MediaWiki/Guide/Choosing MediaWiki

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A Guide to choosing MediaWiki for a hosted website

This article is part of a series compiled as a guide to encourage and assist those building a MediaWiki-based website in a hosted environment.

Each article links to relevant documentation from the MediaWiki.org website and the Wikimedia.org website. Where the official documentation does not adequately cover the issues for a hosted site, or is too 'advanced', additional information, explanation and advice is provided.

What kind of a website or Intranet are you planning? Is cost a factor? Will it be hosted? Are you confident with html, satisfied with wikitext, or prefer an interface like a word processor? Do you need to segment the content so user groups have access different material? Do you have a lot of documents or will the content be on the pages or in the actual articles? Are you primarily a blogger? Do you enjoy mind-mapping?

Is MediaWiki right for you? The ideas below may be helpful. Links to relevant Manuals on the MediaWiki.org website are provided for further reading.

What kind of a website or Intranet are you planning?

Personal Website
Most website hosting providers offer some form of simple webpage builder, which can be a good place to start, but eventually becomes limiting. MediaWiki is more complicated but it is so versatile you can do practically anything with it. It's easy to add content, easy to link items, and you don't need to be a programmer to get started.
Blog
Your hosting provider may offer several blogging platforms - the most popular is Wordpress - which is appropriate if blogging is your primary site purpose. However, if your blog grows too large you may wish you had started with the concept of a knowledgebase - easily done with MediaWiki.
Knowledgebase
MediaWiki is excellent for a knowledgebase which is why most hosting providers offer MediaWiki and maybe a couple of similar wiki platforms. All wikis are ideal for a team and content can be developed collaboratively.
Intranet
Intranets are usually internal websites. However, with workers at home or travelling it can be useful to host an Intranet 'in the cloud'. MediaWiki is free and open source, so has a distinct cost advantage over systems like SharePoint. You can segment MediaWiki into different Namespaces and assign permissions so content can be restricted to different user groups. MediaWiki is a good platform for an Intranet.
Content Management System
MediaWiki can be also used as a Content Management System. Your hosting provider will probably offer Drupal and Joomla.which are applications specifically designed for that role.


Linux or Windows

MediaWiki was originally developed for use on Linux, with Apache as the web server, and MySQL for the database. It is written in PHP. That may still be the most common setup but there is now a choice of databases; MediaWiki will run on a Windows server; Nginx is an alternative to Apache and IIS; and for classrooms or your own testing environment you could use XAMPP.

However, if your website will be hosted then you won't need proficiency with Linux, Apache or MySQL. You will need to edit a PHP file which holds your configuration details, but the instructions are generally easy to follow. Confidence grows with practice! If your website is hosted you will also not need to worry about security at a network or server level. But you will be responsible for securing your own MediaWiki installation, preventing unauthorized access and combatting spam, and installing updates.


Editing Content

A visual editor for MediaWiki has been under development for ages. However, if your site is hosted you may not be able to install it and if you use a responsive skin, like Foreground, it probably wouldn't work for you anyway.

The standard editor can be customized a bit but as I write this I am adding the syntax for headings, paragraphs, links and the columns and rows used by Foundation, in simple text. I only get to see what the page looks like when it has been saved. I could choose Show Preview but I run the risk of losing my work so I always save it first.

Editing wiki content is not like using a wordprocessor.


Mind Mapping

Finally, do you enjoy mind-mapping? You should mind-map how you imagine your website content to be organized. If you are an IT Manager don't do this on your own. Get a team of people together and brainstorm first, then consolidate the ideas into a mind-map. That diagram will become the blueprint for a successful implementation of MediaWiki.

Before starting this set of articles I scoured the MediaWiki.org website for topics and then organized it into a mind-map across an A3 sheet. A wiki is like a mind-map, so planning how to segment the content and link it was a good place to start. I also found that for each role - systems administrator, administrator, user - there were typical tasks to be performed, which would add to the content.

So wiki content spreads outwards like a fan, but can be cross-linked like a spiders' web.


If you think like that then MediaWiki may be right for you!


Disclaimer

The information or advice provided in this Guide is based on, or links to, official documentation for MediaWiki and was accurate when this article was created. However, some variation may occur between versions of MediaWiki; and the specifics of web hosting varies by service provider. Consequently, you should always create an effective backup before making any changes; ensure that you can restore your database and website; read the Release Notes before upgrading; and apply best practices to the management of your website. Any action that you take based on information provided here is at your own risk and the author accepts no liability for any loss or damage.