Report from the Berlin Hackathon
Developers in the main hall of the Berlin hackathon
Developers descend on Berlin
||We’ve never had so much activity in our technical community ... It's a great time to be a Wikimedian.
|— WMF Deputy Director Erik Möller
Over 100 Wikimedians from more than 30 countries made the trip to Berlin this week to attend the 2012 Berlin Hackathon. A joint enterprise of the German chapter (Wikimedia Deutschland) and the Wikimedia Foundation, the event was held over three days from June 1 to 3 for those interested in all things MediaWiki.
Though most of the conference hours were set aside for working on specific coding projects ("hacking"), there were a number of presentations during the three days on topics such as Wikidata; scripting in the new prototype template programming language Lua; and the ResourceLoader 2.0 project, which will see per-wiki gadgets standardised and in many cases centralised. There were talks on optimising SQL queries and writing code with security in mind, a nod to recent concerns that pre-deployment security assessments have become something of a bottleneck in the deployment process. An additional general session targeted the many users who are unfamiliar with the new Git-Gerrit review system. The combined significance of these projects led WMF Deputy Director Möller to give an upbeat introductory speech.
Outside the tutorials, attendees worked on a broad range of their personal projects, including improvements to the influential pywikipedia bot framework, user scripts and gadgets, server-side performance improvements (for example, with regard to IPv6 testing), toolserver-based web tools, Wiki Loves Monuments support, and a diverse array of other initiatives. The international feel to the event meant that cross-wiki and smaller-wiki issues gained attention over the course of the three days; for example, Siebrand Mazeland, a WMF internationalisation specialist, noted that he had personally discussed such issues with more than 50 attendees during the hackathon.
Overall, attendance figures were boosted by a strong promotional effort for the event, backed by some $40,000 in WMF scholarships for those who wished to go but required financial assistance to do so. Seasoned hackers, including many of the "big names" of WMF engineering, worked alongside coders for whom the hackathon was their first Wikimedia tech event. The mood at the end of the three days was buoyant, with many developers seemingly more optimistic about future development potential than they were before the event. It is hoped that the event will encourage greater levels of volunteer development; it may also serve to ease previously aired concerns among volunteer developers that their projects were not being as well-resourced by the WMF as those of their staff developer counterparts.
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.
- Code review: still an issue? WMF Engineering Community Manager Sumana Harihareswara confirmed this week that code review remained the top priority for staff developers' so-called "20% time" (wikitech-l mailing list). As of time of writing, more than 100 core revisions dating back two months are still marked as "open", although a large proportion have had some form of comment made on them. Semi-official targets for code review propose 200 as an upper limit on the number of such revisions (although it is not clear if this was intended to include extensions); in any case, there has still been some concern over the relatively fast rate of growth and the presence of large backlogs in specific areas such as specific extensions.
- Wikimedia meets RENDER: Immediately before the Berlin Hackathon (above), Wikimedia Deutschland organised a separate event aimed at bringing technologically informed Wikimedians (and MediaWiki coders more generally) together to work on projects relating to RENDER, an EU-funded project aimed at "developing methods, techniques, software and data sets for scholars and readers (such as Wikipedia users) to understand, describe, process and make use of the diversity of knowledge and information" (Wikimedia blog). The invitation-only event, which was attended by a group of about 50 developers, naturally focussed on Wikidata, given its aim of massively increasing the amount of highly structured data embedded directly into Wikimedia wikis.
- Sign-language Wikipedia: After his recent blogpost about improving Unicode and web font support, WMF localisation team member Gerard Meijssen this week published an interview with Steve Slevinski, a specialist in bringing sign languages onto the web (Wikimedia blog). It is hoped that the move to standardise web translations of sign languages will allow for better documentation of (particularly global) hearing-impaired issues and culture; a MediaWiki extension that could power a whole Wikipedia written in a sign language is currently being developed by Slevinski.
- One bot approved: A pair of BRFAs for one bot was recently approved for use on the English Wikipedia:
- AnomieBOT's 64th and 65th BRFA, creating monthly and daily cleanup and maintenance categories.
- At the time of writing, 20 BRFAs are active. As usual, community input is encouraged.
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