MediaWiki Usage Report 2015
The MediaWiki Stakeholders' User Group wants to improve MediaWiki and advocates the needs of MediaWiki users outside Wikimedia Foundation-supported projects. But who is using MediaWiki? In an effort to answer this question the MediaWiki Stakeholders’ Group organized a survey we submitted to MediaWiki users during the summer of 2015.
We wanted to hear from existing MediaWiki users and asked that respondents complete ashort survey about their use of MediaWiki. The results of the survey will helped in providing input that should influence the future development of MediaWiki. We also hope to grow the community of MediaWiki Users and improve involvement.
This article summarizes the 134 responses.
There's a huge wiki world beyond Wikimedia Foundation. According to WikiApiary there are over 25,000 independent wikis out there. And these are just the wikis that are public and are being tracked by WikiApiary!
There are some very well known companies and organisations which have MediaWiki installed such as Cirque du Soleil, Mozilla, NASA, and even WordPress. But beyond them we know almost nothing about the multitude of users of MediaWiki.
Downloads and Hostings
According to stats from MediaWiki.org there have been over 102,000 downloads of MediaWiki between May 18th and July 15th 2015, about 7,200 downloads per month from the central project page.
The country with the most downloads is surprisingly China. USA and Germany rank second and third. China as the number one county is unexpected, because we are not aware of a sizable Chinese MediaWiki community.
Furthermore there are thousands of installed MediaWikis on shared hosting (one-click) providers. For example, Bluehost said, they had "thousands of installs on our shared platform and we are installing 100s more per month". 
Most downloaded extensions
Identifying the most popular extensions is difficult. At least some data (shared by Legoktm) are interesting to get a first impression of needed add-ons in wikis beyond the Wikimedia Foundation. Many "Top 20" extensions already prove the intense use of MediaWiki in companies and organizations.
Typical MediaWiki users
The typical survey participant is either a developer/administrator or in management and works in a small organization with 25 or less people. Using MediaWiki now for over 5 years, they count as long time user. They are managing 2 - 5 wikis, from which at least one is public and one private. The user sees 25 or less people on their wiki. The user uses MediaWiki because of it being open source and easy to use due to its similarity to Wikipedia. Their public wiki is a fun site and their enterprise wiki is used for internal knowledge creation and management. They are unhappy with the upgrade process and the installation of new extensions and would like to see WordPress-like simple update buttons in the admin backend. For the enterprise wiki, access control and a functioning easy Visual Editor are important, but even more important is a slick, super-pretty GUI. The user is part of the software community and contributes some feedback and bug reports. They also spread the word of MediaWiki with people they contact. One point of irritation is the connection to Wikipedia and the scrambled software documentation, which isn't very user-friendly. Community-wise, they wish for a master plan, good communication and easy ways of involvement to give back to the community and support the project.
„Sysadmin, high Queen, that idiot.“
Out of 134 participants of the survey, almost every fifth (20 %, 27) is in software development, every sixth (16 %, 22) is a software admin. External functions like management and leadership can be found in every sixth participant (14 %, 20), one eighth (12 %, 17) has science and academic background. Defined wiki users only account for 12 % (12 %, 16) of the participants. 1 out of 10 have any other external background. (10 %, 14). At maximum 4 percent of the participants (4 %, 5) have direct or indirect relation to WMF or are software distributors. About one eighth of the answers (12 %, 16) were either unclear or unanswered.
In 10 survey participants:
- 2 are software developers
- 2 administrators
- 2 are in management/leadership position
- 1 have academic background
- 1 are solely wiki-users
- 2 are doing something else...
- 1 does not answer the question
Sizes of organization
About half of all participants work in organizations with 25 or less people (48,12 %, 64). Every fourth participant is part of an organization between 25 and 500 people (21 %, 28). Organizations with 500 or more people account for almost a third of all (28 %, 37).
Usage time of MediaWiki
More than half of the survey participants are long time users of MediaWiki, they use it 5+ years (54 %, 72). Almost a quarter is still using the software for 3–5 years (22 %, 30). The last quarter of participants is using the software for 1-2 years or less than 6 months. (24 %, 32). New users, who use the software for less than 6 months, account for about 5 % of the participants (5 %, 7). This figure can be an indication for how visible the survey was to new users.
Number of MediaWiki sites
The vast majority of users is managing 2 or more MediaWiki sites (almost 70 % of all). More than a third of all users / 4 out of 10 users manage 2–5 wikis. This is the highest figure in total (40 %, 54). Together with managers of 5-10 wikis, this accounts for half of all users. Every third participant is managing 5 or more. (30 %, 40). The figure of users managing more than 10 wikis is double as high (19 %, 26) as those managing 5 to 10 wikis (10 %, 14). Still, a quarter of the participants is managing 1 single MW site (25 %, 34). Only a few participants (4,5 %, 6) are not managing any MW site.
Public and private sites
Out of 133 answers, 36 users manage public wikis (27 %), 38 users manage private wikis (28,5 %) and 59 users manage a mix of both (44 %).
Number of users
Out of 133 answers, about a third of all survey participants have 25 people or less on their wikis (36 %, 48), 1 in 10 participants are using the wiki just to themselves (11 %, 15).
Relatively equally spread are the numbers of wikis with more users than 25:
- 25–100 > (19 %, 26)
- 100–500 > (15 %, 20)
- 500+ > (25 %, 33)
Significant is the number of large wikis with 500 users or more, which account for a quarter of all participants (25 %, 33).
The most wikis are updated regularly. Many maintainers use long term supported releases (LTS).
The most user update their wiki "when needed", but about 30% make updates with every security or minor point release.
Most essential extensions
This graph shows, which extensions MediaWiki are important for users.
Reasons for using MediaWiki
„bad habits die hard.“
Note: Telling from the answers, the question could have been clearer or separated into more than one. People understood different questions:
- Why do you use MediaWiki – and no other (collaboration) software?
- Why do you use MediaWiki – and no other wiki software?
- What features and strengths do you value in the MediaWiki software?
- What do you use MediaWiki for? (I use it as...)
Features / Functions, also in comparison to other software
Participants choose MW mainly for these reasons: It is easy to use, it is simple, but flexible, adaptable and expandable, it has an active Open Source community. A role in this play general public reputation, the possibility to participate and the proximity to the widely known Wikipedia.
In comparison to other wiki software, primarily for public wikis the similarity to Wikipedia was the most motivating reason for choosing MW. Wikipedia here functions on the one hand as an acceleration for implementation and change management due to the known code base (wikitext) and the familiarity with the interface. Good experiences should transfer. Reputation also plays a role. And on the other hand as a motivator („learn 1, know 2“).
Open Source / Free. Community, Movement.
Users choose MW, because of it being Open Source, the big and active community, the trust in the broad authorship and hence the stability. Being free of charge also helps.
Nice to see that one user mentioned that, when MW is "developed by a non-profit organization and volunteers from all over the world and when you run a non-profit site it is a major plus for you if you can run your site on open-source free software".
Simple, easy to use, stable.
An important part plays also the independence of the user in relation to functionalities: MW is easy to setup, easy to extend (good scalability), easy to adapt/adjust to ones needs, to many different needs. MediaWiki is simple, but extensible. This high flexibility is a valued feature.
On the positive side, the software feels easy to handle and update, with an active, approachable community:
- „[...] features including easy-to-configure wikifarm set up […]”
- "[…] solid single-source solution for corporate knowledge management."
- " It's perfect for our company"
- "The data model and core upgrade with simplicity"
These are all things later being answered to the contrary.
The user interface is mentioned once as a reason FOR MediaWiki, although it will later become rather a feature AGAINST it. Participants mention the editing as straightforward and easy, which will, again, later heavily questioned in the wishes for better editing options. This contradiction also holds true for software speed.
Some more aspects mentioned:
- The internationalization out of the box
- the version history as attribution of collaboration
- the automation functions via bots and API
- Semantic MediaWiki
Use cases in public and private wikis
“MediaWiki is the best and best known tool to organize data in an open way for many users."
Specific use cases in public wikis circle around public documentation for cultural institutions and NPOs, fun sites and last but not least as a knowledge tool: for collaborative creation, presentation and documentation of knowledge.
In corporate and therefore private (non-public) situations, wikis are mostly used for internal communication and internal knowledge transfer. The wiki also serves as a document repository or for manuals and machine documentation, especially technical documentation seems to be an important use case – whether it's meant to share with the public or the company.
In the rather rarely mentioned personal situations, wikis are used for a personal knowledge-base (e.g. as a collection for research material in scientific contexts) or as a publication platform among a chosen few, like the family.
MediaWiki is valued as a good platform for organizing big amounts of dynamic knowledge, as a memory base, an information portal. "Sharing" is key here. MediaWiki is also used for Wikipedia's original use case of an encyclopedia.
“As a platform for almost everything.”
The results of the feature requests in the survey have been published earlier at mediawiki.org. Here is a short summary.
What would you like to see most improved in MediaWiki the software? –– The feature wish list.
„I pretty much love it as is.“
Out of 113 answers, the most wanted features (mentions) are easy software and extension management, installation and upgrade process (30), detailed access control and enterprise support (12), a feature-rich and functioning editor out of the box (13). An extremely important valued feature is the GUI, UX, usability and the skinning process (18). Users see themselves confronted with the spam problem (6). Participants also see improvements in speed (4), in the development itself (4), have ideas for the codebase (5). File (3) and image handling (4) can be improved, as well as language support (3). Better handling of wiki farms (4). They would like to see support for other databases (2), better error messages (2) and better support for new users (in a wiki) (2). Mobile Frontend (2) could be there out of the box. Template handling (2) can be improved as well as the search function (2). The discussion pages (2) and the watchlist feature (2) could be improved.
See also: MediaWiki Stakeholders' Group/Tasks/Feature wishlist, where most content was already included.
The feature requests can be split up into two sections. There's a significant wish for extensive improvement in core functionalities. Three out of four wishes express the urgent support for the administration and maintenance of MediaWiki sites:
- Easier installation, extension management and a better upgrade process
- Editing and VisualEditor
- Skinning and UI
- Access controls and rights management
While editing and the development of the VisualEditor is a common goal, skinning and a better UI have not the same priorities inside and outside the Wikimedia Foundation.
The same goes for the installation and extension management, which are easily managed by a foundation with a well-appointed IT department - in comparison to a single volunteer wiki maintainer with limited technical skills.
Access controls and rights management are only issues for corporate and public wikis beyond the Wikimedia sites.
There are diverse secondary requirements:
- Good performance
- Easier media management and licensing
- Template management
- Reliable release management
- Marketing tools and user support
- Developer support
The last questions asked about the state of the community.
Contributions for the community
„I preach its worth to everyone I talk to“
From all survey participants, 5 out of 10 are contributing feedback and bug reports, 4 out of 10 are contributing to extensions. 3 help with questions and provide support and improve documentation. Only 2 out of 10 contribute patches and bugfixes, even less contribute to MediaWiki core.
Other contributions worth mentioning are
- Help build the community, organize meetings, like SMWCon
- Support on IRC channel
- Help choosing the SMW of the month
- Promotion and marketing, also like "I preach its worth to everyone I talk to"
- Financial donations
- Writing books about MW
Improvements and barriers
Quite a few answers circle around the MediaWiki software, which was part of a preceding question and get mentioned there.
"The underlying perception that MediaWiki's focus should be on Wikipedia. MediaWiki is bigger than Wikipedia and everyone needs to accept that fact. It is critical that the community address the needs of the majority, even if that means working on features that aren't relevant for Wikipedia. MediaWiki and Wikipedia can diverge and still thrive together. The more that the WMF supports "3rd-party users", the more those 3rd-party users will support the WMF."
Wikipedia. A main aspect was the relation to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. The connection to WMF and Wikipedia, wasn't seen as solely positive. The focus on Wikipedia in the MW community and of the WMF was criticized. The non-WMF developer community should be better visible, more active and more in charge. The dev team should be separated from Wikipedia (as in .com for Wikipedia and .org for the Open Source software). The core devs should develop more towards the usage of MW beyond Wikimedia sites. Hence, certain independence from WMF development, a wish for a dedicated MediaWiki conference and other events, where involvement could be discussed.
“Documentation, documentation, documentation. But maybe that's just me.”
"It's a developers' system with mostly developers' documentation."
Documentation. User documentation could be improved by establishing a common language and adding clear tutorials for difficult installation processes (e.g. Visual Editor on Shared Hosting). Documentation should include the most basic, common use cases as well as less commonly used features. Documentation was criticized to often be outdated, incomplete or missing altogether. Participants wished for simple beginner tutorials and user-centered documentation content. Most of the documentation is technology driven, not use-case-driven.
Developers should also have better documentation and easier access to help in their extension development, collaborative development should be encouraged. Developers see their code not reviewed at all or not quick enough, Also, the clearer the roadmap is (supported technologies etc.), the better. Clear regulations and starting points should ease the entry of new developers.
Master plan. Quite a few users wished for an overall strategy, a master plan, which is focusing on all MediaWiki users (and not only Wikipedia). Interestingly, some participants asked for a community supporting enterprise users (which could mean the Stakeholder's Group isn't yet seen as this). Some see this in the for-profit sector, some would only like to see a community, strongly supporting the overall development towards their own needs.
"3rd party MediaWiki users unite!"
Communication. Some users feel intimidated by the community, it's like an unaccessible "elite" and not easy to join. Communication tools are not yet properly supporting this: IRC as a discussion platform is not well-known, not very accessible for newbies and not always answered. People don't always know who to address their questions to, some wish for non-public ways of asking for help. Also, developers seem to be connected quite well – but not administrators.
People want to help, but are not always sure, how. New users sometimes feel intimidated and discouraged. Newbies often don't know where to start, where to find help, who to ask. What contribution is asked for? What communication channel should be used for what? Calls for help are not prominent enough. As a new user, it is very difficult to oversee the status of the software development.
People wish for concise information about the most important news. The system feels very complex. Some see also technical obstacles, like composer and the steep learning curve.
Awareness. Many people do not yet know of (Semantic) MediaWiki's possibilities, so it's time to spread the word.
- There was a wish for an "editor-in-chief" on mediawiki.org, the site seems sort of abandoned.
- Even the community resources should be visually appealing.
Praise: "Actually think the community is very healthy."
Details: MediaWiki Usage Report 2015/What would you like to see most improved in the community around MediaWiki?
Details: MediaWiki Usage Report 2015/What barriers, if any, do you think exist to participation in the MediaWiki community? What can we do to help?
Next steps and requirements
There is a vast MediaWiki world outside the Wikimedia Foundation, as long as MediaWiki is only a byproduct of Wikipedia, third party users, independent developers and service providers live with uncertainties and have a limited motivation for serious contributions to bug reports, extension updates and documentation.
The survey shows, that there's a need for more
- Additional services in core
- Focus on MediaWiki as an collaborative standard software for different use cases
The ask for a clear plan, a roadmap and a strategy focusing on MW users.
- for developers: for instance maintained hooks in MediaWiki for additional services, which are not supported or necessary for Wikipedia and its sister projects
- for a user community: for instance welcome newcomers (introduce and include newbies, encourage productivity, offer basic technical workshops and tutorials, call for help on prominent places in a friendly, open and appealing manner)
- for maintainers: for instance establish local events and MediaWiki conference, improve documentation, include clear documentation for common use cases, improve documentation from development-driven towards use-case-driven, centralize communication channels (IRC, mailing lists, discussion pages, bug reports… > forum?), make clear what channels are best used for what
- MediaWiki User Report, Wikimania 2015
- WMF Survey To Help Understand Third-party use of Wikipedia's Content, 2015
- MediaWiki Usage Questions
- Meeting summary: Survey write up and Collaboration on core contributions
- 2015 MediaWiki User Report PDF on Commons and on Google Docs
- Presentation (2015-07-18 MediaWiki Stakeholders)
- 2015 MediaWiki User Survey
- MediaWiki Stakeholders Group/Tasks/Feature wishlist
- 30 PDFs: Survey Plots PDF (overview: Survey Brief Summary PNG)
- Prepare MediaWiki Stakeholders' Presentation for January Developer Summit