There is plenty of evidence that wiki-markup is a substantial barrier that prevents many people from contributing to Wikipedia and our other projects. Formal user tests, direct feedback from new editors, and anecdotal evidence collected over the past several years have made the need for a visual editor clear ... It’s the biggest and most important change to our user experience we’ve ever undertaken.
—The Visual Editor Team, Wikimedia Foundation, November 2011
The visual editor allows for the easy addition of wikilinks, among other things
A second prototype of the "Visual" (what you see is what you get) editor being developed by the Wikimedia Foundation went live to MediaWiki.org this week (Wikimedia blog), seven months after the first prototype (see previous Signpost coverage). The project is being assisted by developers for the wiki farm site Wikia, many of whose wikis use an existing, less powerful WYSIWYG editor at present.
Work on the editor had been delayed by a late decision to switch the "behind the scenes" framework used to power it; as such, despite the passage of time, developers aimed only for "feature parity" with last December's prototype, though the newer version does add the ability to save articles after editing, the potential for mobile editing, and integration with browser spell-check features. It is further hoped that the newer framework should allow for all remaining features – including tables, images and reference sections – to be rapidly integrated from now. Nevertheless, publication of details of the new live test version has already provoked a long string of bug reports. It seems likely that the deployment of the visual editor to its first live wiki will be pushed back further, possibly until the late northern autumn.
Just like the first prototype, the most significant limitation with this second demonstration version undoubtedly surrounds its inability to understand potentially difficult wikitext constructs (manual override mode has been limited to administrators during the testing period for precisely this reason). Indeed, it has been this concern over backwards compatibility that has long been seen as the major challenge for developers of WYSIWYG editors. The difference this time, developers say, is that the introduction of the radically improved new parser will make all the difference when it comes to the provision of a truly comprehensive editor. Even so, its deployment will almost certainly be accompanied by the "phasing out" of particularly complex wikitext structures.
Not all fixes may have gone live to WMF sites at the time of writing; some may not be scheduled to go live for several weeks.
Volunteer-developed Wiktionary app launches: A new official Wikimedia app was launched this week on Google Play, the marketplace that serves as the central app repository for devices running Google Android (Wikimedia blog). The app, which joins its sister Wikipedia app, has since been downloaded over 500 times, though it still has some way to go before it matches the success of the other official Wikimedia app, a native Wikipedia adaptation, which has now been downloaded well over a million times since its own launch. Most notably, the Wiktionary app was developed by a body of volunteers, all members of the Canadian "Undergraduate Capstone Open Source Projects" (UCOSP) group.
Real-time collaborative editing attracts attention: Renewed attention was thrown onto the possibility of real-time collaborative editing, with a renewed Etherpad fork being shown off (wikitech-l mailing list). Few think that live collaborative editing – in short, the banishment of the edit conflict to the history books – will land any time soon; one current Google Summer of Code student, Ashish Dubey, is looking at integrating such features with the new Visual Editor, which may not be finished well into next year. Nevertheless, the idea has proved conceptually popular, especially given Wikipedia's high-profile role as a news provider. Wikimedians are already large consumers of Etherpads; the latest attempt to make them more wiki-like was released this week, having received WMF technical support.
Foundation to use contractors for Wikimania training: The Wikimedia Foundation will be employing technology non-profit OpenHatch to help deliver tutorials at the Wikimania Hackathon, due to be held immediately in Washington D.C. in the days immediately before Wikimedia itself begins there in a fortnight's time, it was revealed this week (wikitech-l mailing list). The move is the latest in a line of developments aimed at professionalising the way novice coders (and perhaps more importantly, experienced coders willing but unable to contribute to MediaWiki and related projects) are integrated into the wider development community. Newly promoted Engineering Community Manager Sumana Harihareswara, announcing the development, cited OpenHatch's experience in "teaching new contributors, and in building open source communities' capacity to nurture"; the aim, she wrote, was to "get scores of semitechnical Wikimedia editors over the barriers to technical contribution", although the difficulty of the challenge facing Harihareswara remains unclear.
Sshhhhhh, we're trying to talk here: There was a discussion this week on the wikitech-l mailing list about the possibility of silencing many of the bots (programs designed to automatically relay certain log messages) active in the #MediaWiki IRC channel. Critics argue that the bots – which relate (among other things) updated bug statuses, code review news and details performance issues – constituted background "noise" for most users, frequently "drowning out" or "diluting" the words of those asking for help in the channel, which serves as a focal point for MediaWiki developers of all types. Supporters rejected such a critique, arguing that the updates were "important" and in any case an important part of the development workflow by attracting developer comment on controversial topics. As discussion continues, it was noted that a recent software change, yet to be reviewed, allows code changes targeted at part of MediaWiki which have their own more specific IRC channel (such as #wikimedia-mobile) to be repeated only in that channel and not in the more general #MediaWiki.
ArticleFeedback version 5 goes large: Many English Wikipedians will get their first glimpse of the fifth version of the Article Feedback Tool over the coming fortnight, as it expands beyond its current 0.6% coverage, going live on some 10% of articles by 3 July. Version 5, which has been developed slowly and in response to extensive community contact, moves away from the numerical model adopted by version 4, replacing it with a system centred on short comments instead. Concerns include the possibility for libellous, offensive and/or spammy comments being displayed on the public feedback review pages.