Sunday, October 22, 2006

Wikis: Basics, Tools, & Strategies by Meredith Farkas

According to Meredith Farkas, the word "wiki" comes from the Hawaiian word meaning "quick." In the mid-1990s, Ward Cunningham and the Portland Pattern Repository created the first wiki software as a quick and easy content management system for collaborative projects. Of course, the biggest and most famous collaboration to date is the Wikipedia, but Meredith highlighted many other large and small efforts in her Internet Librarian 2006 preconference program Wikis: Basics, Tools, & Strategies.

Conference wikis, fan wikis, wikis as library staff intranets, wikis as library websites, wikis to manage short term projects, wikis for professional organizations, wikis for community information networks, and wikis as courseware figured in Meredith's presentation. Access to viewing wikis may be public or restricted. Access to editing can also be public or restricted. She showed many samples in the process of showing how wikis are set up and managed. She also managed to show samples created with several of the current software packages, many of which are free.

After deciding why a wiki is needed (never start one just to be cool), one of the most important decisions is what software to use. Meredith pointed us to WikiMatrix, which compares software. In general, she said that it is better to download software onto your own server if possible, so you will have more control, but it is possible to use wikis that are hosted by the software companies as well. MediaWiki and PmWiki are the downloadable software we most discussed, while hosted software included PBWiki and WetPaint.

A new trend is toward wikis that are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). This means that the wiki looks much like a word processor and the users do not have to know much syntax, such as using special characters for highlighting and linking.

When choosing software, you should consider these issues:

  • Programming language (a server issue)
  • Ease of installation
  • Security
  • Permissions
  • Spam prevention
  • Ease of use
  • Cost
  • Version control
  • Syntax
  • Ability to hold discussions
  • RSS feeds
  • Ability to change looks
  • Availability of extentions
  • Prospects for development and support from the software company

When you set up a wiki, be sure to create a beginning structure and seed it with content. Many wiki volunteers are leery of adding to blank pages, so it helps to have content started. To help the wiki's audience, have documentation and instructional material ready.

Of the many wikis shown during the preconference, these were my favorites:

RocWiki (community information in Rochester, New York)

St. Joseph County Public Library Subject Guides

University of South Carolina Aiken Library website

Princeton Public Library's summer reading program Book Lovers Wiki

Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki

The possibilities are many, and wikis can be easy to set up. I could now do one tonight!


There was much more to this presentation. The slides will be available on the Internet Librarian 2006 website several weeks after the conference.

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