Lightweight Models and Cost Effective Scalability

When considering this weeks pattern of lightweight models and cost effective scalability my initial candidates were services that I had already discussed. Facebook was my first thought but that was a prime example of software above the level of a single device. Youtube was the next thought but that was discussed regarding data being the next intel, Amazon leveraged the long tail and eBay innovated assembly. This became a real head scratcher and as I so often do I turned to Wikipedia and then, eureka!

Wikipedia not only satisfies the pattern of a lightweight and scalable web2.0 application but it would also have been appropriate for just about everyone of the seven preceding patterns. This collaborative online community built encyclopedia project was convieved back in 2001 as a feeder site to the already established Nupedia, a scholar based collaborative effort. Wikipedia was built on the idea that anyone could create, contribute and edit the articles and by the end of its first year it had amassed over 20,000 articles in 18 different languages. Today Wikipedia boasts over 15million articles, 3.2 million of which are in english, and recieves anywhere from 25,000 to 60,000 page requests per second. Its this exponential growth that has shown how lightweight and scalable Wikipedia has needed to be in order to keep up with its rapid rise to the number 6 website on the internet.

Being totally user driven the staff behind Wikipedia is scarce to say the least. Its parent company the Wikimedia Foundation only employs 39 people to perform the technical and legal tasks while alot of the moderation and administration is conducted by volunteers. The bulk of Wikipedias funding is gained via voluntary contributions to the service and grants from various industries such as universities and government. Being a not for profit venture revenue is purely to pay for the hardware needed and the employees to maintain it.

In terms of the effective scalability Wikipedia started out with a single data server with a custom made open source wiki software built ontop of the MySQL database technology. This single server stayed inplace up until 2004 when demand became too great and the transition to a multi tiered architecture took place. It has been through 3 subsequent phases of development as demand grew until 2002 when the MediaWiki interface was built. This model was designed in such a fashion that it was able to be modified and updated without the need of a major rethink. The next major change was in 2005 with the introduction of the Lucene database search technology and the scrapping of MySQL. The physical home for Wikipedia is an impressive array of some 300 Linux based servers based in Florida and another 44 in Amsterdam which are all referenced by front end Squid caching servers.

Wikipedia no frills approach to the appearence of the website is aimed at being functional and intuitive for the user to interact with without being overly taxing on resources and bandwidth. The majority of the bulky content such as images and video are hosted externally which reduces the amount of storage Wikipedia needs to employ as well as enabling the faster page load times and search results. Wikipedia is a true example of web2.0 and the power of the user. Transcending the desktop computer and becoming mobile it has become many peoples first stop for information. Its global adoption and rapid rise to one of the most visited websites has shown that the model behind Wikipedia has been built on a lightweight and easily scalable principal that has ensured its not only survival but flourishing web presence.

When someone becomes a Wikipedia contributer it gives the sense of being part of something big, something with a positive and promising outlook. The open forum gives infinite possibilities, anyone with an idea or an expertise can share their knowledge with the world and collaborate with others to build something unique. For a non profit organisation to achieve this global status shows just how cost effective it really is.

Wikimedia Foundation organization chart

File:EnglishWikipediaArticleCountGraph linear.png

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One Response to Lightweight Models and Cost Effective Scalability

  1. Laura says:

    A good explanation 🙂

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