Sunday, February 28, 2010

The past, the present and the future of the social tools

Social tools is a term which usually refers to MediaWiki's SocialProfile extension. SocialProfile consists of 10 "modules" (which actually used to be separate extensions at some point, ages ago), of which 9 are enabled by default. The only module not enabled by default is UserWelcome, which provides the <welcomeUser /> tag. Here's a quick overview of SocialProfile's modules:

  • SystemGifts — award functionality. Awards are automatically given out by the software once the user has reached the specified threshold (i.e. 5 edits, for example).

  • UserActivity — social activity feed on user profile pages.

  • UserBoard — Facebook-like message boards on user profile pages.

  • UserProfile — turns plain old User: pages into cool, social profiles!

  • UserRelationship — friends and foes, which will be shown in your social profile.

  • UserStats — statistics related to social actions (i.e. friending, sending a board message, etc.). UserStats also contains the point system (User Levels)

  • UserSystemMessages — required by UserActivity, stores when a user advanced to the next level

  • UserWelcome — a parser hook extension which provides <welcomeUser /> tag, which can be used to display user-specific info to the current user (when used in combination with WikiTextLoggedInOut extension

  • YUI — a very simple extension which loads the Yahoo! User Interface JavaScript library (version 2.7.0) on every page load, along with some custom functions.

In addition to SocialProfile and its modules, some other social tools are also available in the official MediaWiki SVN repository, namely:

  • RandomUsersWithAvatars — adds <randomuserswithavatars> tag to show the avatars of randomly chosen wiki users who have set an avatar for themselves.

  • WikiTextLoggedInOut — adds <loggedin> and <loggedout> parser tags to show different text to anonymous and logged-in users. Most commonly this is used to display random avatars (see RandomUsersWithAvatars extension) to anonymous users and UserWelcome info to registered users.

The past of social tools

Social tools were developed by the founders of ArmchairGM, Aaron Wright, David Pean, Dan Lewis and Rob Lefkowitz. Then Wikia bought ArmchairGM and hired its developers. Soon enough the magazine-style wikis were launched. Magazine wikis were wikis with social tools and each had its own, unique skin. Gaming.Wikia's was the best, no doubt — it was much like ArmchairGM's current default skin, only darker.
In late 2007, it seems that Wikia started pulling the plug on the magazine wikis. By 2008 there were no magazine wikis left, all of them had been converted into ordinary, plain Wikia wikis.

However, the social tools saw a second coming: Halopedia, a wiki about the popular Halo game series, was converted into a social wiki — complete with picture games, polls, quizzes and everything! I remember when that happened; I was helping the ArmchairGM developers in debugging the 'new' Halopedia.

In February 2008, SocialProfile was released, after I had requested it. At this point, it was lacking some essential features, such as the point system and the special page to remove other users' avatars (Special:RemoveAvatar). was there. Completely open-source. You have to remember that back in 2008, Wikia wasn't an open-source project.

After this, a couple other wikis also got the Halo treatment: GamerGear, a wiki about PC and console gaming gear, Grand Theft Wiki, a wiki about the Grand Theft Auto game series and FFXIclopedia, a wiki about the Final Fantasy XI massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).

The present of social tools

The ArmchairGM developers have either left Wikia voluntarily or been laid off, which, according to Wikia, means that there's nobody who knows the code.

Halopedia, GamerGear, Grand Theft Wiki and FFXIclopedia are still running social tools. Halopedia held two important votes in this January. As a result, polls, quizzes, picture games and social userboxes were turned off for Halopedia. Poll namespace extension is still enabled for Grand Theft Wiki, but it doesn't work — try clicking on one of the options of some poll and you'll see what I mean.

The future of social tools

I'm still the (un)official lead developer of SocialProfile extension, and I have no plans whatsoever to quit. Just yesterday Bryan, a fellow MediaWiki developer, fixed bug #22598 — now users using MediaWiki 1.16 or latest trunk can again upload their avatars.

I'm hoping to have more social features cleaned up by the end of the year. Namely, Comments, FanBoxes (social userboxes), LinkFilter, PictureGame, PollNY and QuizGame.

It will be a time-consuming task, I'm sure of that. But then again, I also believe in open source. I know that the social tools are a succeess, and so do the users. After all, what else explains that there are 4 archives of questions from users regarding this extension? :-)


j said...

I have an experiment in adding social profile to an educational wiki
at for language learners in a specialised field...
the idea seems very promising, thanks.

Vietbio said...

I would like to invite you to check our site where we succeed to harmonize socialprofile extension together with our developed social foot panel.

PS. Unfortunately, it is in Vietnamese but you still can experiment site functions, I guess.