A technologist's Wikimania preview
As the start of Wikimania proper on 8 August approaches, the Signpost looks ahead to what its dozens of presentations might offer the technologically inclined, whether attending in person or taking advantage of what promises to be a strong digital offering.
project, as shown at Wikimania 2012
Featured speaker: Lydia Pintscher, Project Manager Wikidata (10:30, Barbican Hall)
Highlights: Two themes dominate the pick of Friday's programme. The first is interface design, a key area in which the Foundation's ambitions are yet to be realised (Interface Vision, 16:30, Auditorium 1). In particular, prototypes for a new skin – codenamed Athena – which caused a splash when aired at Wikimania 2012 (see Signpost Op-Ed) make a return in a talk by WMF Senior Designer Brandon Harris (The Athena Project: Where are We?, 17:30, Auditorium 1). Not only do such design proposals intimately affect readers and editors alike, the five years since the creation of Vector (see previous Signpost coverage) have seen dramatic changes in the web design landscape, not least those stemming from the responsive web design ("mobile first") initiative that Athena seeks to build upon.
The second theme is multimedia, another area where progress has been tantalisingly slow. Fresh from recent controversy over the Media Viewer (see previous Signpost coverage), WMF Product Manager Fabrice Florin gives an overview of where the Foundation's plans are heading (Multimedia Overview, 11:30, Auditorium 2). Florin and Andrew Lih then focus in specifically on video, and Brion Vibber on video and audio (The State (and Fate) of Video in Wikimedia, 12:00, Auditorium 2; Freedom in motion: the state of open video and audio at Wikimedia, 12:30, Auditorium 2), a fascinating area as Wikimedians – but Wikipedians in particular – struggle to break free from their original text-centric paradigms.
Also available: Structured Wikiquote • CirrusSearch: How we've replaced a great search engine with an awesome search engine • Human-centered design for free knowledge • Fixing grammar errors semi-automatically • Machine aided article translation
Featured speaker: Brandon Harris, WMF Senior Designer (14.30 Barbican Hall)
Highlights: No such unifying themes dominate Saturday's offering. In the morning, Ask the developers (10:30, Auditorium 2) will rightly prove a popular favourite as the tech-savvy crowd take advantage of the annual opportunity to quiz the WMF's development team, here represented by Siebrand Mazeland and a yet-to-be-announced lineup. In the afternoon, one of the Foundation's biggest success stories, Wikipedia Zero – providing free Wikipedia access to hundreds of millions of people across the globe – arguably deserves more attention than it gets (Access to Knowledge and Wikipedia Zero, 14:30, Fountain Room). The relatively uncontroversial nature of the Zero project contrasts sharply with the VisualEditor team's experience. But such controversy should not occlude what could be a very productive avenue for all involved, especially new editors (VisualEditor — helping users edit more easily, 16:30, Auditorium 1; for a more technical discussion see also VisualEditor — engineering against the odds, 12:30 Sunday, Frobisher 123).
Erik Moeller, WMF Vice President of Engineering and Product Development and Wikimania speaker
Looking further into the future, an extension of the VisualEditor to real-time collaboration of the sort found on Google Docs or Etherpad is the subject of a talk by WMF Deputy Director Erik Moeller (It's Alive! The Joy of Real-Time Collaboration, 17:00, Auditorium 1; see also Real-time Collaborative Editing with TogetherJS, 17:30, Auditorium 1). Although it is unlikely to be deployed any time soon, the continued interest in the project by senior developers hints at its future adoption by the WMF; Moeller's talk should at least prove sufficient to whet the tastebuds. Those feeling more overwhelmed may want to try another of his contributions, Join the technical community - an introduction for absolute beginners (09:30, Barbican Hall).
Also available: Replaying Edits & Visualising Edit History • Finding and fixing software bugs for the Wikipedias • Showcase ALL the (cool) things! • Unmasking anonymous editors on Wikipedia • Parsoid: Dealing with Wikitext so you don't have to™ • FastCCI: Taming the Commons Category Tree • Testing internationalized applications for Wikimedia content
Highlights: For those who miss Lydia Pintscher's featured address on Friday morning, Wikidata - current state and Q&A (09:30, Frobisher 123) could provide a useful introduction to one of a handful of truly successful chapter-led development projects, though Pintscher suggests the latter talk is likely to be targeted at an audience more familiar with the site. With often very significant communities, bot-related talks always prove popular, a trend set to continue with Bots and Pywikibot (11:30, Fountain Room) given its onwiki support. Staying in the Fountain Room yields two other talks (What’s this volunteer support all about anyway?, 12:00, and The Wikimedia open source project and you, 12:30), which may also prove of interest.
Walking around a conference so dominated by Wikimedians, it is easy to forget that the work of volunteer – and sometimes staff – developers need not be focussed on Wikimedia projects. In How about a MediaWiki Consortium?, Markus Glaser and Mark Hershberger discuss the options for ensuring reusers of the MediaWiki platform (of which there are hundreds), though often far from developers' minds, remain represented at the negotiation table (11:30, Hammerson Room). Likewise, Wikisource technical infrastructure: what we have done and what we could do (15:30, Fountain Room) promises to give a flavour of the technical support smaller projects receive, well away from the controversy and hubbub of the larger Wikipedias.
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. "In brief" incorporates text from Tech news, a global community-led publication prepared by tech ambassadors (subscribe or unsubscribe).
- MediaWiki updated: The latest version of MediaWiki (1.24wmf16) was added to test wikis and MediaWiki.org on July 31. With deployments delayed because of the heavy developer presence at Wikimania, it will only go live to non-Wikipedia wikis on August 12, and will be deployed to all Wikipedias on August 14 (calendar). Users are unlikely to notice any significant changes.
- VisualEditor updated: Users can now create, edit, and view HTML comments in VisualEditor (bug #49603). In unrelated news, the cancel button in VisualEditor toolbar has also been removed. Users can still use the Read tab and the Back button in their browser to cancel their edit (changeset #147682). Recent work focusses primarily on bug resolution, the team reports.
- Badges heading to Wikidata: Wikidata will soon be able to store data about article status, for example "good article" or "featured article". If their wiki has highlighted content, please make sure it is on Wikidata's list. bug #40810
- Empty pages made possible: It will soon be possible to directly create empty pages, for example in the user namespace. bug #57238 
- New PDF renderer heads into beta: Users can now test a new tool to render wiki pages as PDF files (wikitech-ambassadors mailing list). The new renderer promises particular improvements for non-Latin and right-to-left scripts.
- Commons mobile uploads curtailed: In an attempt to improve the quality of uploads from mobile sources, new users using the mobile Commons site now need to make 75 edits before they can upload a file (bug #62598).
- Watch-on-revert: In the resolution to a long-standing bug report, users will soon have a user option to watch pages after they revert edits (bug #4488)
- Wikivoyage wikis broken: Wikivoyage wikis were broken for about 45 minutes on July 29 because of a configuration problem (bug #68815). In an unrelated event, some users were not able to log in on test wikis and MediaWiki.org between July 31 and August 1 (bug #69007).
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