This is a big announcement, and one many of you have wanted for a very long time. We will be embarking on a massive undertaking to upgrade the tools and platform that are crucial to wiki editing. We are very excited to share that we are upgrading our instance of MediaWiki, the software that powers your wikis.
To be upfront, we don’t have a lot of details yet. This is going to be a very long process. So while I may not have the specific what or specific how just yet, I want to talk about the why behind making this decision now and why it wasn’t made earlier.
Back in August, we kicked off a series of conversations with the Community Council asking them for input on a lot of areas of the platform. That included how the community staff engages with community members, what kind of original content (like videos and editorial) we make, and what users were looking to see around product development.
One of the key findings that came out of that was a sense that many features and tools had fallen out of date, leading to Feature Derelict. In fact, that exact phrasing came specifically from Council member Ursuul. The main points behind this feeling are:
Editors feel that there have not been enough developments for them for many years.
Our focus seemed to be on what’s new, without emphasis on strengthening what already exists in wiki communities.
Features are removed or unsupported without adequate explanation or replacement.
Our MediaWiki instance is out of date, leaving admins and users with outdated tools.
All of this contributed to the feeling that Fandom doesn’t care about editors. We have always cared about our users, but actions speak louder than words. There wasn’t enough support for the editor experience. It ties into another piece of Council feedback, Lack of Focus, with users feeling that we’ve taken the wiki experience for granted and developed in ways that were at the expense of editors.
That feedback and more prompted the first step toward a stronger focus on the editor experience. But the question still remains: why wasn’t MediaWiki upgraded before?
The MediaWiki Monolith
For several years, part of our approach to developing new features was to essentially “bolt” them onto MediaWiki. Our platform is now made up of a million lines of code and a ton of technical debt. The result of this is that our instance of MediaWiki became an untouchable monolith. With the exception of features like Discussions, which was designed in such a way that it did not contribute to this monolith, MediaWiki’s tentacles are everywhere and touch everything.
Any attempt to upgrade MediaWiki, therefore, would have meant the site would break.
We tried this once before. Our last MediaWiki upgrade was in 2012, so it’s been a long time. When we did that upgrade, with less tech debt and entanglement, the site ended up being littered in bugs that took a long time to fix. So with many more years of development after that upgrade, any further attempt to update our instance of MediaWiki would have been impossible on our current platform. That’s why we’ve long referred to it as a forked version of MediaWiki 1.19.
The solution, then, is that we’ll have to build a new Fandom platform to have an upgraded version of MediaWiki. We’ll create that platform, run it on a modern version of MediaWiki, and then carefully and intelligently add the right custom features onto it in such a way that it does not create the tangled web that we have now. The end result will be an experience you’re familiar with but running on modern software and with better sets of tools for wiki editors.
That’s a massive undertaking. It will take a lot of time and a lot of resources. So why do it?
The Editor Experience
Any project of this size has to have a clear benefit. And to us, the benefit is the opportunity to strengthen the foundation of the site. And I don’t just mean in terms of software. You are the foundation of the site. In order to grow and to have continued positive experiences on Fandom, we have to be the best possible wiki platform that we can be.
With feedback like we got from Council, and as we fully began the company reorganization process with the addition of Gamepedia to the Fandom family, it was very clear to all of us that we needed to renew our focus on the health of the wiki editing experience. We can’t be the best wiki platform if editors don’t feel supported and if they don’t have the right set of modern tools in order to build and grow amazing communities.
You’ve probably seen past posts on Community Central saying that wikis were at the core of what we were doing, but have you really felt that in your day to day life? It’s safe to say the answer is no. Council feedback was right: as we pursued growth in other areas, it often came at the expense of the wiki editing experience. We own that. The truth is, growth only works if there’s a strong wiki editing experience in addition to broadening what fans can do on Fandom.
That opportunity to better serve you and to build stronger and healthier communities is the biggest benefit of a MediaWiki upgrade. It’s the only way that we can be successful long-term.
Out of this concept came the Editor Experience team on which I now work. Our job is to make life better for editors, as we acknowledge the significant investment editors make and the impact editors have on our wikis. You are all stakeholders in this process, so coordinating the user-side of the MediaWiki upgrade will be our job. We’ll be here to solicit user input in addition to updating you on our progress.
The MediaWiki upgrade will take a long time. There are layers and layers of specialized features to dissect and 10 years of tech debt and code to slowly untangle. We need to fully understand where we can leverage existing work (including Gamepedia features!), where we can use developments in modern MediaWiki, where we can bring in new extensions, and more.
When we have the platform running on a modern MediaWiki version, we will be able to move and improve more quickly. We won’t have to develop in-house solutions for things that exist thanks to the core MediaWiki development work of the Wikimedia Foundation and extension creators. We won’t have as many bugs that need fixing. All of that means more time can be spent helping you with brand new functionality to make editing better!
We are not promising a specific timeframe, because we want to do this right and not rush through it. That being said, we are making the commitment to provide you with an update on our progress in the next few months.
This is the first step in the journey, so we may not have the specific answers to the many questions you have for us right now. But we'll do our best to address those questions, and invite both feedback and discussion.
Will "MisterWoodhouse" Kavanagh Fandom Staff
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