A brief history of my wiki time
- I started editing on Wikipedia on April 28, 2006.
- I slowly realized the usefulness of wikis in other contexts, such as at the companies where I work. As with most organizations I have seen, most of what we do is severely under-documented, and people waste time re-inventing things that other people have already figured out. We need more efficient ways for people who discover or create knowledge to share it. Traditional documenting tools such as Word, DocBook, and Help authoring tools are too difficult for casual use by non-specialists, especially while they are concentrating on solving some other problem (ideally, a documenting tool should require the least possible thought, so people can use it to document the other things they are thinking about). At the other extreme, an easy tool like e-mail encourages everyone to contribute, and archiving programs like MHonArc make messages permanently available as Web pages, but an archive of thousands of e-mail messages lacks organization, and may contain outdated information and errors that are hard to correct. MediaWiki appears to fill the gap between traditional documenting tools and e-mail.
- As of 18:04, 7 September 2006 (UTC) I am learning how to be a MediaWiki administrator.
- 04:38, 5 October 2006 (UTC): I made an account on WikiBooks to make a few edits there.
It would be nice if each MediaWiki message (information, confirmation, warning, and error) linked to its own page on, say, Meta that would explain the following two things:
- What the error message means.
- How to fix the error.
Writing informative program messages is, of course, a basic principle of software design which, unfortunately, hardly any programs fully adhere to. The main problem is that programmers do not document all the messages they code, but even if they wanted to, they many not really understand what their messages mean at the time when they write them (especially the error messages). Some errors only begin to make sense after real users generate the errors, and someone debugs the errors. To "debug" an error usually means:
- Determining the conditions, or user actions, which cause the error.
- Determining what the user should do differently to eliminate the error.
With traditional software, there is no efficient mechanism to accumulate this debugging experience back into a program, but with MediaWiki we have wiki technology. At the moment, there are many pages on Meta which contain troubleshooting notes about various MediaWiki error messages, but they lack organization and consistency. Some possibilities for improvement:
- Make a page on Meta for each MediaWiki error message linked to its own page on Meta, where all the world's MediaWiki sysops could accumulate all the causes and solutions we discover for each error.
- Each message should have its own distinct code, so we can tag all our discussions of the message with the code, and then future victims can search efficiently for it.
I'm active on these public wikis: