Israeli Wiki hackers help out ‘the family’ at Hackathon

Apps and bug fixes developed in Israel will eventually help Wiki users around the world, says the head of Wikipedia Israel

Hackers work on apps and bug fixes at the Wikimedia Israel Hackathon (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Hackers work on apps and bug fixes at the Wikimedia Israel Hackathon (Photo credit: Courtesy)

It takes a village – a global village, that is – to keep the wiki world going, and Israel is doing its share to ensure that the world of Wikimedia hums along. Wikipedia, of course, is the best-known product of the Wikimedia Foundation, and Wikimedia Israel runs the Hebrew-language Israeli Wikipedia site, and last week, dozens of Wikimedia volunteers gathered at Google’s Tel Aviv development center in order to help hammer out some Wiki bugs, and develop what could possibly be the next big thing in Wiki apps.

Wikipedia and its allied web sites are more than databases of information; they are actually information platforms, brought to life by its MediaWiki software. The Wiki family – Wikipedia, Wikiwquote, Wikinews, Wikidata, and many others – use an API that allows programmers to hook into information on a site, using the information there in an app, mash-up, web site, or other external context. Today, Wikipedia and its allied sites are important sources of information for many on-line services – such as OpenStreetMap, a crowdsourced street-by-street map of the world.

“Participants in the Hackathon, which went on for about 12 hours, helped to fix bugs in Wikipedia, improving the user experience for information seekers all over the world,” said Itzik Edri, Chairperson of Wikimedia Israel. “They also began development of several cool apps and services that we hope will in the future become a part of the Wikimedia family worldwide.”

Several of those apps and services are built on a new Wikipedia feature – GPS coordinates, which have been added to many Wiki entries for geographical sites around the world. Among the apps developed at the Hackathon was one that looks for interesting sites nearby the one you are checking out. For example, if a user were looking at the Wiki entry for the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv, the app would search Wikipedia for other sites with nearby GPS coordinates and display them.

This could be useful, for example, in a tourism app, where a smartphone could, using the device’s GPS chip, look up the appropriate entry in Wikipedia, display information about it, and then list other nearby sites, perhaps building an itinerary for tourists.

Another app being developed, said Edri, was one that will help users complete Wikipedia entries for sites around the world. The app would allow users to upload a photo of a site to a Wiki entry page, on the fly. “There are many pages that have information about a site and even its GPS coordinates, but we were unable to get a royalty-free photo to go with it,” said Edri. “With the app, volunteers can add a photo and fill out those pages.”

The “gem” of the Hackathon, said Edri, was one that was proposed by a group of high school students from Petach Tikvah. “They had this idea for making an automated Powerpoint app based on Wikipedia content,” said Edri. Users of the app would select a Wikipedia page – on the subject of apples, for example – and the app would search Wikipedia for other related pages, automatically making a Powerpoint-style presentation using the pages, with a nicely done title page and index. “It’s the kind of thing that would really help out students using Wikipedia do a report.”

The bug fixes developed at the Hackathon will get inserted into the Wiki system right away; the apps are still under development, said Edri. “This is the second Hackathon we’ve run, and the apps this time are far more sophisticated than the ones from the first event several months ago. We have asked all the hackers to continue to develop their apps, and we have high hopes that some of the apps developed by Israeli Wiki volunteers will join the ‘Wiki family’ for use worldwide.”

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