Book Review: MediaWiki
I know that I have been neglecting book reviews for a while. After all, the books I am reading are numerous and will take a while to complete. In the meantime, I went through my computer’s files and found that I still had a copy of one of the things I posted on Written Adventure, which was my very first book review blog post.
The following, with some minor changes, is the entire post. The review was written in October 2010, during my last semester of college.
MediaWiki, by Daniel J. Barrett, is a book that talks about MediaWiki, a wiki platform that powers Wikipedia and many other sites. The book goes into detail about how MediaWiki works, how to use it, install it, and maintain it, wikitext, which is MediaWiki's markup language, and extension creation, as well as a differences between it and Wikipedia's version.
I chose to read this book because I have come across many sites that look similar to Wikipedia, which led me to discover the MediaWiki platform. Like many people starting off something, I was quite unfamiliar with it, even after doing a local installation.
How useful was this book? I would say that the book was extremely useful. Before I read the book, I was unfamiliar with the MediaWiki platform, as I had only memorized a few things. However, after reading it, I understand the platform a bit better. For example, I knew, from my previous computer experience, that keeping back ups of things was very important, but I did not know how to backup the content important to me. The book told me about a page to import and export content. As I had a local copy of MediaWiki on both of my computers, I was able to test out this feature with great success. In addition to not knowing how to backup the wiki, I did not fully understand wikitext, even though I knew the importance of wikitext, from an editing point-of-view. The book gave a decent introduction to various wikitext and uses it throughout the text. The most surprising thing about the author's reasoning for knowing wikitext was the fact that the editor used in MediaWiki was incapable of removing wikitext. I even learned the structure and what pages proved useful for maintenance. Other than learning about the platform, it also improved my knowledge of HTML, since HTML can be used in the platform. I had taken a class that had me practice writing in the XHTML standard, but the teacher did not go over the fact that some attributes were optional add-ons for just about every tag in HTML, which meant that I could describe things without the use of a definition list or a table. The author's reasoning throughout the book was very sound. With the information I gained, I can safely say that I would definitely keep this book around as reference material.
That sounds like a useful book, but are there any negatives about the book? Yes, there are definitely negative aspects to the book. I cannot go through each and every little thing that the book discusses, since I have not found a reason to test everything. However, there was something that I did test that did not work as the book said it should have. In the portion about links, the author went over two main types of links, which are internal and external links, which is where the biggest issue happened. Most of the information was accurate, since I confirmed it by jotting down a few notes of interest, but there was an inaccuracy, when it talked about linking to other wikis using a shorthand approach that looked like an internal link and acted like it, although it was actually an external link. Basically, the author was going over how to link to articles located on Wikipedia. In the text, he said to use “wp:” inside the syntax that normally creates an internal link, with the article name following it. I put that code on my wiki page of notes and it did not work. A Google search turned up the results from one of the places where the Wikimedia Foundation houses documentation on the platform that said it was actually supposed to be “wikipedia:”, not “wp:”. Other than that, everything I saw and tested had worked as expected. As not everything is accurate, and there are things I have not tested, I really suggest installing a local copy of MediaWiki, which is one of the accurate parts of the book, as well as have a browser window or tab opened to Wikipedia and the official wiki talking about MediaWiki, in order to check the validity of everything the book talks about.
Overall, the book is fairly useful for technically inclined people, as both a learning tool and a reference. It gives some well-commented examples of PHP, so one can figure out what is going on. The fact that there is some inaccurate content could be due to either the fact that it was from 2008 or the lack of in-depth analysis of the platform, by the author. Outside of learning the MediaWiki platform, it has some good information on MySQL, which is important to know for installing MediaWiki, and HTML that may take tons of time scouring the Internet to find.