The world is certainly transitioning their internet usage from the desk to their mobile device. Let's not limit our focus on mobile devices that always have an internet connection. Let's talk about the millions of travelers stuck in a moving vehicle with nothing better to do than look out their window. I'm talking about passengers on planes, trains, and automobiles. The easiest target here are the millions of people who fly. As a passenger onboard a plane for hours, we're lucky if we have an in-flight movie system. But what if the plane offered a local intranet with a copy of Wikipedia? What if the airlines gave promotions to those who contributed? What if each flight competed with other flights for most contributions? The same approach could be applied for passenger trains, buses, subways, and ferries. The main limitation here is a technical one. If you have thousands of Wikipedia clones buzzing around, each collecting contributions during their offline time, how do you reconcile the changes with the master database? While tools like Kiwix already offer an offline copy of Wikipedia, there is much work needed to support thousands of wiki clones reconciling changes every few hours. This will require revolutionary branch management and revision conflict handling. But if you pull this off, it might kick off the biggest surge in user participation in years. With whom should you partner to accomplish this? Why not start with NASA? They use MediaWiki to train astronauts and plan for spacewalks. Begin this development by running wiki servers onboard the International Space Station. Get astronauts to contribute to the same wiki used for their training while they are putting all that knowledge to use. Once the NASA wiki synchronization between the ground and the ISS is working, expand this model to Wikipedia. Yes, have a clone of Wikipedia onboard the ISS. Astronauts love to share their experience, their story, and their photos from their 6-month stays aboard the station. These lucky few represent countries from around the world and they have a huge influence on the rest of us on the ground. Once people see astronauts contributing to Wikipedia during their journey, they will want to join the movement on their travels (albeit aboard slightly less cool vehicles).
Our strategy is pointing us towards a bold and inclusive world in terms of projects and people. Almost by definition this will lead to increased complexity, not simply of our technology, but also of how to deliver to and to enable people to make use of our technology. In the last few years we have spent energy in creating more api's and a more service oriented architecture. An area where we however have not made such major changes is how we design for and work with the front end of the software, which is where the majority of people are actually using all the other stuff we make. Here we continue to think in larger products and problems to solve, and quite often tend to fail and even clash with our own 'customers'. By taking on a more diverse strategy, we risk being even more vulnerable to this. I have two suggestions: Smaller engineering. Allowing more time for smaller projects, smaller bugs, smaller tests of ideas and refinement of existing software. Let's embrace the success of Community Wishlists and be closer to our communities by writing more Gadgets or tools (toolforge) when we can, instead of going for 'the big fix'. Have three 1 week tests instead of one 6 month beta. etc. Fix small bugs that annoy many and that make our website feel amateurish, and improve the experience for everyone. Working more often on the needs of smaller projects, giving them a bigger voice and sprucing up our own solutions by gaining a more diverse experience. Be closer to our communities by working nearer to them. The second point that we should work on, is to stop thinking of our platform as a website. It is a work environment for an increasingly diverse crowd. We have a limited amount of space on the screen and a huge amount of tasks that various people want to do. Gadgets and even more so userscripts are hugely helpful, but have long since become unmanageable. It is time to think beyond the simple APIs and widget kits. We need to take a step towards becoming an application environment. We need users to be able to install and use complete apps made from recognizable and reusable building blocks. I want to see and use Gadgets as my browser uses extensions. I want those extensions to put apps in recognizable and consistent spots, to allow for fullscreen or splitscreen views, to have a familiar UI, but without having to cram everything into the limited shared space that we have. Apps as gateways for diversifying the specific solutions we build.
Transition off of HHVM: Since the HHVM team has made it clear they're parting ways with full PHP compatibility, and that maintaining support for both HHVM and PHP in MediaWiki would be arduous, we need to make plans to move off of HHVM, back to PHP 7.x. This transition, while technically necessary, should not come at a cost for our users: page load times should not degrade. We can proceed by marking responses coming from either engine, collecting metrics and analyzing data. In order to achieve this, we should run the two runtimes in parallel on the same servers (which have plenty of capacity, given no MediaWiki cluster has an utilization over 40%), and we will then be able to programmatically route individual users or a percentage of traffic, or even specific wikis, to one or the other. The deadline for this transition is set for the end of 2018 (EOL of the last compatible version of HHVM), and planning and resources should be allocated to this goal.
WMF should focus on the technical issues it is uniquely positioned to handle, and let the volunteers have the fun stuff. When we think about what technical work the WMF is engaging in, I don't believe enough time is spent considering volunteer motivation, and the great potential we are systematically choosing to ignore, or end up devaluing entirely due to the inherent unpredictability of volunteer work. I do believe that there is a long enough history of deeply understaffed WMF engineering teams getting set up to tackle fancy front-facing projects, only to have those teams simultaneously struggle to deliver, and deter everyone else from getting too near decision-making in their territory. It is time to change our approach. I would like to talk about what it would take, to refocus the majority of WMF's technical work away from taking full ownership of all the "important" new ideas, and toward making it as easy as possible for momentarily highly motivated outside parties to make meaningful contributions to new features. I imagine many new tools would be required to scale release engineering, security, and the technical community in general. We would have to take a greater role in mentoring interested parties. There are also known big hairy unsolved problems in the way we currently think of maintainership. Major changes would have to be made in our current approach to product timelines and product/project management. Of course, there will always be things that do require a high level of predictability in the outcomes. Donor money can and should be spent on ensuring predictability around the things we absolutely cannot function without. However, there is a whole world of ideas that absolutely do not have to be accomplished on a strict "shipping" timeline, and it seems that the WMF will always hold the keys to that door. I would like to figure out how the WMF could start embracing that unpredictability at every level, and move much more deliberately from "bottleneck" to "enabler".
"We are in the business of democratizing knowledge, and I believe that lowering and removing technical barriers to entry, and creating a culture of inclusion in our technical spaces is essential to our success." The Knowledge as a Service aspect of our strategic directions focuses on building infrastructure and platforms that help create and share open knowledge. The key to successfully building and scaling such infrastructure, in the context of the Wikimedia Technical spaces, is enabling everyone, irrespective of their experience or backgrounds to be able to utilize and create research, data, and tools on top of our infrastructure. When designing infrastructure and other technical products, we often fail to take into account technical barriers, inessential complexities and social costs that can discourage or prevent people from being able to leverage them. For instance, is it enough to build a dataset and store it in a database, if we do not provide friendly ways for researchers to access and analyze this data? Is it enough to put out a call to contribute to a project, but not provide easy-to-setup development environments to be able to test changes? Is it sufficient to have a state of the art environment to host applications, but not design good, simple processes around gaining access and deploying to them? These conversations are crucial, because we are not building products for technology's sake, but are in fact trying to build a culture where it is easy to use and contribute to our technical projects, whether you are a volunteer who has a few hours to spare or a paid employee; a newcomer or a long time contributor. We also want our technical communities to be diverse, and these complex systems and processes, and unsaid social constructs around how to interact with our projects, often bias against traditionally underrepresented populations in technology. I have always worked on or pushed for creating and supporting simple graphical interfaces that provide unified access to data sources, building platforms and processes that lets people just create tools/APIs/dashboards and be able to painlessly host them, developing tutorials and good documentation for getting involved in our projects, and codifying friendly and inclusive social norms and promoting a culture of being excellent to each other in our technical spaces. When talking about the future directions of new and existing projects, we should take into account the costs and barriers to access, and who we may be failing to include as a result. I hope to be this voice in the Developer Summit. 2b1af7f3a8