Wisdom in wiki production/Starting to use wikis
Even though the internet was open for everyone from the very beginning and has provided all users with the possibility of making their own pages, content production and publishing in the internet may still be new for many people. This is because of the fact that in the early days of internet, content production required much more complicated skills than wikis, blogs and many social media production tools do today; therefore, the number of content producers was smaller. With the tools available currently, it is easy for anyone to start producing web contents.
Wiki contents differ from other web contents radically in how they can be commonly edited. Wikis, even single wiki pages, are not expected to be produced by any one person alone; one wiki and one wiki text will have several writers. The production of up-to-date and reliable wiki contents requires that users dare edit and continue texts originated by others. Reaching out to add and correct text requires learning for some people; at first, it may feel similar to interrupting other people as they speak.
How do you create a wiki for your own use? How do you learn new ways of working? How do you get started? This section explains what the process requires, which we hope will lower barriers for people and help them start with wikis. Practice makes perfect.
- 1 Lowering barriers for starting with wikis
- 2 Creating and introducing a wiki into use
- 3 Easy-to-use free-of-charge wiki platforms
- 4 Where to find help for the selection of a wiki platform?
- 5 References
Lowering barriers for starting with wikis
Daring to edit text might be the first barrier over which one must step. The first editing session might awaken many questions and even minor matters might trouble the new editor — can I edit (e.g. the Wikipedia markup language may seem difficult), do I dare edit someone else's text — what gives me the right to think my text any better? One should proceed boldly, adding and editing text, as this is precisely the point of wikis. As put it: "Wikibooks will not work if the readers don't have the courage to edit the contents." This is valid for wikis in general as well. We will present certain points of view and observations which we hope will lower some barriers relating to the use of wikis.
Entice to try
The barrier in relation to writing often lowers itself when a person tries wiki writing — even once. If the particular wiki is in the use of an organization or some other limited group, then wiki presentations and training sessions are a good help. The future wiki writers can be instructed to add easy-to-update contents such as their own contact information in the contacts section or on their personal page, if any.
If the technical aspects of editing worry one, most wikis provide sandboxes where editing can be freely practiced. Sandboxes are areas that will have their contents deleted. Elsewhere in wikis, edits remain in the version history unless they are specifically deleted. You can practice editing Wikipedia on the Wikipedia sandbox page. Wikibooks also has a sandbox.
Restoring previous versions is easy
If you are worried about destroying a wiki with your edits, we can comfort you by telling you that restoring old versions of pages is easy in wikis even if you did manage to cause something to go amiss. The history sections on wiki pages list the previous versions, and restoring them is rather easy even for first-timers. Please see e.g. Wikipedia's instructions for the use of the Wikipedia history pages.
Accepting incompleteness and drawing strength from common action
Many of us have an ingrained belief that whatever is published must be polished to the highest degree. In dealing with wikis and social media in general, this idea should be set aside, however difficult it might be to do so. It might work to try and think of it the other way round: if you only produce incomplete thoughts one day, you may continue with them the next day. Someone else might be sparked to edit your writing — leaving you with less work, because the work is shared by more writers. This way also provides room for more points of view. If you do not like someone's edits to your text, you can edit it further yourself. There may never be a final output, but with many editors, the text will have a better chance of staying current. However, instead of leaving a content under construction, you'd better build it in a minimalist form. A content can be small, complete and extendable. Maybe the content will not be changed for a long time.
Wiki writers' and users' instructions
If you start to collaborate on a wiki and there are several people in your group who have never used a wiki, it is appropriate to draft instructions. The case is similar if the wiki you are planning will be used by people who are unfamiliar with wikis. Your instructions should be as clear and thorough as possible. In user instructions, one picture is often worth many words. Instructions can easily be designed in the wiki format to form a part of the wiki.
There is no point in over-specifying with wiki instructions: the idea is to help everyone aboard, but the practices and ways to use wikis are created through actual use. If instructions and practices grow apart, it is difficult for new writers to start. It is better to let instructions reflect practices than to try to specify practices through instructions. This does naturally not refer to instructions on how to create links, add pictures and other technical issues.
At times, it may be necessary to organize sessions to go through instructions together so that all users understand what items are included in which sections and how wikis are used for information acquisition. Users can be trained in the use of their wiki particularly in the case that the use requires that they master a typical wiki markup language (wiki syntax).
Creating and introducing a wiki into use
When selecting a wiki application, it is a good idea to review what wikis are about. Wikis are a means to publish collaborative works in the web quickly and easily. The selection of the tool is facilitated if you make clear the goals and requirements that you need to set for your publishing operations. Otherwise you will run the danger of becoming lost in a multitude of features and options. In your mind, answer the questions "Who will produce, which contents, for whom, and why?"
After this is clear, you should familiarize yourself with various wiki applications by trying them out. Experimentation helps learn the basic tasks even though there are, of course, differences among the different wiki platforms. In the very first phase, it might not be the best approach to immediately install a wiki platform for the use of your organization. Various free-of-charge wikis may be the better solution for showing the possibilities provided by wikis. They will enable you to create your own wiki in no time, and they make it easy to learn about wikis. The wiki platform installation can be considered later when the requirements concerning the wiki are clearer or if there is a specific reason why your wiki should be installed to run on the company server. It is a point worth noting that many groupwork platforms and intranet applications include certain core features typical to wikis, and these applications may suffice without any wiki added.
Easy-to-use free-of-charge wiki platforms
Several easy-to-use free-of-charge wiki platforms are available when you want to start experimenting with wikis. These are some easy ones to start with:
- Wikispaces can be introduced free of charge and it is relatively easy to use. A Wikispaces wiki can be restricted to the use of a certain user or user group. For use in education, this wiki comes without advertisements.
- Jottit is probably the simplest wiki platform. There is nothing extra and the features are not many.
- Wetpaint is also a wiki platform that is very easy to use, and a good one to start from.
- PBWorks (used to be called pbwiki) is a free wiki service for private individuals, companies and educational institutions. For use in education, this wiki comes without advertisements.
To find the right wiki platform, assess its usefulness from the point of view of your community or need. The easiest way to learn about a certain wiki platform is to google its name and find any wiki that uses the platform, no matter what subject matter, then read a few pages studying how you move from one page to another and how various items are organised on the pages. Then edit a page — find the "edit" button. Be brave, there will be no damage done. The edit page that you will see will be the one that is the most essential for the comfortable use of the wiki — it contains the buttons, instructions and text editor. Considering the future users you are dealing with, does this page have too many or too few buttons and features? When you have seen what you needed to see, exit the page using your browser's back-arrow, or by jumping to some other page without saving your changes. An edit that was not saved is not an edit at all, so the wiki you were viewing will remain as it was.
The tools section of LeMill, a wiki-type web community for finding, authoring and sharing learning resources, is a good place to search for information of various wiki platforms. You can also add information there concerning other services and platforms. LeMill as a platform is available for installation, because it is open source and licensed under the GLP2.
If you face the need to introduce a wiki platform for your organization, it will pay off to study the alternatives available for installation and consider the introduction and roll-out of wikis with care.
Where to find help for the selection of a wiki platform?
You can always ask about different wikis from their users; the Finnish Sometu network is a good place to ask other users about their experiences with wikis in education.