I like the site I have for my RPG a lot, but it’s very big and often unwieldy.

So I started to think about the ways I could simplify it, make it easier to use and easier to navigate. The first idea I had was a Wiki. I want to point out that when I started with a CMS (which I still love for what it is), I spent a lot of days going ‘Oh, my head! I’ll never get this.’ So I expected the same here.

What ended up happening, over the course of a month, was the realization that while the CMS is a little pain in the ass to navigate, it works better for what it needs to be. Everyone who uses it has a blog, and I’ve put so much effort into customizing it that really, the only part that would be helpful is if the ‘encyclopedia’ for the site was a Wiki. At that point, however, it wouldn’t be ‘linked’ with the CMS I have so I’m fucked. Not in a bad way, just in the ‘this works, it works 90% of the way I want, and there’s no reason to screw with it.’ If Slayer ‘reboots’ and we start a new game, I may try something different. CMS was an experiment, and it was successful.

But … I do have another site that might benefit from an encyclopedia. About 150 individual pages of information, contextual and informational. Okay that was a little redundant, I’ve had a long week. But still 150 pages. And maybe, just maybe, updating it all, by hand, alone, is a bad idea. After all, there’s stuff I’ve never finished because I don’t have gobs of free time. And as proved by the forums on that page, people want to talk and help. So how can I combine that with an ‘easy’ to use back end, and a not-terrifying to use front end?

Wiki.

Okay, so it’s got a crappy admin side and if you’re not a coder you’re going to cry setting up MediaWiki, which I did and I am one. And some users are skeptical about how to create pages and … it’s been 2.5 months and of my 32 users (yes! 32!) four people (besides me) have added information. Hell, having one person add information is helpful to me, so I call it a success.

There are 1314 total pages in the database. This includes pages about the Wiki, minimal “stub” pages, redirects, and others that probably don’t qualify as content pages. Excluding those, there are 291 pages that are probably legitimate content pages. Of the 291 pages, 150 or so came over as a direct copy/paste import (and some clean up), and 140 or so were added special to the wiki because I had more ‘flexible’ room.

That flexibility is what drove me to Wiki. You know, when you make a new website, it’s a pain in the ass to link everything up the way you want it, and you have to come up with some sort of structure that will make sense to everyone and you hope they can follow it?

Wikis piss that out the window and laugh at your ancestors.

That’s a joke, son.

Wikis aren’t linear. Wikis are fluid and organic. They grow in the direction they grow because there is information to grow in that path. Not to say there’s isn’t a rhyme and reason to the site, but a Wiki accepts the fact that things criss-cross and double back and take weirdo curves and twists when you’re not looking. Of my 291 pages, only 61 don’t link back to something else, and even so, I’m taking the time to go through those pages and cross-reference. Yes! That pain in the ass, time consuming project of ‘Doesn’t X refer to something over on Z?’ A Wiki links all those up with a simple, easy code [[Page Name]]. Thats it.

Okay, if you’re an HTML coder (guilty), your brain has a moment of pain looking at this. Another fsking pseudo code language to learn? First HTML, then BB code and now Wiki Code? 90% of the HTML I’d want to use work on a Wiki. The only ‘argh!’ moment I have is with headers, and even then it was easy to fall into that code mind-frame.

So what did I learn?

To run a Wiki you have to let go of control. And that’s really hard. If you have a ‘normal’, let’s say traditional, website, you have a small number of people who can update the site. You have a set design the site maintains. You have templates and standards and such. For a Wiki, you have to step back and say ‘This is the site, this is how it looks. Please add more information, but we’d like to keep the feel we have.’ Yeah, you can follow along behind people and clean up what they do (some people use wacky grammar, others use l33t speak), but essentially you’re giving room for their voice.

You can’t take that away once given.

Well, you can, but you’d be an asshole.

Running the Wiki has made me a ‘kinder’ person, sort of. I’m more laid back with people who post in perplexing grammar on the forums. I’m not going to be a firm rule-mistress. Okay, maybe on the Wiki I’ll be a little more the enforcer, but there’s no reason not to give people chances.

Of course, I still can’t figure out what the hell “I love to but deberia to allow him grissom sara to love it also” means!

By the way, why did I choose MediaWiki, over something more use friendly like TikiWiki or something ‘prettier’ or something easier to hack? Well, I actually tried out a handful of Wiki’s before I settled on this one. I’d load them, make a couple pages, toggle around and see what I thought. The one I picked was the one that felt right to me. You might think differently.

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