MediaWiki: Wikipedia and Beyond

Daniel J. Barrett

O'Reilly & Associates 2008
A book review by Danny Yee © 2009 http://dannyreviews.com/
MediaWiki: Wikipedia and Beyond is divided into three unequal parts: the first, barely forty pages, is aimed at casual users of Wikipedia or another MediaWiki, the second is aimed at power users, and the third is for administrators.

Part one would make a nice introduction for new or casual users, but only if distributed as a separate pamphlet. The more advanced material in part two covers editing in greater depth, but is mostly about ways of keeping articles and content organised. Barrett describes variables, templates and transclusion, dynamic page lists and recipes for using those in refactoring, as well as the full range of Special Pages. I learned quite a few new things from reading through this and I think most serious Wikipedia editors would find it useful.

The remaining half of MediaWiki is aimed at administrators. There is one chapter on installation and another on administration and maintenance. An overview of the many different ways of configuring a MediaWiki is followed by chapters on controlling its features, changing its appearance, and installing extensions. There's also a full forty page chapter on writing your own extensions, which I haven't delved into yet. Barrett's explanations here are clear and I found this material useful in setting up and configuring two MediaWiki installs — one for several hundred people in a university school and one for two people in a household.

As has to be expected with software under active development, some details have already changed after eight months, as MediaWiki has gone from version 1.12 to 1.14. But MediaWiki is relatively stable and Barrett explains underlying structures and processes rather than just giving "how to" instructions, so his book is dating relatively slowly.

Barrett also covers the broader picture rather than being narrowly technical in focus. The very first chapter, for example, introduces MediaWiki and immediately considers when, where and whether it is going to be useful. The presentation of refactoring and structuring methods explains why they are important, not just how they work. And immediately following the chapter on installing MediaWiki comes a chapter on the "social install" — how to get people using a wiki, how to launch your mediawiki-based intranet, and so forth.

Barrett touches on when MediaWiki is appropriate and what it shouldn't be used for — it isn't a general content management system and may not suit nontechnical users — but he doesn't attempt a comparison of MediaWiki with alternative products. And MediaWiki is not about Wikipedia — among the biggest challenges facing Wikipedia editors is becoming familiar with its culture and social structure, which are not covered here at all.

MediaWiki will be okay for editors who don't mind that half of it is material for administrators, but it is really aimed at people running their own MediaWiki wikis. Here I highly recommend it.

July 2009

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- details at O'Reilly & Associates
Related reviews:
- Daniel J. Barrett - SSH, The Secure Shell: The Definitive Guide
- Daniel J. Barrett - Bandits on the Information Superhighway
- books about computing
- books published by O'Reilly & Associates
%T MediaWiki
%S Wikipedia and Beyond
%A Barrett, Daniel J.
%I O'Reilly & Associates
%D 2008
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0596519796
%P 374pp