Experienced and creative authors already got to know the diagram editor draw.io a long time ago. It is based on a web application, already developed by the company JGraph as free software, and it is already compatible with diverse applications like, for example, Confluence.
draw.io is also available for MediaWiki, making is possible to display processes, elaborate flowcharts and much more and in many ways. This fulfils the desire of many wiki users to create and present clear graphics like flowcharts, process chains and decision trees, working collaboratively in the wiki.
We have had a look around at what interesting skins are available for MediaWiki and here we present those we think are the ten best.
But first, we will say a few words on MediaWiki and skinning in general. When comparing new MediaWiki skins, one always comes back to the following three themes:
Navigation: Orientation towards mobile applications has significant consequences for the layout and design. It becomes “flatter”. The edit functions are in the background so as not to overload the small screen, and to reduce complexity. In this way, the pages appear more attractive on the web, and the “Mobile First” skins are more handsome, particularly for the reader. A power user wanting to work in the wiki will often find such skins problematic because they need extra clicks to access the functions they need.
Semantic support: many wikis use Semantic MediaWiki to work with metadata. Some skins integrate functions from the semantic extension into the skin or customise the layout in such a way that it does not break the optical design.
When working with longer texts, it is not unusual to have to change a common term because it has been written incorrectly or because it is no longer up-to-date. Common word processing software packages like MS Word have a “search and replace” function so that you do not have to go through the whole text and change everything by hand.
There is a similar tool for MediaWiki users called ReplaceText. This is a small but powerful MediaWiki extension allowing you to search for specific combinations of characters, whether it is text, code or spaces, and to replace them both in wiki articles and in article titles. It is also possible to use complex algorithms which recognise patterns in the form of regular expressions so that you can undertake more sophisticated search-and-replace tasks.
At the Wikimania 2016 in Esino Lario I saw two interesting talks about MediaWiki community and governance issues. They are worth listening!
Quim Gil, Engineering Community Manager at the Wikimedia Foundation, was Analyzing conflict and possible solutions around WMF software development. He gave some helpful hints for community members and developers.
Markus Glaser, Managing Engineer for BlueSpice and Member of the MediaWiki Stakeholders’ Group, discussed approaches for a future MediaWiki governance and suggested to establish a focussed organisation, which integrates the requirements of third-party users into the MediaWiki development: Moving out of Home – MediaWiki Governance Revisited.
This blog post is worth reading: G. Brett Miller attended our webinar and summarizes perfectly, how WebDAV provides a much user friendly experience for uploading and working with files on MediaWiki: WebDAV and MediaWiki.
Jason Bock works for a company called DSA, which primarily does IT Support for the US Department of Defense. He is responsible for milWiki, a military enterprise wiki started in 2008 to be an „online internal encyclopedia for the US Department of Defence“. Milwiki is one component of an overall suite of DoD social business tools called milSuite. The milWiki alone supports 400.000 users and contains more than 20.000 articles in more than 7.000 categories.
In 2010 Semantic MediaWiki and later Semantic Forms were introduced to milWiki, which had a major impact on the data integrity.
In his talk at the Enterprise MediaWiki Conference 2016 in New York Jason Bock informed about some social aspects they built into the system also implemented by the functions of Semantic Mediawiki.
Instead of „normal“ wiki user page there is a template/form with certain fields,
Minimum information of the user like name, foto, skills, location and some tags to match across users,
Alternatively, the PageNotice extension can add a template with information on acquired points or badges in the header or footer of the user page.
Customer wanted to have a rating tool like in TripAdvisor
Elected to go with the SemanticRating extension which places a form on any wiki page generating a subpage for the rating and the review.
Implemented an template which shows all ratings and reviews in a list attached to the article
Calculation from all the ratings on the subpages to get an average score of „stars“
Introduces elements of gamification to the wiki
Rewards users for creating, editing and gardening efforts
Special feature: points for users for each additional author who contributes to a page that user created
Point calculation shown in a sidebox on user page
Automated User Badges
Manually badges did not work,
Automated badging system like in Foursquare and ProjectNoah (National Geographic),
Rewards participation within specific topic areas,
Helps to identify the experts for certain topics,
Tap into Semantic Ratings effort to reward users who receive positive reviews on articles.
At the end of the talk Jason shows some very useful code examples concerning the mentioned social functions.
Communication and notification – the end of the classical discussion pages
Another MediaWiki construction site is delivering good news: The MediaWiki Communication System. This concerns the discussion pages. These will soon disappear, in the form we know them now. More precisely: The discussions pages will fundamentally change and merge with the notification system.
The reconstruction of the MediaWiki communications system will take place through two new extensions:
Echo allows the individual following of changes, gives an overview of the whole system and is a framework for a variety of communication services. Echo is already in Wikipedia as a new notification system.
Flow makes discussion easier. One can more easily follow discussion processes; answers are shown via Echo. And much more. The aim of these developments is to build up a modern discussion and collaboration system for all Wikimedia projects. An interactive prototype is already online.
Anyone who has written or improved Wikipedia articles in the last few years, already knows about the Visual Editor, which has now reached a certain maturity. (See the post by Nathalie Köpff on this subject). Creating such an editor is a big project. Unlike other web applications, an editor for Wikipedia must not only work with different languages (for example right to left languages), but also be able to process the multitude of wiki functions, the template system, the magic words and many more things besides. So for this, the wiki text parser Parsoid needed to get a totally new technological basis. As Wikipedia develops further through web standards (browsers, protocols, languages), the task will remain a complex one for a long time. However, it is also a rewarding project which has significance for the whole web community – as, for example, no commercial provider would develop an editor for over 100 languages and make it available for free.
Nevertheless, the project is still controversial in the Wikimedia community to this day. This is partly because the introduction of the editor has lead to significant complications. The editor was simply not ready to use when it was implemented for the first time.
The scepticism in the community towards the editor, however, also has to do with the fact that its increasing use allows for a wide reaching dropping of Wikitext. What, for some, is a good opportunity is, for others, a loss of design potential. As up to now, it was possible to build many small tools with the standard resources (for example templates or overview lists). Even simple formatting is significantly more efficient for experienced wiki text users.
However, over time, Wiki code, which should make editing easier, has almost had the opposite effect. Editing a wiki article needs a certain amount of experience and skill. This is, however, not sensible, as many hand-made functions can be done more elegantly with corresponding extensions.
A great deal of identity and a bit of wiki philosophy is attached to the transition to the visual editor. For some wiki authors, it may be a restriction, but for the wiki world outside Wikipedia, it is a great leap forward. The standard ways of using wikis have changed; most wikis work in much less complex ways than Wikipedia, which has always been a special case with its own particular demands. For this reason, a native visual editor is a long overdue step for many MediaWiki users. It is necessary so that wikis can be used to build up new free knowledge hubs on the web.
Simultaneous editing of texts
A further, very ambitious project was introduced at Wikimania 2014. The aim is to enable the simultaneous editing of texts, that one already knows from Google Docs. This has been considered for a long time. However, the necessary resources for the project were not there. Now, the Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Erik Möller, has announced that the first prototype should already be available in a year. This is very exciting news.
Two points are not being discussed at the moment, but could become important in the future.
Speech2Text: Texts in wikis should be increasingly possible to dictate. “Speech2Text” is developing into a standard as the speech recognition software has made great strides in the last few years. We will see that speech-control can be performed in Google search.
Draft function: On top of this, a real draft function is needed for MediaWiki. Every trust and NGO with local groups needs to be able to develop texts for projects, for example. Up to now, they have been diverted to Google Docs or Etherpad. But these two applications are totally inappropriate for the public collection of knowledge for a number of reasons.
For this reason there should finally be the chance in MediaWikis to edit a first drafts with just a small circle of authors before the text is released generally.
Overall, we at Hallo Welt! see this development as very positive as MediaWiki will become more user friendly. Using it will be more intuitive and working with the editor more stable. Our enterprise distribution will take these developments on, customise them and make sure they are continually developed.
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). Continue Reading
WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get): The visual editor enables writing and formatting in your wiki without the use of wiki mark-up characters. You can often see the phrase “write just like in Word” in marketing texts even though, to be honest, this often gives the user false expectations. One should always keep in mind that this is and remains a browser-based system. Nevertheless, the visual editor makes writing and formatting in the wiki a great deal easier.
The wordsmiths in Wikipedia (which runs with the wiki engine “MediaWiki”) had to wait for such an aid for a long time. Despite many initiatives, Wikipedians have had to craft their knowledge into articles without a visual editor until very recently. Finally there is now a visual editor in the Wikimedia projects (Extension: VisualEditor) available as a beta. This is updated each week and can generally be activated when the user wants it.
We present three editors below. There are further editor extensions listed, for example on mediawiki.org, however, they have generally been discontinued or are at least no longer being followed up. (To see a larger version of a screenshot, simply click on it).
Extension: Wiki Editor
This extension is currently being deployed and is delivered with MediaWiki from Version 1.18 on, in order to make editing a little easier. The essential functionality is to insert wikicode characters at the touch of a button, which then only need to be edited. Therefore, one does not need to remember the code, but one still has to understand it. This means it only makes editing easier under some conditions and is not a real WYSIWYG editor.
Extension: Visual Editor
There is no visual editor currently being delivered with MediaWiki. However, on the development platform “mediawiki.org“, there is a developer initiative for a rich-text editor for MediaWiki. There has been an initial beta version on this platform itself since 2013 with some of the essential functions, which, however, is targeted specifically for use in the Wikimedia project “Wikipedia”. This editor is now also available on all versions of Wikipedia as a beta feature for all users who are logged in.
The editor makes a very good impression, even though it is still obviously a beta version, and some essential functions like, for example, the table function, are missing – which for me is one of the main reasons for having a WYSIWYG editor. Here is a little information on a few select functions which I need in my everyday work:
Inserting media is very easy here, as an initial selection of suitable pictures is filtered in advance from the system using the article title. This can be, but is not always, useful. Uploading pictures is just as laborious as before. One needs to change page, calling up the upload page which is separate.
This is rather annoying, particularly at the start. After time you get faster and keep the upload page constantly open in a separate tab, then you can save a lot of time with disconnected uploading. One can already insert templates via the visual editor presented on mediawiki.org.
This also seems very easy at first glance. Initially, only internal links are suggested, these being subdivided into new page, redirects, disambiguation pages and suchlike. What one does not see at first sight: if you enter the URL of an external page, this will be recognised and entered as an internal link.
If one begins to type a name in the field, but then interrupts this (for example by clicking outside the dialogue), then what you have typed will be accepted as what is known as a red link. You have to make sure that you remember to click on cancel in the dialogue.
Changing between WYSIWYG and code
Suppose I want to check or change something in the code and then carry on working in WYSIWYG. Then I have to save the page first and then reload it. I find this irksome.
Visual Editor from BlueSpice for MediaWiki
BlueSpice has come up with a fully developed WYSIWYG editor including table functions and business-specific adaptations. I am now writing a lot in Wikicode but the well-organized WYSIWYG editor is worth its weight in gold, especially when writing tables. Checkboxes and checklists can be inserted which is very helpful for company wikis with minutes and to-do lists. On top of this, the editor includes a spell checker from Version 2.22.2 on. You can also switch between WYSIWYG and wiki code whenever you like by pressing a button. For this reason we do not discuss this further here.
You can search for files you have uploaded in the dialogue for inserting pictures and other files. You can specify the size, link destination, borders, etc. before inserting a picture. Furthermore, there is an upload tool. This means you can upload a file, assign it a category, and insert it in two steps all on the same page. If you have the package [paste image], then images can even be pulled into the editor with drag and drop. The only annoying thing is that sometimes the picture you have inserted is not displayed with the right configuration immediately. However, one can see if everything looks right by going to the preview.
There is also a tool for inserting categories, like in the MediaWiki VisualEditor. However, in BlueSpice, this dialogue can also be called and used when in the reading view without having to change to the edit view.
The dialogue for inserting links is subdivided into several types of link. I can choose a namespace, article name, description, or enter one (for example when creating red links). If one chooses a namespace, then in the field underneath the pages will be automatically sorted for you to choose from. What is missing, in comparison to the MediaWiki editor is the differentiation for redirects and so forth. This, however, plays a much larger role in Wikipedia than in company wikis.
Working with tables
The number of rows and columns can be entered easily via the toolbar. If a table in the article is selected, then further table-specific functions are shown in the toolbar such as insert column or row.
The table can also be given a design (formatting), also just with a click in the toolbar. The table will then be given the correct properties, from colour or the possibility for the user to sort the contents to the properties of a normal contents table. As several designs can be used simultaneously, this can, however, sometimes lead to confusion.
Furthermore, the right mouse button lets you specify properties for the whole table, row, column or cell. You can also merge selected cells here. The width of columns can also be fixed, as a percentage of the browser width or as a number of pixels. However, be careful: it is not possible to define the column width for each row.
The table functions of this WYSIWYG editor are valuable when you need to create complex tables or for tables which need to be edited regularly (for example to-do lists).
The Wikimedia development team is on the right road. We (the development team at Hallo Welt! – Medienwerkstatt) are waiting eagerly for the day when we can switch to using the MediaWiki editor, as the development of a reliable editor is very time-consuming. At the moment, however, there is no way we could contemplate this. Directly comparing it with the visual editor from BlueSpice, we find that the BlueSpice editor has more of the important functions, particularly for enterprise wikis and came out of the beta phase a long time ago. Alongside this, the WYSIWYG editor from BlueSpice also works with Internet Explorer (IE 9 or higher). This is important for many companies, as the use of Internet Explorer is compulsory in many companies. IE compatibility is on the roadmap for the VisualEditor from MediaWiki, but it is not yet usable. The visual editor is initially not even activated in Internet Explorer.