Thursday, February 16, 2006

Building a community of developers

The number of people who work on the MediaWiki software is limited. There is a growing need for functionality. This need is the consequence of MediaWiki being considered the best of breed of the Wiki engines. It is a consequence of the use of wikis for knowledge management, it is used for documentation efforts.. MediaWiki is used a lot.

Many needs for improvement arise from within the Wikimedia projects. These needs are typically taken care of by people who scratch their own itch. I am particularly interested in stuff when it helps me with the WiktionaryZ project. Other people have a need for Wikinews or WikiSpecies functionality.

One problem with the current model is that the developers are nominally all volunteers. This is when you analyze it no longer working it is also not true; the best developers are being snapped up by organizations and consequently are working either for interested parties or they are no longer available for MediaWiki work.

This means that it becomes more and more difficult to get things programmed. WiktionaryZ is an ambitious project. It needs available programmers and it needs people who can program and know other languages than just any "European" language and English. This need is felt more and more acutely.

I hope to develop contacts that I have made in Africa. A programmer that came recommended to me by someone who manages a great project in Swahili as best as he can. Erik did write this nice specification for something called InstantCommons. We hope them to develop this for us. When this works out, we have some new MediaWiki developers.

As we typically do, we discussed what to do when this is a success and, when we have a need for MORE developers.. Because of my interest in Iran (Farsi and Luri), I said that trying a similar would be a good idea. This got me in an interesting argument; Iran is with its present policies and president seen more and more as an enemy. Some people consider this to be a reason not to use the contacts that exists. From my perspective, this is not rocket science and it is about words and how they are used and understood. If anything we should collaborate on this.

Another strategy that we could adopt is having a competent developer, someone who is also a good communicator help students when they do termprojects related to MediaWiki. Any project related to MediaWiki. I think up to 50 projects could be handled given that a project takes half a year.. This would mean on average 100 students.. The benefit would exist in two ways; a lot of work can be done in this way and we probably would have a retention rate of something like 5% of the people as developers for a period of minimally a year.

Building a community of developers is essential. It is however not that easy :)

Thanks,
GerardM
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