wiki my science!
April 22, 2011 2:44 PM   Subscribe

I run a user facility that houses a variety of scientific equipment and i want to start a wiki for documentation & tutorials. Looking for open-source wiki software and your tips for starting a wiki. (Or if you're a scientist and you've ever used a facility like this, what kinds of things you'd like to see in your FacilityWiki!) Details inside...

I'm in charge of a user facility which manages & maintains a variety of scientific equipment that is used mainly by graduate students (& a few undergrads & faculty). I'd like to start a facility wiki to house the following types of information:

1. Instrument details, accessories and links to hardware & software manuals.
2. General tutorials for equipment use and experiment customization.
3. More specific tutorials for complicated experiments.
4. Data processing tips and tricks.

Looking at other facilities similar to ours, most of the tutorials seem to be in PDF format that is somewhat difficult to sift through. (Not to mention the manuals are, well, manuals.) We'll be housing the wiki on our own server. I don't have a lot of specific requirements for the software other than it be free or cheap. It doesn't have to be science-specific ala OpenWetWare. (Which is powered by MediaWiki, which right looks the most promising to me) I started a wiki for my old research lab using PBWiki, but I don't think I'll need the password protection and hosting that PBWiki provided.

Any other tips/tricks before I dive into this? I will probably be the major contributor to start, but I may give editing access to senior grad students or faculty in the future.

posted by sararah to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Also I wouldn't mind the option of creating pages on how to maintain or repair specific instrumentation or fix things on the facility web server, etc. So the option to have some password-protected pages would be nice.
posted by sararah at 2:46 PM on April 22, 2011

I just set up a wiki recently in my facility. I used dokuwiki, largely because it was easy to install and setup on my Ubuntu server. You can see the results here. It's still very much a work in progress and I hope to add a lot more information as time goes by. Your general plan sounds very reasonable. I find that I mostly want to do three things with ours: 1. Store general information that all our users need to know (instrument details, manuals, protocols, etc). 2. Keep track of specific details for the facility staff (instrument calibration, inventories, etc.). 3. Be a general repository for domain-specific knowledge: (links to reviews, software packages, specific tricks).

Good luck, and feel free to email me if you have questions.
posted by pombe at 2:57 PM on April 22, 2011

Oh, and if your experience is anything like mine, I wouldn't count on other people contributing much. I've let anyone sign up for an account to edit the wiki, and I think only one person has done so in the few months it's been up.
posted by pombe at 2:58 PM on April 22, 2011

We use DokuWiki, which seems to be great - easy to edit, and you can lock pages to either viewing or to editing.

One thing I'd warn you: if you have a complex tool with extensive procedures that doesn't need to be activated with some kind of password, and you post the complete procedure online, you'll have people using it who haven't actually been trained. They're incorrigible. On the other hand, it's good to have that information accessible for trained users who may not take good notes, so it's a bit of a balancing act. We haven't solved it completely.
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:58 PM on April 22, 2011

You mentioned that you don't think you'll need some of PBWiki's security features. But if you think that, in the future, you'll want different levels of protection on different pages, different levels of privileges for different users, and other somewhat complicated security policies and/or ACLs (access control lists), MediaWiki may not be for you.

Also, if you go with MediaWiki, look at the popular MediaWiki extensions -- there are lots of them and some are very useful.
posted by brainwane at 10:54 AM on April 23, 2011

brainwane - are any of these security features available for DokuWiki or other open-source wikis?
posted by sararah at 8:54 AM on April 27, 2011

Sorry, not sure, sararah.

Just now I had an IRC conversation with a few MediaWiki developers about your question. One person suggested you "use lots of templates." Another said, "Well the OP seems to want a wiki that can run on floss, which we do. The followup about ACLs is true, we don't support fine-grained read permissions, which is a common complaint. If the OP doesn't need that kind of fine-grained control, it seems like MW will do what [s]he wants. We *do* support per-namespace edit permissions, just not read." And another said, "per-namespace read permissions can be done with lockdown extension."

Hope that helps. This was in , #wikimedia-dev .
posted by brainwane at 3:58 PM on April 27, 2011

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