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Archive for September 11th, 2012

WikiNotes is a wiki-based note-sharing platform created to facilitate student collaboration (beware: the site can be slow!). Basically it’s a system that allows students (and others ;-) to publish course notes, questions from examinations, study notes, etc. The current version of WikiNotes is based on the classic MediaWiki-software that also powers the WikiPedia. But a small team of student developers is rewriting the system from scratch. A beta version can be explored at http://beta.wikinotes.ca/ – and its source code is published under the GPLv3 on GitHub.

Why do I mention this project? First of all: I am a Wiki fan ;-)

Secondly, it’s a good example of what a Wiki can be used for: the creation of a public body of knowledge that is fed and maintained by anyone who wants to help. Of course, not all courses are equally well documented, but since a Wiki can be edited anytime that might change rapidly (or never ;-). Not everyone was (is) convinced of the value of such an initiative – users of WikiNotes should be aware of possible copyright issues, to name the most frequently mentioned counter-argument –  but I have found several pleas for a more nuanced approach that can benefit both the students and the University. Check out this editorial from the McGill Tribune for suggestions on how to govern the WikiNotes site.

Thirdly, the new version is being written in Python and created on top of the Django framework. I find it stimulating to see the progress in the development of this application, from a developers prespective.

Last but not least, this Wiki started out as a student initiative – there are clearly smart students at McGill!

At the same time, this project illustrates an essential aspect of any content management project. Before choosing any CMS, or writing your own, you have to analyse your requirements. You have to know what you will be dealing with: what type of “content” (text, image, video, …) about which subjects will you be handling; what metadata do you need for each content type; who is going to handle that content, and what will they be doing exactly; who is the target audience for the content, and what are their expectations; etc. Without clear answers to these and more questions you will never be able to set up a suitable CMS, let alone claim a succesful implementation.

PS. This is why I fear that the brand new Brussels Wiki (‘Wikibru, the wiki of the City of Brussels‘) will be a failure: a wiki needs more justification than the possibility “for people to add something to the site”…

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