Re: Getting started with wiki?

Subject: Re: Getting started with wiki?
From: "Simon North" <Simon -dot- North -at- quintiq -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 15 Feb 2006 22:41:34 +0100


I'm a bit busy right now, so I will have to give you the short answer
first and promise to give you the long answer later.

I work in a small company (was 50 people when I joined) that had a
verbal, consulation culture. They had/have very little written down.
They are growing fast (90+ people, offices in 4 countries including the
USA). I had very little legacy information to work with when writing
documentation so putting a wiki in place seemed a natural step, and a
first step towards knowledge management. I tried an initial impulse by
putting a document retrieval system in place (using Owl), but that got
pretty much "killed off by committee" when they decided that they wanted
to establish a set of requirements and then look for a suitable package.
(Lesson 1, a good wiki introduction is a grass roots affair, don't wait
for the suits to approve it or it simpky won't happen.)

I held off introducing a wiki because I felt it was doomed to meet the
same fate (I ran one locally on my laptop) ... until someone from
another department expressed interest (he had twiki running on his
laptop) and I decided the time had come. There are some difficult
initial stages to overcome (choosing the wiki engine in the first place
is hard enough - I chose dokuwiki because it has a very low threshold
for use and is very easy to configure).

Once I had it up and running, I started evangelising it. Pure and
simple, go round and preach. Show people how easy it is and look for
converts. It's essential to get other people on board or it will die. I
then started porting existing documentation to the wiki. This is a major
pain, and I have had to write/hack/mangle a lot of code myself to get it
going. (I have some Perl scripts (I compiled them into Windows
executables to make them more portable), some XSLT stylesheets and some
WordBasic code I'd be happy to share ... ) and dokuwiki proved itself to
be a good choice as you can simply dump files the server directories
rather than adding files individually through the user interface.

So far the wiki has been running for about 2 months. It's too early to
decide whether it is really a success, but we are certainly moving in
the right direction. I have about 10 committed, regular users, and about
5 new topics are added every day. A lot of the documentation is now in
the wiki and I am really starting to get useful input. More importantly,
a lot of other departments (R&D, test, QA) have started their own 'tips
and tricks' sections and the information in these will almost certainly
be worth all the effort on their own.

One problem I have yet to address is how to get stuff out again. If a
wiki is going to become an island of information (which wikis are
supposed to avoid), then it's just another new format and maintenance
nightmare that I really don't need. (A lot of my source is C++ code
which we convert into XML. I then process the XML using XSLT into
RoboHelp and in parallel into dokuwiki syntax.) There is PHP and other
code for converting single pages to HTML, but I need it to work on
complete directories (namespaces) as I have several hundreds of files to
move at a time. I am still working on this.

I hope this at least gives you some idea.

Simon North.

Simon North, Technical Writer.
Quintiq Application Software BV
's Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands
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of a pin. And, ... a 500-page instruction manual would be required
to explain to its owner how to open the door.

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