Trying out WYSIWYG in MediaWiki

In my last publication, I made rather a big fuss about being able to use WYSIWYG in a wiki, or at least, that I thought it a vital requirement to drive usage of a wiki (something to that effect anyway). So I went ahead and tried one of the documented solutions for adding WYSIWYG capability to MediaWiki.

First of all, let me correct myself: It seems that the term WYSIWYG is not good enough anymore, oh no. It’s WYSIWYM now (what you see is what you mean) – excuse me. The reason given is that you can never get an exact representation during editing of what it will finally look like (which is a fair enough argument). Because of force of habit (and donkey-like stubbornness), I will just stick to WYSIWYG.

Hair splitting aside, I followed the guide described on Meta (currently still the MediaWiki documentation site) that shows how to make use of the FCK editor to do WYSIWYG editing. FCK is a cross-browser editor implemented in Javascript. (The acronym comes from the initials of its creator, Frederico Caldeira Knabben).

The installation went smoothly (seeing as it’s all changes by hand to configuration files). When running the editor, the only problem I came across was that FCK complains about a “UniversalKey” toolbar being missing, but deleting the entry from the relevant config file soon sorted that out. I used the latest release of FCK, which is 2.4, and the guide mentioned 2.3, so it’s probably something that went missing in the newest release.

The one drawback that immediately becomes apparent from using FCK, which is also mentioned in the guide, is that it messes up the formatting of your existing pages if they contain wiki-specific markup. This is bad news if you have lots of content and are allergic to lots of rework.

The other drawback was that an extension I had previously installed (called Inputbox, which is for creating content using simple form-like fields), stopped working. Obviously the change in formatting messes around with the special syntax required for the extension, and I have not managed to get it working in the editor. (Mind you, I didn’t try very hard).

Apart from that, I can say that using FCK to edit wiki pages is pleasing. You still have to write all wiki-specific markup yourself, like interpage links, etc. It would be nice if this extension could be tailored to cater for at least the most important wiki markup, but I think that would mean substantial modification of FCK. The other thing that would be nice would be to have the option of viewing both the WYSIWYG editing and the markup with separate tabs at the top of a page.

I’m amazed that, given the size of Wikipedia, Mediawiki does not have WYSIWYG editing capability yet. I would imagine this would be core to getting most people to contribute, and I wonder how this would change the profile of Wikipedia, in terms of the number and type of contributions it receives.

Finally, while having a WYSIWYG editor makes it easy for the average user to create content, you can certainly not capture all the complexities and flexibility that the markup provides in such an editor (consider, for example, all the magic keywords in MediaWiki), and also, because the functionality is extensible, new extensions would not reflect in an editor (unless the extensions framework catered for it… Hmmm). The other option of course is something like wikEd, which highlights the relevant markup, but then again is not WYSIWYG.

One thing I haven’t tried is FCKeditor and HTML::WikiConverter, but I’m not so sure I’m going to spend that much effort.

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  • De Wildt

    Ah it seems this topic was predestined to be in my future. We recently started using MediaWiki as a documentation platform for our library developments. Although our development is in SAP were there is already support for documentation we found that it is much more accessible online.

    The big drawback is the editing, having done a lot of HTML and web development I still find myself too stupid (more than likely too lazy) to learn the scripting for adding to the Wiki especially if I don’t do editing on a daily basis.

    In general getting people to contribute to anything is difficult so I would say making it as easy as possible to contribute will encourage more people to do so. A WYSIWIG editor would be crutial to the success of a Wiki in a development team (or anywhere else for that matter).

    De Wildt

  • martin

    Hey De Wildt, on that topic, why is it that no-one uses the online documentation features in SAP? (not even SAP themselves :-) I mean, it’s really good (and really crummy at the same time). However, how would you do inter-document links in SAP documentation? With lots of effort, that’s the answer.
    By the way, could you imagine if all the design on a project was done in a wiki instead of many, many stupid little documents on a network share?