I want information at NASA to be at my fingertips like using a Google or Wikipedia search. Jamesmontalvo3 and I introduced Semantic MediaWiki at NASA's Johnson Space Center to solve massive knowledge management problems within the EVA community. Now we're expanding that to other organizations across the agency. This requires both technical implementation and a cultural movement, but it wouldn't be fun if it was easy.
My day job is at NASA. I train astronauts how to perform EVAs (spacewalks), I write procedures for those EVAs, and I help astronauts execute their EVAs as an EVA flight controller in MCC. Learn more in my AMA.
While most of my focus has been on implementing a wiki network at NASA JSC to foster improved information sharing and integration, I have made time to develop some extensions for MediaWiki. Some of my extensions are not shared since they integrate our wiki with other NASA servers, but the following are available publicly:
Masonry Main Page
- Links: (on MediaWiki.org) (on github)
- Allows users to format the body of a wiki page using Masonry blocks.
- Links: (on GitHub)
- Create a graphic representation of a timeline. This is still very customized for use at NASA, but you could use it to generate overviews for things like a conference agenda or any other event spanning several hours.
I was also a co-creator and contributed heavily early on to the Meza platform, a MediaWiki administration program which enables the easy install and maintenance of MediaWiki and several powerful extensions.
As a co-founder of EnterpriseMediawiki.org, I hoped to connect users and organizations who employ MediaWiki in "corporate" environments. While this did not exclude public and non-profit organizations, the focus of this group was on an environment much different than that of Wikipedia. In an organization where members or employees are expected to contribute, it takes a different approach to stimulate user contributions. EMW also hoped to foster collaboration between organizations on new extensions to improve the usefulness of MW as an open-source knowledge management system in an enterprise environment. While the name "Enterprise Mediawiki" is still used to represent this effort on GitHub with a collection of MediaWiki extensions and a platform installer (Meza), that name has also become the new face of the North American version of the Semantic MediaWiki Conference. Another group, the MediaWiki Stakeholders' Group, has taken the front face of representing "third-party" MediaWiki users. As this community continues to evolve, I try to find places where I can contribute. I find myself somewhat useful in contributing directly to code, but often I'm more useful in the cultural side now that I have several years' experience in growing our wiki community at NASA. If you think I can help your organization change to the wiki way, please reach out to me.
How NASA Started Using MediaWiki
During my initial training in the EVA group, I was appalled with how difficult it was to find documentation and training materials. When I did find relevant information, it was outdated and often-times presented in duplicate sources with conflicting statements. Coming from a prior job in software development and testing, I couldn't believe how little effort was put into search-ability and revision control of these documents. Anyone could easily modify or even delete critical information without any documentation. There had to be a better way. Why didn't they do it like the rest of us? When we want to learn something, we search on Google and Wikipedia.
After years of trying to find the right people who could envision the same system as I had in mind, and even being called "insubordinate" in one of my attempts to start a wiki, Jamesmontalvo3 joined the cause and helped make it happen. Since the fall of 2011, we have been developing and using an in-house semantic wiki using MW and several extensions. Once we had a critical mass to demonstrate how powerful this tool can be, we gained approval and support. In 2013, the Flight Operations Directorate (FOD) EVA group officially declared the wiki as the core of its knowledge management. Our system grew to a wiki network of over 10 wikis integrating the knowledge store of all groups within FOD. Eventually we realized fewer wikis are better when trying to establish a single source of data to prevent conflicting data, so we merged several wikis into a single ISS wiki. We're also working on how we could make this tool available to astronauts aboard the ISS using some method of offline sync.
On November 12, 2019, Christina Koch made the first contribution to a wiki powered by MediaWiki from space, during her mission aboard the ISS. This edit was to the NASA firewalled "ISS Wiki".
Media About NASA's Use of Mediawiki
- “It pays itself back in dividends”: NASA and MediaWiki, a natural pairing
- Wikipedia 15: NASA EVA Team
Interviews & Podcasts
- Here's to engineering (promo for WP blog article)
- History of the EVA Wiki (SMWCon Fall 2014)
- Meeting Minutes & Group Communication (SMWCon Fall 2014)
- Wiki Accountability and Culture Shift (2015 Houston MediaWiki Meetup)
- Semantic MediaWiki Demo and Closing Remarks (2015 Houston MediaWiki Meetup)
- The EVA Wiki - Accountable Knowledge Management (Explaining to another group at NASA how our wiki is more accountable than any other knowledge management system)
- The EVA Wiki (Presentation at SGT Technology Day 2015)
- NASA Wikis: Increasing the Awesome (EMWCon Spring 2018, with link to slides)
- Wikis and bias (EMWCon Spring 2019, with link to slides)
- State of the MediaWiki Ecosystem (EMWCon Spring 2019 panel discussion I moderated)
- 5 Year NASA Wikiversary - a page I originally created on the NASA wikis to celebrate 5 years of wiki use at NASA. Now I am able to share this with the wiki community as an example of how to motivate users by sharing analytics and testimonials.
Sometimes I spin music: