Exploring the wonderful world of Wikis


In my last posting, I talked about social media. Several months have passed now, and I can say with a bit more experience under my belt that I still don’t have the time, energy or interest to blog or read others’ blogs.

But wikis are wonderful — within limits.

What’s a wiki, you ask? According to Wikipedia, “A wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute to or modify content.” Wikipedia is an excellent example of a wiki site. It is an online encyclopedia that is growing massively, both in content and popularity. If you haven’t used it, I highly recommend giving it a try.

Think of some term or concept that you want to learn more about. Let’s use “Bellingham” as an example. Did you know that there is a town called Bellingham in Tasmania, two in England, and three in the United States? Bellingham, Minn., has a population of 191. And Governor Bellingham is a fictional character in The Scarlet Letter.

Where did all of this material come from? How accurate is it? How does editing get controlled? These are all excellent questions, and the answers are on Wikipedia, but the short answer is that the content comes from you and me, there are built-in processes for improving the accuracy of information and the control processes seem to work well.

But I am not writing this to sell you on Wikipedia, but to introduce a powerful set of tools that are based on the wiki concepts.

As you may know from my past posts, I am active in The Mankind Project, an international organization to help men become more conscious. I am leading an effort to create a new version of a facilitator’s guide for one of our important trainings, and I needed to elicit the cooperation and support of a team of men from all over the world. After my last ODNT posting, I looked at several tools that allow collaborative document sharing and settled on Google Sites (sites.google.com).

In about five minutes, I was able to create a basic Web site. Over a single weekend, I took a manual that was more than 130 pages long, broke it into about 100 individual topics and created Web pages for each. I then entered the e-mail addresses of the men on the team and gave each man rights to update the site by changing the content of any page, adding new pages, adding comments to pages and even attaching documents to pages. This whole process took me only a few hours.

One powerful feature of Google Sites is the capability to have the site notify me whenever a page is updated. I can monitor specific pages or the entire site. Whenever anybody updates a page, I get an e-mail moments later. I can easily tell who is working on what and even see what changes they made. If necessary, I can even roll back a page to a previous version of that page.

That site now contains 165 pages and updates are made on a regular basis by men all over the world.

It didn’t take long before I started thinking of other ways to use Google Sites. I created a site for community leaders to capture and record meeting minutes and governance documents. I created another for our elder community to capture our history, and another for my own company to use internally to capture business policies and procedures.

Creating each of these sites took only a few minutes, and populating them is amazingly easy. And did I mention that it is all free! Each Google site can use up to 100 mb of storage. My largest site, the one with 165 pages, uses only 17 percent of this allocation.

So what’s the downside? Google Sites has lots of strengths, but it also has some problems. I would like to see a more flexible security model and a better HTML text editor, but these are not the kinds of issues that will stop me from using Google Sites. Google Sites is not the best tool for creating a marketing site or one that interacts with a database engine, but it is an excellent tool for collaborative development of information.

If this topic interests you, I invite you to participate in an experiment. I have created a public wiki that is dedicated to capturing information about Bellingham. The address is: sites.google.com/site/bellinghamwiki.

Right now, the site has only skeletal content. If you want to add content to this site, simply e-mail me (bob@socgrp.com) and I will grant you update rights. I will moderate the site to make sure that no content is posted that might be offensive to the public taste, but other than that, anything goes — at least for the moment.


Bob Jones is the owner of The Socrates Group, which develops custom software applications for local businesses. He can be reached at bob@TheSocratesGroup.com.


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