Breaking through walls of text: How we will create a richer Wikimedia experience

Wikimedia consists of many projects, Wikipedia most notable among them. However, the name “Wikimedia” suggests a world beyond text. Indeed, Wikimedia Commons, our repository of freely-licensed media files, already contains more than 16 million images, sound files, and videos.
Well, mostly images. Right now, there are fewer than 30,000 video files, and fewer than 170,000 audio files. And while Wikipedia articles are often richly illustrated, they still share the old-school feel of a print-based experience. Projects like Snow Fall by the New York Times show what an immersive reader experience can look like, with video elements prominently featured and blended into the core of the content. In contrast, Wikipedia articles rarely have videos, and if they do, those videos are usually very short and included at the bottom of the article.
Of course, well-written text forms the foundation of most high quality educational content.  Text is versatile, adaptable, accessible, efficient, and relatively easy to collaborate on.  It will form the core of the Wikimedia experience for a long time to come. Still, we can greatly improve the educational value of our sites by empowering everyone to share media, collaborate on improving that media, and using that media well throughout our sites.
In the last three years, Wikimedia has seen some very significant multimedia developments:

  • The Wikimedia movement has launched successful photo contests and competitions, notably the “Wiki Loves Monuments” competition, which was recognized as the world’s largest photo competition by the Guinness Book of Records. In the 2012 competition, more than 350,000 photos were taken by volunteers. It was organized by Wikimedia chapters and volunteers in 33 countries (see jury report).
  • Wikimedia chapters and volunteers have also formed partnerships into the cultural sector (e.g. museums, galleries, archives), resulting in hundreds of thousands of photographs, reproductions of paintings, and other media being made available on Wikimedia Commons.
  • Wikimedia Foundation has developed a number of enhancements and features focused on multimedia:
    • the Upload Wizard, an easy-to-use tool for uploading media files that’s been used to upload more than 2.2 million files to Wikimedia Commons;
    • upload features for the mobile web that make it easy to enrich any article requiring a photograph using a smartphone;
    • a new HTML5 video player with support for the open WebM video format and encoding of videos in multiple resolutions;
    • dedicated upload apps for iOS and Android are in development;
    • a feature to import photographs from Flickr (started as a Google Summer of Code project)
    • an experimental feature to upload files up to 500MB in size.

In combination, these efforts have already borne fruit. The number of contributors to Wikimedia Commons has increased significantly in the last 3 years.  In January 2010, only 13219 users had contributed at least one upload.  That number increased to 20161 users by January 2013.
At the same time, we haven’t invested enough. With the exception of the work of our mobile team, much of the above work has been done by one or two developers at a time, often in between other priorities or by engineers working as volunteers. There has never been a well-resourced team fully dedicated to multimedia engineering work at the Wikimedia Foundation. This is about to change.
The Wikimedia Foundation is hiring at least three engineers and additional product/design support to fully focus on improving the user experience for contributing, curating and reviewing multimedia. Right now, you can apply for the following positions:

Here are some of the key challenges for the new team:

  • further improvements to the upload experience. Contributing an image or video to an article while you’re editing should not require leaving the “edit mode” — it should be integrated with the editing process.
  • solidifying experimental features such as large file uploads;
  • improving transcoding features for video files to reduce the learning curve for video uploaders;
  • improving media search and discovery;
  • improving display of images, videos and sound files in Wikipedia articles, including a standard lightbox viewer for media embedded in an article and related media from Wikimedia Commons (building on some of the excellent submissions in our October 2011 Coding Challenge).

As we continue to provide new means for uploading media, we need to ensure that the Wikimedia community is empowered to curate and categorize the images. Curation includes removal of content that is out of scope or incorrectly licensed. To more effectively patrol content, the development of curation tools similar to the Page Curation feature developed for Wikipedia may become necessary.
Beyond Wikimedia’s category system, we will likely want to explore implementation of lightweight tagging systems, possibly in partnership with the Wikidata team.
As if this weren’t enough, the long term frontiers for multimedia include web-based editing of images, video and sounds, improvement for subtitle editing, browser-based audio recording features, and more.
In short, breaking through walls of text and creating a richer media experience for all our projects will keep the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia movement busy for many years to come. Please help us expand our library of freely-licensed educational media, and help us ensure it gets used effectively on the world’s fifth-most popular website.  Apply today.
Rob Lanphier, Director of Platform Engineering
Erik Möller, Deputy Director; Vice President of Engineering and Product Development

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

This is fantastic! However, based on the success of WLM (organised by chapters with some minor on-wiki tech support from the UploadWizard), it seems to me that the key for the expansion of Commons is harvesting contributors outside our usual pool. Upload while editing is extremely nice but will not bring many new contributors. It’s important that the WMF provides the bare needed technical support (sometimes videos on popular pages took the cluster down in the past…) but I don’t think trying to make Commons the new Flickr or the new YouTube will ever work. Perhaps we need to find… Read more »

Hi Nemo, glad you’re excited about this! To be clear, we’re not trying to make this into the new Flickr or YouTube, but since people are used to those websites, we should meet the standard set by those sites (and others) with respect to ease of upload and system robustness. Also, making it easier to drop media into articles is not only a recruiting tool (though I think there will be a type of editor that will be attracted by that), but it’s also about making editors who might otherwise not integrate media in articles to actually integrate it, and… Read more »

Oh, and of course the main obstacle for a bigger usage of Commons by local wikis is its limited multilingual support. The community has always had to rely on custom hacks to provide a minimal support to editors, and we still do almost nothing for readers: categories are only in English, descriptions are not easy to localise, precious infographics and diagrams are confined to few languages because TranslateSvg is only volunteer work, …

Some support from the foundation for the project I started, to ask Wikipedia article subjects to record a short sample of their spoken voice, would be good. The “Voice Intro Project” is described at:

Rob, I agree on all you said. 🙂 I just don’t understand what you’re putting under “ease of upload”. The job description has mentions “metadata display” which is unclear. I don’t think that tagging is a priority, especially as it’s quite controversial and we’re already having hard time fixing uncategorised files from the UploadWizard. That’s why I say that e.g. adding tags just because that’s what Flickr and YouTube use is not a good idea; of course you may mean something else. This is a minor issue, what I mean to say is that what WMF should aim at for… Read more »

I have great hopes for some of the new developments to revolutionize Commons and make it more friendly to the outside world: 1) Lua has potential to allow better multi-language support by simplifying some of our horrendously complicated i18n templates. 2) Wikidata style properties, if applied to Commons, might be able to allow multilingual properties which could provide alternative to current category systems. For example we could replace “Category:Painted portraits of women from Spain in national costume” with 5 properties: Painting, portrait, women subjects, Spaniards, and national costumes. But some more attention to Commons could be useful. We could use… Read more »

Super news Support for 3D models would be really good, I wrote a guide to creating 3d models for Wikipedia including lots of existing repositories that could be used . If it could support 3d meshes and point clouds that would be really helpful, they’re good at modelling different things and come from different sources. Once more school and kids start getting 3d printers in their bedrooms this will really shine as an educational tool. I think there should be some research done into what formats are needed to support open hardware plans, Wikipedia Zero has a unique opportunity… Read more »

Excellent! I have waited for years for an video upgrade to Commons, which allows for larger files. There will be surely lots of educational and illustrative videos (speeches, talks, location tours etc.). I also support more OpenStreetMap integration to Wikipedia, like map rendered for administrative boundaries, or with additional statistical information popups (greetings, Wikidata) or political or economic maps; and 3D-Models, this is all promising. But let’s start with more video!

Naturalmente não vou desprezar ou ignorar estes avanços que permitem melhorar a apresentação dos verbetes na wikipédia, além dos outros projetos irmãos. Infelizmente como eu pessoalmente experimentei, que para fazer o uso de parte destes avanços, você acaba dispendendo muito tempo de sua vida pessoal e mesmo para uma pessoa da minha idade, stendo uma boa base da informática, desde o tempo do Apple e do DOS, a comunidade prefere dar maciço apoio a pseudoeditores que sistematicamente perturbam quem deseja colaborar na wikipédia e que após humilhantes discussões com pessoas jovens e idealistas, somos obrigados a abandonar o projeto Obviamente… Read more »

I am really enjoying the theme/design of your website.
Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility problems?
A small number of my blog readers have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome.
Do you have any ideas to help fix this issue?

Good news !
Today, in order to change one letter in a word in a SVG image, one has to download the image, edit the file and upload the file as a new version of the image. This has to be improved. The SVG XML code has to be editable directly.