With the annual fundraiser wrapping up, two sections of Wikimedia engineering are going to start moving more quickly: Mobile and Offline. The offline ecosystem has a lot of moving parts and it’s easy to get lost. The Wikimedia Foundation is currently focusing on three main areas of intervention: selection tools, file formats and offline apps.

Right now, “Offline” refers to supporting read access to Wikimedia content without an internet connection; increasing reach was identified during the Wikimedia strategic planning process as one of the movement priorities, and the first recommendation of the Offline task force was to “Simplify reuse of content from WMF projects”.

The first step in making Wikimedia content available offline is to select it. The Wikipedia Version 1.0 Editorial Team has been steadily releasing new versions of their beta Wikipedia collections, but technical limitations have hampered how quickly those can be finished. We’re going to evaluate the team’s tool set to see how to support them.

For example, we’re looking at extending the Wikipedia Release Version Tools to add features like sub-selection and comments (see an example of how the tool works for the Physics project).

Once the content has been selected, it needs to be packaged into a standard file format. The openZim format is an actively developed format for offline Wikipedia content, and we want to facilitate its integration into our general architecture.

Our first step is going to be the enhancement of the Collections extension to support openZim. This will be done by our partners from PediaPress, who have already started to work on it. They will need help from other community members to help test the new openZim files created by the extension.

After selection and packaging, the last remaining piece is the application that allows readers to access the content. Over the last many years, there have been lots of Wikipedia offline apps: BzReader, MzReader, WikiTaxi, WikiFilter, Kiwix, Okawix, etc. Some have come and gone, while others continue to thrive and are actively releasing new updates.

One thing we’ve learned looking at this ecosystem is that there is a strong need for a featured, easy-to-use and well supported offline app.

During the strategic planning process, one app emerged as a good candidate for the WMF to actively support: Kiwix. Kiwix has been around since 2007 and, through the great work of its lead developer Kelson, has steadily improved its feature set, platform support and overall stability.

In order to support this work and to help make the application even easier to use, we’ll be conducting a usability study on Kiwix, focused on search and browse, during the first quarter of 2011. Later this year, we’ll be focusing on an easier update cycle using openZim as the underlying storage format.

We hope 2011 will be full of exciting news about offline Wikimedia content. If you’d like to get involved, please participate in the strategic product discussion about Offline, or contact me if you’d like to help with development.

Tomasz Finc
Engineering Program Manager – Offline, Mobile, & Fundraising