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Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2012-01-30/Technology report

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Technology report

Why "Lua" is on everybody's lips, and when to expect MediaWiki 1.19

Lua chosen as new template scripting language

Reducing the inefficient complexity of complicated templates has long been on the wishlists of those who design and maintain them. It is a complexity that can put a significant drain on server resources, not to mention one that makes accurate duplication of templates between wikis incredibly time consuming and error prone. This complexity is caused by a number of factors, but it has long been recognised that the introduction of certain constructions found in full programming languages (among them loops, arrays and a full range of string functions) would drastically simplify matters.

Of course, the introduction of a programming language would bring with it a number of other problems, particularly with regards to privacy, security and memory footprint. As a result, the long term consensus was that the introduction of a programming language would be a major undertaking, including time for discussing which languages would work best in a heavily sanitised environment. The project as a whole has been discussed at regular intervals, but it was only this week that a consensus seemed to emerge in favour of Lua, a lightweight but relatively unheard-of language generally regarded as being "easy to learn" (wikitech-l mailing list).

The preferred implementation at this time is via a separate namespace for scripts, perhaps augmented by the overloading of the double-curly-brace notation to incorporate both Script and Template namespaces. Work is expected to start after the release of 1.19 and could well centre around the Berlin Hackathon, held annually in May.

In brief

WMF Director Tomasz Finc took the time this week to look back at the significance of the recent Android app release

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.

  • 1.19 target missed: An end-of-the month target for 1.19 code review will be narrowly missed, but a short delay is unlikely to cause problems, says WMF Director of Platform Engineering Rob Lanphier (wikitech-l mailing list). Even a burst of code review activity on Friday proved insufficient to bring the number of revisions left to be checked (now around 70) within touching distance of zero; projects with many revisions left to review include recent work on the way files are stored. In a separate post on the same list, Volunteer Development Coordinator Sumana Harihareswara reiterated the Foundation's intention to deploy the latest version of the software between 13 February and 1 March this year. A post on the Wikimedia blog carried an appeal for more testers.
  • Wikimedia compares favourably on usability: Data extracted from a survey of Wikipedia readers show that they rate the user interface of Wikimedia sites higher than those of Facebook and YouTube (Wikimedia blog). The data, based on responses to two questions ("How appealing do you find the interface or look of the following sites?" and "How easy do you find it to navigate the following sites?") also showed lower comparative scores from countries where right-to-left languages predominate, apparently confirming earlier suspicions that this was an area that deserves developer attention. The potential for bias within the survey was not examined.
  • Looking back on the Google Android app release: WMF Director of Mobile and Special Projects Tomasz Finc used a post on the Wikimedia blog to explore the implications of the recent release of a Wikipedia app for devices running the Android operating system. Finc described how the new app was built using a cross-platform library known as PhoneGap and is therefore likely to form the basis for apps for other operating systems (including a future replacement to the existing Wikimedia iPhone app). The app is already available in 25 languages and has been downloaded 500,000 times.
  • FeaturedFeeds deployed: The FeaturedFeeds extension was deployed this week, exposing content such as "Today's Featured Article" and "In the news" via RSS and ATOM feeds (Wikimedia blog). "For now, links to the feeds only appear in page metadata; in the future, we will add them to the sidebar on main pages, if communities wish so", wrote the extension's developer Max Semenik.
  • Translation tutorial sessions: An online translation tools workshop was held via WebEx video conferencing on Saturday 28 January 2012, as announced by Localisation team member Gerard Meijssen on the Wikimedia blog. The workshop included "an introduction of use cases and features, as well as a Q&A". Another workshop will be held only if there is enough interest.
  • Wikimedia Foundation Director of Product Development: The Wikimedia Foundation announced that Howie Fung has been hired as Director of Product Development. He has previously been a consultant for the Wikimedia Foundation on usability projects and has been Senior Product Manager since May 2010. The Wikimedia Foundation is also internally restructuring its teams, formally creating a Product Development department, focusing on "Editor Engagement, Mobile, Analytics, and Internationalization/Localization". Erik Moeller said that the team is to include "Phil Chang, Brandon Harris, Fabrice Florin, Diederik van Liere, Siebrand Mazeland, Dario Taraborelli, Oliver Keyes, and the new Interaction Designer, when hired."