Wikimedia consists of many projects, Wikipedia most notable among them. However, the name “Wikimedia” suggests a world beyond text. Indeed, Wikimedia Commons, our repository of freely-licensed media files, already contains more than 16 million images, sound files, and videos.

Well, mostly images. Right now, there are fewer than 30,000 video files, and fewer than 170,000 audio files. And while Wikipedia articles are often richly illustrated, they still share the old-school feel of a print-based experience. Projects like Snow Fall by the New York Times show what an immersive reader experience can look like, with video elements prominently featured and blended into the core of the content. In contrast, Wikipedia articles rarely have videos, and if they do, those videos are usually very short and included at the bottom of the article.

Of course, well-written text forms the foundation of most high quality educational content.  Text is versatile, adaptable, accessible, efficient, and relatively easy to collaborate on.  It will form the core of the Wikimedia experience for a long time to come. Still, we can greatly improve the educational value of our sites by empowering everyone to share media, collaborate on improving that media, and using that media well throughout our sites.

In the last three years, Wikimedia has seen some very significant multimedia developments:

  • The Wikimedia movement has launched successful photo contests and competitions, notably the “Wiki Loves Monuments” competition, which was recognized as the world’s largest photo competition by the Guinness Book of Records. In the 2012 competition, more than 350,000 photos were taken by volunteers. It was organized by Wikimedia chapters and volunteers in 33 countries (see jury report).
  • Wikimedia chapters and volunteers have also formed partnerships into the cultural sector (e.g. museums, galleries, archives), resulting in hundreds of thousands of photographs, reproductions of paintings, and other media being made available on Wikimedia Commons.
  • Wikimedia Foundation has developed a number of enhancements and features focused on multimedia:
    • the Upload Wizard, an easy-to-use tool for uploading media files that’s been used to upload more than 2.2 million files to Wikimedia Commons;
    • upload features for the mobile web that make it easy to enrich any article requiring a photograph using a smartphone;
    • a new HTML5 video player with support for the open WebM video format and encoding of videos in multiple resolutions;
    • dedicated upload apps for iOS and Android are in development;
    • a feature to import photographs from Flickr (started as a Google Summer of Code project)
    • an experimental feature to upload files up to 500MB in size.

In combination, these efforts have already borne fruit. The number of contributors to Wikimedia Commons has increased significantly in the last 3 years.  In January 2010, only 13219 users had contributed at least one upload.  That number increased to 20161 users by January 2013.

At the same time, we haven’t invested enough. With the exception of the work of our mobile team, much of the above work has been done by one or two developers at a time, often in between other priorities or by engineers working as volunteers. There has never been a well-resourced team fully dedicated to multimedia engineering work at the Wikimedia Foundation. This is about to change.

The Wikimedia Foundation is hiring at least three engineers and additional product/design support to fully focus on improving the user experience for contributing, curating and reviewing multimedia. Right now, you can apply for the following positions:

Here are some of the key challenges for the new team:

  • further improvements to the upload experience. Contributing an image or video to an article while you’re editing should not require leaving the “edit mode” — it should be integrated with the editing process.
  • solidifying experimental features such as large file uploads;
  • improving transcoding features for video files to reduce the learning curve for video uploaders;
  • improving media search and discovery;
  • improving display of images, videos and sound files in Wikipedia articles, including a standard lightbox viewer for media embedded in an article and related media from Wikimedia Commons (building on some of the excellent submissions in our October 2011 Coding Challenge).

As we continue to provide new means for uploading media, we need to ensure that the Wikimedia community is empowered to curate and categorize the images. Curation includes removal of content that is out of scope or incorrectly licensed. To more effectively patrol content, the development of curation tools similar to the Page Curation feature developed for Wikipedia may become necessary.

Beyond Wikimedia’s category system, we will likely want to explore implementation of lightweight tagging systems, possibly in partnership with the Wikidata team.

As if this weren’t enough, the long term frontiers for multimedia include web-based editing of images, video and sounds, improvement for subtitle editing, browser-based audio recording features, and more.

In short, breaking through walls of text and creating a richer media experience for all our projects will keep the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia movement busy for many years to come. Please help us expand our library of freely-licensed educational media, and help us ensure it gets used effectively on the world’s fifth-most popular website.  Apply today.

Rob Lanphier, Director of Platform Engineering
Erik Möller, Deputy Director; Vice President of Engineering and Product Development