I manage the knowledge base wiki software at work. I don’t like wikis or the design philosophy. At work we maintain a knowledge base (KB) using Foswiki. Previous to Foswiki was Mediawiki. Neither software is friendly to non technical users. Administrators are expected to RTFM their way through all maintenance and are expected to be a full card-carrying geek. Pigs in mud and all that.

At work one of the obstacles to maintaining the KB information is the user-hostile editing tools. Nobody there wants to deal with the markup languages. The text editor for Foswiki has a tendency to discombobulate the contents. The alternative is using raw wiki markup, which is not going to happen with the office personnel. The end result is users not maintaining information.

Many people do not like writing or documentation. When required to maintain such information the tools should be comfortable. Software should be an enabling tool and not an impedance.

The office personnel have expressed a desire to use a word processor to maintain their procedures and guidelines. I know the typical geek response of sheer horror that anybody should want to use a word processor. How embarrassing! There is nothing l33t about using a word processor! Blah, blah, blah! Sounds a lot like monkey-throwing poop arrogance rather than helping people use tools that are comfortable and familiar.

I worked as a technical writer for many years. Customary in the technical writing field is using templates and style tags to maintain a common look and feel with all documents. Personally, I don’t understand the salivation and frothing over wikis and the annoying markup. I prefer a rich text editor environment and when unavailable, a simple text editor.

I agree with the office personnel. They want to maintain the information they use. Outside a word processor they are fish out of water, not to forget the geek element of using a wiki.

I would not guarantee a full-scale switch to a word processor, but I agreed to look for something more palatable. Something less geeky. I myself did not like the previous two wikis and I wanted something better too. If I could migrate to a word processor, my choice would be something with open standards, such as LibreOffice.

With that foundation I looked at candidates to replace Foswiki. I was long aware of DokuWiki. I decided to try that software first.

I knew and accepted that DokuWiki would not eliminate using markup syntax. Nonetheless, with nominal tinkering I found the DokuWiki markup simple and actually bearable. I found DokuWiki to be straightforward.

Plugins made DokuWiki better. To provide some kind of rich text editing tool, I found the ckgedit plugin to be more polished than the equivalent in Foswiki. The plugin seemed well behaved and did not reformat anything. One irritant is toggling between ckgedit and the default DokuWiki editor requires closing the editing session. There does not seem to a simple way to toggle between the two modes without closing the editing session.

As with all wikis some elements such as creating creating and using tables, even with plugins, are awkward in DokuWiki.

Notable in my first steps is I needed about 15 minutes to create a work-related sidebar and some pages. The page layout was simple and clean. No clutter like the Foswiki sidebar. That in itself impressed me.

I found the ACL controls straightforward, as well as configuring the system.

With some more tinkering I envisioned migrating the existing wiki to DokuWiki. With a simpler and cleaner page layout users would not feel as intimidated. Much more than Foswiki (or Medawiki), the DokuWiki page layout encourages users to relax.

I found some scripts to help migrate Foswiki topics to DokuWiki. The scripts more or less worked but I still needed a lot of time and effort to clean the files. I tinkered with DokuWiki for about 10 days and then uploaded everything to the server. I then introduced the new wiki to everyone else in the company.

I surprised myself at how much I acclimated to DokuWiki. I was able to renew my own enthusiasm for updating information. At least two other employees, including the owner, have embraced the transition and are kicking out content for the knowledge base.

That sounds like a win to me.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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