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Thursday, February 02, 2006


Shameless Plug: pbwiki

As you may or may not know, I am struggling to write a novel. Naturally (for me, at least), I bit off rather more than I can chew. This is not only my first attempt at a novel; it is also a sci-fi, detective, coming-of-age, social-commentary-ala-Brave-New-World kind of novel. Keeping track of characters, motives, plot points, and dramatic moments was a real challenge for me, because each part came to me at different times and in different forms. I wrote all kinds of notes to myself, but all succeeded in doing was making myself terribly confused.

That's when it occurred to me: what I really needed was a wiki.

Most people are familiar with the wiki from Wikipedia. But in a way, that's too bad. That's because most Wikipedia users only use it to look things up. That's only using half (or less) of a wiki's power.

To the reader, a wiki looks like a common, everyday website - a bunch of pages all linked together. But a wiki is more than that. A wiki is a way to create that website, and to keep on growing and changing that website as new ideas and information become available.

Let me explain. To create your typical website, you generate a bunch of individual web pages. Then, one you know the names of the pages, you go back and add links to each page into the rest of the pages. If a new idea occurs to you, you make a new page, post it, and go back and edit the old pages again. It may not sound too bad, but it's an awkward, unnatural process.

In contrast, creating a wiki is easy. Start with your main page. As you create it, simply format key words and phrases using a special, but simple format. Then, when you post that page, those words and phrases automatically become links. Better yet, pages for those links are also automatically created. To 'drill down' and add information, simply click the created link, and there you are, on the empty new page.

This is a much easier and more natural way to generate a site. You don't have to sit down first and plan every step, and you don't have to go back and re-edit every page to add links later.

For example, in the case of my novel: I had scenes, notes, suggestions, character descriptions, commentary, outlines, and even isolated fragments of dialog. To turn those into a website, I'd have had to separate and organize them all, then plan how they'd fit together; then write the pages; then load all my fragments into place.

In contrast, when making my wiki, I simply went through them one at a time and decided what that fragment meant to me. If it was a dialog fragment, I put the word "Dialog" on my main page and submitted it. Then I clicked the dialog link and opened up the new page of dialog fragments. I could just paste that fragment onto the page; or, if I wanted to keep them all separate, think of a descriptive name for the fragment (like: "boy to boss about workload"), type that into the page using the "special format", and submit the result to create a linked new page to store the fragment.

Really, it was amazing. For each scrap I had, all I need to do was type a couple of words and click the mouse two or three times. The result was a hierarchical document that captured all my pieces in such a way that I could find and retrieve the information with ease.

When I set out to select a "wiki farm", I was lucky enough to come across pbwiwi. They let you create a wiki (or two, or ten, or...) for FREE. You can pay them some money and get some additional features... but I choose to pay them even though I didn't need those features - I just wanted to thank them and support their efforts. They're just that good.

The "pb" in pbwiwi stands for "peanut butter", because they aim to make creating a wiki as easy as creating a peanut butter sandwich. I think they've come pretty close. If you have any data that needs to be organized, any project that would benefit from a collaborative workspace, or any other idea that would benefit from a wiki, take a look at pbwiwi. Not only do they provide a great service at an excellent price (FREE!), but they're even going to double the already excessive amount of space they provide my wiki just because I wrote this entry. Pretty sweet, eh?

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