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Thursday, June 10, 2004
Untitled Document

The Wide World of Wiki: Choosing a wiki for an element of a fully online undergraduate course

Following up on my recent wiki investigations I thought I'd do a run down of the wikis I've looked at, thought about and played with and my 'conclusions' at this stage. Probably worth noting before starting is that there really is no 'best' solution... my thoughts are very much influenced by my personal preferences and pedagogy, I have no rubric (nor would I like any ;o) and I will probably change my mind down the track... so that said, here goes:

Task: Choose a wiki system to use with a large, fully-online, undergraduate cohort studying computer science. The group is already supported by a fully featured CMS (WebCT Vista), however, this does not include the functionality for collaborative editing and creation of documents or, as a longer term project, the development of an organic 'virtual-organization' which can be used as a context for project management and IT Practice related tasks and which can develop with use.

The Contenders: I figured there needs to be some sort of structure here so I'm adopting what I used before in the 'Hosted by someone else / Hosted by us' approach. I've also not featured CourseForum, Confluence or any other major vendors as, well, nobody will give us the money... also given that we are working with a current CMS it doesn't make a whole heap of sense to get another one (however much it needles you ;o)

Hosted by someone else:

Swiki.net Swiki.net appears too good to be true, it's got all the funky stuff from locking pages to email notification of changes of pages, to different levels of security for pages, user maintenance (extending invitations, changing accesses) and easy upload. It even conveys these by an icon system. Swiki.net will even host a ton of different projects for you giving you 50MB to play around with! The only problem is that it is too good to be true I cannot emphasize enough the fact that I was unable to access material for up to a week and that since then I have heard other stories of this. Whatever you do... don' risk it! However, Swiki does have an 'install yourself' version... which is probably worth a shot as it has all of the above but presumably no hosting issues.

editme editme is ace... it gets round the problems with 'Wiki meets everyday person... everyday person looks confused, shakes head and walks away' problem by providing a snappy WYSIWYG editor and a menu button called 'New' for a new page (you don't know how cool that is!) It has a nice facility for email notification (although not as simple and Swiki... and it'll send notification for the entire site rather than a particular page). The only teeny-weeny issue is that it costs (although $5 a month isn't something you should fret about too much) and, as they host it, you have limited 'control'. I'd recommend this to teachers with small classes wanting to use a Wiki though, not fir us but full of potential!

TeachingWiki TeachingWiki is a lovely idea (along the same lines of School Blogs) and full kudos to the people behind this project which aims to provide teachers with Wiki facilities to support their teaching. It's powered by OpenWiki (see comments below for this).. the problem with using this hosted service is that, well, there's no individual accounts, no 'privacy' or 'unity' of space and no real 'control'. This is a great place to play around, and if you're looking for something that doesn't swiki.net on you for something small then this is a good place to start!

Hosted by us:

MediaWiki MediaWiki is the Wiki used for Wikipedia which is a good start! It's got a nice text editor thingy with a good insert image tool, no email or xml :o(, but does allow users to 'watch this page' through MediaWiki. Especially neat is the way it encourages logging in (but doesn't require it) and adds extra stuff (signatures, page watches, preferences, 'user talk page' [which is nice!] for your keystrokes]. It doesn't allow for any 'administrative' control (in terms of locking pages etc.) but you could argue that if you had that is kinda against the nature of it all... and it's easy enough to 'rollback' to previous versions if things go wrong. This has the added advantage of a. being current and in development b. having worked well with large groups of people before. Installation is just MySQL and PHP... so that's a breeze too.

MoinMoin MoinMoin is 'nice an easy' (to quote them!) It doesn't have a text editor (or much clear formatting help) but it does have some neat user options...not least being the ability to subscribe to a particular page for email updates (with accompanying little email icon :o) It doesn't have a 'comment on this page' facility (which quite a few of the others have) but does have a nice 'n easy attach file thingy. I like MoinMoin... but it feels a bit 'wiki raw' and doesn't have the things (like xml) which makes me excited about OpenWiki. It's also 'Python Powered' which means that, again, my hosting service and the University won't support it... sigh.

PHPWiki PHPWiki is a simple, straightforward wiki... not a bad place to start.. especially if you're interested in what wikis are, how they work or are a wiki purist.

WakkaWiki This is probably because I can't get my head around a lot of the admin in other wikis but the nice things about WakaWiki is that it looks and feels very very very customizable! It's also got a nice comments feature and a lovely way of tracking users by IP addy if you don't sign in. Nothing on the editing front though and not a hint of email but it does have xml :o)  It's got access controls which are pretty cool and is PHP / MySQL which is also good. Apparently it will also "Support multiple sites running off the same Wakka installation". As the page says it's still a baba and would need a lot of things on the text editing / uploads / explanation / icon / user features front before I'd take it on with a bunch of undergrads but it's got a heck of a lot of potential!

TikiWiki Now... Tiki is something special, very special, you can have your wiki, some blogs, a discussion forum, a chat room, a shoutbox... oh and there's also content management, polling, multiple stylesheet options as they say "Your quest for a full-featured CMS/Groupware has ended!" You pay for it in MB (my installation is about 37MB... to start with) but wow... it does everything and stuff you didn't know you wanted to do. It's also got a strong community... is very current... is PHP / MySQL based and ... well, it's rather good. There is a drawback though... it's too good. You couldn't just sit down a bunch of teachers and say 'hey, use this'... they'd be very scared.... you could give them simple wiki spaces to use but the extra functionality is just around the corner waiting to scare them (and if they can't play / change / explore then they can't without, well, getting scared). Getting people to use Tiki, I imagine, is like getting people to use WebCT or Blackboard... it's a cultural thing... a developing thing... a 'commitment' thing. I want to use it but don't know if I'd inflict it on others until I was going to say 'hey.... here's your new 'everything'... if you know what I mean... but I am tempted (an could well be wrong!)

PMWiki PMWiki is nice but there's no simple 'User Preferces'... it says it has email notifications, page protection and alike but I'm confused as to where these are or how I could set them up. I guess it's a bit like PHPWiki but a bit more dressed up (keeping to WikiPhilosophy)... but from my perspective suffers from the same problems. It's got a nice cookbook thing for stuff you can do with it though... not for the non-geek like me though :o(

Friki is nice, it's especially nice that it's being developed by Frank Carver who feels like he's just round the corner :O) It's pure wiki simple and, more excitingly "a pure-Java web application which can be installed as simply as dropping "friki.war" into any modern servlet container or Java application server." Which appeals to me! Not really in the feature game though... which will make some people happy... and some people less so.

OpenWiki Has the instant appeal of XML feeds, which, together with a some nifty 'help' pop-ups for formatting etc. at the top of an edit page make this a serious contender. It doesn't have an email update facility (which is a problem as, let's face it, 0.001% of the world knows how to aggregate XML / RSS etc.) and it's 'page controls' are, well, not there. The feel I get about this is that it's a bit of a geeks / group-of-geeks dream but wouldn't work that well with a wider audience / bunch of newbies. It's also Windows installation which means that it's a no-go for my web-host, organization and... well, basically I'll need to become a geek before I can use it :o)

So... what's the final conclusion?

Well, first up, because this is an 'institutional thing' and people want control... all of the ones hosted by other people are out of the window, so byebye editme, Swiki.net, editme and Teaching Wiki... and also Friki (I think).

Secondly, we can only do PHP & MySQL so ta ra Swiki (install yourself), MoinMoin and OpenWiki.

I'm a feature-feeder... not junkie, just needer :o) So ta ra PHPWiki and WakaWiki for the moment.

Which leaves MediaWiki, TikiWiki & PMWiki. Personally, I'm going to use TikiWiki as my online CMS... much as I'd like the 'simplicity' of OpenWiki or PMWiki I find myself just carving features and functionality. I think Tiki will meet many of my needs... we shall see. However, I wouldn't, at this stage, force it on anyone else who wasn't ready to go the whole hog... certainly not x tutors and 500 undergrads. If I could find a working good example of PMWiki doing email updates then I'd be tempted towards it but even then... if it's going to be used in specific projects over short spaces of time (no 'ad hoc' stuff... just a one or two week exercise) I think the features that MediaWiki offers in terms of text editing and clarity of use (to a non-technical user) seem to keep it up there. Also, MediaWiki is being used by a very large group of not necessarily tech-savvy users in Wikipedia, and in that used very successfully... and so, for this trial, MediaWiki it is... I'll report back :o)

2:00:16 PM    comments   trackback

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