Static sites are better in all but two ways

Eurostar terminal, Brussels-South

· MediaWiki · hosting · archiving ·

Running your own wiki web server is great: it's cheap, gives you lots of control over the software you run and how it stores data, and pretty much makes you completely independent of how the big platforms think you should manage your stuff. The big drawback is that if you're doing it on your own then it's not a very resilient way of doing things: if you stop paying the bills, don't keep the software up to date, or poke around with a bit too much enthusiasm then things might break and your websites might go offline, never to be seen again.

So I want to make sure sites that I host are safe from those things. Mainly I do this by giving data dumps to various people (if the dumps contain sensitive information), and putting them on the Internet Archive (where they don't). Is that enough? If I found a reference to a site that was interesting, and all that was left of it was a MediaWiki XML page dump and zip file of uploaded files, would that be enough to get it back online? I think it probably would be (with the usual caveats of it not containing any user account info), and I guess I trust the WMF and the MediaWiki community to not lose track of the importance of maintaining the backwards compatibility of the XML. Of course, the wikitext used might contain things that require certain extensions, but that's probably okay. So perhaps this is a sufficient protection against future failure.

The main alternative seems to be Markdown in a Git repository, and that does have a lot of charm of resilience, simplicity, and portability. The main troubles are that it's hard to store large files and that the editing experience is pretty poor. The latter can be overlooked if a site has a dedicated nerdy editor who can help other people (and that's a good thing for sites to have), but the file storage issue can't.

It's possible to divvy up your files to Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, Internet Archive, imgur, etc. but it starts to get messy with not having everything together in one place, and there are still things that don't really belong on those other sites (for example, where would you put photos taken in the 1970s by someone you have no way of getting copyright release from?).

So I think sticking to MediaWiki on a VPS is the best way to go for now, because editing is so quick and easy and all the other issues are solved. It's just a matter of making sure the backups and dumps (those are different things, remember) are safe and distributed as much as they can be. Which does feel like a worry.