Beyond WordPress

Hosting, Project Management, Wikis, Wordpress 1 Comment

Even though WordPress is pretty versatile, easily customizable, and fairly extensible, some of the projects I’ve been involved in lately require more than WordPress, and I’ve been looking at:

  • Wikis
  • Mailing lists
  • Other CMS systems such as Mambo and Joomla

and generally trying to extend my capabilities without too steep a learning curve to make it worthwhile.

Every time I adventure out I come back chastened at how little I really know about how to use the tools available, and what this marvelous collective brain that we call the Internet has wrought. Mostly, I decide it’s just too complex, and easier to stick with what I know, but over the winter holidays this year I’ve decided to give it a push, and figure out at least the first two items, wikis and mailing lists. This post is designed to record my early learnings in these two fields.

First, wikis.

Fantastico, the “autoinstaller” that comes with many self-serve hosting accounts these days, will install TikiWiki and PHPwiki with one click, but I’ve found them less than intuitive to get going with. TikiWiki, which seems the more user-friendly of the two, is described as:

TikiWiki is designed to be an international, clean and extensible Content Management System and Groupware that can be used to create all sorts of web applications, sites, portals, intranets and extranets. TikiWiki also works great as a web-based collaboration tool. TikiWiki has a lot of native options and sections that you can enable/disable as you need them.

Installing either of these systems is dead easy. The problem is then finding a step-by-step guide to setting them up and using them. The best I’ve seen so far is Jack Wallen’s description at TechRepublic.com. (Of course, every time I find something like this, I get distracted by something else on the page. The first thing I noticed was that TechRepublic.com was not actually the URL of the web site – it was TechRepublic.com.com. This meant that the actually site was www.com.com, and that turns out to be an alias for cnet.com, which runs news headlines at the top of the page, and the one that just happened to be there was “Can 365 Nights Of Sex Bolster A Marriage?” Needless to say, I had to check this out before returning to the task at hand.)

Anyway, as Jack describes it, “I’ve covered a lot of CMS systems, but none of those systems had me as wide-eyed as TikiWiki. Why? This system has a plethora of options and tools. There is so much here that, upon installation, I wasn’t exactly sure where to start first. It’s almost too much, but not too much to be useful. You’ll probably never use 100 percent of TikiWiki’s offerings; just choosing the features you’ll stick with will take you a while.”

He goes on to add,

“What is TikiWiki, really? As you can infer from the name, it’s a wiki: a collaborative bit of technology used to gather information, or an open source dictionary, if you will. Visitors (those with permissions, at least) can add, remove, and edit content as they see fit. Wikipedia is probably the most popular wiki. However, albeit enormous in scope, Wikipedia is limited to what it does for the public.

“TikiWiki takes the wiki one giant step further: TikiWiki has a feature set that looks like it belongs to a large-scale system.”

So maybe it’s not so surprising that I’m a bit lost trying to set it up. The problem is not installation, since Fantastico handles all that, it’s getting started. So I pretty much skipped over the section on installation, and went right to the part on administration:

Naturally, the next step is to log in as the administrator to start administering the system. If you remember back to the installation process, an administrator account was never set up. Once again, never fear — the TikiWiki team has this covered. To log in as the administrator, use the username admin and the password admin. To make matters safe, the first thing you will be required to do is change the administrator password. You won’t have a choice in this case.

The creation of your TikiWiki site is done and ready for you.

…One of the first things you will notice is how enormous the menu is. Figures B and C highlight just how many entries you have to play with.

Obviously I’m not going to repeat all this here, since all you have to do is go there to see it. So the next step is to pull up my own TikiWiki installation and start administering it. First thing, according to Jack, is “to focus on the Admin home entry. Select the Admin home link to reveal the full set of admin tools.” At the top is a note that says, “Tip: Enable/disable Tiki features in Admin > Features, but configure them elsewhere.”

So I did this, selecting probably way more features than needed, but we’ll see… To continue:
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Once you have enabled your features, go back to the Admin Home page to start your configuration.

One of the features I enabled was the Site Identity feature. This feature allows you to customize (or “brand”) your TikiWiki site to fit your company. Press the Site Identity icon to open up the configuration options for this feature.

Within this feature, there are six sections:

  • Custom Code (You can use custom XHTML or Smarty Code). Note: If you enable this option, make sure your code is absolutely correct, or you risk messing up your installation.
  • Site Breadcrumbs (Site location bar)
  • Site Logo (Your company logo here)
  • Site Ads and Banners (Advertising dollar opportunities)
  • Site Menu Bar (Requires that PHP Layers dynamic menus be enabled in the Features section)

The above list has some nice configurations. The Site Menu Bar, for example, adds a nice mouse over menu bar at the top of the page. When your mouse hovers over a category, a clickable menu appears. Nice touch.

I couldn’t immediately find this “Site Identity Feature,” but by looking over the icons in the Admin Home page, I found and clicked on “Look and Feel,” which took me to a page where I found it was on by default. Here I was able to locate the General Layout section, and see where the top logo is specified, and use this information to upload and specify my own (using my FTP program, Yummy FTP). I also enabled the Site Breadcrumbs feature, as it’s always useful in a wiki to know where you are.

Time now, however, to get on with what I’m trying to use it for – the SBI Feasibility Study – so for the time being I’m taking a break from “design” to see if I can move forward to create a working site.

… Saturday, December 27, 2008

At first I wasn’t sure if it made sense to set up our own wiki, or just to use one of the “free” services that are already widely available. There are even some corporate wiki sites that offer introductory or academic rates that are low enough to be worth considering. I was seriously tempted by WikiDot, MindTouch‘s Deki Express (see http://sbifeasibility.wik.is/ for the start of this), Netcipia, and Grou.ps SuperWiki.

In the end, though, after Jack’s glowing review of the software I already have, I decided to give it a shot.

So I set up the wiki as a collaborative workspace to plan, carry out, complete, and revise the study, and I’ve sent out invitations to the team. We’ll see if they find it useful. My experience in the past is that non-technical people frequently find it difficult to adapt to these online work systems. (Meanwhile, of course, most kids today think nothing of adapting to electronic games that are way more complicated – and thrive on it.)

… Friday, January 2, 2008

Just found and checked out another well-known wiki site: PBWiki, which offers both a free and paid service – free for up to 3 users, $8/user/month beyond that for business users, less for academic and personal use. Think I’d ruled them out because of the cost, but perhaps something to consider down the road…

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