Wikipedia Mobile #1

Veröffentlicht am 8.4.2012, 02:00 Uhr

This morning I accidentally installed Wikipedia’s mobile app on my iPad. It felt sluggish, strange and not at all what I expected. As bitching doesn’t help and I wanted to use my professional knowledge in my free time, I started poking around. This is the result.

Starting position

The iOS Wikipedia app has really bad ratings. Users complain about bad performance, bad usability and about the feeling that this is more an Android app but an iOS app. In sum, this creates you a rating of only 2 stars for the current version. Ouch.

Android users seem to be happier with their 4.5 star rating. The problems only exists with the iOS version of the (similar) app. Strange. Let’s start with the basics and look into the feature set:

Doesn’t sound too bad. It’s not only stuff a mobile web site could do, so an app makes sense. So lets start to investigate.

What’s the background of all that?

The AppStore description of the app also links to a Twitter account and the source code of the app on Github:

From these two links I basically spent hours reading, clicking, reading again – typical procrastination stuff (Procrastinators beware if you are even near Wikipedia articles…). But I learned a lot ;) Back to topic: The following links all are relevant to the mobile efforts of Wikipedia:

While reading these pages, I noticed information about two different iOS apps: One is based on Rhodes, one on Phonegap. It turns out the Phonegap version for iOS is quite new and the old one is to be retired and phased out:

So we have several projects and initiatives in the mobile space of Wikipedia:

Not too bad. Of course the articles in the wiki are quite… organically grown and sometimes hard to differentiate and classify. But I think that’s the case most of the time when volunteers and professionals work together.

The funny stuff: code

Now I have an overview, so let’s get back to the funny stuff: code.

As I have never used git before, I spend some time installing all the tools and learning how to use them. After that I can finally checkout the repository on Github. While I do this, I notice that the isn’t as pretty as all the readmes of the other Github projects I know. So that’s the first thing I decide to fix. 1 hours, lots of reading and 3 minutes of ‚coding‘ and a pull request later, it is done. My commit gets integrated by reedy a few minutes later. I’m in.

But now to the real code. The folder structure of the repository isn’t very clear. There are lot’s of confusing files in the root that don’t really belong there in a multi platform project, several folders that also don’t make sense to me or I can’t identify. Again, this seems to have grown over time. This is definitely something that could and should be fixed.

In /assets/www I find something that looks like the html application. Loooots of Javascript, jQuery and Zepto *confused. Anyway, using –disable-web-security I can open the Phonegap app in Chrome and even get it working! Still, several ‚file not found‘ as non-existant files are requested. But here it becomes quite clear, that the app itself is no bad in itself. It works, the code is more or less structured, you can see what the developer was thinking. Normally that’s a good thing. So as to not fish around without all information, I conclude my little poking session for today.


After getting this short glimpse into Wikipedia Mobile I think that the code isn’t the first problem to fix. First it needs some love in the Documentation and Organization of the code. So that’s where I will start. Let’s see what I can do.

PS: Well, I installed the app on my old iPod 3 (iOS 4.2.1) and tried to use it – completely unuseable. Maybe we should start with the code after all.

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