What are some great business docs
What are wikis and why should you use them?
"Wiki" is one of the most widely used buzzwords on the Internet, with "Cloud Computing" and "Responsive Design".
When you hear the word "wiki" you most likely immediately think of Wikipedia, the famous online encyclopedia. Recently, WikiLeaks, the source of the most leaked government secrets in recent years, has made headlines. Since both locations have the strange root word, you can't believe they are related to each other. You are not. At least not in the way you might think.
What is a "wiki" defined as today? This term "wiki" actually means fast in Hawaiian. The journey from that definition to today's definition of "a website that allows its users to collaboratively edit its content and structure" is an interesting story best told by Ward Cunningham, the father of the modern wiki.
The most important part of wikis - what sets them apart from other types of websites - isjoint editing by the users. Think about it for a moment: A wiki user's ability to collaborate on the wiki. If you can read it, you can edit it. At first glance, it seems simple, but in practice it is extremely powerful - and that is what both Wikipedia and WikiLeaks have in common.
Let's examine: the benefits a wiki can offer a company, what problems it can solve, why you can use a wiki, and what options you have to create a wiki for yourself. There's a lot to report, so let's keep things moving.
What do wikis do?
To really understand what wikis do in and of themselves, we must first travel back in time, back to the original days of the web. By looking at what the first wiki should do, the current state of the wiki software makes a lot more sense.
I mentioned Ward Cunningham, the father of the wiki. On the front page of his own wiki, he gives an insight into the origins of wikis and their goals.
Front page of Ward Cunningham's Wiki.
The idea of a "wiki" may seem strange at first, but dive in, explore the links and you will soon be familiar with it. "Wiki" is a system of composition; it is a medium of discussion; it's a repository; it's a mail system; It's a collaboration tool. We don't know exactly what it is, but we do know that it is a fun way to communicate asynchronously over the network.
I love this summary. At first, Ward and his colleagues didn't know what exactly wikis were supposed to do. But they knew it was fun.
From this brief summary we can single out some of the main themes of wikis: composing, discussing, hyperlinking, collaboration, communication.
Do you notice anything about these words? They are all Verbs. They are wikis to do.
1. Quick creation with wikis
How do wikis work? At its core, wikis are composition systems. They try to make writing on a web page as easy as possible. This is so important because it is something that sets wikis apart from your average website.
Most people visit a website like Wikipedia just to read something, just like most websites. Hence, this aspect of wikis is often lost to the casual viewer. When Ward Cunningham built his wiki in the late 1990s, he had the ease of creating web content in mind.
Back then, websites were almost always handwritten in HTML. HTML works well as a markup language and is still relevant to the web today. However, it can be a cumbersome language to type by hand and often just gets in the way Write. This is especially true if you're trying to enter more than simple paragraphs. If you want to add any structure or formatting to a document, the HTML markup can quickly swallow the content.
Ward wanted a tool that would allow users to write web pages fast(See how the name wiki comes up here again?) And HTML wasn't fast enough. So there was a basic text formatting system in his wiki system. It was easier and easier to type than HTML tags, and was less noticeable when writing and editing wiki pages. Plus, anyone could edit a wiki without having to edit HTML code.Help page for wiki formatting in MidiaWiki.
Hence, quick and easy composition has become a cornerstone of wiki design. It should be faster and easier to write and edit text on a wiki than handwritten HTML. Wiki syntax, which is similar to the now popular Markdown syntax, is designed to reduce friction when writing and editing Wiki pages, which in turn helps users write and edit more frequently.
2. Wikis are great for collaboration
The Internet has made communication so easy that talking to someone on the other side of the world isn't even that exciting today. In the early days of the web, that power was all the more enticing. Today's internet-based communication apps did not exist yet, so the internet was the most important means of communication. That makes the wiki a fascinating product. It's great for discussion, collaboration, and communication.
Flexible access for editing Wiki pages
We've already examined how the wiki made editing files faster than the average website. But the wiki allowed something else unique: anyone who could read a wiki page had the opportunity to do so to edit this wiki page. In an open sense, a wiki can be edited by any visitor.
This is the role Ward referred to when he called the wiki "a discussion medium; a mail system; a collaboration tool." Nowadays, wiki software allows more control over who can edit the wiki. However, the functionality of the function remains the same. You can make a wiki about all of the things Ward mentions and more.
Editing means not only working together on a site, but also updating a wiki page about a project to let others know what's next. If you think about it in a business context, the potential gets pretty exciting, doesn't it ??
3. All wikis are supported by hyperlinks
Hyperlinks are certainly nothing new - they have been around since the beginning of the web. It is the first word in the abbreviation "HTML". But How The first wiki to be covered with hyperlinks made it so special, which is why linking has become a cornerstone of wiki design to this day.
Adding links to wiki pages is quick
Just like everything else we've looked at so far, adding and creating links on the wiki is designed to be quick and easy. Notice I said within the wiki-It's internal links that are so easy to make.
The specific syntax for creating an internal connection differs between different wiki systems, but they all have in common their efficiency. This is one of the reasons why it is so easy to get lost in Wikipedia, as more and more information can be found among the dozen of links on each page.
The power of linking to future wiki pages
Aside from the fact that you can't just add something quickly, what is special about links in wikis is that you can point to something that doesn't exist. What do I mean by that? Well, let me illustrate: what if you want to write a wiki page and delve into a particular topic? You can link to a page on this topic even if the other page doesn't already exist.
Take a moment to think about it. It's simple yet profound.
And it fits so well with the vision Ward Cunningham had for his wiki in the first place. He wanted it to be a fertile place for communication, discourse and knowledge sharing.
Here we have a simple and straightforward means by which a user can request further reflection and discussion on a particular topic. Or used in another way to give a user the ability to determine topics that he would like to work out in the future. A natural to-do list, if you will, that automatically enhances the original project when the tasks are completed.
These two aspects of linking within wikis combine to create something special than the average hyperlink. They support growth in the wiki. This type of linkage makes wikis magical.
Are wikis right for my business?
In short, wikis:
- Make it easy and quick to write information on web pages.
- Make communication and discussion easier as it is easy for those reading a wiki page to edit that page themselves.
- Enable quick and easy linking between wiki pages, including pages that do not already exist in the wiki.
But that's still a bit abstract. Maybe it helps you see how Wikipedia is doing so well, but it's harder to see how it can help your business. Here are some specific examples of what a wiki can do for you. I think you are convinced that they are the perfect solution for your business.
1. Wikis are the documentation dream
Every company wants detailed, well-maintained documentation. Yet so often it feels like a dream. Earlier in the day, your business documentation might have been a detailed employee handbook, carefully researched, possibly spiral-bound, and created in-house. But it's the 21st century. nobody wants to use something like that anymore.
You could try modernizing things and making your documentation digital. You may have a few Word documents in shared folders across your company. That would surely give you some nice features. It is digital and is synchronized with the computers of the various employees. It's easy to write and edit. Well everyone has Microsoft Word.
But what if you want to reference a document while in a meeting and not with your computer right in front of you? How about trying to look up a specific procedure or important technique in these Word documents? After all, it would take a lot of Word documents to document everything. Then it would be far too easy for someone to accidentally delete a document or work out something important, and the only way to fix the error would be to restore it from a backup.
And we didn't even talk about linking different documents together. How do you join documents together when talking about Word files in a shared folder? Let's look at a simple scenario:
The problem with organizing business documents
Let's say you have a couple of different departments that each write their own documentation. How do you organize all of these documents? Throwing them all into a shared folder can quickly become cluttered. So you start to put some of these documents in folders.
Suppose you organize these folders by department.
- What happens if a document could apply to several departments and therefore fit in more than one folder?
- Do you keep a copy of this document in each folder?
- What if someone edits one of these documents?
- How do these changes get to the copies of the same document?
Do you see how quickly things can get out of hand? I have no plans to edit Word documents in shared folders. If such a system really works for you, I'll be happy for you. However, if you've encountered any of the problems I just outlined, then you owe it to yourself to research a wiki as a solution for your business.
2. Make the dream a reality
How can a wiki help you realize your documentation dreams?
Think of Office memos that you think of like you're sending over and over again. With a wiki, they become a single page with a link that you can display anywhere anyone can see them. If the memo is to be edited, it is simple and straightforward. And best of all, the link will always be accurate even after you've edited the memo. Cool right?
Create a searchable online product catalog
Do you have a large and complex product catalog? Imagine it was neatly organized in one place. A searchable, easily editable place that ties related products together. This is a wiki, my friend. Neat, huh?
Build a knowledge base for your team
What if you have a sales driven business? With a wiki, you can help your salespeople keep track of their sales figures, customer information, or sales tips and tricks in one central place. You can set up your wiki so that it can be accessed from any mobile device when you are on the go. Now The feels like the 21st century doesn't it ??
Create a wiki intranet for business training
Now think about how a wiki can revolutionize employee training. The wiki becomes a consistent place where company policies, best practices, standards, and guidelines are set. All of the things you have learned over time can benefit from a new hire right from reading the wiki. You can stop teaching yourself the same thing over and over again. Write it now and it will teach everyone about the future - and it's easy to edit as things change.
A wiki can accommodate all of this and more. Remember what makes a wiki so unique: it is easy to edit and can be accessed from anywhere with a web browser with simple and intuitive links between pages. These features facilitate the kind of environment where high quality documentation you've always wanted can grow and thrive.
Make Your Own Wiki (Take the Next Step)
I hope by now you know what a wiki does and how it can benefit a small business, school, personal life, and everything else. Now all you have to do is create your own wiki and use it for your work.
You can set up a wiki with MediaWiki on your own server or with one click with most web hosting services. Alternatively, you can use a hosted wiki service like PBworks or Wikia. The basics are the same no matter which one you choose.
You can also use WordPress to help set up your wiki. We offer popular WordPress wiki themes on our ThemeForest marketplace. They are great for creating corporate intranets, collaborating on knowledge-based websites, help desk setups, and other types of business wikis.
However, it can be a bit complicated to start your wiki and learn how to actually use it to create, edit, and link to content. Here comes our next tutorial. Everything you need to get your wiki up and running is here.
To learn even more about wikis, check out this tutorial:
Note to editors: This post was originally published in 2014. It has been extensively revised to be up-to-date, accurate and up to date by our employees - with special support from Laura Spencer.
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