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.


Mircea Popescu said...

Yes. People should many things. It's not likely going to happen tho, we still cary without exception ALL the stupid choices ever made, in the entire history of humanity, just in case we want to make them again. And this, unlike culture (the history of correct choices ever made) doesn't even need any learning, or reading. It just is. We're the unborg.

sannse said...

Hi Jack,

Sorry you've had problems with communicating with us. Angela has sent you a number of emails recently, but hasn't had a reply. Perhaps she is not getting through? I'm often on IRC, and you are always welcome to ping me there, but I'm not sure that I could tell you anything I haven't already said.

Jack Phoenix said...

Hello sannse,

I wouldn't say that the problem is in communication - partially because there's nothing to communicate about, really. I left Wikia over a year ago and that should be a well-known fact. I still administrate a couple wikis hosted by Wikia, but that's about it. I'm just an ordinary MediaWiki developer, who has nothing to discuss with Wikia.

For the record: yes, I've received all of those emails, and all replies have been far from satisfactory. would not be there if it weren't for the community - so it's only fair to contribute back. In my opinion this shouldn't even require any discussion!

But if it must, then the said discussion should be open and public, not private. Contributing code back might help not only the developer community, but Wikia too. For example, there is a JS error in the main page of German version of To more experienced users/developers, this tells that someone from the development team hasn't tested their code and novice users/editors might find that some features do not work properly due to poor coding, which would obviously be a major turn-off for them.