Wikis, Blogs, and Forums Oh My!

We’ve been working on a new project at work to bring more engagement from our users.  To do this, we’re jumping on the buzzword bandwagon and incorporating some Web 2.0 technologies into our department’s web presence.  Being one of the youngest and least resistant to change, I’ve been taking the lead on this.  I figured I’d post some of my experiences with some of the various tools I’ve been using.  Everything is still a work in progress, but once it’s complete, I’ll post some final thoughts.

The biggest part of the new stuff is the wiki.  If you don’t know what a wiki is, it’s basically a dynamic website editable by anyone (who has an account).  We’re using this to write up all sorts of documentation and make it easy for others to post documentation that they have.  We’re looking to build a huge knowledgebase of all the information people from various departments have.  We’re not currently limiting it to IT-related stuff because people have other questions (and we get calls about pretty much anything from the people on campus).   I started playing with MediaWiki, probably the most popular wiki software available, used by Wikipedia.  It was easy to install and get started, but configuring user accounts and doing any maintenance and configuration required playing around with MySQL commands rather than incorporating it all into a nice web-based GUI.  I gave up on that and tried TWiki.  This just didn’t work well at all and I was never able to get it up and running.  So I gave up and looked into PHPWiki.  This was just ugly and not robust enough for my needs.  I finally decided to give a tool suggested to me by the Frymaster, Deki Wiki from MindTouch.  This was a very user-friendly, easy to configure and maintain wiki.  It’s all PHP/MySQL based, and open source.  It looks nice, it doesn’t use some crazy wiki markup like MediaWiki (imagine that, actual HTML to write for the web), and we have people using it already.  If you’re just setting up a wiki and don’t know what to use, give DekiWiki a try.

The blogging software was a no-brainer.  I’m using WordPress here and it’s so simple, I just set it up for work.  I’m using the latest version with the latest version of K2 (though I edited the CSS to give it the look I want, along with a very awesome header/title image).  Not much else to report about that because I didn’t even have to think.  I’m probably going to turn this into the front page for our department site.  We’ll have news about new technology on campus, new services, security/virus alerts, and weekly random tech tips based on the calls we get.

Finally, the forum… I first played around with PunBB and while it’s nice, there’s not as much along the lines of support for it on the web and it doesn’t do everything I wanted it to (like integrate with Active Directory/LDAP) without add-ons (I like extensible software for my own purposes, but for something like this, native ability trumps extensions and plug-ins).  So I setup PhpBB3.  I found a nice theme (I can’t recall what I’m using) and played with the title and colors and it looks great.  I haven’t played with the AD integration, but it has that ability.  It has a lot more options, such as polling and better user controls.  It’s a bit big and intimidating at first, but once you get used to where everything is, it’s easy.  PunBB had a simpler administrative control panel, but you couldn’t do as much.  We’ll likely use this as a tech support forum where people ask questions and others can help answer or we can or we can point them in the right direction.  And it’ll all be archived for others to search.

So that’s about it for now.  This should all come together towards the end of the summer.  I’m hoping I get to completely replace our current website with the new stuff I’m playing with.  The fun part will be migrating stuff from my test environment to the production server.

3 thoughts on “Wikis, Blogs, and Forums Oh My!”

  1. You’ve given me some good ideas for my work. The wiki thing’s a no-brainer. I’m going to pitch the idea to my boss for our tech “how-tos”. Currently we have a bunch of .doc and .pdf files in directories on the network, sometimes different versions of the same files are out there. And to top it off, I think most people don’t even know/remember the stuff is out there. A website would make it so much easier for people to access.

    I think the forums would be a great resource for our teachers, too. I think they would jump all over that. I’m not sure about setting up blogs, but I think it might be something the superintendent and principles could utilize.

  2. Might I suggest that once you get the site up an running, that, for those that use Firefox, you get some autodiscovery XML search options set up? If you need an example, see http://www.sean-ward.com/2006/10/24/ieee_oui_search_for_firefox_2/ The easiest way I would see to do it is to then create a page on the wiki that has the 3 different (one for wiki, blog, and forum) XML files embedded in it. Unless there are restrictions on the searching functionality, I can’t imagine those not working.

    Speaking of, I need to update the one I have for BGSU username searches, since we’ve migrated over to Exchange now.

  3. Sean:

    Do you mean Firefox 3? Also, is this for the search thingy built into Firefox or is it something else? I’m really confused (though that could be the crazy wedding crap I’m dealing with now).

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