Why I love MediaWiki

Yesterday and today I was preparing my talk for a Linux Users of Victoria meeting. The talk was “Hacking MediaWiki (For Users)”, a kind of intermediate-to-advanced overview of MediaWiki’s wiki-side features and customisation-related functionality. As I was preparing it, I realised just how much I love MediaWiki.

Much of my thinking about MediaWiki is tinged with frustration, as I despair about getting my bugs fixed and features written. (It’s no joke to say that the only PHP I know is because of MediaWiki.) But that is only because I take for granted how great it is. I love how good it is already, that I want it to be even better. I think there are very few features in it that I have never used. I cut about two thirds out of my talk because I realised I had way too much to cover.

I love that it is designed from the ground up in a way that trusts and respects the users: the open-by-default-ness of it that makes applying access controls (especially read restrictions) after the fact, a doomed proposition. If you want that, you need a wiki engine with a less trusting philosophy.

My single favourite thing about it is the ability (for sysops at least) to edit the interface, via editing pages in the MediaWiki: namespace. It really steps back and lets the users take ownership of their wiki. It makes me wish practically all software I used had such a function. (Unfortunately the “discoverability” of this fact is still low. Your chances of figuring this out without anyone telling you would be near zero.)

Actually, at work I recently wrote some documentation for my coworker’s web-based software package. I wrote some HTML pages (actually I wrote them in a wiki and then just saved the result) and they were just included under a “documentation” tab. Not super-integrated into the software, although at least they were available from the same interface. It made me think how cool it would be if more web-based software had an integrated wiki that was seeded with initial documentation. Then groups could use that wiki to expand the documentation to reflect their own use of the software. Probably integration a light-weight page-based wiki engine wouldn’t be such a difficult thing to do, would it?

The talk is over now. It was videoed so I will wait a few days to see if that surfaces. I am considering breaking it into chunks and reworking it a bit, maybe as series of slidecasts.

Thank you LUV for the opportunity to speak, and thank you MediaWiki for the inspiration!

05 November, 2008 •

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