Blog Archive

Blog posts for April 2007

About Templates and Yesterday's London Wiki Wednesday

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Credits : David Terrar

I was yesterday evening at the 2nd Wiki Wednesday held in London in 2007. The event was organized by David Terrar and was quite a success, with about 40 people coming around this time.

It was quite interesting to have people around talking about how they were starting to think about how they could use a wiki in their company, how they tried to start new ones for specific purposes, whether and when they succeeded of failed. To me, one of the main reasons why adopting a wiki can prove tricky is the blank page phenomenon. It took me a long time to go for it and start my first wiki page from scrap.

Overcoming The Blank Page Syndrom

I did so on Wikipedia, as many others before me did. One element which is somewhat counter-intuitive with a wiki is that you are encouraged to publish writings and thoughts that are not finished. Actually, it is even not recommended to post material you consider as "finished" on a wiki page since other users are likely to come to you and suggest improvements - or rather edit the page and bring those improvements in by themselves. However, even with this principle in mind it is still difficult for most people to start their first wiki page. "What should I put on it? How should I present it?" are frequently heard questions.

Yesterday I presented on how XWiki helps tackle this issue through its innovative interface. With XWiki, you can create a document template (that is, a model of what all your documents of the same type will look like) and let your users create new documents using this template. For instance, check the References page on XWiki.org: if you want to add a new project, all you need to do is type its name and click on "create". Then all you need to do is to enter relevant information, as in a usual form. When you save the page, it will automatically take the look defined by its model.

A Template, sinon rien!

This triggers different kinds of benefits for XWiki users. First, it means that you can have a good looking, consistent set of pages without the hassle of looking after everyone of them individually. Imagine user feedback coming in telling you that this logo should be on the left of the page, not the right. On a traditional wiki, you are in for 60 pages to modify in a row - hope you have some free time to spend. With XWiki, all you have to do is to change the css property of the logo on the Template StyleSheet, and you're done. All your pages now have their logo on the left.

There is numerous other benefits to this approach, but they will be the topic for another post. In the meanwhile, why don't you come and give a look at the next London WikiWed ?

What is structured and unstructured data?

When I started working on XWiki, one of the challenges I was asked to undergo was to find out what was "so special about XWiki". I first came out with some features I thought were a must for a business wiki (such as the PDF export or the advanced user rights settings), but the answer I invariably got was: go further, look deeper, seek a bit more. It actually took me quite a while to get around the whole potential of XWiki, and find out exactly why is XWiki so powerful.

The answer, I happened to learn, lies around the mix of "structured and unstructured content" used in XWiki. This short sentence has proved itself surprisingly wide and complex. So, what does it mean? ...