There are many third-party mobile apps based on Wikipedia, and some of them offer unique benefits. The Wikimedia Foundation encourages diversity and innovation using the free content of Wikipedia, as long as some legal guidelines are followed (namely, observe the CC-BY-SA license terms and don’t infringe our trademarks). We want app developers to help spread free knowledge, and now you can do that more easily and reliably.
Most Wikipedia app developers are screen-scraping the mobile site, or using the desktop site’s HTML and applying some home-made transformations to it. Our official apps used to screen-scrape, too, but now there’s a better alternative: over the last half year, the mobile team has developed a specialized API for mobile apps to use.
There are two problems with screen scraping: it’s brittle and slow. Here are the benefits of using the new API:
- You don’t have to worry about unrelated changes to the mobile site breaking the app – Are you grabbing the content of a particular <div>? It may disappear with the next skin update. The API is guaranteed to remain backwards-compatible.
- Structured data – Since the data is a bit more structured, you can easily able to do things like loading images only when their section is expanded.
- Get just what you want, when you want – It helps responsiveness a lot by loading only sections the user wants to see.
- Improved speed, saved traffic – Download speed and bandwidth usage are improved because you are getting just the data you want, without extra formatting and navigation elements.
Our official Wikipedia apps switched over to using the new API, and we have received comments like this:
… the reason why I wrote this review is because of the latest update. It was supposed to make the app faster…. and it did! Seriously, the app loads pages MUCH faster now, and I am very pleased. We’re talking about going from internet explorer speed to any web browser that isn’t internet explorer speed. A+
Software Developer (Mobile)