This post is a discovery report written by Ashwin Bhumbla and slightly edited for publication. It’s part of a series of candid essays written by Google Code-in students, outlining their first steps as members of the Wikimedia technical community. You can write your own.
I am not the best with computers.
Upon arriving on the MediaWiki and Wikitech home pages, I was instantly lost. For a while, I tried clicking links to see if they would lead to any information as to what the purpose of these communities actually was. However, my searches always led to pages with lines of code that might as well be Latin to me. Now, I’m pretty sure that my confusion was due more to my inexperience than anything, but the pages didn’t help much either.
My first objective was to try to find out the purpose of each site. Both sites had a kind of mission statement on the front page, but that didn’t offer that much information at first. mediawiki.org was slightly easier to figure out; it offered multiple pages on what the purpose of the wiki was and how to join. I was pleased that even though MediaWiki seemed impenetrable, it had pages specifically for new users, helping them become an active part of the community.
Sadly, the same could not be said for Wikitech. I understand that the wiki is a hub for documenting and fixing all bugs related to the MediaWiki software[Note 1], and as a result doesn’t really need to be all that welcoming and user-friendly. And it showed. As a newcomer, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, or what to do. I understand that the wiki is only for those who have already been initiated into the wiki community, but it would be nice to have some pages dedicated to explaining the site’s layout and how one could contribute to it.
As you can probably tell, I favored MediaWiki over Wikitech when it came time for my research. It is a much more informative and newcomer-friendly wiki. mediawiki.org is for people who are just starting, whereas Wikitech is for people who are already integrated into the community. I would advise anyone who is a newcomer like me not to be turned off by the lack of accessibility of the wikis.
While Wikitech is still a daunting and, in my opinion, not-that-well-organized of a wiki, MediaWiki is a surprising delight to traverse. It has many pages to help you create an account, write extensions properly, and much, much more. MediaWiki did exactly what a wiki should do: it taught me. And more importantly, it taught me useful things, the most important of which is how to edit a wiki page. My previous attempts at editing wiki pages did more harm than good, but with my improved knowledge of the syntax, I can actually help contribute to the numerous wikis I, and many others, frequent every day.
I also liked mediawiki.org’s forum, called “Project:Support desk“, although I had trouble finding it at first. It is as simple as the press of a button to start your new thread. From the looks of other threads, there are many users that are glad to help, and questions are usually answered (or at least attempted to be) in a very short period. Your questions will not go unnoticed. It is a fantastic forum, and although some of the questions might seem advanced for newcomers, just ask any question you might have about MediaWiki, and I’m sure it will get answered.
2013 Google Code-in student
- Editor’s note: The Wikitech wiki is actually for documenting Wikimedia’s technical operations and infrastructure, i.e. information on the servers, network, and Wikimedia Labs.
Read in this series:
- Seeing through the eyes of new technical contributors
- Tech discovery report: What is this Wikitech thing anyway?
- Through the maze of newcomer developer documentation
- A junior developer discovers MediaWiki
- Discovering and learning by asking questions
- A young developer’s story of discovery, perseverance and gratitude