Wiki While You Work
At a Glance:
- What's a wiki?
- Building a wiki in SharePoint
- Editing and tracking changes
The wiki concept has been around for over 10 years. In its simplest form, a wiki—the Hawaiian term for "quick"—is an online destination where users can freely create or edit Web page content
using only a browser. The goal is to provide a space where members of a virtual community can edit any page with full freedom to introduce, alter, or remove content, including anything created by previous authors. Unlike blogs, which are designed for more structured knowledge exchange and one-to-many communication, wikis enable a more collaborative experience.
Much attention has been given recently to the next generation of online tools, dubbed Web 2.0. The premise is that barriers surrounding content creation will be lowered, allowing users to be producers as well as consumers of online information. This phenomenon is occurring not just in the Internet world but also within corporate firewalls. You should think of it as Enterprise 2.0-tools that make content creation easier for all employees. Technologies like blogs and wikis will go a long way in changing how companies think about, store, and recycle corporate knowledge.
Microsoft is facilitating this next-generation capability with the introduction of Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server (MOSS) 2007, the third version of the popular SharePoint technology. MOSS 2007 offers extended collaboration and communication functionality, including support for the creation of blogs and wikis. This article discusses how to get started building wikis with MOSS 2007.
If you've worked with SharePoint Portal Server 2003, the use of site templates should be very familiar. Site templates provide a framework for the layout of a particular type of page (a team or meeting or social event, for example) that presets placeholders for specific content. MOSS 2007 extends the use of site templates by introducing a new collection of template types. One of these is for a wiki.
Figure 1 shows the New SharePoint Site page used to create a SharePoint site. Notice that in the template list there's an item for Wiki Site. By selecting this template, you can quickly and easily create your first wiki. Take a look at Figure 2, which is the default rendering of the newly created wiki. The structure of a wiki is such that this default page is your home page. Everything here can be edited. Properly authorized users-your virtual community-can modify this page or create new pages.
Figure 1** Selecting the Wiki Template for a New Site **
Figure 2** Your New SharePoint Wiki, Waiting to be Edited **(Click the image for a larger view)
Before we go any further, let's take a step back and talk about introducing wikis to your users. As I mentioned, wikis have been around on the Internet or through third-party tools for some time. For the most part, however, the use of wikis has been highly specialized and has grown slowly, through word of mouth. MOSS 2007 is poised to change this by offering wiki functionality to all intranet users. This is a very powerful (and potentially scary) proposition! How do you explain the value of a wiki to a non-technical, non-Internet-savvy coworker? What you need to tell them is that wikis are intended to foster creative exchanges of opinions and ideas in an environment free enough to offer all users a voice. They enable content collaboration, but they're actually a lot more. The end result of a wiki is not a document or a chapter, but rather a book-a book that need never be finished, that you can modify whenever necessary.
OK, back to work. For first-time wiki users, online guidance is available via the How to Use This Wiki Site hyperlink. The default wiki template comes with sufficient documentation to get new users comfortable and contributing quickly.
How Wikis Work
On every wiki page, you'll notice action buttons on the upper-right side. If you click on the one labeled Edit, you'll be directed to the page associated with content editing. Figure 3 shows an example. All editing happens in the browser-there is no need to use external tools like Microsoft Word. And the edits take place online and in real time (once saved). Moreover, no Web design or development skills are required. The edit interface allows for full rich text creation (bolding or colors or bullet points or images), all with the use of standard buttons. A user simply opens an existing page in edit mode and adds or modifies content. That's it.
Figure 3** Editing Wiki Content Entirely within the Browser **(Click the image for a larger view)
In an environment where content is ever evolving, how do you manage the changes? You may not necessarily feel the need to police all contributions, but you probably want some means of tracking changes and maintaining version history. MOSS 2007 lets you do this. Figure 4 shows what a standard page looks like after you click the History button. In the center, you'll notice that all edits to the text have been tracked. On the left, you can see the history of changes, tracked for each time a change was made. The community has full power to review, track, and even roll back changes. This is a powerful concept. As you're building and changing your wiki, MOSS 2007 is tracking that movement.
Figure 4** Tracking Changes to a Wiki Entry over Time **(Click the image for a larger view)
As noted, a wiki is not a Web page. It is a collection of limitless pages. As a member of a wiki community, you may decide to introduce a new idea or discussion point. Rather than adding text to an existing page, you may want to branch off onto a new page. MOSS 2007 supports this by allowing easy addition of wiki pages. Simply click New and you've spun off a new wiki page. Start adding content and you're on your way!
MOSS 2007 may not have introduced the concept of a wiki but, given its wide availability, it does make them much more appealing. Wikis can transform the way organizational workers collaborate-they are no longer bound by the limits of a document. Wikis encourage unstructured thinking and broader collaboration, and this integrates nicely into the broader concepts associated with the Enterprise 2.0 philosophy. Wikis are enablers; they allow all users to participate-and not only to follow along but also to head off in new directions.
Mauro Cardarelli is a Managing Partner at Jornata, a Boston-based IT consulting services company. His responsibilities include technology evangelism, architecture design, and software development. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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