Improved video support imminent and Wikidata.org live
TimedMediaHandler coming this week
A 2011 video featuring Jimmy Wales. Depending on when you read this, you'll either see the old video player or the new one, instantly recognisable by way of the large play button in the middle of the video.
The TimedMediaHandler extension (TMH), which brings dramatic improvements to MediaWiki's video handling capabilities, will go live to the English Wikipedia this week following a long and turbulent development, WMF Director of Platform Engineering Rob Lanphier announced on Monday (and later clarified).
The extension, which has been under development for the best part of two years, will introduce a new interface with subtitle support and a simple "|start=2.3|end=5" syntax for extracting video segments. Other features listed include "multi-format multi-bitrate transcoding with auto source selection, ... gallery and search pop-up players, viral iframe sharing / embedding, etc." although it is unclear how many of these will be available at launch. Deployments to other wikis and Commons have been pencilled in for the coming fortnight.
Readers with longer memories will note that some of these features have already surfaced in the 2009-released mwEmbed gadget, the development of which preceded work on TimedMediaHandler. The two have in common a number of features, most notably their choice of default interface – "Kaltura" video player, which was developed starting in January 2008 with assistance from the for-profit company of the same name and demoed at Wikimania 2009 (see contemporary Signpost coverage). The development path since mwEmbed has focussed on performance, security and code review concerns. Accompanying work has focussed on serving video more efficiently and it is likely that any TMH deployment will also make the possibility of accepting a larger number of video input formats a more attractive option to Wikimedia decision makers.
The deployment, should it go according to plan, is likely to be warmly welcomed by developers and readers alike. Among more seasoned developers, however, the smiles will surely be borne less from joy and more from relief that a project spanning four-and-a-half years of legal concerns, technical debates over code quality, endless technical delays and an uncertain payment structure has finally come to fruition.
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.
- Wikidata.org goes live: Wikidata.org (interface in English), a new repository designed to host interwiki links, launched this week and will begin accepting links shortly. The site, which is one half of the forthcoming Wikidata trial (the other half being the Wikidata client, which will be deployed to the Hungarian Wikipedia shortly) will also act as a testing area for phase 2 of Wikidata (centralised data storage). The longer term plan is for Wikidata.org to become a "Wikimedia Commons for data" as phases 2 and 3 (dynamic lists) are developed, project managers say.
- Windows 8 app released: Early adopters of the newly released Windows 8 operating system will be able to download a Wikipedia app from the Microsoft app store, it was announced this week (Wikimedia blog). The app, which integrates with system search, shares much of its infrastructure with the other WMF developed apps for the Android and iOS platforms but adopts a design style more in-keeping with the Windows 8 GUI. Peak Windows 8 usage is expected to lie in the hundreds of millions of devices, with the operating system being installed not only onto traditional desktop and laptop computers but also a rapidly increasing number of tablets and smartphones. In related news, the WMF also reported strong visitor growth in its Wikipedia Zero project, which aims to make accessing Wikipedia exempt from data charges in developing countries.
- Understanding the international design process: In an insightful post on the Wikimedia blog, WMF User Interface/Experience (UI/UX) developers Arun Ganesh and Pau Giner described the way they conducted user testing for the Universal Language Selector (ULS) project, which helps users translate MediaWiki's interface and select their preferred script input method. The inherent need for the project to be tested on editors from languages other than English presented its own challenges, Ganesh and Giner write, describing how (for example) it prompted developers to adopt a digital form of traditional "paper prototype" that could hence be tested on users remotely. Relatedly, i18n specialist Niklas Laxtröm also blogged this week, describing the problem MediaWiki faces trying to properly localise interface messages involving variable numerical elements.
- WMF hires: This week saw the announcement that English Wikipedia Bot Approvals Group member Brad Jorsch (User:Anomie) has been hired to work on "the robustness of the beta cluster" and help with code review (wikitech-l mailing list). New staff who have been accidentally omitted from the pages of the Signpost over the past month include Željko Filipin as a QA Engineer, Michelle Grover as a QA contractor for the Mobile Team and Andre Klapper in a bug oversight role similar to that of former bugmeister Mark Hershberger, who left the Foundation in May to pursue other interests. Jorsch has also been granted merge permissions over core, as have two other volunteers, bringing the number of volunteers with merge rights temporarily to eight (seven plus Jorsch).
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