Criticizing Wikimedia and Wikipedia

Here we go again. Another year over. The Wikimedia community is evolving steady, but slowly in my opinion. Too many “nayers” (read people, who say “no”). They spoil everything. You come with an idea, due to consensus-based decision process – nothing happens, because within 10 people you always find someone who says “no”. Did you experience it too? This is a way to hell.

Wikimedia Foundation staff does not seem to be helpful a lot. From my point of view, they are watching everything from above, but one can not really see concrete results behing them apart from few software improovements that are desparately needed since ages.

The Strategic planning project was quite a funny experience. It was a big halo when launched and it did collect great ton of ideas (god thanks for them!). After the ideas were collected, “Call for action” came. Few central notices on main wikis. Some traffic. Strategic plan for 2010-15 was compiled from the content. The document is ok, makes common sence and officialy outlined a way for next years. But I still miss that “action” to come.

Here we go. I decided to publish outside Wikimedia, because I think this will hopefully bring more than when a brilliant idea is lost in all the wiki garbage. In my opinion the main problem is that Wikimedia is an extremely diverse environment, where you barely solve a thing unless you do it yourself. And doing stuff on your own is not always an easy task – no, it is mostly a ridiculously difficult task, because you need an extreme intellectual property in your head. Simply put, you need to be a half-god to do what you actually would like to.

My last bigger part besides regular editing of articles was the involvement in the Strategy planning project. This project aimed to create a 5-year “business plan” on where all the Wikimedia projects (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wikinews etc.) should go. Unfortunately, the strategy website was yet another regular MediaWiki software, with which thousands of new users struggle at Wikipedia. Despite this hard interface to work with, quite a few (1000+) proposals for changes and new projects were posted to the site. I admire all the brave people who fought themselves through the wiki and left a piece of text behind…

I am editing Wikimedia projects since about 2006. I have been long enough around to see the projects grow and stagnate. I still struggle with my participation, it is simply quite hard for me to find my way through. Through my participation on the Strategy project I was invited to Wikimedia 2010 in Gdaňsk (Poland). I did not go, because I did not think it would help me much.

English Wikipedia (and most likely any other Wikimedia site running MediaWiki) has pages that are literally hundreds-times bigger than their actual content. I did a testing consisting of saving a blank Wikipedia article page and it ended up being 211,207 bytes of stuff to download (HTML, JavaScript, images etc.) for exact 1,249 bytes of text (menus, header, footer etc.). This resolves into a 169:1 ratio for article size vs. article actual content. Pretty big number, isn’t it?

The three largest files to download resulted to be index.php, which took about 32 KB, followed by 30 KB large wikibits.js and 27 KB of main.css. There were still more files of each type though. The HTML file with the actual page text was 17 KB. The Wikipedia logo did not download (I have no clue why).

The total download consisted of 19 files. The file type sizes summarize approximatelly as following:

  • CSS: 77 KB
  • JavaScript: 63 KB
  • PHP: 47 KB
  • HTML: 17 KB
  • images: 4 KB

This is an appeal to a current usability project that is under way over at usability.wikimedia.org. I was really surprised by the bloat that web code brings to the user, while there is close to no AJAX on Wikipedia as far as I know which usually brings lots of size. The usability team should think of this rather “technical” optimization too.

Of course there are all those “mobile” versions of Wikipedia, which draw far less bandwidth and might be very close to the actual information size with their code sizes. However, I would deprecate the use of these versions for ICT4D in developing world, because of two reasons – Wikipedia is not critical application for expensive mobile data there and finally, as far as I know, none of these versions offer editorial access to the site.

Do we really want to neglect the technical aspect of Wikipedia’s great mission while it might cost only a few hours of optimization? Let us think about it!

Is Wikipedia in recession? After recent announcement of Nicolas Negroponte that OLPC is having difficulties, it seems the global financial and economical crisis won’t pass on non-profits by. In its last issue, the Wikipedia Signpost wrote the project is experiencing edit decline – have the problems come to the world’s biggest collaborative encyclopedia? One could hope not so, but such online-charity projects rely heavy upon volunteers, and if a volunteer has problems, he/she does not contribute.

On the other hand, the Wikipedia project has been growing for years, so a downturn would be no surprise… I am wondering what will happen to Free and Open Source Software projects and businesses – are they a better and more sustainable model than the rest of the world?

Bug in initramfs /init detected. Dropping to shell. Good luck!

bash: no job control in this shell
bash-3.2#

That is the output of both Sugar-spin Live CDs i tried on my AMD Geode LX800. The first was from early November 2008 running on Fedora 9.92, the second was a brand new Fedora 10 with Sugar 0.82-2.

Although I might be FOSS advocade, I still use Windows for a good portion of my work. I have not even managed switch from Windows XP to Vista and yet, some features new to Vista wont be included in Windows 7.  Here are some of the features removed from Windows 7.

Classic Start Menu and classic Taskbar

This is a real joke to me – the real reason why people stayed with Windows XP instead of migrating to Vista was that Vista confused them. While Vista had a lot of new navigation, the core principle of Start menu and Taskbar remained very similar or identical with Windows XP. I see a similarity with the taskbar of KDE  (or however is its “taskbar” called), especially in the new 4 version.

Windows Photo Gallery

I admit I did not study these in depth. However, I liked the Windows Photo Gallery quite a lot and I guessed it was only renamed to Live version.

Windows Sidebar

I actually appreciate this one as it was clearly a step backwards. Windows Sidebar navigation is not really usable.


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  • Jan Kucera (Kozuch): to zxq9: I think you are wrong. Facebook and Wikimedia are in exactly the same market - trying to attract new users. Finally, the Internet is only one
  • zxq9: Wikimedia does exist in the same space as commercial sites such as Facebook. But to imagine that they are literally in the same market is wrong. Faceb
  • Jan Kucera (Kozuch): Interesting insight, especially on the number of user interfaces! However, I think Wikimedia is in the same competition for users (readers and editors

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