EMWCon Spring 2017/Third-party wikis

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This document was written by some of the conference attendees to detail how the third-party MediaWiki community benefits the Wikimedia Foundation and what support that community would like from the Foundation. See original announcement for credits.

What is the third-party MediaWiki community, and how does it benefit the Wikimedia Foundation?[edit]

A substantial, growing community of MediaWiki users and developers outside the Wikimedia movement has evolved, creating wikis that vary in size, number of editors, number of readers, access restrictions, and activity. The benefits of this third-party community to the Wikimedia Foundation include:

  • A direct contribution to the Wikimedia mission: One of the many third-party uses of MediaWiki is to collect and develop free educational content. The amount of such content produced by non-Wikimedia wikis is roughly comparable to that of Wikimedia wikis.[1] Wikis like Appropedia or the Geek Feminism Wiki offer important, if narrow, contributions to the body of free knowledge. The Wikimedia movement currently does not have the capacity to provide in-depth content for similar niche topics; and these projects lack alternatives to MediaWiki without increased costs, lower quality, or a significantly less open content production model.
  • A larger and healthier developer community:
    • More developers: Third-party MediaWiki developers contribute new features - visualizations, data management, integration with external data sources and data formats, and more - through core patches and new extensions.[2] While community health statistics are not yet fully reliable, preliminary data shows that about half of all Wikimedia git commits for all repos hosted by Wikimedia come from independent developers. For MediaWiki core, third-party developers seem to account for a quarter of the commits and third of the pull requests. Anecdotally, many experienced MediaWiki developers got involved by starting their own wiki, and better support for MediaWiki as generic free wiki software would likely increase the number of such developers. This is especially important as the current developer community seems to be on an unsustainable course.
    • More resources: Enterprise use of MediaWiki provides an alternative source of funding for MediaWiki development. With the Wikimedia Foundation hitting fundraising limits despite increasingly aggressive banner campaigns, this might help prevent funding from becoming a bottleneck in the growth of MediaWiki.
    • More diversity: Use of MediaWiki outside Wikimedia projects, especially in enterprise settings, results in the involvement of professionals with backgrounds atypical to Wikimedia projects and the Wikimedia Foundation (e.g. knowledge management professionals) which leads to a greater diversity of backgrounds and expertise in the community.
    • More testing: More eyes make MediaWiki bugs more likely to be revealed. By exercising the software in different ways with additional extensions beyond those that the Wikimedia project wikis use, bugs are discovered that might not otherwise be detected. Some large organizations using MediaWiki have their own IT departments that perform information security or accessibility reviews of MediaWiki code that surface vulnerabilities and other issues. Once found, third-party developers often contribute patches to address these bugs and issues.
  • Increased innovation and editor retention in the Wikimedia editor community: The wide variety of different third-party use cases present different perspectives that feed fresh ideas back into the Wikimedia community for novel approaches to knowledge creation, management, and delivery as well as new user engagement and retention. Users of third-party wikis are an untapped resource from which the Wikimedia Foundation can learn. Observing such users interacting with third-party wikis spurs innovation to the benefit of the Wikimedia community. Such users also find it much easier to adapt to the Wikipedia user interface and social norms. Imagine someone coming to Wikipedia and thinking, “I can edit this. It’s just like at work.” Users of enterprise wikis often tend to be subject-matter experts, a highly desirable demographic for Wikipedia.

What organizations use MediaWiki, and what are third-party wikis used for?[edit]

In 2015, the MediaWiki Stakeholders’ Group surveyed third-party users of MediaWiki. While the typical respondents to that survey were from small organizations with 25 or less people, the close to forty attendees of the recent EMWCon Spring 2017 conference tended to be from much larger organizations. These included:

  • NASA: Seventeen wikis functioning both as historical documents as well as collaborative workspaces supporting real time International Space Station operations
  • Intellipedia: the go to reference place in the United States intelligence community with 350 million page views since its inception
  • Diplopedia: United States Department of State wiki with 100,000 users
  • Statipedia: United States government statistics agency wiki for scientific and administrative information and glossaries
  • Maryland Department of Transportation: an internal policy manual for 12,000 employees and an external resource for engineering and regulation management modeled after the wikis at the Missouri and Michigan Departments of Transportation
  • MITRE: 80+ unique wikis to support blast injury preventions standards recommendation, science and technology investment roadmapping, specialized software tool catalogues, task planning, process workflow, job placement, malware attribution enumeration and characterization, network operations best practices, etc.
  • VistaPrint: just celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the global documentation wiki for its 10,000 employees with 8,000 readers, 1,000 active contributors over 30 days, 250,000 articles, and 2.5 million edits
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Clinic: documentation of a standard set of terminology and definitions
  • Genesys: documentation for software to create and manage call centers
  • Columbia University: collaborative research project on historical Tibetan newspapers
  • Large oil and gas companies have not only implemented MediaWiki internally but work together on a regular basis to discover improvements based on common business needs
  • Organizations using wikis to document business practices of service redesign in health care
  • Non-profits sharing historical information and enabling families to contribute information about members of Halls of Fame
  • Organizations such as the United States Department of Energy, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Los Alamos National Laboratory, General Electric, Safran Electrical Power, and University of Paderborn

What does the third-party MediaWiki community wish for from the Wikimedia Foundation?[edit]

The MediaWiki Stakeholders’ Group maintains a wishlist of MediaWiki features requested by the third-party community. At EMWCon Spring 2017, attendees discussed areas in which they would like to work in partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation to improve MediaWiki and the MediaWiki software ecosystem. The most important of these issues are:

  • Ease of MediaWiki and extension installation, upgrade, maintenance, and configuration management
  • Improved mediawiki.org extension directory increasing findability and accuracy for users and developers[3]
  • Improved MediaWiki user and developer documentation on mediawiki.org augmented with Wikimedia project and third-party “best practices” - security, scalability, template management, data backup, wiki farms, getting end-user contributors, etc.
  • Marketing by Wikimedia Foundation or through Wikimedia Foundation communication channels (e.g. the blog) of MediaWiki as a viable third-party solution, especially in enterprises, answering such questions as “Why not SharePoint/Confluence?”
  • Regularly scheduled Wikimedia Foundation and third-party developer community events to demonstrate innovative approaches and best practices in third-party wikis to the Wikimedia Foundation and third-party developer communities
  • A MediaWiki Roadmap

The third-party MediaWiki community members are dedicated advocates for the use of MediaWiki. Members of this community seek to grow the collaborative relationship with the Wikimedia Foundation through grant applications to the Wikimedia Foundation as well as ongoing discussions to help direct work on these items inside the Wikimedia Foundation as well as in the third-party MediaWiki community.


  1. 100M Wikimedia wiki pages and 90M non-Wikimedia wiki pages are tracked by Wikistats
  2. A ballpark estimate based on mediawiki.org categories weighted by lines of code indicates that about 20% of the MediaWiki extensions on gerrit are used by Wikimedia Foundation. The remaining extensions comprise 1.75M lines of code: that equates to 400 person-years of effort or $55M with the standard COCOMO model. The Semantic MediaWiki extension alone is estimated to have a $1.5M development cost per https://www.openhub.net/p/smw/estimated_cost.
  3. T155029 and item #11 on the 2017 Developer Wishlist