Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Answers, answers...answers?

It seems that Wikia is not very willing to discuss when they will release the missing parts of answer.wikia codebase — if ever. Wikia's contact form a.k.a Special:Contact is more or less of an alias to /dev/null. It's a shame, really. In my opinion, it's important to allow the users to participate if they want to do so. Now all the users can do is provide feedback and make suggestions. Surely it'd be better if the users could just take a look at the source code and fix the bugs they've found?

I've probably said it before, but I'll say it again just to make sure: it's not my problem if you're running your site(s) on a collection of hacks and quick patches. I've already offered my help and I know when it's not wanted. I just thought that it would've been nice to have an open-source answers platform for MediaWiki (since WikiAnswers is not open source) and it would've helped Wikia too, allowing better internationalization and more bug fixes.

Also, Merry Christmas to my readers — have an open-sourcey Christmas. ;-)

Monday, October 19, 2009

New editors

As you may or may not have noticed, I am a lazy blogger. And nobody likes to read a blog that hasn't been updated for ages.

This is exactly why I decided to add a couple editors to this blog (and in the process removed the "rants of a MediaWiki developer" subtitle, as this is no longer my personal blog) - StarNinja99 (a.k.a Nina) and supergeeky1 (a.k.a El Geeko).
Both are administrators on Darthipedia, the Star Wars Humor Wiki.

Welcome to the team, guys!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wiki autonomy...or then not

Back in 2007, I adopted a Wikia wiki named WarWiki. I revived it, imported a fair bunch of articles from English Wikipedia (with attribution, naturally) and so on. Then I moved on to work on other things (such as being a Wikia janitor, but that was quite a while ago) and didn't have so much time for that wiki.

WarWiki was relatively quiet, only a couple edits per week, mostly from random anonymous users. I decided to clean the wiki up a bit, and started by disabling Wikia's Welcome Tool (HAWelcome extension); don't get me wrong, HAWelcome is very nice extension, at least from a technical point of view, but some wikis prefer to do welcomes "old-school" style — that is, to have real users welcome other users instead of bots. I find it quite annoying when the welcome bot leaves a "Hi, thanks for your edit" message to a spambot. No wiki needs any more of those!

So, I disabled Welcome Tool, deleted some old IP talk pages, and also Welcome Tool's user page and its talk page. A couple of days after this, I gave sysop rights to a couple friends of mine, as I thought that they could help me revive this wiki. What a fool I was. The next day, a Wikia staff member undeleted Welcome Tool's user page and talk page and re-enabled the Welcome Tool. So much for that wiki autonomy.

But wait! This story isn't over just yet...

After this stunt, my fellow co-administrators disabled Welcome Tool once again and re-deleted its user and talk pages. Guess what this earned us? Mass-deoppings, that's what. I lost my bureaucrat and sysop rights, and all the people I had promoted to admin status a couple days earlier lost their sysop rights. For a while, WarWiki had only one (inactive) bureaucrat and two inactive admins. All active admins had lost their rights...and for what? Hmm, that's a good question. You see, we were never told the reason! Last time I checked, there was a box on Special:UserRights labeled "Reason for change".

The above is a screenshot of Special:UserRights special page on you see the box I'm talking about? Yeah, I see it there too.

A page I had deleted earlier, related to Wikia's new "blog" feature, was also undeleted by the Wikia staff member in question. I don't feel that blogs are appropriate for every wiki, and that's exactly why I had deleted the page earlier on.

After a relatively long and painful discussion with another Wikia staff member, I got my sysop rights back — of course, after I had been suspected of "doing a subtle troll". I haven't edited WarWiki since that, because I feel that their behavior towards me was at least highly questionable, if not more.

What does this remind me of? It certainly reminds me of this blog post by Mikko Hyppönen, the Chief Research Officer of F-Secure (English Wikipedia's article on F-Secure). His blog post has a link to Michael Krigsman's Project Failures Analysis regarding Mikko's problems with Twitter; I suggest checking it out. I think this quote sums it up nicely:

[...]this situation offers a case study example of immature customer service and suggests problems with the organization’s corporate culture.

~Michael Krigsman [source]

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Wiki autonomy

English Wikipedia says the following about autonomy: "Autonomy [...] is also used to refer to the self-governing of a people."
Now, what's one of the largest wiki hosts? Probably Wikia.

Wikia's principles on wiki ownership are, to say the least, interesting. Their ownership page states that "The wikis are owned by the communities. No one user owns any wiki on Wikia. Founders are those who requested a wiki be created, but ownership of that wiki resides with the community as a whole, not only with the founder."
This comment, although not directly related to this issue, by a Wikia staff member is also interesting: "we make those rules, we can break them for our own reasons". (See this page for the source of the quote)

All wikis on Wikia are somewhat autonomous, it's just that some wikis are more autonomous than the others. Like Wookieepedia. It's one of Wikia's biggest wikis. It also has administrators, who block people on the "I don't like you" basis. People like me. See my block log entry there. Now, I admit that I may be a bit controversial sometimes, but if you know me or have read through my user page, you're able to tell that I'm not a troll, vandal or spammer. I asked a Wikia staff member to help me with this issue; the person contacted a couple Wookieepedia admins, and after they refused to reply, gave up. To me, that felt like a slap in the face. Or even a punch. I did quite a lot for Wikia before I left the site — thus I believe that they could help me out here. But of course, that cannot be done since "this is a local issue". While my block is indeed unjustified, it's not the subject of this post, I'll be discussing more about it in another post later on.

Darthipedia is one of the wikis where I'm an admin. It is also the largest wiki [source]. But some time ago, it was even larger than nowadays. This, naturally, caught Wikia's attention. They proposed a deal to Darthipedia and Darthipedia accepted it (did they have any other choice, I wonder?). Then Wikia sends in their deletion script to delete the "excess" Jax Pavan pages. The bot targets the wrong pages. One of our admins blocks it. Does Wikia respect this? I think the following log excerpt answers that question nicely:

23:03, 10 October 2008 Toughpigs (Talk | contribs) unblocked TOR (Talk | contribs) ‎ (that was not part of the deal... we can talk about it in IRC or on the forum page.)

22:05, 10 October 2008 Pinky49 (Talk | contribs) blocked TOR (Talk | contribs) with an expiry time of 2 hours (autoblock disabled) ‎ (Once you've gone through with your end of the deal, you can delete the articles, but until then, no)

Or let's take a different example. Arkhampedia is a wiki run by the same people behind Darthipedia. To Wikia, this apparently means that local policies can be overridden. Here's the proof, from Arkhampedia's block log:

19:44, 12 July 2009 Uberfuzzy (Talk | contribs) unblocked WikiaBot (Talk | contribs) ‎ (please do not block staff accounts)

18:32, 12 July 2009 Madclaw (Talk | contribs) blocked WikiaBot (Talk | contribs) with an expiry time of 1 year (account creation disabled) ‎ (unwanted changes "invisible on the Recent Changes" without consulting/informing local community. Please contact administration for eventual unblock)

A recent good example is a wiki where I used to be a bureaucrat until a Wikia staffer came along, deopped me and undid many of my administrative actions. I got my admin powers (but not my bureaucrat power) back after a long talk with another Wikia staff member about why I did such actions. Apparently using your bureaucrat powers or trying to opt-out of Wikia's great new features is a bad, bad thing and that makes you a (possible) troll.

Yet another interesting situation where a small wiki has no autonomy is Gislewiki. Gislewiki is a wiki about Gisle Martens Meyer and its URL is Before that, it was hosted on Wikia. The community, however, decided to move off-Wikia at some point.
As you may know, Wikia rarely closes a wiki. They didn't close that wiki either, though I'm not sure if it was ever requested. Before September 2009, Wikia's Gislewiki's main page was displaying a notice, telling people to use the new site instead of the old one. Most interface parts were also hidden with some CSS tricks. Then Wikia noticed this and reverted most of the changes. Keep in mind that the founder of Gislewiki did almost everything from content creation to interface customization all by himself, without much outside help. The community was pretty much the founder. So, anyway, back to the "two wikis" situation. The founder of noticed that Wikia tried to revive the Wikia site. He made some subtle changes, such as adding a normal link to the new site on the main page, to the Wikia site. To Wikia, that was vandalism so the founder got deopped — on the site he built all by himself! I wonder when they'll block him for vandalism...

I'm not trying to speak against Wikia, I'm merely trying to show you the other side of the coin.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Broken users

Special:BrokenRedirects is one of MediaWiki's most interesting - and, ironically enough, probably one of its most broken - special pages. It lists "broken" redirects - i.e. if the target doesn't exist but a page redirects there, the page is considered to be a broken redirect. What's interesting is that it considers interwiki redirects also "broken" in cases where interwiki redirecting isn't enabled.

But interwiki redirects are not broken redirects. The software has no (easy) way of checking - or if it does, it's not used - whether the page on the target wiki exists or not, so it just assumes that it's a broken redirect. This is probably why people use silly "soft redirect" templates.

Soft redirects are - at least in my opinion - pointless. Interwiki redirects are not broken redirects. If you, as an editor, cannot tell the difference between a redirect to a nonexistent page and a redirect to another wiki, then the only one who is broken is you. Not the software and most certainly not the redirect.

So why do I even care? Because:

  • soft redirects are pointless

  • I used to use interwiki redirects *a lot* during my time at Wikia and I absolutely hate getting notifications about new messages on some random wiki I haven't edited more than once

Seriously, just because you don't understand it doesn't mean that it's broken.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The unanswered questions

Some time ago Wikia relaunched answers.wikia, their questions & answers site. It looked (and still looks) quite nice, so I was wondering how they did it. I looked into their SVN and found something related to the project. A skin, some extensions, some maintenance scripts...but one crucial thing was missing: a class called "Answers". The skin used functions provided by this missing class, which meant that the skin wouldn't work properly without the class.

What should I do? I decided to ask Wikia about the issue on their Q & A site. That's what it's for, right? The original answer to my question was quite vague. So I decided to reword my question a bit. This time I got a better answer: I was told to contact Wikia if I wanted to develop the source code (ah, Special:Contact, how much I love thee!).

Being the nice person I am, I sent in a polite request regarding the matter. I soon got a reply from a staff member who wrote that they'll be making sure that this report ends up to the right people. That was on May 21, 2009. I waited for over a month for something to happen regarding the matter, but nothng happened, so I decided to pay a visit to their IRC channel, #wikia. I was told that the IRC channel is not the place to get support (wtf?) and that the ticket -- my request -- has been forwarded to another person. The person I talked to refused to even tell who this "another person" in question is!

On August 9, 2009 I sent in another request through Special:Contact. The request was short and sweet: "rt#15912 needs some love." The ticket in question, rt#15912, is the one I sent back in May. This time I got a reply from a different staff member and they told me who this mysterious "another person" in question is. I'm supposed to discuss with this person about the source code of answers.wikia project.

But...why should I, really? There's nothing to discuss about, really. If Wikia is truly an open source project, then they should get a developer to commit those missing files. Typing "svn commit -m"adding missing files" file1.php file2.php fileN.php" in command line is not rocket science. Or then I'm a rocket scientist, as are my co-developers.

An anonymous user of answers.wikia (who, for the curious minds, isn't me) speculated that speculated that the delay in publishing the source code is intentional, in order to prevent competitors. I bet that if someone wanted to set up a competiting site, they'd just buy AnswerScript or something similar instead of using MediaWiki extensions and patches.

People should stop thinking open source as a threat and start thinking it as an opportunity.