Wikis. Revisited.

A while back in The Studio, we talked about a do-it-yourself wiki, called Zim Wiki (link here). Wikis have recently flown back across my radar, so I thought I would take a moment to share a few more thoughts.

If you read my article above or if you have a modicum of web-savvy-ness, you already know that a wiki is a user-generated repository of  information, a crowd-based encyclopedia of sorts, containing articles submitted by users. But then there is the why of it. Why would anyone in general, or professionals in particular, want to use a Wiki? You may already be using a wiki via applications that tap your company’s knowledge base within your own organization. Do you have access to a central source for enterprise intellectual capital created or edited by your co-workers and colleagues? Then you have been wiki-fied. Are you familiar with the inefficiencies of “recreating the wheel”? Then a wiki might be the answer to your prayers.

I can think of lots of uses for them. How about a group of attorneys and firms handling a mass of similar types of cases sharing general (not client-specific) information about strategies, new developments or experiences? How about a consortium of lawyers and clients with common interests, such as intellectual property preservation or insurance regulatory matters helping further the  group’s expertise and awareness? How about continuing legal education efforts? How about Bar Association resources? Seriously – we lawyers are definitely entrenched in the information business and any means for streamlining, organizing and making accessible the vast quantities of data out there is a GOOD thing.

So, how do you set one up? Besides using Zim Wiki, there are a few other options out there, whether you intend to host your own or utilize someone else’s server and platform. Remember that a wiki is essentially a massive database with broad read / write access. Different wiki tools offer different features which may or may not meet your end goals. Assess the different options with your desired feature set in mind – hopefully one of the available options comes close.

Another consideration is content licensing. Members are devoting their intellectual capital to populate your wiki, after all. Common licenses include the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons license, but it helps to understand them before deciding how to protect your members’  information.

In a similar vein, you will need to spend some time considering guidelines. Seems that whenever a group of people (or worse, a group of lawyers) get together, there may be friction borne of differing interpretations of the rules and limitations governing interactions. There are community standards and individual article standards that need to be considered. If you are brave, and you already have a community in mind for your wiki, you might even want to get the members involved in this process. Some time spent at the beginning encouraging discourse might prevent later conflicts.

Looking for Wiki tools? Check out some of these links:

  • MediaWiki, a popular wiki engine that is used for Wikimedia and wikiHow. 
  • YourWiki, a wiki host for the non-do-it-your-selfer.
  • Wikia, a free Wiki-hosting project.
  • Intodit, another free hosted Wiki groups tool.
  • PBwiki, an easy to use wiki hosting service with free and premium levels.
  • Springnote, a free wiki-based online notebook. Use if for notes, organization, scheduling, group projects and anything else you can think of.
  • Wikispaces, a free and paid service with a decent WYSIWIG editor, 2GB of storage and features for a single wiki with unlimited users 
  • Wikidot , another free and paid service, this with up to five sites, with up to 300MG of storage on each.
  • Want to compare your options? Visit Wikimatrix, a site that compares wiki packages, with more information than you can shake a wiki-stick at. Sorry for that.

    Hopefully, my musings on wikis might help you think about them and facilitate your quest for creating the next e-powered think tank. I would love to see how people would use wikis in their own professional venues – definitely feel free to share in the comments!

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    Dip Into eBook Waters

    Are you curious about ebooks and ereaders, but haven’t yet tried them out? I only recently started consuming books electronically (I know, hard to believe for such a die-hard tech fan), and I have to report that the experience has been mostly favorable. For me, the best feature of ebooks is portability – if you are traveling with limited space, it is much easier to stow 4 or 5 electronic novels than it is to find precious space for the same number of paperbacks. Synced bookmarking across devices, search, instantaneous dictionary look-up and notation features are also useful and unique to the ebook experience.

    But maybe you aren’t sure. There is some cost involved in the purchasing of a Kindle or similar device, as well as in the downloading of electronic copies of your favorite books.

    For the uncertain, there is a decent option – scour out free ebooks and readers to see if screen-reading is for you. For the classics, there is no better source for free ebooks than Project Gutenberg (link here). They were the first and still are the best. You can pull Project Gutenberg books directly into your iDevice using the Stanza iphone or ipad app (link here), which, by the way, is also free. Free books. Free app. And, for what it is worth, reading on the iPhone was surprisingly more manageable than I would have guessed. Project Gutenberg’s books are free in the U.S. because the copyright has expired on them (hence their uniformly “classic” nature), but this may not be true outside of the U.S., so search accordingly.

    Another option is sign-up site Wowio (link here). Wowio is not limited to classics – you can find modern titles. How do they do it? Wowio uses sponsors who will cover the cost of the ebooks in order to earn your business. Wowio has a special bent towards comics, so check out their selections if like pictures with your words.

    Looking for technical ebooks? Check out PDFCHM.net (link here).  Want to step into a virtual public library? Check out World Public Library (link here). With more than 750,000 ebooks in over 100 languages, there should be SOMETHING in there to read. While it is technically not free, the $8.95 annual membership price is paltry compared to what I spend during my average trip to Borders or Barnes & Noble.

    Of course, there is always the controversial Google Books database (link here). While paid and free are mixed in this monumental database, the older the volume, the more likely you will find free material. Or check out the offerings at ManyBooks (link here), where you might find more recent free materials.

    After pulling your books down from the internet onto your desktop, consider loading the free Calibre app (link here), to organize and sort them. You can even convert their formats to different ereader standards, which can be very helpful. Calibre is not the most intuitive software to use, but if you are persistent, you can manage its tricks. If you are all about organizing, take the time to fill in each book’s metadata, such as author, publisher, etc., so that you can later browse your burgeoning collection more effectively.

    One issue you may find frustrating is that there are several different ebook formats (and DRM issues for paid books) that may make using a single reader difficult in the long haul. Calibre does offer book format conversions to a point. The free iPhone / iPad Stanza app works with ePub, eReader, PDF, CBR, and DjVu formats. If you are simply trying out ebooks and have an iDevice, then I recommend downloading Stanza and then browsing free sources like Project Gutenberg from within the Stanza app to download and go from there. If you find yourself loving ebooks, then you may ultimately choose a dedicated reader like the Kindle or Nook, or start using the very slick iBooks (also free) reader and integrated book store on your iDevices. The syncing of books and data across my iPad and iPhone was a pretty cool feature, particularly as my voracious reading wore down the battery of one device.  

    All in all, I have been positive on my own ebooks foray. I definitely look forward to the day when I can combine my technical and leisure reading on a single, feature packed device, with search and download rendered so intuitive I barely need to think about issues such as conversion, metadata, organization and multiple formats. But, for now, the experience still works well enough to justify dedicating a measure of your time to trying it out.