04 June 2008

Sticky Wikis

People seem to have wikis on the brain lately. Perhaps its holdover from the spring cleaning urge, but I too have been bitten by a wiki-bug of sorts. In an attempt to start organizing my family history information, I've been hard at work transforming some of the individuals in my family tree into pages in my own personal family Wiki. If you've ever visited Wikipedia (and most of us have), the you have at least some experience with the Wiki format... an easy to use robust site-functionality that allows for collaborative production, editing and content. Of course, in the case of Wikipedia, most of us have simply looked something up, read an article or two, then moved on. But for genealogists, a wiki can be so VERY much more.

Imagine, if you will, the possibilities of creating a family wiki and collaborating on information about individuals with other researchers. Being able to collaborate means that photos, family stories, etc. can all be collated into one page, at one place, providing an excellent means of documenting the lives and stories of your ancestors.

There are a number of routes you can take if you decide that you want to start a wiki on your family, and I will cover a few of them in this post.

Prefab Wikidom

* The website WeRelate is aiming to be a massive-user online Wiki, and if it achieves that goal, it could be a phenomenal resource. The possibilities of this site have been covered before by a number of blogs including Randy Seaver and Moultrie Creek, so I won't dwell too much on it except to say that I have poked around it and it definitely has the benefit of being quite easy to use once you get oriented. With a small ramp-up time for any user with basic wiki and 'net understanding, this could be just the wiki powerhouse you are looking for.

If the massive collaborative attraction of something like WeRelate strikes fear into your heart, but you still want to have the ease of a pre-fab wiki, there are a variety of online services (also called wiki farms) you can use.

* One of them is Zoho.com. Zoho provides a full-featured online wiki and is also very easy to use. Some of the things I like most about Zoho are the ease of registration (sign in using Yahoo and Gmail) and the interface, which tries to mimic traditional word processing software. I think this interface takes alot of the intimidation factor out of the creation of a wiki for some people. On the flip side, the interface is MUCH too graphical and roundabout for anyone used to working with wikis (e.g., creating a new wiki page requires clicking on a tab, naming a new page, etc., vs. the easy double-bracket method of a traditional wiki). For someone who wants a wiki feel without all the wiki learning curve, something like Zoho is great.

I have also used pbWiki, and loved it. PBwiki is essentially a next-step hosted wiki, which basically totally mimics the functionality of wiki-ware you would install on your own web hosted server.

Wikipedia has a great run-down of various wiki farms and their costs and popularity, as well as the all-important fact of whether or not they have ads displayed on users' wiki pages.

Going Solo

If you are a control-freak, or just like to geek around with software, you can go the route of installing your own wiki-ware on your web server. I went with Mediawiki, which is the free software wiki that was developed for Wikipedia, so you get absolutely full-functionality, and total control. All it requires is a willingness to learn some of the ins-and-outs of wikiware and some rudimentary comfort with PHP. What I love about going solo is that you can dictate the style, look and functionality of the wiki on absolutely every level, and I have found the software to be very user-friendly, not to mention there is a ton of documentation out there because of the popularity of the software.

You can see the work I have begun on one of my ancestor pages here.

You can see my major wiki, which I have created as a repository for online research links here.

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