Tuesday, April 23, 2024

MediaWiki Users and Developers Conference Spring 2024

 Last week I went to Portland for the MediaWiki Users and Developers conference (nee EMWCon). This is primarily a conference for people doing stuff with MediaWiki outside of Wikimedia. I had a blast.

I always enjoy conferences on the smaller side. They feel so much more personal. This year's conference had Ward Cunningham as the guest of honour. Ward was a fascinating person to meet and get to talk to.

I also must say hats off to the organizers - conference ran smoothly, venue was great, food was amazing. Seriously some of the best food I've ever had at any Wikimedia conference.

This was also my first time in Portland. Portland is a beautiful city. I didn't have a huge amount of time to explore the city, but I did manage to go to the Chinese garden, which was absolutely stunning. I also loved how many interesting murals there were in the city. Even the graffiti seemed prettier than normal.

While listening to the talks, I realized that a good talk is very similar to a good design doc. Perhaps this is an obvious comparison, but I never really noticed before how similar the two things are. In both cases, you want to give the reader/viewer context about the problem you want to solve, what solution you chose, why you chose it and how it worked out. At the same time you want to avoid the temptation to go too far into implementation details.

I think my favourite talk was Jeffery's. He demo'd using LLMs to answer questions based on the content of the Wiki. The demo deities weren't fully in his favour, but I think it also demonstrated an important point that LLMs are cutting edge technologies that don't always give the expected answer 100% of the time. In any case, he did a great job presenting.

I did get the sense that I think some participants were disappointed that there was very little representation of WMF management (whether "real" management or product management) at the conference. Birgit did give a remote talk and Selena did come to a happy hour event after the conference, but neither really participated.

I don't think the participants necessarily wanted anything from WMF management, but there is a little bit of a feeling of being unseen. Many of the conference goers use MediaWiki for their own purposes and are interested to know what WMFs plans are for the future and how it will affect them (as do we all).



I think some participants were hoping to maybe make some connections for better mutual understanding and just reduce uncertainty about what is on the roadmap for MediaWiki. In theory Birgit's talk was about the plans for MediaWiki, but I suspect it was too laden with annual planning corporate buzzwords for anyone to figure out what it actually meant concretely.

The flip side of that of course is that open source is a do-orcracy. The corporate MediaWiki users as a general rule do not contribute back to MediaWiki core all that often, which is the price of admission to the various power structures of MediaWiki.

Create Camp

At the create camp, I had a long chat with Mark about what parts of the documentation are unclear to users new to MediaWiki. While I think all of will admit that our documentation is sub-par (bug 1), it was great to get a fresh perspective on it.
I think adding screencasts in addition to the written documentation can help with the problem of assumed knowledge and missing implied steps.

I also heard a bit about SemanticMediaWiki (SMW) bug 5392. This is a bug where sometimes SMW drops properties associated with a page. It seems like there is a lot of frustration among the SMW community over this bug. At the same time, it doesn't seem like anyone has seriously tried to debug it. The bug does look a bit annoying to track down. It appears to be some sort of race condition, appearing somewhat randomly and more often when there are multiple things going on at the same time (e.g. the job queue is being run with more threads seems to make it more common) but nobody really knows so hence there are no steps to reproduce. Additionally there has been no attempts to create a minimal test case (e.g. What extensions are needed for the bug to appear) nor has anyone posted any debug logs from the parses in question. No one has even determined if the properties are missing at parse time or if they are being overridden at a later time. Anyways, I suspect its going no where unless people post a lot more information on the task or they hand over a server experiencing the bug to someone good at debugging.


I had a great time. Hopefully I'll be able to come again next year.