Since last summer, i've been wrestling with the same thoughts on the Wiki: What can i use this for?
A Wiki is simply a website that's pages can be added to or edited by anyone. Anyone with the right permissions that is. The best known example of this is Wikipedia, and it sets the ideal standard for all to follow in that it is truely open.
For folks like you and me though, building such a site is most likely out of the question, leaving me still wondering what exactly I could use a Wiki for, and what would i need in order to work with one.
Follow the title link for the full post.
Lee at Headshift got me thinking about this again early this year with his excellent Blogs are not the only fruit essay. Since then, apart from the continuous thoughts on how to actually use one for commercial purposes, i've been doing a little reading when time permits.
The overwhelming problem i see with Wiki's is that they are simply to tough for John Q to use - the whole point, for me at least, of using a Wiki for something would be to have users create some kind of resource that benefit other users and be monetized with adsense or similar programs. It's no damn good if people can't use it though is it? The big issue is the interface, not the markup. WYSIWYG style interfaces are very intimidating to my mind, far more so than having to learn a few markup rules, and all those tabs! "edit" "previous versions" - it just leaves me confused and not knowing what to do, what does a less web savvy user feel when confronted with that?
I spoke briefly with Elizabeth Albrycht in email this morning as i'd commented on something she's written on Wiki's and she recommended taking a look at Kwiki, but the url's immediately put me off. So, i set about looking for a decent list of software - im embarassed to say that Wikipedia was the last place i looked heh.. They, unsurprisingly, have a great list of Wiki software including a large list of PHP based ones. I guess there's nothing to do but slowly work my way through the list and try them all out.
Wiki software wishlist
Essentially, i'd want the following features:
- Good clean urls
- Robust permissions
- Support for groups and group level permissions
- Solid templating engine, preferable Smarty
- Dumbed down! It needs to be seriously simple in it's interface, or at worst, easily made so via templates
- Solid support community
After choosing software, what next?
And therein lies the problem. Conceivably you could use one for many, many things, but finding a use has to be balanced with monetization - so it's no small task to come up with a practical application for a Wiki, on a subject that users will want to contribute too.
Shared, colloborative knowledge is surely the key, and i think something like the World 66 Travel Wiki is a great idea. It also has a lovely simple look to it, but unfortunately it's running on Zope which requires root access to the host so that kills that idea.
Areas I've thought about might include:
- Hobbies and interests (think collectors..)
- Resource gathering and definitions on themes
Next, what problems would I face?
Unfortunately, the list undoubtably would be high. Assuming I could find some software that met my wishlist, and come up with a viable idea, (no small tasks in themselves) what kind of pitfalls would i face and what level of maintenance would be required?
I think initially, it's simply a matter of whether users "get it", but by having a team of people working furiously on content at the start of such a project, most barriers of that nature can be overcome eventually with a little user interaction and by simple usability testing.
The real worry comes with abuse, and misuse. Im not sure if these could be overcome, not by a one man band at any rate. Perhaps developing a strong core of users that had permissions within their niche areas of the site, and were helped, and could help eachother, to educate and police other users it might work out - for the larger part of Wikipedia, although they do have problems, i'd say it's possible but a LOT of work.
Question is, is it worth all that effort? Sure you can roll back to a previous version of a page, but do you want to be doing that 30 times a day as people mess around with your system?
Im not convinced, but i want to be convinced of the value of the Wiki for someone like me. I think there's enormous potential there and im going to continue to read and learn and test, as there has to be a good use for this stuff in a small commercial environment. Ive just not worked it out yet is all.
If you're interested in Wiki's, I've gathered up a few links on the subject, please add to them in the comments aswell as add your thoughts on how, if at all, this stuff could be used by ordinary webmasters with modest budgets:
- Blogs are not the only fruit
- Audio: Joe Kraus at web 2.0 of JotSpot
- Using a Wiki for Documentation and Collaborative Authoring
- Operation of a Large Scale,
General Purpose Wiki Website
- Power To The People - The Rise Of Social Publishing
Publication Date: 06-FEB-04
- Quickiwiki, Swiki, Twiki, Zwiki and the Plone Wars Wiki as a PIM and Collaborative Content Tool
- Enter the World of the "Wiki"
- Wicked (Good) Wikis
- Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not
- Why do Wiki RSS Feeds Suck?
If you have links, thoughts or general comments on how Wiki's might be used, please tell us!