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MediaWiki Stakeholders' Group/Blog/2015-07-01

MediaWiki needs a governance modelEdit

Eighteen months ago, at the MediaWiki Architecture Summit, a manager from Wikia said, repeatedly, that he was there to find out where MediaWiki was going to be in five years.

This year, at the MediaWiki Developer's Summit, Damion Sicore, the new VP of Engineering for Wikimedia, asked about MediaWiki's governance model.

Both these people were relative outsiders to the core of MediaWiki development and both of them described the same problem: MediaWiki doesn't have direction.

During the Wikimedia Hackathon this year, I cornered Damon and asked him what he thought needed to be done. After some back-and-forth, Damon said that if we could come up with a governance model for MediaWiki that the stakeholders would endorse, that would be a great start.

I only had two questions: What was a governance model? And, could I get the stakeholders for MediaWiki to buy into one?


This past year Markus Glaser and I started the MediaWiki Stakeholders user group. This is a group of people interested in MediaWiki as software because we use it in our businesses and organisations. We want to have a voice in its development.

We do have issues – some of the most visible users of MediaWiki, such as Wikia and WikiHow – are not involved – but we've also had some really good successes that we can point to, like our monthly meetings, our own wiki, and the meeting at the Wikimedia Hackathon this spring.

If you use MediaWiki for your own projects and you're interested in the future of the software, we ask you to join us. We especially need your involvement if you are a large, visible user of MediaWiki like Wikia or WikiHow.


That brings me to the first, less intuitive, question: What is a governance model? Why is it needed?

Research done on Wikipedia's governance model is instructive. Online social production "is contrasted with traditional, contract-bound, hierarchical production models that characterize most organizational settings." Despite this contrast with traditional production, Wikipedia's governance model is "becoming less open and more codified…a positive change."

Indeed, Wikipedia and MediaWiki are closely related but they cannot share governance models since most MediaWiki installations are outside of the Wikimedia Foundation, and, as a result MediaWiki development cannot be driven only by the needs of the Foundation.

Instead, we need to begin to use the governance model to separate its development from the Foundation and establish it as an independent open source software product.

As a result, we need to start looking at MediaWiki development in the context of the larger world of open source software. The OSS Watch Wiki has a lot of relevant information about how open source software projects are run. See, for example, the explanation given on the GovernanceModel page:

A clear governance model allows potential contributors to understand how they engage with the project, what is expected of them and what protections are provided to ensure their contributions will always be available to them. It also describes the quality control processes that help assure potential users of the viability of the project.
[Governance] provides a mechanism for allowing the community as a whole to define the direction they feel the project should take, while ensuring that the core project team does not lose control.

Why does the MediaWiki community need to do anything? What is wrong with the status quo?Edit

Now, some members of the MediaWiki developer community will not see a need for such a model. Indeed, they'll tell you there is already one in place.

One problem is that this model is only sporadically documented and isn't well communicated. So each person in the community thinks they know what the rules of the game are, but their individual models can differ drastically.

Another problem, especially when it comes to features of MediaWiki that are not used on Wikipedia, is that it is developer-focused instead of user-focused.

For example, if you've used MediaWiki's built-in hitcounter in the past, you'll be surprised and shocked when that functionality is removed without any ready replacement,

As the GovernanceModel page goes on to explain:

There are almost as many variations on open source management strategies as there are open source projects. It is therefore critical that you clearly communicate your policies and strategy to potential users and developers of your product as it is one of the most important steps towards sustainability through open development.

Who needs to agree to this?Edit

The easy answer is easy: the stakeholders. Here I don't mean the Stakeholders User Group, though we will certainly be involved in the discussion. We need the developers — especially those inside the WMF — the project managers, the knowledge sharing specialists inside organisations that use MediaWiki and even the end users of MediaWiki to be involved. Each of these groups exists inside and outside of the Wikipedia community. We need to get people who represent Wikia; executives from Hallo Welt!; independent consultants like myself; and end users of sites like WikiPathways.

Over the next few weeks and months we need to develop a governance model and answer questions like

  • How will governance be enforced? How will things change?
  • Who proposes new or revised rules/directions?
  • Who approves changes to the rules/directions?
  • Where does the roadmap fit in to this governance?
  • How are conflicts mitigated?

Where do we start?Edit

Some other members of the MediaWiki stakeholders and I have already begin discussing the governance model. During our next online meeting using Google Hangouts, we'll continue the discussion in the wider group. However, we have a distinct limitation there in that G+ only lets 10 people in at a time.

In a couple of weeks we'll be meeting again at Wikimania and, hopefully, inviting broader participation.