Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wacky World of Wikis

I just learned about new variants of wikis that have me all excited. The most famous of wikis is the wikipedia. A wiki is basically a website that is updated by its users. There are several wiki sites available. Some are free, others charge a monthly fee. If you have a website, wikis are often available for installation, but require you to know how to set it up on a server and configure settings.

I have great interest in wikis because they make it easier to organize information. You can start a topic and come back to it later if you go off on a tangent. For team collaboration, wikis are a great tool because the pages are editable by anybody on the team as new information becomes available. Therefore, anybody who has access to your wiki has real-time information available. If you have a small team, it's easy to simply call each other. In a large organization, this is very impractical. Emailing everybody is also a time-waster because the person has to sit there and read every single email. Not all emails will be necessary for that person to read; but he or she will have to read it just in case there is something relevant to his or her contribution. A wiki, on the other hand, lets the person read only the information that is relevant.

If a team has individual blogs in addition to a wiki, team leaders are able to get the latest progress reports as they become available. It takes as much effort to type a blog entry as it does to send an email, type of a Word file, or hand write a memo. The main difference is that a blog automatically archives the progress report and eliminates the burden of saving the word file, keeping track of emails, or losing memos. Yes, there is some mirroring between a blog and a wiki. You're wondering where the segue is, I can feel it.

Well, some wikis, like found a way to combine blogging features into their wiki. I use schtuff for the wiki aspect as I already have this blog. I started a wiki for Session80 on schtuff. After having gone through training on the open records act, I learned that anything I use in conducting my job for the state is subject to an open records request. This can get messy and uncomfortable when you combine personal information with work information. Thus, I have my personal wiki as well. I might phase out the Session 80 wiki.

The problem is that I would benefit from the functionality of having a wiki at work. Obviously, installing software on the state servers is out of the question. You can imagine my excitement when I learned that there is a wiki that runs on a thumb drive. That's right, a thumb drive. It's called TiddlyWiki. There is another thumb drive wiki out there, but it doesn't seem as cool. What's awesome about this wiki is that it is basically one file that saves to itself. All the source code is inside the html file. You don't need a server-side backend to run it.

The advantage to such a setup is that it allows you to use any computer with a USB port to update your information. Plug in your drive, do your work, save. and you're done. Another advantage is that you can simply drop the file in a shared folder on the network to have a team wiki without freaking out the network admins. Finally, the greatest advantage is that it facilitates open records requests because you can easily find all the necessary information without opening file after file. Simply use the built-in search function and print all the results. Or, you can simply email the wiki over, copy it to a thumb drive, or burn a CD. It's only 1 text file.

This type of stick wiki makes it so easy to conduct research and organize the information you have gathered. Best of all, your investment is pretty small, the cost of a thumb drive. The alternative would be to have a separate computer dedicated to running a wiki. You don't even need a network connection. Or, you can have your network guys set one up for you. If you're a student, pick up a copy of TiddlyWiki. It will make your life easier for research papers. Oh, and for peace of mind, email yourself a backup on occasion.

** UPDATE **
I found examples of people using TiddlyWiki here.

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