Monthly Archives: February 2009

Wiki options at IWU

A few people have contacted me lately about using wiki tools to collaborate with others on a project. We don’t have an “official” wiki at IWU so there is always a bit of confusion at the outset.

Many people have opted for Google Docs instead of wiki. This makes a lot of sense if your group is just collaborating on internal work. If you want to publish the work to the web later, wiki tools are a better fit.

What wiki is the right wiki? I don’t know. We have used Confluence (a commercial tool that costs money) and Wikispaces (basic wiki is free, extra features cost you). There is also a basic wiki built in to Moodle. I’ve used MediaWiki (the engine that powers Wikipedia) on my own server with great results. So I must be a wiki expert, right? Not even close. Here is an article naming some of the wiki farms on the web today.

So what tool is the right tool? There are a few factors that are important when stacking these tools and services up for comparison. First is access. There are two sorts of access for a wiki – read and write. Clearly your own people will need to both read and write if they are going to collaborate. Can the tool allow or disallow public reading, writing, or both? Can you use it to make this choice on a page-by-page basis?

I’d also look for a tool that permits downloading a backup copy of your wiki, at least in HTML form. That way the end product of your collaboration can be retained, even if the company hosting the service goes out of business.

Last but not least, find something that is easy to sign up for and easy to use. I have some concerns about the usability of the Moodle wiki. On my first visit I couldn’t figure out how to make a new page without looking it up. When comparing usability I’d stack any wiki up against Wikipedia. Everyone should know how to modify a Wikipedia entry by now – it is very easy – and if your wiki service makes it confusing you might shop elsewhere.

Sharing is caring: Google Reader

I’ve written about Google products before, including Google Docs and Google Presentations. I haven’t had much to say about Google Reader since until recently I used either Thunderbird or Bloglines Beta to pull in news and feeds from various websites. I switched to Reader for three reasons.

First, I noticed that some nice people had written Firefox extensions to customize the GReader experience. I found Thunderbird to be slow and Bloglines Beta OK but a little buggy (it is a beta, after all) and I liked the idea of tweaking things here and there to improve my experience.

Second, I heard that GReader’s mobile interface was very good. Thus far I feel that it is much faster than the Bloglines mobile site. There are still some feeds that contain images that don’t load properly on my admittedly old mobile device.

Third, GReader allows me to share with others. I can selectively “fling” certain articles that I like, with my own annotation, into a publicly viewable queue. Google displays this shared queue of information in a few different ways. First, there is a Google URL just for your shared items. This can be viewable to the whole world. They also give you code to publish a little “badge” on your own website. Lastly, my friends who also use GReader can click “Rick’s Shared Items” in their own feed list to see what I’ve added.

You can see the GReader badge, among other things, on my personal website. Notice the middle part that says “Rick’s Shared Items”? That list dynamically changes as I share new things in GReader.

Let me know if you already use Google Reader and I’ll add you as a friend.