Disclaimer: This is my experience with MediaWiki, and the issues I faced in using it. This is entirely subjective, and mostly true. Most of all, it captures my experience and how I felt.
I held my breath, and then firmly clicked the "submit" button on my application. An accumulation of written materials, creations, and other such things were included in a hastily built document that was now flying through the internet to land in some unknown’s inbox. I sent my hopes and dreams of recognition and prestige as good enough to start helping others and producing content. I started an odyssey of adventure into PHP, HTML, CSS, and a ton of other web development tools, most of which I still do not understand.
Several weeks past, and then I found I was accepted, a small email that I had been hoping for. I logged in to this wiki, changed my password from the generic one I had received, and then started writing. Difficulty filled this experience, learning what the templates were, the best practices, and feeling the hurt when my changes were reverted or changed, or removed. I also learned that MediaWiki was the powering software behind this, indeed, this was the first time I learned that the internet had “software” behind it, stuff used across the internet. A quick google search for help on the markdown or how to do this or that revealed how much ignorance I had on the technicalities of the internet.
Skip forwards a little bit, and I had joined a local club at my school. This club, unfortunately for them, needed a new website. Thinking I knew something about web design, that is, that I knew how to make bold text in HTML, I agreed to make it. I found a rather bad, but free, webhost, and used the auto-installer to install the one “software” I knew, MediaWiki. After a few minutes, the auto-installer had managed to install PHP, MediaWiki. I was ready to go.
“Now what?” I asked myself. MediaWiki had stuck a front page, giving me links to help websites, and all that. Browsing through a few I managed to copy a few templates into MediaWiki, change the navigation and main page and then I looked up how to make MediaWiki look like, well, not a wiki.
You see, my goal was to make MediaWiki look like a professional (commercial) website, in hindsight, this was a horrible idea, because this is not what MediaWiki’s developers designed it for, but at the time it seemed great. What could be better than having 20 other rather reluctant teenagers helping add content to a wiki about a club that had about 1 page of information to share?
With this thought in mind, I decided I needed a new theme for my soon-to--awesome-epic-website. I found some themes for MediaWiki, and then a roadblock hit me. I had to go into the local settings of my wiki and edit it to include the files, that is, after I used FTP to upload the files into the webserver.
Therefore, I downloaded some freeware FTP transfer thing, downloaded the theme, downloaded an archive extracting software, and then transferred the files. Constant problems arose, with incompatibilities, the software not working, or not being easy enough to use, and all that. I am rather surprised I did not infect the whole school’s computer network with malware. I followed the instructions on the installation Manuel online, and then, after a bit of fiddling, I had my theme installed.
The only problem? My theme was not what I liked. I think I went through 10-20 installations of themes until I finally hit on one I liked. At this point, I had discovered the FTP online tool the free webhost had provided, which also included a very rudimentary editor. Oh, and the wiki still had about zero content. I started editing the theme files a bit, mostly the CSS and HTML parts, until I finally hit upon something I liked.
At this point, I got some people to finally type in a few sentences to the wiki, and realized how much of a pain it was to use MediaWiki as, well a Content Management System (CMS). At this point, I was too far in to give up, so I shoved some more content in, and then stopped working on the website as much. It looked nice, but it was like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.
However, a few years later, with that wiki I was still somewhat active on in that game that I played, well, at that point I realized one day, that this wiki was rather out of date, and how much improvements it could use. I knew how a wiki worked because I had tried to run one, I knew how stuff was installed (it is a mess), and how hard it is to make it look graphically appealing. At the same time, I realized that this game’s wiki was not functioning as a wiki, and that much of it could be modified or improved, given the right access to the server (which of course, would never happen).
It is with this that I and a few other users requested improvements, requested updates, required something more, something better. We hoped to improve the wiki, because we had used other wikis, we had developed other wikis, messed around, improved, contributed, we knew what we wanted, we know how it could be, and we knew we wanted this too. We are still waiting, reluctant to start our own wiki because it is too difficult, but reluctant also to use the current one. So perhaps the largest hurdle of MediaWiki is the difficulty found when developing a wiki, updating it, changing it, modifying it. MediaWiki is a very technical piece of equipment, and the very best because it is so, but it also scares away users, scares away the couldbe’s of MediaWiki’s future. This is where I believe MediaWiki needs to change, needs to grow in, where the 5 minute installation of Wordpress can be taken, where the 5 minute create-a-wikia should be found, where changing the look of MediaWiki is as simple as Wordpress’s “add a theme” category. Where there is a backend beyond an FTP console. Perhaps this is not MediaWiki’s goal, but I sure wish it were.