Friday, September 4, 2015

A Wiki For CivicHacks Resource Central

Time to get to work on a directory of civic hacks like I described in “CivicHacks ResourceCentral v.0.1” and mentioned in “What Are Some Non-coder Activities In Civic Hacking?” The first step in building CivicHacks Resource Central (CHRC) is to create a new wiki website.

Having a CHRC will do two things. First, it will make it easy for people to find civic hacks to use or to work on. We can put "Is It Recycling Week?" in the wiki as our initial civic hack entry! As far as I know, there is currently no civic hack directory you can use to find what apps or projects civic hackers in the US and around the world have created. Second, a wiki directory of civic apps will give non-coders a great way to get started working on civic hacking.

We can include a Civic Hacking Basics section in the wiki and put the Civic Hacker Onboarding info in there. That will be an easy way for new civic hackers to become part of the hacking community and will also give them a way to easily improve the onboarding information for the next newcomer. They can read through the wiki to get an understanding of what civic hacks have been built by others and what those hacks do. The non-coders can also do Google searches for civic hacks not listed in CHRC. When they find new hacks, they can add them to the wiki.

The first step in creating the wiki for CHRC is to choose a type of wiki to use. My criteria for choosing which wiki to use are:

  1. Open source; free as in speech AND free as in beer. 25 open source wiki packages were listed on Wikipedia as of today, September 4.
  2. Initial and periodic assistance from an experienced wiki setup and maintenance person. I’m not a coder, so I’d prefer to have a wiki-knowledgeable coder make this project more fun for me.
  3. Wiki package that has been used by experienced person mentioned in Criteria 2 above.
  4. Wiki package that makes content creation easy for people new to wikis.
  5. Reasonable way to link the wiki with other components of CHRC such as GitHub.
  6. Wiki package with reasonable level of digital security.

Since I’m the lead person on this project, the three wikis that seem to best fit my criteria are DokuWiki, MediaWiki and the GitHub wiki.

DokuWiki was recently chosen as the wiki package for the Appleton Makerspace. It has the advantage over MediaWiki of not needing a database, which can help greatly in terms of keeping things simple. According to the review on MediaWiki Testers Wiki:
This wiki engine is an excellent choice for stability and security, though it's markup is not very beginner friendly and it requires a lot of customization to include certain features which are usually taken for granted on other wikis. However, if security is the highest concern, then this wiki engine is a very good choice.
Similarly, CMS Critic gave DokuWiki a pretty good rating:
If you are in the market for a fast, powerful and easy to use Wiki with tons of options that requires minimal work to get up and running, look no further than DokuWiki. It's an incredibly fast and fun to use Wiki that's very easy to customize. In a world where we are exposed to so much software that is overly complicated and confusing, DokuWiki is a breath of fresh air and we strongly recommend checking it out.”
Based on the above criteria, DokuWiki seems like a better choice than WikiMedia. My primary hesitation about DokuWiki at this point is that because of integration with GitHub and the other non-wiki components I mentioned in the CHRC post, I’d be tempted to try the GitHub wiki if I was a coder or if I had someone to help me who is a GitHub wiki ninja. Several of the Code for America brigades have nice looking websites deeply integrated with GitHub, like Miami, San Diego and others, so if I could help build a site along those lines, while incorporating a GitHub wiki that has all the desired capabilities of DokuWiki, that should end up to be a much more effective CHRC than a plain-vanilla DokuWiki site would be.

Two other considerations for DokuWiki are the fact that it appears to be popular primarily in Germany (the founder of DokuWiki is German), and the non-German community activity with DokuWiki seems to have been strong from 2005 - 2012, but much less between 2012 and 2015. Maybe I'll need to brush up on my German...

At this point, I’ve decided to go with DokuWiki for v.0.1, while keeping the GitHub wiki as an option for v.0.9 or v.2.0 of CHRC.

Next Steps For CivicHacks Resource Central Wiki:

  1. Confirm with a current DokuWiki maintainer that they have the time and interest to help me set up a DokuWiki instance for a civic hack directory.
  2. Read more online info about setting up, using and maintaining DokuWiki.
  3. Figure out hosting and domain issues, and set up any needed accounts.
  4. Set up the CHRC DokuWiki.
  5. Start creating content on the wiki.

A journey of a thousand steps…


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