RTFW

RTFW

on Dec 15, 09 • by Helen Abbott • with 1 Comment

Our new documentation wiki is up and running! For awhile it seemed like we’d never do it. We have a team white board that records our panic level, and for several weeks, the level was up around “hysterical” and “wanting to open my own daycare”. We also have a white board in front of the ...

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Our new documentation wiki is up and running!

For awhile it seemed like we’d never do it. We have a team white board that records our panic level, and for several weeks, the level was up around “hysterical” and “wanting to open my own daycare”.

We also have a white board in front of the doc area, in a hallway where everyone walks by to get to the kitchen.  At one point when we were particularly frustrated with MediaWiki, the topic was “names for the new doc wiki”. A few good suggestions:

the gaping maw, or "the wiki is never done"

the gaping maw, or "the wiki is never done"

  • Duh-Wiki
  • Kwiki
  • Wooki
  • The gaping maw of hell

And the best one, though we decided it would be unprofessional to make it official:

RTFW

Fortunately, when I was ready to throw in the towel, our IT guy stepped into the ring and beat MediaWiki into submission. He installed extension after extension, found a search engine that worked for us, and configured a great PDF creator. He moved the entire Wiki a few times to improve performance and security. And he was much more tolerant of the state of MediaWiki’s documentation than I was.

So, if you’re a small documentation team thinking of moving to a Wiki, what do you need to make it work?

  • Someone outside the doc team needs to handle the technical side, so you still have time to do what you do best: write user documentation. In our case, besides IT, one of our senior developers ended up learning more than he probably wanted to about MediaWiki. He made the wiki the source for context-sensitive help for detected issues; each of these wiki pages allows you to switch from English to Japanese. Some of our users have no access to the internet, so he also wrote a script that exports the wiki to static html for packaging with Klocwork software.
  • Read blog entries like Tom Johnson’s Ramping Up on MediaWiki to remind you that you’re doing the right thing.
  • When the voices in your head whisper that it’s impossible to both switch your help delivery mechanism and reorganize/rewrite the entire help system in just a few months, take a pill or something.
  • When your inner perfectionist rears its ugly head, repeat this mantra: The wiki is never done. The wiki is never done.

In the end, despite feeling like we were being drawn kicking and screaming into the gaping maw of hell, we love our wiki, and we hope our users will too. And users, if you don’t like it, you can change it!

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