MediaWiki versus Confluence? Not a question of features

1. August 2012

Whenever companies want to use professional wiki software, they quickly face the question of whether to choose MediaWiki or Confluence. With Confluence a wiki was developed especially for the needs of companies. MediaWiki on the other hand is designed for the large online encyclopedia Wikipedia. However with more than 750,000 downloads per year, MediaWiki is the unassailable standard wiki software – even in companies.

Richard Heigl

CEO of Hallo Welt! GmbH, historian, Wiki expert, book author and speaker. Born in 1971 in Ettal (Bavaria), he now lives in Regensburg and regularly blogs and tweets on the topics of wiki, social web and information technologies.

Supporters of Confluence complained in the past that MediaWiki is not really suitable for businesses. And you can seriously find comparative studies that completely ignore the expansion and customization possibilities of MediaWiki. The extensibility and adaptability of MediaWiki is an essential feature of the software. The project page alone lists more than 1,800 extensions. And since the release of BlueSpice there is a complete free enterprise distribution for commercial users, which can be individually extended with modules.

To show how MediaWiki as an enterprise solution really looks like, I once collected and commented the most common objections against MediaWiki.

“Confluence has a WYSIWYG editor”

A visual editor is a great help for greater usability and acceptance. MediaWiki has not developed its own editor for a long time – we will discuss the technical reasons another time. In any case, MediaWiki will have a native editor next year (see article in the MediaWiki tech blog).

And of course there are already visual editors for MediaWiki. The colleagues from Twoonix have listed them all: Wiki4Enterprise. With the editor of BlueSpice there is even an editor that doesn’t just write HTML code, but understands MediaWiki code and outputs it again. In addition, BlueSpice offers many comfortable dialogs, such as for inserting images, documents and categories.

Full selection: BlueSpice uses the leading editor TinyMCE. Here is the view of the toolbar in expert mode

“The integration of MS Office and Open Office in Confluence is seamless”

An office integration is available in Confluence. But there, too, technological problems occur in general that cannot be wiped away easily.

Here it is necessary to define more precisely what is actually meant by “integration”. Connection of SharePoint documents? There is a module for this in the BlueSpice program. Searchability of Office documents? With BlueSpice this is also done. Import and export of Office documents? Confluence is still ahead of the game.

Not without reason: Import functions are in high demand by customers in the initial phase because document inventories are to be transferred to the wiki. That’s why the Confluence manufacturer Atlassian has spent a lot of money to program a corresponding tool. In practice, however, it is hardly ever used because there is often no need for it once the wiki has been filled with content. Or the large migration of documents was abandoned in advance because many documents were hopelessly outdated or because there were too many duplicates or both.

Nevertheless, it is still true: An office import and export is still on the wish list for MediaWiki. However, the PDF format has long since become the standard for exports. And MediaWiki (Collection) and BlueSpice (Bookmaker) offer very good solutions for professional use. This is the reason why a MediaWiki Office module is a long time coming.

“Confluence offers better search capabilities”

With the software package-BlueSpice you can easily integrate the search engine Apache Lucene, which is most widely used on the web and in software development, allowing search in documents, search in file systems or facet filters.

The search Apache Lucene in BlueSpice also searches attached files. With the facet search the results can be filtered comfortably

“Confluence has better database connectivity”

Only few know: With BlueSpice, PostgreSQL and Oracle are possible in addition to MySQL.

“Confluence has a much more intuitive and sophisticated interface”

It depends on the application. For public wikis, the content-centered division of the vector skin has become generally accepted. For business applications, BlueSpice is a professional skin for intranet solutions. Because MediaWiki is always evolving, there is currently a usability initiative. If you want to know what Wikipedia will look like soon, for example, and how you will access your information on your smartphone or tablet, you can take a look through the keyhole here and see the “Athena” project.

“The room concept in Confluence is very granular, the rights configuration is easier and more transparent”

Yes, MediaWiki is structured differently from the rights philosophy. The differences between Confluence and MediaWiki have a lot to do with the history and goals of the respective software. A very exciting topic, but to be discussed another time.

Let’s stay with the features: MediaWiki offers a whole arsenal to organize different permissions: Namespaces that can be given different read and write permissions – and even different designs. The possibility to distribute the content into several wikis, which is not so costly with free software. The administration of group and namespaces is comfortably possible via BlueSpice in the backend.

Page-granular permissions are not initially provided in MediaWiki, but can be realized with the extension AccessControl, for example. Unless a much more intuitive and better solution is found for the users, which is often the case with a little advice.

With BlueSpice, rights are conveniently managed via the backend

“The administration area of Confluence is much easier to understand and use”

This is also history with BlueSpice (see in the online demo)

“For Confluence there’s a plugin to copy files via drag & drop”

Good point. We’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. At Cebit 2013, we plan to present the corresponding BlueSpice module to the public.

“The wiki structure in the form of parent-child relationships between wiki documents can also be adapted easily in Confluence via drag & drop”.

The ability to organize content hierarchically is an important feature for those who maintain the content. But not for users who only read. They type their search term into the search. Studies show that users hardly ever browse at all.

For this reason, and also because there is no other way for large, complex collections, MediaWiki has an extensive hierarchizable category system to enable content maintenance. For manuals and similar content formats, as well as for smaller knowledge stocks, a hierarchical, “chapter-like” order can be helpful. Especially in the beginning, when known document stocks are transferred to the new medium. For this purpose, separate portal pages are simply created in the Wiki. The possibility of creating subpages should also be mentioned, which become important when more detailed additional information has to be stored that does not fit into the main article in terms of content format or structure. But basically, many hierarchical order structures dissolve during the transition to the Wiki.

Using the Bookmaker module, you can easily combine individual articles in a BlueSpice MediaWiki into books by drag&drop and display the hierarchical chapter navigation on the respective pages. There is everything.

The challenges lie more in the basic concept of a wiki and the maintenance of the content, which does not happen automatically even in hierarchical systems. And this is exactly where MediaWiki has developed many features (for example the maintenance pages). These tasks can also be kept under control with BlueSpice extensions such as a workflow tool or page responsibilities.

Hierarchical chapter navigation: combine articles into a book by drag&drop and navigate within the book on every page

Better integration of other applications

This is a big topic and can only be answered here in shorthand.

  • The operation of employee blogs: BlueSpice has an internal blog. For larger blog farms WordPress is the world’s leading and best software. This can be connected to the search of the wiki with BlueSpice, for example. WordPress also opens up many other expansion possibilities in the direction of enterprise social media.
  • Ticket system: Confluence can connect to Jira, also developed by Atlassian. Jira is a very good software just like Confluence. The open source variant is OTRS, which is already used in almost every global company when customer requests have to be organized on a large scale. We also use OTRS – so it’s also a solution for SMBs.
  • SharePoint: MediaWiki and BlueSpice MediaWikis can be connected with the SharePoint Connect module.


In any case, MediaWiki has all the functions that a company wiki needs. With the template system, the maintenance pages, the evaluation options via semantic extensions, MediaWiki even offers customization options that are missing in other solutions.

You have to start from the content, the users and the organizational principles when planning in order to make a sustainable technological decision. This is the case with every type of software and company wikis are no exception. And MediaWiki or Confluence can be the better choice.

Looking into the future is also important:

  • In my opinion, Confluence is very much moving towards a centralized social media suite and increasingly sees itself as an alternative to systems like Jive or SharePoint. MediaWiki is a leader in knowledge management and documentation, especially when it comes to high performance solutions. The lines of development differ.
  • It should also be noted that the free software MediaWiki and BlueSpice prevents a vendor lock-in. While in license models the knowledge assets can only be used as long as the fees are paid, the data remains permanently available in a free (standard) software. The user buys support, maintenance and customization as needed. This also applies to cloud solutions, by the way. Here, the user can take the data and the software home with him at any time and operate it on his own. More on this soon.

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