This week, The Wikimedia Foundation launched its first ever coding challenge, inviting outside coders to assist in the development of MediaWiki, the software behind Wikipedia and other Wikimedia wikis (wikitech-l mailing list: 1, 2; Wikimedia blog: 1, 2). Described as an "experiment" by Deputy Director Erik Möller, the well-advertised challenge takes the form of three separate contests: to allow mobile media uploading; to "surface change in real time" in order to make Wikipedia feel more "alive"; and to create a modern, high quality image slideshow feature for Wikipedia articles.
The challenge, which utilises a special 'Contest' extension built by Jeroen de Dauw, is being conducted with the help of Greg DeKoenigsberg, formerly a Senior Community Architect at Red Hat. The contest is backed by a free ticket to a 2012 event of the winner's choice (such as Wikimania 2012) as well as non-monetary benefits in the form of "certificates of coding excellence" designed to be "a great addition to anyone's CV".
In his presentation of the contest to the Wikimedia community, DeKoenigsberg wrote that the idea of a contest may turn out to "be brilliant, or it may not... offering a big prize for challenge winners may be a master stroke, or it may be a terrible mistake. The contest may yield lots of smart developers or lots of clueless noobs. ... I have no idea what to expect, and I'm not about to pretend otherwise. I will be fascinated to see how the next few weeks play out". He also paid tribute to the MediaWiki developer community in expectation of the "helpfulness and patience" he knew the competition organisers could rely on.
What if we could get amazing people to demonstrate their skills against concrete challenges, and use the completed challenges as the first evaluation screen for all candidates -- rather than their CVs? We'd still look at the CV, but at the end of the day, we’re looking for amazing, brilliant, dedicated people who will deliver excellent results.
Early indications seem to be promising. Less than 24 hours after the start of the challenge, the Wikimedia blog reported that 500 contestants from 80 countries had already signed up to participate; submissions must be made by 9 November.
These figures will no doubt cheer DeKoenigsberg, as well as the wider Foundation engineering department. It is hoped that the model of micro-involvement on show in the challenge could provide a useful insight into the pool of talented international developers who might consider working for the Foundation in the future. Indeed, at this moment in time, there seems to have been little said against the trial, which is being conducted in the spirit of nothing ventured, nothing gained when it comes to generating the diverse and expanded MediaWiki developer community needed for Wikimedia wikis to reach their full potential.
Wikimedia Deutschland starts hiring for a major new data repository initiative
Wikimedia Deutschland announced this week that it has officially begun hiring eleven members of staff to work on its Wikidata project. The project would see a central data repository created to hold interwiki links. If successful, further stages would allow for a shared infobox repository, as well as a remote interface to generate up-to-date lists.
According to a post on the wikitech-l mailing list, the German chapter is hoping to secure "world-class" talent to turn their detailed proposal into reality. A shared data repository has been on the wishlist for many years (see, for example, Signpost coverage from August 2010) as a way of enabling cross-wiki updates to common facts and figures. At the very least, a central interwiki repository would drastically cut the amount of maintenance required when trying to map the links between articles on different wikis.
Wikimedia Deutschland described the Wikidata project as "new and ambitious ..., [a] project that aims to change the Web once again", and the news that it is actually happening will no doubt buoy the spirits of those who thought that the time for big, structural changes to Wikimedia wikis had passed. Likewise, Lead Software Architect Brion Vibber and Director of Features Engineering Alolita Sharma have both since commented on the news to signal their excitement at the project.
Of course, the eagerly anticipated project is also likely to be monitored closely by chapters around the world, and its success or failure could drastically effect whether or not they too choose to take on large technical challenges of this sort in future. As such, the project will also contribute to the continual debate about whether or not MediaWiki's reliance on WMF "head office" support for major engineering projects is justified in the medium-to-long term.
Not all fixes may have gone live to WMF sites at the time of writing; some may not be scheduled to go live for many weeks.
Usability of Commons criticised: commentator and WMF localisation team member Gerard Meijssen used a post on his personal blog to criticise the usability of Wikimedia Commons. He compared the complex browsing interface to the much simpler display of a Google image search.
Magic words preview error fixed: With the resolution of bug #31921, it will once again be possible to preview the output of the REVISIONDAY, REVISIONMONTH and REVISIONYEAR magic words, which, at the time of writing, display "0", "", and "" respectively when trying to preview them (despite saving correctly).