Five Wiki Gardening Tips

This is from Matt Wiseley of EditMe, a company that offers an excellent combination of a powerful hosted wiki and affordable professional services to customize it to meet your needs.

I wrote a few months ago about keeping the chaff out of your site with a regular Wiki Spring Cleaning. This is just one in a set  of activities often referred to as Wiki Gardening. Now that it is actually Spring, I thought it a good time to summarize these   activities and talk a bit about why they are important for any wiki. Beyond just wikis, these are important activities for  any relatively large web site. It’s just a lot easier to do in a wiki.

Garden Planning ~ Taking Stock

Though most of these activities are fairly narrow in focus, every so often it’s important to take a broad view of the site. What over-all structure has emerged, and how does this relate to the original purpose and goals of the site? Many times you can identify large unrelated sections that have emerged simply because there was nowhere else to store this content. You may broaden the purpose and goals of the site, or create a new home for this content if it is truly separate. These sections are called walled gardens in wiki parlance.

The broad view can also help with larger structural reorganizations. Some times you realize there are lots of pages around a specific topic, but there is no page specifically about the topic from which to link them up. And some times a navigation hierarchy established early on become much to wide and flat, requiring some redesign to maintain a degree of usability.

Clearing the Paths ~ Associate

As you use the site, remember to associate pages with each other via contextual links. If you mention a topic on one page addressed in another, be sure to link it. This is often not done when content is initially entered, making it an important gardening task. Without these links, content is easily lost or forgotten and ultimately duplicated.

Another form of association is to maintain a list of related pages for any given page. This makes sure the logically related pages are linked to even if there isn’t a place in the content to do so.

Trimming ~ Reduce

Combine similar pages to avoid duplication of efforts. Oftentimes three pages can become one or two with a small shift of title or name. Don’t be afraid to rename page or make a new page to replace two shorter existing pages. A lot of this is a matter of identifying stubs that are much too specific and combining them back into more detailed topic pages. But stubs aren’t always bad…

Planting ~ Expand

Stubs are short pages created by people who don’t have time or expertise to expand the topic with sufficient detail. Set aside some time regularly to look for stubs and expand them. This is one of the more time consuming gardening tasks, but if nobody did   it, the wiki would be empty. Stubs should either be eliminated or expanded within a reasonable amount of time. If none of the wiki maintainers have expanded a stub page over a significant period of time, it’s safe to assume the topic is out of scope or otherwise unimportant.

Another way to expand content is to split up page that have become too broad. At first, a broad topic may fit nicely in a single page. But over time, as detail is added, you can end up with a massive page that would be better served by splitting it into several pages. Signs to look for include the need for navigation within the page and asides that have been expanded over time into separate topics.

Weeding ~ Declutter

As mentioned in some detail previously in Wiki Spring Cleaning, removing old, obsolete and off-topic content is extremely important to keep a wiki from disintegrating into chaos and disrepair. People are usually shy about deleting content, figuring that if somebody put it there, it must be important. This is why the action taken that makes a page obsolete needs to be combined  with an action to either delete or mark a page as deleted. It’s much easier at that moment than it will be to identify content for deletion down the road. I’m a proponent of marking pages for deletion early and often. Make it a habit to regularly run through pages that have been marked for deletion for a while and put them out of their misery.

An important tip when renaming and deleting pages, especially if they’ve been around for a while and are likely linked to elsewhere, is to use redirects to the new page from the old name. This keeps search engines and people with old bookmarks from pointing to dead pages on your site.

In an ideal world, these activities would be a part of everyone’s daily us of the wiki. But in reality, these tend to be the tasks that are best done on some sort of a schedule. Put these tasks as recurring items in your calendar. Just like a garden, your wiki will either wither and die or get away from you entirely if you don’t put in the time to do the maintenance work.

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