Intro to PickWiki

Someone in the U2 forum asked a question the other day and I went to to see if there was an answer for them. Yes, the answer was there, but I noticed that there were other possible answers to the question which were not there. So in the spirit of the wiki I updated the web page with some current info. Then I realized that a new page was required, so I created it. Then I realized other pages should link to my new page, so I updated them. Then other pages were simply out of date, so I updated them. At close to 4am I decided it was time to back off and look at this from a higher perspective.

A wiki is a website application, usually open source, which allows anyone with access to make changes. The website running the wiki becomes an open source documentation repository where anyone with a clue, and even those without, can contribute. Sites built on wiki are usually dedicated to providing documentation about a specific product, range of products, service, company, or some other focused topic. As Ian McGowan states in his onsite profile, he created the site to capture stories about Pick/MV. Rex Gozar (who made numerous contributions in 2008) added a page that encourages people to use PickWiki as a personal information repository, with notes about how to use the Pick environment in various ways. People have different motivations for contributing to a wiki. It doesn’t matter why people contribute, the point is that the more people do contribute, the more information becomes available for everyone to consume.

The enquiry that drove me to PickWiki was a common question "how do I do web services with Universe?" There are a lot of answers and the solution one chooses depends on how much skill, time, and/or money they have.

Minor digression

Frankly I wasn’t too interested in providing an answer to this particular question because it seemed obvious (after so many years you can name the tune these people are singing in one note) that the person asking the question didn’t have much interest in understanding what he was doing. It looked like he was just after a free, complete, coded solution to copy/paste. Ahh, those requests get the best of me… maybe that’s fodder for another blog. But I did post a short response with a couple links, in case this guy actually wanted to lift a finger himself, and an offer to provide a solution as a service within hours if he didn’t. Of course he didn’t even want to lift a finger to click the links. The response was "if you have code example kindly send it to me". In other words he didn’t even want to bother reading the forum for responses, he wanted someone to drop a solution into his lap. It takes all kinds…

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program…

After posting some notes to PickWiki I became concerned that it would be regarded as advertising. I added references to Nebula R&D, to mv.NET, to BlueFinity International. I see that Martin Phillips was also concerned about his contribution looking like an advert when he updated the page on QM. It’s very difficult for someone to write about something they know without it being regarded as a sales effort. Sure, truth be told, I always hope that people will see that Nebula R&D provides many types of solutions, and that mv.NET is a common solution to documented issues, and then come to me to get that solution for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. I sell software so that I can feed my family and live another day to write about more solutions. However – this is not my motivation for posting updates to PickWiki, and it’s this "intent" which is the difference between people who spam their adverts and those of us who mention products we support as part of the solution to problems that people present. My intent is to provide information for the common good. When the market does well, I do well. I adopt solutions that help people to do their jobs better, and then I tell people about it. This is far different from someone who uses forums, wiki, and media purely as a vehicle for their own benefit. And this dove-tails with my contempt for people who have nothing to contribute to forums but they insist (even with the word "please") that other people do research for them so that they can get free solutions for their employers. Intent is everything. It’s my hope and belief that when we give back to the community that the community won’t mind so much that we ask a little something in return.

And that is the spirit of the wiki. People give and they take. If you see people asking the same questions over and over in MV forums, I highly encourage you to see if there is a page in PickWiki that discusses the topic. Add your own insight. Create new pages where you feel it would help. Don’t be afraid to contribute. If you’re concerned about layout, getting headings right and bullet items showing up nicely – don’t be. Someone else can come along and format text later if they wish. If you don’t feel comfortable adding content, look around for text that could be formatted better an take a stab at it. All wikis have a Sandbox page on which you can practice to your heart’s content without disturbing anyone else. Start at this "PickWiki" page. Click the CanBeEdited link to get more info about how to create and format pages. Follow that page to HintsAndTips, and follow that page to TextFormattingRules. Note on the "PickWiki" page that to avoid spam the site requires people to login using a special code which I’m sure you know, and if you don’t, email me.

Coming back to the purpose of PickWiki. I was concerned that I was adding too many references about company names and products with which I’m familiar. I updated the RainingData page with information about TigerLogic. I updated the page that listed all MV platforms, sorted the listing, and created a page for Caché. But rather than feeling guilty about this I noticed that "Pick"Wiki at this moment is really more about U2 than it is about Pick. It’s great that people familiar with Universe and Unidata contribute to the site. But when you look at a this general purpose CreateWebInterfaces page, the title of it is "How do I create a web interface to the information in my U2 database?" I’ll leave that for now but personally I think that should be changed to "How do I create a web interface to the information in my Pick/MV database?" Many of the solutions on that page are platform-independent (and I added a few items, both commercial and open source). My point here is that I don’t think the PickWiki site should be too heavily branded toward one DBMS product or another. Here again is where it’s everyone’s intent to provide information and not to advertise their preferred database or to dominate the site with their preferred product. In that spirit I think the site should be more generic where possible, and of course emphasize that certain solutions are vendor-specific where that’s the case.

So what can we do with PickWiki?

Like Rex, I’d like to see more people contributing to PickWiki. As stated above, I think the site will be more welcoming to all if it’s less platform-specific. I don’t have time to make a lot of contributions to PickWiki – I consider this blog and my forum participation as my contribution to the community in a lot of ways. And in a lot of ways I think I’ve dominated too much of the discussion in comp.databases.pick and the Raining Data forum. I’m as sick of seeing so much of "me" in those places as I’m sure many others are. I don’t want yet another community resource to have "me" written all over it. So I’m trying to back away from public postings rather than jumping all over a new one. That said, I have no problem editing some content with formatting or occasional supplements.

It would be nice if people could divide their reading time between forums, which provide people with a short-term way to get information, and PickWiki which is a long-term resource. If we can get to the point where the answers are mostly on the Wiki, then can reduce our forum reading and posting time so that we’re not spending so much time on FAQs.

How can you contribute? Again, just pick a topic and start writing. I added notes about mv.NET and web connectivity because that’s what I know, but everyone has experience and enthusiasm about different topics. Write about dict item processor codes or about nuances of the Locate statement, the joys of Proc or the benefits of paragraphs. Find an existing page and update it with your wisdom. Don’t be afraid to be wrong – someone will correct you. Don’t be afraid to put a question on a page – someone will probably answer it inline for everyone to see from then forward. If you don’t have answers then just post FAQs that everyone else asks, and let someone else start filling in the answers. Don’t be afraid if your solutions involve commercial products. If there is a better way to state that a product can be a part of a solution, without it looking like a sales pitch, someone will revise your text.

Whatever you do, have a look at PickWiki and feel free to ask questions here, in the Nebula R&D forum, in community forums, or on the wiki itself. The more people get involved, the better a resource it will become for everyone.

Hey, I want one of those…

For those of you who think this wiki thing would be neat for your own website, look around and you’ll find a ton of them. Even if you don’t participate in a public/community wiki, you may find value in using a wiki for your own purposes. They have various features, different syntax for formatting (for better or worse) and various levels of developer support. There are commercial wiki products as well, even NuWiki which is an MV-based offering. Some companies use a wiki internally for employees to post their knowledge. Some people use wiki as their own personal brain backup – accessible at home, office, or anywhere on the internet.

When getting a wiki for yourself, my best advice is to find one that’s popular and well maintained. Here is a comparison of various wiki packages (Is there any irony that I’m referring to a wiki as a source for information about wikis?) That page includes categorization of the offerings by feature and target audience. Here are websites that employ wiki to provide information on various topics – you might want to choose a wiki package based on your impressions of various implementations. Finally, here is another list that will overwhelm just about anyone. Take your time, find something you like.

But even if you don’t get a wiki for yourself – consider contributing to PickWiki.

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