Re: Wiki as a documentation delivery system

Subject: Re: Wiki as a documentation delivery system
From: "Simon North" <Simon -dot- North -at- quintiq -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2006 13:54:03 +0200

I work for a software development company where word-of-mouth
information exchange is/was not just the
usual state of affairs, it was/is company policy. Coming into the
company to bring order to the documentation,
it bothered me that there was so little legacy information to work
with. A lack of written documentation is
not necessarily a bad thing in a small company, but the company has
quadrupled in size over the last 2 years
and we now have offices in 5 countries and 3 continents.

I introduced wiki (dokuwiki) as an additional documentation platform to
encourage feedback and additional
contributions, but also for knowledge capture. The wiki has been
running for about 9 months and is slowly
fulfilling all its promise. Currently, it's on our intranet, but
'partner' company employees (who are more or
less our customers) have access. I have plans to migrate towards an
external internet wiki in due course,
but we aren't ready for that yet.

In adopting a wiki, I was all too aware of the potential problems of
taking on a new platform/medium/format.
As the only tech writer in a company of nearly 200 people, a dead-end
format is the last thing I need.
I therefore opted for dokuwiki because of its flat file storage system.
This allows me to batch convert whole
directories (namespaces) of documents to and from
Word/RoboHelp/HTML/XML. Admittedly, I had to write
some of the conversion packages myself, but there was a lot of code on
the Web that gave me a head start.

Formatting hasn't been a real problem. Help topics are not exactly rich
in formating, and neither is wiki. I import
Word, XML (from C++ class code and descriptions), HTML into the wiki,
and I export HTML and XML. I import the
XML into RoboHelp, and from there I create WebHelp and PDF (via Word
and Acrobat).

Opening up the source files to editing has been the least of my
problems. In fact, I still have to campaign actively
to solicit edits. The fact that I can see who has edited a page, when,
and what they did gives me a richness in change
tracking comparable to what Word provides. Furthermore, I can roll back
to any previous version, right back to
when the document was created. Dokuwiki also allows me to include HTML
code, and I can link to local shares
if I simply want to add a link to a document on a server. I haven't
had to enforce an annotation convention, though
I do use one myself when I want to make it extra obvious that I am
making a personal comment.

The only aspect I have to invest additional work in is navigation. I've
been able to contain the 'damage' by separating
areas out into dokuwiki namespaces (read, folders), but despite some
fancy XSLT code, I still need to go back into
RoboHelp and add a lot of navigation links. In itself, this isn't too
much extra work though as I have designed the RoboHelp
application to be single-source (I use conditionals for print and
online versions, have a firm hierarchy of descriptive/procedural
topics, and have topic templates that break down into descriptive,
screen, procedure, and navigation blocks).

I think the biggest problem I faced was during the initial stages. I
didn't want to make the wiki publicly available without
a useful amount of content, but I found I couldn't create enough useful
content without going public. After a slow introduction,
I think we have almost reached the point where the wiki is
self-sustaining and you can almost see the value of the content
increasing as the days go by.

Hope this helps,

Simon North

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Re: OT: Wikipedia as a reference source: From: Dick Margulis
Wiki as a documentation delivery system: From: Carol Kiparsky

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