I love to wiki…. do you?

It looks like Wolves LUG are thinking about redesigning their website to make it easier to maintain and update, along with re-vitalising their meetings.

There have been suggestions for various CMSs for their site, along with tighter integration with their wiki. I’m going to come out and say it – I love our wiki. I’m really proud of it too. At HantsLUG we moved from a frankly undermaintained static site to a wiki in March 2004, having run the wiki side-by-side with the static site for about a year first. Right from the start LUG members really got behind the wiki, which was hosted on the end of my ADSL line. Within a few months, we had notes from meetings and technical content generated out of discussions on the Mailing List. The wiki became a place for collating opinions and reviews of ISPs, software and the like. Before long an effective structure for the site had evolved. The homepage has links to all the most important stuff and has information about the latest meeting. The other content is divided into “stuff about the LUG”, “stuff about Linux”, “stuff about hampshire” and “stuff about the wiki”. The first two sections have the most content and have evolved to help us manage all aspects of running the LUG.

Some of the content isn’t terribly original but it’s important because it represents the opinions and experiences of people who are likely to be working in the same field and have the same expectations. Everything that is on the wiki has been considered worth documenting by the person who created the page. Once done, that page is then offered up for the world to reference. Because of the ease of editing wikis (OK, there are a few basic syntax commands to learn on the wiki we use) it encourages editing through minimal effort. (Unlike having to edit some HTML or PHP, save the file, upload it via FTP or SCP…)

Only today we’ve had a discusion on small-scale hosting in the UK, which then branched to small-scale hosting abroad, which then followed on to questions about how backup DNS and MX servers work, and then into a debate about the usefulness of backup MX servers. The comments coming out seemed useful and could be difficult to find in the archives in a few months time when the issue crops up again. So I created a new page on the wiki and summarised the thread on it. It took about ten minutes, and most of that was copying and pasting to get the formatting right. Whilst I was doing that, another member got busy and wrote a page giving a brief overview of DNS, umprompted but in response to that same thread. Now that the pages have been created, other people can add and amend comments about the hosting companies they are familiar with, and can help expand the article on DNS too.

Although we have over 50 people who have created a personal page on the wiki, We have about half a dozen active members who admin it. They check changes made for formatting, spelling and spam. Monitoring the wiki is made much easier by the RSS feed. This usually means that changes are checked out within an hour, often less. Any graffiti content is removed quickly. (We don’t get much thanks to some patches to UseMod written by LUG members.)

We have only a handful of pages on the wiki that can’t be edited by anyone. The front page is locked to protect it against spam. (The front page is not only targetted more than the other pages, but because it is the first page new visitors to the site would see, we want it to be presentable at all times. Also, the existing structure of the wiki allows members to create pages at appropriate places elsewhere in the site.) The finance and election pages are locked to prevent people altering the data. If we really felt it necessary, we could make these static HTML pages and link to them, but it’s so easy for the authorised people to edit, set up tables etc. that we haven’t.

The openness of a wiki and the ease which it can be altered has enabled us to respond more rapidly to points raised by newbies or non-members. People mention at meetings that they read about something on the wiki and it solved their problem or post to the mailing list saying that they’ve looked at the wiki and can’t find anything about a particular subject. (This usually results in the creation of a new page within a couple of hours.)

I’m not suggesting that Wolves LUG should do what we have done and replace their site with their wiki. But it’s certainly worth thinking about whether the duplication of effort and management in running effectively two CMSs on different servers it worth it when a powerful, flexible and easy-to-use solution is already to hand.

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