Annual Report 2022/Fail fest: Wikispeech still a rather unknown gadget
In this fail fest we focus on our failure to activate Wikispeech for more Wikipedia users – a delay that was quite unfortunate as the tool would create opportunities for more people to consume free knowledge.
Wikimedia Sverige has since 2015 been working, in several rounds, on developing Wikispeech, a speech synthesis solution that's both integrated with and specially adapted to Wikipedia. The goal is to give those who cannot read, or prefer to listen, better possibilities to access free knowledge. In the middle of 2021, Wikispeech became available as a gadget for logged-in users on Wikipedia in Swedish (see Annual Report 2021/Story: Wikispeech is activated!).
In 2022 (and 2021), Wikispeech was in maintenance mode, waiting for new external funds to complete the development of the tool. This meant that our focus was on 1) fixing issues raised in the community feedback, 2) finalizing the integrated mechanism for lexicon editing, 3) ensuring that Wikispeech remains compatible with the MediaWiki version used on Wikipedia which is constantly being developed by the Wikimedia Foundation. The last point makes it really clear that even tools that are not actively developed still require ongoing maintenance to make sure they continue to function on the Wikimedia platforms.
The intention was also to have done a wider launch of Wikispeech at some point during the year. This could also have taken form of activating the gadget for all logged-in users, or maybe even all anonymous users. However, before we can discuss this with the community, we need to do some preparatory work to ensure that the infrastructure that currently supports Wikispeech will be able to cope with the increased load without incurring unreasonable costs to Wikimedia Sverige. It also means that the expected feedback on incorrect pronunciations has to be handled in a more scalable way, which is why our focus was also on completing the mechanism for lexicon editing that enables users to correct the errors themselves.
Due to the fact that the number of people working on Wikispeech has decreased, and that the same people have also been needed in other projects, it was not possible to do the preparatory work. Neither was it possible to ensure that we have enough staff capacity and responsiveness to launch Wikispeech on a larger scale in a responsible way. What we mean by that is that we need to be able to guarantee that enough working hours will be set aside in the calendar, but also that we will have the capacity to keep an eye on the different channels where our users might bring up questions or the problems they encountered. The last part of central importance; an early bad experience should not make the user turn Wikispeech off, or even cause Wikispeech to be turned off for everyone. We are, of course, disappointed, as yet another year has passed and the people who we believe need the tool the most cannot start using it – or even learn of its existence.