[Foundation-l] Why is the software out of reach of the community?

Aryeh Gregor Simetrical+wikilist at gmail.com
Sun Jan 11 02:53:18 UTC 2009

On Sat, Jan 10, 2009 at 9:04 PM, Brian <Brian.Mingus at colorado.edu> wrote:
> False: Extension Matrix.

See the rest of that paragraph.  Anyone who can write code and wants
commit access can get it.  The only ones without commit access who
want it are those who can't or won't write code.  Most of the
extension developers are apparently uninterested in getting commit
access, since they haven't asked for it.  There is only a small
barrier between developers, and people who are willing and able to
code and want to become developers.

> The development of MediaWiki should not be based on
> what the core developers believe the flavor of the day is. It leads to
> monstrosities such as the current parser.

I already pointed out that the current parser was not originally
written in the current development model.  It's not a reasonable
example to support your point.

> If the community funds MediaWiki
> development, they should have a very strong say in what features get
> implemented.

The Wikimedia Foundation funds MediaWiki development.  It employs both
of the core developers and therefore has total control over what
features get implemented.  The Board delegates most of these decisions
to its CTO, who's one of the core developers in question.

> The developers should not be the ones deciding what their time should be
> spent on.

The majority of developers are volunteers, so no one else can decide
what their time is spent on.  The few who are employees are told what
to do by the Wikimedia Foundation, through its CTO Brion Vibber, as in
any organization.  You appear to disagree with some of Brion's
decisions, but he was appointed CTO and lead developer by the Board of
Trustees.  How can he not have discretion to do what he thinks is
best?  Who should, then?

> And I am under the
> impression that various language Wikipedia's can enable SMW if they reach a
> consensus. Is that wrong?

Yes.  All code must pass review regardless of consensus, and SMW has not.

> And yet major features to MW have been implemented on developer whim.

Not remotely as large as SMW, without the approval of a senior
developer.  If you think you can find a counterexample, show me.

> I'm curious: of all the possible
> "improvements" to MediaWiki, why do you feel the horrifying "parser"
> functions were chosen? For the increase in usability? Pfffft.

ParserFunctions were developed to address the fact that the community
was using horrible hacks like {{qif}} to achieve the functionality
anyway.  The conclusion was that a relatively efficient and clean way
of achieving basic logic was preferable to what people were devising.
It's been proposed that we ditch these as well and move to embedding a
real programming language instead, but there hasn't been much activity
on that.

> I do not believe the job of the core developers should be choosing what
> extensions are enabled. If an extension appears to solve the usability
> issue, and yet it does not scale, their job is to scale it.

Someone must make the decision of what to spend limited development
resources on.  In practice, that has to be a developer of some kind,
because no one else would be informed enough to properly evaluate
proposals on their merits.  The community can decide whether it wants
a given extension, but it is in no position to determine whether the
cost of fixing it up and enabling it is worth the benefit.  That must
be made by some individual or group appointed for this purpose.  That
would currently be the senior developers.

> And when expert
> PHP developers write extensions, give talks at Wikimania, provide community
> support, and do what it takes to develop a thorough understanding of
> MediaWiki, they should be given a larger voice. Much larger than being
> ignored altogether.

Any such person can ask for commit access and be given it.  If they
gain the trust of the senior developers, they can potentially become
trusted enough to do things like extension review themselves.  We've
had people other than Tim and Brion who were allowed to enable
extensions -- Avar, for instance (although that was a long time ago,
when things were different).  In practice, nobody I know of meets your

> I do not dispute review. I dispute the fact that the core developers only
> review code that suits their fancy.

They only review code that they have time to review.  There are two of
them, what do you expect?  And not only must they review all code,
they need to write code too, and fulfill other duties.

I think the fundamental point you're missing here is lack of
resources.  Brion and Tim do not fail to review Semantic MediaWiki
because that's their "whim".  They simply don't have the resources to
review everything.  They need to make decisions.  If they spent time
reviewing SMW, that would be time they couldn't spend on other things.
 They've judged that the other things are currently more important.
On what basis do you question that judgment, since you evidently don't
know what development resources *are* actually being spent on?

> This is partly false. There have been several efforts to write a proper
> parser, and the current parser has undergone major structural changes. I
> don't believe a computer scientist would have a huge problem writing a
> proper parser. Are any of the core developers computer scientists?

If you're familiar with the attempts to write a parser, you're also
familiar with the fact that they've all failed, because wikitext is
unparseable using a real parser.  Tim knows a considerable amount of
computer science, as well as understanding the requirements for a
parser much better than any outsider, and would be the logical one to
write a new parser -- but he's needed for a lot of other things as
well.  Again, limited resources.

> I do not believe that is how Firefox is developed.

According to a statistic I recently saw, 80% of Firefox source code is
written by people not employed by Mozilla.  Moreover, even the people
employed by Mozilla live in radically different places.  Of the
layout/content superreviewers, for instance, Google indicates that
Robert O'Callahan lives in New Zealand, David Baron lives in
California, Boris Zbarsky lives in Illinois, Jonas Sicking lives in
Sweden, etc.

So no, that's exactly how Firefox is developed.  Along with every
other project that uses an open-source development model.  Open
development inherently means you're willing to accept any
contributors.  That means you accept them from anywhere in the world.
That means over the Internet.

> The linux kernel is
> another story - it has proper oversight, and Torvald's "network of trust" -
> 15 crack developers whom he knows well and have written exceptional quality
> code for him for many years.

What bearing does that have on what I said?  It's still perfectly good
software developed over the Internet exclusively.

On Sat, Jan 10, 2009 at 9:08 PM, Brian <Brian.Mingus at colorado.edu> wrote:
> I was not disputing that the community should vote: In fact, I believe all
> code that is written should be a result of a) community vote and b) rational
> oversight provided by the foundation, but at a higher level than the core
> developers.

What's a "higher level than the core developers"?  Do you mean to
imply that development resources should be allocated on a fine-grained
level by non-developers?  How could anyone who's not a developer of
the software make such decisions intelligently?  What, moreover, is
wrong with the current system, other than the fact that it doesn't
agree with you?

On Sat, Jan 10, 2009 at 9:33 PM, Brian <Brian.Mingus at colorado.edu> wrote:
> I do have another question: Who approved deploying parser functions on
> Wikipedia?

Tim Starling both wrote and deployed ParserFunctions.

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