Sunday, December 28, 2008

The 1.13 and 1.12 localisations are updated in SVN

With the large amount of localisation work done at Betawiki over the last few days, we want to share as widely as possible. The most important beneficiaries are all the projects of the Wikimedia Foundation. Every day the localisations are committed to SVN. Whenever Brion updates the WMF projects, the latest localisations become available to all Wikipedias, all Wiktionaries, all Wikibooks, all Wikinews, all Wikiquotes, all Wikiquotes, all Wikisources, all Wikiversities and all the other WMF wikis.

We are really happy with our end of year activity, it is not only the people who localise who walk the extra mile, it is also the MediaWiki developers at Betawiki who improve the texts of many messages, who create text that supports the localisers and who implement, check and improve on the internationalisation of MediaWiki and its extensions.

The "other" MediaWiki users, often use one of the stable versions. For these people and organisations Betawiki maintains a list of the messages for the 1.12 and 1.13 stable versions. Today Siebrand exported these messages to SVN; consequently you can update from SVN. Alternatively you can go to Betawiki and export the messages for one language at a time.

Betawiki is about languages and English is key because all the MediaWiki software is developed in English. Many people improve MediaWiki for their language and many more people can make a difference..

You can make that difference :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Betawiki tools

When you localise Betawiki and you localise a language like Arabic or Hebrew, you want a user interface that goes from right to left. To do this and other things, there are gadgets available in the user preferences.

There are two ways of doing this; you can opt to change the direction globally or you can choose to have a button override it on an edit page. These two options have been there for quite some time, they have been essential for us to support right to left oriented languages.

Nikerabbit added a new gadget the other day; they allow us to change the text area font style. There are three three styles: monospaced, sans and serif. In a previous blog post I mentioned that Firefox was broken for the Lingala wikipedi. This is actually not the case; the problem is that monospaced fonts have been selected for Firefox and this is what makes Firefox, Safari and Opera break.

Monospaced fonts do not support characters like "ɔ́" properly, but the sans and serif fonts work as they should in most modern browsers.. Internet Explorer is broken because it does show the wrong characters, Chrome is broken because it does not show a character.


Friday, December 26, 2008

The Betawiki end of year prize

Last year Siebrand formulated REALLY ambitious objectives. At the time his motivation was that it should not be too easy. Now at the end of the year, we need twelve more languages to finish the "most used messages" for instance. Siebrand calculated that it takes some 8000 localisations for exactly the right language to reach all the objectives.

With only a few days left in the year, we want to end the year with a bang. To make this happen, we have made EUR 1000,- available to be shared among the people who do more than 500 localisations in the finishing part of the year.

Today in the second day of the End of Year and we are happy with the results so far; many new contributors, many contributors coming back to help a hand and we have never seen so many localisations in a day. We have had people comment that it is no longer possible to do 500 localisations for languages like German or Dutch. We have people comment on the quality of messages... It is like a week happening in a day :)

The biggest winner of this end of year prize? All us users of MediaWiki because all the localisations will be shared by us all. Please, be a winner with us and help the localisation for your language to be as good as it can be.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Srećan Božić

Today is Chrismas eve, for some countries Christmas has already started. I want to wish you all a happy Christmas from my blog. Many people on the SignWriting mailing list exchange their best seasons wishes by e-mail. The one I liked best this year was by Stefan Wöhrmann..

Happy Holidays,

A plugin for aditional support

I have added the "Linker button" to my blog. It allows you to discover more about some of the concepts that are used on my blog. In the screen shot you see information about publications for the concept "handwriting".

The terminology used is based on what can be found in This contains a really rich resource for biomedical terminology. It includes information like publications and authors from Pubmed (for the security conscious among you, Pubmed is seen here through the "Conceptweblinker").

The cool thing for me is that Wikiprofessional in its wiki part is based on the OmegaWiki mark I technology. We are currently working hard on making the data mining engine mindful of new concepts that are entered in the Wiki. When we have this working, I can make sure that all the concepts in my blog are known to the engine and in this way my blog becomes easier to understand for those whose English is not as good as mine.

The current terminology is quite extended. From the Conceptweblinker and from you can experience what can already be done for the English language Wikipedia. Given the terminology, it works best for those articles that are in the bio-medical domain.

When you are interested in having this feature enabled on your website or blog, just put this code snippet in the right place..

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>

There is even a plugin for Firefox only at the moment...

Monday, December 22, 2008

SignWriting and hand writing

When I write about SignWriting, I write about the script, how it can be used for any sign language and about the request for a Wikipedia in American Sign Language. The SignWriting mailing list has been focusing mostly on the development of the new implementation of the script and how it affects the software.

Lately there were more threads about how SignWriting is used in education and several posts were about handwriting. When you look at the many examples that were posted, you find that like any script there is room for a lot of individuality. There is a maturation process; people taking short cuts as they progress in ability. I am sure that the handwriting of deaf doctors is as hard to decipher as the handwriting of a hearing doctor :)

Here is an example done by Sandy Fleming and is in British Sign Language.

Why bother

Today when I came to Commons I found this:

Somebody bothered to warn me that an image was about to be deleted. What is the point if the image that is to be deleted will be deleted within a day? The assumption that the image is about VISTA is also wrong. The image involved is about Google Chrome, software that is Open Source.

The image demonstrates that Chrome does not support the Khmer Wikipedia well and, it was uploaded for people from Google to have a look at. I think a screen shot like that can be considered in our interest. Anyway, next time do not bother to warn me because there is no room to react. This is the image that was deleted. I am convinced that nobody will tell me that it is a "copyright violation" let alone that someone will tell me to remove it.

RNA Biology

The magazine RNA biology announced that they are requiring researchers publishing research on families of RNA molecules in the journal to write a Wikipedia article summarising their findings. The notion is that the paper in the magazine is original research and the Wikipedia article that will also be peer reviewed, will be a summary.

There are several problems:
  • Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia with different subjects linked by hyperlinks. It is not a collection of summaries of scientific articles. This means that information that is relevant in one research paper is likely to find a home in many Wikipedia articles. This makes a traditional peer review, where the review takes place before publication, problematic if not impossible.
  • The proposed Wikipedia article is a summary of a scientific paper. Scientific papers do not provide a neutral point of view and they should not be neutral. For Wikipedia NPOV is essential and people get banned for pushing their point of view.
  • The subject matter is so specialised that a typical Wikipedia admin will not be able to judge it. This allows for a lot of misunderstandings and conflict.
  • Writing a scientific article and writing a Wikipedia article requires different skills. Wikipedia serves the general public and its articles should reflect this. A different vocabulary, a different style of writing is required.
I think there is a need for more discussion before this actually starts happening.

NB the article that proposes this is a paid for article in Nature, there is also a press release about this.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I just read one of those "little" news items that lifted my heart.. The president of Bolivia announced that Bolivia is the third country in Latin America that is free of illiteracy. With support from Cuba and Venezuela, a massive educational effort has helped more than 800,000 Bolivians to learn to read and write. Most people were taught to read and write Spanish but many people learned their mother tongue Aymara or Quechua.

Research has shown again and again that education is one of the best investments for a country. I expect that this will prove to be true for Bolivia as well.

Modern technology

In the SignWriting world, it was this week very much about modern technology and the availability of it. The first thing was about video clips. Valerie found that it is possible to record video with a big compression rate.. She is inquiring the mailing list if this is useful. The other thing that met with a lot of interest is the favicon. So far the SignWriting websites did not have one and a discussion has started about what it should look like and how to implement such a newfangled oddity.

Adam Frost wrote that he has implemented a favicon on his website. I must say his blog is really interesting; I have added a subscription to my Google Reader. What makes it interesting is the mix of signing using a blog and writing in English. Adam uses video to capture his signing and he writes in English. He posts both together so I can appreciate what he is on about... and so can you. Have a look at his blog..

Google Chrome fail

This is the Khmer Wikipedia on my system in Chrome.

This is also the km.wikipedia on my system with Firefox.

Google has some more work to do to get it right.

Importing Tagalog messages

We are really happy at Betawiki with the steady growth of the Tagalog messages. AnakngAraw is really working hard. Because of the speed of his work, we had the impression that he was copying messages from the Tagalog Wikipedia. When you do this manually, it is a lot of work and, the Betawiki developers have the tools, the skills to do this much more efficiently.

Most important at Betawiki is the time of our localisers. We really want them to be as efficient as we can make them. By copying in these messages from the Tagalog Wikipedia, AnakngAraw is now free to spend his time on something else, for instance localising the messages of the many extensions we use.

One question I am left with, are there other projects that spend a lot of time localising that we are unaware of at Betawiki ? We would love to be more complete for any language...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The girl effect

Last year at the Holland Open I met Erik Duval. Today I reconnected with him and I spend a considerable time reading his blog. There were several videos that I liked. This one I really liked. It is simple, the idea is powerful and it will work up to a point.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Why do African languages fail on Wikipedia

In one word: usability.

  • UNICEF has done usability testing; 100% of their test subjects were unable to create a new article. This study was video taped and is available to the WMF for its Stanton project.
  • The localisation for most African languages is not good and they hurt as a consequence
  • MediaWiki does not show characters needed for African languages properly in most modern browsers
When you look at my user page in edit mode, you will see the word "Mbɔ́tɛ!". It is likely that you will see the character and the accent next to each other. My user page is likely to look good. When you use this with the latest version of Safari, it looks good. Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer show my user page properly but it goes wrong in the edit mode. Firefox does fail the least; it shows you the character and the accent next to each other. Chrome does not show you the characters while Internet Explorer shows you different characters.

It may be that by changing the CSS for the MediaWiki edit screen a solution can be found. That would be awesome. In the mean time the best result is achieved for African languages by using the latest Safari browser,

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Supporting Lingala in MediaWiki

Lingala is a language spoken by 200.000 native speakers and 7 million people speak it as a second language according to Ethnologue. It has its own Wikipedia, with a little over a thousand articles. The Lingala language makes use of other characters of the Latin script like the ɔ́. The accent has to be right on top in order to display well. In order to make it so, the CSS on the Lingala Wikipedia has been changed and a specific set of fonts have been ordered and identified.

The problem is that other MediaWiki installations do not provide this change. Consequently Lingala people are unlikely to support their language in Betawiki and, they are unlikely to upload their images to Commons.

In a discussion on Betawiki, browsers have been tested for this problem.
  • Dell WinXP Explorer: squares instead of open e/o (with or with no accents).
  • Dell WinXP Firefox open o/e well; accents well.
  • Mac 10.2.8 Safari 1.0.3: open o/e well; accents not.
  • Mac 10.2.8 Firefox 2.0.9: open o/e well; accents not.
  • Mac 10.2.8 Explorer 5.2: open o/e as "?"; accents not.
  • Mac 10.4.11 Safari 3.1.1: open o/e well; accents not.
  • Mac 10.4.11 Firefox 2.0.0: open o/e well; accents not.
As I understand it, it is a matter for people to use a modern browser. If this is all there is to this, there are two parts to upgrading to a modern browser. How do we get this message out and, how do people get their upgrade?

It is not only browser related, the ɔ́ shows properly while I am editing this blog entry, but it does not in final form..

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Installing a new font

It is not often that I find I cannot see the characters in a text. Today I installed a font for the script that is used for all the Yi languages.

This font is provided by SIL, it is available under the Open Font License. I came to install it because there is a Wikipedia in the Sichuan Yi language, its main page indicates in English that it is now at the Incubator. It is one of the languages that is not yet supported in Betawiki.. It will need a person to request it to make it so.

The list of Wikipedias proves to be incorrect because several Wikipedias have been closed. This is not reflected on the list.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Some Betawiki updates

Betawiki now has its own favicon...

Siebrand did send out the latest Betawiki news letter. In it he asks us to give each other the finishing touch of one of the message groups. Many languages are just a few messages away from a completed "most often used messages"...

Brion blogged that there were security releases for MediaWiki. The good news is that these releases do include the latest localisations .. The sad news is that for a 1.12 update you will have to wait for a release that will be there any time soon. One alternative is to upgrade to 1.13.3..

Digg drugs

I found this article on Digg, as you can see it is highly rated and, it seems to have its origin on en.wikipedia.

When you actually go to the article, the image is on Commons. It is the type of picture that paints a thousand words. Even better, it is in SVG, and there is a  Toolserver tool that helps you to translate the text in your languages. This was easier said then done because the word "Dependence" has fewer characters then "Afhankelijkheid". 
I installed Inkscape because the tools that I have on my computer did not work well for me. What I learned is that this is because of the orientation of the characters. With another orientation, the Toolserver tool would have had no problem. 

When you look at the labels in the text, you may agree with me that what is needed is mainly the translation in another language, something that should be possible from a dictionary resource like Wiktionary or OmegaWiki. OmegaWiki does have the ability to be queried. This opens up the possibility to show all the words in the language selected in the user preferences or the language of the page when the translations are available.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Wikipedia main page with a twist

This is the main page of the Wikipedia in Luganda.

This initiative has been replicated on several Wikipedias. It makes it easy to create a new page.

This iniative tries to inform the people who come to this page what articles are considered essential. The lists are in English and it is therefore that I hope that all the red links remain red. While on one level I applaud the initiative, I cringe when I look at this list.. Where are the subjects that are essential in a Luganda setting ?

Betawiki update

Every month I post an update on the Wikipedias. It informs about the percentage of messages that are localised for that specific language. Normally I copy the text of the previous month and update the numbers. This month I have an improved message.
There are two changes; the {{CONTENTLANGUAGE}} is used to make the message language independent and the link to Betawiki is to the Special:LanguageStats page. This is probably more inviting to lend a hand and help with the localisation.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The W3C has published its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These recommendations have been worked on to make the Internet more accessible for people with disabilities and for older people and it aims to increase the usability of websites across a variety of mobile devices.

This improved standard addresses the barriers to accessing the Web experienced by people with visual, auditory, physical, cognitive and neurological disabilities, and by older Web users with accessibility needs. WCAG 2.0 explains how to make content:
  • Perceivable (for instance by addressing text alternatives for images, captions for audio, adaptability of presentation, and color contrast);
  • Operable (by addressing keyboard access, color contrast, timing of input, seizure avoidance, and navigability);
  • Understandable (by addressing readability, predictability, and input assistance); and
  • Robust (for instance by addressing compatibility with assistive technologies).
The publication of this standard comes at a time when the Wikimedia Foundation is preparing its Stanton project team to address usability. Even with $890.000,-- there is only so much that you can do and the research by UNICEF has made it painfully clear how much work needs to be done on MediaWiki usability. Browsing the text of this improved standard, it is clear to me that this standard is written to a large extend for the classic websites that are quite static in nature. The content of wikis are generated by its communities and consequently it will be hard to make it available in all the different ways discussed in these guidelines. I do expect that there is much in there that is relevant.

The Stanton team will start its work in January with assessing what has already been done by others on usability. In the WCAG 2.0 it finds guidelines that help our projects to become accessible for people with disabilities. It is a happy coincidence that these standard have been published before this work actually started.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Singing in a choir

When you sing in a choir, you have text and music. You rehearse and when it is time, you sing publicly in a church or a theatre. In a choir you are expected to wear the same colours in order to look and sing as one.

I read today about a choir that provides a signed translation of what is sung. The choir has a repetoire and, every other year the same music may reappear. The translator is likely to forget the texts and typically has to translate it again. The translator in the article wrote the sign language down. She does not need to remember, she knows what the text is.

Virgin Killer

Enough has been said about the fracas about British censorship. Virgin killer is an album by the Scorpions. It is also a track on this album.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Usability - The Wikia tools

Angela mentioned the work Wikia is doing on usability in a thread on Foundation-l. I had a look and, I am impressed. They have a working solution for the problem with templates.

The problem is that many people get frightened off by templates. Compare the screen shot above, a screen shot with a maximum of information on the template used, with the Wikipedia article "Netherlands".

Wikia has at the bottom of each page functionality that allows you to create a new page. This leads to a Special:Createpage. This is a big improvement from the standard MediaWiki method.

The great thing is Angela's invitation to the Wikimedia Foundation to explore the Wikia code to learn if it is useful. I applaud this. But why wait for the WMF usability project to kick in, would it not make sense for all the people and organisations to start collaborating anyway?

There are many aspects of MediaWiki that need work. There are many people and organisations that will benefit from cooperating.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ryan Whilte

I am experimenting with texts and translations. For no particular reason I landed on an article about Ryan White. His is a story about the suffering from AIDS and the emancipation of people who suffer from AIDS.

Ryan gave a speech before the Presidents commission on the HIV Epidemic. This speech can be found on Wikisource. On the article there is a template warning that it may be nominated for deletion because it does not offer license information..

Ryan was eighteen when he died in 1990. You can still read his speech at Wikisource.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The cochlear implant

When you get involved in any way with deaf people, sign languages or in my case SignWriting, at some stage you will come across people arguing that a cochlear implant will make many of the issues go away. In Wikipedia parlance, this is not a neutral point of view.
I want to get my own point of view on this subject and I asked a mailing list for "linguists interested in signed languages" if there are sound files that simulate what such a gadget sounds like. What I want to know is what spoken texts sounds like in a quiet background, in a noisy background and, what music sounds like.

The response that I got was great, I found a website with soundfiles and a website with a program that allows me to make my own soundfiles. The problem that I face is that I do not know how to appreciate the results. The soundfiles demonstrate the difference between different channels. These differences are huge, and it is indicated that native speakers can understand them with fewer channels. My observation is that there are no native speaking natural deaf people. I expect that natural deaf people have to learn to recognise sounds and have to learn to recognise spoken speach.

I have downloaded the program and experimented with it, and found that the paramaters are not in a way that I understand. It is not like selecting the number of channels and therby being comparable with the existing soundfiles. The program needs understanding of how a cochlear implant works and I do not.

Learning about cochlear implants, my current understanding is still very much that they are crutches. The results are hardly comparable with natural hearing. Also not all the implants are equal so it is hard to speak about "the cochlear implant" and generalise. I also learned that the cochlear implant is not for everybody, it is only for people with problems with their cochlea.

I still do not know enough about what I want to learn. I want to know how voice sounds in a noisy environment. I am not able to use the software, so I would LOVE to have soundfiles to illustrate the Wikipedia articles. This would make the arguments for one or the other POV less emotional and more factual.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Google Reader

Google Reader has been given a make over. The colours changed a bit, the icons were changed, all the thing that you expect in a make over are there. One thing though I find really interesting is that they included the option to translate the texts.
I am comfortable reading English and German and Dutch obviously, but if I want to I can have all the feeds translated in Dutch. For me this makes only sense for texts that are not in one of those three languages.
When a text is translated, particularly when machine translation is used, you are bound to losesome of the understanding of what was actually meant. What I would really love is when I have the option to allow for translation but only for those languages I need it for. This option would make me use this tool, because no translation means that I will not get anything of the text

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Bundesarchiv; the Berlin wall

The Wikimedia Deutschland Verein and the German Bundesarchiv have agreed that 100.000 images will be made available on Commons under a CC-by-sa license. This is one of the pictures; it shows the wall being build.

I discussed this important donation with Durova, and we swapped stories about what the wall was to us. Durova would LOVE to work her magic on some of the more important pictures, restore them back to the quality that allows them to be featured.

I would love to know if the Bundesarchiv would be in for a request to have some of their images restored to their original glory..

How to support your African language

When you make use of the Internet, you will expect that certain things are taken care off. When I have selected Dutch as a preference, today will be 04-12-2008 and many other things will change as a consequence. Someone has spend some two hours to enter such information and many more hours were spend to verify the correctness and enter it in a standard, the CLDR or the Commons Locale Data Repository.

This standard is incomplete particularly for languages in Africa. The Afrigen project is a project where people are asked to check the locale information for their language and if this data is not there or incomplete, to spend those two hours and fill in the data for your African language.

Have a look at the presentation and then help Africa become part of this Internet age.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

On the monthly Betawiki information

This month is the first where we can compare the statistical data for a whole year. What has proven itself a great invention are the "most often used" messages. These messages provide the basic support for MediaWiki, they are invaluable when you want to make a Wiki usable. Currently 102 languages support them up from 48 a year ago. The core messages are up from 50 to 64, the extensions used  by the WMF have grown from 11 to 26 and finally all extensions from 7 to 16.

What the numbers do not tell you is the escalating growth of our software. In November alone, the messages for all extensions went up by some 650 messages. It is only because of the continued commitment of the Betawiki community that so many languages are supported this well.

This has been an interesting year, we have had support from HIVOS to promote the localisation from languages in Africa, Asia and South America, Nikerabbit did a Finnish Summer of Code project, Siebrand is becoming more and more of a programmer and MediaWiki is still growing by leaps and bounds, FlaggedRevs and SUL are two of the biggest contributors to messages.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Obama doing good

The president elect for the United States has a website for the transition period. On it, news about the transition process is posted. What I find of interest is that in order to champion a more open, transparent and participatory government, they have adopted a new copyright policy.

One key aspect of this new policy is that the content of is now available under the CC-by 3.0 license. I applaud this choice. To become effective, it is essential to get the message out. They need people to pick up the message and thereby enable the process of participation. It is clear that a "share alike "requirement would prevent participation.


Betawiki has a new special page; the Special:LanguageStats. It provides current information about the status of the localisation for a language.

The screenshot shows the statistics for Italian, the option to suppress the completely translated message groups has been selected. What you end up with is a marvellous tool that allows you to just select the work that still needs doing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Signs and their corresponding SignWriting symbols

I learned that a set of animated gifs are being created to demonstrate what a SignWriting sign looks like together with a picture of a hand that signs it. Sadly it seems that my blog software does support GIF but not animated GIF.  You can find the animation here ..


When you are talking about chemicals, pretty pictures can express much better the complex relations between the various atoms that make up a molecule then a lot of words. JMOL is a set of applications that illustrate chemicals The software is open source, there is an extension for MediaWiki and it is not used in any of the Wikipedias.

The problem was that security issues were found with the software, further developments happened and then nothing. Recently, the subject of JMOL was raised again. The software had stopped working against the "bleeding edge" of MediaWiki, this has now been fixed.

Only one question is left. Now what ?

Some OLPC news

The OLPC computer is not your average computer. It has proven itself a game changer; it was this system that ushered in a new category of computers. It is rugged, hard to break and easy to fix. It has the potential to get many people on this side of the digital divide because of its innovative approaches to computer hardware and software.

This is Samuel and me making a photo of each other. The really clever gizmo that is being demonstrated is a piece of plastic that is put in the right hand USB connector.

When you have a good look at this "view finder", you will see that this thing has been printed. Thin layers of plastic are overlaying each other making up this prototype. It is really clever and it makes using an OLPC system much more exciting to use.

The other thing is an Ethernet connector for the OLPC. This is particularly useful for those people who use the OLPC outside of a school environment.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wikimedia meet Brussels

For the second time, a call went out on the Dutch Wikipedia; there will be a Wiki meet up in Brussels. WalterBE had been contacted that SJ would be in town and this was enough of a reason for a meeting. It is the second time that there was such a meet up; the first time in the day when Wikipedia was young, there was much more advance warning and, in the end there were two people. Walter and myself. We had a good time; went to what was the colonial museum and ended up in Gent where we saw this beautiful city by boat. The 2008 meeting featured a 50% increase of attendees counting the Dutch language Wikipedians.

This time it was OLPC time. Samuel was in Europe for a meet-up of key OLPC Europeans, they were there to smoothen the roll out of their “get one, give one” project. Meeting these people is quite similar to meeting Wiki people, there is a similar spirit of enthusiasm and passion. They are knowledgeable and there is a perceivable spirit of “we are going to make this work”.

I had reasons to be amazed. When people ask me about the projects that I am involved in, I always mention SignWriting. It is not that I consider myself the most knowledgeable or the best placed person to promote this wonderful cause, I do promote it and this has become a cause that is dear to me. I was amazed that one of the people there actually knew about it; he had learned about it at Gallaudet university and he even expressed an interest in testing the latest software on the XO.

Many of the issues that I have noticed with MediaWiki are as relevant for the OLPC. Usability, localisation and managing a complex infra structure are key. What I am grateful off is that with the OmegaWiki mark II approach it may have a chance to get a similar relevance for other platforms like the OLPC.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New functionality on Betawiki

When you are localising the MediaWiki messages on Betawiki, it often helps when you know how the same message looks like in other languages. It can inform in what languages a messages is still !!FUZZY!!.

In and of itself this has not been the most technically challenging change. It is however a great usability improvement. These changes often just pop up, long time editors often do not notice such small things, they are used to their way of doing things, they need to be informed :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Improving the MediaWiki usability

Eighty percent of the Wikimedia Foundation projects are not doing well. They hardly grow both in size and in community and there is room for quality improvement. Given that all our projects are done by volunteers and given that we rely on growing our community in order to improve our projects usability is key. It has to be easy and inviting to collaborate.

UNICEF hosts several MediaWiki wikis. They found that people have a problem contributing. They did usability studies in Tanzania and found that 100% of their test subjects were not able to create a new article. This is shocking. It helps explain why our projects have a problem. Usability and localisation are the key enablers for people to participate.

As part of the Extensions Testing project, we are testing the UNICEF extensions. The CreatePage extension now works. The picture above shows the default look with the Monobook skin. The first thing we can do is include a link to "Create article" in the sidebar.

For the Uniwiki, a different skin has been developed and a "Create Page" button is given a lot of prominence. Another innovation is the idea of using templates for certain types of articles. This became feasible as a consequence of the "Create Page" functionality.

It already makes sense for the WMF to implement this one extension as it is likely to make a big difference. Consider, 100% of the test subjects in Tanzania proved to be unable to collaborate so we desperately need to do better. We can start by first implementing the core functionality; a link in the sidebar and a special page. As we gain experience, we can put more polish on it. We can work on visibility, we can create our own templates, we can work on the skin.

We can make a start improving our usability. Given the state of the majority of our projects, it is easy to argue why.

Welcome news

Brion Vibber announced that the upload limit on file sizes has been bumped up from 20 to 100 megabytes. This is particularly welcome news for the people restoring images. The practice is to upload both the original image and the restored image. Several of the original images were just too big.

This good news comes as a consequence of the many new servers that have been installed. The question is if this will mean more reliable backups as well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Providing a context to localisers

When people translate, it is often not clear what the messages is there for. Individual messages may be part of a bigger message and, this can impact grammar. Messages may have multiple parameters and what they are is not necessarily clear from the message itself.

Betawiki became a superior environment for its localisers when it started to provide context for the messages. These messages are available as "qqq" messages. The person best placed to provide this help is the developer of the software. Second best are the people who have learned where a message appears.

Given that Betawiki supports 298 languages. The pay back for this investment in time is obvious.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In need of more glue

Wikipedia is about encyclopaedic content. Articles about the same concept are connected by "InterWiki" links. Links may exist to the Wiktionary in the same language for lexical information and when there are many files in Commons, there may be a link to Commons as well. These connections are the glue that bind the projects, and the languages together. They add real value to the projects. This value is already recognised in the way the search engine now provides links to sister projects in the same language.

The links between projects are extremely valuable. Some are inferred as in the search engine and some are made explicit as in the InterWiki links. When you read an article in a language where the article is only a stub, you can find more information through the interwiki links.

Everything should be linked in order to provide the best information and to make life easier for our readers, we should not forget the projects with little or no content. For them there is no place to make these connections. For these languages the least amount of information is not available anyway therefore the challenge is to provide a place where they can start connecting information for their people.

OmegaWiki starts with a concept. This concept is defined in a language and on average nine tranlsations are known for it. When a language is added, slowly but surely a web of connected starts to build. Links to Commons, links to Wikipedia articles in other languages and links to other concepts in OmegaWiki.

When the Wikimedia Foundation has sufficient resources, it may consider to support the not supported languages in this way. OmegaWiki proves that its concept works.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tai Le script

The Tai Le script is a script used for the Tai Nüa language. The Wikipedia article is a bare boned article and it could do with some expansion.

To show what this script looks like, the characters are shown when the user has the appropriate fonts loaded on his machine. Many people do not have sufficient fonts on their machine.

There are solutions to this problem; the first is have people load fonts for all languages. This is quite complicated; the font that I use for the Khmer script for instance does not show in Google Chrome. One strategy that would help for Wikipedia would be for the Wikimedia Foundation to actively support fonts for the scripts it uses in its projects.. that is all of them.. and provide them as a downloadable resource.

Another possibility is to provide server side fonts. In this way fonts are loaded from WMF servers when the user does not have the appropriate fonts on his system. I have done some reading on the subject, it is doable but the providers of fonts are absolutely against this because people do not need to buy the fonts any more. Given that the WMF is about Open Source and given that many fonts are available under a free license, this is not an issue for the WMF.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to say Obama

Barack Obama is the president elect of the USA. It is impossible to have missed this. His name is on everybody's lips, the people of Kenia celebrated his election with a day off from work..

How do you say and write Barack Obama? பராக் ஒபாமா, บารัค โอบามา, बराक ओबामा, ဘာရတ်အိုဗားမာ and باراک اوباما are just a few examples how different this can be. On the SignWriting mailing list there is a discussion on how to sign Obama. To appreciate this, you have to know that normally the name of a person gets sign spelled, they do not have a sign. People who sign have a sign for themselves. People who are important to the Deaf community may get one as well.

Presidents of the USA are in their time known by a sign. These signs however need to be remembered and this is a generational thing. A sign for a person gets lost when that person is no longer talked about. Only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have signs that are well known. Barack Obama does not have a universally known sign, this is because he has not impacted the Deaf community, so that is why he hasn't received a name sign.

Previous presidents like Ronald Reagan did have a well known sign but as sign language is not preserved by writing, these signs slowly but sureley get lost from the shared memory. It is writing that preserves the ideas the concepts of a culture. It is only SignWriting that has the potential to preserve the concepts and ideas of today for the people who will sign tomorrow.

In a Wikipedia for sign languages the signs of today will be preserved. The content of such a Wikipedia will include articles about what impacts the people of the Deaf community. It is funny because it makes me realise that the article of Valerie Sutton on the English language Wikipedia does not include her sign.

So how do many currently sign Obama? The logo for the Obama campaign is an O with a rainbow and that is why some of those name signs are an O hand and then the number 4 in a curve for the is "O with a rainbow" to match his logo... So the logo may influence the sign for him in time...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Happy with a Wikimania presentation

I waited for a two hour download to finish. I watched it and, it had me think again about what makes a small wiki work. The UNICEF developers have been working hard making MediaWiki usable for their communities in Africa. They had people test their improvements and, they made a difference. With the improvements more people contributed to their Wikis.

In their project 100% of the test group did not know how to create new articles. They just did not know how to. Having a button that helps to create new articles makes a big difference. Add to this standard templates for new articles and you have something powerful.

Other innovations are in helping understand the editing. The text is split in sections and the categories are shown to the right of the screen. This also stimulated participation a lot.

When people call Wikipedia a success, they are talking about a tiny fraction of our projects. The vast majority of the Wikipedias is small and is in need of both more content and editors. Usability is with internationalisation and localisation what helps readers connect to what we do and become editors.

With the UNICEF people having spend a lot of effort on improving usability, we only need to adopt what has been learned. I am sure that certain people will find that some things might be done differently, more sophisticated but for me this makes the perfect the enemy of the good. Adopting the lessons learned, the new functionality will stimulate our smaller and smallest projects. That would be good.

Support the Wikimedia Foundation so that they can improve the usability and allow us to do even better..
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Frustration with a Wikimania presentation

At the Wikimedia Conferentie Nederland Jan-Bart de Vreede mentioned Uniwiki and the Uniwiki functionality for MediaWiki. He mentioned that Kennisnet is interested in running this functionality on some of their wikis. At that time these extensions were not supported in Betawiki.

Siebrand has spent more then a day preparing the i18n for these extensions. He found in this process that the software does not run on our "bleeding edge". He documented this in the code, we are trying to get into touch with the Unicef developers... Things are going reasonably well.

At Wikimania a presentation was given by one of the Uniwiki developers, so I decided to download the presentation... It is a 1.1 gigabyte file that I first have to download before I can watch it. Given my interest in the subject I bother to do this. However, if this presentation was streamed I am pretty sure that I would have seen it already.. it has been downloading for an hour and I have over an hour to go...

Obviously I am glad that I can, it is just that we assume "instant on" functionality.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

As it is this time of year again, we are asked to support Wikipedia. Wikipedia is to be understood to be everything the Wikimedia Foundation stands for. When you ask people for continued support, one way of motivating this is by showing what has happened in the past.

The WMF has published its annual report; it gives an accounting of what the WMF has been doing.. Practically, we have had a great year, the systems have proven reliable, the organisation has been relocated and fleshed out. Functionally many improvements were implemented, Single User Logon finally arrived. I learned at the Wikimedia Conferentie Nederland that an exportmechanism is about ready to export MediaWiki information into software used in schools.

Because of all the great work that is done, I do endorse the Wikimedia Foundation. Obviously there are things where I think the WMF should do better. When you give them your support, it gives them the ability to be responsive to the future needs of its users and communities.