Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jimmy Wales as an author of a scientific paper

You may have read in Ars Technica about Jimmy Wales named in the author list of a scientific paper. The paper has now been published on Genome Biology. The paper is of interest and I recommend you reading Community annotations with WikiProteins.

The author of Ars Technica expressed his amazement of Jimmy being part of this paper. Jimmy has played an important role in the conception of Wikiprofessionals. Jimmy and Barend Mons met in Brazil at a conference and they discussed all kinds of everything but of particular relevance was that they discusssed what makes the difference in projects when you need the collaboration of many people.

Jimmy did a great convincing job selling the notion of Wikis. He told Barend to get into contact with me and as a consequence a fruitful collaboration started with several people heavily into wikis got involved. I want to mention Erik Moeller and Sabine Cretella here as well. The collaboration was a big boost to OmegaWiki and it resulted in the first Wikiprofessional.

It is a great practice to honour people who have been important in the developement of a new concept. Jimmy deserves to be mentioned in this way and I am glad that he is. In a way, all of us who are involved in wikis can be proud.

Monday, May 26, 2008

New projects are ready for new business

I am really happy and grateful that the projects that have been approved have been created. These new projects with the exception of the Wikinews projects are now available under a combined CC-by-sa and GFDL license. As Erik indicated in the past, this will prove necessary at the time when the latest version of the GFDL will finally be published.

I wish the new projects well in their quest to provide the type of information that they are creating for to the people they are there for.

A special word of thanks to Tim Starling for making a difference :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Not the 18th edition of "Not the Wikipedia Weekly"

Given my involvement and interest in the 17th edition of Not the Wikipedia weekly, I do want to point out this edition of the NWW.. I hope you like it and I am keen to make things work out well.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wiki meeting on TV

I just learned that a Wiki meet for the people of the Piedmontese language is going to happen and be recorded on web television. I understand that it starts in two hours (currently 12:00 Amsterdam time) and that they are checking out technology.

So if you like to know more .. try pms-1-la-festa-television.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Missed opportunity

At the conference in Arhus there was a presentation planned about "online dictionaries in a web 2.0 environment". This presentation was to be given by Joseph Dung.

Joseph is from Nigeria and in order to be there, his trip to the conference started two day before the start of the conference. His presentation was the last presentation of the conference and sadly he did not make it. For all kinds of reason, he was delayed, there were problems and finally he missed a flight from Frankfurt airport.

Joseph made it finally to Arhus, he came in 15 minutes after the start of the final dinner. We were kept informed about the progress of Joseph towards Arhus during the conference.. We all felt bad for him and cheered his arrival.

I would love to have learned more about how Web 2.0 makes an impact in Nigeria.. It must be a challenge.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A better mouse trap

I have had the privilege to participate at a conference on lexicography at the Aarhus School of Business. It was a truly enjoyable conference; I learned a lot, I talked a lot and I even had the pleasure of presenting about Wikis, Wiktionary, OmegaWiki, the need for standards and SignWriting. As each of these subjects are broad enough to present for half a day, it is not strange when people find that one aspect that is of special interest to them, only becomes clear when talking in the coffee break.

There were several presentations that really made me sit up and listen. Presentations about the preservation of knowledge about Tamil crafts, Bavarian dialects, Brazilian learners dictionaries, specialised tools for the teaching of English, electronic pocket dictionaries in Japan .. the list goes on. Really special for me was a talk on Wiktionary.

I have a tender spot for Wiktionary, I know how much it has improved over the years. I know the people, their dedication and the amount of effort that goes into constantly improving what is essentially unstructured data. Given that I am a bureaucrat and admin on several projects, given that I am still running a bot on most Wiktionaries, I have a clue what is going on.

In the presentation the terminology of business terminology was considered. Business, was looked at and the information was found wanting. There are many translations but several were considered to be wrong, archaic... OmegaWiki is a better mouse trap, it does allow for annotations. But in order to be better mouse trap, it has to catch more mice.

The traffic numbers demonstrate the relevance of Wiktionary; it is the biggest resource of its kind on the Internet. This is in my opinion why it is an important resource. When lexicographers want to make an impact, they have to do better. If they want to cooperate, they will find people knowledgeable, interested and enthusiastic. They will have to tread carefully because their scientific reputation is not what will make this work, it will be their ability to listen, to be judicious in their effort and in their ability to share on an equal footing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Betawiki localises for *all* MediaWiki projects

There have been some altercations on Betawiki about what localisation is acceptable. What is at stake is the difference between language and project localisation. Betawiki is firmly committed to only allow for language localisation. This means that all references to specific projects like Wikipedia, Wikibooks etcetera are not accepted.

In the projects of one of the languages supported within the Wikimedia Foundation, templates are used to add functionality to the recent changes functionality. These templates are not supported by MediaWiki or by its localisation and are unavailable to MediaWiki installations outside of the WMF. Betawiki does not accept these templates and it is not for a "community" of the WMF to dictate that exceptions are to be made for their language.

The underlying problem is that the Wiktionary and the Wikibooks in that language do not have admins. Admins are the people that can do project localisation. This is what needs fixing. When a new project is created, there should be at least one admin. In this way the community will be able to do the project localisation but also vandal fighting.

The idea that people external to a project are needed to do the maintenance of the project is problematic. When people maintain their own project, when trust is given from the start I am convinced that it will enhance the chances for a project to do well. This is yet another thing that a council should deal with.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The localisation of MediaWiki extensions

Betawiki is doing a great job on the localisation of extensions. This can be deduced from the improvement shown by the group statistics and from the increasing list of extensions that are supported.

Today Siebrand provided another interesting statistic; a list with the extensions that have some localisation in more then fifty languages. This list is already quite long and it is interesting to note that the BoardVote has already some support from 111 languages.

There is one little teaser in this mix, Siebrand only included the extensions that use "$messages". This excluded the one extension that is my favourite, the Wikidata extension.. Then I again I was told that it is somewhere int the eighties :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Moving forward

Some good things that have been happening lately. Aaron, the developer of Flagged revisions, or Stable Version indicated that this extension is now stable in its messaging. This has now been picked up on Betawiki where it can now be can localised again.

The 179 messages of Flagged revisions adds to the load of an ever increasing number of messages that need localising. Currently there are 6511 messages up from 5744 messages a month ago, an incease of 767 messages. This shows clearly how much work goes into the MediaWiki development and the Betawiki localisation.

We are grateful for all the good work and to maintain the momentum, we have to continue to reach out to more people to help us to make their language a MediaWiki success too. Particularly for the African languages we wish to do well. At the last two Wikimanias Jimmy and Anthere talked about this. There have been workshops, there are special mailing lists and if we can do more to make Africans buy into the wiki way and own their Wikipedias many will.

Today I was asked to write for the Kabissa website.. Have a read, tell me what you think, tell me what more we can do for African languages..

(ps we includes you :) )

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Chamorra Wikipedia

The Chamorra Wikipedia is saved for now. This project that was proposed for closure will not be closed in recognition to the fact that there is some noticeable activity. Chamorra is a language spoken on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, and is spoken by some 76.700 people. As such it qualifies as a Wikipedia with few native speakers.

The Chamorra language is currently well supported on Betawiki; 95.72% of the most relevant messages are currently localised and 33.94% of all the MediaWiki messages. Consequently, this language is almost at the stage where we will honestly say that it has the minimum support required for this language.

I am really pleased with these efforts and I hope that this work done will be emulated by the other languages that are on life support.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saucy stories ?

I use Google reader to follow what is published on several websites. Sometimes I get to read a story that is saucy. Today I read about a named 13 year old boy who abused his fathers credit card and after having played in a "World of Warcraft" tournament ordered a supply of Dr Pepper, Fritos and Oreos as well as two escort girls. To quote the article, the boy said he thought it was the thing to do when you win a "World of Warcraft" tournament. To quote the two ladies of the night, they knew that something was up when they ended up playing Halo in stead of providing sexual services.

It is an amusing story but once I realised that this 13 year old kid was named in the article, it became a disgusting story to me. This kid is likely to be stigmatised for the rest of his life. I do not have any respect for a justice system that allows kids to be abused in this way. I do not have any respect for news organisations that name kids in this way. If this defines me and my values, I am proud to have them in this way.

There has been a lot to do about an article that my friend Erik Möller wrote several years ago in kuro5hin. This was written on websites and blogs that I do not care for because of their barrage of negative stories targetted against the Wikimedia Foundation and the people involved in it. I had been asked to take part in an edition of the Wikipedia Weekly, and this subject was discussed. After the program I was urged by Andrew Lih to read the kuro5hin article and make up my own mind.

I have read it and I find again how morals differ. This article is about children and sex; but the notion of what is acceptable and what is not, what is healthy and what is not is apparently very much a cultural thing. The article is about children and sex and provides a decidedly European view. In the Netherlands for instance a girl mature enough to ask a doctor for the pill, is likely to get it. This is much to be preferred over her going to the doctor two months later for an abortus provocatus or becoming a teen mother.

Erik writes: "It is a scandal in itself that the subject of child sexuality cannot be discussed without people raising the spectre of paedophilia", he writes: "If the child doesn't want it, is neutral or ambigious, it's inappropriate. This excludes most adult/child sexual contact, but only little child /child contact". I do not find suggestions in the article that provide an apology for peadophilia. Having read the article, I do not understand what the fuss is about.

What I do know is that both the 13 year old boy and Erik are damaged by a complete lack of what I consider appropriate. The 13 year old boy emulated adult behaviour and the escort girls went their way after having played Halo. Erik is being damaged because of what is to me a narrow minded POV on acceptable sexual morals, a fundamentalist parochial view that is sadly damaging many children. It has everything of a thought police ready to lynch all those who provide strong arguments that their dearly beloved moral beliefs are bankrupt.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Getting the message, right ?

Flagged revisions is what is also known in "user land' as stable version. It has gone life in the German Wikipedia and as such it qualifies as a "WMF used extension". This means that it should be a compulsory part of what is to be translated when a subsequent project is requested in a language.

In the past, the developers of Flagged revisions did not get their messaging right, there were so many changes, that we at Betawiki decided not to ask our localisers to work on it. This move has been communicated and at present we are not convinced / aware that flagged revisions has reached a sufficiently stable version (pun intended).

When we get some assurance about the stability of its messages, we at Betawiki will be really happily start to localise this extension again.

some nice infobits
  • Niuean, a language with some 5.000 fluent speakers is the latest language at Betawiki that has started localisation. I wish Sioneholof well with this brave attempt.
  • More and more messages for the Babel extension are being added. The functionality is actively being developed but its messages are stable ..
  • the project that provides funding for the localisation of languages in Africa, Asia and Latin America is in its last months.. We REALLY want to pay out more money :)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Taking responisibility of actions

The Wikimedia Foundation has for its own reasons stopped the creation of new projects for a considerable amount of time. This has everything to do with the imminent release of a new version of the GFDL. As projects like the Hungarian Wikinews are now waiting foralmost 100 days after receiving final approval from the board.

Erik had indicated that when there was no resolution by the end of April, the projects awaiting creation would be finally created. It must be said that I am disillusioned with what happened. In stead of finally creating these projects, new stumbling blocks were created in that these new projects had to be dual licensed.

There may be "good" reasons for all this nonsense, but I think it is not fair to all the people that want to see an end to this endless procrastination. It is not reasonable either because the new projects are effectively nothing but a split of content previously created on the Incubator. In effect a new project is nothing but a continuation of what went before. A new Wikipedia is just that but in a different language, finally were it is intended to be for a long time.

I would urge Erik, the WMF organisation to accept that their action is not fair and not reasonable to the people involved.

Please create the missing projects with all possible speed.

Beer, free wifi and standards

Today is a day to reflect on the days that went before. I am in Milan and yesterday there was this wonderful meeting where ISO contemplated how it will continue to evolve in the 21th century. I was asked to present about Wikis, and I am very happy with the opportunity that was given to me.

I must admit that I was exceedingly nervous, I hardly slept the day before I flew, and when I arrived at Bergamo airport I found that I had left my itinerary at home. Luckily there was an Internet cafe, and I had no problem reconstructing this all important list. There was one other person there, we got to talk and it turned out that Mz Otto had to wait until 15:00 for her travel partner to fly in. This allowed us to have a pleasant day in Bergamo, we drank coffee had some gelatto and visited the botanic garden after a nice walk in the old city. A great way to ease the nerves.

That evening I had a nice meal with the other people presenting; it was great because it eased my nerves. The meeting was held in a state of the art conference room, there was a nice opening speech by Mr Bob Sutor, he presented well what technologies are maturing and how they could be used by an international organisation that ISO is.

My presentation was a mix of the technical but most importantly also the social aspects that are necessary to make a Wiki approach a success. Wikis are considered as a viable way forward by ISO. It is definetly recognition for the relevance and the vitality as perceived outside of our wiki world :)

The one glitch was the Internet availability; at the meeting it just did not work. When I got near the hotel, I found this bar, and happily drank two bears not even starting to make an inroad of all the mail and other things. Today, I am back at this bar, I have had my coffees, a beer and something to eat. It is truly a busman's holiday and I could not be more content :)

Monday, May 05, 2008

World famous in the Netherlands

The Dutch Wikimedia chapter issued today a press release seeking quality pictures of famous people. In the press release it is explained that for the Wikimedia projects we need pictures available to us under a free license.

To make things easy, a special website, provides a helping hand when making a picture available to the WMF projects. There is a press kit available on the website.. I expect that the famous people in the Netherlands and Belgium will appreciate that a quality picture in Wikipedia is great publicity.


Several years I have run as a service the function of the pywikipedia bot software on all the Wiktionaries. I had up to six instances of the bot running concurrently on different projects. The principle behind it was simple; when a word in one project is exactly the same, a link is to be created. This function was created by Andre Engels and he helped me out a considerable number of times.

I stopped running the bot when people started to question the algorithm used by the bot. As I run it as a service, I was interested in changing it only when good arguments were provided why it should be changed. These arguments were never forthcoming, the reason why I stopped the running of the bot was because I was told that it is now ran from the tool server.

Yesterday, I learned that the tool server functionality although maybe really clever and efficient is only used to update the English language Wiktionary. Yesterday I was asked by Spacebirdy to run the bot again because there is a need for it. So I asked on IRC if there was a problem and I was told there was not.

Today I was told to change the algorithm because the English Wiktionary wants to create interwiki links to redirect pages and as it is a "community policy" I was told to abide by it. I asked for arguments why this made sense and no good arguments were forthcomming. It was even conceded that it would be best to discuss this in the village pump.

There are good reasons why a redirect should not be referred to by interwiki links:
  • Wiktionary aims to include all words in all languages. A word spelled incorrectly in one language can be correct in another
  • The specific word does not exist yet in the other project
  • The notion of homonymy is ignored
  • There are a substantial number of redirects that exist as a result of a conversion
Interwiki links are one of the few things that connect the different Wiktionary projects. It is essential to consider its use in the scope of the whole of Wiktionary and not within the narrow understanding of single projects. As more Wiktionaries became isolationist in their point of view it became increasingly time consuming and frustrating for me to run the bot. Given that I have in OmegaWiki the perfect solution for the need for interwiki links, I have no need for this functionality in the first place.

What I find disappointing is that the quality of service that I provided is no longer there. It is another fine problem that a community / project council could deal with.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Xhosa Wikipedia

Xhosa is a language spoken in South Africa and Lesotho by over seven million people. It is an official language of South Africa. I went to the Xhosa Wikipedia to urge people to contribute to Betawiki and found to my astonishment that a request has been made to close that project.

The proposal for closure is by one of its moderators, he is living in Europe and not a fluent speaker of the language. Nobody from Africa is currently involved in this project but considerable effort is put into finding people willing to contribute to this project.

A project without a community is dead. It may be possible to keep a project on life support when people volunteer their services. The problem is that all this well intentioned effort may be what prevents a project from taking off. What I wonder is that all the non African involvement prevents people from Africa getting a sense of ownership. If this is true, the best thing we can do is close down all the projects that are on life support. When people have to fight for their right to have and keep a project in their language, it may gain value as a consequence.


A 15 year boy was walking with two girls on a street during Koninginnedag. A car wanted to pass, honked ... was annoyed got out of the car and started to have a go at the boy. It started with some pushing, some kicking and only then the boy reacted. As a brown belt karateka, the boy could do serious damage. He did not, in the end his glasses were damaged but he had defended himself without resorting to his skills.

A thirty year old man was in a bar. Recently he had been professionally trained in aggression management and self defense. There was a guy who was intoxicated, really aggressive destructive even. The man thought, I can practice what I have learned... will I first give him an upper cut or a jab... He involved himself, talked to the man, using the psychological tricks... and found that they worked. I met this man at a dinner party, he told us that he would have liked to use his new fighting skills.

At the party, we talked about aggression, that it is good to have the skill to be able to manage unpleasant situations. The consensus was that it is best not to get into a situation and that the best you can do is to prevent a situation from getting even more nasty. We tried some holds on each other... I feel uncomfortable about having a perceived need for these skills. If anything the aggression management skills are the ones I prefer to master. Running I do for fun.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

This is a picture of General Abner Doubleday, U.S.A. This picture is available on Commons. It is available from the Library of Congress (LC-BH82- 150 B). This picture was cropped in order to be able to upload it onto the Wikimedia servers; its current size is 7,87 MB.
The date of this picture is between 1855 and 1865, at the time it was popular to create what are stereoscopic pictures so these are the two pictures needed to create this effect. Durova is doing great work by restoring pictures.This is a partially restored picture and it is very much improved. In a way, this work is similar to the work done in Wikisource. Important old pictures are restored and by their inclusion in Commons they are available in all WMF projects and under a Free license when downloaded for other uses.

There are many other pictures that are really relevant, the SF earthquake, the Warsaw ghetto uprising or Douglas MacArthur landing at Leyte..

I find it awesome that Commons is evolving and doing these great things that we do not hear much about. What else is happening at Commons that we do not know about ??

Friday, May 02, 2008

Beta release of the SignWriting Image Server

On the list of requested new languages, American Sign Language has been featuring for a long time. It is still on the discussion stage. The reason is that MediaWiki cannot show the necessary SignWriting script. So when we can use SignWriting in MediaWiki we can really start the process of starting our first Wikipedia in a sign language.

Today I received the announcement that the SignWriting Image Server (SWIS) has been given its beta release. It comes with the International SignWriting Alphabet (ISWA) 2008 set of symbols that currently defines 30 SymbolGroups, 600 BaseSymbols, and 33563 symbols.

One of the absolutely wonderful things to notice is how much the people from the SignWriting foundation picked up on the need of standards and licenses. The software is GPL3, the documentation is CC-by-sa and, the fonts are licensed under the Open Font License. To top it off, the plan is to write an Internet draft for the ISWA 2008 and make it an official character set.

The next phase is to update SignPuddle, the software to create content in SignWriting, for use of the ISWA 2008 and then an open source SignText plugin and finally a MediaWiki extension at the end of the Summer.

I am amazed about the volume of work that Valerie Sutton and Steve Slevinski put in to make their dream come true. Sign languages written for real human beings. I am so happy seeing that it is comming together ..

The importance of relevance

The board of the Wikimedia Foundation decided that their composition will be changed. There will be seats for chapters and there will be seats for experts. The number of people that are directly chosen by people of the many communities will decrease as a result. This decision was taken without consultation of either the advisory board or the community. Many people are pissed off. A consequence is that the influence on the board by people from the USA will be much less; there is no US chapter.

In separate mails both Erik Moeller and Anthere indicated that they would welcome it when the projects, the communities organise themselves. When a body of people takes care of the issues that come up in the projects, the organisation and the board do not have to do this. They cannot do it in the first place becaue they do not scale and do not have the skills to deal with multiple projects in over 250 languages.

When the board, the organisation cannot deal with the issues and when the communities take care of these same issues, two important things are established
  • The board, the organisation can concentrate on their enabling function
  • The relevance of the board is of a lessened relevance to the projects
When Wikipedia was still young, Jimmy was the "god king" and as more projects were started in more languages, it became clear that he could not deal effectively with all the community issues. Now that he is more of an ambasador, he still has a lot of influence, people still listen to what he has to say but it is quite clear that particularly the bigger projects organise themselves.

What is missing is a coordinating body, a council that deals with what the projects have in common. That deal with the conflicts between projects, that helps the smaller projects evolve in fully functional projects with all the trimmings. Such a body will consist of the many people who already do this type of work. In this way we can provide the perfect partner for the board and the organisation to work with. With such a body the composition of the board is a lot less relevant.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

On the monthly Betawiki info

April has been another good month at Betawiki. This month we started to support two more languages. Eleven more languages now have basic support; as a consequence, a third of the languages MediaWiki supports, are usable when you do not know another language.

When you look at all MediaWiki messages, the increase is not that big. To understand this, you have to appreciate that there were many changed and new messages due to the ongoing MediaWiki development. When you look at the extensions, you find that both the WMF used extensions and the other extensions show a healthy growth.

The major event this month was the first "language pack", it allows people who run the 1.12 stable version of MediaWiki to update the localisations. I only recently realised how different our software development is; typically localisers get into the act once the coding of all the new functionality is done. MediaWiki is different; the WMF projects always run the "bleeding edge" software and consequently there is a constant need to maintain the localisation. This makes localising MediaWiki much more of a challenge. The release of a new version is typically a major event, for MediaWiki it is something that is done as well ...

Some factoids:
  • New projects are once again created; sadly a new version of the GFDL has not yet been released
  • There are currently 1908 messages in MediaWiki. Release 1.12 has 1768 messages - an 8% increase
  • Siebrand's insane goals for 2008 are starting to look more realistic, even achievable....