One, to bind them all…

by on August 31, 2009

the constant gardenerConstant Gardener, from Flickr.

Being the most flexible and open of all web spaces, wiki can quickly become a messy hotchpotch of various pages written in variety of tones, driven by different needs and intended for miscellaneous audiences. And that’s not almost ok.  It is ok as long as it belongs to Namespace Notebook (or test or perhaps crap).

Growth of the wiki space, its usability and maintenance is often compared to gardening where wiki gardener or wiki gnome plays an important role in wiki’s overall health.

So what’s the deal with UBC wiki, who is it for and how is it going to be used?

New, MediaWiki-based, CWL-enabled (CWL is UBC’s single-sign-on implementation) UBC wiki has been up and running for almost a month, available to everyone with a valid CWL account (yes, we proudly display the CWL login link, meaning that this is NOT a pilot project). We are hoping that, as it is case with other successful large organization’s wikis (stretching this to a very larger organization called Earth, we could argue that its best information source is Wikipedia), this wiki will grow and become useful lexicon of UBC and a few things beyond that.

So far, we have recognized four major means of using UBC wiki (all four to be represented by corresponding Namespaces):

  • UBC dictionary (lexicon, glossary)
    This is the original, simple wiki idea – flat Wikipedia-like approach, for anything UBC related; it lives in the default MediaWiki NameSpace (no subpages allowed, here is why).
    For example, Genome page should inventory UBC resources about Genome – topics like people, groups and departments that research genome; papers, posters and thesis published about genome etc. In the ideal scenario, UBC faculty, students and staff would update topics of their professional (and wider) interests and so make resources more presentable and easier to find. Another example: By slightly modifying great google maps extension, that is already running on our server, we could build multi-layered maps of UBC where  community could contribute to a spatial representation of UBC; every conference visitor would appreciate a decent coffee at UBC Google Map layer.
    (here is a new Blenz coffeee, we need others; Google also has to update their maps as this is quite a new big neighborhood now.)

    View Wesbrook Place in a larger map

  • Course repository
    With UBC wiki course space, our main goal is to enable space for public and open-content licensed wikis.
    In previous years we have used both blogs and wikis to develop, host and deliver courses. Lately, we experimented with hosting course-content in wikis and republishing in other web spaces, such as blogs or LMS, using in-house-developed MediaWiki extensions to support embedding part of the page, the whole page and in the future, collections of pages (the whole course content).
    Before we decide to go with the Courses Namespace, we hoped that it will be possible to maintain the flat structure of the wiki while somehow keep things simple for instructor to build linear and hierarchical course content. It turned out to be quite a challenge – we opted for creating standalone Courses Namespace instead, space that allows subpages and that will have its own search and set of extensions to export, print or republish course material.
  • Documentation
    Documentation space is very similar in architecture to the course space. It will support subpages and allow users to build linear and hierarchical documentation, support and training materials.
  • Yet-to-be-named space (Notebook, Test or whatever?…)
    To keep things from going completely wide and in lack of proper gardener or policeman, we decided to create a Namepace where people could do pretty much anything without worrying that their page will be deleted because it doesn’t comply with wiki etiquette. Planning a party, developing a thesis, testing extensions or just showing what wiki can do – please use Notebook.

So where from here?

While it seems that we do have some valid ideas, technology seems pretty straight-forward, and it can only get better and easier to work with. On the other hand, we have yet to come with right strategies to get people interested in this, show potential and get the buy-in.
Only then we could really say that we have actually  accomplished something.