BlueSpice, MediaWiki and the outlook for libre knowledge

BlueSpice for MediaWiki is a commercial project. The plan to develop an enterprise distribution for MediaWiki was driven by the aim of making a profit and creating jobs.

Nevertheless, it is time to say a few words about other aspects of the BlueSpice project. For BlueSpice is also a project that should push along the development of MediaWiki and the construction of free knowledge platforms on the Web.

I will consider three aspects here.

1. Wikis are society’s future repositories of knowledge and BlueSpice should make a contribution

An open society needs a place to gather knowledge, to organise it and to map it. In the future we will find society’s memory on the Web. Political Wikis show how important this memory is. Lobbypedia and its English predecessor powerbase from spinwatch are two good examples. NGOs collect information there about lobbyists, politicians and organisations making networks and strategies transparent and making the information available for research. Think Tank Network Research is a similar research project. I could go on and on with this list.

It is not just in politics that we need a central platform on the net where we can collect free knowledge centred on particular themes, but also areas like leisure, culture, sport, business and health. Regional and city wikis have already become the trailblazers here.

And there will be wikis which save content from other websites so that it can be further developed and worked upon.

There is no system better suited to such tasks as MediaWiki software. And MediaWiki has a special role because the software is available under a free licence and, being an integral part of the Wikimedia projects Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and Wiktionary, has the best outlook for development.

So that the operators of wikis can carry out their work with significantly less technical personnel and budget than Wikipedia, they need MediaWikis which can be expanded with inexpensive software packages fitting their needs.

So BlueSpice publishes its free version, not only for marketing purposes, but also so the software can make life easier for those involved in such projects.

2. MediaWiki is becoming a software framework and BlueSpice is a step on that road

More and more projects are starting using MediaWiki as a basis and putting further pieces of software on top. With MediaWiki, you can operate an online encyclopaedia. However, if you does not want to do that, you will need another user interface but you can continue to use the basic structure. This means that the basic system stays the same, MediaWiki, delivering authentication, rights management and categorisation. On top of this comes, for example, BlueSpice, making the system into a company wiki.

A couple of further examples:

  • Translatewiki extends MediaWiki into a collaborative translation management system.
  • There is an initiative in Germany, which builds on MediaWiki to safeguard the basic provisions for media. For this, MediaWiki needs a additional layer which can provide and manage films.
  • At Hallo Welt! we are doing something similar, working with the project LinkTank, a collaborative link directory, and with Musikwiki, a place for collecting musical score. In one project one edits music scores and on the other collects links related to a theme.
  • Wikimedia Commons also only needed to further develop the user interface to make a really attractive platform for a picture library beyond Wikipedia.

MediaWiki has a very special role in open source applications. The software is completely unrivalled as a framework for “collecting open knowledge”. WordPress would be comparable as a basis for communication and social networking solutions.

Thus, we see BlueSpice as one of many steps in the development of MediaWiki into a general framework for free knowledge. This process tests out new possibilities and builds up knowledge which can be useful for other projects.

3. MediaWiki needs an ecosystem and BlueSpice is a contribution to this

The most successful and innovative open source software projects have developed a vibrant ecosystem that putting together both non-profit and for-profit agents, each driving the development in different ways. A large circle of developers is created. The software can assert itself over propitiatory systems and even force them back.

MediaWiki has a very underdeveloped ecosystem compared to other software projects. This means that commercial development in the whole project can be put to good use. Many projects need, for example, a user management system in the backend. In this form, this is not necessary or possible for Wikipedia. All others, however, need exactly this extension. Now these were firstly developed for companies and are now available as free software. I could add many further examples from the development of BlueSpice.

We need, therefore, better general conditions and more energy for a MediaWiki ecosystem. It is true that the Wikimedia Foundation has recently invested more money and energy in software development. However, this will not be enough on its own. Even for sister-projects like Wikimedia Commons, the capabilities necessary are often not there. For this reason, the focus is on third party developers and one wants to support the development of a MediaWiki ecosystem.

This is a step in the right direction. The new initiatives from the Wikimedia Foundation, to develop MediaWiki further and to create a new economic setting is bringing new energy to the whole project. This will open up new vistas to free knowledge projects.

Here, BlueSpice is just one cog in the machine. But it can and will be the basis for completely new types of project.

The decision, in the end, will be made by the users and the community.

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