On this page:
  • Wiki information architecture thoughts
  • Of storytellers and pattern-makers; Book: Solitude: A Return to the Self
  • Process: How to ask communities for help

Wiki information architecture thoughts

Even though a wiki is a free-form, unstructured, organic information repository, it needs to be organized so that users don’t get overwhelmed by information. So, how do you organize information on a wiki?

Wikipatterns is a great site for people and adoption patterns, but it doesn’t give tips on how to organize the information. So here are some tips to help you organize your wiki:

Visual identity

A banner, customized colour scheme, and a sidebar may seem unnecessary. When you’re creating lots of pages, it’s a pain to copy-and-paste the template. But a visual identity for your wiki helps people recognize when they’re looking at one of its pages and it gives them a consistent way to navigate to the major parts of your site. Tip: If your wiki allows you to include other wiki pages, put template segments on separate pages and then include them. This saves you from editing hundreds of pages whenever your navigation menu changes.

Homepage

Write the homepage content for a general audience instead of for specialized roles. Provide information about your team and about the wiki. Save the detailed links for other navigation pages that are linked to from the homepage. Link to other resources people might find useful, too.

Multiple navigation pages

Create multiple ways to navigate through the same information space. For example, if project managers need to access certain kinds of information quickly, create a page for them with shortcuts to the resources they need.

Contact information

Always have a contact person for the wiki. Encourage people to edit the wiki themselves if they feel comfortable, but provide a way for them to contact someone else with changes or new resources if they’re not comfortable working with the wiki themselves.

Related resources and the big picture

Link to other resources your team or community uses (other websites, file repositories, Lotus Notes teamrooms, communities, etc.). Show the big picture: when do people use the wiki, and when do people use other resources? What’s stored where?

Workspace

If you need to store information that doesn’t have a proper home yet, have a area on your wiki where you can store snippets that are still being worked on. That way, the rough drafts don’t confuse people browsing through the rest of the wiki. Use this space to store administrivia about the wiki as well, such as snippets for the sidebar.

Handling information requests

When people ask you for information that’s on the wiki, ask them where they looked for it and what they searched for. After you send them the resource, build the missing links so that people can find it easily.

Duplicate information

If you need to copy and paste information instead of including it, pick one place where the latest information will be, and provide links to that place when you paste the information into other pages. This will help you resolve conflicts in the future. If you can, provide backlinks to where the information has been copied, so that you know where you need to update it.

Meta-information

Document what you need to do in order to update the wiki, where things are, and how information is organized. This helps you teach other people how to use the wiki.

Automatic lists

Many wikis can automatically list the children of a page, pages in a given category, or pages with a given label. Use this feature to save you from manually updating lists of pages.

Pretty vs. editable

Pretty layouts tend to be difficult to edit without breaking. Simple layouts tend to be plain. Depending on your target audience, decide where your wiki will be. Do you expect lots of participation? Keep the page layout simple and avoid advanced macros. Do you work with a finicky group that will only use polished resources? Invest in styling, and accept that you might be the only one adding to the wiki.

Internal vs. external links

When linking to other pages in the wiki, try to use internal wiki links instead of copying and pasting the URLs. Most wikis indicate external links with icons. If you use internal wiki links, you avoid the visual clutter and show people that they can expect to have the same navigation when they click through.

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There are more things to share, but this braindump is a good start! Have you come across something like this (preferably with more detail)? I’d love to learn from what other people are doing.

Of storytellers and pattern-makers; Book: Solitude: A Return to the Self

Of the three phrases in my e-mail signature and business card, storyteller draws the most smiles. People visibly relax. They ask me questions. They talk to me in a way they might not talk to an IT specialist or a consultant. Geek gets grins from people in the know, but storyteller is the one that crosses boundaries.

I added storyteller to my self-descriptors when I noticed technology evangelist needed a lot of explanation. The idea was simple: you can’t get people to explore social media by just showing it to them. You have to show them real people using it to create real value, and stories are a great way to do that. I collected examples from different industries and business units, and I used anecdotes to help people understand.

I was reading Solitude: A Return to the Self (a psychoanalytic exploration of introversion and creativity, drawing on historical examples), and I came across an interesting distinction between dramatists and patterns: people who retell stories and relieve experiences, and people who focus on patterns and regularities.

I stopped, reflected on it, and recognized more of myself in the patterner than the dramatist. At the family table, my father and my sister were always the ones telling stories with accents and sound effects. I spent more of my time thinking and reading, drawing connections among the dozens of books I read on a topic, teasing out common topics and threads.

I didn’t fully recognize that part of myself until I had the words to describe it.

I am more of a pattern-maker than a storyteller. Yes, I sprinkle anecdotes through talks to make them more alive, and I share stories through my blog. But the real value I find myself creating at work is in documenting and improving the way people do things. I build Drupal systems, and more than that, I build people’s ability to build Drupal systems. I use social software, and I train people how to do so. I facilitate workshops, and I improve the way we organize and facilitate those engagements.

What does this mean in terms of playing to my strengths? I’ll write about more processes and look for more ways to improve them. I’ll organize what I create so that it’s easy for people to learn and contribute. I’ll work on being able to see and being able to communicate. I’ll learn about lots of different kinds of patterns, so that I can bring them together.

I’ll still work on storytelling skills. Stories are essential for leadership and connection. I’ll keep blogging, and I’ll keep using lots of examples in talks.

But it’s nice to have a name for what I do.

Here’s a link to the book:

Solitude: A Return to the Self
Anthony Storr

(Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

Most of it is about Freud and Jung, and various writers and poets who’ve had solitary lives (mostly troubled solitary lives). The key message is probably that being alone isn’t as bad as people think it is. =) And you might pick up something completely different, like I did…

Process: How to ask communities for help

Reaching out to communities can be a powerful way to find talent or resources. Your personal network may take a while to find the right person or file, especially if key people are unavailable. If you ask the right community, though, you might be able to get answers right away.

Here are some tips on asking communities for help:

  • Providing as much information as you can in the subject and message body.
    • Show urgency. Does your request have a deadline? Mention the date in the subject.
    • Be specific. Instead of using “Please help” as your subject, give details and write like an ad: “Deadline Nov ___, Web 2.0 intranet strategy expert needed for 5-week engagement in France” .
  • Whenever possible, create a discussion forum topic where people can check for updates and reply publicly. This will save you time and effort you’d otherwise spend answering the same questions again and again. It also allows other people to learn from the ongoing discussion. If you’re broadcasting your request to multiple communities, you can use a single discussion forum topic to collect all the answers, or you can create multiple discussion topics and monitor each of them.
  • If your request is urgent, send e-mail to the community. Most people do not regularly check the discussion forum, so send e-mail if you feel it’s necessary. You may want to ask one of the community leaders to send the e-mail on your behalf. This allows leaders to make sure their members aren’t overwhelmed with mail. Using a community leader’s name can give your message greater weight as well.
  • Plan for your e-mail to be forwarded. Because your e-mail may be forwarded to others, include all the details people will need to evaluate your request and pass it on to others who can help. Omit confidential details and ask people to limit distribution if necessary. Include a link to your discussion forum topic so that people can read updates.
  • Promise to summarize and share the results, and follow through. This encourages people to respond to you because they know they’ll learn something, and it helps you build goodwill in the community.

Good luck!