Wikipedia gears up for flood of video and photo files

New hardware needed to support online reference service's push for more media.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read
Wikimedia CTO Brion Vibber Rafe Needleman / CNET

What is the significance of Sun Microsystems' announcement Wednesday that Wikimedia is buying truckloads of Sun servers? It's that the Wikimedia team, which runs Wikipedia, Wikinews, Wikibooks, and other sites, is gearing up to change the nature of the reference services. Wikipedia, in particular, is going to get a lot more visual. Limits on the size of upload files will be increased to 100MB. Video--hosted by Wikimedia--will soon be part of the mix.

With the more aggressive support for media files will come, eventually, new ways to edit those media. Kaltura has been working with Wikimedia to create an online video editor that supports wikipedia concepts: users will be able to edit others' videos, and everyone will be able to see the edit history.

Wikimedia is also considering building an online photo editor into the service, so users will be able to do the same things with photos that they do with text--enhance, clarify, and revert the last user's edits. Failing that, Wikimedia CTO Brion Vibber told me Wednesday, Wikipedia users may soon get a way to view the revisions that people make offline to photos by flipping through previous versions of the images.

The one holdup I can see with Wikimedia's newish love of media files is its fetish for open-source technologies. Vibber told me the new video support is being designed first to run in Firefox 3.1, because this open-source browser has native support for the open-source Ogg Theora codec. I'm sure that will make for a good experience in Firefox, but philosophy aside, I'd like to see even support for all browsers, not just Firefox.

Currently, all of Wikipedia, including the photos and audio, fits in less than 5 terabytes of storage. The text alone is less 500 MB compressed. With the new servers and the new media editing services, Vibber expects Wikipedia to be using 10 TB to 15 TB by the end of 2009.