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.