I have written before about the advantages of creating genealogy wikis. A wiki is a collaborative website which can be edited directly by anyone with access to it. It is a great way for genealogy society members, newsletter readers, or others to combine their knowledge into one web site that can benefit many others. Each person can add new material or edit existing with material with very few constraints. The result is a pool of everyone's knowledge. Wikis are never finished; they simply grow and grow as motivated individuals continue to add new information.
You can see examples of wikis at the Encyclopedia of Genealogy at http://www.eogen.com, WeRelate.org at http://www.werelate.org, and the most successful wiki to date at http://www.Wikipedia.org. In fact, Wikipedia.org is now the world's largest encyclopedia, larger than the next two or three encyclopedias combined.
However, not all wikis need to be encyclopedias or collections of genealogy information or any other specific topic. In fact, a personal wiki is a great way to organize the random bits of information in your own life!
I installed two wikis in recent weeks: one on a PC at home for my own use and another at the office for use by my co-workers. Neither one is specific to genealogy, even though the wiki at home includes a lot of genealogy info and "to do" lists. Each is being used as a means of organizing many pieces of often unrelated information. You can think of these two wikis as giant stacks of yellow "sticky notes" stored online in a manner that automatically sorts and organizes the notes. Every note is titled automatically. Even better, every word of every note is searchable. I can find any scrap of information within seconds within these wikis.
If I wanted to do so, I could use my home wiki as a place to store and organize information about ancestors. I could make a separate page for each individual, complete with details, source citations, to-do lists, and even pictures and scanned images of original documents. I don't think my personal wiki will ever replace my favorite genealogy program, but I do envision its use as a supplemental research tool, possibly replacing my filing cabinet and obviously replacing my ever-growing "to do" lists.
The wiki at the office is now a repository of all sorts of technical information, mostly "quick notes" and "how to" information. We do not store large technical documents or formal release notes in this wiki. Instead, we use it to store such things as, "If you encounter a 1702 error, check to see if the config file has full read/write permissions." Like yellow sticky notes, most of the "documents" (or pages) in this office wiki vary from one to perhaps a dozen sentences. The wiki pages can be longer, but we are not using this as a replacement for technical manuals. Even better, the wiki can store any graphics file: JPG, GIF, PNG or any other format that can be displayed on a computer screen. It also supports bold, italics, colored text bullets, tables, hypertext links to external web sites, and other formatting options. Best of all, the software does this with almost no user training required. There's no user's manual for this as such a manual is not needed!
My co-workers and I are now copying-and-pasting hundreds of tech notes from a myriad of places into our new wiki. All employees can access it at any time and can also update the information easily. The result is pooled knowledge at its best: documented, sorted, and searchable. I installed the wiki on an old PC that was in our "surplus pile." This old PC is too low-powered to be used on anyone's desktop but is more than powerful enough to run our in-house wiki. The personal wiki requires very little computing power.
The wiki that I installed at home is on the same computer that I use to read and write e-mails, surf the web, and write newsletter articles. My in-home wiki has one user: me. It also has fewer documents (pages) than the office wiki but is equally important to me. I store lists of my favorite web sites in the wiki, along with software serial numbers, to-do lists, recipes, holiday card lists, and even passwords to most of the low security risk web sites. I still keep my checking account, online brokerage account, and other important passwords locked up in a high-security encrypted file. However, for lower risk passwords, such as the log-on to my personalized CNN news account, I keep the password in my new wiki on the "Passwords" page. I doubt if anyone will ever hack into my in-home wiki behind my hardware firewall; but, even if they do, no harm would be done. Who cares about my CNN password?
I can instantly find the password in the future by opening a web browser and searching for "CNN" or for "password."
This wiki is visible only to me. I am the only one who can enter data, and I am the only one who can read the data there. If I wish, I can share access with others. Access is under my control at all times.
In short, my personal wiki replaces all those yellow sticky notes I used to have. The major differences are that my new wiki notes (1.) are now digital, (2.) are easier and faster to search for information and (3.) don't create a messy office. In fact, I have given my personal wiki a name: YN. That stands for "Yellow Notes."
Oh, here's the best part: all the software is available free of charge. Almost as good, you probably can download and install everything on any Windows, Macintosh, or Linux system in less than ten minutes.
The remainder of this article is for Plus Edition subscribers only.
If you have a Plus Edition user ID and password, you can read the article for a few weeks at no additional charge in this web site's Plus Edition blog at http://eogn.com/plusedition.
If you do not remember your Plus Edition user ID or password, you can retrieve them at http://eogn.com/amember/member.php.
If you decide to subscribe to the Plus Edition right now, you will be able to immediately read this article online. For more information about subscribing to the Plus Edition of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, visit http://www.eogn.com/plus.
Non-Plus Edition subscribers may prefer to purchase a copy of this article at http://www.lulu.com/content/1079590.