Design Social Software

The Ugly Wiki (Part Two)

A few months ago a conversation emerged across the net about whether or not wikis were ugly (see also Many to Many) (and moreover whether the fact that they was ugly affected how useful they were). Obviously, the whole issue was rife with debate about whether the simple design of wikis was simply nasty or whether it was actually just more useful and appropriate to have something stripped down to the bone.

Anyway, over the last few weeks the team that Matt and I work with has been trying to put together a wiki for our intranet. I think they’ve demonstrated that maybe there are ways of keeping both camps content – simple, adaptable Wiki designs can be made that are also elegant and attractive. First things first – here’s a quick thumbnail of Kate Rogers’ design for the page (apologies for the blue border – it’s a standard thing).

I’m not sure that having the image reduced to that size necessarily does the design justice, so here are two screen-shots of the site at different screen-widths. The whole thing’s been recoded in (mostl) compliant HTML and CSS, so it’s also quite flexible:

Matt and I haven’t had that much to do with the getting the Wiki together – it was a project that existed before we got here – but we’ve had a couple of minor opportunities to help out and the whole process has been really interesting. I think most of all we’ve learned a lot about how Wikis should be rolled out to groups of people who aren’t really familiar with them – in particular the importance of transmitting the culture and the ethos. It’s still a bit of a work in progress, but it’s looking increasingly like it’s actually going to work…

But before I say any more about rolling out Wikis, major kudos to Paul Clifford and Joss Burnett – when we arrived in the department they were experimenting with Zope as a substrate for the intranet, and had put Zwiki in place for the wiki. But when we actually came to working through Zwiki’s rules for text-formatting, we were all a bit startled – they were extraordinarily arcane and complex. So we researched the problem a bit and looked at various kinds of wiki mark-up and discovered that there was not only a massive variety of them, but also that many of them operated on completely different principles from one another.

After considerable examination, we decided that MoinMoin‘s parsing was probably the most effective and useful for our purposes, because – even though I don’t think they’re as simple as Usemod – it’s powerful and has a relatively shallow learning curve. At which point Paul and Joss spent considerable time and effort building a highly effective MoinMoin parser for Zwiki – giving us all the benefits of Zope with a Wiki that is actually simple enough for non-technical members of the department to use. General consensus here is – that if we are able – we’re going to throw all this stuff (design and code) straight back out into the public sphere for people to work with and play with… More news on that as we have it…

Coming soon… The Ugly Wiki (Part Three)