[Wikimedia-l] Wikimedia mobile application development

Tomasz Finc tfinc at wikimedia.org
Tue Apr 10 07:51:53 UTC 2012

On Mon, Apr 9, 2012 at 9:37 PM, MZMcBride <z at mzmcbride.com> wrote:
> Hi.
> I've been having difficulty wrapping my head around Wikimedia's (relatively)
> recent efforts in mobile application development. I understand that reaching
> users on mobile platforms is important to the Wikimedia Foundation and I've
> read <https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Mobile_Projects/strategy> and related
> pages.

Great to see these pages getting used

> Mobile seems to have two branches these days: (1) the mobile versions of the
> sites; and more recently (2) specific mobile applications. Branch 1 is
> fairly understandable. What I'm having difficulty understanding is branch 2.

While mobile has two branches, I wouldn't slice it that way. The way
that we look at it is either

* Smart phone development - editing, image uploads, mobile web, apps,
mobile frontend, etc
* Alternate access methods - S40 (J2ME), SMS/USSD, & Zero

> The idea behind free and open content is that the content can be taken and
> reused and redistributed by others without issue. That's part of the great
> beauty of Wikimedia wikis. With a vibrant app market for both Androids and
> iPhones, why is Wikimedia getting involved in mobile application
> development? Isn't this something best left to third parties (which, as I
> understand it, have already filled the "Wikipedia app" niche with a variety
> of options for both platforms) or interested volunteers?

No, its really not and we've heard from countless people that it
wasn't working. There are a number of reasons that my team was asked
to do mobile apps and i'll list some of them below

* Whenever we talk with carriers about partnering with us they want to
see a suite of products they can provide on our behalf. These can
range from a basic bookmarks on the mobile web, sms access, to a
listing our app within their own markets. Any one thing missing ends
the conversation pretty quickly. I suggest reading the original blog
post from January http://bit.ly/IFoti4 to gain more insite. Kul &
Amit can elaborate more on this.

* Were constantly getting asked about why "insert new Wikipedia app
name" in "new app store" has ads, is not free, and in general doesn't
provide a polished experience. Users are confused why the foundation
would provide so many bad offerings in each of the apps stores because
they associate most apps in the market with something that the
foundation has done. I've had users approach me and ask why the
foundation puts ads inside their apps and even after explaining that
we have no affiliation they insist that its a poor reflection of our
projects. No matter how we look at it ... were being judged on behalf
of any app that is showing people data from Wikipedia. Rather then
having to explain why there are so many bad ones we decided to provide
a better solution then the rest to raise awareness that you a) dont
have to see ads b) don't have to pay for basic features like saving
pages and c) have control in the future direction of the project.

* It's a great way to eat our own dog food. Apps should always be
decoupled and with the next release of both of our apps we'll have
learned a ton about how our API's are deficient. By better
understanding these use cases we've extended functionality for such
things as loading articles into small chunks and our mobile web
projects will soon be receiving the same benefits. Re-using code like
this is key to making both our projects better and third party apps

* People use them. No matter if your a fan of apps or not they've
replaced the function of bookmarks for most mobile users. They provide
a faster and easier way of accessing content and our stats are
starting to show it. In just under a month of metrics we've already
seen 20+ million page views from the official android app and growth
is continuing.

* Code re-use. Whenever companies build native apps they have to
create separate code bases. We chose not to do that. Through the use
of PhoneGap were re-using more and more code with each release. It
work bi-directionally and allows us move quickly without a significant
investment on either end.

* Community outreach. We've run three hackathons that focused on
mobile and nothing was as popular as working for Android. The barrier
to entry for working on the mobile projects has been dropped
significantly and now its one of the easiest Wikimedia projects to
join. Since their decoupled and work with standard web tech ... its
been really easy to get volunteers engaged and involved.

I could go on but i'll end here for now.


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