How we went from an error counter to fixing our code

This blog post was also posted on my personal blog and the Wikimedia tech blog.

A while back I wrote about debugging an issue on mobile armed only with an error counter and referrer information. Thankfully I’m pleased to report that we are now tracking and fixing client side JavaScript errors for Wikimedia wikis which is providing more error-free experiences to our end users. In this blog post I wanted to document what led us to prioritizing it; how we went about implementing a solution; and what we learned from the experience. …


And how this change and other small changes helped increased moderation on mobile

This has also been posted on my personal blog.

On a day in November, with the support of others¹, a somewhat absurd bug involving semicolons that took a week to fix was finally squashed. It was part of a group of changes that had led to a 47% bump in moderation tool usage on mobile. …


The night before my flight, I picked up an Accurist wrist watch that my Grandfather, a mechanical engineer, received on his 21st birthday in 1949. When I’d received it I had been told it was broken. I felt compelled to wind it up. It stated ticking away. I wondered about the things I was engineering. Would the Wikipedia code I work on, be ticking away in 71 years time, like this watch? Would my contributions to the web e.g. blog posts on Medium still be available?

My Grandfather’s clock still ticking 71 years later…

While I walked through airport security the lady behind me asked me if I…


A hackathon story

Connecting with the people your software serves is more important than anything else you could do.

The Wikimedia movement is an international movement and a Wikimedian is someone who contributes software or free knowledge to one of its many projects (the most famous of which is Wikipedia). Wikipedians work tirelessly to create, nurture and protect content as well as provide the software that wraps it up and delivers it to readers. Working across multiple timezones in different languages in different countries with different skill-sets these people support the largest website in the world run by a non-profit.

It’s important for…


Talking a bit helped us write off several years of technical debt

A big challenge for any software engineer is explaining an important technical change to an audience who may not necessarily have the appropriate context. “Technical debt” is a phrase that will perplex a product owner if not articulated correctly. If you work in any product-centric team, you’ll likely find many technical tasks may be brushed aside in exchange for more tangible, visible outputs. That said, technical debt is very real and needs to be addressed.

A product owner responds to an engineer who has told them they need a feature freeze while a year is spent fixing some poorly defined technical debt without a clear outline of what that means (Source: Pixabay, free for commercial/non-commercial use.)

Back in January 2018, Wikimedia engineer Joaquin Hernandez and I pitched a one year project to pursue the scoped and measurable goal of increasing code…


Using statsv for JavaScript error reporting

What happens when you have a bunch of JavaScript developers frustrated by not having any JavaScript error reporting in production? They find an unexpected workaround using the tooling they have available.

Coding in the dark

Wikipedia and its sister sites currently have no JavaScript error reporting. We have been using logstash for tracking server errors, but due to the fact we are a small volunteer-based non-profit supporting a top-10 website, some essential parts of the infrastructure end up being de-prioritized. As a result, every change we make has a high risk of causing errors. …


How technical debt can become a shared responsibility

MediaWiki, the software that powers Wikipedia, is afflicted with the beautiful dichotomy that plagues many open source projects — it was built over a decade ago with lots of enthusiasm and many fantastic ideas, but with fewer concerns about code quality and long-term maintenance.

It should not come as a surprise that MediaWiki, while powering one of the most important resources on the web, has also accumulated significant amounts of technical debt. To cope with this, my team at the Wikimedia Foundation — the organization now charged with stewarding MediaWiki — found a ritual that allowed us to decrease the…


A Christmas song for all those who are bored of Brexit

May turns on the Christmas lights, on the 6th day of Xmas; Source: Flickr

On the 1st day of Brexmas
Theresa May gave to me:
an un-recoverable economy

On the 2nd day of Brexmas
Theresa May gave to me:
Two independence referendums
and an un-recoverable economy

On the 3rd day of Brexmas
Theresa May gave to me:
Free movement gone
Two independence referendums
and an un-recoverable economy

On the 4th day of Brexmas
Theresa May gave to me:
False unkept promises
Free movement gone
Two independence referendums
and an un-recoverable economy

On the 5th day of Brexmas Theresa May gave to me: High import taxes False unkept promises Free movement gone Two independence referendums…


The importance of choice in Wikimedia’s many projects

Recently, a tweet popped up in my feed: “funny how mobile wikipedia is easier to read on desktop than desktop wikipedia.”

So why does Wikipedia continue to have a desktop version in 2018?

This is not a new question and by far the most common comment relating to Wikipedia I see on Twitter. Because I’ve been working on the mobile site for six years now, I feel like I am well-versed to answer. The short answer: Wikipedia’s editing and reading experience has always and probably will always be based on giving user’s choices.

Wikipedia users have lots of preferences

The need for choice in Wikipedia becomes…


The importance of choice in Wikimedia’s many projects

A tweet popped up in my feed which can be summarized as “The mobile version of Wikipedia is easier to read than the desktop. Why is there a desktop version?”

This is not a new question and by far the most common comment relating to Wikipedia I see on Twitter. Because I’ve been working on the mobile site for six years now, I feel like I am well-versed to answer. The short answer: Wikipedia’s editing and reading experience has always and probably will always be based on giving user’s choices.

Wikipedia users have lots of preferences

The need for choice in Wikipedia becomes apparent when you…

Jon Robson (David Lyall)

Travel fanatic, writer, web dev british hippyster on a mission to make the web all happy with rainbows, unicorns etc

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