Sunday, July 31, 2011

SPQRobin does #Haifa

Tomorrow I am travelling with Robin to #Wikimania. We are looking forward to meet our Wiki friends irl. We will have fun meeting new and old friends and we may see the sights of another beautiful city.

- Who is SPQRobin in real life

I am Robin Pepermans and I live in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. I just finished my secondary education, having studied Latin and modern languages. My next studies will likely be Public Administration and/or Translation Studies in Ghent. I started editing the Dutch Wikipedia in 2006 under my username SPQRobin. At that time I was very interested in Roman history and the Roman Empire. Even though my interests quickly shifted, I remained known under this nickname since then.

- You are involved in multiple projects, what are they and what role do you play

As I become more active in the wiki world, I discovered Meta, Commons, and also the Incubator. It was a relatively new project, where new language editions of existing Wikimedia projects are developed and maintained until they are active enough to have their own sub-domain. Incubator was however not maintained well, so I improved it and helped the users there. A few more people joined me, and there is now a little group who maintains the Incubator. Not only was Incubator itself not maintained, the process to start a new wiki was often slow and people kept asking when their wiki would be created (sometimes with no response). To improve communication, I became a member of the language committee in 2009. This committee is in charge of deciding which Incubator wikis are ready for creation. Incubator, being a special wiki like Commons, required some software features that are not easily available in MediaWiki. Therefore I applied for commit access so I could create a MediaWiki extension that provides these features. It took quite some time for this extension to be enabled, maybe because Incubator is a lesser-known project and not a high priority. I am working further on this extension, for example the plan (that especially I and Milos Rancic are pushing forward) is to make subdomains of non-existing wikis (e.g. and redirect to the respective welcome pages or main pages at the Incubator, (xmf Wiktionary and yua Wikipedia).

- Lately you have worked on bugs that have to do with RTL languages like Hebrew and Arabic. Are these patches in production and what are these patches about

Recently I became more involved in fixing bugs and making the software better. It was clear that a lot of the interface and features had poor support for right-to-left languages, even though a lot of the RTL bugs are relatively easy to fix. You don't have to be able to read an RTL language to be able to fix them :-) I noticed that ResourceLoader included CSSJanus, which automatically flips CSS, making the software A LOT better and easier to maintain for RTL interface. Even the old bug 6100 (interface direction should follow user language and not content language) would be fixed. However, the content was flipped as well, so this was disabled. I fixed this issue, along with many others, and I generally improved the directionality support of MediaWiki. These improvements are now part of the upcoming MediaWiki 1.18, and will hopefully soon be deployed on Wikimedia wikis. You can already enjoy the improvements on e.g., which always runs the latest software. If you have any bug reports or suggestions regarding RTL interface, don't hesitate to contact me :-)

- You are going to your first Wikimania, what do you expect

I am really looking forward to my first Wikimania. I hope to see a lot of people who I know from Wikimedia in real life, and to meet other people as well. I am going to the developer days, where I will talk about my RTL work and improve it even further with other developers, especially for the issues that I am not able to fix myself :) I could also talk about the Incubator improvements that I am developing, such as the welcome pages for non-existing wikis.

Since Belgium, my country is one of the few Western countries without a chapter, I might talk with other Belgians and Dutch people about a possible Wikimedia Belgium or even a possible Wikimedia Benelux.

The sad thing is that the developer days coincide with the Global South Meeting and Chapters Meeting, which both seem to be very interesting.

New wikis in 2010
- How many more languages will we support in two years time

Currently we are growing quite slowly in my opinion. There are yearly some ten to twenty new wikis opened, most of which are in European languages. Sometimes there are promising projects organised, that want to help languages in the Global South to get their Wikipedia, but then I didn't hear of them anymore. My hope is that the chapters set up such projects. For example India, Indonesia and Australia are starting to become active in helping small languages get support and get their Wikimedia wikis. South America is less active but I hope they will join too.
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