UBC Wiki

Philosophical Ownership & Open Collaboration

 Atriplex L. - saltbushOccasionally, I get inquiries if it is possible to create or modify a page on the UBC Wiki so it is only editable or viewable by an invited group of people. The UBC Wiki is an open platform with no easy way to restrict the editing of specific pages.  This open approach drives a philosophical view that no articles in the root of the wiki belong to any specific owner; anyone can really edit anything and they should be encourage to do so.  However, we’ve created a couple of different spaces on the wiki that imply a soft ownership of pages: while anyone can still edit these pages, the idea is that pages in these spaces do belong to someone and outside editing should kept to a minimum.  This is more of a philosophical than a structural ownership but I think this idea will be important if the wiki user base continues to grow.

If a user does create a page where they have an implied soft ownership (such as an assignment page in the Course space) and if they are concerned about someone else editing this page, then there a couple of options to help them manage it:  First, they can add the any pages to their watchlist and then update their account settings to have the UBC Wiki send them an email anytime a page on their watchlist gets edited.  This process will help call attention to any changes being made to their content.  They can then easily rollback all changes made by the last person to edit the article by simply going to the page history and clicking on the rollback link. This will remove all consecutive edits by the most recent contributor.

In an early 2004 post on using wikis, Matt Barton addressed this issue:

How do wikis protect an author’s work? Answer: They don’t. A good preface on every wiki page would be, “Abandon all authority all ye who enter here…wikis are protected not by code, or by law, but rather by the participation of an active wiki community. If you are proud of your entry, you will feel compelled to see what’s up if you receive a notification that the entry has been changed, and “roll it back” if it’s obvious the page was vandalized or rendered less intelligent.”

Wikis are fundamentally about open collaboration. The advantage in this sort of platform is that knowledge sharing is truly community based – anyone can make the wiki a better place.

While the UBC Wiki’s namespaces imply a soft ownership of content, it is certainly possible that it might not be the right tool for all projects. In this case, I would encourage users to look at the other tools offered at UBC Blogs: a group can be a great place for private online dialogue and a multi-user blog allows collaboration while limiting access to only those who need it. However, for community collaboration and open knowledge sharing, I think the wiki is unsurpassed as a tool as it inherently maximizes these benefits while minimizing the risks.

Image: Public domain image from USDA Plants Database


Converting Documents into Wiki Pages

In addition to an overall organizational structure, a wiki also should have some organization within its individual pages. The use of headings, subheadings, bold, bullet points, and the like make an individual article or page easier to scan, navigate, and read. Most of the internal page organization can be easily accomplished through the use of formatting and Wiki Markup. However, a problem that I’ve noticed is that a lot of users do not write their content directly in the UBC Wiki; instead they most likely use a word processor to draft and format their text and then copy and paste that text into the wiki. Unfortunately, word processor formatting does not often transfer well into MediaWiki. Thus, the user has to take additional time to reformat their content on the wiki. Often, though, they just leave their content as is, which can look pretty bad and be hard to parse.

I wanted to quickly point out a couple of tools make getting content from a document into wiki page a bit smoother. The first is an extension for Open Office, the free, open-source word processor program which is a pretty great alternative to MS Word. The Sun Wiki Publisher extension allows a person to type up a document in Open Office just as they would normally, and then save it in a MediaWiki format. All formatting, such as links, bullet points, and headers, is automatically converted to Wiki Markup. In my basic testing, this extension works really well and can handle even moderately complex tables.

I have yet to find anything that works as well for Microsoft Word. The easiest strategy seems to be to save the document as an HTML file and then to copy and past the HTML into an online Wiki Syntax converter and then copy and paste that output into the wiki. Novak recently recommended this HTML to Wiki converter and it works well, especially if you are using HTML directly from a website (which is how this UBC Wiki page was created). Unfortunately, when converting from Word to HTML to Wiki Mark-Up, the process is not quite as smooth and some reformatting or tweaking of the Wiki Markup seems to be necessary. Still, its better than having to create a table from scratch or insert a ton of links into a list.

I’ve created a couple of Help pages on these topics: Converting Documents to Wiki Syntax and Converting HTML to Wiki Syntax.

Update:: Brian points out in the comments saving a Word document into HTML and then converting it doesn’t work all that well. I agree and I’ll keep looking for better solution.