MediaWiki is an open-source wiki software package used by some of the largest wikis in the world, most notably Wikipedia, and many smaller wikis.
MediaWiki uses a flexible modular system in which components have dependencies and build on each other. For example, the Asirra anti-spam extension depends on the ConfirmEdit extension. According to a 26 September 2012 email by software developer Timo Tijhof, the philosophy of keeping the core software minimal can be summed up as "unless other existing core functionality would need it, it doesn't make sense to include it. Instead, extensions should prove themselves. If an extension provides functionality that other extensions need, those other extensions will simply add 'Make sure X and Y [are] installed first' to their instructions". One of the benefits of this is fair competition, in that extensions can decide what they want to use; this modularity also makes it easy for developers to fork a utility and improve it.
In this respect, MediaWiki is much like other successful modular software packages such as Wordpress, which have many hundreds or even thousands of extensions available from different authors.
Virginia Postrel writes, "That computer programs are themselves strings of rules, which in turn depend on more-fundamental rules embedded in hardware or lower-level software languages, means that even a nonphilosophical programmer has a practical knowledge of rule structures. And for the more ambitious, developing the virtual frontier offers a chance to explore and create rules that enable other people to generate rich, dynamic systems of their own." The application of Postrel's philosophy, dynamism, to wikis is called "wikidynamism."
In the MediaWiki community, freedom and personal responsibility go hand in hand. A developer is free to create and distribute an extension that is marked as "beta," "experimental," or "unstable," and a wiki system administrator is free to install and use it, at his own risk. He or the wiki owner for whom he works bears the consequences if a glitch in the extension causes problems.
MediaWiki and its documentation are copylefted, the former under the GNU Public License and the latter under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. Its success could be considered proof not only that people (including wealthy donors such as Google's investors) are generous enough to fund such projects, but that copyright protections are not needed to ensure the advancement of new technology. The ability to produce derivative works from others' contributions provides a significant advantage for MediaWiki developers, and the development community is willing to provide code review services free of charge to those who are willing to allow the community to benefit from their work product.
The MediaWiki logo was co-designed by Erik Möller, a self-described "socially liberal secular humanist" who has stated that he believes "that effective collaboration is essential to the growth and survival of our species", that he hopes "to learn and share ideas about collaboration" through his work, and that he has "concluded that certain memes (ideas) are destructive to society, including: the idea that strong intellectual monopoly rights are required to develop a rich and expressive culture, the idea that abortion is murder, the idea that physical pleasure and affection is an inherently dangerous or corrupting influence, and virtually any totalitarian/dogmatic belief system."
In suggesting some changes (which did not get adopted) to the logo, Möller writes:
|“|| In Germany, we have a famous children's TV show called "Löwenzahn". It starts with a time lapse sequence of a dandelion flower breaking its way through the asphalt. This is what I've always associated with the MediaWiki logo, technology (brackets) being merely the basis for the growth of something wild and beautiful which transcends it.
However, in that symbolism, I would prefer the wildness to be even more visible, with perhaps a different perspective on the flower, or some visible breakthrough. When I saw the flower on Commons, I was impressed by how much energy it radiates. It strikes me as an appropriate symbol of strength and maturity, hence also the transition from the old slogan 'ideas want to be free' to 'power for your ideas'.
Historically, I believe the double square bracket syntax was first created for Wikipedia by Clifford Adams, originally as a patch to UsemodWiki. MediaWiki (or "phase II" and "phase III" of the software as they were then known) copied this syntax. Since then, some others have copied it as well. I believe it's very historically important for the success of Wikipedia, and as such have always seen it as an adequate symbol for the software as well.
Commenting on the slogan "Because ideas want to be free", Möller writes, "I see it as more of a reference to wiki principles (allowing content to be edited and built upon easily and openly). Some wiki engines try to represent functionality that's more CMS-like (e.g. complex workflows and access controls), while MediaWiki's functionality tends to be driven by the needs of open communities with minimal barriers to entry."
- Postrel, Virginia. "The Bonds of Life". The Future and Its Enemies.
- "Wikidynamism". Meta-Wiki. https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikidynamism.
- "User:Eloquence". Meta-Wiki. https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Eloquence.
- Möller, Erik (16 June 2006). "Re: MediaWiki logo experiments". wikitech-l. http://www.gossamer-threads.com/lists/wiki/wikitech/61362?do=post_view_threaded#61362.
- Möller, Erik (16 June 2006). "Re: MediaWiki logo experiments". wikitech-l. http://www.gossamer-threads.com/lists/wiki/wikitech/61361?do=post_view_threaded#61361.
- Möller, Erik (22 October 2012). "User talk:Eloquence". Meta-Wiki. https://meta.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk%3AEloquence&diff=4307399&oldid=4303318.