Monday, March 27, 2006

Wiki's at Work

Talk:MediaWiki extensions - Meta

After reading a couple of great articles in Linux Journal about wiki's, I decided to try installing and comparing twiki and mediawiki.

Twiki was easier to install only because of the article in Linux Journal and the simplicity behind the project.  Twiki uses php to create the wiki files onto disk.  If you want a down and dirty wiki, this is the one I would suggest.

Mediawiki was more complicated but the support pages made the process seem really easy.  Mediawiki uses a Mysql backend to dynamically create and store pages when requested.  My first reaction was concern for making semi-static pages dynamic but then you can easily see that Wikipedia has no problems scaling the software to levels I would never reach.

I did end up with only one unresolved issue with Mediawiki.  I can't seem to get the LaTeX piece to work even after installing mediawiki-math.   The documentation for this seems to be lacking but since the documentation was in  wiki format, I was able to at least muddy the waters so that maybe someone else will make the documentation more clear.

The reason I was so excited about wiki's is that I came from a department at work that laid out a beautiful Policy and Procedure manual.  It was some 150 pages with each page only a couple paragraphs.  This P&P was used as a guide for evaluating new issues that would arise.  If someone wanted to know if we allowed sick time for a sick dog, you would check the Policy and Procedure guide and it would say that you could call in sick when a family member was sick.  Now you would just have to debate whether or not a dog was considered a family memeber.  What a silly example.

Now I am working in a department that badly needs documentation for policies and things like server installations.   A policy manual about work conduct may not be wiki material but there are a number of internal IT policies that are decided amoung ourselves.  Now I have to memorize that our internal policy for DNS maintenance for the sister hospital that we work with is to add the A record to the FQDN tree under our domain and create a CNAME record for just the server name under our domain.  We have lots of guidelines and flexible rules that tell us how to set up a Windows 2003 server, but these rules are not necessarily communicated to all members of our team.

I have seen a number of wiki's attempted by internet communities, most of which failed.  Probably the biggest reason being is that an empty wiki is no fun to add to, it is more fun to modify and grow something that already has some momentum. had the same default wiki homepage for months.

I would like to seed my wiki with a scattering of Microsoft Word documents.  Here is Mediawiki's page on extensions.  The only method that seems to work is to use a macro to convert Word formating into mediawiki markup and then to copy and paste into a page.  Since I might have 20-50 documents, this doesn't seem feasible.

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