Early last year I realised that I have a problem with the way I behave. In my heart I know that doing people favours is a good karma, however I also know that people value my input much more when there is a dollar cost involved. And the higher the dollars, the higher they value my input
Knowing this, I once again surprised myself by offering to setup an online shop for free for my father at http://shop.greypath.com (Actually having a look at the logs I started this project in February, so it was probably fair that he hassled me for delivery last week). Anyway, whilst hassling me about delivery, he mentioned that “he wants a user manual” on how to operate it.
Feeling guilty, I setup the shop last week and over the weekend. I didn’t bring my laptop home and used the home desktop. So switching computers whilst doing the job meant I needed to store the draft user manual, somewhere that I could access it, no matter whether I was at work or at home. I realised that I should take my own advice and a Wiki was the way to go.
Wikipedia is the best known example of a Wiki. Wiki’s are websites that allow pages to be created and edited by users. For my small sites, I favour a product called dokuwiki, which can be found here. http://wiki.splitbrain.org/wiki:dokuwiki
On the weekend I setup a new website (no charge by my hosting service) with the subdomain name webnotes.greypath.com and created some password protection so only I and my father can see it. I then downloaded and installed the free dokuwiki software (free and easy to install as it doesn’t use a database, only text files). I then dumped everything I was doing into the wiki, including setting up a number of pages that were yet to be populated, plus a page for my to-do list. There was a whole lot of bugs I had to address, mostly around connecting the shop to a payment gateway, so I had to keep a copy of all the code changes I had made as well.
On Tuesday I went over to my Dad’s office, walked him through operation of the new website, and handed over the manual/wiki.
Dad, said “but why did you set this manual up as a wiki? Are you just trying to show off? The answer was of course, “Nope, I’m just lazy”.
There are two outstanding reasons for setting up a user manual as a wiki:
Cost – Its free
Risk – The software is open source, and has gone through many versions and is now very robust as every one in the user community has been reporting bugs.
There are a whole lot of other good reasons as well:
Collaboration – All users can update the user manual, rather than one person owning it and everyone else pretty much ignoring it.
Licensing – The Wiki I used is open source so I will never have to pay a licence fee.
Accessibility – Any where I have a web browser and internet connection I can read or edit it. I don’t need to licence multiple copies of word.
Backup – Its automatically backed up as part of my website plan.
Version Control – No more worrying about version control. I am always viewing the latest version and I can review or rollback to any old version of a page.
Secure – Because there is only one copy of the manual, I only have to provide security in one place.
Power – The software is powerful, I can use page templates, format them how I like, add images and hyperlinks, search the wiki, and roll back or discuss page changes with other users.
Although I’d have to say that the real reason is that anytime I alter something, I don’t have to chase down the manual to update it. I just log into the wiki and add the notes. Even if its two AM and I am sitting in my lounge room wearing only a pair of shorts. But you probably didn’t need to know that.
Haven’t been thanked yet though, but I’m prepared to wait.