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BlueSpice MediaWiki vs. Confluence – the wiki alternatives (1)

Soccer image Germany Argentina
Sharing knowledge: One goal – different strategies. Image: Germany and Argentina face off in the final of the World Cup 2014 von Danilo Borges/copa2014.gov.br Licença Creative

In this two-part article, we give a detailed comparison of the wiki top dog MediaWiki and Confluence.

We already wrote a few words about MediaWiki and Confluence some years ago. At that time, we wrote about the main objections to MediaWiki.

That article is still worth reading and remains largely valid. Ultimately the key argument then was that the choice of tool did not depend only on features, but also on the concept behind the software. This is a timeless truth.

However, MediaWiki does not need to fear a direct feature comparison. Importantly, the enterprise distribution BlueSpice has already decided the feature question in my view. This can be seen on our newest internal feature-comparison table, published here and offered for free download:

This publication is a good chance to detail the differences and similarities of the two projects comprehensively and systematically. Continue Reading

BlueSpice switches over to Elasticsearch

Diego Delso, Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Ciudad de México, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

We are currently fitting out the new Version 3 of BlueSpice with a new search engine. So this is a good opportunity to explain what actually happens in a search engine and why we have decided to make this change. Continue Reading

MediaWiki – Software moving towards the future (Part 3 of 3): Communication, Wikidata, Translation

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.
The Flow prototype
The Flow prototype

Continue Reading

MediaWiki – Software moving towards the future (Part 2 of 3): Visual Editor and simultaneous editing of texts

Visual Editor – Wikicode is supplanted

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.

The version of the "VisualEditor" currently (September 2014) on mediawiki.org.
The version of the “VisualEditor” currently (September 2014) on mediawiki.org.

 

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.

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). Continue Reading

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