Five Weeks to a Social Library

Presentation Outline/Handout: "The 'How' of Wikis"

Starr Hoffman



Notes for the presentation follow; this is roughly the text I'll be reading from. I will post the final slides when they are ready, and then a link to the archived webcast when it becomes available. You can also print this page as a PDF.




Handy URLs:


Easy Wiki Guide



Hello, my name is Starr Hoffman, and I’m the Librarian for Digital Collections at the University of North Texas Libraries. I work in the Government Documents Department, and I archive government websites and electronic documents.




So, now that Chad has displayed the amazing capabilites of wikis, let's get down to how to start your own wiki. I'll give a hands-on demonstration of how to start, use, and edit a wiki. Then I'm going to briefly review some of the many options in wiki software and in hosting your wiki.


I also have a handout that includes links to some of the websites I'll be discussing. It's on my personal wiki, and I'll give the link at the end of my presentation.


Starting a Wiki


I'm going to show you how to start your own wiki and begin creating and editing content. In this case, I'm going to use a remotely hosted wiki service (more about remote hosting later), as it's the quickest and simplest way to begin. My personal wiki is a PBwiki. PBwiki provides basic wikis for free, or a version with enhanced features for a monthly subscription cost. PBwiki advertises their basic, free wiki as the "30-second start-up wiki!"


First, I'll go to PBwiki's homepage (PBwiki.com). At the right, you'll notice there's a box labeled "Get Started!" Just enter your desired wiki name (without spaces) and your email address. That's all there is to getting started! In a few minutes, you'll get an email message with your wiki URL, which you'll click on to confirm. Then PBwiki will ask you to enter a password, and... (change slide) your wiki's homepage will display! Now, you just need to create some content. Let’s start by creating a new page.


Creating a New Page


There are two ways to create new pages in a wiki; either by clicking a button, or by adding a link. You can also use templates to make formatting pages even easier. Let's take a look at how these methods work.


First, most wikis have a button labeled "New Page." You can access this button from any page in the wiki. (change slide) Once you click that button, you'll be asked to enter a page title. PBwiki also asks if you'd like to use a template. (change slide) Let's try using a template--once you click on that option, you'll see a preview of the document to the right. Click the "Create New Page" button at the bottom when you're ready. (change slide) You're taken to the Editing page, as you can see from the title at the top of the page. As you can see, this template is already filled with content. You'll want to enter your own information in its place... (change slide) And you'll end up with something like this slide. Here, I've simply selected the template text, and replaced it with text for a "Library Staff" page. Click "Save" and... (change slide) This is what the final new "Library Staff" page looks like. You can see that the template saves you some time by pre-formatting sections.


Now let's try creating a page with the second method, which is by adding a link within a page. (change slide) To do this, we'll go back to the editing page. In PBwiki, all you need to do is enter the new page title, enclosed by brackets. (change slide) When you save this change and view the page, you'll see that title is underlined with a dotted line. That means that when you click on that word/phrase... (change slide) ...a new page will be automatically created. (Second, when editing a page, you can add a link to a page that does not yet exist; clicking on that link will ask you to create a new page.)


Editing a Wiki


Now we’re going to look at how multiple users can edit wiki pages, and how you can restore older versions. (change slide) First, I’ll show you what the wiki log-in page looks like. Here, you can see that I’m now logging in as “Starr.” PBwiki gives the option of entering your email address and you’ll then be notified by email whenever a change is made to the wiki. Now that I’m logged in under a different name, I’ll start editing a page. (change slide) Here’s the wiki welcome page again—and since that’s the homepage of the wiki, I want to change the title to reflect who owns the wiki. I click the “Edit Page” button at the top… (change slide) And I’m taken to the editing page.


At the top right of the page is a series of buttons that apply formatting. If you just double-click to select some text and then click a button, you apply that formatting to it. This slide will briefly show some of the formatting syntax used by PBwiki, but it’s slightly different for each wiki. The important thing is the concept—some wikis have buttons to format, some have user-friendly displays like MS Word, and some only use this formatting syntax of symbols. These are features you’ll want to consider when choosing wiki software, which we’ll get to a little later. (change slide)


Now I’ll select the current title… and then I typed in the new title name, which you can see in this slide is “Generic University Library Wiki.” Then I’ll hit the “Save” button to save and view the results.


And here’s the edited page! You can see the title has changed, and PBwiki gave me a message letting me know it was a successful edit. (change slide) So now that you have content on your wiki, how do you get to it? You can see that this homepage doesn’t list the “Library Staff” page that I made.




There are a few ways to navigate a wiki: some are automatic, and some you need to add yourself. (change slide)

The most basic navigation is using the search box. Here, I’ve entered the keyword “what.” (change slide)

These are the results I got, with the keyword highlighted. But it’s not the most elegant method of navigation, and I can’t immediately see all the pages on my wiki. (change slide)

If I go back to the homepage, you can see the link near the bottom labeled “Show All Pages.” (change slide)

When I click on that, I’m taken to a page that lists all the pages in my wiki alphabetically by title. Then if I click on the link labeled “date…” (change slide)

I’m taken to a similar page, that instead organizes all pages by their creation date. This makes it easy to find the oldest and newest pages. But what if I’d like to link to pages from my wiki’s Frontpage? (change slide)

If I edit the Frontpage, you can see that to the far right, there’s a list of the most recent wiki pages. If I click on one of those, a link to that page is automatically placed in the text. (You can see that it’s a link because it has brackets surrounding it.) (change slide)

And when we save that edit, you can see that the Frontpage now has a link to the “What a Wiki is” page. (change slide)


Wiki Software


Now let’s talk about choosing Wiki Software. There are a lot of wiki options out there, and each of them has slightly different features. One great tool to help you choose what wiki is best for you is Wiki Matrix. You can select specific wikis and compare their features side-by-side, or you can use the Wiki Choice Wizard, which asks questions and then determines which wikis provide the features you need. (change slide) Here's what the Wiki Choice Wizard looks like. One of the questions that the Wiki Choice Wizard asks is a primary consideration: do you want to host the wiki software locally (on your organization's server computers), or do you want one that's remotely hosted by a service.


Local vs. Remote Hosting


Here’s a brief definition of what is meant by local hosting, versus remote hosting. Local hosting is what it sounds like—the wiki software is installed on a local computer server owned by your organization. Remote hosting is a service provided outside of your organization, and all information is stored on those remote servers. Your organization accesses the wiki completely online. When making this choice, be sure to talk to someone in your IT department to get their input. They can let you know if your local servers meet any system requirements.


So, how do you choose which is best for you?


Hosting Locally


Here’s a pro/con list for hosting locally. If you have a programmer on staff, this can be a great option because it’s very customizable. It’s easy to make a wiki that has a similar look and feel to your library’s other web pages, which makes it look very professional.


The most popular local-host wiki is probably MediaWiki, which is what Wikipedia uses, and it’s also what Chad’s library uses for their reference wiki.


Hosting Remotely


And here are some pros and cons for remote hosting. The greatest advantage is that it’s very quick and very easy for anyone to do—no programmers needed. But you’re often charged a subscription fee if you want advanced features, and you usually have less control over how the wiki looks.


PBwiki, that I used in my hands-on demonstration, and which I also use for my personal wiki, is a popular choice. Its basic version is free, but there are several different subscription levels with additional features.


Different Wikis Look Different


Different wikis look different, and use different methods for formatting. But the basic concepts of all wikis are the same: they provide fast, collaborative composition, and retain previous versions of pages. (change slide)

Here’s an example of two different wikis that I use on a daily basis. On the left is UNT’s internal wiki, which I use to document and track digital projects. On the right is my personal wiki, which I use for my individual work documents and for personal use. (change slide)

Here are those same wikis, showing their different editing pages. You can see that on the left, UNT’s internal wiki doesn’t provide the easy-format buttons, as PBwiki does. Also, the formatting syntax is slightly different, although similar. But the concepts are the same. (change slide)


Be Brave, Be Bold!


Now, you’re ready to go out and start your own wiki! It’s easiest to learn when you do it, so I recommend starting your own wiki as soon as possible. Play around with it and see what creative uses you can come up with—the great thing about wikis is that they’re so forgiving.




Please feel free to contact me later at this email address, and you can check out my own wiki or blog, as well. We’ve got some time to take questions now.


The End