Falling in love with wikis again

Ryan Weal

June 08, 2008

From time to time I have taken on technical documentation projects and enjoyed one particular stint where I had to use a Wiki to do so. It has been far too long. Recently I installed a wiki on my server as a makeshift document sharing system.

The setup was relatively easy, I checked out a few websites, figured out the easiest, most debian of ways to do this. Kwiki was my answer. I checked the features: minimal. This is software zen. Add what you want, or take nothing more.

What's less is more

Years ago I became really excited by the wiki concept, utilized it to do a few specific work-related tasks and moved on. Using it as a document management system is a creative person's delight. Whenever you need a page, JoinWords with capital letters and it's there. You also get a save button, edit button, and rudimentary formatting. What could be simpler than this?

A large part of the creative process is simply getting information on to paper before you move on to something else. If you can cut down on reformatting documentation over and over again it makes much more sense to use a wiki.

Consider what happens when you use a Word document to manage this process. You are writing a manual for a machine. Do you start with turning the machine on if most people are not responsible for powering up the engine? How do you decide where this content best fits in the documentation? You really don't know, it's a small bit of information that is basically filler text with a logical flow of events.

That content goes in a place that is relative to the document structure. In a product like Word, or OpenOffice you have to configure placeholders for titles and this and that, copy things here and there, update the table of contents, perhaps split the entire document into two at some point. Copy additional data, rebuild menus, rebuild the other things, rebuild rebuild rebuild. Also consider that Word is not a particularly fun product to use these days if the formatting gets messed up.

The wiki has very simple for formatting. If you need to branch off somewhere for technical users or people in a hurry you can instantly hyperlink out of a document without overwhelming people with technical details they may not need to know. Often I find as I browse through that sub-headings are often not necessary as you are better off rearranging the content than getting that deep with the information. For people developing a company website for the first time a wiki would be an interesting way to go.

Do you want a wiki? I can set you up with one if you like. If you do go with another host keep in mind what country it is hosted in because your content will be subject to those laws.