Getting your wiki off the ground

So you’ve just created your wiki and want to know what to do next. Well, wikis are all about collaboration and online social interaction, so users are obviously going to be your priority. First, though, you want to create an overall structure for your wiki, both conceptually and visually.

The About Page

For the conceptual part, take the time to think and write your site’s overall aim, a guide for users to see exactly what your wiki is about. At these early stages, it doesn’t matter if you do not have a definitive goal to write about – as you are working with a wiki, it will be possible to revise this, with the help of your fellow users, later on. It will help, however, as  the About page will often be the first port of call for your site’s (hopefully) numerous visitors.

Main Page draft

The next step is to draft out a front page. Again, at this stage this does not need to be visually arresting as long as it contains the essential ingredients:

  • A header including the name of your site. For example, “Welcome to WikiCars, the definitive car encyclopedia”, where the second sentence is added as a subheading.
  • A prominent link to your About page. Most wikis usually do this directly using the site heading. For example, in the header “Welcome to WikiCars”, ‘WikiCars’ ought to link to the About page.
  • A link to the help portal. Well, it’s unlikely you have created one of these yet, but some Wikifarms like Wikia now include a brief set of pre-loaded help topics ready for you to customise to your taste and requirements should you so desire.
  • A short description of your site, around two or three sentences communicating what it is your wiki actually does. In a lot of cases, this acts as a welcome message or addendum to the header, which communicated the essential elements of the site’s aims.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you may decide to copy an existing wiki’s front page design. This will take more time to perfect to your specifications, but provide a more attractive user interface for people to interact with and look more professional. In general, as is the key with wikis, time + effort = success.

A fancy main page is not hugely important right now, however. In time it will be addressed as you develop more content to factor into the front page; featured articles and media; latest forum topics; site news, links and so on. As long as the front page is functional right now, that’s all that matters.

You may also choose to protect your front page, and eventually you may find that you want to restrict editing of the page to sysops only in order to prevent vandals. In these early generative stages, it may be helpful to leave the front page unlocked so that the first few users can help you out creating it. When the vandals arrive you can reconsider your options.

Appointing your first administrators

Administrators are the guys that make the wiki tick, the glue that holds your site together. The ideal candidate is active on the wiki, has a very good understanding of what the project is about and above all cares about what they do. They need to perform tasks such respond to queries, deal with troublemakers and do the housekeeping by touching up and clearing out articles.

If you founded the wiki as part of a group of people, selecting your first admins will be a pretty easy task. If you’re deciding to go it alone, however, it will help massively to recruit some new users from somewhere.

Your best bet is to scout around for wikis similar to yours. Do a Google search: for our example, this would be “car wiki”. The first few links will usually be Wikipedia ones, but scroll a little further and you may be lucky and find a variety of existing wikis similar to your topic.

If so, brilliant – take a look around for a bit, post a message in their forums or on administrators’ pages announcing your new wiki. If you did this in, say, four similar, relatively active wikis, you can pretty much expect a bit of Recent Changes traffic helping to get your wiki off the ground, for a while at least. Even if you can only muster a few edits at first, every little helps. Someone may inspire you to create a new and helpful policy page, or maybe make an interesting proposal for the about page.

In the absence of existing wikis on the subject, search for forums and strike up conversation there. You never know which of these users will become your next regulars or even administrators, so aim to appeal to as wide an audience within your field as possible without being too imposing. Forumers generally don’t like being preached to or being ‘spammed’ with irrelevant topics, so choose your sources carefully.

Be welcoming

Part of what attracts people to participate in wiki projects, particularly the smaller ones, is the sense of camaraderie around the place. Write in an informal, jovial fashion and generally interact with people as if you were talking to people in your local pub or bar. Build up a sense of community by putting a brief custom welcome message on each new registered user page. Check for the latest new users on the User Creation Log (Special:Log/newusers) and turn the “Talk” page link from red to blue.

Some wikis initiate a project whereby a selection of users regularly check for new users and welcome them. Something to think about for the future: form a “Welcoming Committee” to ensure each and every new user has a message on their talk page. In the long run, only around ten percent of the guys you welcome will go on to be semi-regular contributors. But, just think: that welcome message could have got you a few extra edits from that user.

Illarterate

I know nothing about art; as a rule, 'modern' graphic design does not appeal to me. I like to write in the first person because I do not want to be someone else.

Influences: public toilet cubicle drawings/slogans; WordArt posters in Market Street shop windows; Mega-Zine; bootleg vinyl artwork; Janne Suni; Pink Floyd; whoever is responsible for the Max Headroom hijacking incident; Collie, the Inept Reviewer.

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