Wiki thoughts

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As long time readers may know, I’ve occasionally raised the spectre of adding a wiki to this website. Every few months I would look around at what was available, check out and install the famous ones like Mediawiki, as well as the smaller and less well known packages.

Sometimes the installations would go well, and sometimes they would fail miserably. I love Python as a programming language, but it seems to be allergic to my web hosting environment. The instructions for installation were always very complicated and include, I swear, the IT equivalent to “eye of newt.” Java was out because I’m not an active programmer in that language and don’t want to become one in my spare time. So it always comes back to PHP and that’s fine, because WordPress is written in PHP as well as some of the custom code for the site.

Dokuwiki logo

In my explorations, I also got a lot of strong opinions and advice from people. The most recent advice came from Dave Ing (also of IBM) who really encouraged me to look at Dokuwiki because it has good access control, is written in PHP, and allows insertion of HTML and PHP in wiki pages. It was great information to get (Dave really knows his stuff). Dokuwiki uses plain files rather than a database like MySQL, and this makes it much easier to have a local and a web hosted version. It extendable via style templates and many, many plugins. In short, it’s really very cool.

The style templates vary from the very basic, spare, and simple ones to those like Monobook, which emulates Mediawiki, which are very sophisticated. Last weekend I set out to transform one of the templates to something that looked like my website. In about 90 minutes I got about 80% there, with a few formatting glitches to be worked out. I even got the left sidebar working with my site-wide collection of links.

While it looked like a wiki within my site, I wasn’t that thrilled. Part of the problem is that while I have tweaked the style and placement of items on my site, I’m bored with the look after four and one-half years. It’s not bad, but it’s not fresh to me. The style was heavily customized so I can’t easily put in a new one. It’s also not modern in terms of CSS organization or support for WordPress widgets.

On the other hand, after exposure to wikis for a few years, I have a preference for how wikis should look. So I restarted with the wiki style and just made some tweaks to include my site disclaimer, some links, the Mint tracking code, and the Google Analytics script. I also changed a few colors to make it vaguely reminiscent of the main site. This is what it looks like:

Wiki screen shot

It’s rough and it’s not permanent. The link to it, for the moment, is this.

I have a new strategy.

What I plan to do over time is to find a new, modern WordPress template that I really like. There are already several candidates. Then I’ll pick one of the Dokuwiki templates with good CSS design (like Dokubook) and move them both a bit toward something common. The Dokubook template will move more than the WordPress one. I’ll use common CSS and PHP includes wherever possible.

The remaining problem is what to do with site content that is not in either the blog or wiki. I’ve already moved some pages such as recommended open source readings into WordPress and they also look just fine in the wiki. My preference is to use the wiki for things that are not blog posts. In the long run I plan to redo the family photo album, so I’ll worry about that later.

Of course, if WordPress just incorporated first class wiki support then my life would be much easier.


3 Comments

  1. Ugh! Bob watch the top vid here: http://mindtouch.com/Demo then read this: http://mindtouch.com/Technology download open source here: http://Mindtouch.com/Community and look at some killer samples here in wild here: http://developer.mozilla.org , here: http://whorunsgov.com (Washington Post) here: http://wiki.songbirdnest.com/Developer and even here: http://www.shelfari.com (amazon)

  2. The Wiki we started some weeks ago (third one that I set up in a third domain of mine) is valuable, but a Wiki is useful so long as it actually has a clear goal and outside contributors.

    Wikemedia works better than anything I’ve tried in the past because it’s very simple yet feature rich.

    > Of course, if WordPress just incorporated first class wiki support then my life would be much easier.

    A form of microblogging or notetaking is handy too. Think of it as a journal where you can find links and thoughts.

  3. Did you take a look at EditMe? If you’re a programmer, EditMe offers a fully embedded development environment using server-side JavaScript (a language that is really a pleasure to use once you get it out of the browser) and an XML-based template system. You can do some pretty cool stuff with it.

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