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I was recently talking with a friend about setting up a Wiki for his co-workers, to share information and ideas. But his co-workers are not tech people, and we both decided that the Wiki markup would be too much of an obstacle.
I know there are ways to shoehorn WYSIWYG editors like TinyMCE into a Wiki, and some have rudimentary editors built in. But most Wikis seem to encourage the use of some special syntax. I found a presentation on Wikipedia (http://wikimania2006.wikimedia.org/wiki/Proceedings:CS1) which makes this philosophy explicit. They even suggest an editor which shows formatted text along with the Wiki codes, so people can be sure to understand the semantics of the markup. I quote:
"Vision: computer literacy should involve understanding the difference between the model and the view."
My question is: are they nuts? I'm a decent computer programmer, and even I hate trying to remember the Wiki syntax. For tables it's a joke. No normal person wants to use this. It's hardly better than HTML, plus if you write something in Word or Excel first, you have to take the time to convert it to markup.
Wouldn't a decent WYSIWYG editor be an improvement, even if it's more difficult to program? You could strip it down to the basics, and use styles (a la Word) to put in the semantic information like headers and outline levels. If we want to encourage more people to edit web pages, why not allow them to use tools they already understand?
(Granted, maybe it's good to have Wiki markup as a barrier to entry for sites like Wikipedia, to discourage vandalism. But this isn't true for all sites.)
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Actually some wikis do have a WYSIWYG editor. Look into MoinMoin.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Check out "Leaky Abstractions"...
Starting with the basics and hiding all the markup works for most non-advanced users just starting off. Unfortunately, many users outgrow it pretty quickly and will want to "view source" to tweak things to show up their own way.
Look at how many people are Excel Ninja but would be terrified of a database. Let's face it, the distinction between many aspects of the two are nomenclature, not concepts....
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
We have a Wiki at work (moinmoin). When we installed it, it got a bit of use. The problem is now, not many really uses it anymore as it's not easy to find things, not easy to edit or put new things in. I agree tables are horrendous. Printing a wiki page from any browser is a trick and a half and rarely comes out how you would hope it would come out. In all a poor user experience and enough frustration to cause people to not use it.
I've started to just use normal word processing software and putting docs in source control. Set up a good enough template for all the docs to use and went from there. Tables are still a bit of a pain (MS Word is being used, why can't it be simple like HTML tables in behaviour) but not half as bad as the wiki way. No issues when printing either. The overall experience and getting things done is more pleasing too. Or at least from my current experience. (Open Office was tried and worked but not everyone here uses it.)
I despise "WYSIWYG" editors on the web. Perhaps it's because they're more like WYSIAYG: What You See Is All (or Almost) You Get. You have to basically finagle the thing into producing HTML that looks somewhat like what you actually wanted and would have got in half the time if you could explicitly code it that way. At least, for developers who are always posting code and such.
For the every-day user, WYSIWYG presents another problem: inconsistency. Bob from accounting likes to scale his font up to XL sizes, because he's 70 years old. Tiffany the secretary likes pink cursive. Frankly, neither of those should be a possibility. Don't let your average users break the consistency of a site. Textile is easy to learn and is probably the best simple markup out there. I'd go for a wiki that supports it if there are any.
We used OpenWiki and FlexWiki, neither of which caught on with more than a few "hard-core" IT users. Then we bought Confluence from Atlassian, and it actually gets used (still not as much as I think it could or should, but enough).
I think JotSpot (recently bought by Google) did an even better job of simplifying the concept, but they only have a hosted version and we'd already bought Confluence.
"For the every-day user, WYSIWYG presents another problem: inconsistency"
A well-configured editor, such as TinyMCE with most of the options turned off, can help with that. Let them choose block element type (paragraph, heading, etc), create links, create/edit tables, and use bold/italic/underline but leave the real font controls turned off.
I agree that most markup systems are faster than web-based WYSIWYG once you get over the initial learning curve.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
TinyMCE seems pretty useful to our clients. It has an HTML source editing feature. There's a paste-from-Word plugin for it, which formats the pasted content in HTML similarly to how Word or OOo Write had it formatted. It can be told what text sizes, styles, tags, and such it is supposed to allow.
There are a few cases in which someone edits a section of text in a page that has a stylesheet and the the CSS and inline styles end up conflicting. That's an issue that hasn't bothered enough people often enough that's we've actively looked to solve it.
We use TinyMCE both with a minimal page editor written in-house and with LucidCMS, a non-wiki web publishing CMS that our customers figure out pretty quickly.
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