Now that three months are almost over I took some time to look back at my OPW experience and write about what I achieved and could not achieve, what I wish I did differently and what advice I would give to future OPW ladies:)
What I worked on
I worked on two different projects. The first one, “Find the vendors”, involved finding third-party MediaWiki users, learning more about what they do and what they need , and getting them to know each other and collaborate with each other. My second project was to create a single-page introduction to Wikimedia-related data to help researchers find what they need.
What I achieved
Learned about the different ways users use MediaWiki, the problems they face, the wishes they have and communicated to the broader WMF community. (summary)
Made third-party users discuss each others work and get to know each other and revitalized their mailing list.
Gave third-party users more visibility on MW.org
Sent out educational info.
Researched and documented Wikimedia-related data sources in a single-entry page to help researchers identify the data source they need.
What I didn’t achieve
I didn’t do as much product management as I expected( mainly due to health issues constraining my time). I would have loved to work a little more on developing a product, new features, future strategy, etc. but I realize time was limited.
I could not get the third-party community to a self-sustaining state. I noticed that once I started working on something else the communication started to die out slowly. The community is still in a state where it needs some push.
What I learned
Work on an open-ended project. I am generally used to math and programming, where you either have the right answer or you don’t and your code either works or it doesn’’t. Of course, it can always be improved, you can always find a more elegant solution, etc. but at least you know if you have the right solution. In this internship I was working on rather open-ended tasks, which was very unusual for me and made me a little anxious from time to time. If I was to do this more long term, I would need to find a way to evaluate my progress. Maybe some people don’t need this but if I don’t have some clear way to measure progress, I don’t feel comfortable.
Product management is tough when you don’t know the product deeply. If you can get hands-on experience with it, that’s best.
A lot about community building. Community building is like gardening - it requires consistent work. Personal communication is much more effective than mass email and different people require a different approach, etc.
A whole lot about WMF and FOSS in general. I read a lot about managing a FOSS project and I attended presentations about the OPW organizations and their work flow.
What transfered between my two projects
experience with rather logistical issues :wiki markup, how to find information on a wiki , communication channels (mailing lists, IRC). I just felt more comfortable with anything WMF related and knew my way around.
the habit of thinking from the user point of view which was central to both of my projects and to marketing and product management in general
I had some exposure to XML dumps and the API around “Find the vendors”, which helped me get into my second project faster.
What helped me
- MENTORS. My mentors Sumana and James have been the greatest help for the last 3 months, very understanding and responsive, knowledgable and friendly. It was also great that I got to meed Sumana before OPW started.
- Having worked in an international company.I was used to working in an environment where communication happens online and you haven’t met most of the people you work with in person.
What I would have done differently
Keep it focused. If I were to do this again, I would keep it to one project only. It would keep down the learning time and leave me more time to focus on the actual project and let me go in depth. Of course, working on more things has the advantage of broader exposure but you can only do that much in 3 months.
Start differently. I would have started “Find the vendors” by asking people who they are first, before going into what they need and are unhappy about. I would send out a survey to learn about the community and to ask people how I can be helpful. I would ask everyone to just say hi on the mailing list and introduce themselves. Even knowing who is out there would have been very valuable.
Measurable goals. I would have had some more measurable goals established in the beginning, as much as possible with the project. I imagine goals like having that many people writing on the mailing list, one presentation every two weeks, that many opinions on each topic, etc. Of course, these are difficult to define but still it would be good to have some guidelines.
Advice for future OPW students
Don’t be shy. If you are not sure about something, reach out to people and ask for advice. If you have an idea, go for it. Just communicate about what you are doing! Mentors are great but make sure you talk to other people interested in your work as well. The more ideas or feedback you can get, the better.
Discuss. There are as many opinions and visions as people involved in any project. In a FOSS project usually there is no single authority to have the final word. Decisions are taken by the community. Anything you do will probably get both support and criticism. If you are not convinced, explain and defend your views and hear all opinions. Two options there: you might have a point no one considered or your learn why you are wrong. You win either way.
Communicate promptly. If you need anything from anyone, ask as early as possible, let them know you will need their help and when, and poke them if you are not hearing back. People in FOSS are generally very busy, some are volunteers and do this on the side, so be nice and make sure you give them plenty of reaction time. This will help your work go smoothly. If you and your mentor are several time zones apart, sent that email before you wrap up your day, don’t leave it for the morning after.
Prepare. The most you can do to get ready for your project in advance, the easier it will be for you to make a meaningful contribution. Try things out, learn who the involved people are, read some docs.
Be honest. Share about what you want to achieve and what you want to do from the very beginning( the application process) and throughout your internship. Even if you don’t find a relevant project, it is very likely that what you want to do is needed. Also, you can most likely tweak the direction of your project a little midway if you find that you are more interested in doing X and not Y and Z.
What is left to do
Find the vendors:
- presentations by third-party users on their improvements of MediaWiki. I helped organize one of these and it proved to be a good way to get people to know what others do and work together.
- Publish the results from a research consultation conducted by WMF in 2012.
- Add other data sources to the DataHub Wikimedia group.
As a whole, OPW has been a wonderful experiene. I learned a lot and worked in a very positive, friendly environment. I want to thank OPW for the opportunity and once again Sumana and James for being great mentors.
So, now that February is coming to an end, here is a short summary of what I had a chance to do as an intern with WMF in this rather short month :)
I kept working on outreach to the third-party MediaWiki community:
As the month got closer to its end I started to wrap up on “Find the vendors”. I am currently in the process of engaging several active community members to take on the task of keeping conversation alive and fostering communication. Also, I am about to write and post a summary of my findings about the needs of the third-party MediaWIki community.
Meanwhile, I have started to work on the product management portion of my internship. I spent most of last week learning about various data released by WMF( especially Data dumps ) and discussing related product management tasks. Many researchers are interested in analyzing various aspects of WMF projects, but often don’t know where to get the data they need. For the next two weeks I will work on creating a “single entry” page summarizing all possible sources of data coming from Wikimedia projects, making it possible for a newbie to identify the data source(s) suitable for his/her needs at a glance. The page will live at https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Research:Index and I have started taking notes and making an outline of what it should look like. More to come in March!
In February I also had a chance to read some literature about the WMF, communities in FOSS, the effect of money on them, women in FOSS, and a variety of other topics, which was great learning and helped me understand WMF and the FOSS world better, or at least helped me realize how much more there is to learn:P
“Money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure helps..” We’ve all heard this phrase over and over again.. but does money help in FOSS?
Maybe those who have been more involved with an open-source community have experience this before but as a total newbie to FOSS I was surprised to find out that in a project based on the premisses of volunteer work, money can often bring more headaches than happiness.
Why is money good for FOSS?
- Paid labor means things get done, on time.
- Directed paid labor means stability.
- Money can buy marketing, legal advice, administrative help, etc. which are not necessarily easy to find in a volunteer community.
Why is money NOT so great in FOSS?
- Is money useless to FOSS? shows that small open-source communities often lack the time and organization resources to use money.
- Crowding out of volunteers with the introduction of paid labor:
- volunteers find it unfair to do for free something that someone else is getting paid for
- transparency in the project suffers as employees are brought physically together and decisions are taken in private meetings.
- Focus on a particular part of the FOSS project and dependance on generous corporate donors - Funded FOSS projects tend to direct paid effort towards the part of the project, which brings in funding, neglecting the interests of other parts of the community. The interests of large donors are favored.
Some believe that those who say money can’t buy you happiness simply don’t know where to shop, so…where should FOSS shop? or
How should FOSS funding be spent to avoid headaches?
- Buy infrastructure Hardware, development and testing tools, and other shared resources are a fair buy and make the whole community more productive and the project more attractive to volunteers.
- Organize conferences, seminars, hackatons, trainings As long as participants are selected in a fair and transparent way, such events where volunteers meet in person help build a stronger community and improve volunteer engagement.
- Fund only jobs that volunteers agree can not be done by volunteers Administrative work, very tedious tasks, etc are good candidates for funding.
- Be transparent !
How does this relate to the Wikimedia Foundation?
WMF was established in 2003 to operate Wikipedia and now runs several related projects( Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikidata, Wikivoyage,Wikimedia Incubator, and Meta-Wiki )as well. WMF manages the 5th most visited website in the world and is the only site in the top 40 operated by a non-profit. It started as a mostly volunteer-run organization, but in the recent years the foundation has grown from 2 in the beginning to around 125 employees in 2012. It is mostly funded by donations, which reached $35 million in 2011-2012.
Unlike most FOSS projects, which have two communities - volunteer developers and users, WMF is an interesting case of FOSS since it involves three communities - Wikipedia(and related sites) editors and content contributors, volunteer developers, and MediaWiki users.
How does money affect each of the WMF communities?
Wikipedia editors: As the main focus of WMF is the well-being of Wikipedia, the editor community benefits from stability of the website, optimized performance and development of new features. A lot of effort is focused on editor engagement.
Volunteer developers: A lot less work seems to be done by volunteers with the expansion of engineering at WMF. Besides the crowding out effect of money, part of the reason might be that many active volunteers were actually hired by the foundation. It is difficult to judge for 1.5 months but WMF seems to be doing a relatively good job with transparency even though most of the employees share an office in San Francisco. Still, I have heard some complaints about code reviews being too exclusive and major decisions being taken in private meetings.
Other MediaWiki users: As the stability of Wikipedia and other WMF site is the main focus of the foundation, other MediaWiki users are not getting enough attentions, suffering from incomplete documentation, far from perfect installer, etc. WMF is working on improving that as the MediaWiki user community is valuable in testing MediaWiki and bringing in innovation.
What can WMF improve on?
One area, where volunteers don’t seem to be doing a good job, is documentation. Maybe WMF should consider directing some funding towards documenting MediaWiki better, organizing extensions, and improving the newbie experience. Better documentation would help both developers and non-WMF MediaWiki users. Additionally, WMF could invest in infrastructure, making installation, bug tracking, contribution, testing, etc. easier by improving tools and training the community. WMF could help developers monetize on their contributions by building a better extensions(MediaWiki plug-in) management platform,where users can donate to specific extensions. Thus, quality volunteer development and innovation will be encouraged.
Problems and Strategies in Financing Voluntary Free Software Projects
Has cash corrupted open source?
Is Money Useless to Open Source Projects?
Wikimedia Foundation 2011-2012 Annual Report
My mentor Sumana pointed me to an interesting blog post about developers as users, which made me think about developers on MediaWiki and their user experience. Unfortunately, developer experience has been slightly ignored by WMF, which focuses on keeping Wikipedia stable. As the project grows, however,it seems more and more important to work on it.
Why is developers’ user experience important for MediaWiki?
WMF works with limited resources and developers from outside (volunteer or professional) are the driving force of innovation and progress. Improving developers experience will make them more effective and allow them to tackle more work in the limited (often volunteer) time they have. It will lessen the barrier to entry and improve developer retention. Therefore, better developer experience means better MediaWiki for everyone.
What can be done ?
API – Access to more functions for better control and stability of the API between MediaWiki versions would make development and maintenance much easier and solve a lot of compatibility problems.
Documentation – MediaWiki documentation seems to always be behind, which is a huge barrier especially for newcomers to start developing. Maybe some events like Doc Days could be organized to work on major documentation faults.
Timely reviews – Developers want to see the fruit of their work, so timely code reviews and merges are crucial for a happy developer community. Focus on educating and promoting code reviewers will be crucial to decrease review times.
Ability to promote their work – Some system of rating/recognition developers and their contributions would probably serve to motivate developers.
Voice – A community channel of communication and support as well as an effective method of discussing needs and issues with WMF would help the community strive. A lot of effort has been done here with IRC, mailing lists, Bug Days, hackatons, etc.
There is probably more to be added to the list, but I find these crucial for a happy and thriving developer community. I can see that WMF realizes the importance of developers for the success of Wikipedia, so I am optimistic about the progress on developer experience. I hope to see more work on it in the near future.
It has now been almost three weeks of my internship. I have worked a lot of compiling a list of people/businesses to invite for discussions on MediaWiki and it now has 70-80 entries. Also, I have tried to start a conversation with/between people on the list. I chose to use a wiki discussion page for the space for the conversation because I wanted it to be as open and public as possible. I also invited people to join a mailing list and give their feedback there or to me personally if they are more comfortable, I did received some interesting feedback. However, I have encountered serious challenges and should probably reconsider my approach and keep on trying.
One problem that I found is that a lot of the people on the list don’t seem interested to participate in discussions. Many did not reply to my initial email at all. Some do, but with comments on some side topic. The ones willing to talk are mostly users, who are already quite involved with the community and my goal is to involve the others as well. I am not sure what the problem is. Maybe I am not using the right approach or don’t have the right contact person. I have noticed that people are more comfortable talking on email with me, while I am trying to start a public discussion. One reason seems to be that those who are not very involved in the community are not familiar with the wiki setup, don’t have an account, or have some other obstacle of this sort. Also, it was just last Friday when I contacted many of the people, so I should probably give it a little more time.
One mistake I now realize I made is put the list of people/businesses at a more central location on the wiki than the discussion itself. Also, I called the page MediaWiki vendors, while it includes some interesting MediaWiki installations, which can not be defined as vendors. This caused a lot of debate and shifted the focus from the discussions I was trying to start to a discussion on the contents and definition of the list and who belongs there. I am working on making that more clear and coming up with a better title and should fix this issue after some discussion with my mentors. Then I will have to work on trying to get the focus to where I want it to be.
I have been learning a lot about MediaWiki as a software, about using wikis in general and about the way the community functions. I am usually quite good with organization but I am having a little trouble keeping up with a mix of email, IRC and wiki communication. The main challenge is simply making sure I don’t forget something. Another challenge I am having so far is figuring out the best approach to engage people. So far I have not been extremely successful, in my opinion, but I hope I will learn and get better.
Until next time (hopefully blogging about some good progress:)) !
I can’t believe it’s already been a week since I stared my internship. I spent the first several days mostly reading and learning about the Wikimedia Foundation and the architecture of MediaWiki. I feel much more familiar the complexity of the project now but as usually - the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know. So I now feel familiar with the higher level information but I also realized it would take months to really feel confident I know what I’m talking about :) I am most impressed with the small size of the full-time team and how they manage to run a top-ten website! It truly is amazing.
Other than reading I’ve stated working on my main project in the internship. I spend 2-3 days compiling a list of now about 60 active third-party MediaWiki users and I should be in contact with them soon. I am sure more exist and expect to find more on the way. Most of them so far are based in the US, Canada, the UK and Germany. I have found a couple in Russia and a few elsewhere. I think the language barrier might be preventing me from finding users in China for example and I should probably find a way to explore that further. My next task I believe would be to come up with a list of questions to seek their feedback about and a list of ways they could contribute back and communicate that with them.
My first impressions from the WMF community have been great. Everyone has been willing to help, open and welcoming. I found it interesting (as someone who hasn’t been involved with FOSS much before) that IRC is such a central communication channel. I had not used it since high school but it definitely matches the user profile- open-source, hackable, open to everyone to join and lightweight, so I can see why.
I haven’t really had any significant problems so far. It has been a little bit of learning with wikis. I didn’t know what my Talk page refers to before the internship application and I’ve found table formatting a little not too friendly. However, I am finding my way around. Also, it is still a little difficult to follow and find information across all the communication channels - Talk pages, IRC, mailing lists.
Looking forward to the next weeks of work and getting deeper into the project !
This is the blog I started to post about my internship experience with the Wikimedia Foundation. This is my first blog and first blog post ever so don’t be judgmental:)
I figured I should start with a short introduction post saying who I am and what my internship will be about. I am really excited for what’s to come in the next 3 months, to learn as much as I can and to share it here :)
About Me: My name is Mariya Miteva and I am from Sofia, Bulgaria. I’ve studied in the US for a total of 5-6 years. I have BA degree from Washington and Lee University in Computer Science and Economics. I also completed a Latin American and Caribbean Studies minor, which I have not really used for any practical purposes, but I generally love Latin America with it’s people, food, music, dance, etc. (maybe except for the telenovelas:P). I was lucky enough to receive a Fulbright grant and currently I am working towards a MS degree in Information Systems at NYU. It’s a mixed program between the Computer Science department at the Courant Institute and the Stern School of Business. I worked as a software developer for Comptel,a Finish company developing OSS for telecoms, for two years in their Sofia office before starting my graduate studies. I love languages. Besides Bulgarian and English I speak relatively good Spanish and some Italian. I’ve also studied German and Russian before. In my spare time I love dancing(pretty much any kind), travelling, trying new things, new foods, etc. And this time now is particularly exciting( and scary!) for me because I am about to have my first child in a few months :)
My internship: About a week ago I started my three-month OPW intenrship with the Wikimedia Foundation. My job as an intern will be to find third-party users who actively use and benefit from customizing and reselling MediaWiki, to find out what MediaWiki can do for them and how they can contribute back, and to initiate an ongoing conversation and collaboration. In parallel I will work on some product management tasks. My mentors during the internship are Sumana Harihareswara and James Forrester. To learn more take a look at my OPW application and check out my WMF User page. If you are interested in FOSS be sure to check out the Outreach Program for Women and the application process.
More to come soon!