MediaWiki – Software moving towards the future (Part 1 of 3): Skinning, Mobile, Dialogues

There is a lot happening for MediaWiki at the moment. Further development of the software has been getting recognisably bolder for more than a year. It is getting exciting! In 2015 we will see many changes which up to now have been being worked on in the background. In just a few years, the system will no longer be comparable with today’s MediaWiki. Both the technical architecture and the user guidance is being rethought and tailored to the new expectations of the users. We want to quickly introduce you to the newest development projects.

The new impulses in MediaWiki development come primarily from the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the operator of Wikipedia and its sister projects. The foundation sees its core task for the future as software development and is looking to build up its personnel in this area a great deal. The new executive director of the foundation, Lila Tretikov, announced in October 2014 that the majority of investment will flow into product development and software development. Within this, priority will go to building up mobile functionality (for more on this see the entry by James Temple).

Skinning – Improved overview

Normal users will notice the changes most in the design of Wikipedia. The new skin “Winter” will soon be implemented. You can already see an interactive prototype on the web.


The Vector Interface Design "Winter" (Version 0.6, 10/2014)
The Vector Interface Design “Winter” (Version 0.6, 10/2014)


Clearly a fuller redesign which was envisaged with the skin Athena is no longer being pursued. However, the appearance of Wikipedia and therefore of the standard software MediaWiki will still become significantly better organised, and more modern and consistent. The new design should invite participation, ease processes and give the user better orientation. The classical functions – editing, discussing, compare versions etcetera – are being moved more to the foreground and being better organised. Also, some functions which were more hidden are being integrated more elegantly in the skin.

Wikipedia will be made more visually attractive, and so MediaWiki too, with the extensionMediaViewer. This allows picture sources to be displayed better and larger. Additionally, one can click through the pictures contained in an article.

Mobile front end

The MediaWiki developers are not focussing their skinning on responsive design, but rather by offering their own user interface with the name MobileFrontend which will be continually developed further. Where the developments in the mobile area will lead, we cannot say at present. However, we can expect that the editing and maintenance of text, uploads and user communication will be built up.

Read an article with the mobile frontend
Read an article with the mobile frontend

In the meantime, Wikipedia fans have an improvement to the WikipediaApp, which also has a nearby function: By using geographical data, the app shows Wikipedia articles about buildings and facilities in the immediate area.

The "nearby" funtionality in the Wikipedia App
The “nearby” funtionality in the Wikipedia App

On top of this, there is a nice app for the dictionary Wiktionary and one for Wikimedia Commons. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to do. In particular apps for other wikis – including company wikis – will be needed in the near future. We have a first version of the Enterprise Distribution BlueSpice ready. These developments are aimed at the concrete needs of the user.

More convenient dialogues

There are also developments to the dialogues. In Wikipedia, you can already see these improvements when inserting categories, comments or templates. Therefore, the plans for the extension Upload Wizard are very promising. UploadWizard guides the user step by step through the uploading of data and has been developed for Wikimedia Commons. The Wikimedia Foundation’s Multimedia Team are expanding this extension step by step to 2015. In this way, documents uploaded via Wikipedia can be uploaded to Commons simultaneously. Uploading via Drag&Drop is also being considered.

Task: Continuity and integration for businesses and organisations

These are the most important developments for the whole project. We at Hallo Welt! have already pre-empted many features with BlueSpice. Insofar as MediaWiki is now providing tools which fit better into the software landscape, we benefit because we no longer need to continue some developments. We can concentrate on the conception of the enterprise distribution.

However, there is a great deal of work waiting for us here as the new MediaWiki features are in some places not particularly far developed in terms of the scope of the services they provide. They need to be further customised to fit the use cases found in businesses. This is because an enterprise distribution has necessarily different requirements to those of Wikipedia. Our task is to combine the extensions in the right way, to standardise them and to integrate them.

In particular, the WMF developments have the drawback that they are introducing new technology which is little supported by hosts or internal IT departments. Specifically, we mean the webservice Parsoid, a special Wikitext parser; the virtual machine HHVM; and the programming language Luafor template programming.


Hallo Welt! aims to provide a continuous and reliable development, alternative solutions and integration so that MediaWiki can always be used productively and in an up-to-date way outside the Wikimedia world.



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