Sunday, February 21, 2010

Organizing Your Wiki Content - Part 1: Direct Linking

Managing your organization's wiki can be a difficult process. Ideally, you want to ensure that your users are able to find the content they need in a natural way. Additionally, you want to make sure some structure is in place that makes adding content just as easy to foster growth. Confluence offers several different ways to organize your wiki content, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Let's explore each of these methods.


This is the beginning of a series of posts on Organizing Your Wiki Content:
  • Part 1: Direct Linking
  • Part 2: Page Hierarchies
  • Part 3: Labels
  • Part 4: Fine-Grained Controls
  • Part 5: Including Content
  • Part 6: Wrap-up

Direct Linking

One of the founding principles of the Web is the hyperlink. The hyperlink is what allows us all to navigate through the web, jumping from each bit of content to the next. The hyperlink is what makes Google's PageRank algorithm so powerful for discovering the most relevant content for your search term. Hyperlinks are what add value to blogs, allowing you to reference other material on the web. This blog article is full of them! Hyperlinks are what have made Facebook and Twitter so popular as a form of content sharing. Truly, hyperlinks are what wikis are all about. How many hours have you lost exploring Wikipedia, jumping from one article to the next through links?

So, it's no surprise that the primary way to organize content on your enterprise wiki is by directly linking to additional content. Confluence offers some very easy ways to do this, both through the rich text editor and through wiki markup.

Pros

Direct linking is great because it allows you to explicitly point to the content that's relevant. Even better, Confluence monitors the incoming and outgoing links on your wiki page. If you ever move, rename, or delete the content being linked to, Confluence will update your page automagically. This avoids broken content on your wiki, which can dissuade your users.

Cons

Unfortunately, direct linking isn't without its share of problems. First, direct linking is static. To update, it requires an explicit action on the part of a content creator. If a new piece of content is created that is relevant to an old page, you need to go back to that old page, edit it, and link to the new page. Otherwise, you'll never be able to find the new page directly from the old one. Content discovery is impeded, something we're trying to avoid. Second, if you link to pages that do not exist yet (e.g., you're creating a step-by-step guide and you only get to Step 3 of 8), your users will see unfinished content. If they click on those links, they'll quickly jump into creating a new page, which can be overwhelming for users that don't feel comfortable with creating whole new content instead of just adding to it.


So, we want to organize our content in a dynamic way to avoid the overhead involved in keeping content current. There's several ways to do this.

To find out how, continue on to the next article in the Organizing Your Wiki Content series, Part 2: Page Hierarchies

Do you prefer to directly link to most of your content? Have you figured out a trick for using links that works for you? Share your experiences in the comments.

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