Why is it so hard to find an appropriate wiki?
Good question… I’m not sure I can answer that on my own. I’ll admit that I have a set of features that I’m not willing to do without. There’s also a general lack of consistency across wiki tools, which make it hard to compare.
I have actually become a HUGE wiki user in the last year or so, tracking all sorts of projects and investigations on a wiki. Some are on my private wiki, that only I (and a few sys admins!) can see. Some have been posted to one of my group wikis, so my colleagues can possibly benefit from the things I’ve discovered. (FYI: I’m currently using a wiki tool called Confluence, which is a fairly "techie" wiki tool, and may or may not be exactly what we need for our wider University community).
What is a wiki?
At its core, a wiki is a collaborative document. Users can all edit the document, and work on it together. Their changes are tracked, so that the different versions of the document can be compared. At the end, there can be a cohesive product document that everyone worked on, without having to be in the same room together!
What can a wiki be?
Another good question. I think we’re still working on this one. It can be a collection of documents that track the progress of a project — or, the documents could BE the project. Wikis are great for evolving projects, where the information needs to be updated at different times, by different people involved. Wikis are great for growing concepts from different viewpoints. In education, wikis are often used for groupwork, for the development of the class materials by various instructors & assistants, for research projects, etc.
What features are important in a wiki?
Here are some of the things that I’m looking for:
- Page hierarchy, so people can build a navigable collection of wiki documents. Since wiki pages aren’t physical, there doesn’t need to be a strict folder structure — just a nice user interface that allows the user to contextualize what they’re doing.
- Easy to understand navigation of the content you’ve built!! I like tree structures and breadcrumbs (the list of links at the top of the page that link back to the outer layers of sections — you know, like an onion, and therefore Shrek), but they aren’t the only way to go.
- The ability to easily embed various media types: quicktime movies, windows media, flash, audio files, youtube clips, etc.
- An easy to use rich-text editor for editing text and embedding things (links, attachments, media, images, etc.) AS WELL as the ability to edit the code (not sure if I require wiki markup, or if I’m OK with HTML — the concept of HTML code for a wiki baffles me a little, but I think I can be cool with it).
- The ability for a wiki administrator (not just the system administrator) to manage who has access to the wiki, and to what extent. Is it totally closed to the public? Is it viewable by the public, but only editable by a select group of users? That choice is important!
- The ability for us to host our own server, mostly due to confidentiality issues, but also so that we can have things like authentication using our current my.ryerson accounts and the possibility of creating enrollment-based groups.
- Auto-saving of documents while a user is working on them. I don’t know how many times I’ve been working on something, just to be kicked out of a system when I click the Submit button and having to re-do EVERYTHING because there was no auto-save.
- An easy way for users to link to: other pages in the wiki, webpages, users’ email addresses, etc.
- Change tracking and version comparison.
The key thing, for ALL of these features is that they need to be EASY to use, and ‘not too techie’.
So, tell me… are these the same things you look for in a wiki? I’m not even sure anyone reads my posts, since I’ve never gotten a reply to my questions sent through the ether. Just like with the blog investigation, input is always welcome – whether you agree with my wish list or not!!