They [mobile screens] really require us to do something that we haven't had to do as much on desktops: they require us to focus.
— Director of Mobile and Special Projects Tomasz Finc
A mockup of the Athena skin, designed to break the traditional "graceful degradation" model of designing for a mobile platform
This week saw the unveiling of some preliminary designs for Athena (named after the Greek goddess of "wisdom, courage [and] inspiration"), a new skin likely to sit at the heart of the revamped mobile site, but with possible connotations for the desktop site as well.
With the new mobile site rapidly becoming as feature rich as the desktop versions, there was a need for a design that could accommodate them in a usable fashion; the existing Vector skin, designed primarily with high resolution screens in mind, is largely unsuitable for this application. It is on this basis that Athena was created; if successful, it may even prove a successor to Vector on the desktop too.
The slick design (illustrated right) aims to pare down the number of features immediately offered to users in order to creating a page with a high usability factor on smaller screen sizes. When a device signals it has some additional capability, such as a larger screen, the design will then automatically adjust to provide a more useful display: a process being described as "graceful enabling" in contrast to the traditional model of "graceful degradation".
The new design for the mobile site would therefore follow an increasing trend among websites (such as YouTube) and programs (such as Mozilla Firefox) to group important actions together whilst hiding lesser used actions by default, particularly on mobile devices. The design, which is likely to be revised on the basis of user comments in the coming weeks, also aims to give greater visual focus to the edit button to encourage contributions.
Coding Challenge: submissions made public
The coding challenge logo
With submissions closing on 9 November, the results of the first Wikimedia Coding Challenge (see previous Signpost coverage) are in. Five submissions met the submission requirements for the mobile uploading challenge; ten entries were accepted for "making Wikipedia appear more alive" challenge; and eight for the slideshow challenge. A further three submissions were rejected solely on the grounds of not providing enough supporting evidence in the form of a readme (full list of accepted submissions).
Reporting on the submissions, Erik Möller noted that there were "definitely a few that are worth a closer look". Nonetheless, there will no doubt be at least a little feeling of anticlimax about the contest, which had seen 500 potential entrants sign up within the first 24 hours. Even among submissions, quality varied, and there were a handful that looked as if little or no development work had been done to tailor standard code to the intricacies of the competition requirements. Nonetheless, developers and non-developers alike will take heart from both the high quality of a number of submissions, and the fact that so many potential coders signalled an interest, yielding many possible contacts when it came to expanding the developer base in future.
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.
Page view stats now hourly: Following a request from the maintainers of a number of websites that report Wikimedia trends, page view statistics will now be made directly available on an hourly basis. The new setting effectively recreates the setup that had previously existed on an informal, indirect basis by way of the personal website of system admin Domas Mituzas (wikitech-l mailing list).
Saving lifetimes: Data analyst Erik Zachte this week used a post on his blog to emphasise the practical impact of having Wikipedia run fast and efficiently, given that it is now viewed so many times per year. "With over 15 billion page views each month, each 1/10 second which is shaved off from page loading time saves humanity 1.5 billion seconds each month, which is very close to the waking hours spent by a 70 year old person... So the awesome dedication of the small Wikimedia operations team (staff AND volunteers) [does] not only save Wikimedia tons of hardware. It saves tens to hundreds lifetimes a year".
1.18 nears release: Developers are currently working to resolve the last few bugs blocking the 1.18 release; some will be fixed whilst others will be rescheduled to be fixed in the next release (wikitech-l mailing list). In related news, there was also a discussion about whether or not to increase the version of PHP required for MediaWiki installation.
Malayalam (+92%): really?: As noted by Gerard Meijssen, the combined pageview statistics for October 2011 continue to show substantial gains for a number of projects, even after some packet loss was noted and fixed. One such project was the Malayalam Wikipedia, which appears to have recorded an unprecedented 5.4 million views in October, up 92% on September's 2.8 million. "[If] these numbers prove to be correct, it will be really interesting to learn what triggered this" wrote WMF internationalisation team member Meijssen.