I am a wikiholic

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Contents

Preface

I am a wikiholic. I am addicted to wikis. You know why? They help me develop my mind. In medieval times, internet pages were build by someone who knew™ and addressed to novices. An expert, say for the KDE desktop environment, sat down and thought about what could be interesting for newcomers. Then he wrote it. Wrong way, I say. An expert is not good in teaching. Someone who just learned is good in teaching. Being in export mode prevents you from remembering all the quirks. When I started with Linux, I had big problems getting software to compile. Then I found out that you are better off if you use your distribution's methods of installing software. A classical expert does not even recall this. Of course, I wrote it down. Now this description is available to all the world, not just me. And it can even be improved by other people. So, what do we have so far:

  • wikis allow people to share knowledge
  • wikis allow people to improve each other's content
  • wikis improve quality of documentation for beginners (if handled correctly)

But the most important point of all is the availability and ease of use. I wrote a tutorial about Installing Linux on a USB disk. I can access it anywhere I have internet. At the beginning, there were glitches in the article that I stumbled upon. Everytime when I did, I corrected the article. This availability of write access is the biggest advantage in my eyes. My wiki is like a giant notepad that I can read/write access anywhere I have internet. wikipedia is like a giant notepad of all people. If I cannot remember how I get the ™ sign onto html pages, I note it down on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_XML_and_HTML_character_entity_references#Character_entity_references_in_HTML. If someone already has, even better.

Comparison

In my long life, I have started with a static web page. It was a great fun these days because nobody had one. I could describe me a bit and tell about my hobbies there. That is great for everyone who is interested in my favorite color. But it is missing the good old effect that we Germans call "the appetite comes while eating". The english call it "to get into the flow". You made the page - you have it - you hate it - you have other things to do than changing it. It is for the world but people tend to be selfish and stop working if nothing comes back. No flow, no appetite in this.

So I decided to publish my tutorials on my web page. I am forgetful (as everyone is) and I keep forgetting if I activate host-based mirroring with

mdadm --assemble --config /blah/mdadm.conf /dev/md0

or

vgchange -a y blahvg

And, frankly, I do not care. Just give me my tutorial, it is written there. This is the "flow" I get into: I have an advantage from my own webpage - let me improve it, and I will benefit from it.

My decision was to go for phpnuke as content management system. It allows two users to work over the web on one document. This is a big advantage and would have been enough for me. What a luck upgrading phpnuke rendered it so buggy that I decided I needed something different.

I went for mediawiki, and this is the solution I stayed with. It also allows web-based editing and collaborative article editing. But it goes one step further that makes it enterprise-ready: version control. phpnuke is fine for personal home pages where one person has total control over an article. But if you are using it over years with hundreds of potential authors, you get into trouble. Someone deletes the content. Someone makes a change and the original author does not feel okay with it. With version control, you can revise who made what changes why. You can revert vandalism. You can ask the actual person who did a change "why did you do this?". And you can even leave a comment what you changed and why. If you can not do this, I would not call a content management system "collaborative".

So here is the evolution of content management:

  • static web pages - every website owner can publish his favorite colors
  • phpnuke/typo3 like content management systems - you can work web-based on articles
  • wikis like mediawiki - you can work collaboratively

Wikis are also often contrasted with blogs. Blogs are clever as long as nobody else can contribute content to your topic ("today I ate marmelade" is ideal for being blogged). The comment functionality of today's blogging systems is even superior to that of a wiki.

Companies

By using the wiki-as-a-notepad paradigm, you can boost your productivity like hell. Companies that are smart enough to provide their employees with wikis get a collaboration platform producing knowledge that stays even if the contributors leave the company. Several people together can write an article that is better than each individual's would have been. Want to share your knowledge? The answer in old days was "Write a whitepaper and get it published in the world wide web". Takes two months at least. And afterwards, you are annoyed because a little addition came to your mind that is not in the whitepaper and will never be. With a wiki, you can just spread your knowledge and move on to your next project.

Downsides