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MediaWiki Skins Design (Book review)

MediaWiki Skins Design — Designing attractive skins and templates for your MediaWiki site is the first book by UK based web designer Richard Carter. The book covers practical tips from the very basics to integrating MediaWiki with popular social networking services such as YouTube, Twitter and Delicious. It is published by PACKT publishing (ISBN 978-1-847195-20-3) and is currently available at Amazon.co.uk for around £25.

The book is aimed at web developers and designers who want to customise the look and feel of a standard MediaWiki installation. Carter recognises that most people will find the default theme, monobook, rather dull. Whilst it is used fairly effectively on the Wikipedia site, it soon becomes tiresome after the third or fourth MediaWiki powered site you visit. Carter ably demonstrates that following a few simple steps will put you well on your way to stamping your own identity on your wiki. My personal aim was to make our MediaWiki wikis use Open University branding and web styles and standards. The steps in this book made it a breeze.

The content of the book perhaps goes over and beyond the call of duty. Whilst it covers all the things you’d expect: layout, headers, navigational systems and other user interface elements, I wasn’t expecting to find an entire chapter on integrating the software with social networking sites. Still, it was a nice surprise and actually incredibly useful. There’s also a nice appendix on troubleshooting browser issues which includes fixes for the ancient Internet Explorer 5. Some might consider this sort of stuff outside the scope of the book. Indeed there are plenty of dedicated CSS and HTML web design books to thumb through at your local Waterstones but it’s a nice touch that serves to indicate that the author really does live and breathe MediaWiki and web design.

The entire process of creating a MediaWiki skin is covered in relation to the book’s case study, a fictional theme called JazzMeet. From planning (purpose and audience) through design (html, css, javascript) to development (php). Key subjects such as usability, information architecture and the various page states are well documented.

One personal irritation. A default install of MediaWiki calls the homepage Main Page and it’s not obvious how you change it to something more useful. As hard as I searched within this book I still couldn’t find the answer. Maybe this is out of scope of a book on Skinning MediaWiki as opposed to administrating MediaWiki but as a designer it’s a task I find myself performing with each and every new install. I want the homepage to announce itself as something more meaningful than Main Page. This is a minor annoyance though as a little searching on the web will find the answer.

MediaWiki Skins Design offers a nice structured approach to creating a usable, customised template for your wiki. You can happily skip the chapter on decorative touches if you’re a designer by trade and try your hand at some of the more complicated stuff. For anything you need to know that isn’t in the book there’s the official MediaWiki documentation. If you just want a practical step by step guide book to creating MediaWiki skins then this is the book for you.

Read a sample chapter from MediaWiki Skins Design (PDF, 1.26mb).

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One Response to “MediaWiki Skins Design (Book review)”

  1. Richard

    Thanks for the review! Changing the main page’s default name space was discussed, but, as you say, we decided it was outside the scope of the book. If anyone has a way of doing it, I’d be interested, though!