Open source advent calendar: The wiki software MediaWiki

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This is an advent calendar for techies. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything belongs to a large Internet corporation. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently checked for possible security gaps and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the drive for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to society.

Open source advent calendar: The wiki software MediaWiki

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing. Some projects are backed by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time employees or a consortium. The work is entirely voluntary, or it is financed through donations, cooperation with Internet companies, government funding or an open source business model. Regardless of whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether a PC program, app or operating system – the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

MediaWiki is an open source software for operating a wiki. The software is under a GNU GPL v2 license. It exists in three aggregate states: as the basis of the large content project Wikipedia, as the foundation of the open source business model of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and as user-friendly wiki software for all possible purposes.

On the Contributor-Liste Mediawiki has around 800 names. The code work is mainly done by members of the global parent organization Wikimedia Foundation. The foundation lists a total of 550 employees and contract workers on its website, 140 of them in the “Technology” department. However, there is no separate department for MediaWiki.

Employees and the budget spent are divided according to whether they are working on MediaWiki or on a technical project, explains the foundation. There are teams in different departments that work on MediaWiki. Contributions would also come from the voluntary community and from external parties Stakeholders. Some of the work was also done by national associations such as Wikimedia Germany.

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MediaWiki is primarily the basis of the large online encyclopedia Wikipedia and its smaller sister projects such as Wikivoyage, Wikinews or Wikibooks. the Wikimedia Foundation coordinates software development, operates the project websites, develops apps and looks after the global community. The foundation is financed almost exclusively through donations, and it succeeds on a large scale. In the period of the last Annual report from July 2019 to June 2020, the foundation has approximately $ 124 million taken.

Formally the highest body is the nine-member board, headed by the Ukrainian political activist Nataliia Tymkiv. As a kind of honorary member, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales traditionally sits on the board. In addition to the Wikimedia Foundation, there are 38 independent local ones Chapterthat are connected to the foundation through contractual relationships.

The German Wikimedia Association is the wealthiest chapter. The association collects donations independently through a subsidiary, the Wikimedia Fördergesellschaft, and shares them in a kind of financial compensation with the global Wikimedia cosmos. 2020 has the donation daughter loudly Annual report of the association Twelve million euros received. She gave 8.7 million euros of this to the Wikimedia Foundation and 1.9 million euros to the Wikimedia Association. The association, in turn, received 2.2 million euros from the Foundation as a kind of remittance.

According to the website, the association currently has around 160 employees and around 90,000 members. According to a spokeswoman, 55 people currently work in the software development department. Wikidata is a major project, a fact database coordinated by the association that makes information available in a structured manner. The spokeswoman refers to the Technical requests-Platform. The community proposes software features on the, which are then voted on.

The supreme body of the German association is the seven-member Bureau, Chairman is the lawyer and long-time Wikipedia author Lukas Mezger. The managing director has been the administrative scientist Christian Humborg, who was previously managing director of Transparency International Germany, among other things, has been the managing director since mid-2021.

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The well-developed full-time organizational pillar of the Wikimedia world faces a huge voluntary community. In its annual report, the Foundation estimates their size at almost 300,000 people. The community is mainly busy writing and editing Wikipedia entries. It is organized in a complex hierarchy based on participation and voting with different roles. This includes who can activate or undo new articles and changes on Wikipedia, assign and withdraw Wikipedia roles and decide in the event of a dispute within the community.

MediaWiki is also the foundation of Jimmy Wales’ business model. The Wikipedia founder had first tried his hand at a commercial online encyclopedia called Nupedia and was economically unsuccessful. It wasn’t until he switched to crowdsourcing that it became a huge success.

Together with Larry Sanger, the former Nupedia editor-in-chief, he founded Wikipedia. The English-language Wikipedia went online on January 15, 2001, and the German-language version followed just two months later. The Wikimedia Foundation was founded in 2003, the German Wikimedia Association in 2004 and the rest is history.

Thanks to MediaWiki, the story went very well for Jimmy Wales in his private life too. In the end, the software made him rich. In 2004 Wales founded a wiki platform on which you can create your own wiki for free with just a few clicks. The project was first called Wikicities, then Wikia and since 2016 and today it contains 250,000 wikis according to its own information. The company was taken over by a US investment company in 2018 – according to insiders, the platform was worth $ 200 million at the time.

Finally, there is MediaWiki in a third aggregate state: as free software that makes it easy to run your own wiki on all sorts of things. MediaWiki writes on its website that the software is used by tens of thousands of websites and thousands of organizations. A linked overview list too German-language wikis contains about 180 entries. Among them is, for example, a Wiki about ants, a Tolkien encyclopedia called ardapedia and a fan wiki for the comic series mosaic.

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The early history of Wikimedia / Wikipedia / MediaWiki began in the United States. For Nupedia and initially also for Wikipedia, the founder Jimmy Wales used a software called UseModWiki.

What is now the code basis for the great human project Wikipedia goes back to a biochemistry student from Cologne, Magnus Manske. He was not satisfied with the software and wanted to make it better. In an interview with heise online, he remembers: “After I became aware of Nupedia in early 2000 through a c’t article, I switched from there to Wikipedia in 2001. Wikipedia initially used the ‘original’ UseModWiki Perl script (yes, a .pl file!), which the entire Wikipedia stored in the file system. That scaled very poorly (save the article, get coffee, then it might be ready …), and also left many wishes for improvement. “

During his semester break in the summer of 2001 he got started in PHP, he wanted to try out the programming language anyway. Thought and done: “Writing new Wikipedia software seemed like the perfect project for it. I wrote a first (raw) version within about two weeks.” He announced the success on August 24, 2001 on a Wikipedia mailing list. The software was uploaded to the SourceForge platform and completed with the help of the community. A day later, Jimmy Wales announced that Wikipedia would be migrating to the software that was then still called “phase 2”.

Wales shouted out of gratitude for the Cologne student in unctuous words at the same time the Magnus Manske Memorial Day: “I hereby declare in my usual authoritarian and opinionated way that today will forever be known as Magnus Manske Day. Wikipedians of the distant future will be amazed at the day on which the new software era was falling upon us. ”

The work on the series of articles is based in part on a “Neustart Kultur” grant from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, awarded by VG Wort.


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