MediaWiki – Software moving towards the future (Part 2 of 3): Visual Editor and simultaneous editing of texts
Visual Editor – Wikicode is supplanted
Anyone who has written or improved Wikipedia articles in the last few years, already knows about the Visual Editor, which has now reached a certain maturity. (See the post by Nathalie Köpff on this subject). Creating such an editor is a big project. Unlike other web applications, an editor for Wikipedia must not only work with different languages (for example right to left languages), but also be able to process the multitude of wiki functions, the template system, the magic words and many more things besides. So for this, the wiki text parser Parsoid needed to get a totally new technological basis. As Wikipedia develops further through web standards (browsers, protocols, languages), the task will remain a complex one for a long time. However, it is also a rewarding project which has significance for the whole web community – as, for example, no commercial provider would develop an editor for over 100 languages and make it available for free.
Nevertheless, the project is still controversial in the Wikimedia community to this day. This is partly because the introduction of the editor has lead to significant complications. The editor was simply not ready to use when it was implemented for the first time.
The scepticism in the community towards the editor, however, also has to do with the fact that its increasing use allows for a wide reaching dropping of Wikitext. What, for some, is a good opportunity is, for others, a loss of design potential. As up to now, it was possible to build many small tools with the standard resources (for example templates or overview lists). Even simple formatting is significantly more efficient for experienced wiki text users.
However, over time, Wiki code, which should make editing easier, has almost had the opposite effect. Editing a wiki article needs a certain amount of experience and skill. This is, however, not sensible, as many hand-made functions can be done more elegantly with corresponding extensions.
A great deal of identity and a bit of wiki philosophy is attached to the transition to the visual editor. For some wiki authors, it may be a restriction, but for the wiki world outside Wikipedia, it is a great leap forward. The standard ways of using wikis have changed; most wikis work in much less complex ways than Wikipedia, which has always been a special case with its own particular demands. For this reason, a native visual editor is a long overdue step for many MediaWiki users. It is necessary so that wikis can be used to build up new free knowledge hubs on the web.
Simultaneous editing of texts
A further, very ambitious project was introduced at Wikimania 2014. The aim is to enable the simultaneous editing of texts, that one already knows from Google Docs. This has been considered for a long time. However, the necessary resources for the project were not there. Now, the Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Erik Möller, has announced that the first prototype should already be available in a year. This is very exciting news.
Two points are not being discussed at the moment, but could become important in the future.
- Speech2Text: Texts in wikis should be increasingly possible to dictate. “Speech2Text” is developing into a standard as the speech recognition software has made great strides in the last few years. We will see that speech-control can be performed in Google search.
- Draft function: On top of this, a real draft function is needed for MediaWiki. Every trust and NGO with local groups needs to be able to develop texts for projects, for example. Up to now, they have been diverted to Google Docs or Etherpad. But these two applications are totally inappropriate for the public collection of knowledge for a number of reasons.
For this reason there should finally be the chance in MediaWikis to edit a first drafts with just a small circle of authors before the text is released generally.
Overall, we at Hallo Welt! see this development as very positive as MediaWiki will become more user friendly. Using it will be more intuitive and working with the editor more stable. Our enterprise distribution will take these developments on, customise them and make sure they are continually developed.
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