MediaWiki: A Culture of Knowledge-Sharing

Mark A. Hershberger

What are others using MediaWiki for?

Who are “others”?

  • non-Wikimedia
  • Third parties: government agencies, corporations, NGOs, individuals

Why make something outside of Wikipedia?

  • WMF Vision: “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment.”
  • Sum of all knowledge - why not add it to Wikipedia instead?
  • Control! “Your baby pictures don't belong on Wikipedia!”
  • Not everything is suitable for Wikipedia: Bulbapedia and tons of game wikis, NASA's wiki for EVAs, tightlining, etc.
  • Various interpretations of the same knowledge are a sort of meta-knowledge.
  • Open source — you can't control what people do with it.

Why do third-parties use MediaWiki?…

  • Familiarity: The software to run Wikipedia is available and free to use
  • Reliability: Wikimedia Foundation provides security updates and a Long Term Support version
  • Findability: Central repository for their fraction of the sum of all knowledge
  • Sharability: Write once, many people can read, edit, and simultaneously share

Why do third-parties use MediaWiki?…

  • Agility: It's flexible, adaptable the needs
  • Transparency and Accountability - others watching edits

Why do third-parties use MediaWiki?

  • Value of using MW is apparent even to non-users
  • Passion: Users look to solve issues with MW first!
  • Personal and autonomous: not authoritarian, not top-down
  • Knowledge management sharing, collaboration

Conway's Law

“organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations”

Wikimedians have created software that captures their communication structure.

South Dakota Legends for Excellence wiki

  • Small, narrow-focus wiki
  • minimal experience with MW, though has been using computers since 1983
  • South Dakota interactive websites, containing archival material
  • Editable by individuals — families of HoF'rs can edit
  • built around content instead of the code, encyclopedic value

“Wiki X” - public, US government agency wiki

  • “People like to hoard information.”
  • Wiki allows information to grow and frees time.
  • Appreciates that it empowers the "creators" of knowledge rather than the manager
  • example of empowered user: - editor created a template to show local time

The MITRE Corporation

  • Example: Malware Attribute Enumeration and Characterization
  • Visualisation: “When we capture information, everything is tagged in SMW or Cargo.”
  • This makes it queryable
  • Tagged information allows them to discover things they didn't know before
  • MW collects knowledge, querying is 10 times more powerful.
  • One interface for info is important
  • MW marries flexibility and customization, which creates a feedback loop. But then you have to refactor regularly.


“Other types of wikis don’t have the same focus”

“A lot of what I've done is insulate people from technical details”

“[about SMW and forms] borders on magic”

“so easy, people can do it themself”


MediaWiki is opinionated software. Wikipedia's way of sharing knowledge has been codified.

It enables the people who are the creators to share what they know.

MediaWiki allows for customization.

Private and central information sharing.


Special thanks to Ginger V. Hershberger, <> NicheWork Intern.

Created with Emacs, org-mode, and reveal.js