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Notes from the first Enterprise MediaWiki Conference

On May 22 – 25 I attended the first Enterprise MediaWiki Conference (EMWCon) in New York City. It’s a continuation of the similarly named SMWCon, but with a strong emphasis on all flavors of MediaWiki and how it is used in organizations large and small. I was able attend in my capacity as a staff member of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), but have had a personal interest in the MediaWiki community for a few years now. I thought it would be helpful to write down a few notes on my experiences and share those with folks within the Wikimedia movement.

At the conference I learned how folks are using MediaWiki, what difficulties they face in their use, and their concerns for the future of the platform. 1

Quick Take Aways

A few large points that struck me as worth mentioning.

  • There are many people using MediaWiki in interesting and unique ways. This is the 4th MediaWiki-focused event I’ve attended in the last two years and at each one I’ve discovered new uses in new industries. This time around? Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, a large banking company, and a large oil company all use MediaWiki in some capacity to help document and share knowledge within their organizations. This is on top of groups like Circ du Soleil, MITRE, NATO, and NASA that I was already aware of. I was also impressed by the half a dozen independent developers who support organizations in using MediaWiki. Some folks have smaller organizations with smaller wikis – which is impressive. It’s even crazier to think that this bit of open-source software can be used inside so many large, well-known, organizations – often to great success.
  • Users of MediaWiki – specifically those that write their own code – want acknowledgment. They want to know that the folks who are pointing MediaWiki toward its future are aware of these diverse use cases and keep that in mind when making decisions that would impact non-WMF-supported use.
  • They also want to know what the WMF’s plans are. They want to be reassured – and to be able to reassure others within their organizations, that MediaWiki will be around. A simple, high-level roadmap would do wonders here. There is a large ask of the foundation to make a decision on what sort of support will be offered – even if the answer is an uncomfortable “nothing” it would be better than the current strain of “Eh, we really don’t know.” At one point during the conference I made the joke that the WMF had ‘cookie licked’ MediaWiki. :p
  • I had one attendee, a long-time MediaWiki admin and community member, ask me, “Am I a volunteer? A contributor?” This is from someone whose organization has no less than 14 extensions on MediaWiki.org and who has contributed code to the core development of MediaWiki. They were not certain if their contributions were as valued given that what they work on has a much larger impact on third-party users than Wikimedia projects. People within the MediaWiki community want equal treatment and respect as developer contributors.
  • Lastly, the WMF should consider the impact this community has had in the development of MediaWiki as a popular and healthy open-source software. There is an incredible financial worth in the patches and extensions contributed by third parties. I mean, to be frank, we have people working at NASA and MITRE (among others) sharing their work with the MediaWiki community. The time and talent alone is something that should be considered a strength within our community.

MWF?

Another topic that has been gaining steam recently in the MediaWiki community is the idea of a “MediaWiki Foundation”. A non-profit organization that focuses on the core development of MediaWiki as an open-source software project – influenced by all parties equally. I think it’s going to happen in some capacity.

Generally speaking the MediaWiki community agrees it won’t be the big, giant, dramatic change like moving all of MediaWiki ownership out of the WMF.

Instead the focus will be on small deliverables. Right now the MediaWiki Stakeholder’s user group is looking for a small task on the wishlist, funding (passing a hat around!) and working to show that something was accomplished. Then, after being able to show their work, approach the WMF with a request for some of their time to discuss how they could work together. If you’re interested in following along, check out the MediaWiki Stakeholders’ wiki and the #mwstake room in the Wikimedia Phabricator.

A Real Community

While some wikis are internal and not public, the folks at the conference freely shared their experiences and knowledge for others to benefit from. One attendee described the community and our relationship with one another in an interesting way. We’re not competing with each other to ‘build the best wiki’ but we are competing together against closed, propriatrty systems of knowledge management that permeate organizations across industries. These systems have an antiquated model of documenting and sharing knowledge that is antithesis to truly sharing information to empower members of the org. For example, SharePoint sets permissions to be closed by default. You have to know the information exists, somewhere in the laybranith of SharePoint sites, before you can request access to it!

I think that this event acknowledges that we come together freely to share across industries and uses. It is endemic of having a natural community – not one forced out of branding, marketing, or sales departments within a for-profit organization.

Wikipedians in our midst

While the conference was focused on MediaWiki use outside of Wikimedia projects, attendees did have an opportunity to get to know more about the Wikimedia world and meet folks who are involved in related projects. One of our hosts, Pharos, is a long-time editor on English Wikipedia, president of the NYC chapter, and was a Wikipedian-in-residence at the Guggenheim Museum.

At the end of the first day the NYC chapter brought pizza and people together to talk about what they had been working on. I met no less than 3 individuals involved in Afrocrowd.org, a Wikipedia project I had never heard of until this event!

I also met a long-time MediaWikian, Frank Taylor, who was interested in the work the WMF was doing around emerging communities. He even offered to put the folks at the foundation working on this outreach in contact with folks he has worked with in Central and South America. Which is a kind and unexpected example of the communities sharing interests!

Conclusion

I encourage folks to attend future EMWCons (and SMWCons). They are a great opportunity to learn and share with one another, to create relationships beyond Talk pages, and to grow an already impressive community. In particular I would like to invite the following groups.

  • WMF staff who work on MediaWiki core development, planning, and developer relations.
  • People who use MediaWiki – or are interested in using a wiki!
  • People who want to encourage open-source software and free knowledge – even when the knowledge is shared not among the entirety of humanity. There is a very real halo effect in people using MediaWiki. The philosophy of the wiki changes organizations approach to sharing and working together. It breeds familiarity with many aspects of the wider Wikimedia movement. I know I’m only a factor of one, but my Wikimedia contributions are born out of the use of MediaWiki within a ‘closed’ organization. 2

See also


  1. Some may object to the word “platform”, but for many people using MediaWiki inside organizations, it truly is the foundation on which all of their process and strategy sit.

  2. Heck, my professional career as the ‘wiki guy’ has lead to my current role at the WMF!

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