Archive for the ‘Wiki’ Category

Wiki’s are no longer the spearpoint of the ‘social media’ that they were a few years ago. That does not mean they have gone away or, worse, have become irrelevant. It’s good to see that a major player like Ars Technica publishes a nice Mediawiki installation manual: “Web Served 7: Wiki wiki wiki!“.

The rest of the ‘Web served’ series – on how to setup and use a secure webserver – is worth reading as well, if you have little or no experience with the subject.

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JSPWiki is (finally) almost ready to become a first-class citizen in the Apache universe. That’s good news, of course, and it proves that JSPWiki is indeed a stable and worthwhile open source product, that deserves global recognition as such. Of course, an official Apache release of JSPWIki also requires official documentation. The ‘old’ site already had new branches for several releases, and I guess the same approach will be used for the upcoming 2.9 release, albeit in the official Apache infrastructure.

The JSPWiki crew plans a move of the current ‘http://www.jspwiki.org‘ content to the Apache infrastrucure – and what I read about this on the Apache issue tracker is somewhat worrying. Yes, the current content is not really very up to date, but still: it may contain useful information for those of us still running older releases of JSPWiki. There’s the list of not all too official plugins, there are comments all over the place that may be useful – or not, etc.

Rather than throwing everything away, wouldn’t it be possible to keep a read-only copy alive, for example under the name ‘old.jspwiki.org‘ or so?

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The W3C, the standards body that oversees the development of HTML, is starting a Wiki to (hopefully) create a definitive, up-to-date collection of documentation on all the web standards (and more). In the words of Webmonkey: “The W3C has managed to bring together some of the biggest names on the web to help create Web Platform Docs. Representatives from Opera, Adobe, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Nokia will all be lending their expertise to the new site“.

Of course, the really interesting part – for me, that is – is the Wiki that will encompass all those Web Platform Docs. I do wonder how much “non-expert” material will be added to the site – writing documentation is not the same as writing code, as evidenced by the lack of decent documentation in many software projects. Then again, not just developers can (should) add their expertise.

I guess the W3C will be exercising some kind of editorial supervision. To their credit, the creators of the site have clearly indicated how anyone can help, even if you’re unfamiliar with the technologies mentioned – that’s a good idea for any Wiki, by the way.

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Of course, Robert Cringely writes about the snafu with Apple’s iOS6 maps application troubles: “Apple’s Maps is so spectacularly bad it’s inspired its own Internet meme. Funny? You bet“.

But as always, it pays to check your facts before publishing. Even Google Maps knows about the “tiny hamlet in Austria where every street name starts with the F word” – because that hamlet does exist in the real world! Just check the Wikipedia: Fucking, Austria.

Then ask yourself: why does Google Maps call the streets in that hamlet “Hucking” ? Creative spelling indeed!

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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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Choose your own adventure” is a Wiki unlike any I had seen before, but it’s actually a fine example of what a Wiki can be: a tool where multiple authors create content, packaged in linked pages. In fact, it might be an excellent example to teach the basics of a Wiki!

How does it work? It’s simple, and the site explains itself thus: it’s “a wiki that contains stories where the reader assumes the role of the main character. In each page you choose how the story should progress. If you don’t see an option that you would like to pursue, click the edit tab on the top of the page and add a new path to the page. Then you get to write in your own adventure for the character…”

There is no guarantee as to the quality of the stories of course; you’ll have to explore them and assess that aspect for yourself. At the same time, you’ll experience what a Wiki is all about. Enjoy!

PS. For a dutch version of this post, see the innologos website

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The Wiki Core

On Tuesday, Bruno and I repeated our workshop “Getting Started with Wikis“. Have we failed in our mission if one of the participants decides that a Wiki is not the solution for his specific problem? Of course not. Wikis are tools, not a magic wand to solve all your problems in one fell swoop. If I had  to summarize the core of Wikis in two words, then those words would be “co-authorship” and “interlinking”.

  • Co-authorship” refers to the fact that Wikis are designed to support collaboration and co-writing or co-creation. Anyone can complement and improve the existing content in a Wiki, and thus adds value by ensuring higher accuracy and completeness of the contents.
  • Interlinking” is my word to describe how easily Wiki hypertext links can be established between the different WikiWords or pages in the Wiki, or even towards URLs outside the Wiki. CamelCase and InterWikiLinks are powerful tools for fast and accurate building of links.

If these characteristics are not essential to solve your problem, then a Wiki might help – or not (it could even be counterproductive). If that is what you learned during our workshop, then you did not waste your time!

PS. For a dutch version of this post, see the innologos website

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