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Would a Wiki Work?

Alliteration is fun!

Okay, we have several applications that we support in our IS department, and most of our people are familiar with these apps and their normal problems.  What we'd like to do is create a central documentation store for those that aren't as familiar with supporting these apps (like me), and for those once in a blue moon problems that we know we've fixed before, but can't remember how we did it.

Yes, I said all of that, so I could ask if you folks think a wiki would be a good choice for this?  Keep in mind that actual budget for this is zero since it adds no directly perceived value to our users (who are doctors, which means they're generally loathe to spend money).

If not a wiki, then what?

Also, in the same vein, does anyone know of a good wiki implementation in Dot Net, or in ColdFusion? Or do I have to roll my own?

Thanks.

Steve Barbour
Monday, May 17, 2004

I have found wikis very hard to integrate into
a corporate environment. The main problem
is they don't work like email or news. They
are a different way of doing things that people
don't wam up to immediately. They have their
own syntax for content formatting.

Adding to the confusion is that wikis do not have explicit page creation, deletion, and renaming.

As to what is the best solution. I don't know.

anonymous
Monday, May 17, 2004

SharePoint is a pretty good solution, but it doesn't meet the "must be free" criteria.

If we're just talking about geeks on an internal network, then a wiki should do the trick. Make sure you understand the way it works and how to set up navigation to make it easy to find stuff once it's put in. You should also look for a wiki implementation that allows you to attach files (a few months ago there wasn't one, but that may have changed)

Philo

Philo
Monday, May 17, 2004

Thanks for the response.

Just to clarify, this would be for the IS department only (currently 8 people), so that we can document things in a way that we can go back and find them when necessary and also be able to access them from anywhere on our network.

Thanks.

Steve Barbour
Monday, May 17, 2004

If they acclimate to the Wiki culture seems like that would work fine.

But why not just a support bulletin board?  Something along the lines of this:  http://wordpress.org/support/

The board I linked is using a GPL'd PHP board system (miniBB), but I'd think there must be lots of freely available implementations in .NET or Cold Fusion.

Herbert Sitz
Monday, May 17, 2004

Yeah, Philo, we looked at Share Point, but then we looked at the price tag and the fact that it is one of the few things that we're not already paying for and decided to give it a pass.

Ideally, we'd like our own version of the MS knowledge base with Google search to find everything.  But, I suspect I'd have to talk to the finance committee to get that one through.

Steve Barbour
Monday, May 17, 2004

there's a thread related to this on slashdot right now.

there are probably KB solutions out there too.

a bug tracker may also work.

i think a wiki/blog or similar would be a good thing. the trick is to get people to put data into it. an archived mailing list works fine too, but the trick is again getting the data right: discussion formats (forums, mail lists) tend to have too much noise.

the reason i say 'blog' is because sometimes the discussion aspect is the impetus to get people to add stuff. easier to say "i did this" than "here is the state of all things"

some slashdot people pointed to tikiwiki  ( http://tikiwiki.org/ ). looks like it can run on IIS + PHP. why do you care if it's asp.net? there are a few out there, but they may not have the features (essential feature to look for: change history)

mb
Monday, May 17, 2004

I did the same thing where I work. I tired of the oral history tradition. I have yet to find a wiki that works out of the box and is easily evolvable. However, I did find one that I am evolving into using objects and a template system. The template system is already done. I added an authentication system which gives edit access over a wiki site (not per page) but since you trust your users this is not a problem. It was easy enough to add the attach a file to a page functionality.  I'm using http://tavi.sourceforge.net/WikkiTikkiTavi and I wish it were less tightly coupled otherwise it's easy to install, does what it says it does.

However, in a group of about 10 only 2 of us use it. You might say that it could be more user friendly yadadaada but it's already pretty darn simple ... personally I think there are people who just prefer oral  history and prefer a "don't you remember, I remember" method of application development.  I think the use of a wiki or any other such tool needs a certain kind of user and without that user no tool will work. As it is, I'm still doing it because I think it's the right thing to do (and it saves me time) ... I'm not a fan of spending my time doing stupid things over and over and over, but I fear I'm often in the minority.

me
Monday, May 17, 2004

> However, in a group of about 10 only 2 of us use it.

To get it used i think you need:
1. fill it with content. This is the most important thing.
Content is a necessary starter for the bootstrap process.
2. make obvious things like how to add a page easy
3. have a good search function
4. do presentations and classes

A good wiki is http://www.jspwiki.org/.

anonymous
Monday, May 17, 2004

mb, I don't have an aversion to PHP, but I already know ColdFusion, and have more than a passing familiarity with ASP.Net, so when the inevitable need for modification comes I won't have to spend the time learning another web programming language.  Then there's the issue of placing PHP alongside the other two.

In other words, if PHP were the only decent choice available, I'd use it, but I'd prefer not to.  I already have enough brain cycles committed to keeping everything else straight.

Steve Barbour
Monday, May 17, 2004

BTW, thanks to everyone for all the contributions so far.  I do appreciate it, especially those of you who have tried to get something like this working before.  The warnings about getting people to actually use the darn thing are especially enlightening.

Steve Barbour
Monday, May 17, 2004

And to repond to my own post once again, I did find an ASP.Net wiki called DotWiki.

I'll try and give it a whack this week and see what falls out.

I found it through DevX here: http://www.devx.com/codemag/Article/20648/0/page/1

Steve Barbour
Monday, May 17, 2004

Hi Steve,

I personally have found Wikis to be invaluable.  They are tough to get people to use though... but as far as organizing thoughts, they are great. 

I don't think the language it is written in matters so much.  Ideally you should not have to modify it for what you are describing.  In any event, here is a link to what I believe is the original wiki with a list of most wiki offerings available in many different platforms:

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiEngines

I am currently playing around with PhpWiki, but finding it a tad slow.  I have used MoinMoin (in python), but that was waay too slow for me (performance wise).

One more suggestion:  Try to keep you content organized on the wiki.  In particular, make the main page easy to navigate, and come up with a standard convention for page layouts.  It will make your life much easier. 

Good Luck,

---Seeker

Seeker
Monday, May 17, 2004


I don' t think a wiki is a good idea at all here.  I've tried to use them in this context and found them slow, clumsy, time-consuming, and a maintenance nightmare - basically, a big waste of time.  Nobody will spend time reorganizing it and it will become a mess that nobody wants to use, even if you can get people to put things on it in the first place, which is iffy by itself.

I think searchable mailing lists are far superior for your needs of "I think we solved that way back when.  What exactly did we do again?"

Robert
Monday, May 17, 2004

To add to what Robert said.  If you don't organize your data, it will die a quick death on a Wiki. 

That being said, if you have a couple of dedicated people, a Wiki is superior for managing content versus a mailing list.  Once your mailing list archive gets too large it can be a nightmare to search through.  I have spent countless hours looking for solutions by searching mailing lists and have found it to be a cumbersome and tedious experience.

---Seeker

Seeker
Monday, May 17, 2004

Right, mail lists are a good start, i use them for projects because the barrier to entry is practically zero.

but most users will just do the oral history thing with them:
"I fixed the problem we had last night by installing that patch you suggested. It works now."

Even if that's at the end of a long thread which has all the relevant info (the problem & suggested solution), you're going to have a devil of a time understanding it.

That's part of why I think people are reluctiant to add data to a wiki: it has to stand on its own, and they know it, and won't spend the effort to do it.

mb
Monday, May 17, 2004

You might want to take a look at FlexWiki -http://www.flexwiki.com - it's a side project put together by some MS folks, so it's naturally based on ASP.Net, and free for use.  It is also the wiki supposedly used by the folks at http://channel9.msdn.com.

Greg Hurlman
Monday, May 17, 2004

I use a Python-based wiki called MoinMoin (http://moin.sf.net/) as a sort of personal knowledge-base.  It is available on the network, and has proven useful to those who work closely with me.  The operations group (responsible for maintaining servers and production apps and stuff) really took to the wiki concept and installed their own.  (They installed MediaWiki: http://mediawiki.org/)

Our group likes to develop internal tools in PHP since it's simple to learn and modify.  I'm looking at using a PHP wiki called "Wikka" that is based on a wiki engine named "wakka". (Yes, that's Wikka-Wakka-Wiki.) The website is http://wikka.jsnx.com/HomePage/

Here's a list of wiki engines that you can try: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiEngines.  A few C# and ColdFusion based wikis are listed.

Even If only a couple of people will be adding to the knowledge-base, I think a wiki can be useful.  I find that when people benefit from your wiki (find useful information) they can feel motivated to add some of their own information even if it's just a text copy-and-paste.

Richard Terry
Monday, May 17, 2004

Whoops.  The period got included that last link.  It should be:

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiEngines

Richard Terry
Monday, May 17, 2004

There's a simple Wiki written with the ColdFusion Mach-II framework.

http://www.corfield.org/index.php?event=machii.downloads

I've played with it.  It works well, but lacks the advanced features of some of the better engines.

I've been debating whether or not a Wiki would fit our needs.

Myron A. Semack
Monday, May 17, 2004

I've been using media wiki for a couple weeks.  And it works.  Adaption rate has been good.  All the developers are using it minus one who thought all the docs should go in source control.  I like the wiki because you can reference external docs from a link in your code, and it has a the touted low publishing threshold.  That is really important for documentation.  You want it to be not only easy, but fun as well. 

Media wiki should take any LAMP admin about 5 minutes to get up and running, and you can evolve it over time.

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

We use a CMS, Plone on Zope.  As well as all the heirarchical document management and publishing control I included a simple bug management tool, also in Zope, IssueTracker.

And yes all that's 'free'.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Well, Philo emailed me to let me know that a version of Sharepoint Services is no charge with Windows 2003 (Philo the sales guys have got to love you), so I'll probably look into that as well.

I did set up a wiki yesterday, which was met by a collective yawn from the rest of the team.  I'm sure Sharepoint will probably garner the same reaction, but I think I'll deploy them both side by side and then give my team their choice of what they would rather use.

As for Plone...well, we have actually looked at it in the past (for other projects), along with the Zope engine, and while it is chock full of features, I found it to be too complex for what we were going to use it for. It probably would work for this though, but it would be like killing gnats with a shotgun.

I am the programmer/dba/general web geek for our entire company.  This is a side project that has grown out of my need to scratch an itch.  So that means that currently there is absolutely zero time in my schedule to actually spend on it.  I need something that I can set up and configure in an afternoon.  Once that is done, then I can get people to use it a little, and probably get it worked into our normal practices. 

It's tough leading from the rear.

Thanks for all the help and advice guys.

Steve Barbour
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

> All the developers are using it minus one who
> thought all the docs should go in source control.

And they should. Usually wikis can use revision control
though. You can make your backend into
your CM system.

son of parnas
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

> It's tough leading from the rear.

Stick with it. Add content. Instead of emailing
put your content in the wiki and email a link
to the wiki instead. Move content over
when you can. Actively summarize email
you do receive and put it in the wiki.
Every question you get turn it into a wiki page.
Every problem you solve turn it into a wiki page.
Hopefully you can find others will do the same.

anonymous
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Well, I think the sharepoint services might get some traction if for no other reason than the task/issues tracking (we currently use a handrolled managerized clone of FogBugz for this).  I'm not sure how well I like the way it handles documents though, but I'll know more in a day or two after I've had more time to play with it.

Good idea about emailing a link in response to questions though.  That will definately help.

Steve Barbour
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A summary can be found at:
http://www.possibility.com/epowiki/Wiki.jsp?page=GettingYourWikiAdopted

anonymous
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

BTW, I do what anon says. I send out answers as links to the wiki. I put emails and documents that get lost on those internal networks in the wiki. It would be better if everyone used a wiki but imho it's good enough even if I'm the only one using it.

me
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Why not a messageboard with mail-in capabilities and a few RSS-feeds. A few subforums for topics and no reg required should do just as well as a wiki, no?

Marc
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

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