on the design page.

Finally, in an effort to get a wider variety of articles to research, we increased the number of articles with the tool.  We knew from our early analysis that articles in different length bands received different rating distributions, so we created length buckets (e.g., 25-50kb) and selected a random set of articles within each length bucket.  User: Kaldari wrote a bot which takes the list of articles and places the tool on the articles in the list [10].  As of March 24, there are approximately 3000 articles that the tool is currently active on.  We may expand this list if we can do so without impacting performance of the site.

We’ll be publishing analysis on v2.0 in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, please let us know what you think on the workgroup page.  Or better yet, join the workgroup to help develop this feature!

Welcoming more ubuntu spirit to the Wikimedia movement

We’re excited to welcome our newest Wikimedia Chapter: Wikimedia South Africa (WMZA). This news is particularly exciting as WMZA is the first Wikimedia chapter on the African continent.

As the 31st global chapter, WMZA has been in the making since August 2010, initiated by a small meeting in Johannesburg of highly motivated international and local volunteers. The team was assisted by Dr Tobias Schonwetter, a legal academic who works at the University of Cape Town and is very involved in access to knowledge issues in Africa.  Critical input from Wikipedians across the globe also helped the team put together the bylaws for the local Chapter in what was a highly collaborative effort. As an officially recognized Wikipedia chapter, the organizing teams’ next step will be to become a legally recognized nonprofit in South Africa.

With 11 languages spoken in South Africa and 1500 spoken across the continent, the work of the chapters and volunteers will focus on promoting awareness of Wikimedia projects and extend free-knowledge contributions from the region in African languages as well as in English, Portuguese and French.

Although WMZA will be the first organized chapter representing the Wikimedia movement, a lot of good work in support of the mission has already been completed by highly dedicated volunteers living in other parts of Africa.  Currently, Wikimedians in Kenya are actively working alongside the Ministry of Education to combat the digital divide in Kenya by installing offline versions of Wikipedia (a subset of articles specifically targeted for schools) in schools without Internet access.  In addition to installation, they are providing training to teachers on how best to use the tool.  Going forward, the documentation and content created by this group of volunteers will be tremendously useful for others.

We look forward to supporting the work of all of our volunteers in Africa and wish them the best as they continue the ubuntu spirit of community and sharing across the continent.

Moka Pantages, Global Development

Presenting our 2009-10 annual report

Today we released the 2009-10 Wikimedia Foundation annual report, the Foundation’s third annual report since 2008. This year’s report is built on our incredible vision statement, well known to just about any Wikimedian in our community: Imagine a world in which every person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Well, we are, and this year’s report follows that vision and recounts some of the Wikimedia community’s incredible successes since mid 2009.

This year we published the report in three formats: paper/print (24 pages in all), PDF for easier on-screen reading, and in wiki format.  The wiki version is hosted on Meta-wiki, the open wiki staging ground where thousands of Wikimedians collaborate on new projects to support the Wikimedia movement. The wiki format will also allow easy translation and reuse of the report by any person wishing to tell the story of the Wikimedia community.

The images in the report are particularly beautiful, and show just a tiny fraction of the extraordinary photographs that people and institutions from around the world have given away freely on Wikimedia Commons.  The report is, of course, CC BY SA, and copying and reuse of the materials is encouraged.

Thanks to our report designers at EXBROOK, as well as our advisor David Weir for their hard work.  And thanks to the community members from all over the world who work hard to build and maintain the projects, establish new partnerships, spread the ideas and values of the Wikimedia movement, and bring the Wikimedia vision to reality.  We hope this report helps tell part of that incredible story and helps bring new supporters into the fold.

Jay Walsh, Communications

UploadWizard nearing 1.0, preview available for testing

I’m happy to announce that we’re getting close to a 1.0 release for UploadWizard, and we’re planning to deploy it to Wikimedia Commons by the end of this month.

UploadWizard is a step-by-step, multi-file uploader extension for MediaWiki that was developed as part of the Multimedia Usability Project. We launched a beta version in November 2010, and have been working on getting it to release quality ever since.

Recently, Ryan Kaldari joined the team, and he and I have been squashing bugs, testing functionality and readying the software for deployment. We’ve focused on achieving a pleasant interface, that works on all browsers, that orients users to Commons’ mission and helps them make good contributions.

You’re invited to try the new version (you’ll need an account on the prototype) and report issues you encounter with it.

By the way, some people find the UploadWizard’s design a bit surprising — you can upload files before you set a license or describe them, which sounds a bit dangerous (but not the way we’ve done it). We explain all that and more in the FAQ.

If you find a bug, you might want to check the list of open issues first. The following bugs are expected to be completed before launch: 24692, 24696, 24703, 24758, 26053, 26063, 26076, 26179, 26182, 26591, 26592, and 28046. If your problem hasn’t been reported yet, please enter the issue directly in our tracker, or leave a note on the feedback page.

In the meantime, we will be periodically updating Upload Wizard on the prototype server, fixing any (more) bugs you find as fast as we can.

And what else is left to do? Well, after this is deployed, we’re going to be watching things very closely to see how this affects Commons. Our goal is to increase the number of contributions, and the pool of contributors — without any downgrade in quality or burdening the community with spam. We have some plans about how to determine that, but we could always use more help there. If you have ideas about it, please let us know!

Thanks in advance!

Neil Kandalgaonkar
Software Engineer, Multimedia Projects
Wikimedia Foundation

Update on Offline Wikipedia Projects

The last week was a big week for expanding offline Wikipedia work.

Right now, offline refers to supporting read access to Wikimedia content without an Internet connection.  This increases the reach of the Wikipedia movement by providing more opportunities for people all over the world to access the materials.  Some of the recent initiatives surrounding this project were documented in Wikimedia’s tech blog about a month ago (for more detail regarding the purpose for offline work, see the offline strategy page).

In support of our offline readership work, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of a new feature on Wikipedia developed with our partners from PediaPress.  Last week we enabled ZIM export (the main file format in which offline materials are stored) for the existing PediaPress collections extension on English Wikipedia and numerous other wikis.  This means that individuals can now use the existing PediaPress Create a book tool and download it in a format which can be read offline (via an offline reader, such as Kiwix).  This is important because it opens new avenues for the creation of offline materials, for example, an openZim library hosting different offline “book” options.

Also, the English offline collection Wikipedia 0.8 was made officially available, after much hard work by the Wikipedia 1.0 Editorial Team.  This collection is an iteration in the process of developing a vetted collection of offline articles selected based on their quality and topical importance.  The main constraint with an offline product is the data size restrictions: the entirety of Wikipedia must somehow be condensed so that it fits on a CD, DVD, or USB stick.  Wikipedia 1.0 aims at creating the highest quality and most valuable subset of Wikipedia to meet those size requirements, and v0.8 is a precursor.  Wikipedia 0.8 is a general collection of just under 50K articles, It is available for Mac, PC, or Linux with a Linux or Okawix reader; some mobile phone versions will be available later this month as well.

More updates are sure to come on this offline front: Wikimedians around the world are actively assisting in the development of offline collections as well as distribution.  We are excited to support and document the momentum going forward.

Jessie Wild, Global Development

UI Design Experiments

In 2009 the Wikipedia Usability Initiative performed research on how to improve the usability of MediaWiki by watching users as they performed various tasks on Wikipedia. Each of the problems that were identified were then matched with potential solutions which were then filtered by technical complexity and user impact. During the development process, yet more features were filtered out because of resource limitations, many of which had even been designed, but never finished.

In a joint effort between members of the Wikimedia Foundation’s community and engineering departments, many of these ideas, as well as some new ones based on ongoing research are being developed and deployed as a series of brief experiments.

Comparison of section edit link designsThe first of these experiments is a redesign of how section edit links are displayed. The current design displays the section edit link on the opposite side of the heading text. During research, users often became confused about which section the link was related to, sometimes associating it with the section above rather than below. Other users did not find the links easily, or in some cases at all. The proposed design was to move the links to be displayed together with the heading text, and to add a small pencil icon to draw attention to the link. This feature was designed but never finished. At the same time as this research was being conducted, Wikia designed and deployed a very similar change to their sites, and reported a measurable increase in the use of section edit links on their wikis as a result of the change.

The experiment is scheduled to be conducted on English Wikipedia from March 9th, 2011 to March 16th 2011, during which time a small fraction of users will be randomly selected to participate in the experiment. During the experiment anonymous statistics will be collected using the ClickTracking extension. Data collected will be used to improve the user experience of Wikipedia and other sites running on MediaWiki. If you would like to abstain from participating in this and other experiments in the future, you can select the “Exclude me from feature experiments” option in your user preferences.

Trevor Parscal, Lead Features Engineer

Site fixes this week

We’re still in the middle of cleaning up some lingering issues from the 1.17 deployment, and despite our best efforts, you may see a little bit of quirkiness in the site:
  • One problem with the site since the deployment was a problem with our job queue, which meant that emails that were supposed to be sent from the site weren’t.  This backlog was removed last night, and a lot of pent-up email was sent.
  • There were some HTML cache invalidations that caused parts of the site to get overloaded for a few minutes.
  • Yesterday, we started the deployment of the category sorting improvements.  We deployed some modifications to the database today.  This resulted in a few hiccups on the site that we’ve since mostly recovered from.
Category collation

One key set of improvements in the MediaWiki 1.17 release is the category sorting work spearheaded by Aryeh Gregor. This code will eventually improve the sorting of categories in different languages, allowing us to choose the most appropriate sort order for the language. For now, we’re at least switching over to a more sensible sorting algorithm (Unicode Collation Algorithm (UCA)), and have made other improvements to sorting.

This set of changes required a modification of the database that we didn’t believe was risky, but was irreversible. Given how complicated the initial 1.17 deployment was, we decided to hold back on deploying this work.

There are still some maintenance scripts left to run before this work is fully-deployed, but most parts of this are done.

Other fixes
We’re also aware of and working on other problems with the job queue. We’re investigating these problems and hope to have these fixed soon.

Wikipedia celebrates International Women’s Day

Mary Wollstonecraft, whose work “Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman” was featured for International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a holiday around the world that celebrates the accomplishments of women in all walks of life, as well as a collective reminder of past and continuing efforts to eliminate inequalities faced by women.

On the Main Pages of Wikipedias in every language, there is a longstanding tradition of presenting a list of holidays and anniversaries. For a few, Wikipedia projects curate special content that is relevant to that event. Perhaps the most famous example is the epic April Fool’s Day Main Page sections.

In consideration of the current discussion and community organizing around the Wikimedia movement’s own gender gap, we’d just like to take a moment and recognize the great encyclopedic content that was showcased on Wikipedia for International Women’s Day.

The first standout entry is Mary Wollstonecraft’s sequel to The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman, which is assessed as a Featured-quality article on English Wikipedia and is the selected Featured Article of the day for March 8th, appearing front-and-center on (until March 9th rolled around, in UTC time).

There are also nine solid entries in the “Did you know…” section of the English Main Page, ranging from abolitionist Anna Murray-Douglass to artist Claire Falkenstein.

Off of the front page of English Wikipedia, there is also an in-depth interview with community leaders from WikiProject Feminism in the latest edition of community newspaper The Signpost. That WikiProject is one of several now devoted to women-related topics, with WikiProject Women’s History as a second great example.

While the topic of gender is relevant to the evolution of the encyclopedia anyone can edit, this kind of activity is also something that goes on every day at Wikipedia regardless of the topic: people who care about a subject show up to participate and share free knowledge.

International Women’s Day is about focusing conversation on one problem that we face as a global society. Hopefully Wikipedia can be a place where we can support that conversation by providing neutral, verifiable information written by women and men in collaboration.

Steven Walling, Wikimedia Foundation Fellow