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Wikis: a skill?

Posted by WingedPanther73, 29 September 2011 · 1005 views

I've run into something recently, and it's started me wondering: is using a wiki a skill that isn't normally taught?

For reference, I've posted on around 4 different wikis, including MediaWiki (private server), Hatta Wiki, and TiddlyWiki. In each case, after poking around at documentation on formatting markup, I've quickly started using it to organize my thoughts, track various types of information, and generally increase my productivity and organization. I find them to be wonderful tools, with WYSYWIG wikis being the easiest to start using and the hardest to make quick updates on.

With that in mind, I find it odd that several quite intelligent people seem to be having issues with them. If you're not a programmer, I can see the markup as being somewhat off-putting, but I've seen technical guys fumble at trying to be productive with them, as well. It raises a legitimate question: is this a skill that needs to be learned? Is learning it related to being familiar with HTML in general? Is this something that is only useful to certain people, but not others, based on how they process information?

Right now, I have more questions than answers. All I know for sure is that I don't see why more people aren't embracing them.

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I just don't see the benefit with wikis when it comes to organizing. Personally I just use Google Docs and Wunderlist. Google Docs does provide one with normal 'word' pages, which is what wikis are. Google Docs also organizes them into folders (called Collections), which is also what a wiki does. But Google Docs gives me more options, like instant drawing and spreadsheets. Google Docs is obviously also web based, so I can access it from where ever I like. What benefits would a wiki serve beyond this? Am I just under-educated on the subject? I have thought of using a personal wiki for organisation, but didn't find any benefit to it. To my knowledge wikis are mostly only useful for large collaborative information storages.

Wunderlist I use as my list of tasks to finish.
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I consider it a good collaboration tool, or a "quick" way to put out organised information without requiring skill in web design - however I find its use more for collaboration in teams than personal.

I would however use it for design of a project, where organisation of notes/thoughts in a meaningful way can be more important than the notes themselves. Maybe the goal of wikis should be put out there more than it is.
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As an example, the software my company makes has a pretty powerful scripting language as part of the configuration. Ultimately, configuration consists of defining valid states, moving items between states, and reporting on what is in what state. When dealing with several dozen possible state transitions for one customer, and states that span across several database tables and have fairly detailed state requirements, all of which requires scripting to enforce, it can get messy.

So, could I use Word for this? Sure, but the issue I run into is the full documentation, including known bugs and issues, can easily be 20-40 pages long. In a situation like that, it can be difficult to search through the document, and it's easy to get distracted by surrounding text. With TiddlyWiki, for example, I can tag sections as "MyToDo", "CustToDo", "Closed", "[functionality area]", etc. In addition, I can keep just the sections I care about open, while the rest are kept closed. That way, I can have the information I care about in front of me while the information I don't care about is closed.

The other thing I do is cross-link my TiddlyWikis. So I have a main "todo" list with links to other TiddlyWikis and to our BugTracking/Customer contact system. Since everything is based on web-pages, hyperlinks just work. I can create a new project TiddlyWiki if one is complicated enough to require it, or I can zip it and attach it to the case for other people's info.
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