Open Source

MediaWiki “feature requests”

Next week I am going to the Wikimania – the conference of the Wikimedia community. To be honest, I am very excited about the conference. Some months ago I was invited – it was a big surprise to me – to the Advisory Board of the MediaWiki Foundation. This is the first time we will meet with the Board of Trustees. What a great group of people.

In the actual conference I am going to talk about vision for Wikiversity. With two colleagues of mine I am still finalizing the full paper. When the text is ready you will find it from the Wikimania site’s Proceedings page. The abstract is already in there.

With this great chance to meet many Wikimedia people, including MediaWiki platform developers, I want to present here two “feature requests”.

1. From MediaWiki discussion to knowledge building

Some MediaWiki developers are already working on a new discussion system for MediaWiki called LiquidThreads. It looks like a great improvement to the current discussion/talk page of MediaWiki. In the LiquidThreads I would like to see some extra features that would support knowledge building discourse – scaffolded argumentation.

In practice this means that the one starting the discussions could choose a “knowledge type set” that will be used in that discussion. Knowledge type sets are similar to “categories” in blogs, in addition of each of them having a description that is shown when one is writing her discussion note. The knowledge types (or categories) are scaffolding and helping novice “knowledge builders” to have meaningful argumentation and dialogue. They also make it easier to follow the argumentation and get back to it afterwards. This way the knowledge type are used to (1) guide students’ working in the discussion group (scaffolding), and (2) to structure participants’ contributions for further use (knowledge management).

To the Fle3 ( we have developed a Knowledge Building tool and several ready-made knowledge type sets. Easy way to get the idea of the tool is to have a look of the screenshots:

Important feature in the Knowledge Building tool is the possibility to design new knowledge type sets to scaffold different kind of processes (see the sceenshot 12). For Fle3 we have sets for progressive inquiry learning, design thinking and for writing learning diaries. Users may also edit and create new ones inside Fle3 and export and import them in XML from one Fle3 to another.

You may ask why we are not developing Knowledge Building to MediaWiki? The answer is very simple: We do not have PHP developers – Fle3 is written in python for Zope. However, I am more than happy to contribute my time to this project if I’ll find some MediaWiki developers who are interested in this.

2. Mobile middleware for MediaWiki

In the MobilED project we have played with MediaWiki, by making out of it an Audio Wiki, which you can use with the most simple (voice+SMS) mobile phones. You may read more about the prototype from the website, but the idea is simple: you send your search term as an SMS, the server receives it and makes a call back to you, and a text to speech software will read you the content found. If the content is an audio file it will play it for you. In addition to this you can dictate comments to any section of the article and do simple navigation with the phone’s keyboard (jump to next section, table of content, record your comment etc).

In MediaWiki I would like to see some kind of middleware that is designed to offer the Wiki services for mobile phones. The Audio Wiki is a start, but one should also get photos and video out from MediaWiki with mobile phone, and also be able to contribute photos and videos to the server with mobile phone. I think it should work with SMS/MMS (similar way as the Audio Wiki) or then with a Java application that is able to download and upload stuff. A third option (sometihng someone should do anyway) is to have a “mobile skin” to MediaWiki that will work nicely in a mobile phone web browsers and small screens. However, I would like it to see this working with as many mobile phone models as possible: starting from the 20 USD voice+SMS phones to smart phones.

It seems to be that the mobile phone+media+web is the area everybody is right now looking for. With many mobile phones you may already upload your photos and videos right from there to such web services as the flickr and Youtube. Furthermore, Nokia just acquired Twango and for sure they will include in their new models in-build media uploader that works nicely with the service.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a mobile media uploader for MediaWiki? For an example to have a chance to upload your media right from your phone to the Wikimedia Commons. I think the free culture needs this.

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