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Wikipedia Software

The Bizarre and Complex Story of a Failed Wikipedia Software Extension 94

metasonix writes Originally developed by Wikia coders, "Liquid Threads" was intended to be a better comment system for use on MediaWiki talkpages. When applied to Wikipedia, then each Wikipedia talkpage or noticeboard would become something resembling a more modernized bulletin board, hopefully easier to use. Unfortunately, the project was renamed "Flow" and taken over by the Wikimedia Foundation's developers. And as documented in this very long Wikipediocracy post, the result was "less than optimal." After seven years and millions of dollars spent, even WMF Director Lila Tretikov admits "As such it is not ready for 'prime time' for us."
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The Bizarre and Complex Story of a Failed Wikipedia Software Extension

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2015 @02:08AM (#49015343)

    >...taken over by the Wikimedia Foundation's developers. ... After seven years and millions of dollars spent, ... "As such it is not ready for 'prime time' for us."

    I assume the Wikimedia developers kept reverting each other's checkins for various reasons such as "Commenting needed", "Not codeworthy", and so forth. </tongue-in-cheek>

    • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @02:11AM (#49015357)

      No, they just didn't allow any checkins at all as they were "original research".

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Jokes aside, the WMF has shown a shocking lack of respect for the community, and have a tendency to develop useless look-good-UI "software" lately. (See the 'MediaViewer' debacle).

      After seeing that I began to regret ever donating to them. Not only are they wasting money but they seem to be opaque and playing politics with one of the greatest collaborative efforts in history.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2015 @02:44AM (#49015409)

        No, the real joke is that someone actually thought "one of the greatest collaborative efforts in history" would somehow NOT to be riddled with politics at every level.

        • by epine ( 68316 )

          No, the real joke is that someone actually thought "one of the greatest collaborative efforts in history" would somehow NOT to be riddled with politics at every level.

          It's no joke that people think this is the real joke. No person with half a brain thought that Wikipedia was immune to politics, just as no person with half a brain thought that democracy would prove immune to politics.

          What thinking people thought is that Wikipedia politics would be different from ordinary politics, and perhaps orthogonal in

      • Why u donate bro? Don't you know they don't need the money? [newslines.org]

        • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @05:14AM (#49015909) Journal

          I got as far as this in your link:

          What is the point of a site saying they don't want to show ads, then covering up 50% of the screen with a request for money? No serious for-profitsite would consider giving up 50% of the page to an ad. It's insane.

          Then I gave up. The point is not that ads are obnoxius and intrusive, the point is that ads mean you have to self censor to keep your advertisers happy. The person writing the article you likes doesn't appear to even have a shred of a clue.

          • Well I wrote it, and the self-censorship point is nonsense. There are lots of effective strategies that advertising-based media have used for many years to avoid self-censorship. To think that the situation is unmanageable is just incredibly naive. Such policies include accepting any kind of advertiser irrespective of their views (and let the reader decide the veracity of ads) or only accepting certain advertisers on certain pages, for example, no oil companies on global warming pages (although this type of

            • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @07:54AM (#49016343) Journal

              To think that the situation is unmanageable is just incredibly naive.

              On hte contrary, to think it is managable is incredibly naive.

              Such policies include accepting any kind of advertiser irrespective of their views (and let the reader decide the veracity of ads) or only accepting certain advertisers on certain pages, for example, no oil companies on global warming pages (although this type of policy actually a kind of censorship). The effect of any advertiser exerting undue influence is minimized by having many advertisers.

              That doesn't solve the problem of really scummy scam ads, unless you start exerting editorial control. Wikipedia is not a massive free-for-all, and allowing nurestricted advertising would be a big problem. It also doesn't solve the problem that large advertisers withdrawing support can be a huge financial blow, which is why the advertisers exert editorial influence.

              If you want to see what unrestricted advertising looks like, go to a pirate bay mirror and revel in th joy of porn sites, dubious "dating" sited and cheap v1agr.A

              • Thousands of newspapers, magazine and websites deal with these issues every day without having to run porn or low quality ads. I don't see any complaints that it causes those publications self censorship. I suspect most of Wikipedia's worry about ads is driven by a fear that ads will try to counter bias in articles.

                • Thousands of newspapers, magazine and websites deal with these issues every day without having to run porn or low quality ads.

                  But you missed out the third and worst of the options: editorial decisions which pander to the advertisers.

                  I don't see any complaints that it causes those publications self censorship.

                  You don't think the newspapers don't already present a biased view of the world?

                  • >But you missed out the third and worst of the options: editorial decisions which pander to the advertisers.

                    As a publisher who has run successful advertising sales teams in print and online you simply create policies that say the reader experience is primary and that any attempt by advertisers to influence editorial will be blocked. Readers can tell very quickly if editorial is influenced by advertisers and most publishers don't like to be pushed around. If advertisers really want unrestricted editorial

                • by sjames ( 1099 )

                  Where have you been hiding? Advertisers having undue influence on content has been an ongoing concern for decades, not just for the public but among professional journalists.

                  Then on the web there's the problem of ads that turn out to be drive-by trojans recruiting thousands of machines into botnets.

            • Well I wrote it, and the self-censorship point is nonsense.

              And you think the GP is "incredibly naive"?

            • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

              There are lots of effective strategies that advertising-based media have used for many years to avoid self-censorship.

              Sure, just buy all your ads from wherever The Pirate Bay used to get them and you'll never be questioned on your content by your advertisers. Granted, you'll be questioned about your content from all your intended viewers instead.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      well if you could get paid perpetually for doing that, why not?

      it's not like there's a great need for a new commenting system. if the current one was so bad they could just hook up whatever is the hottest multi sso comment system of the day.

  • Expected, really (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So "Large Company Can't Develop Software" is news now? It's not like WMF is really a tech company, it just happens to have a large complex and popular website.

  • So... (Score:3, Funny)

    by grep -v '.*' * ( 780312 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @02:31AM (#49015389)
    "The Bizarre and Complex Story of a Failed Wikipedia Software Extension" -- so they took this failed Alpha code, installed and upgraded it here, and called it Beta?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    WikiPoliticians make terrible project managers, apparently. Who knew?

  • Who cares, anymore? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09, 2015 @03:20AM (#49015513)

    Wikipedia is now infested with social justice warriors and organized causes censoring and controlling vast swaths of content to make sure it maintains their particular view on the world. What is the fucking point, anymore?

    • Slashdot forums are now infested with social justice warriors and organized causes censoring and controlling vast swaths of content to make sure it maintains their particular view on the world.
      • The World is now infested with those I see as social justice warriors and organized causes censoring and controlling vast swaths of information to make sure it maintains their particular view on the world.

        FTFY. The fact that the world has moved on, leaving your cherished worldview behind, doesn't mean it's getting worse for everyone.

        • (1) you didn't "fix that for me" -- you generalized it to "the world". If anything, that is an endorsement of my point.

          (2) Since I didn't express my own worldview, I am not sure how my worldview could be left behind.

          (3) Did I say anything was "getting worse"? If anything, things are the same as they have been for the past x thousand years.

          I am leaving Slashdot as soon as subbing beta with www in the address bar doesn't work any more.

          (4) if anyone seems to have an eroding worldview, it would appear t

      • Oh - is that why all the posts about "SJWs are ruining Slashdot and the world" regularly sit at +5?

    • They'd have to remove the infestation of moonbats first.
  • It was only the Wikimedia Foundation's inability to get along with its own user base that saved it from implementing completely failed code and possibly wrecking their own encyclopedia. http://wikipediocracy.com/foru... [wikipediocracy.com]
  • by Eloquence ( 144160 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @03:47AM (#49015589)

    The article summary speaks of "millions of dollars spent" on a new discussion system for Wikipedia. The article actually tells a very different story -- the LiquidThreads extension started out as a Google Summer of Code project, was funded for a while by an interested third party, and then received a little attention from the Wikimedia Foundation (one designer, one developer) before development was put into maintenance mode. I would ballpark the total money spent around $100-$150K max. Elapsed time does not equate money spent. LQT continues to be in use on a number of projects, but its architecture and UX needed to be fundamentally overhauled.

    Flow, the designated successor to LQT, continues to be in development by a small team, and is gradually being deployed to appropriate use cases. It is now running on designated pages in a couple of Wikipedia languages, and old LiquidThreads pages are being converted over using a conversion script developed by the Flow team. Contrary to the article's claim, WikiEducator upgraded to a recent version of LQT, and will be able to migrate to Flow in future using the conversion script.

    You can give Flow a try in the sandbox [mediawiki.org] on mediawiki.org and see for yourself whether the article's claims are hyperbole or not. Disclaimer: I am the person referenced in the headline of the Wikipediocracy article, so take my view with a grain of salt, as well. ;-)

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by metasonix ( 650947 )
      Clever piece of evasion there. "I would ballpark the total money spent around $100-$150K max." Was that on Liquid Threads by itself, or for the entire combined ten-year-plus project? Do you even know how much money was spent on Flow by the WMF, Mr. Deputy Director?
      • by Eloquence ( 144160 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @04:34AM (#49015747)

        Hello metasonix! First, congratulations on the successful article submission. In answer to your question, I was referring to LQT development. LQT was put into maintenance mode in early 2011, so of your "10 plus year project", about 7 years elapsed with a little bit of paid effort dedicated to the development of LQT. $150K max spent (not all of it by WMF) on LQT is really a high estimate -- Andrew Garrett, the only dedicated developer, also worked on other projects during that time, including the widely used AbuseFilter extension.

        Flow development kicked off in summer 2013, about 18-19 months of development effort so far by a team that's fluctuated in size but currently comprises three full-time engineers, about half a person's time for UX design and research, a product manager and a community liaison. During that entire timeframe, I would estimate money spent on the project so far at less than $1M. Even if you combine both efforts, "millions of dollars spent" is pure hyperbole, and adding up elapsed time to exaggerate scale and scope of these efforts is equally misleading.

        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          look, the foundation has money.

          so it's more probable that two guys need 1 guy at least to look over them and that guy gets more money, of course.

          your figures per person seem a bit lowish, so I wouldn't be surprised if the total money was in 2 million+ range easily. you have to count in the meetings spent for discussing if even to do it too and the time billed from people deciding if they get money this month or that month.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            User:Eloquence is an employee of the Wikimedia foundation, a pretty high-level one at that (VP of Engineering and Product Development in the time period in question). Him essentially being the "1 guy to look over them", I'd trust his knowledge of concrete budgetary numbers way more than the guesses by User:Scott, even though Eloquence is not unbiased here.

          • by Eloquence ( 144160 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @05:20AM (#49015921)
            Hey gl4ss, these are fair points, but I stand by my original estimate, including overhead & travel. A couple of things to keep in mind: 1) Although WMF is based in the SF Bay Area, it is a non-profit, there are no bonuses or stock options, and base comp is good but not as high as you can get elsewhere. We also hire internationally and our teams often include remote folks in regions with different pay scales. For positions like community liaisons, we often hire younger folks who don't get quite as high an hourly rate as an experienced engineer would. 2) Yes, managers need to get involved, there are meeeetings, etc., but our engineering managers tend to be responsible for pretty large groups (20+ folks) since teams working on user-facing features have their own dedicated Product Managers and most of the day-to-day decision making exists at the team level. This reduces the risk of micromanagement and keeps managers focused on supporting teams rather than getting in their way. 3) The delta in compensation between engineering managers and engineers is not as high as you might think.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            If a dude that gets paid $50k/yr spends 10hr/week on a project, do you assume that the org is paying $200k/yr based on his work alone? It would be more like $20k.

            Most of the comments here seem to be people rationalizing their predetermined bias that WMF is a giant cash funnel for shit. Step back and think for a minute.

    • The threading is absolute garbage. It doesn't grok more than 3 levels, and screws up when a higher level follows a lower one.

      And it only uses half the screen.

      • So, it looks like the WMF developed it, eh?
        • At least it wasn't cowboy neal. He'd use about 120% of the width, and still have things overlapping.

      • The "Using half the screen" feature is not good. And 3 levels of nesting is insufficient. Speaking of slashdot nesting, why don't nested comment systems allow users to set their own level of nesting?
    • I've been following the development of Flow, and it's definitely not hyperbole.

      The problem with Flow is not that it's not a valid talk system, it's that Wikipedia talk pages are not mere talk system. Even if Flow was the niftier, most standard, most boring talk software, there were needs in the ways that the users actually use the software that were never addressed in its design, and which caused all the backlash.

      Wikipedia talk pages are based at their core on a wiki system, and wikis are the closest thing

      • by Eloquence ( 144160 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @04:58AM (#49015835)

        Hi TuringTest, thanks for your comment! Contrary to your past tense, Flow continues to be in active development, and continues to be deployed to new use cases, most recently a new user help forum on French Wikipedia, and a technical support forum on Catalan Wikipedia. Since the only way to roll out a system like this is to replace existing use of wiki pages, we're proceeding conservatively to test it out in social spaces where people want to try a new approach, and improving it in partnership with real users in those venues.

        It's true that talk pages, being ordinary wiki pages, support "making your own workflow". I love the Douglas Engelbart reference, though I doubt Engelbart would have remained content with talk pages for very long. The lack of a discrete identity for separate comments makes it impossible to selectively monitor conversations you're participating in (you literally have to use diffs to know what's going on), or to show comments outside of the context of the page they were added to. This is a pretty tough set of constraints to work with. At the same time, you're absolutely right that a modern system can't simply emulate patterns used by web forums or commenting systems like this one.

        Like wiki pages, Flow posts have their own revision history. Flow-enabled pages have a wiki-style header. Each thread has a summary which can be community-edited. Threads can be collapsed and un-collapsed by anyone. All actions are logged. In short, wiki-style principles and ideas are implemented throughout the system. At the same time, we believe that as we add modern capabilities like tagging, we can replace some of the convoluted workflows that are necessary in wikitext. Already, Flow adds capabilities missing from talk pages -- notifications for individual replies, watching specific threads (rather than a whole page), in-place responses, etc. More to come.

        • Like wiki pages, Flow posts have their own revision history. Flow-enabled pages have a wiki-style header. Each thread has a summary which can be community-edited. Threads can be collapsed and un-collapsed by anyone. All actions are logged. In short, wiki-style principles and ideas are implemented throughout the system.

          However, a core property of wikis -that the structure of the page can be edited in any shape without the need for programming- is missing. Flow is a threaded conversation system by design, and

      • The wiki gives power to some users who are vocal about having that power removed. Unfortunately, those who are used to the "the wiki way" can see few other ways to organize content. To them, everything must be done on a wiki, whether that is the most appropriate tool or not. Flow is yet another example of choosing the wiki's flexibility over solutions that could easily be more practical. This inflexibility is also true for many of the non-encyclopedic pages of Wikipedia, such as news and biography pages whe

        • I find your post interesting, and your points in many ways are an accurate analysis of many major problems with Wikipedia - yet I still find your point 11 ("The wiki is the problem") a non-sequitur. A wiki is in essence a model for data storage, where the expectations for interaction and data management are closer to control versioning than to the classic CRUD cycle. As such, it's a neutral tool that could be used in many other ways and improved to cover most of the current shortcomings; in particular, the

    • I really wondered while reading the wild stories behind the talk system why a "good enough" solution wasn't first created quickly and deployed.

      IMO the 20% effort (or much less) that would fix the 80% (or much more) of UI issues would be simply automating the mediawiki markup editing on talk pages! Just add “add new topic” button to the page, “reply” link after each ~~~~ that’ll show up a textarea for your comment and upon submission simply edit the wiki source automatically, ad

  • The Wiki has been fighting being overwhelmed by crap.
    open does not mean open to every stupid asshole who want's to abuse the system
    this is another attempt to hijack a legitimate source by assholes
  • by Sarusa ( 104047 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @04:31AM (#49015739)

    Wikipedia editors are highly territorial, infighting, nitpicking, hairtrigger frothing mad. You can't solve that with an extension, as much as you'd like to think that everything is app-able. Software just makes people even more polarized.

  • I recall a while back here on slashdot there was a trial (that lasted a day or two) of a commenting system for writing comments - rather than replies - about user comments. It was here for a short while, and then disappeared.

    That said, as the slashdot philosophy is generally "release code, talk about developing it, and then leave it in place and forget about it", I would have expected that by default wikipedia or WMF would have done better.
  • by YoungManKlaus ( 2773165 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @06:28AM (#49016143)

    WMF was producing kitchenwares ...

    • by bankman ( 136859 )

      Well, there are two organizations which use this acronym. One is an utterly useless bunch of bureaucrats, running the servers of one of the most successful open content projects, with no clue whatsoever about what its projects are doing or the people actually providing the content and the other is known for excellence in some areas of kitchenware.

      • > excellence in some areas of kitchenware

        I thought they were known for never selling anything at the claimed "original" price ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    WMF does not listen to its userbase or editorship, according to the article. This seems clear that Moeller is dictatorial instead of collaborative

    The Harris vision of Flow was insane, and why software projects fail. And FLOW never addressed all the ways in which Wikipedia's talk pages are used.

    If the WikiEducator experience is looked at, the staff is clearly bonkers, as rebel talk pages are clearly a sign that management is stupid, since they could exist as regular talk pages, if only management had a brain

  • by Akratist ( 1080775 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @10:03AM (#49016919)
    There are plenty of software projects that either end in outright failure or have less than optimal success. Look at what a colossal failure Slashdot Beta was.
  • I wouldn't take much notice of anything posted on WIkipediocracy, and especially not if it concerns issues involving software development.

    For a site supposedly dedicated to monitoring/analyzing/criticizing Wikipedia/WMF, this blog post followed the rather disappointing trend of them writing about the Wikipedia/WMFs software process in a way that doesn't even mention at all the very specific and unique traits/features/issues of that specific organisation/community which make their projects bad/controversial/

  • by Hans Adler ( 2446464 ) on Monday February 09, 2015 @04:52PM (#49020713)

    ... is that it breaks Wikipedia's internal mechanisms by totally and utterly destroying all sense of location in a discussion. In a Wikipedia discussion, each comment has a certain environment that may change, but usually not too drastically. Different discussion pages tend to have different visual flair: Large blocks of texts or lots of short comments, most comments indented on the same level or it keeps changing. 'Hatted' threads and sub-threads (i.e. you have to click to see them). Also, users can freely edit other users' comments.

    There are advantages and disadvantages to the traditional wiki discussion style. Advantages include that you can usually see at a glance in which environment a certain comment that put a user into trouble was made, and if you want to be absolutely sure you can go back in the page history. And, very importantly, if you revisit a discussion after months, the visual appearance gives you clues that make it easier to remember what it was about and how it went and maybe even what you were going to say when you got distracted.

    The very point of Liquid Threads is to move things around in such a way as to destroy all of that. Places such as Reddit and Stack Exchange have shown that this can work very well. But once you have a big audience and community norms built on a radically different system, I think it's problematic to make that kind of change. When I was still active on Wikipedia, Liquid Threads was already running on some meta-site. I felt that it was absolutely horrible to use because the re-ordering got in the way of exactly the kind of thoughtful discussion which that particular wiki was supposed to be for.

    --- In case anyone wonders: After about 26,000 edits, I left Wikipedia in disgust for a year when it became clear that a vast majority of editors supported retaliating against Islamic extremism by angering ordinary, peaceful Muslims on the Muhammad article for no encyclopedic reason. (I would understand one or two Islamic Muhammad depictions to illustrate the fact that they exist - e.g. there is precisely one on the Turkish version of the article -, but half a dozen is way over the top, gives a very misleading - hence 'unencyclopedic' - impression, and seems designed exclusively to alienate Muslim readers and editors. This feeds the inferiority complex that causes some Muslims to become fundamentalists. By the way, I am an atheist and personally consider the Muhammad image ban stupid.)

    When I returned I found that for whatever reason my ability to get *anything* done in controversial areas was gone completely. Apparently, using words such as "genital mutilation" in a discussion, applied to a gender for which the media of a large Western nation practising it on a large scale generally doesn't use it, is much worse than actually encouraging it in an article by abusing rules and then simply shutting down all discussion. And so I joined the ranks of ex-editors who complain about abuse by Wikipedia's almost completely uncontrolled admin caste.

    Maybe Liquid Threads would even be capable of solving such problems, once it works properly and the community has adapted to it. Its introduction would no doubt cause a severe crisis, which, come to think of it, is probably just what the English Wikipedia needs.

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