With 2009 underway, Brion Vibber and the rest of the great staff developers of MediaWiki at the Wikimedia Foundation have put their noses to the grindstone once again, rolling out one minor but distinctive feature on Wikipedia and testing another very significant one.

It’s the little things that make a difference

The first is the addition of friendlyclock. Once only a part of Friendly, an optional collection of JavaScripts that many Wikipedians use to automate common editing tasks, friendlyclock is a simple feature that adds an updating UTC clock in the top right-hand corner of the screen next to the usual links for logged in editors. Clicking it also acts as a purge of your page cache.

on the far right

on the far right

Friendlyclock may not sound so exciting, but once you spend even an hour or two editing, you’ll come to appreciate having both of those features handy. In fact, I’ve had a JS gadget enabled that does the exact same thing for months now. It’s just this kind of incremental but gratifying change to the software that shows how sensitive Brion and the Wikimedia Foundation has been to the needs of the core community over the years.

Important new functionality.

The second MediaWiki addition is a full extension that Brion announced Friday. Currently in beta on test.wikipedia.org, the aptly named Drafts extension is a serious advance in MediaWiki and wiki software in general.

It doesn't get much easier than this.

It doesn't get much easier than this.

At least once, everyone has written an extensive draft only to see it disappear when human error, a browser crash or saving problems cause you lose all your hard work. In fact, several months ago I saw this exact experience happen to wiki inventor Ward Cunningham when using a MediaWiki installation.

Needless to say, an inability to save drafts in a wiki without a live version being saved as well has been frustrating at times. A lot of other great platforms (such as WordPress) have drafts capability built in already. But as far as I know, there is no wiki engine with native drafts functionality.

From some test edits to the Sandbox I made, I can tell that drafts is a delightfully AJAXy addition to the ecosystem of MediaWiki extensions. Drafts can be saved via an easily accessible button and are saved every 120 seconds regardless. Not only can you save and view drafts from a particular page, but you get a special list of all your drafts.

I found the interface for viewing saved drafts extremely intuitive.

I found the interface for viewing saved drafts extremely intuitive.

When it comes to wiki software, and MediaWiki in particular, I tend to be something of a stick in the mud. I’m used to MediaWiki and I like it just fine the way it is, thanks. But Drafts is one extension that I think is inarguably useful, and makes up for a key weakness in wiki software to date.

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