Organizing Information

Posted by ardchoille on Jul 8, 2007 6:30 PM EST
imacgregor.com; By Ian MacGregor
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We all have them; snippets of code, half-written tutorials, cooking recipes, photo galleries, blogs, information about a project or event, and the list goes on. Information can take many forms. Writing a book? Have a document you want the world to be able to access? Wouldn't it be nice to have a central location for all of these things and have them all conform to a common appearance? Or, better yet, a central location where several authors can collaborate on these items?

We all have them; snippets of code, half-written tutorials, cooking recipes, photo galleries, blogs, information about a project or event, and the list goes on. Information can take many forms. Writing a book? Have a document you want the world to be able to access? Wouldn't it be nice to have a central location for all of these things and have them all conform to a common appearance? Or, better yet, a central location where several authors can collaborate on these items?

Designing a website can be a daunting task. There are many tools available for this task with content management systems being a favorite these days. I began designing websites by writing the html code in a text editor many years ago, and using a web page designer can speed this process up, but there is a better way.

Enter the wiki
A wiki is a software program which allows multiple authors to add, edit, and remove content. The multiple author capability of a wiki makes it an effective tool for collaborative authoring. Many wikis use SQL for the underlying storage method but many people find SQL to be intimidating and prefer the simplicity offered by flat-file storage.

PmWiki
PmWiki is a wiki-based system for collaborative creation and maintenance of websites. PmWiki pages look and act like normal web pages, except they have an "Edit" link that makes it easy to modify existing pages and add new pages into the website. Knowledge of HTML or CSS is not required to use PmWiki and page editing can be left open to the public or restricted to one author or a group of authors. The PmWiki homepage can be found at PmWiki.org.

Installation
Installing PmWiki as as easy as downloading the package from PmWiki downloads, unpacking it, creating a few required directories and initializing the software. My first PmWiki installation took all of three minutes and I was adding content to my site without knowing much about software. The PmWiki package includes installation instructions and the wiki itself can let the user know if anything needs to be done to get the site up and running. PmWiki is distributed under the GNU General Public License and was written with the intent of being easily upgradable. for more information about installing PmWiki, please visit installing PmWiki.

Look and feel
A site administrator can quickly change the appearance and functions of a PmWiki site by using different skins and HTML templates. The PmWiki site currently has over 50 skins and you can easily modify one or create your own if you can't find an appropriate skin already made. Skins can range from the simple but effective default skin to the dark and mysterious Bs-001 skin. Many web hosts offer various software programs that deal with different content. This is good, but many times you will find that the various programs don't use the same skin; the user is required to search for matching skins or create their own. PmWiki can be set up to act as a simple wiki or a full content management system and have every page use a common skin. Visit the skins page at PmWiki skins to see the wide range of available skins.

Customization
One principle of the PmWiki Philosophy is to only include essential features in the core engine, but make it easy for administrators to customize and add new markup. These customizations, known as "plugins", are called recipes and describe add-on scripts and various "tips and tricks" that let you customize PmWiki in many different ways. Some examples of available recipes are: including mathematical formulas, chess games using Portable Game Notation markup, formatted and styled tables, displaying RSS news feeds, producing in line graphs and charts, photo galleries, blogging capability, and web based calendars. Hundreds of features are already available by using recipes and are available from the PmWiki cookbook.

Creating content
The pages on a PmWiki site are Wiki Wiki Web pages, which means that pages can be created and edited by multiple authors. To edit a page, simply click the "Edit" link that exists somewhere on the page, usually in the header or footer. When editing a page, you see the markup text that describes the content of the page. To add text to a page, simply type in the new text. To make a link to another page, enclose the page's name in double brackets; for example [[my new page]] links to a new page. Links to nonexistent pages are displayed as a normal web link to invite others to create the page simply by clicking on the new link. The PmWiki package includes a documentation index and the editing rules are easy to learn. The full documentation index can be found at PmWiki documentation.

Access control
PmWiki password protection can be applied to an entire site, to groups of pages, or to individual pages. Password protection controls who can read and edit pages and upload attachments. PmWiki's access control system is completely self-contained, but can also work in conjunction with existing password databases, such as .htaccess, LDAP servers, and MySQL databases. Visit protecting your wiki for more information about protecting PmWiki.

Conclusion
The net is quite large with people from all over the world sharing information on a daily basis. Using a computer should be enjoyable and PmWiki makes it fun and easy as well as offering the flexibility to create content which is limited only by the imagination of the user. Visit the PmWiki users and success stories pages for an example of the success of this software.

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