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It’s no secret: open source software is used a lot in the defense and military sector. The reasons are, on the one hand, that open source makes it fundamentally comprehensible what the actual software does. On the other hand, the software is available for a long time (which is an important argument in the public sector) and, if it uses standard technologies, it can be adapted very well.

This is no different with MediaWiki. This very concise field report by Gary Foster at SMWCon 2020 gave a good insight into how the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) uses Semantic MediaWikis.

Contents and tasks

First, Forster places the wikis in the strategic goals in the MoD. In this context, the contradiction between having to share knowledge on the one hand and not being allowed to release knowledge at will on the other hand becomes particularly apparent. This is a problem that all organizations have to contend with. In the defense sector, the problem comes to a head.

We learn about the contents and topics of the wikis in the MoD:

  • Manuals for ICT
  • Several JSPs (Joint Service Publications: A JSP is an authoritative set of rules or guidelines with defense-wide applicability or interest)
  • Information about empowerment, doctrine, training and operational readiness
  • Historical information
  • Strategic analysis and security information
  • Verschiedene topics around human ressources

As in non-profit organizations or in private companies, wikis are used mainly

  • when documents to be published have to be updated permanently,
  • when knowledge repositories have to be constantly expanded and reorganized (through migration and integration of new repositories),
  • when it is necessary to work with reliable but flexible structures and metadata in order to be able to orientate oneself in large and complex knowledge bases.

Here Semantic MediaWiki plays out its strength: With the extension Page Forms extension, data and set structures are kept consistent. The semantic functions can then be used to make any qualified queries.

Development needs and future

Forster also describes problems with her wiki instances that still need to be solved. For example, the wikis are not particularly intuitive: it takes a long time for authors to get past how it works. Likewise, the authorization system is proving rather unwieldy for some use cases.

Future projects also include the migration away from Windows servers to Linux-based operating systems (in this case RedHat). In addition, an onboarding process is to be implemented and Mermaid is to work more with graphics and charts. An improved user agreement process is also on the wish list. Finally, Forster hopes that an automated archiving function will significantly reduce the administrative burden of maintaining the wikis. The first step, however, should be a sigle sign-on for the more than 24 wikis.

This is where cooperation is needed in terms of development. The return of developments to the civilian sector is also an important goal.

See also

Ben Fletcher: Delivering ICT capability through a wiki policy, Enterprise MediaWiki Conference Spring 2018, YouTube