I Heart Wikis

by Bob Plankers on October 23, 2012 · 3 comments

in System Administration

Raymond Chen, of Microsoft fame, has a great blog post entitled “If there’s a problem with a wiki, then you can fix it; that’s why it’s a wiki.” One paragraph stood out to me:

“In other words, if you see something wrong, fix it yourself. Don’t just stand around saying somebody should do something. Be someone. Because on a wiki, there is no default value for somebody.”

We’ve been using Atlassian’s Confluence as a wiki at work for ages, and love it[0]. They have a starter program where most of their software is $10 for 10 users. If your team is small and you’re not already using a wiki this is a great way to go. For $30 you get Confluence, JIRA (their issue tracker), and Team Calendars, and you can have them host it so it takes almost zero staff time to set up. How wrong could you go? If you’re a non-profit or open source project they’ll even give you a free license.

A couple of thoughts if you’re thinking about a wiki:

  • The “just freaking fix it and move on” mentality is not a universal trait, especially in enterprises. Emphasizing that the documentation belongs to the organization and not an individual helps sometimes. So does gently encouraging people to fix things themselves.
  • If you’re migrating documentation into a wiki make sure you delete all copies of the old source. It’s one of my fundamental tenets of sysadminnery that there should never be a non-authoritative copy of data or documentation sitting around. Leave a non-authoritative copy of a procedure sitting out there and you will discover, a year from now, that someone has followed it and all of its out-of-date ways. Grrr. Not that I’m bitter.
  • Suppress the sysadmin need to be a complete permission freak. It feels wrong at first but a wiki’s content is meant to be chmod 770. Seriously. Wikis have history & revert functions if someone does something bad, but I have yet to see a case where permissions in a wiki did anything but hinder productivity & foster elitism. If someone wants to edit the docs you should let them. Hell, if someone wants to read your docs you should let them. They might learn something.
  • Create a sandbox page, or if you’re using Confluence enable personal spaces so people can check out features in a safe environment.
  • Wikis are great for meeting agendas. Not only can people add things to the agenda but you can add notes to the wiki while the meeting is going on. How cool is that?
If you’re a wiki fanboi like me feel free to leave your suggestions for new wiki users in the comments. Also, I have no affiliation with Atlassian, I just like their stuff. If you’re offended use MediaWiki or Sharepoint or something.


[0] Well, I love it. There probably are people who don’t. They’re wrong.


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