Sunday, June 03, 2007

SLA 2007 - Day 1 (Sunday) - CE Course

8:00 - 12:00 : CLICK U LIVE! Organizing your content and collaborating on the web
By Karen Huffman and Cassandra Shieh

This CE workshop focused on how to use wikis to enhance your information collaboration project. We started out with a brief introduction, where everyone stated their names, organizations and favourite places to travel. We then dove immediately into an overview of what wikis are, what they do well, and several examples of prominent wikis, both engines and implementations.

So, why use a wiki? If you have a situation where you have multiple people developing some kind of informational project, be it a manual, a reference material or an event planner, and you'd like to avoid multiple versions of documents being emailed back and forth and back and forth, a wiki is for you. It essentially lets you bring everyone into a common workspace, tracking changes and letting you connect pieces of information dynamically.

How is it different from a blog? Blogs are a single voice, even if they are made up of multiple contributors. That voice is presented chronologically, in weekly, daily, hourly or minutely posts. A wiki, however, is not chronological. True, one can track the changes made over time, but a wiki has a far more complex structure. Its pages, rather than being broken down by units of time, are broken down by units of content. Both tools have their place, and can easily be made to work together.

Can't anybody edit a wiki, thus calling the information therein into question? This is the case only if you want it to be. You can choose, on most wiki engines, what level of permission each kind of user has. The casual web browser can be a read-only viewer, and editors can be assigned by your department. You decide who gets what rights to do what when you set up the wiki. You can make it a free public utility like Wikipedia, or put it on your intranet. Its all up to you.

After the overview, we talked a little about 5 major wiki engines:
  • Confluence - This is properitary software, with a price-tag. This is the wiki package SLA bought.
  • MediaWiki - The software behind Wikipedia. This is what we learned the most about.
  • PBwiki - a hosted solution that quick and easy
  • Socialtext
  • Wetpaint - free, hosted, but ad-supported, and with no user permissions
  • Other can be found and compared at Wiki Matrix

We dove into MediaWiki, working in a sandbox created by Karen (who won a well-deserved SLA award later in the day, btw). This hands on experience was ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL, and exactly what I needed from this course. We created our own pages, used templates to save on repeating content, added extensions, uploaded media files, created tables of contents, and much more. I'd give you the example URL, but its password protected right now. When I get the new disk image for the SquareOne, which will hopefully support MediaWiki, I'm installing it post haste.

We intended to go into Wetpaint next, but ran out of time. I will hopefully have a chance to play with it in the near future.

This has to be the most useful course I've ever taken. Thank you, Karen and Cassandra for a wonderful session. I look forward to using wikis in my future projects (I'm already thinking PBwiki for organizing my wedding).

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