WikiApiary – A Hive of Information

As part of the requirements gathering for the RDFIO project, I needed to find out a bit more about websites currently using Semantic MediaWiki.  One of the presentations at SMWCon was by Yolanda Gil, on the subject of Provenance Bee, an extension of WikiApiary.  This pointed me towards a useful source of data on wiki usage.

The WikiApiary project offers fascinating insights into websites which use MediaWiki software, from the sheer breadth of subjects covered to the variety in the use of categories and the dynamics of editing activity.  As well as being able to view the details for each individual wiki, there are aggregated statistics and graphs on extensions, skins, wikifarms, hosting providers and software versions.

The page on the Semantic MediaWiki extension had some useful information on the versions in use on the tracked sites.  The main statistics page had information on the versions of PHP and MySQL in use, but this was for all wikis, so the site didn’t seem to have the information I needed.

However, WikiApiary is itself a semantic wiki, so I just needed to ask it the right question.  With a few changes to the #ask semantic queries from the main statistics versions, I was able to add information on the software versions used specifically for semantic wiki websites.  Hopefully this will be of use to other developers on SMW-related projects.

SMWCon Spring 2014

After spending the start of the week in Toronto and Ottowa, I arrived in Montreal for SMWCon, the main purpose of my visit.

What struck me overall was the variety both of organisations using Semantic MediaWiki, and how they were using it.  There were the expected presentations from academics and developers, but also health service providers, Cirque du Soleil and NATO.  SMW was being used to catalogue music, in project management, and in conjunction with natural language processing to generate metadata.  There were also presentations on the parallel project WikiData, of which more in a later post.  We discovered from a show of hands that about a third of the delegates were not familiar with RDF, so my mentor Joel Sachs gave an impromptu overview.

A key theme which came up repeatedly was the issue of community engagement in growing and maintaining wikis.  From ProvenanceBee there was detailed statistical analysis of how different wiki communities contributed content and developed the semantic properties and concepts for their site.  There was also anecdotal evidence from other presenters on how they had got other users involved in contributing, with varying degrees of success.  It was suggested that future conferences contain more talks on the subject of user engagement.

On the final morning of the conference, it was time to give my talk.  This was the first time I had presented at a technical conference, and I was pretty nervous about speaking in front of such a knowledgeable audience.  However, after overcoming my initial fears, I managed to speak about the project’s history and what we were hoping to achieve, plus a bit about the FOSS OPW scheme which I’m participating in.  It was a great opportunity to get feedback and answer questions on the project, and Joel was able to step in for some of the trickier ones.  This and speaking to the other delegates over the three days gave me further insight into the development of use cases and functional requirements, which is what I’m working on now.

Canada Calling

The first week of my internship with Wikimedia finds me a long way from home.  I have traveled from Scotland to Canada to attend SMWCon, which is taking place in Montreal.  This also gives me the chance to meet one of the project mentors (Joel Sachs) in person for a few days of planning and intensive learning.  We’ll be preparing a short presentation for the conference to lay out what we’re hoping to achieve and solicit feedback and advice.

One of the possible options for the project is using Scribunto and Lua, which are already used elsewhere in Wikimedia for template manipulation.  I spent a fair bit of the flight over reading a book on Lua to get my head around the language.  Some of its features I’m familiar with from other languages I’ve worked with, others are new.  I hope that in the next few days I’ll get a better understanding of whether this is the most effective tool to use.
I’ve not been to Canada before, and I hope that the change of scene will help my creative thinking in tackling the project.  I’ll be reporting back on my findings from the conference, and continuing my work back in Edinburgh.  I’m in Toronto just now working in the Centre for Social Innovation, but will be heading over to Ottowa and Montreal in the next couple of days – I hope my French is up to it!

A Meaningful Internship

In two weeks’ time I will be starting a three month internship with Wikimedia.  The project I’m working on is to improve the extension RDFIO, which imports RDF data into Semantic MediaWiki.  I will be adapting it to work with the templates used by SMW to define common attributes and relationships for entities of the same type.  This will involve matching the subjects of the triples to the correct template based on the ontology classes used.

The internship is part of the Free & Open Source Software Outreach Program for Women, organised by the GNOME Foundation.  I had been interested in doing some work in open source, but did not know where to start.  The program matches interns with experienced mentors, and since the working is remote, you’re not limited by geographical location.  I picked this particular project because I was very interested in working with semantic data, and it uses programming languages I have some experience of.

In September 2012 I quit my secure public sector administration job to become a professional programmer.  It was a leap into the unknown as I didn’t have a new position lined up, but I soon picked up my first contract role as a SQL report developer for the NHS.  I also spent time developing in various languages at a startup company, and did plenty of independent learning.  I’m really looking forward to continuing my programming education by contributing to an open source project, helping to connect Semantic MediaWiki more closely with the rest of the semantic web.